Field Trip to Yecla – Malcolm Palmer

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A much-reduced party met for the Costa Blanca Bird Club’s May outing to the plains of Yecla, after several cancellations had been forced by April’s inclement weather. On this occasion, however, the sun shone from a cloudless sky as we made our way on to the ZEPA (Zona Especial de la Protección de Aves) – a large area consisting of cereal fields, ‘set-aside’ land and some orchards on high ground between Yecla and Almansa.

Barry and I, having already seen a Sparrowhawk near Villena, soon identified the first Greater Short-toed Larks, as well as several Thekla’s Lark, which sang overhead. A couple of Lesser Kestrels were in occupation in the nest boxes provided and one flew obligingly close by. A Montagu’s Harrier female gave brief views of this increasingly scarce raptor, later followed by an obviously heavier male Marsh Harrier – the many rabbits providing a ready food supply. We soon encountered two more lark species, the huge Calandras readily identifiable, and the more retiring Lesser Short-toed much scarcer and quite difficult to pinpoint, their dark, streaky plumage acting as camouflage.

Our attention was distracted by a Golden Eagle gliding near a peak not too far away, but when we scanned around, two more were soaring over a more distant hillside. A pair of Ravens were also seen. A little further on, some lucky members of the party spotted a pair of Little Bustard which flew and settled not too far away, but the rest of us were unable to see them. We were, however, compensated somewhat when a noisy little group of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew up and gave us a brief view. We all obtained much better views of a fine Black-eared Wheatear which posed obligingly. Kathy and Rob had the good fortune to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo as we made our way to an excellent lunch at Caudete’s La Lengüetera Restaurant.

After lunch we made our way back onto the plains for a last try, and David it was who found a small group of Black-bellied Sandgrouse – half of the party managed to see them! We were fortunate enough, however, to get another look at the female Montagu’s Harrier – again with a male Marsh Harrier for comparison – and as we departed, a female Marsh Harrier appeared for good measure. It had been a splendid day.