Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Chipirones and carrots

The top priority as we pulled into Sant Carles de la Rapita was a plate of chipirones (fried little squid) and a cold beer. A plate of razor clams drizzled with oil and lemon soon followed, oh and some octopus 'a la plancha' of course. Several hundred Swallows moved south past the front of the harbour-side bar as we swallowed. The first of many Audouin’s Gulls drifted by. Another plate of chipirones? So started our weekend seafood extravaganza in the Ebro Delta in Spain.

After a long lunch we drifted out into the delta to work up an appetite. Rice fields everywhere; the wet harvested areas full of egrets and herons. Most of the delta is now given over to rice production but there are a few protected areas of wetland (but many are privately owned by hunters) that support tens of thousands of waterbirds. The brackish La Tancada lagoons held 300+ Greater Flamingos and many passage waders; Little Stints were everywhere and Kentish Plovers dotted about.

L'Encanyissada is a large shallow freshwater lake surrounded by reedbeds. Hundreds of duck, including Red-crested Pochard, and another 200+ Flamingo formed the main birdy backdrop. At least 150 Whiskered Terns hawked back and forth along the margins or perched on every stick that stuck out of the water. Little Bitterns and Squacco Herons flew hither and thither. A flock of 8 carrot-beaked Caspian Terns arrived in front of us. As dusk drew near, Night Herons appeared miraculously all around and straggling flocks of Purple Herons rose out of the reeds. Stomachs began to rumble. We were soon into the main event; sucking the juicy brains out of Mediterranean Red Prawns, slurping more clams out of their garlicky shells and working through a huge pot of mixed fishes in fishermans sauce thickened with a garlic and almond picada. Yum. A fine Rioja eased their passage.
The following morning we headed out to Riet Vell, where the SEO (Spanish Ornithological Society) have a site than produces organic rice. The harvested fields were left wet and held many waders; Temminck's Stints, Wood Sands, Curlew Sands, Greenshanks and LRPs were the most numerous. A quick look from the hide overlooking the reedy lagoon resulted in an eye to beak meeting with a Purple Gallinule.

Zig-zagging through the rice fields we arrived at El Garxal lagoon. Hundreds of terns (Common, Little and Sandwich) congregated along the shoreline, along with more Whiskered and another couple of Caspian Terns and many Med Gulls. Three flocks of Glossy Ibis, totalling around 200 birds, arrived off the sea and headed inland. Fan-tailed Warblers zitted up and down and Sardinians rattled. A Praying Mantis obliging sat on my finger, wondering if I looked like dinner. Dinner did you say? We eased back to a restaurant on the edge of some marshland. Is that a Moustached Warbler in front of those Penduline Tits? Never mind, here come the langoustines with green beans and basil (steady, that's enough of the vegetables), then the clams, the smoked eel and yet more crispy yet succulent chipirones.

Swallows continued to flood south, now joined by increasing numbers of Sand Martins, as more seafood headed in the same direction, washed down with a nice chilled Cava. More Audouin’s Gulls floated by. Sea Cucumbers anyone? A great weekend, shame we didn't have more time, I didn't try the oysters.

The full list:
Squid, cuttlefish, octopus
3 species of prawn
4 species of clam, including razors and tellins
A spikey-shelled whelky-type thing
Hake, sole, monkfish, salt-cod, anchovies, sardines, fried baby fish.

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