Sunday, 15 April 2012

Boss the Costa (part 4)

Today was my big day (Monday 9th April). Angela let me bog off and go birding for the entire time. My thoughts after finding 3 Black Kites at El Hondo last year was to head to the North Gate there for the raptor roost emergence and then head into the mountains, maybe via the visitor centre. A good plan if you ask me on reflection as I saw loads!

A minimum of 8 birds left the roost - hard to keep count!

I arrived on site at 6.30ish and dawn was still a little over the horizon. Soon a Cetti's Warbler piped up and a Night Heron left the reeds for its roost site to the south after a brief flyby. The sun was thinking about making an appearance when 3 Montagu's Harriers fly by. Except one wasnt - I did a double take on the third bird which seemed a little smaller and flew on flat wings - a Red-necked Nightjar. This was not an ID hurdle I thought I would have to cross but one to be aware of when size isnt apparent (such as in the early dawn when flying high).

Dawn at El Hondo from the North Gate
Pretty soon herons and egrets were emerging from the reedbed and the first swifts were in the air. Some ducks shuttling from pool to pool were variously Shoveller and Mallard. I walked along the track to the gate in order to get views of the smaller stuff and clamped eyes on a handful of Cetti's & Reed Warbler. A Great White Egret left its roost in the reeds (apparently 18 had been seen in the locale recently - a great number for this former rarity). As the sun rose and the roosting birds had largely left I moved off to the visitor centre but not before catching up with my only Chiffchaff of the trip plus a female Blackcap.

At the visitor centre it was soon apparent that mozzies were everywhere and I togged up in my hoodie and kept my hood firmly UP. Quickly a party of 7 Glossy Ibis left their hidey hole for a day stalking the wet fields in nearby San Felipe Neri. Making my way out on to the boardwalk and a Green Sandpiper was flushed by my footfall. Good birds at every turn. As I received the first of 29 mozzy bites to my face and neck I noticed a bird sat on the fence. Great Spotted Cuckoo - my first lifer of the trip and showing nicely.

The bird showed well for 5 minutes before I was joined by a warden which spooked it (I was racing round so he didnt flush anything. Two Purple Herons pitched down into the reeds at the next pool just as I arrived but I couldnt see them. There were plenty of White-headed Ducks, Pochard, Black-necked Grebe and Great Reed Warbler were singing from every stand of reed. A Snipe pitched down near to where the herons had gone in but quickly there was little evidence of anything.

The next pool held even greater numbers of waterfowl and the hide was full of cobwebs offering brief respite from the mosquitos. A Great White Egret was fishing just in front of me and 15 pairs of Black-necked Grebe were about. A few Collared Pratincoles were loafing on an island and one came to investigate flushing a Little Bittern.

Time was pressing so I left at speed nursing the soreness on my face with little regret for the plethora of birds that I'd seen including a drake Stonechat at the gate. I was going to the mountains. First stop was Maigmo, an isolated Sierra en route to Alcoy my final destination.

Nice! As I havent hit the mountains before I scored an easy spanish tick in the form of Coal Tit before a large hawk rose on the ridge in the first of the photos above - a Goshawk. This was too easy. A migrant male Marsh Harrier was seen 5 minutes after the gos disappearred, one of only 2 seen on the trip.

 A hair raising drive to the false summit produced little other than some Long-tailed Tits and amazing views of the province and the peak. I dropped down to a lower level and started hunting for singing birds, quickly turning up my first Crossbill, Wren & Firecrest of the trip and in Spain. Robins sang and Crested Tits scolded but it looked like I was going to luck out on my main target. I got in my car and pulled away, flushing a dumpy bird from the pine straw, my first Rock Bunting. Not great views as I blocked the road at a difficult point but the bird sat up in a bush and gave itself away by its orange breast and belly, the striking head pattern less obvious in the dappled light of the understorey. Heading to Alcoy on a high, aware that my next lifer should prove easier to find.

A Magpie over the road was the only thing of interest in the half hour hike to Alcoy. A brief nutrition stop (it was 1pm and I hadnt had a drink or food all day, yikes) interupted my journey but I sailed past Font Roja and through the town headed for the cliffs behind where amongst the many Spaniards relaxing on Easter Monday were at least 23 thermalling Griffon Vultures ascending to the heavens from the only breeding site in the province after their reintroduction some 11 years ago. The birds were huge and quite a lot higher than my parking place but they were joined by a male Sparrowhawk which looked knat sized in comparison. I headed to Font Roja, the Sierra across the valley but it was a bust due to all the tourists so I bugged out for Santa Pola in the lowlands instead.

Back in the lowlands I stumbled on some gems in yellow in the form of Iberian Yellow Wagtail and Blue-headed Wagtail. I also stumbled on a couple of amourous young Spaniards shagging in a layby next to the very busy N-332. Eyes down. A Dartford Warbler briefly topped a stand of salicornia before disappearing as they do. A Water Rail was squawking in the reeds and distant terns wouldnt resolve into species (probably Whiskered). I gave up after I flushed a gaggle of Turnstones and turned tail but not before I noted another Great White Egret amongst the plethora of Flamingoes, Stilts and Avocets. I was knackered but very happy. The trip list was now 98 species plus 1 heard only.

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How brains and birds become mutually exclusive