Thursday, 28 April 2011

No Shags, No Benidorm, Lots of blimin' good birds

Wood Warbler

We set off from Manchester for Alicante airport on the 18th April albeit a touch delayed. We being myself, Angela my wife and Isabelle my daughter. We were going to stay with Angela's elderley relative 'Auntie Ann' (neither her aunt nor called ann) just outside Torrevieja, convieniently adjacent to a nature reserve, La Mata. I had been looking forward to this trip for ages as I had planned to see Bustards up on the plains. That trip was a success as I will detail later but I had a brain error and forgot my camera so the 6 lifers from that day have not been digitally rendered. Nor have the other 3 for 2 reasons. 1) they were small and quick. 2) It was dark. So. Great start that eh...
Auntie Ann

My girls
I did however manage quite a few snaps of some of the 113 species recorded across the 10 days including a variety of migrants, residents, local specialities and stuff you just dont see in the UK. I bumped into Graham Critchell again at El Hondo and a number of other people out and about. All of whom were lovely.

female Woodchat Shrike
A couple of hours around La Mata kicked the trip off on the 19th with a haul of 27 species, the highlight a Nightingale in full song, my first in Spain. Other good bits included a couple of singing Turtle Doves, Stone Curlew, Auduoin's Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Iberian Grey & Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Spotless Starling. I also recorded a handful of Willow Warblers, my only ones of the trip and obviously the dregs of the migrant birds. A Red Squirrel was very distinctive with red tufts and legs on a dark body and pale face. Unfortunately it was super quick so only a record shot was grabbed. The Red-rumped Swallows (2) were thin on the ground throughout the whole trip with only 6 or 7 being noted throughout.

Red-rumped Swallow

Singing Turtle Dove
Red Squirrel

Later in the day the first Hoopoe of the trip was recorded alongside a number of White Wagtails. By early afternoon Isabelle was playing up so I took her to El Clot de Galvany - a cracking nature reserve just outside Gran Alicant. En route a few Gull-billed Terns were seen over Santa Pola Salinas. At Clot Cuckoos were all over (spanish tick), as were Little Owls and a single Iberian Green Woodpecker was seen. I also got my first White-headed Duck and Purple Swamphen of the trip although water levels were disappointingly low. Isabelle soon lost the will to play ball and we headed back to the Villa - a decent 39 species racked up for the day.

One of several Cuckoos at Clot
Iberian Green Woodpecker

Little Owl
White-headed Duck

Purple Swamphen

Little Owl

The second day I left at dawn to 'do' El Hondo. This is a large area of swamp, marsh, reedbed and agricultural land which holds some amazing birds. En route I saw my first Greater Flamingo of the trip. These were pretty scarce away from El Hondo and Santa Pola, where they breed. It was still dark when I arrived to a cacophony of Nightingales adjoined by Cetti's Warblers, Reed Warblers, Great Reed Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas and a single reeling Grasshopper Warbler. As I pulled up the first light was on the horizon but this was enough to encourage the raptors to leave their reedbed hotel. Up came 40-50 birds, mostly Montagu's and Marsh Harriers. There may have been other species but it was essentially dark and it was silhouette based. What I didnt have trouble with was procuring my first lifer for the trip and a regional scarcity - 3 Black Kites left the roost and very quickly headed up into the mountains. They were instantly ID'able even in poor light due to the characteristic 'kite' jizz but with a shorter, squarer tail shape, quite different to that of the local Red Kites in Yorkshire. The herons were also leaving their roost and Cattle Egrets streamed over. A number of Purple and Grey Herons sat in a tree and one of a small population of Great White Egrets flew toward the dump.

Cattle Egret
As the gates didnt open until 8 I decided to try out other areas nearby and managed to catchup with the local Collared Pratincole colony along with my first Pallid Swifts of the trip (definitely the scarcer bird as the migrant commons poured through). No Rollers as yet but apparently a few migrants have been seen.

Collared Pratincole

In El Hondo I bumped into Graham Critchell a local birder and guide. We spent the three hour allotted time gassing as I connected with tonnes of good stuff including Little Bittern (several), Squacco Heron (several), White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck (a pair), Red-crested Pochard, a single Moustached Warbler (brief, brief views of this lifer bringing food to young),  Greenshank (spain tick), Whiskered Tern, Mediterranean Gull and Whinchat amongst many others. 

Southern Grey Shrike - El Hondo
Squacco Heron - I used manual focus...pleased with the result!

Great Reed Warbler - very distant

Little Grebe

Spot the Little Bittern

I had a bird free 24 hours after this but the following evening went up to the watchtower at La Mata and then to the citrus groves to the north adding Wheatear (spain tick), Stonechat, Corn Bunting and Dunlin plus getting great views of Montagu's Harriers.

displaying Male Montagu's Harrier

hidey Stone Curlew

Finally the day had come and I was heading up to Albacete to look for birds of the steppes and plains. I forgot the camera so this will be wordy. Not. At first light I stepped out of the car to be seranaded by Sky and Calandra Larks with Quail providing backing vocals. Carrion Crows were calling away bringing disharmony to procedings. A roosting Kestrel proved to be a greater as did all those seen today that were ID'd. On top of buildings by the new/old railway were a few Rock Sparrows. Lifer. Unimpressive in the extreme sadly. I turned round and there, like a tank on a distant ridge in the fields was my first Great Bustard of the day. It was probably 2 km away but boy was it impressive. A male to boot. Driving up toward Higueruela I nearly flattened a Calandra Lark. Many more were seen in the fields alongside the road. At the top of the hill I went into a cork oak plantation listening to Woodlarks and Chaffinches (both Spain ticks, as was Stock Dove and Skylark). A strikingly pale warbler flitted past - Western Bonelli's Warbler, a real stroke of luck and a lifer to boot having missed the Bempton bird last year.

Suddenly I'm surrounded by Police. Well two of them anyway - the Guardia Civil are suspicious but I use my extensive grasp of Spanish to win their trust (I shouted Aves, aves at them whilst waving my binoculars) and I was soon on my way. Looking down the hill I see several Great Bustards littering the landscape with Calandra Larks proving their prowess in song. Distant shapes amongst the Rock Doves feeding on the farmland prove to be two flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. At least 1 km away but a lifer nonetheless. A Mistle Thrush nobs about in the fields, another spanish tick for me (the trip took my spanish list into the mid 160's). As I returned toward Bonete I managed to see a Little Bustard in flight and stopping got good views of another male giving his farting calls about 100m away. A really good lifer that one. Moving on to Corral Rubio I noticed several floods and failed to find the Wilson's Phalarope or Lesser Flamingo that were seen in the area over the preceding days (I was aware of neither). I did find a male Great Bustard in full foam bath display which was corking. They really do turn inside out... Flamingoes in the floods were nice but there were only small numbers of Bustards dotted about. I did see a few spanish birders which was a novelty including not a few women. At Petrola I got my first Iberian Yellow Wagtails of the trip along with some very dark looking distant marsh terns... Nevermind. I was creamed so headed off. And after 1km I stopped as a male and female Great Bustard were stood in crops 10 yards from the road...where was my camera? They flushed after a minute or so but these awesome birds gave the views I craved.

On the way home I stopped in Crevillente. Have you seen Benidorm the series?? The one where they get stuck in the middle of a Good Friday parade. Yup I went the wrong way into a parade in Crevillente and thus took hours to get up to the Sierra. I did manage to see the Bonelli's Eagles, the pair food passing overhead and then the smaller (male?) bird dropping down to the nest to feed the very small chick). A good number of Bee-eaters and Alpine Swifts were about although there were no obvious Black Wheatears or Blue Rock Thrushes, both probably deeply involved in breeding.

Last port of call for the day was the centre at El Raicon, El Hondo where a number of White-headed Ducks were present plus a couple of Shovellers and good numbers of Black-necked Grebe in breeding finery. All the usual suspects were also about.

A trip to Torrevieja on the Saturday with the family gave up a Robin in the park, presumably a migrant downed by the occasionally inclement weather. The family came with me to the southern viewpoint of La Mata where sum plum Curlew Sandpipers and Turnstones were trip ticks. Also present were Common and Little Terns plus an out of place Stone Curlew. Soon bored Angela and Isabelle chivvied me on but I had 99 species for the trip. What was to be 100?

It was a Hobby. I went for an early evening walk down by La Mata which yielded 2 lifers, 2 Spanish Ticks and 2 trip ticks. The earlier showers had grounded plenty of birds and a Cuckoo gave itself away. Suddenly all the House Sparrows and Greenfinches scattered as a Hobby screamed through. I managed to reel off a few record shots. Two minutes later and the Yellow-legged Gulls are going crackers and over goes an Osprey. Both cracking birds. More record shots in bad light. A Crested Lark was singing giving my good views in the twilight - its rarer here than Thekla. A warbler in the bottom of the bush proves to be a fine male Spectacled Warbler with its ochre wing panel gleaming away in the embers of the light. A calling Quail poops up and flushes. 2 lifers in a minute. Im pretty chuffed. Im even more chuffed when a scope of the waders shows 5 Sanderling and a Little Stint.

Crested Lark


Woodchat Shrike

On Easter Monday I was bumming about Torrevieja with the family when I found a passerine on the floor outside McDonald's. I picked it up, it was still alive, a window strike victim. A quick look at it showed it to be a female Pied Flycatcher. The rain overnight had grounded it. Placing it in a tree we decided to have a milkshake as we watched the bird come too and eventually take to the wing.

Getting back to La Mata I wanted to bash some bushes and soon it was obvious there had been a large fall of Pied Flycatchers. I had at least 40 on a short walk and a birder I bumped into had similar numbers at Clot on the same day. Best of all was a Wood Warbler in with the flycatchers which showed beautifully.

Wood Warbler

Pied Flycatcher
The Pied Flys seemed to have a range of sizes of white patch on the forehead so presumably they were a mix of nominate and iberian birds. Bizarrely aside from the single Wood Warbler there were no other migrants. Later that evening I heard lots of Red-necked Nightjars of both sexes and got good views of a male singing from a tree branch. Stone Curlews were out in force.

Stone Curlew at night

Over the last few days birding was curtailed but a visit to Clot with the family was pleasant if unproductive. La Mata served up some nice views of Hoopoes from the garden and plenty of Woodchats plus a chance to see more Crested and Thekla Larks. A trip through Santa Pola gave views of 3 Spoonbills feeding in the roadside pools and a trip to the beach at Vilajoyosa saw my first Sandwich Terns of the trip. A fleeting stop at the south gate of El Hondo was also good with 25+ pairs of BN Grebe and a few more White-headed Ducks.

Isabelle at Clot
Red-eared Terrapins at Clot
Woodchat Shrike


Fritillary sp? Any help would be gratefully received!

Garden Hoopoe

Sand Martin

Common Swift


Thekla Lark i think...

Crested Lark


northernloon said...

Cracking stuff James. Glad to see the juvenile spenserii is thriving.

Dave Hunton said...

I think the Fritillary is Queen of Spain

Dave Hunton said...

I think the Fritillary is a Queen Of Spain

James said...

Many thanks guys.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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