A group from Leigh Ornithological Society, Lancashire, England, visited the area following a very enthusiastic report given to us by Tony Bishop after his experience there the previous year. Members joining Tony on his second visit to this ‘Mecca’ for birdlife were, George and Angela Pike, David and Anne Shallcross, Eddie and Monica King, Al Foy, Susan Makinson, Teresa Fayle and Eric Munro.
Day 1 – The flight was very early, 06.00 hrs by EasyJet out of Manchester , arriving on time at Alicante. Unfortunately one of our party had his backpack, containing binoculars, camera and sunglasses, stolen at the carousel.
We picked up our 7-seater people carriers, reserved by a rental company in the UK (Atlaschoice) from Dickmanns, their agent in Alicante; we have to say that after receiving very poor service from both of them we will not be using them again. Among our complaints were quite a wait for the shuttle bus to take us to the off-site pick up point, the large deposit we had to leave on the cars (900 euros) and the upfront rip-off tank of fuel at 115 euros. The deposit was returned after 22 days and with the help of credit card supplier intervention. The cars proved to be reliable, but one was overdue for service and the tyre pressure was low. It was a pantomime loading all the luggage into the transport, but also amusing and we got there in the end.
Our accommodation was the Meridional Hotel in Guardamar del Segura, just half an hour away and sited on a good beach. It is four star and very nice indeed; the rooms are newly refurbished and well appointed. The staff are very helpful, Anne who is half German and half Spanish was a top hostess who speaks excellent English.
We unpacked, had lunch and set off for our first outing, La Mata. This was only a 20 minute drive away, with a short walk to a hide for some very good species – Iberian Green Woodpecker, Common Swift, CRESTED LARK (pictured), Barn Swallow, Blackbird, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Serin, Shelduck, Mallard, Cormorant, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Little Egret, Dunlin, Redshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Spotless Starling and Greenfinch.
Day 2 – We rose early and went to a site only 20 minutes to the north (adjacent to Gran Alacant) called Clot de Galvany. Tony had been to the site before and many of the party had their first sighting of the White-headed Duck – the male is spectacular. We met Bryan Thomas there who is a famed wildlife photographer and a great birder. This had been arranged by Tony through the Costa Blanca Bird Club (CBBC) and Mary, who was unfortunately in the UK so we
couldn’t meet her. Other species seen included Turtle Dove, Long-tailed Tit, Pied Flycatcher, Stone Curlew, Little Owl, Willow Warbler, Blue Tit, Hoopoe, White Wagtail, Red-crested Pochard, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot and Moorhen. We drove down the coast road to Santa Pola hoping for Rufus Bush Chat but Bryan thought it was too early for these migrants. We had good views of Ravens, who nest on the mountainside above the road. Time for lunch on the beach in Santa Pola and then we stopped at the Salinas on our way to another really good site at El Pinet,
arriving back at our hotel at 18.00 hrs after dropping Bryan at his home. Species highlights were Slender-billed Gull along with Common, Whiskered and Little Tern, GREATER FLAMINGO (pictured), Kestrel, Turnstone, Audouin’s Gull, Grey Heron and female Black- eared Wheatear.
Day 3 – Today a visit to the jewel in the crown of Costa Blanca – El Hondo San Felipe Reserve Visitor Centre. Tony had met Jeanette from Holland on his visit there last year and she joined us and gave the benefit of her expertise, and we had Bryan as well who directed us to the site. On his previous visit Tony had also met Graham Critchell, who is a professional guide. Graham has written a booklet entitled ‘A Birdwatching Guide to the Southern Costa Blanca’ highlighting good places to see birds in the area. The publication proved useful providing us with a schedule for trips, with directions, and some valuable additions were made to our itinerary, suggested by Mary who went through it in detail. Our thanks to Graham and Mary. Birds for this day included views of Stone Curlew, the rare Marbled Teal,
Pallid Swift, Bee Eater, Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, COLLARED PRATINCOLE (pictured), Wood Sandpiper, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Common Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Moustached Warbler, Common Pochard, Marbled Duck, Little Bittern, Cattle Egret, Night and Squacco Herons.
On the way back from the San Felipe visitor centre Bryan spotted a pair of beautiful EUROPEAN ROLLERS (pictured) and we were able to take photographs of them. It was quite windy and the expected Bee-eaters did not show themselves but we did have a field full of Glossy Ibis (c.50). The’ Bella Vista Road’ has a hide and there must have been 5 – 6 pairs of Black-necked Grebes on the pool, plus Reed Warbler and Zitting Cisticola, another super day.
Day 4 – A long journey but it turned out to be a brilliant day, destination the Petrola steps or Steppe; a vast area where Angela was first to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo as we arrived. En route we saw a pair of Lesser Kestrels breeding in a deserted railway station. We then chased a pair of flying Great Bustards but they left us in their wake. Also noted were Black-eared Wheatear, Crested Tit, Thekla Lark, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike, Corn Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Marsh Harrier, Red-legged Partridge, Lapwing, Tree Sparrow and Linnet. Further on by a small lake, we studied some doves and decided on Rock Dove and more Yellow Wagtail. The highlight of the day, although distant, was up to 20 Great Bustard warily walking away. Close-ups of Common Curlew, Wood Sandpipers and a magnificent Montagu’s Harrier in flight were a bonus.
Day 5 – Today we picked up Greta and Paul who kindly directed us to Alcoy and Fort Roja, (quite a climb on foot but well worth it) to a Griffon Vulture sanctuary. We had close views of the vultures, mostly soaring but also perched in a tree. On our descent by car, Greta stopped at ‘the valley’ on the outskirts of Alcoy. It’s a canyon stretching up into the mountains and we were immediately rewarded by several pairs of Blue Rock Thrush and, in a disused industrial chimney, a breeding pair of Black Redstarts. Sardinian Warbler are common here and we had close views of them, with Wren and Serin in good song.
There were many hairpin bends on the steep climb to Fort Roja, which was a monastery and is now a visitor centre where we had lunch and a walk in the woods. Plenty of common species here, four pairs of FIRECRESTS (pictured) were seen along with a Bonnelli’s Warbler, Blackcap, Chaffinch and Robin.
Thanks to Greta and Paul who made the day memorable.
Day 6 – We decided to take in a number of sites south of Guardamar towards Mar Menor and the first one recommended was the upmarket ‘La Finca’ golf course which was a disappointment. The only species of note was a very nice Iberian Green Woodpecker yaffling at us in Spanish.
We then made our way to San Pedro Salinas, which proved to be the better site of the day, and David had a shot of a Greenshank. We had an inexpensive lunch overlooking the seafront and made our way towards La Manga Salinas but got lost and eventually gave up. On our way home we stopped at the Guardamar River on the other side of town and heard Reed Warblers and a few common species. This is probably worth a longer, early visit to get the most from it; our least fruitful day.
Day 7– Access to Hondo proper is only allowed on Saturday mornings, we arrived there at 8-15 and had a terrific morning in the reserve at the various hides. A flying Cuckoo was seen as well as heard. We also saw a Great White Egret, Great Reed Warbler, Night, Squacco, Purple and Grey Herons, as a well as many terns.
A debate about Black or Whiskered Tern was resolved as the WHISKERED (pictured).
In the afternoon we had special treat as Greta had arranged to go into Crevillent Sierras to visit her friend’s home ‘Finca Bonelli’s Eagle’. It was a windy climb from Hondo through amazing mountain scenery and on the way a Booted Eagle soared above us. We were treated to a tapas lunch with beer and wine, for those of us who could have it, on the terrace. We now know why the house was named as it is; a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles reside on the mountain side. They perched high up on the mountain then flew to the nest where two young awaited their return. Amazing for any birdwatcher – well spotted George, who made the first contact. Also in that area were Alpine Swift, Bee Eater and Sardinian Warbler.
Day 8 – Another long journey past Murcia to the Guardalentin valley in the hope of seeing Little Bustard and the elusive Sand Grouse. We had another GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO (pictured) and Calandra, Crested, Short-toed, Lesser short-toed and Thekla Larks. Good views of Red Rumped Swallows and a small flock of Bee-eaters and two Purple Herons high in a tree, probably nesting. Despite missing our two target species (although Eddie thought he had a sight of a Little Bustard but was not sure) our day was made by a soaring Golden Eagle followed by a
Short-toed Eagle. Back home to our last evening together and dinner, during which we watched hundreds of Swifts migrating along the beach.
Day 9 – We left the hotel about midday; our thanks to Anne (at the Meridional ) for fixing this later than normal time for vacating our rooms. Our flight home, at 17.10 hrs, was on time.
Thanks to all for making this a very enjoyable trip, especially Tony for organising everything
Other species photographed on the trip can be viewed via this link-David Shallcross Images
Contributors: Tony, Eddie, Angela and David, with photographs by David.