Thursday, April 26, 2018

Seven Days intense Birding

I should have been co-leading Bargain Birders Bird Club this week, but due to some ill health issues and cancellations the trip got cancelled, but very fortunately for me Richard Hanman who runs the Bargain Birders Club, decided to continue with his visit and carry on and go birding and make some news!

All the photos are of the actual Bird seen and not library images or from past encounters,

Common kestrel
Tucking into a locust

Day 1 – Local patch birding Santa Pola, El Pinet, San Felipe VC and El Hondo back roads.
It had been 7 months since I last went birding with Richard Hanman so we were both keen to be out. We started at the Santa Pola Salinas birding from the various pull in sites off the main N332.
 Next stop was El Pinet

Greater Flamingo

We then moved onto San Felipe Visitors Centre picking up Great Spotted Cuckoo and Whinchat in the car park before entering the main reserve. From the observation deck, we added a distant Short-toed Eagle, while the pool itself held Red-crested Pochard, Red-knobbed Coot and Marbled Duck. 

Red-crested Pochard

From the boardwalk, we added Collared Pratincole, a lone Wigeon and Glossy Ibis.
Collared Pratincole


Glossy Ibis

From the furthest hide, we had good views of a Spotted Crake feeding in the margins.
Satisfied we’d seen everything at San Felipe we spent the rest of the day driving the back roads around El Hondo. This proved productive adding to our day list.
We finished the day with 65 species – a good start to our list and with Spring being late in Costa Blanca this year and many of the summer migrants were still to arrive I was feeling optimistic for the week to come.

Day 2 – Exploring the steppe at Bonete, Petrola, Corral Rubio and Claudette-Yecla valley.

Great Bustard

An early start saw us leave Gran Alicant at 6 am and drive to Bonete, arriving just before 8 am and it was still chilly (5oC). We kick started our day list with Corn Bunting and White Wagtail. It wasn’t long before we located our first Great Bustard and by the end of the day, we had seen over 70 of these iconic birds, suggesting a healthy population.


 As we explored the tracks around Bonete we added Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Rock Sparrow, Rock Dove, Northern Wheatear, Linnet and Calandra Lark.
At Corral Rubio, the winter flood waters had receded allowing us to drive through the middle from one side to the other. Only a few Lapwing, Mallard, Coot and a lone Whimbrel remained, all other birds had moved on before the water disappeared altogether.
Next stop was Petrolia to bird the saline lagoons near the abandoned railway station. 


Here we had good views of a Ruff which had a white head as it started to develop its breeding plumage colours. Other new birds for our trip list were Water Pipit, Kentish Plover and Tree Sparrow Black Tern.

Kentish Plover

Time was ticking on so we headed to Higuerela for lunch under the shade of the pine and poplar trees. It was too early in the year for Golden Oriole but we did pick up Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, Bonelli's Warbler, Iberian Green Woodpecker and Short-toed Treecreeper.
At 3 pm, not quite ready to call it a day, we headed to Claudette to bird the Claudette-Yecla valley. Here we added Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Woodchat Shrike, Raven, Stone Curlew and Greenfinch from the main track. Taking a minor track around the farm buildings we added Lesser Kestrel and flushed about 30 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

 At 5.30pm our tummies were rumbling so we headed back to Gran Alicant. Our trip list now surpassed 100 species in just 2 days!

Day 3 – Morning in the mountains of Maigmo and Montnegre, afternoon at ‘The Clot we opted for a leisurely day in the mountains near Alicante. First stop was Maigmo which has been productive on previous visits. However, it had rained heavily last night and today the wind was gusting with an icy chill so most birds were hunkered down and not showing. We did manage fleeting glimpses of Common Crossbill, Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Firecrest and Robin, and we also heard a Wren singing and Great Tit calling.
When we’d had enough of being blasted by the wind at Maigmo we opted for a scenic drive to Tibi Lake and the Montnegre Valley.

Tibi Lake

 At Tibi, a few Griffon Vultures were up in the air, whilst a Peregrine perched on a cliff face waiting for less windy conditions. We ate our picnic lunch overlooking Tibi Lake where the only bird of note was Crag Martin. In Montnegre Valley itself, we saw Blue Rock Thrush chasing off a Black Wheatear, other than that the valley was quiet.


We then spent a couple of hours sitting in the hides at The Clot de Galvany reserve. Here we added White-headed Duck, Teal, Common Sandpiper and Snipe to our trip list and watched as a testosterone-fuelled Coots gathered for a face off.

Day 4 – Looking for larks in the morning, exploring Guadalentin Valley in the afternoon.
We were up early (5 am) to pick up Eddie Walker, one of my birding friends from Guadamar, and set off to explore a promising new patch near Yecla in search of larks.

 We spent some time separating Crested Lark from Thekla Lark, but some birds proved easier than others. Fortunately separating Lesser Short-toed Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark was much easier. As we scanned the vegetation and bare soil patches we picked up Calandra Lark, Whinchat and Woodchat Shrike Bonnell's Warbler but dipped on connecting with Dupont’s Lark. We got lucky with a Golden Eagle that appeared from nowhere over the top of us. also added Dartford Warbler and Sub-alpine Warbler to our trip list.
At 1 pm we moved on to Guadalentin Valley and quickly picked up Spectacled Warbler.

 We crisscrossed the tracks around the arable fields and in doing so flushed Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Little Bustard. Other new birds seen here were Red-rumped Swallow flying along the river bed, Little Ringed Plover feeding in the field reservoirs, and a distant Booted Eagle tucking into a rabbit.
The highlight of our visit to Guadlentin though was a Great Spotted Cuckoo which perched obliging in a tree affording all great views and the opportunity for some full frame photos.

 At 5 pm we decided we had time for a quick stop at Alhama Pools, a green oasis in the middle of a busy industrial estate. Here we saw the common ducks and grebes from the hides and watched as hundreds of swifts, swallows and martins performed their aerial acrobatics feeding on the wing.

Day 5 – Looking for larks (again) in the morning, exploring Argamon in the afternoon.
We left at 6 am and arrived at Cordovilla just before 8 am. Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Serin were calling and a Nightingale was singing. We stretched our legs with a 2½ hour walk amongst the feather-grass looking for Dupont’s Lark. We binned every Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark and Lesser Short-toed lark we saw but drew a blank on our target bird??. Other birds of note in the grassland included numerous  Stone Curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Red-billed Chough and European Bee-eaters. In the adjoining reed beds, we could hear numerous Nightingales plus Cetti’s Warbler and Great Reed Warbler. A Common Redstart perched briefly on a wire fence, as Red-rumped Swallow and Marsh Harrier flew overhead. Disappointed no show, no calls ???? or singing at 10.30am???????? we called a halt to our search for Dupont’s Lark and drove on to Agramon.

 We saw numerous Nightingales as we drove the tracks either side the road bridge over the Segura River.

 Next stop was Salmeron rice fields but the paddies were dry.

 In the adjacent scrub we picked up Northern Wheatear and Black-eared Wheatear, other than that very few birds were present.
Around 1 pm we cut our losses and headed to Petrolia, 90 mins away. En-route we saw Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. At Petrola we picked up a male Garganey skulking in the reeds. Other birds present included Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Gadwall, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank and Black-winged Stilt. A Scare Swallowtail butterfly posed for photos.

At 5 pm we called time and took a different route back from Corral Rubio via La Higuera on the B10 which took us past Laguna del Saladar, a reed-edge lagoon that held White-headed Duck, Black-necked Grebe and well worth further exploration some other time.

Day 6 – Local patch birding around Santa Pola, El Pinet and San Felipe.
We slowed things down a little today after 4 long back-to-back days in the field. We started at San Felipe VC at 8.30am and saw our first Little Bittern of the trip fly over the reed bed. A very obliging Black-necked Grebe in full breeding plumage posed nicely for photos.

 Red-knobbed Coot, Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Purple Swamphen, Great Reed Warbler, Collared Pratincole were all still present in good numbers. No sign of reported Ballons Crake??  despite our early morning visit

 Out on the reserve itself, we saw our first Little Stint of this trip plus Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilt.

At midday, we left San Felipe and drove to the fish farm at El Bosquet. Here we saw 2 x Purple Heron and our first Stonechat. In the distance, we heard then saw 2 Common Cuckoo. Next stops were the palm trees next to the football field to look for Roller, but no joy, and the hides on Vistabello Road which h gave us good views of Black-necked Grebe and White-headed Duck but not much else.
Around 2 pm we decided to head for the Guadamar River estuary and picked up Sanderling and Audouin’s Gull on the beach. At El Pinet, we observed Common Tern and Sandwich Tern on the islands, and Avocet and Greater Flamingo feeding in the lagoon. We then moved on to the back roads around La Marina and had great views of Pied Flycatcher, Bee-eater and Booted Eagle

Pied Flycatcher

As time was drawing on, we decided to head for Santa Pola beach. Here the wind picked up blowing sand into our optics so we quickly bagged Lesser Black-backed Gull and move on to the woods at Carabassi Road.

 Lesser Black-backed Gull

 It was too early in the season for Rufous Bush Chat, but we did manage to connect with Common Redstart and another Pied Flycatcher. As the week had progressed we were seeing more and more migrants which helped boost our trip list. Fingers crossed we’d get a Roller before the end of the week.

Day 7 – a Return visit to the Yecla-Claudette track and Agramon.
An early start on the road by 7 am to the Claudette end of the Yecla-Claudette track. We’d seen 143 different birds so far, and for the first time, our thoughts turned to break through 150. The first hour was very quiet, the cool 12oC temperature meant birds were keeping a low profile. We had good views of Rock Sparrow, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet but no new birds.

 We re-connected with the Black-eared Wheatear, Little Owl and a distant Golden Eagle but by midday, we’d still not had any new birds.
Thinking our best chance for new birds was a change of habitat, we headed back to the Stone Pine woods at Agramon. Within minutes we picked up our first Jay, things were looking up. There were plenty of Serin, Pallid Swift, House Martin and Red-legged Partridge, but we didn’t see the Black Stork or Egyptian Vulture recently reported in the area??
We moved on to Salmeron and in a large tree in the middle of a field near San Jose farm, we spotted our first Roller.


On scanning the same tree we also picked up our first Golden Oriole! We drove the tracks around the Stone Pines which looked promising but was actually pretty sparse for birds. As we re-joined the main road we picked up our first Woodlark singing from a telegraph wire.


At 2 pm we reached the bridge at Saladar de Agramon where Nightingales were singing but no new birds. We decided to re-programme the satnav for San Pedro on the coast in the hope of picking up a Dunlin or Wood Sandpiper. We drew a blank on both birds but did have good views of Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Avocet, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling.


Curlew Sandpiper

Spotted Redshank

Keen to keep moving we continued to Los Balcones near Torrevieja, and successfully picked up Azure-winged Magpie – bird number 148. We dipped on both the Monk Parakeet and Ring-necked Parakeet seen here on previous trips so decided to end the day at ‘The Clot’. We checked out the swampy area at the rear of the reserve, scanning the reeds for a roosting Black-crowned Night Heron but no luck. Overhead, hundreds of Pallid Swift, Common Swift, Barn Swallow and House Martin were busy feeding on mosquitos and midges above the reed bed, joined by a few Whiskered Tern. As we scanned the aerial spectacle we picked out a few Sand Martin – bird number 149!

Cattle Egret

From the hides, the usual ducks, grebes, and egrets were present and with the time approaching 7 pm we called it a day. Discussions over dinner centred on predicting bird 150. Would it be Turtle Dove? or Spotted Flycatcher maybe? Perhaps we could connect with a Penduline Tit? We’d have to wait till tomorrow to find out. Our leisurely ‘go with the flow’ birding week had somehow turned into a full-on bird race, how did that happen?

 San Felipe

Day 8 – Local patch birding in search of bird number 150 – any new bird would do!
Bird 150 came without even leaving the house. I got up early and was reviewing my photos from last night when I noticed that one of my Little Stint photos from San Felipe didn’t look quite right. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a Temminck’s Stint, given away by its characteristic green legs and subtle eye-stripe. Have to admit reaching the 150 climax this way wasn’t as exciting as it would have been identifying the bird in the field, but at least it meant today the pressure was off and every new bird on our final morning of this trip was a bonus bird!

We decided to head straight for San Felipe to see if the Temminck’s was still showing but drew a blank. All other birds seen earlier in the week were still present including this confiding Whinchat.

 We then moved on to the back roads around El Hondo. From an elevated hide we watched Grey and Purple Herons and dozens of Little and Cattle Egret work their way through the marshes, hoping one at least would turn into a Great White Egret, but it wasn’t to be. We heard a distant Cuckoo calling and had good views of Cetti’s Warbler … well good enough to see the bird in full view but each view lasted a millisecond before it disappeared again, way to fast for me to catch a still.
We did add one new bird to our trip list in the form of Reed Warbler, which according to my latest book “Birds of Europe, North Africa and The Middle East” by Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard (2017) was probably an ‘Ambiguous Reed Warbler’, a newly recognised race in Iberia.

Ambiguous Reed Warbler’

 I will let you look at the photo and decide.
On next to a barley field which had hundreds of Pallid Swift and Common Swift feeding above our heads. Other birds of note included Booted Eagle, Iberian Grey Shrike and European Bee-eater.
Last stop was the Salinas at El Pinet and Santa Pola. Still no Little Tern, Dunlin, Wood Sandpiper or Green Sandpiper, only the same birds as seen earlier in the week. At 12 noon we stopped birding and headed back for lunch.
At the end of the trip, we’d driven 2070km and spent over 70 hours in the field (excluding travel time to/from our first and last location each day), and had seen 151 species in 7½ days. As always, dawn till dusk birding, brilliant company, lots of banter and bucket loads of fun and photos.

Massive thank you to Richard Hanman

Cheers Bryan

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