We set off to pick up Bryan and Trish for our annual trip to Petrola in search of Great Bustards. Our first bird was a Black Redstart seen as we drove past Dialprix, then Bryan spotted a Red rumped Swallow as we joined the N332. When we were getting close to Bonete we were joined by two police motorbikes which escorted us off the road to have a word with us. We showed them our papers, then they said they were going to fine Bryan 200 Euros for not wearing a seat belt! Somehow, using his ‘Welsh charm’ (although that is not how John described it), he managed to convince them he had been wearing his seat belt but it might have been obscured by his binoculars and camera, a lucky escape I think! We continued on our journey and took the road from Bonete to Higuerela, stopping near the railway bridge to scan the fields. A few Crested Larks were around along with several Kestrels and Magpies and a distant raptor which was probably a Buzzard. I spotted a bird flying over the fields but, thinking it was just a pigeon, I did not call it until it had disappeared into a tree by which time I had realised it was a Green Woodpecker. Luckily, we did see another one later in the day. John had gone to the bridge to look at the fields on the other side and when he came back apparently talking to himself we realised he was on his mobile. He had received a call to say his Mum had had a fall and was in hospital in Stoke. So far the day was not going too well!
We carried on towards Higuerela but turned left just before the village onto a known track across the fields. Just along this track we stopped to look at a couple of Linnets sitting in a tree in the garden of a house on our right. To the left there was a small wood where a few birds were moving about, identified as a Robin and a Short toed Treecreeper. A Mistle Thrush was on the ground and another flew into a blossom tree in front of us, where a Little Owl could also be seen. Things were starting to improve. We followed the track seeing Crested Larks, Spotless Starlings, 2 Crows and a couple of Stone Curlew which we flushed from the side of the road. A bit further along I spotted 2 Hoopoes sitting on some rocks near the roadside, they were so still I thought they might have been stuffed! We stopped to take a few photos and Bryan told me to ‘fill my boots’ given that it is not often you get the chance to be so near to these birds without them flying away. After a while I noticed there was a third bird partly hidden by a rock and not long after this the two original birds flew away. Further along the track, on the other side, we found another 2 Hoopoes and then a single bird. It was like Hoopoe City there for a while!
As we approached the end of the track we had a look at the reservoir on our right which held Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Pochard, Coot, Shoveler and Red crested Pochard. A few White Wagtails were around along with a single Lapwing and a male and female Marsh Harrier were hunting over the area. We crossed the railway bridge and stopped to watch the Harriers for a while, seeing a Corn Bunting and a Meadow Pipit on the ground. As we moved on towards the main road we saw a raptor flying towards us, John stopped the car and we all leapt out to have a look at the bird which was a juvenile Golden Eagle, a bird we have not seen in this area before. It was quite low so we had good views until someone spotted a police car coming along the road. We were not parked in a good place so we all leapt back into the car, seat belts on, and set off again as we did not fancy another encounter with the police today!
We continued onto the main road and turned onto the first track which goes along the side of the Petrola lagoon. The road was flooded at the end with a small island in the middle where Bryan pointed out a Ruff and a Snipe. There were Flamingos, Coots and Black headed Gulls on the lagoon, a Tree Sparrow was perched in a tree and an Avocet flew over. We turned round, went back to the road and turned down the track on the other side of the lagoon. Here we found a couple of Black winged Stilts, a Teal and a Snipe partially hidden behind a tussock of grass. There were quite a few blossom trees along this road, still in full bloom, much later than the ones nearer to home. John parked the car under a blossom tree and we got out to eat our lunch. The trees were a treat for the senses as they looked beautiful, they gave off a lovely smell and there was a constant buzzing of all the bees as they moved from flower to flower. While we were eating a Red Kite appeared and a bit later, three raptors flew overhead which we identified as Marsh Harrier, Buzzard and a Short toed Eagle, although I didn’t see the last one. It was hard to watch these birds as the sun was so bright and they were high above. Bryan found lying on his back on the the ground seemed to be the easiest way to watch them! If anyone wants to submit a caption for this photo please email me!
After lunch we set off again, turning onto a track on the left just past the Corral Rubio turning. This area proved rather quiet although we did manage to see a single Calandra Lark sitting on a pile of mud in a field. After a while I thought I spotted our target birds in the distance, although I did say one might have been a metal pipe! After following another track on our left we finally spotted them, a group of about 11 Great Bustards, although there was a pipe in the field which had looked like one of the birds from a distance! We got the scope out and noticed that some were displaying by fanning there tails and showing a large area of white feathers, but it was difficult to see well due to the heat haze. Further along the track Bryan spotted some birds feeding in the field which views through the scope showed to be Black bellied Sandgrouse, about eight of them and John and I thought we could also see a Little Bustard with a black collar, sitting on it’s own. Moving on we found another 8 Great Bustards on our left and these were a little nearer and easier to see, although still too far away for a good photo sadly. We passed a lagoon on the left and another on our right, which held, a few Flamingos, a Little Grebe and a selection of ducks, including mainly Shovelers and a single female White headed Duck. As we approached Corral Rubio Bryan mentioned that we hadn’t seen a Swallow yet and right on cue 2 Swallows appeared flying over the village. We joined the road and had a quick look at the two pools where Bryan spotted a Godwit on one of them. On the other side of the road we flushed a small flock of Rock Sparrows which flew up onto the wires so we stopped just long enough for Bryan to get a few photos. From here we followed the road back towards Bonete where we stopped at a cafe by the garage for a quick drink before heading back towards Alicante, down hill all the way. After a slightly stressful start it had been a good day, with great weather and some excellent birds, including our target species the Great Bustards, and a couple of pleasant surprises in the forms of the Red Kite and the Golden Eagle.
Species List – Little Grebe, Black necked Grebe, Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, White headed Duck, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Short toed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Red Legged Partridge, Water Rail (HO), Coot, Moorhen, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black winged Stilt, Avocet, Ruff, Godwit, Lapwing, Snipe, Black headed Gull, Black bellied Sandgrouse, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Swallow, Red rumped Swallow, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Great Tit, Short toed Treecreeper, Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling, Magpie, Crow, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.