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Aiguamolls de L'Emporda - BirdForum Opus

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Europe, Spain


One of the best wetland areas in northeast coastal Spain, these marshes on the Bay of Roses are second only to the Ebro Delta. A national campaign to save the Aiguamolls de L'Emporda from development succeeded back in 1983.

This site covers coastal marshlands around the mouths of the Muga and Fluvia rivers in Catalonia and includes freshwater pools, brackish lagoons and saltmarshes, sandy coastal areas, wet grassland, cultivated land and some riverine woodland.

This range of habitats attracts a wide range of birds and about 300 species have been recorded here with nearly a hundred of these breeding. The area is now a Natural Park and Ramsar Site.


Notable Species

Regular here in small numbers is Great Bittern, a very rare breeding bird in Spain. Other members of the heron family to be seen here include Little Bittern, Cattle Egret and Little Egret, and Grey Heron and Purple Heron. Greater Flamingo occurs on passage and there is a thriving and easily-seen reintroduced population of Western Swamphen. White Stork has also been reintroduced.

Garganey is a regular summer visitor and Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and Stone-curlew breed. Common Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, European Roller and Eurasian Hoopoe add colour and passerine breeders include Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Great Reed Warbler and Moustached Warbler and Penduline Tit. Lesser Grey Shrike and Woodchat Shrike breed here with Red-backed Shrike on passage and Iberian Grey Shrike in winter.

In winter Black-throated Diver can be seen on the sea close by as well as Common Scoter and Velvet Scoter and Razorbill. Ducks of a variety of species occur in large numbers on the open water and marshes and Glossy Ibis is regular. Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl quarter the marshes in winter.

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

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

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

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

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

Or Dotterel, Rock Sparrow, and Short-toed Eagle 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 Catalunya. In winter it also plays host to Hoopoe, Booted Eagle and flocks of Stone-curlew and Glossy Ibis.

And even better, it boasts one of only two breeding populations of Lesser Grey Shrike in the whole of the Iberian peninsula (the other being near Lleida) and offers two prime locations at which to see it.

All this in such a relatively compact area makes it a national favourite and a must if you have limited time and are forced to choose just one place to visit.


Recent rarities have included Paddyfield Warbler in April 2001 and Pallid Harrier in April 2003.


Birds you can see here include:

Black-throated Diver, Cory's Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Great Bittern, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Common Eider, European Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Osprey, Eleonora's Falcon, Water Rail, Little Crake, Common Moorhen, Western Swamphen, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Stone-curlew, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Eurasian Dotterel, Eurasian Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, White-winged Tern, Razorbill, Common Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Scops Owl, Short-eared Owl, European Nightjar, Common Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Greater Short-toed Lark, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, European Stonechat, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Blackcap, Penduline Tit, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Corn Bunting

Other Wildlife

Mammals are few at Aiguamolls de L'Emporda but Polecat Mustela putorius and Water Vole Arvicola terrestris are common and Otter Lutra lutra and Fallow Deer Cervus dama have been reintroduced. Semi-wild Camargue horses can also be seen here.

Reptiles are well-represented with notable species being Montpellier Snake Malpolon monspessulanus in the scrub, Three-toed Skink Chalcides chalcides on the sand-dunes and Spiny-footed Lizard Acanthodactylus erythrurus in rocky areas. Chelonians are also present with Hermann's Tortoise Testudo hermanni on scrub-covered slopes and Stripe-necked Terrapin Mauremys caspica in streams and ponds. Stripeless Treefrog Hyla meridionalis and Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda are abundant and highly vocal in the wetter areas.

The drier limestone areas are of great botanical interest with colourful species such as Orchis lactea, Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum and Yellow Corn Marigold Chrysanthemum segetum as well as the poisonous Henbane Hyoscyamus niger. The brackish marshes have the purple Iris spuria while the yellow Iris pseudacorus grows in freshwater areas.

Site Information

History and Use

To do

Areas of Interest

There are several areas of particular interest that can be reached on foot from the information centre where detailed maps are available.

El Cortalet

Hides overlook El Cortalet, a freshwater lagoon and there is a raised hide known as El Palleja which gives views over brackish lagoons. To the west of the main lagoons there is a drainage channel which a bridge from which the extensive reedbeds can be viewed.

Laguna de Rogera

Laguna de Rogera is a salt lagoon close to the sea where flamingos gather and the sea is well worth checking, especially after stormy weather. Parts of this stretch and the lagoon are closed to the public from April 1 to June 15 to minimise disturbance to breeding birds.

Sant Pere Pescador

From Sant Pere Pescador the River Fluvia flows to the sea and this also forms an interesting part of the reserve. To the north is a series of pools with extensive reedbeds that can be reached from the road between Castello d'Empuries and Palau-Saverdera.

Estany de Vilaut is one of the best of these pools and can be reached by turning right onto a marked track shortly after the Restaurant Aiguamolls. This pool has a hide and the riverine woodland in the surrounding area is worthy of thorough exploration.

Access and Facilities

The Aiguamolls de L'Emporda area lies on the Costa Brava and has been a Natural Park since 1983. It can be reached from the A7 or NII which both run between Barcelona and La Jonquera. Turn off on the Figuera exit and take the C260 to Rosas turning left between Castello d'Empuries and Sant Pedro Pescador to the signposted information centre.

The Costa Brava coast has a vast number of hotels, hostels and guesthouses, apartments, villas and campsites for virtually its entire length and the most convenient for this site are in Castello d'Empuries or Sant Pere Pescador. Many resorts along this coast offer package deals, an easy and inexpensive way to visit the area. In addition there are campsites within the reserve.

Contact Details

To do

External Links

Content and images originally posted by Steve


Jel's review Wetlands with beach frontage. Easy walk although apparently can be overwhelmed by beach goers in Summer. Sandwiched between nasty tourist developments & cows. You can go kite-surfing on the surrounding beaches if you're game.

In a brief afternoon in early Oct, saw lots of birds including Flamingos, Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, White Storks, Grey Heron, a fat Pheasant, a suspected Purple Gallinule, lots of ducks & moorhens, yellow & grey wagtails, Cormorants, a terrapin, dragonflies, fish (carp?) waving their fins in the air, Fallow Deer, Camargue ponies and a fascinating white snail infestation in the scrub.


  • Birds not commonly seen elsewhere + variety of other animals. Easily accessible hides with great views and viewing platforms of stork nests. Good facilities with information (info centre closed for siesta).


  • Encroached by nasty tourist developments (goes without saying)
  • so the wetlands are shrinking. Noisy Spanish people.

Andy Wilson's review Made a brief visit during a very hot (over 30 C)August 2005 and the scrape nearest the visitor centre was totally dried up.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the reserve and saw several lifers including Black Winged Stilt, White Stork, Water Rail, Kentish Plover, Aquatic Warbler, Sardinian Warbler and fabulous Bee-Eaters (so many it was hard to count them).

There is a good variety of habitats and even though the conditions were not ideal there were birds to watch at all times.

Other than the birds listed above most others seen are fairly common to the UK so I won't list them here but I'm sure a visit at anytime other than high-summer will result in a good haul of unusual and rare birds.

Only downside is that at the sea-end of the reserve there is a dreadful camp site but to be honest by the time you have gone that far (about 4km from the visitor centre) the reserve is starting to get less interesting anyway. Also, the main path through the reserve is used by tourists (mostly on cycles). This is not too much of a problem as the cyclist do not seem to venture to the hides and bird locations.

Go off-season and I'm sure this will be a great reserve.


  • Good hides and vistor centre
  • variety of habitats


  • Close to awful camp site and path used by tourists

Stephen C's review The compact nature of this reserve makes it ideal to take the family especially as it contains a few habitats and therefore many, many different species, most of which can be seen at close quarters.

I love this place and have only been disappointed after severe rainfall due to flooding issues, which are being addressed I believe.

There are several areas of this huge expanse of wetland that are worth a look but the main two are:

'El Cortalet Reserve' - circular route taking in fresh and salt water marsh, reedbeds, coastal scrub; good for waders, storks, warblers, glossy ibis and lesser spotted woodpecker and lesser grey shrike.

'Vila t' - freshwater marsh and farmland good for roller, waders, lesser grey shrike, raptors and migrants like common crane.

Site for reintroduction of Purple Gallinule and White Storks. Pros

  • Compact
  • multi-habitat
  • many (migrant) species
  • good all year round
  • El Cortalet reserve is compact; great for migrants


  • Its rarely possible to complete the full circle as Can Comes beach is often flooded
  • In winter prone to flooding making some areas inaccessible