News, Trip Reports, etc

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, Spain, in spring (updated 5/2016)

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Adult Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) on the Estanys del Matà

Spring migration in Girona

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà
Location of area covered

Spain; Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, May 2014 gallery

Spain; Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, May 2016 gallery

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà is relatively unknown, at least compared to the Ebro delta, Doñana and many other sites further south. Although there's always an element of luck to these things, this reserve is rapidly gaining a reputation for being a very good place to be from mid-April to mid-May. Blue-winged Teal, Spotted Crake, Temminck's Stint, Red-necked Phalarope, Caspian and White-winged Terns and Red-throated Pipit are amongst the rarities we've seen here on two short trips. Other sought after species include Collared Pratincole, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pallid and Alpine Swifts, Roller, Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit and Rock Sparrow. Many more species can be found here at this time, the range of habitats supports a large number of resident and breeding species.
The position of the reserve on the coast at the south-eastern end of the Pyrenees means that birds in spring migrating up this side of the Mediterranean often take refuge on the reserve before continuing over the mountains – particularly if there's a strong northerly wind blocking their path, as there frequently is.
Birders living in south-west France have been making the short trip across the border for some years now, and clearly the Catalan birding community have been finding rarities here for a long time.


We concentrate on the reserve, Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park, with a day in May 2014 spent at the nearby Cap de Creus Natural Park for a complete change of scenery. Both areas are covered in the book 'WWBNES' – see reference sources. In May 2016 we visited the Montgrí Massif, covered by Birding in Spain

Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park

El Cortalet
A superb visitor centre with picnic area and parking. Parking is 5 Euros per day/per visit, a ticket is required to exit the parking, purchased at the visitor centre. This is also the starting point for all the marked walking trails to the north and to the south, both with several hides. The area immediately surrounding the centre is well worth the parking charge in itself. The income generated goes towards maintaining of the reserve.

Estanys del Matà
This area of the reserve to the south is linked to El Cortalet by a walking trail, but is also accessible by road – see maps, reference sources. Extends from the parking area on the minor road, south-east, to the beach (no access along beach north from 1/4 to 30/6 – to safeguard breeding terns). This is the part that turns up many rarities, particularly the flooded fields.

Estany Europa
The northern part of the reserve, again accessible by footpath from El Cortalet, or by driving to the urbanization of Empuriabrava where there is parking and the start of a marked walking trail around a nice lagoon. The trail crosses the river Muga (odonata) shortly after the parking area, and the route between the lagoon and El Cortalet crosses some great habitat – fields, scrubby areas, etc.

Estany de Vilaüt
Situated a few miles north of the core part of the reserve – see reference sources. Access is via the minor road GIV 6103, there is limited parking and a walking trail to the Vilaüt lagoon.


Cap de Creus Natural Park
This is the most easterly part of the Iberian peninsula, just east of Figueres, the first major town on the Spanish side of the border. A coast of rocky headlands and bays, the mountains here rise to 670m near the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. The cape itself is a bit of a tourist trap, but there are many marked trails that can be used, and the coastal towns of Port de la Selva and Cadaques are both relatively unspoiled.

Montgrí Massif
'El Montgrí' is a calcareous massif on the coast between l'Escala and l'Estartit. It is an area dominated by low scrub, garigue, with extessive patches of pine woodland. Apart from large numbers of mountain bikers in the morning, the two main tracks across the massif provide some tranquil birding compared to the other birding sites.
Unfortunately we saw nothing like the amount of species mentioned in the reference source, in fact the area was totally useless for raptors on our visit. There is some wonderful habitat, both inland garigue and coastal sea cliffs, and a visit later in the season would no doubt be more fruitful. Still worth doing for the landscape and a few species non-existant on the lowland plain.

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Camping L'Àmfora, Avenida Josep Tarradellas 2, 17470 Sant Pere Pescador, Girona, Spain. Camping L'Àmfora

This is camping on an industrial scale, expensive, with most pitches open and lacking privacy.
That said, it is 4-star and has some nice on-site facilities, like a fairly inexpensive supermarket and a nice cafe/bar/restaurant/take-away, also quite reasonably priced.
There are many campsites around here, we looked at two others near Sant Pere Pescador, these were even more 'open' and just as busy.

One problem with visiting during this month-long 'migration window' – it's also the time when France, Spain, Germany and Holland have their school holidays. Good if you have kids – but busy and sometimes noisy at night (adults!). This site was probably two-thirds full when we stayed there May 2014.

Mas Oriol, Sant Mori, Alt Emporda. Inland, about 16 kms from Aiguamolls reserve. Excellent situation, quiet, tranquil, and great if taking your dog with you.


'WWBNES' – Where to Watch Birds in Northern & Eastern Spain. Michael Rebane & Ernest Garcia. Helm, 2008. Rarely fails to hit the spot, this book.

Birding in Spain All sites visited are covered well here.

Iberia Nature Iberia Nature info on Aiguamolls de l’Empordà.

Catalan Bird Tours Catalan Bird Tours info on Aiguamolls de l’Empordà.

Birdlife Data Zone Use search engine Local bird news.

Rare birds in Spain Does what it says on the tin...

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BIRDS - 155 species (inc. 23 wader and 7 tern species)

EC = El Cortalet, EM = Estanys del Matà, EE = Estany Europa, EV = Estany de Vilaüt, CCNP = Cap de Creus Natural Park.

RBS = Rare Birds in Spain website.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor – 2 EE 6/5/14. 3+ pairs seen EE, EV and EC May 2016.

Greylag Goose Anser anser - 3-6 seen EM May 2016.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca - 2-4 (2 pairs) seen EM May 2016.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna

Gadwall Anas strepera

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Northern Pintail Anas acuta - 1 male EM 3-7/5/16.

Garganey Anas querquedula – 1 male EM 4/5/14. 1 male EM 6/5/16.

Blue-winged Teal Anas discors – 1 male EM 4/5/14.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata

Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina

Common Pochard Aythya ferina – 1 male EV 6/5/14. 2 males EC 4/5/16.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus – 1 EC 5/5/14.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – 1 La Massona 5/5/14. 2 La Massona 5/5/16.

European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis - 3 Punta del Mila (Montgri) 5/5/16, including a pair nesting.

Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus – 2 (m./f.) EE 6/5/14. 2 (m./f.) EE 6/5/16.

Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Great Egret Egretta alba - Several May 2016.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea

Black Stork Ciconia nigra - 2 EV 3/5/16, active migration north.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia – 2 EM 4/5/14. Several small groups seen May 2016, max. 9 EV 3/5/16.

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus

European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus – 6 CCNP 7/5/14, active migration north.

Black Kite Milvus migrans

Red Kite Milvus milvus - 1 EM 2/5/16.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus

Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

Bonelli's Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus – 1 ad. EM (towards Pyrenees) 8/5/14.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus

Spotted Crake Porzana porzana – 1 EM 8/5/14.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola – 1-5 EM May 2014. 1 EM 3/5/16, 1 EM 4/5/16, 2 EM 5/5/16.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius – 1 EM 4/5/14. Common EM May 2016, max. 8+ 5/5/16.

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula – Common EM both trips.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus - Fairly common EM May 2016.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola – 1 EM 4-5/5/14, 1 Estany d'en Turies 6/5/14. Several throughout May 2016, EM.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus - Several EM/EC throughout May 2016.

Sanderling Calidris alba - 3 EM 3/5/16, 2 EM 4/5/16.

Little Stint Calidris minuta

Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii – 2 ad-summers EM 5/5/14.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Ruff Philomachus pugnax

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa - 1 EM 3/5/16, 1 EM 4/5/16.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata – 3 EE 6/5/14.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola

Common Redshank Tringa totanus

Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus – 1 ad-summer EM 5/5/14.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei – 1 ad-winter EE 6/5/14. 1 ad-winter EM May 2016.

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus - 20+ EM May 2016.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

Little Gull Larus minutus - 1 ad-winter EM 7/5/16.

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica – 1 EM 6-7/5/14, 2 EM 8/5/14. 1 to 4 EM, EC May 2016.

Caspian Tern Sterna caspia - 1 EM 2/5/16.

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis

Common Tern Sterna hirundo

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida

Black Tern Chlidonias niger - 1 ad-summer EM 4-6/5/16.

White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus – 1 ad-summer EM May 2014. 1 ad-summer EC 4/5/16.

Feral Pigeon Columba sp.

Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus

Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius - 1 first-summer EV 7/5/16.

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops – 1 (h) campsite 6-8/5/14.

European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus - 1 (h) St Mori May 2016.

Common Swift Apus apus

Pallid Swift Apus pallidus - Fairly common on strong northerlies EM May 2016.

Alpine Swift Apus melba


Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

European Bee-eater Merops apiaster

European Roller Coracias garrulus

Hoopoe Upupa epops

Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla - 1 EV 3/5/16.

European Green Woodpecker Picus viridis - 1 EM 2/5/16.

Crested Lark Galerida cristata

Thekla Lark Galerida theklae – Frequently seen CCNP 7/5/14.

Woodlark Lullula arborea – 1 EE 7/5/14. Common Montgri massif May 2016.

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris - 1 Punta del Mila (Montgri) 5/5/16.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica – 1 EM 4/5/14. 1 EV 3/5/16.

Common House Martin Delichon urbicum

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris – 1 EE 6/5/14.

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus - 1 adult EM 4/5/16.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava - Common EM, etc, 1 thunbergi male EM 2/5/16.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

European Robin Erithacus rubecula - 1 St Mori May 2016.

Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros – CCNP only, 7/5/14.

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra

European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

Common Blackbird Turdus merula

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus - 2 near Bellcaire (Montgri) 5/5/16.

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

Common Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia - 1 reeling EV in scrubby field, 3/5/16.

Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus

Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta

Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata – 1 male CCNP 7/5/14.

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis – 3+ CCNP 7/5/14.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin - 1 EE 6/5/16.

Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla - 1 male St Mori 1/5/16.

Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli - 1 (h) St Mori, May 2016.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix – 1 EM 4-5/5/14, 1 EM 8/5/14.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus – 1 EM 4/5/14.

Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla - 1 St Mori May 2016.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata

European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus

Eurasian Blue Tit Parus caeruleus

Great Tit Parus major

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla

Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus - 2 EE 6/5/16.

Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius

Common Magpie Pica pica

Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula

Carrion Crow Corvus corone – 2 EM 8/5/14.

Northern Raven Corvus corax - 1 EE 6/5/16, 1 EE 7/5/16.

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia – 2-3 at Bee-eater colony, EC 4/5/14.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs – 2+ CCNP 7/5/14. 2 males Montgri massif 5/5/16.

European Serin Serinus serinus

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus – 3 CCNP 7/5/14.

Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra



Mink sp Neovision/Mustela - 1 EE 4/5/16.

Fallow Deer Dama dama

Stripeless Tree Frog Hyla meridionalis

Perez's / Graf's Hybrid Frog Rana perezi / Rana kl. grafi

European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis

Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa

Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritanica

Green Lizard Lacerta bilineata

Ocellated lizard Timon lepidus 1 male Montgri massif 5/5/16.

Small lacerta Lizard sp Lacerta / Podarcis sp

White-clawed Crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes

Winter Damselfly Sympecma fusca

Blue-tailed/Iberian Bluetail ischnura elegans/graellsii

Goblet-marked Damselfly Erythromma lindenii

Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger

Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii

Scarlet Darter Crocothemis erythraea

Swallowtail Papilio machaon

Small White Pieris rapae

Clouded Yellow Colias crocea

Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra - 2 males Montgri massif 5/5/16.

Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni

Wood White Leptidea sinapis

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

Marbled White sp. Melanargia sp.

Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria

Wall Brown Lasiommata megera

Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus

Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth Hemaris fuciformis

Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum

Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus

Hairy-footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes

Western Honeybee Apis mellifera

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum