Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Recent visits to El Hondo - Alicante Province

Between my Christmas and New Year visit to the UK and my current one, while back in Murcia I had a few free afternoons and went up to the El Hondo reserve, near to Crevillente in the neighbouring province of Alicante.  the dates of my visits were the 4th, 6th and 9th of February.  In particular I wanted to the the Sociable Plover that has been seen on and off throughout the winter.

4th February 2016

I started on the 4th from the Information Centre, where in the pond backing onto the centre, I had 4 Purple Gallinules and a bit of a surprise, 6 neck-ringed Crested Coots (the surprise being that on my last visit there, there had been none of the original ringed birds left from the first time they were introduced there.  Obviously another introduction attempt!

Purple Gallinules and Crested Coots in the 'pond' behind the Information Centre

In the new pools around the Information Centre were a couple of White-headed Ducks, masses of Chiffchaffs and a few Bluethroats calling.  While I was scanning over the reedbeds from the slightly raised viewpoint, a pale morph Booted Eagle stooped don onto a couple of Purple Gallinules but without success - maybe me being there had put it off, but it certainly made all the other waterbirds (Coots, Moorhens, Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Snipe) edgy!

 Booted Eagle flying off after its unsuccessful attack on the Purple Gallinules

Coot and Purple Gallinule

 Pair of Purple Gallinules, after the attack by the Booted Eagle

Continuing on to the 'new' hides (VOLCAM hide and the one opposite), there wasn't a lot to see in the lagoons, but continuing on to where all the waders normally congregate, I had 14 Glossy Ibis, 39 Little Stints, Wood Sandpiper, Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers,Dunlin, Black Winged Stilts and Green Sandpipers.

 Part of the group of Glossy Ibis's

Moving on to the Vistabella road, I had more Booted Eagles and a LOT of sightings of Marsh Harriers, a flock of 25 Stone Curlews fly over and another flock of 25 Black-tailed Godwits also fly over, and there were over 100 Crag Martins on the wing.  Waiting until dusk, in a field I had a group of 36 Lapwings, but no sign of the Sociable Plover.  That would obviously have to wait another day!

Bird Species seen during the visit:

Great Crested Grebe; Little Grebe; Black Necked Grebe; Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Grey Heron; Glossy Ibis; Cormorant; Marsh Harrier; Booted Eagle; Shelduck; Mallard; White-headed Duck; Stone Curlew; Black Winged Stilt; Lapwing; Dunlin, Little Stint; Green Sandpiper; Wood Sandpiper; Common Snipe; Ringed Plover; Little Ringed Plover; Kentish Plover; Black-tailed Godwit; Coot; Crested Coot; Moorhen; Purple Gallinule (Swamphen); Kingfisher; Grey Wagtail; White Wagtail; Southern Grey Shrike; Cettis Warbler, Chiffchaff; Bluethroat, Black Redstart; Stonechat; Magpie; Reed Bunting.
6th February 2016

My second visit was with Tomás Garcia, after an afternoon call in at Guardamar harbour  (where we had Common Scoters, Razorbill, Gannets, Grey Wagtail, Sandwich Terns and Kingfisher).  This visit, we did not call into the Information Centre area, but just kept searching the fields south of the Vistabella road.  This was quite productive as we had Common Buzzards, a ringtail Hen Harrier, at least 8 Marsh Harriers, 3 Booted Eagles, and a distant group of 30+ Glossy Ibis's.  We also stumbled across the Black-shouldered Kite that has been wintering there, flushed a Squacco Heron from just by the reserve South Gate, and in amongst a group of 20+ Skylarks in a field, came across a female Cirl Bunting.  Once again at dusk, we came across a group of 60+ Lapwings, but no Sociable Plover.

 The Black Shouldered Kite we stumbled across

Bird Species seen during the visit:

Great Crested Grebe; Little Grebe; Black Necked Grebe; Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Squacco Heron; Grey Heron; Glossy Ibis; Cormorant; Marsh Harrier; Hen Harrier; Booted Eagle; Black-shouldered Kite; Shelduck; Mallard; Pochard; White-headed Duck; Lapwing; Green Sandpiper; Kingfisher; Skylark; White Wagtail; Southern Grey Shrike; Cettis Warbler, Chiffchaff; Bluethroat, Black Redstart; Stonechat; Magpie; Reed Bunting, Cirl Bunting; Corn Bunting.

9th February 2016

An unscheduled visit this, once again with Tomás Garcia.  I had a call from a friend in Alicante to say that a group of three Barnacle Geese had been seen recently at the Santa Pola salinas, and that he himself had seen them that morning.  A quick call to Tomás and he was game, so we both shot up there.  On the journey, more information came out - the geese were distant, hard to see, and there was a possibility that they weren´t pure Barnacles, but Barnacle x Bar-headed Geese!  And possibly the three that had been seen up until the previous Friday at the Albufura in Valencia. So when after about half an hour not seeing the geese a call into El Hondo was mooted, I was all for it.  Especially as we had met up with Oscar Aldeguer and Jana Marco, local to El Hondo and who know the place like the backs of their hands.

Again we concentrated on the fields to the south of El Hondo, south of the Vistabella road.  And this time we struck lucky.  Starting with a male Merlin shooting over some fields, we then had the Black Shouldered Kite again, and a male Hen Harrier going through another field.  And then quite early (it was by then only about 5:30), we saw the large flock of Lapwings, and more importantly, saw where they dropped.  We found a track which took us to a safe distance from where they were, and then scanning through them, there was the Sociable Plover!  Very smart as it's now beginning to come into breeding plumage.  Third time lucky (again).  We spent about an hour in total watching this bird (which wasn't easy, as the flock kept moving and was in a field with a 'hedgerow' of short bushes), and attached is a link to a short video I took.

 Cattle Egrets, doing what they do

 Still in the same place hunting, the Black Shouldered Kite

And the icing on the cake - while there, on looking around behind us, a flock of about 40 Cranes dropped in (the light was now dropping).  We decided to go and try to find the Cranes, but couldn't locate them, and now almost dark we decided to give up for the day.

And the cherry on the icing on the cake - saying our good-byes, a Night Heron flew over us... then another... then another - until in total 10 had flown over where we were standing (and Oscar and Jana stayed to see if any more would pass over).

All in all, quite a successful trio of visits, with just the Spotted Eagles outstanding.  Watch this space..............

Bird Species seen during the visit:

Little Egret; Cattle Egret; Night Heron; Grey Heron; Cormorant; Marsh Harrier; Hen Harrier; Booted Eagle; Common Crane; Black-shouldered Kite; Merlin; Lapwing; Sociable Plover; Golden Plover; Green Sandpiper; Skylark; White Wagtail; Southern Grey Shrike; Cettis Warbler, Chiffchaff; Black Redstart; Stonechat; Magpie; Corn Bunting.