Voluntary ornithological work
Some years ago Jamie and Carol came here from England. Both of them had a good education, but were somewhat frustrated at not being able to find work in the environmental sector as they did not have enough work experience to get a job which would in turn give them the so important work experience they needed. When an email they had sent to SEO/BirdLife was unexpectedly replied to offering them voluntary work on the Ebro Delta, they did not hesitate in seizing the chance.
They got a one way flight to Barcelona without being able to speak a word of Spanish and with just a name and telephone number on a piece of paper. They had left their full-time jobs behind, and given away all their belongings that would not fit into friendsÕ attics. All they had with them was what was inside their rucksacks.
They arrived at the Ebro Delta one week before the date agreed on, and camped close to the estuary, discovering almost at once the pleasures and problems at the Delta. Flocks of surprised red crested pochards were flying overhead, whiskered terns patrolling the river and cuckoos calling from the other side of the river that twilight was nigh. For hours they endured a constant cloud of mosquitoes.
At the beginning of May, the Delta is full of endless dry, ochre yellow, dusty rice fields which are usually not a very stimulating sight. However, their first sight of Riet Vell reserve was just the opposite. They arrived just as it was getting dark, when hundreds of terns and collared pratincoles were plummeting and gliding over the heads of flamingos.
The most surprising thing in the midst of everything was to see a white-winged black tern, which is not a common visitor here so far from its usual habitat in Western Europe. The one that Jamie saw was the first to be recorded at the reserve, and it arrived on the very same day that they did. At first they only intended to stay for three months and then go on to other projects. They were here for a whole year.
The first change they saw at the Delta was when the fields flooded just before being sown. Huge areas around the plantation rapidly changed from a rough rugged brown carpet into a pristine clear mirror reflecting an endless blue. They felt like the house they were living in was completely lost in the midst of an ocean of sky.
Over time, they discovered more and more birds at the Delta, many of which they had never seen before. They even became familiar with some of the birds which made frequent visits to the volunteersÕ home. A hoopoe would groom itself in the tree in front of their house every night. A kingfisher often used the garden fence near the kitchen window as its fishing post.
Who could ask for better entertainment? They saw the first water bird chicks adventure out of their nest to explore the rest of Riet Vell lagoon on their own. They saw boisterous, noisy chicks of the great reed warbler climbing to the top of fragile reeds, and an adult little grebe. As well as some friendly, dark and undemanding purple gallinule chicks.
They also spotted a Eurasian reed warbler desperately feeding a huge cuckoo chick.
One afternoon in August they looked up at the sky to see where the noisy commotion was coming from, and were blessed with the sight of thirty pairs of wings contrasting against a brilliant pink and jet black, each pair of wings belonged to a flamingo, and they were all descending to our rice fields, where they clearly wanted to spend the night. Ornithological friends at the reserve were excited, whilst JosŽ, the rice farmer in charge of the plantation seemed wary. Of-course these thirty birds enjoyed their stay and must have told their friends in other daytime feeding fields, because the next night more than fifty birds came. The following night there were more and the numbers kept on increasing until there was a flock of four hundred birds. Flamingos do not eat rice crops, but they do walk around with large pink feet. In total, six late rice fields were destroyed by their footwork.
The arrival of September meant that Riet Vell offered the only open shallow water in the area, which was happily discovered by migrating waders flying overhead. The first waders arrived en masse. Jamie was walking towards the observatory when he discovered hundreds of them in a field which had until then been empty. There was some great bird watching to be had, even of smaller species, and Jamie improved his aptitudes for identifying waders by the day. There was a group of twelve temminckÕs stints, a handful of marsh sandpipers and a pectoral sandpiper, such a rare sight so far away from America that many ornithologists from many kilometres around came to see, although Jamie was not lucky enough to spot it. He did however, closely observe a wader that he could not identify at first, and jumped right out of his chair when after checking his notes he realized that it was a broad-billed sandpiper, his first really significant rare find.
From October onwards, passing birds started heading south. Although the rice fields are dry in winter and many waders have left so that there are only small flycatchers to be seen, the Delta is still beautiful as always. Plenty of bluethroats, moustached warblers and common reed buntings can be seen just in front of Swarovski observatory, and silence reigns everywhere.
This is territory for the western marsh harrier, and occasionally the whimsical Eurasian bittern, but above all the common chiffchaff which are omnipresent at the Delta in winter. Jamie and Carol saw them pulling spiders out of their webs and drinking from flowers.
The general public thinks that bird watching in general is trying to find rare birds and increasing your list of them. But that couldnÕt be further from the truth. Taking your time to regularly visit natural areas and carefully watch is rewarded with fragments of wondrous life, which is continuously happening all around us, but we are rarely privileged enough to see it.
Both Jamie and Carol worked alongside volunteers for more than a year at Riet Vell Reserve, helping to organize and set up many of the infrastructures and projects which are currently underway, but above all in the field of ornithology, conservation and management of a natural area, which helped them to get work immediately. First, Jamie worked as a ranger at an ornithological reserve and later for the Irish Birdwatching Society. Carol was a teacher for many years at a school for environmental education and now she has started a project on Permaculture in France.
(this text has been adapted from an original letter by Jamie Durrant, as a great example of ornithological life of environmental volunteers at our bird reserves.)
Events 2015 RIET VELL RESERVE from SEO/BirdLife at the Ebro Delta
Easter at the Ebro Delta
Observatory game: Spring birds at the Ebro Delta
Migratory Bird Day 2015
Tern Festival at Riet Vell
Watching nests, games on migration, themed talk, ringing and other educational activities.
European 2000 Network Day
Sowing and weeding rice 000
Presentation of "arrozvolución" for 2015 and participation in popular weeding. Ringing, games and other educational activities at Riet Vell.
Arrosvolución 000 in BIO Week
Collective participation in agricultural work in rice fields 000
Menu with Riet Vell ecological rice at restaurants near thje Reserve.
traditional games and activities for children.
Arrozvolución 000 2015, Planting
Planting Arrozvolución 000 2015 at Riet Vell
Participatory agricultural Festival. Popular planting, regatta of reed boats and other games.
Natural and Cultural Diversity Festival
Festival with international volunteers and local traditions.
Presentation of volunteers' cultural activities, traditions on the Delta and nature at the reserve, games, ringing, introduction to the rice fields, etc…