Thursday, 2 August 2012

More Delta del Ebre

We took advantage of a cool cloudy morning start to drive back up into the Delta to visit the Tancada Lake nature reserve which we discovered yesterday but didn't have time to explore properly. We were welcomed by two young staff members at the reception area, and given a briefing by one who spoke good English. The reception area gives a brief introduction to the work of the reserve and a list of the birds most likley to be seen during the day's visit. It also doubles as a gift shop selling a variety of  Deltebre produce - various kinds of rice, wine, salt, honey, herbs and preserves, nicely packaged for tourists.

We then started out following a short trail through a series of salt evaporation ponds showing various stages of brine concentration right down to crystallisation.

This led to a hut with more elaborate introduction to the Delta's conservation projects. It doubles up as an observation hide, overlooking the nearest of the large brine ponds, and allows you to observe Flamingos feeding at a distance of fifty metres from ground level, if they've come that close to hand. However, just prior to our arrival, a helicopter and a light plane, both equipped for spraying insecticide to suppress mosquitos, had passed by the reserve at low level. We caught sight of scores of Flamingos rising into the air from distant ponds and re-grouping after a fly-past.

Only a handful settled close to the hide today.

A hundred yards away from the hide is a renovated (air conditioned) storage shed which presents a beautiful artistic video of the Delta through the four seasons of the year. I found this very moving and inspiring. On the walls of the building were descriptions of some distinctive local wildlife, each furnished with a small window shutter behind which was a video display of the creature described. One area of floor contained a video projection of maps of the Delta during its long evolutionary history. Altogether the room is simple and effectively designed as an educational environment for children and adults. The place is beginning to be popular with schools, we were told with enthusiasm.

Next to the shed is the tallest building containing a viewing platform with powerful telescopes for looking over the lake and salt ponds, within a radius of a kilometre. It may have once been a dwelling place. It has now been adapted to provide meeting rooms for visiting groups. All the way up the stairs to the observation deck the walls are stencilled with birdie images, and simple clear instructions in Catalan, Spanish and English about how to watch birds successfully. Ingenious, better than any throw away leaflet.

The deck was equipped with five powerful telescopes, one especially for small children to use to watch birds up to half a mile away. Around the perimeter wall was a frieze of images of the birds most likely to be seen at any time, very useful for settling disputes about what was visible afar off. We spent an hour up there in blazing heat, mitigated slightly by a breeze, then we took a break for lunch, returning to the same restaurant in Poblenou del Delta, to try some other local seafood specialities, to our great delight. I managed another hour gazing over the landscape and taking photographs, while Clare took a siesta in the otherwise empty air conditioned media room - we were a little ahead of returning evening visitors - apparently evenings and mornings are the best times for observation, but that didn't fit with our schedule.

When I thought I'd had enough exposure to the sun, we drove back into St Carles del la Rapita for Clare to have a swim on the nice sandy beach there - by late afternoon it was pretty busy - before returning home, and a few hours of looking at bird pictures, realising how difficult it is to get really satisfactory material if you don't have a decent telephoto lens. Unfortunately the battery expired on my Sony camera (which does have a 10x magnification lens) after only a couple of dozen shots. I'd failed to top it up since last use. It's good battery - serves me right for forgetting.

I loved the Delta, and could spend a long long time getting to know it all year round if I had the chance. My most memorable image is not one I captured on camera. As we drove down that long straight road out to Poblenou del Delta, I saw three terns in as many miles, each was flying solo above and along the irrigation canals flanking the road (banks often decorated with tall red or yellow irises), hunting for food, heads sharply down, inspecting the water below, and just occasionally fluttering and diving abruptly into the water - just six feet away from my open car window. Lucky the road was so straight at that moment!

Here's the view from the observation desk out across the road, and in the distance is the sand bar that forms the outer boundary of the sea lagoon. You can see my Deltebre photos here

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