Despite it being the second most important wetland area in Spain, and a mecca for birders from all over Europe, I was hugely disappointed with my visit to the Ebro Delta in late April. It wasn't that there were no birds, it was just that they were almost always half a mile away with absolutely no chance of getting photos of them. Perhaps another reason I didn't enjoy my stay here was that the only way to have any chance of getting close to anything was to stay in the car and use it as a hide as I drove slowly along the roads bordering the ricefields. I'm not particularly a fan of staying in the car all day! Although this method can be very effective, it is not a style of photography that I particularly enjoy. I much prefer locations where I can get out and walk around.
The main draw for me of going to the Ebro Delta was the hope of photographing Audouin's Gull and at least this species didn't disappoint me...
Audouin's Gull has been one of Europe's most successful conservation stories. In 1975 the global population was estimated to be only 1000 pairs, but a combination of the provision of protected areas in their Spanish breeding grounds and discarded fish from fishing trawlers has resulted in a rapid increase in their population to an estimated 64000-67000 individuals in 2015. Although they are no longer faced with extinction, they are still highly dependent on continued conservation support with more than 90% of the European population breeding at just 4 sites in Spain. Over two thirds of these breed at the Ebro Delta.
Possibly another reason for their population increase over the last 40 years is a change in their feeding habits. Traditionally, they have been a predominately pelagic-foraging species who relied on cluperiform fish (herring, sardines, etc.) as their main source of food, usually foraging at night to exploit the daily vertical migration habits of these species. With the explosion in numbers of the invasive North American Red Swamp Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) in northeastern Spain over the last few decades, however, many Audouin's Gulls have switched their foraging habits to take advantage of this new, abundant food source.
Black-winged Stilts are abundant at the Ebro Delta and, unlike most other species, were quite frequently close to the road.
This courting pair were a little too close, and when the male mounted the female it was a struggle to fit them both in without clipping the tips his wings off!
Spring romance was definitely in the air...
During my stay at the Ebro Delta, I also had to frequently contend with the strong, cold winds coming down off the Pyrenees that are a frequent feature of northeastern Spain at this time of year. While this made things awkward for most species, it made photographing the fast, erratic flight of Whiskered Terns considerably easier as they were slowed down when battling the strong headwinds while fishing near the turbulent waters of an open sluice gate where a large shoal of fish had gathered.
Common Terns were also attracted to the fishing opportunities at the sluice gate...
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