A winter of new rare birds and some we already know
The wind has come to stay. Or at least so it seems. The days of green fields and farmers bent over rice crops have long gone, along with days of never ending sun, or glowing orange evenings around nine at night. Mosquitos, bathers, pleasure boats along the bay, sand in our shoes… They are no more, they have disappeared. The humans have fled to warmer places, behind office windows, with central heating, hot chocolate, skiing, cars, keyboards… They do not remember the endless straight roads of the Delta.
But the bare fields are not quiet, nor are they waiting for warmer climes. They are bursting with a thousand feathers. Far from anywhere, thousands of birds have free reign. Some are habitual visitors; others are just here for a one-off. They are rare, only having been seen here on the odd occasion. Asiatic birds, or North American, others from the arctic or Middle East, all come to the Delta and are all very cocky with their freedom to choose, almost without knowing it.
They were on their way to Cantabrian coasts, flying north to Africa and decided to stop at the Ebro Delta, improvising, gliding. They say this winter is exceptionally bleak. Waves of cold air make these normally warm winter places freezing cold with rough seas. The Mediterranean winter, although it has worsened offers shelter, low temperatures, increased rainfalls and higher water levels in the wetlands creating muddier areas which is advantageous for bird food.
However, we must not forget one basic thing. So that these birds return and bring their mates from the north we must increase awareness. After harvesting last summer, resettlement indicated that once more our efforts in keeping the Delta cleaner and more aware are paying off.
A couple of black-throated loons flutter over the lagoons whilst western swamphens watch them out of the corner of their eye, a jack snipe runs around through the slime at Fangar, and onlookers crouch down behind one of the observatory structures in deadly silence which is only interrupted by the click of camera shutters. Cars stop on the road with their lenses pointing skyward. A desert wheatear flutters above causing a sharp intake of breath. Hunched over their telescopes, bird watchers are celebrating a second Christmas. The naked Delta offers the gift of life.
A life we form part of as human beings. Remember that the cold wind which hits us in the face is the same one that steers birds and brings them closer or moves them away to follow their own path of freedom. The survival instinct, without ties, just that, live. Hunting for food, and meanwhile you are treated to the best scenery, which is even more beautiful than those carefully filmed scenes from the best cinematographers. There is nothing like nature for learning.
And you, citrine wagtail, tell us about Siberia, tell us stories about the Himalayas. You, short-eared owl: tell us about Yellowstone, Alaska, the Andes, Denmark, your stay in Castilla, your adventures running after voles halfway round the world. Razorbill: show us your contrasting black and white feathers. Delight young and old, but more than anything just tell us. Long windy days with notebooks in hand, the winter waterbird census is well under way throughout the whole of Europe.
Now is the time to drop in on the delta (you humans too) and enjoy the winter landscape which has arrived with the cold. Keep your eyes open and remember that Riet Vell observatory is open 24h a day to satisfy your curiosity. Till then, take note: always fly free…towards life.
Teresa Monteagudo Tejedor
Student intern at Riet Vell, Zaragoza Unive