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Vivaldi in the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà

By Emma Aixalà Photo Dani Salvà

The Fluvià and Muga rivers irrigate the 5,000 hectares of crops, fields, and lagoons in the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park. Out of the total, 800 hectares form a comprehensive reserve, a valuable ecosystem that can be visited all year round thanks to a vast network of trails.


Life springs forth. Yellow and blue irises and orchids paint the scenery  along with a symphony of songs. Can you find the nightingale? It is one  of the 80 typical birds at the park and coexists alongside 300 other species as migratory birds, which depart from Africa to spend the summer in northern Europe, stop at the wetlands and make it a bird watching paradise. They arrive, feed, rest, and leave here – except when the tramuntana winds blow. During such periods they don’t take flight because the wind is too intense, so the air show only truly starts when the winds calm down. On the Les Llaunes trail, horses and fallow deer caring for their young await us, and on the edge of El Cortalet we can find Mediterranean tree frogs, some of which are even blue. 


The sun and the heat beat down and the wetlands are nearly dry. It is best to go early or late in the day, when the temperature is not so high. This is when the otters leave their burrows and seek out food, which they normally do at night the rest of the year, in the few areas that still have water such as the coastal lagoons. It is the season of the Eurasian hoopoe, the European bee-eater, and the European roller, an average-sized bird with a spectacular blue color that nests, if you can believe it, on utility poles. It is also the peak season for butterflies, a symbol of perseverance and transformation and a sign of good luck. More than 70 species can be found during the daytime! 


Autumn rainstorms should bring abundant precipitation, but the climate crisis has changed the rules of the game and getting dealt such a hand is no longer guaranteed unfortunately. Depending on the year, autumn comes wetter or drier than usual at the park as evidenced by the ash, poplar, oak and other deciduous trees. In the sky, birds begin their post-breeding migration: birds of prey, European bee-eaters, and storks now use the tramuntana winds to their advantage. On the ground, the fallow deer rut begins, the ritual in which the males roar and fight among themselves with their majestic antlers to shine before females in heat. 


The hypnotic dance of starlings at dawn and dusk is the gift that’s the first sign of winter. The park welcomes birds fleeing the harsh temperatures of northern and central Europe as the lakes where they live are frozen and they seek a kinder refuge. One example is the northern lapwing, a majestic-looking bird that owes its name to its northern origins. Ducks such as the mallard, the northern shoveler, and the Eurasian teal can also be found in the winter, along with cranes, which are easily recognized with their flying “V” formation. 

40 years of fighting to protect nature 

Our inward gaze during winter has resulted in a reflection: we are fortunate to enjoy the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà all year round. It only exists because a group of young people fought against a giant construction project in the 1970s. It was David versus Goliath. And David defeated the speculation and managed to get the Parliament of Catalonia to protect the land and work to turn it into what it is today. In the words of Jordi Sargatal, one of the movement’s leading supporters, the park is an educational resource, an area for relaxation, and a space for respect and mutual admiration guamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park. Out of the total, 800 hectares form a comprehensive reserve, a valuable ecosystem that can be visited all year round thanks to a vast network of trails.