Adult Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) on the Estanys del Matà
Spring migration in Girona
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
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.
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.
'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.
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 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...
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.
Cygnus olor – 2 EE 6/5/14. 3+ pairs seen EE, EV and EC May 2016.
Anser anser - 3-6 seen EM May 2016.
Alopochen aegyptiaca - 2-4 (2 pairs) seen EM May 2016.
Anas acuta - 1 male EM 3-7/5/16.
Anas querquedula – 1 male EM 4/5/14. 1 male EM 6/5/16.
Anas discors – 1 male EM 4/5/14.
Aythya ferina – 1 male EV 6/5/14. 2 males EC 4/5/16.
Great Crested Grebe
Podiceps cristatus – 1 EC 5/5/14.
Phalacrocorax carbo – 1 La Massona 5/5/14. 2 La Massona 5/5/16.
Phalacrocorax aristotelis - 3 Punta del Mila (Montgri) 5/5/16, including a pair nesting.
Ixobrychus minutus – 2 (m./f.) EE 6/5/14. 2 (m./f.) EE 6/5/16.
Egretta alba - Several May 2016.
Ciconia nigra - 2 EV 3/5/16, active migration north.
Platalea leucorodia – 2 EM 4/5/14. Several small groups seen May 2016, max. 9 EV 3/5/16.
European Honey Buzzard
Pernis apivorus – 6 CCNP 7/5/14, active migration north.
Milvus milvus - 1 EM 2/5/16.
Western Marsh Harrier
Hieraaetus fasciatus – 1 ad. EM (towards Pyrenees) 8/5/14.
Porzana porzana – 1 EM 8/5/14.
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.
Charadrius alexandrinus - Fairly common EM May 2016.
Pluvialis squatarola – 1 EM 4-5/5/14, 1 Estany d'en Turies 6/5/14. Several throughout May 2016, EM.
Vanellus vanellus - Several EM/EC throughout May 2016.
Calidris alba - 3 EM 3/5/16, 2 EM 4/5/16.
Calidris temminckii – 2 ad-summers EM 5/5/14.
Limosa limosa - 1 EM 3/5/16, 1 EM 4/5/16.
Numenius arquata – 3 EE 6/5/14.
Phalaropus lobatus – 1 ad-summer EM 5/5/14.
Larus genei – 1 ad-winter EE 6/5/14. 1 ad-winter EM May 2016.
Larus melanocephalus - 20+ EM May 2016.
Larus minutus - 1 ad-winter EM 7/5/16.
Sterna nilotica – 1 EM 6-7/5/14, 2 EM 8/5/14. 1 to 4 EM, EC May 2016.
Sterna caspia - 1 EM 2/5/16.
Chlidonias niger - 1 ad-summer EM 4-6/5/16.
Chlidonias leucopterus – 1 ad-summer EM May 2014. 1 ad-summer EC 4/5/16.
Common Wood Pigeon
Eurasian Collared Dove
European Turtle Dove
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Clamator glandarius - 1 first-summer EV 7/5/16.
Eurasian Scops Owl
Otus scops – 1 (h) campsite 6-8/5/14.
Caprimulgus europaeus - 1 (h) St Mori May 2016.
Apus pallidus - Fairly common on strong northerlies EM May 2016.
Jynx torquilla - 1 EV 3/5/16.
European Green Woodpecker
Picus viridis - 1 EM 2/5/16.
Galerida theklae – Frequently seen CCNP 7/5/14.
Lullula arborea – 1 EE 7/5/14. Common Montgri massif May 2016.
Eurasian Crag Martin
Ptyonoprogne rupestris - 1 Punta del Mila (Montgri) 5/5/16.
Hirundo daurica – 1 EM 4/5/14. 1 EV 3/5/16.
Common House Martin
Anthus campestris – 1 EE 6/5/14.
Anthus cervinus - 1 adult EM 4/5/16.
Motacilla flava - Common EM, etc, 1 thunbergi
male EM 2/5/16.
Erithacus rubecula - 1 St Mori May 2016.
Phoenicurus ochruros – CCNP only, 7/5/14.
Turdus viscivorus - 2 near Bellcaire (Montgri) 5/5/16.
Common Grasshopper Warbler
Locustella naevia - 1 reeling EV in scrubby field, 3/5/16.
Eurasian Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Sylvia undata – 1 male CCNP 7/5/14.
Sylvia communis – 3+ CCNP 7/5/14.
Sylvia borin - 1 EE 6/5/16.
Sylvia atricapilla - 1 male St Mori 1/5/16.
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Phylloscopus bonelli - 1 (h) St Mori, May 2016.
Phylloscopus sibilatrix – 1 EM 4-5/5/14, 1 EM 8/5/14.
Phylloscopus trochilus – 1 EM 4/5/14.
Regulus ignicapilla - 1 St Mori May 2016.
European Pied Flycatcher
Eurasian Blue Tit
Eurasian Penduline Tit
Remiz pendulinus - 2 EE 6/5/16.
Eurasian Golden Oriole
Corvus corone – 2 EM 8/5/14.
Corvus corax - 1 EE 6/5/16, 1 EE 7/5/16.
Sparrow Passer montanus
Petronia petronia – 2-3 at Bee-eater colony, EC 4/5/14.
Fringilla coelebs – 2+ CCNP 7/5/14. 2 males Montgri massif 5/5/16.
Emberiza cirlus – 3 CCNP 7/5/14.
Neovision/Mustela - 1 EE 4/5/16.
Stripeless Tree Frog
Perez's / Graf's Hybrid Frog
Rana perezi / Rana kl. grafi
European Pond Terrapin
Timon lepidus 1 male Montgri massif 5/5/16.
Small lacerta Lizard sp
Lacerta / Podarcis sp
Gonepteryx cleopatra - 2 males Montgri massif 5/5/16.
Marbled White sp.
Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth
Hairy-footed Flower Bee