Enjoy ornithology in Terres de l’Ebre
In a relatively small region called Terres de l’Ebre, you can enjoy a wealth of extraordinary ornithological richness. The Ebro delta and coastal mountains such as Els Ports, El Montsià, or Boix Mountains, which are structured around the Ebro River, greatly contribute to this.
The winter and beginning of spring hold many surprises for ornithologists and bird watchers walking through any part of the beautiful countryside. Apart from the wonderful natural terrain, you can see that man, with his traditional activities has contributed to this scenery by creating a mosaic of landscapes and open spaces, which are extremely important for many bird species visiting Terres de l’Ebre throughout the year, as well as those living there on a permanent basis.
With the start of colder weather...
Birds act like a meteorological and climatic thermometer, because not only are they beautiful to watch, but they also let us know when the weather is going to get colder or when there will be heavy snow in the mountains.
Some species escape the snow in the Pyrenees or the Alps and come to Els Ports searching for shelter in a different environment, which although mountainous, is more Mediterranean and has a milder climate. The alpine accentor Prunella collaris is one of these. This lovely bird can be found in the highest areas, and is usually rather unwary during this season, giving you a great chance to enjoy it and take photographs from a short distance. The wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria is another joy to behold but can only be seen here when the weather is really severe in the Pyrenees. This species stays close to rock faces, as its scientific name ‘muraria’ meaning ‘of the wall’ suggests. The grace of this small bird flying around incredibly steep rock faces is an experience that no bird watcher should miss.
Winter also brings lots of great surprises down on lower ground, on the Ebro Delta. Large pools there make the perfect place for observing large groups of ducks which come over for the winter, such as the common teal Anas crecca, the mallard Anas clypeata, the gadwall Anas strepera and the ever attractive and colourful red-crested pochard Neta rufina.
With the arrival of the cold, flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber collect in the more salty pools, in groups which sometimes reach several thousands. This natural spectacle is well worth seeing even for those who are not really interested in nature.
Over the last autumn and this winter there has been some new ornithological movement at the delta, with the presence of rare species which are hardly ever seen. For example, the Pacific golden plover Pluvialis fulva arrived last autumn and has stayed for the winter. This bird breeds in the Siberian tundra and hibernates in Asia. Also, since September various examples of the buff-breasted sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis can be seen, along with the red-necked phalarope Phalaropus lobatus, which is also an uncommon visitor at the delta. Finally, another recent arrival has been the attractive long-tailed sea duck Clangula hyemalis. One last interesting fact worth a mention is that almost every winter there have been sightings of the short-eared owl Asio flammeus.
With the arrival of warmer weather...
The spring brings surprises to all corners of this region, whether it is on low ground or in the mountains. In Els Ports during April and May when the plants and trees are in bloom, we can enjoy the presence of the European bee-eater Merops apiaster, probably one of the most attractive birds in Europe. The red-rumped swallow Hirundo daurica is also present, nesting under small bridges. However, without doubt one of the most emblematic and also one of the most endangered species is the sedentary Bonelli’s eagle Aquila fasciata, and there are still various pairs here.
Els Ports is also a great place for enjoying other interesting birds like the peregrine falcon Falco peregrinu, or the Egyptian eagle Neophron percnopterus. The short-toed eagle Circaetus gallicus, which arrives in early spring, is yet another attractive element seen regularly in Els Ports.
Going beyond bird life, the actual countryside in Els Ports is captivating with its combination of impressive rock faces and typical Mediterranean streams, not forgetting the presence of the Iberian wild goat Capra pyrenaica, which adds lots of character to these mountains.
If you go further inland to the Montsià region, you can see one of the very few populations of Montagu’s harrier Circus pygargus nesting on natural vegetation. Furthermore, in some of the ravines you can also see the long-eared owl Asio otus, with numerous examples which sleep near Montsià Mountains.
Scenery in Boix Mountains is the absolute essence of Mediterranean beauty, with a mixture of limestone and shrub land in bloom, home to the thekla lark Galerida theklae.
However, if we return to the Delta in spring we will find a completely transformed landscape, with the rice now grown and the arrival of one of the most emblematic species, Audouin’s gull Larus audouini, with 80% of its world population here. The collared pratincole Glareola pratincola can also be found in certain dry meadows. This species with its sleek silhouette will leave no-one indifferent.
But these are just two examples of birds which choose the Delta to nest in every year, there are many others like the purple heron Ardea purpurea, little bittern Ixobrychus minutus, squacco heron Ardeola ralloides, slender-.billed gull Larus genei, kentish plover Charadrius alexandrinus, and savi’s warbler Locustella luscinioides to name but a few.
You can climb mountains, stroll along the river bank or lie down near the sea shore, in the certainty that the wealth of bird life in Terres de l’Ebre will not cease to amaze you. Now you just have to come and see.
Jaume Soler Zurita
Audouin Birding Tours