Birding on the Costa Blanca – Jonathon Hedgecock

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I recently spent a week in the Costa Blanca “on tour” with the Basingstoke Ladies Choir, of which I am the piano accompanist. I am also a keen birder, and prior to leaving the UK I sent a general enquiry to the Costa Blanca Bird Club by email, asking what birds I might expect to see in the Benidorm area. I was delighted by the response, receiving a couple of replies, but I was particularly excited to hear from Carole Richardson, who very kindly offered to take my friend Andrew Redbond and I out birding for a day during my visit to Spain.

And so it was that on Tuesday 17th May Carole and Dave Eddy picked Andrew and me up from the Playa Poniente in Benidorm.

Our first port of call was Santa Pola, where Dave had been reliably informed that most of, if not all, of the swifts were of the Pallid variety. Sure enough, as soon as we got out of the car there they were, going in and out of a hole in the eaves of a block of flats near the marina.

Mission accomplished, we went on to the Santa Pola Salinas, where the first thing to strike me was the large number of Greater Flamingos. A Slender-billed Gull floated past, close enough for photographs, and the first Kentish Plover of the day was also seen. There were also large numbers of Avocets, a few Turnstones, and many dainty Little Terns were flying around.

Then it was on to El Pinet where we had very close views of more Avocets. There were several Common Terns on one of the islands, one of which had a few chicks in close attendance, trying to keep in the shade. Another Kentish Plover was close by and in the distance there must have been 50-60 more Slender-billed Gulls.

The most time of the day was spent at El Hondo but we stopped en route by the ploughed football pitch which is a known Roller site. After a few minutes’ wait 3 came flying over, one of them landing in a fairly distant palm tree. Whilst there a couple of Bee-Eaters also flew over, but these were to be the only ones of the day. As we turned into the track leading to the El Hondo visitor centre a Woodchat Shrike was on guard duty on top of a pylon. Its devotion to duty was very impressive because when we left a few hours later it was still there!

And so we arrived at El Hondo in time for lunch. On the pond in front of the visitor centre I had my first “lifer” of the day, a Red-knobbed Coot, followed a few seconds later by the second, a Marbled Duck. In fact there were several of both species around, although there were Common Coots bullying the Red-knobbed variety somewhat. A Purple Swamphen also was in evidence, with 3 chicks in tow.

There were Great Reed Warblers everywhere, mostly heard but one was seen very well on top of a reed. A Little Ringed Plover was on one of the scrapes close to the visitor centre. Along the boardwalk we saw a large group of Whiskered Terns, a few Collared Pratincoles and several Squacco Herons, some of which were in dazzling golden plumage. A scan among the gulls revealed a couple of Mediterranean Gulls among the many Yellow legged Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. Glossy Ibises flew around us constantly, and as for the Zitting Cisticolas, well, they just kept zitting away over our heads.


Further round I saw a movement of something a bit different but then it disappeared behind a pile of stones and bricks. Eventually it poked its head up – a Stone Curlew.

All in all it was a most productive visit.

Our final destination of the day was the Palm Farm Track where the main highlight was a Short-toed Eagle hanging in the wind quite low down above the car. We decided to move on a few yards to park more conveniently but when we did that it promptly disappeared.

Also along the track we had our best view of the day of a Hoopoe, with its crest erected in alarm. Our other sightings were brief flyovers from the car.

The final highlight was a large number of Cattle Egrets lined up on the wall alongside the drainage ditch by the farm itself. There must have been around 50 there.

Time was getting on so we were driven back to our hotel in Benidorm, having had a superb day’s birding. There were two lifers for me while for Andrew, who was in Spain for the first time, about half of the species seen were lifers. Huge thanks go to Carole and Dave for their kindness in showing a couple of complete strangers some of the terrific Mediterranean birdlife.

Complete bird list for the day:

Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Mallard, Marbled Duck, Short-toed Eagle, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Common Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Ruinged Plover, Kentish Plover, Turnstone, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, European Bee-Eater, European Roller, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Great Reed Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow. (51 species).