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Ria de Ortigueira – a special place!

Mouth of Ria Ortigueira
Mouth of Ria Ortigueira

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).

Mud banks exposed at low tide at Ortigueira
Mud banks exposed at low tide at Ortigueira

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.

Mud flats at low tide by Ortigueira
Mud flats at low tide by Ortigueira

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).

Zitting cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) early April at Morouzos beach
Zitting cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) early April at Morouzos beach
Morouzos beach (Playa) showing the salt marsh, sand dunes and pines behind the beach
Morouzos beach (Playa) showing the salt marsh, sand dunes and pines behind the beach


Male Cirl Bunting in early April
Male Cirl Bunting in early April

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.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)  sitting on a rock waiting for low tide
Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) sitting on a rock waiting for low tide

1) Ortigueira-Mera:

rcannon992 View All

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.

5 thoughts on “Ria de Ortigueira – a special place! Leave a comment

  1. Ría de Ortigueira is a great place, one of the less spoilt rias in Galicia. You should´t miss the Capelada mountain range (apart from lizard like Lacerta monticola you can find the bird Monticola solitarius). It is well know among Galicia Naturalists for their plant endemics growing on serpentine rocks: Centaurea ultreiae and others, and some very rare ferns. The landscape is also awesome, with Herbeira cliffs 600 m above sea level. Unfortunately many areas are also heavily afforested with boring Eucalypus forests

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