Sunday, 28 August 2016


Here is a quick blog on the first part of my Spanish holiday written in situ a few weeks back:

We are holidaying in Spain again in order to clear the old credit cards and so I find myself back on the Costa Blanca. This time we are staying on the 'Villa-steppe' of Ciudad Quesada. A tad soulless but warm and with a pool and plenty of birding closeby all family members have their needs catered for. We are now halfway through our second week and it's been a fantastic break as we were all in need of a bit of R & R. On the nature front and I have managed a few walks locally and a couple of trips to El Hondo plus a bit of bug hunting with the smalls. It's been profitable and much fun has been had.    

We arrived on Saturday 30th July amid a bonkers check-in thanks to Leeds being chockablock. It was barely better in Alicante but calm was restored once we were ensconced in our hire vehicle watching the first of many Pallid Swifts wheeling above us. A steady 40 minute trundle to Ciudad Quesada including passing through Santa Pola salinas revealed Yellow-legged Gull, Bee-eater, Flamingo and Spotless Starling. From the balcony Sardinian Warbler and quite bizarrely, Whiskered Tern dip feeding over pools were noted. 

 On Sunday morning I took the girls to the lookout tower at the north end of La Mata parc natural. It soon became evident that the place was heaving with terns as dozens roosted closeby and a similar number hawked over the scrub. The latter were all Gull-billed Terns with families seemingly supplanted from their breeding areas to this large water body. Turtle Doves flew over the scrub on occasion and both Woodchat and Iberian Grey Shrikes were noted surveying their surroundings. Some of the regular Mediterranean fare was seen as Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Hoopoe, Black-winged Stilt and Thekla Lark were seen. The children were soon bored and I let them off.

I headed back on my own to the watchtower on the Monday morning and it was more of the same. I saw the welcome sight of a pair of Montagu's Harriers breeding in their regular location and also a second male came and had a head to head briefly with the resident bird before heading back presumably to an adjacent territory on the Lemon Tree Road. A pair of Red-rumped Swallows hawked over the pump house which presumably held a nest inside although there was no sign of offspring. These have been extremely numerous here this year. With no smalls in tow I was able to search through the terns, gulls and waders with Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls added. Little and Common Tern remained around the breeding island and Stone Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper were the water highlights. By this time I was up to a meagre 40 species. Not great but not too bad. In the evening a juvenile Gecko was noted on the walls but it wasn't seen again. 

A quiet day followed around the pool and then my inlaws were arriving on the Wednesday for a week of sun. This allowed me a snatched 90 minutes around El Hondo, the hidden gem of European birding. I reached my Roller spot in hope of the azure winged beast and was soon met with my first Cattle Egret transiting to the dump nearby. Zitting Cisticolas bounced through the glasswort and Plain Tiger butterflies were evident en masse. These relatives of the Monarch are a real local speciality. A movement on a date palm reveals that the Rollers had shifted a bit in the last 7 years and an adult flew away in an elaborate display flight in order to draw me from the nest. I obliged and moved to the visitor centre at San Felipe Neri. Here perennial favourites such as Marbled Duck, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinule and Collared Pratincole made me feel at home. On the Crested Coot release pool four neck-ringed adults were present along with their common relatives and a mixture of offspring of both species were knocking about. The tick-ability of the adults is dubious but the young birds have rather better credentials.  More in part 2.

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