Birding in Spain: Birding in Catalonia
Guided day tours, short breaks and vacations to the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà.

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Photos by Steve Mandel, Zac Hinchcliffe, Alex Vargas and other tour members

Birding in the Aigüamolls :

Unlike the other Catalan birding sites, the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà doesn't really have an exclusive list of speciality breeding birds and yet it's still an extremely popular destination for bird watching vacations and birding day trips in North-east Spain throughout the year.

One reason is that the 4783 hectares of the park are like a mini Catalonia, offering a cross-section of typical habitats that attract a wonderful range of birds that are representative of the region - including many raptors and passerines as well as Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Spoonbill, Nightingale, Collared Pratincole and Stone-curlew.

Another reason is that its coastal location and geographical position means it provides a stop-off for a remarkable number of Europe's migrant bird species, from the commoner raptors and passerines to the reliable rarities such as Red-footed Falcon, Marsh Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit and Spotted Crake.

And it's even earning a reputation for regular vagrants such as Great Snipe. Read more...

Aigüamolls Birding Tours:

! Lunch !

An excellent full home-made picnic based on local cuisine is available at €10 per person


Aigüamolls + partial Cap de Creus [for Orphean Warbler]

Aigüamolls +
Cap de Creus

Bird Tour Checklist:

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Birding in the Aigüamolls:
All Year Round

All (most of) year round :

Mute Swan
Shelduck (nt)
Gadwall (3)
Teal (v)
Shovelor (3)
Common Pochard (2)
Red-legged Partridge (2)
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Balaeric Shearwater (CR)
Yelkouan Shearwater
Night Heron (3)
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Eurasian Spoonbill (2) (vu)
Greater Flamingo (3) (nt)
White Stork (2)
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Bonelli's Eagle (3) (en)
Common Kestrel (3)
Peregrine Falcon (3)
Water Rail
Purple Swamphen (3)
Stone-curlew (3) (nt)
Lapwing (2)
Little Stint
Dunlin (3)

Although there's much more to the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà, the reserve at Cortalet, as well as appealing to more hardened birders, is always a great place for family birding if you're on vacation in the area.

Throughout the year the many hides will provide views of Spoonbill, White Stork and Night Heron together with Flamingoes, ducks and waders. Warblers and finches make permanent homes along the trails and reedbeds and there's always raptors in the skies overhead.

The range of birding habitat in the park always makes for a pleasing family nature walk and facilities include picnic areas, a sea-watch tower and an information centre.

birding vacation spain aiguamolls great crested grebe photo


"I accomplished so far beyond my expectations and had so much fun and wonderful birds! Stephen really knows his birds and the terrain to find them.
The trip is rich on info and he is an amazing guide and will make you find amazing birds to lead to an unforgettable memory. Everything was great and thanks Stephen for being so helpful and patient with my photographic rhythm."

Alex Vargas, Costa Rica/Thailand, April-May 2007

raptor watching spain emporda red-footed falcon photo

Ruff (2)
Common Redshank (2) (vu)
Wood Sandpiper (3)
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Monk Parakeet
Little Owl (3)
Hoopoe (3)
Wryneck (3)
Iberian Green Woodpecker (2)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark (3)
Thekla Lark (3)
Skylark (3)
White Wagtail
Stonechat (3)
Mistle Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Moustached Warbler (vu)
Sardinian Warbler
Long-tailed Tit
Great Tit
Penduline Tit
Carrion Crow
Starling (3)
Spotless Starling (4)
House Sparrow (3)
Tree Sparrow (3)
Corn Bunting (2)
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Birding in the Aigüamolls: Spring and Autumn Passage

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Beneath the face of the family nature reserve there lies an absolute paradise for serious birders and every effort should be made to include it on any birding vacation, especially during spring and autumn migration.

Reliable windows open and close for predictable falls of 'passage only' species including Garganey, Glossy Ibis, Common Crane, Bluethroat and Black Tern as well as those birds photographed alongside.

And beyond the boundaries of the well-trodden tourist tracks there are hideaways like Vilaut where you can spy on Osprey, compare sub-species of Yellow Wagtail or whisper a list of nearby summer-plumaged waders.

Spain birding: Aiguamolls: Spring and Autumn itinerary

“I still have pictures in mind of all the great birds I saw. Thanks for all your efforts and expertise. It was all the holiday I hoped for.”
Bianca Fraanje, Netherlands, November 2006

"We had a splendid two days, great company. Maya loved it too."
Tommy Pedersen, Norway & Maya Pedersen, Serbia, May 2008

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Passage Only :

Pintail (3) (vu)
Garganey (3) (vu)
Glossy Ibis (3) (vu)
Red Kite (2) (NT)
Osprey (3) (cr)
Red-footed Falcon (3) (NT)
Eleonora's Falcon (2) (nt)
Spotted Crake
Little Crake
Baillon's Crake (3)
Common Crane (1)
Dotterel (en)
Knot (3)
Temminck's Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit (2) (NT)
Marsh Sandpiper
Mediterranean Gull
Little Gull (3)
Caspian Tern (3)
Sandwich Tern (2) (nt)
Little Tern (3) (nt)
Black Tern (3) (en)
White-winged Tern
Lesser Short-toed Lark (3) (V)
Red-rumped Swallow
Tree Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Yellow Wagtail subspecies
Common Redstart (2) (vu)
Northern Wheatear (3)
Spectacled Warbler
Sub-alpine Warbler
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Birding in the Aigüamolls: Summer (and Passage)

Frankly it's a myth that a bird watching vacation or birding trip in summer is somehow low in quality. It's habitat that's important when it comes to finding birds, just as much as time of year.

In fact, given the choice in the Aigüamolls (read more), settled summer breeders like the sought-after Collared Pratincole, Roller and Great Spotted Cuckoo all make enough noise to make a trip worthwhile. And there's no better place for catching the elusive Nightingale than around the park's picnic benches.

And a trip to a spot in the Cap de Creus for Orphean Warbler is sheduled as standard from April to September.

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"Your thoughtful arrangements from our hotel to the richly rewarding birding trip was such a good experience! We enjoyed a lot your intense watchfulness to call our attention to birds. We would be happy to contact you again. The trip list of birds you sent has already been of good use. We will be happy to give your name to birding friends and travellers!"
Kerstin and Kurt Nederlanden, Sweden, October 2007

bird watching trip spain aiguamolls collared pratincole photo

Common Whitethroat
Western Bonelli's Warbler (2)
Willow Warbler
Pied Flycatcher
Ortolan Bunting (2)

Summer (and passage) :

Red-crested Pochard (3) (vu)
Cory's Shearwater (2) (en)
Little Bittern (3)
Squacco Heron (3) (nt)
Purple Heron (3)
Black Kite (3) (nt)
Short-toed Eagle (3)
Montagu's Harrier (4) (vu)
Hobby (nt)
Collared Pratincole (3) (vu)
Black-winged Stilt
Pied Avocet (2)
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover (3) (vu)
Great Snipe (1) (V)
Common Sandpiper (3)
Whiskered Tern (3) (vu)
Turtle Dove (3) (vu)
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Alpine Swift
European Bee-eater (3)
Roller (2) (NT)
Short-toed Lark (3) (vu)
Sand Martin (3)
Barn Swallow (3)
House Martin (3)
Iberiae Yellow Wagtail
Savi's Warbler (nt)
Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Melodious Warbler (4)
Spotted Flycatcher (3)
Golden Oriole
Woodchat Shrike (2) (nt)

Winter (and Passage) :

Greylag Goose
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Birding in the Aigüamolls: Winter (and Passage)

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Flocks of Wigeon, Golden Plover and Woodlark carpet the region's fields to give any birding trip to the Aigüamolls a unique winter charm, with divers, Gannet and a mixed-bag of waders dropping in to add a little more character.

What's more, Great Bittern lope silently over reed beds, Kingfisher dart across water channels and dozens and dozens of Stone-curlew can be seen - with a second look - stare-gazing right back at you, yellow-eyed in the twilight. By way of a bonus, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker are also more easily seen hanging out in leafless trees, perhaps arguing with the local Tree Sparrows.

Spain birding: Aiguamolls: Winter itinerary

 "The best birding day of my life.” Anthony Hinchcliffe
"102 species for the day! From the start of the bird trip it was clear we were in a great area for migration. Thanks for a great day."
Zac Hinchcliffe, UK, April 2008

 "A fantastic day, I will strongly recommend you to my birding friends in Norway."
Oivind Laagbu, Norway, April 2008

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Tufted Duck (3)
Common Scoter
Velvet Scoter (3)
Red-throated Diver (3)
Black-throated Diver (3)
Northern Gannet (2)
Great Cormorant
Great Bittern (3) (cr)
Hen Harrier (3)
Booted Eagle (3)
Peregrine Falcon (3)
Golden Plover
Common Snipe (3) (en)
Curlew (2) (en)
Spotted Redshank (3)
Common Kingfisher (3) (nt)
Woodlark (2)
Meadow Pipit
Water Pipit
Grey Wagtail
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Blue Tit
Southern Grey Shrike (2) (nt)
Rock Sparrow
Linnet (2)
Reed Bunting

The Nature of the Aigüamolls... a personal overview

It's not surprising that there was a national campaign to save the area of the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà from development (which succeeded back in 1983); it's like all the other birding itineraries rolled into one!

Of course, its similarity to other wetland sites, with the presence of Flamingo, herons and waders, is only to be expected but Roses Bay, which forms part of the bird reserve, is actually a better bet for both Red- and Black-throated Diver than anywhere on the Ebro Delta.

Similarly, your chances of seeing Spotted Crake or Moustached Warbler are arguably better here than Delta Llobregat, a place it would also challenge for migrant capital of Catalonia given regular visits of Crane, Red-throated Pipit and Red-footed Falcon.

And you might not even be surprised to see Cory's and Balearic Shearwater from the Cap de Creus seeking shelter in the bay given its proximity to the peninsular.

But would you expect White Stork, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller and Stone-curlew from the Steppes...

Bonelli's Eagle, scrub warblers, Golden Oriole and Southern Grey Shrike from the Garraf...

Or Rock Sparrow, Honey-buzzard and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker from the Pyrenees?

Of course it does have its own claims to fame, it being the original site for the reintroduction of the Purple Gallinule, for one, which later spread to the other wetlands of Catalonia.

In winter it also plays host to Booted Eagle and flocks of Stone-curlew, Glossy Ibis and many passerines.

All this in such a relatively compact area is exactly what makes it such a national favourite and a must if you have limited time and are forced to choose just one place for a birding day trip.

Key :

SPEC 1 (1)
SPEC 2 (2)
SPEC 3 (3)
IUCN critical (CR)
IUCN endangered (EN)
IUCN vulnerable (VU)
IUCN near-threatened (NT)
SPAIN critical (cr)
SPAIN endangered (en)
SPAIN vulnerable (vu)
SPAIN near-threatened (nt)
Vagrant/Occasional (V)

Six key habitat types of the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà.

1. The salinity, and therefore plant and bird life, of the eight SALTMARSH lagoons varies according to the mix of fresh and salt water from the hinterland and ocean respectively.

2. Inland, and away from the salt, the plant and bird life of FRESHWATER MARSHES, such as Vilaüt, differs even more radically.

3. COASTAL SANDY AREAS occur all along the park's sea front but the best area is near the mouth of the River Muga.

4. Many CLOSES - meadows 'enclosed' by rows of trees - are sited on the beds of old lagoons and tend to flood in the wet season.

5. Areas of RIPARIAN WOODLAND can be found, for example, on the lower sections of the rivers, Muga, Mugueta and Fluvià.

6. CROPS such as sunflower and fruit offer good wintering habitat for insectivores and frugivores, although the old winter cereals were better for breeding bird species.

Aigüamolls Links :

Zac Hinchcliffe's Blog (recommended)
Bird Life International Aiguamolls de L'Emporda fact sheet
Aiguamolls de L'Emporda Information site (Sheldrake Press)
Mas Jonquer (Accommodation in the Emporda)

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