A hardy group of five braved a very cold and cloudy day to take advantage of the new, later opening times at El Hondo. The previous 8.15am start was too much of a challenge for me and would have involved getting up at about 6.30am, which in my opinion is practically the middle of the night! We arrived at the North gate where a few other birders were also waiting. The warden opened the gate at 9.30, allowing us all, about ten people, to enter the reserve. We drove down to the parking area at the far end of the road, by the large viewing tower. Our first bird was a Booted Eagle sitting in a tree next to the car park. From the big tower we found a Buzzard sitting on top of a pylon, probably not enjoying the sharp rain shower that had just started. We were lucky to be protected by the covered tower, although there was little protection from the wind. A scan of one of the lagoons produced small numbers of Pochard, Black necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, and lots of Cormorants were perched on posts in the water. In the lagoon on the other side we found a Great Crested Grebe and a single White headed Duck. This was a good start as White headed Duck had been my target bird for the day.
The rain stopped and our little group of five decided to walk back towards the entrance where we initially visited the first hide. This looks over another large lagoon which held large numbers of Greater Flamingo, possibly hundreds of Shovelers and a few White headed Ducks. I found an interesting duck which I initially thought was a Pintail but, as I was directing Trevor to the bird, I did say it could be a Garganey as I sometimes get those two ducks confused. Sure enough Trevor told us it was indeed a Garganey, a bird we haven’t seen for a couple of years, and Trevor was getting quite excited and having a bit of a ‘Chris Packham’ moment’! Springwatch viewers might understand that reference! Could this be bird of the day? Trevor then found us a pair of Gadwall and I shouted that a Kingfisher had just landed in the reeds next to the hide, thus scaring the bird away, sorry about that folks! We left this hide and walked along and turned left onto a path that runs alongside the lagoon, leading to another hide. As we walked along this track Trevor found us a Red rumped Swallow another bird on my ‘wish list’ for today. Swallows, Crag Martins and House Martins were flying around all over the reserve, a sign of spring, although the weather didn’t feel much like it!
We squashed into the small hide at the end of the track where we had a good view of the high reedbeds and out over the lagoon. Now and again we spotted small birds moving about in the reeds but they always turned out to be Chiffchaffs. At last John spotted a single Penduline Tit to the left of the hide and most of us managed to get at least a fleeting glimpse of the bird before it flew away. We sat watching the hirundines feeding over the reedbeds and several large flocks of Greater Flamingos were flying from left to right, perhaps looking for a place to shelter from the wind. They certainly made an impressive sight. We were keeping an eye on the time as the three hours we were allowed to be in the reserve was passing by very quickly. We were hoping to get another, and hopefully a better look at a Penduline Tit so we decided to hang on until 11.30 and then move on. We waited and at last our patience was rewarded when Trevor spotted, first one, and then three Penduline Tits. They were moving about quite low down and partly hidden, but eventually they moved through the reeds until they were right in front of the hide, giving us all great views of these lovely little birds. While we waited Trevor showed me a Mediterranean Gull which was with all the Black headed Gulls and I was able to see the difference between the two species which was useful as I always struggle to separate them.
moved on and started walking back to the main tower, on the way there I spotted a large raptor ahead of us flying, not too high, over the path we were on. I had the binoculars on it and the bird looked huge, much larger than any buzzard, harrier, or most eagles, so I was sure it must be the ‘famous’ Great Spotted Eagle that overwinters here. While I was looking at the bird, one of the other birders from the tower appeared, waving at us and calling ‘Great Spotted Eagle, thus confirming my thoughts and hopes, fantastic! This was the best view I have had of this bird, the only other views being of a distant bird, recognised by someone else. In my excitement, I was not sure whether the others had got a look at the bird, in fact I think I was having a ‘just me and the bird’ moment! I think and hope they all saw it. I didn’t even think to point the camera at the bird, which is unusual for me! We returned to the tower where the helpful birder pointed out a couple of Great White Egrets flying in the distance, although I was a little distracted by a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing their famous courtship display. We continued to look out for the Great Spotted Eagle but saw only a Marsh Harrier hunting over the reeds. Another raptor appeared flying over the lagoon and I called it as an Osprey which Trevor confirmed, giving me another great bird from today’s ‘wish list’. This was turning out to be a brilliant day! While we were in the tower, John and Dave were enjoying great views of Red rumped Swallows, which were flying underneath us, allowing us to get a good look at the red rump which gives them their name.
Time was running out so we drove back along the road, stopping before we reached the reserve entrance, to climb up another small viewing platform to look for Glossy Ibis which we had been told were there. It was very chilly so Linda and I soon retreated to the car, while the others scanned the area, seeing one possible Glossy Ibis flying. We left the reserve at 12.30 and made a quick stop to look at the rubbish tip, but found nothing of note there. Next we headed to San Felipe visitor Centre to use the facilities and to eat lunch. Due to the cold we had our picnic in the cars, which was rather reminiscent of an English picnic! Having re-fueled and warmed ourselves up with a hot drink we set off to look for the Wryneck we had seen last week. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be seen. While the others were still searching for that bird, I had a look in the other direction and spotted a male Hen Harrier. The others all saw this bird as it periodically appeared above the reeds, another great bird! We walked round the boardwalk hoping to see the harrier again but saw nothing at all. We had a quick look at the pool next to the picnic area where the Red knobbed Coots, Little Grebe and two Snipe we had seen last week were still in attendance. From here we decided to drive home via some of the tracks around the area, including the palm farm road, the Rojales road past the new Carrizales reserve, and the ‘little reserve’. We didn’t see many birds on this route, other than Green Sandpiper, Crested Lark and Kestrel before heading back across the salinas addingAvocet, Black Tailed Godwit and Dunlin to our list. It had been a great day so I asked the others to each name their ‘bird of the day’. John and Dave chose Red rumped Swallow because they had not had such good views of them before. Trevor chose Spotted Eagle because this was the first time he had seen it, after many attempts! Linda chose Penduline Tit because it is a lovely little bird and I chose Garganey because no one else had chosen it. To be honest any of those birds, or even the Osprey could have been my ‘bird of the day’!
Species list – Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Black necked Grebe, Cormorant, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Garganey, Pochard, White headed duck, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Great Spotted Eagle, Kestrel, Red legged Partridge, Coot, Moorhen, Avocet, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper, Black tailed Godwit, Snipe, Black headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Swallow, Red rumped Swallow, House Martin, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler (HO), Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike, Penduline tit, House Sparrow.