Vulture Culture and other birds

We are back in Yorkshire after a fabulous week in Spain.  The Ebro Delta is a real gem of a place for anyone wanting to see lots of birds, spend some time in the sunshine and eat nice food or explore the fabulous mountains inland.  We did a bit of all of these, but our time was mainly spent birding.  We chose to get a guide and my goodness what a good decision that was.  We booked 4 day tours with Ebro Delta Birding, who have been running fishing and birding tours in the area for nearly 20 years.  The main options are:

  • a boat trip down the river,
  • an exploration of Els Ports Natural Park taking in the spectacle of vulture feeding,
  • the north and south parts of the delta. 

If you look at a map of the Spanish Coast south of Barcelona, you can see a bit jutting out.  This is the accumulated silt from the River Ebro from over a thousand years. The town of Amposta (shown on the map) was a seaport in the 4th century.  The river is the the longest river entirely within Spain and it is an impressive waterway. It was known as the Iber by the Romans, which gives its name to the Iberian Peninsula

The outcome of all this soil and silt being deposited by the river is 340 km2 of wetlands, one of the largest in the Western Mediterranean.  It is a haven for waders, coastal birds as well as other visitors dropping by on their migration south, away from the European winter. We saw so many different and new to us, species it’s taking a while for us to get all our notes and photographs together.  Fortunately, out guide, Al had a great camera and shared his photos with us.

One astonishing treat was in our mountain day.  In the early 2000’s it was made illegal in Europe to leave an animal carcass out for the vultures in response to the BSE (mad cow disease) in the UK. This resulted in a sudden drop in available food for the vulture population. Feeding stations were set up by individuals and the Spanish government.  
Mas de Buñyol is a specialist vulture observatory in the Els Port mountains and the only wholly private one in Aragon. The vultures are fed every day at the same time.

When we were there we were lucky enough to see a record number dropping by.  There was a strong North Westerly wind, directly from the Pyrenees that helped bring large numbers of the Griffon Vultures to the site.   As you settle into the purpose built observatory, having been given very strict instructions to not stand up and to speak quietly, you can see a number of them on the tree tops and on the ground as well as the usual circling above. 

The gate in the distance opens and a small wiry man, Jose Ramon, appears pushing a large wheelbarrow. This has what must be about 50kg of rabbit breakfast for the birds. There is a mass swoop down as he empties the barrow amid a chaos of birds, bits of rabbit and dust.

As the early birds get the first bits of rabbit he retreats to fill up again.  He brought out at least 5 barrow loads and although there was some obvious jockeying for position and for chunks of rabbit, it was all over within half an hour.  Some left straight away as others stopped a while, getting a drink in the pond or just having a social time.  

Taking off after a breakfast of rabbit bits and a quick drink in the pond.

A short part of a great week but so astonishing, it needed its own post.

More knitting later in the week!

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