Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Catalunya 1 - Parc Natural Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

So I lost my camera - the last hour of my trip dropping off the hire car and dashing off to the Terminal.  A recently typical mental aberration that doesn’t come as a real surprise, but the pain of losing such a prized possession has taken a while to get over.  Maybe not the camera per se, but the seven hundred photos I had taken on such a wonderful trip to a beautiful part of Spain.  The thing about cameras and photography is that it is intrinsically entrenched into the creative soul.  A profoundly personal item of modern technology, harmonising sight, mind, and soul with the physical realities of our surroundings.  It was perversely like mourning a dear friend.

Deep breath.  I’ll carry on.

The plan was to spend a few days on the Costa Brava, but to stay clear of the main resorts such is my reluctance to spend time with hoards of British tourists from the ‘egg and chip brigade’.  Yes call me a snob – I don’t really care.

And thus, I found a place called Llafranc, not too far from Girona, an hour and half drive north from Barcelona El Prat Airport.  And what a gem of a place it was.  A small ‘resort’ accommodating a few white washed hotels set within a skimming stones throw from a modest golden sandy beach with  a smattering of unpretentious cafes set along the waterfront.  The cove settled within an arboreal headland rising up on either side, with a small ‘sailor-made’ harbour that fitted neatly into the bay.
It was a relaxing place to be for a few days.

Inevitably, we wanted to get out of the local environs and visit a couple of sites to explore the natural areas that Spain has in abundance.

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

Details here

What a place this was and it really took me by surprise.  None of these involved any prior planning, so consultation with a map, a car, and plenty of time in fine weather was set up perfectly for a decent walk.

Driving in, a European Roller was seen sitting along wires – I couldn’t stop but observed this striking bird for as long as I could without driving into a ditch, and sadly the only one I saw on the trip.  It was a stonking start.

The five Euro ‘exit’ fee was a modern-day bargain for what this reserve offered.  The car park itself filled with the sound of singing Nightingale, not our elusive subspecies, but the confiding Spanish form, hopping around grazing insects from the short grass, and exploding into song from the scattering of trees.

The visitor centre was much like what we expect at our flagship nature reserves, a haven for information with attentive and informative staff.  There were several routes around the reserve, but taking the main route through the woodland, the lusty and intense song of the Nightingale resounded from each tree, numbers of which I had never experienced before.  Just joyously numerous.  Gated areas overlooked fields with avenues of trees and nesting White Stork, some with maturing young still in the nest watched by vigilant adult birds, a few pairs in the throes of courtship displaying  their diagnostic ‘bill-clattering’.

The path enters the coolness of the scrub and woodland canopy, and the exposed meadow and marshland areas.  This was post migration, birds were generally now in-situ but there was still plenty on offer here.  The first hide overlooked the largest expanse of water where a couple of Great White Egret sat on the middle island, with two Black-Winged Stilt feeding in the shallows.  Toward the back of the flood, two drake Garganey dabbled with the common wildfowl and Great Reed Warbler belted out their extraordinary throaty exclamations.

Continuing further along the path, a Melodious Warbler sang from the treetop, and a classic Honey Buzzard drifted low over.  A couple of Purple Heron stalked stealthily within the marsh, with around a dozen Greater Flamingo wading in the pools dwarfing the frenetic Black-Winged Stilt.
Cuckoo were also evident with a few active singers, a Kingfisher darted through the woodland and over the pools, and Blue-Headed Wagtail were present in the meadows.

The path eventually arrives at the beach, alive with sun worshipers without being crowded.  A camping/caravaning site is located there and an outdoor café to relax in the warmth of the sunshine.

Wandering back, I took the opportunity to explore a different path that led to a hide overlooking an open area where a Marsh Harrier took time hunting over the glade, where a Purple Heron alighted from the deep grasses.  Four Cattle Egret dressed in smart tangerine breeding plumes flew in.

Walking out of the hide, there was an open area of marsh where an adult Squacco Heron sat low in the short reeds, it’s head exposed and ochre streaks visible on this stunning bird.  Dragging myself away, I heard the diagnostic call of the European Bee-Eater connecting shortly after with the nest site where it appeared at least a couple of pairs were breeding.

It wasn’t at all bad for a spontaneous excursion.

Thank you to the lovely Kat for the photos taken on a Samsung Camera Phone

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