A Ria is is a coastal inlet or flooded river valley. The word ría in Galician and is related to the word río (for river). There are many Ria or rías in Galicia (north west Spain) and Ria de Ortigueira is one of the Rías Altas (or Upper Rias) in the very north of the province of Galicia. Two rivers flow into the Ria, the largest being the Rio Mera on the west side; the other is the Ria Baleo on the east side which creates another lagoon near the village of Ladrido (1).
Ortigueira and the surrounding area is a very special natural place – not only because I was lucky enough to inherit an apartment there! – but also because it is an important site for over-wintering birds (ducks and waders). Large numbers of ducks (Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and so on) overwinter in the southern part of the Ria, and many waders (such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Oyster catchers, Curlew, Redshank and Whimbrel and so on) can be seen on the mud flats. This winter there were also six Eurasian Spoonbills in residence when I was there in March. Yellow-legged gulls can be seen although the best site to see these gulls is at the nearby Punto de Bares in my opinion. Likewise Dartford warblers, which are probably more abundant at other coastal sites in the area.
There are also quite good numbers of Cormorants and Little Egrets in the Ria; Shags can also be seen – sometimes on the rocks very close the the waters edge at Ortigueira. It is also a good site for Sandwich Terns, which can sometimes be seen fishing off the small jetty in Ortigueira. This area is also blessed with another very special site: a dune and pine tree ecosystem at Morouzos beach (a protected area and RAMSAR site). There is a lovely path along the Ria from Ortigueira to Morouzos beach and the beach area is a grat place to see a wide range of passarines, including Cirl Buntings, Yellow Wagtails, Zitting Cisticola, Stone chats and so on. The Yellow Wagtails are often lurking in the dunes in Spring and Autumn; Zitting Cisticolas are in abundance amongst the reeds and are particularly visible during the breeding season. I have also come across Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrests, Blackcaps and Rock Buntings (the latter on the island of San Vicente which can be reached from the beach at low tide).
One of the pleasures of staying in Ortigueira, for me, is hearing the lovely tremulous call of the whimbrels as they feed on the mud plats; particularly on a windless night when the sound wafts across the Ria.
1) Ortigueira-Mera: http://www.turgalicia.es/ficha-recurso?langId=en_US&cod_rec=16864&ctre=9
I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.