Diary of the Bargain Birder – Richard Hanman – Part Two

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Tuesday 3rd November 2015 – Torrevieja, San Pedro and ‘The Clot’

We left at 9am and headed straight for the Azure-winged Magpie site near Torrevieja. We soon picked up our target bird along with Monk Parakeet, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Spotless Starling, Blackcap, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Red-legged Partridge and Iberian Green Woodpecker.

At 10am we set off to pick up one of Bryan’s friends (John) at St. Miguel but the satnav directions we were given took us miles off course and to an underpass which was flooded. The water looked too deep to drive through so we took a small farm track to the right in the hope that it would lead to the main road on the other side of the underpass. However, the track soon came to a dead end and so we needed to turn round. A parked car meant there wasn’t much room to do 3-point turn … not enough room as it turned out! Mid-manoeuvre I got the front wheels of the car firmly stuck in soft mud and the front of the car sank so low that it lifted one of the back wheels clean off the ground!

The owner of the other car appeared and watched without any emotion, comment or offer of assistance. He clearly thought that he’d bought front row tickets to a ‘Laurel and Hardy’ show as Bryan any myself tried pushing, pulling, digging, high revs, low revs, and wedging bits of wood … all of which didn’t move the car an inch! At one point I walked straight into the open car door and gashed my forehead wide open. With blood running down my face we split up in search of more robust materials. I found a wooden pallet and Bryan came back with a foam mattress … “Are we staying the night?” I asked. When neither the mattress nor the pallet gave the wheels any traction our one man audience took pity on us and positioned his car in front of ours and retrieved a piece of rope from the boot of his car. Why he hadn’t thought of this before God only knows. Anyway, with a solution to our dilemma now visible we tied the rope to both cars and within seconds he pulled our car free. We thanked him in our best Spanish and were soon on our way.

We didn’t get very far though as back at the flooded underpass was a white car with an elderly couple stuck in the deepest part of the water, engine flooded and no power! This was our opportunity to return the favour so we waded knee deep to the back of their car and pushed them back onto dry land. We then dropped the old boy off in the village of Catral and then continued on our way. There’s never a dull moment when you’re out birding!

At 12 noon we were back on the road again. Too late to pick up John we headed to San Pedro del Pinatar. Here the road runs between two saltwater lagoons and gave us good photographic opportunities for Ruff, Dunlin, Avocet, Flamingo, Black-necked Grebe and Slender-billed Gull. Our planned visit to Calablanque was curtailed as the road was closed for maintenance. We had a quick look around the salinas at Cabo de Palos but the only birds present were Flamingo, Yellow-legged Gull, Redshank and Greenshank and a distant feral Ring-necked Parakeet.

Cutting our losses at 3pm we made the decision to head back to Clot de Galvany. This site always delivers. Crag Martins performed low overhead, Black Redstart, Serin and Goldfinch scurried in the bushes, and the main pool held White-headed Duck, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Coot and Moorhen.

Wednesday 4th November 2015 – Maigmo, Alcoy and Font Roja

An 8am start had us heading for Maigmo Mountain about 45 mins drive from Alicante. In the foothills we picked up Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Common Crossbill, Great Tit, and Long-tailed Tit, and we also heard Goldcrest. We continued up to ‘Balcon de Alicante’ at the summit and baited some picnic tables with ‘tit-bits’ in the hope of attracting birds close enough to take some photos. Alas, the only birds showing were Chaffinches so at 11am we headed back down the mountain where we added brief views of Crested Tit and Serin to our trip list.

Next stop was the vulture project site at Sant Cristofol near Alcoy. As soon as we got out of the car we picked up Woodlark, Crested Tit and Coal Tit. As we walked up the track we added fleeting glimpses of Dartford Warbler, Goldcrest and Sardinian Warbler. Butterflies present included Queen of Spain Fritillary, Clouded Yellow, Small White and an unidentified Blue. We could see Griffon Vultures circling high above us so continued on to the summit.

When we arrived at the vulture conservation project site the gates to the observation hides were open so we entered with care hoping to see Alvar, the project manager. As we walked towards the main hide about 10 Griffon Vultures heard our approach and took to the air … Bugger! There’s went our chances of witnessing a feeding frenzy! We heard voices coming from the smaller photography hide and were greeted by two volunteer researchers. After making our apologies for disturbing the birds and explaining that we were looking for Alvar, we were soon invited in to the smaller hide. Alvar wasn’t here today but the two researchers made us feel very welcome and shared their observations from the morning with us. The vultures didn’t return to feed as we watched from behind the one way glass but the remains of the carcase were picked over by Magpie, Spotless Starling and Common Starling. To return the favour we gave the researchers a lift back to Alcoy before heading to Font Roja.

At the Font Roja visitors centre we baited a picnic table with ‘tit bits’ before taking up positions with our cameras on an adjacent bench. We didn’t have to wait long before Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Crested Tit descended one by one. Other birds present included Chaffinch and Common Crossbill. As the light faded we headed back towards Alicante.