16th January 2019 Daniel Roca

Crossroads

Birds from the far North, the far East, the far South, the far West… The Mediterranean basin is a crossroads for migrants, and the Ebro Delta is one of its best birding sites. In a single winter day, like yesterday, it is possible to switch from a “Sibe vibe” to an African flavour in a matter of minutes. That’s what we went for, an exceptionally diverse combination of winged creatures.

Erms de la Tancada
Following a windy week, the weather was sunny and calm, providing the best conditions. We started at “Erms de la Tancada” area, where a Siberian Stonechat was found a few days ago. Apparently a female, it is not an easy bird to identify, as there are some Common Stonechats that can look quite similar. The bird seems to be a nominal Saxicola maurus, but has some features that could indicate Saxicola maurus stejnegeri, an even rarer subspecies from even further East (sometimes treated as a full species). The bird had already been trapped and ringed by another ornithologist, and a feather sample taken. A DNA test will hopefully clarify its identity.

Siberian Stonechat
The Siberian Stonechat was a bit distant, but we had superb views of it with the telescope and could see its pale unstreaked rump, pale throat and diffuse supercilium.

Our next goal was the nearby Alfacs bay, but before we got there, another mega rarity was waiting for us. In this case, a wintering Steppe Grey Shrike, a very confident bird that has been around since last autumn.

Steppe Grey Shrike
Far East, check. What we had in mind now was a Lesser Flamingo, a mostly African species. Two of them were found in the bay a few days ago, mixed with thousands of Greater Flamingos. Now, you’d think that finding a pink bird that does not hide like a warbler would be easy. But actually, this proved to be more difficult than expected. The area to cover is huge, and flamingos move a lot from one site to the other. The bird was nowhere to be found in the area where it was previously reported. We kept scanning the often dense groups, hoping for it to stretch its neck and reveal itself. But no luck so far.

Alfacs

Great Northern Diver
Instead, we found a Great Northern Diver that kept us interested and entertained, as it is a pretty scarce winter bird in Catalonia, and also a joy to watch. It spent more time underwater that on the surface, until it caught and swallowed a big fish. Then it rested for a while. Far North, check.

The thing is, we couldn’t forget about the Lesser Flamingos. We knew they were around. So we decided to go back to one of the previously visited spots and bingo! there was, in front of us, a Lesser Flamingo.

Lesser Flamingo
At first, we had it against the sun, so backlit, and not very close to us. But what an impressive bird. The size difference is noticeable, as is the bill colour or neck thickness. We were thinking about moving to get better views when it suddenly decided to take off.

Lesser Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo
The bird flew past us, then joined a few Greater Flamingos, and landed right in front of us. So we really couldn’t ask for more. Far South, check.

Lesser Flamingo
Here you can see the size difference, Lesser Flamingo is the bird on top.

Now, what else? We could try and find the Slavonian Grebe at La Tancada lagoon, go find some of the Richard’s Pipits wintering in the area, or just keep birding and let nature surprise us! But winter days are short, and it was already getting late. We decided to move to the northern bay of El Fangar, where the light is best in the afternoon.

Starling flock
Starling flock
Thousands of Starlings were getting ready for the night. But we were not done yet. The northern bay was packed with gulls, ducks and waders. We enjoyed the last minutes of sunlight and still managed to find the two Common Eiders wintering there, another very scarce species from the far North. A first winter Little Gull marked the end of the day. Another unforgettable day in the Ebro Delta.

Little Gull

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