Since the UK Birdfair started, in 1989, similar events have sprung up in many other countries, notably in South America, but there are also several in Spain: in Extremadura, Doñana (two, in fact) and in the spectacular Ebro Delta, about halfway between Barcelona and Valencia. The Delta Birding Festival, where I was an invited speaker in 2019, started in 2014 when, after visiting the UK Birdfair, Francesc Kirchner and his friend Miquel Rafa (director of the de ‘Territori i Medi Ambient’ Area of the ‘Fundació Catalunya–La Pedrera’, a kind of Land Trust, and the owners and managers of the festival venue) decided to create their own festival, with support from the Catalan Ornithological Institute.

Their objective was to generate the same ornithological interest as the UK Birdfair, albeit on a more modest scale, but also to raise funds for bird conservation. The Delta Birding Festival caters for speakers of three different languages – Catalan, Spanish and English – the last to create an international dimension. To foster this, they invite a small number of UK birders, ornithologists and authors to help to draw in around 2,500 attendees. The trilingual nature of the festival means that there are three parallel sessions, running over a Friday evening, all day Saturday and most of Sunday, on a wide range of topics. In 2019, there were three lectures specifically on plastic contamination of the seas – locally in the Ebro Delta, in the Mediterranean and globally. As speakers, we enjoyed exemplary hospitality.

And the venue, at Mon Natura Delta, which was once a fish farm, well… one word captures it: spectacular. The Ebro Delta, once one of Europe’s great wetlands, is now a combination of wetland, rice cultivation and saltpans, and continues to be an outstanding place for birds. The festival coincides with the rice harvest, the recently cut fields drawing in vast numbers of herons, egrets, ibises, flamingos, kingfishers, gulls (including Audouin’s Ichthyaetus audouinii and Slender-billed Chroicocephalus genei), terns (including Caspian Hydroprogne caspia), waders, and so on. It is a good job that the presentations are under cover otherwise one would be perpetually distracted. Imagine breathtaking murmurations of Glossy Ibises Plegadis falcinellus, or a thousand flame-red Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus overhead. That’s what it is like: skies (and rice fields) full of birds. Twenty years ago the Glossy Ibis was a rare bird in the delta; now, it numbers around 9,000 individuals, a Mediterranean-wide population increase fueled by a combination of climate change and new foods in the form of invasive crayfish, crabs and apple snails. All in all, the delta comprises a fascinatingly dynamic ecological situation.

The various tents offered all the usual bird-fair staples: travel, societies, workshops, discussions, guided tours, optics and an excellent bookshop. The food stalls were very good, some offering local dishes, including Catalan paella (in fact, it was worth going just for the food).

While I was there the sun blazed; we had a couple of showers, but they didn't disrupt things too much. The atmosphere was energetic, the audiences were enthusiastic, young and with roughly equal numbers of women and men. In fact, it was also worth going just to witness that!

On the Sunday morning there was a pelagic trip that provided great sightings of Balearic Shearwaters Puffinus mauretanicus and the Mediterranean race of Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis, including a flock of about 20 individuals, and all on mercifully calm seas.

Four species-based projects – Audouin’s Gull, Balearic Shearwater, White-faced Storm-petrel Pelagodroma marina and Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus – were short-listed for support from the festival’s profits, with attendees voting for which of these they preferred. And the winner was… the Egyptian Vulture.

In summary, the Delta Birding Festival is a well-organised, youthful, upbeat event that plays an increasingly important role on the Iberian Peninsula in encouraging an awareness and understanding of birds. The next one will be held on 18th–20th September 2020; see www.deltabirdingfestival.com

Tim Birkhead

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