Petrola, Corral Rubio and Yecla area – By Stephan and Els

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In spite of the rather grim weather forecast seventeen members and guests met at the Cafestore at Almansa. After coffee, we took the A31 to Bonete, and then the birding started with Magpie, Carrion Crow, and a lonely Corn Bunting. Later, near Corral Rubio, we found a real gathering of Corn Buntings, like Starlings on the wire. Some sharp-eyed birders saw groups of 8-12 Great Bustards quickly disappearing over hilltops or behind stone walls. On the lakes before Corral Rubio Shoveler was added to our list. The Salinas at Petrola required some effort, to endure the cold wind, raise our feet out of the mud, and to find any birds. Greater Flamingos were walking in the shallow water at the far side of the lagoon, a few Coots sought shelter on the stone islands along with some Black-headed Gulls. Quite a few Mallards (mainly males), Shovelers, Shelducks, and some Yellow legged Gulls were present. A female Marsh Harrier looked out from a tree and two unidentified raptors flew around the hill tops in the distance. A Skylark was spotted and Linnets, White Wagtail and House Sparrows were looking for food at the water’s edge. The only wader was a Common Sandpiper, calling as it flew over us.

Great Bustards by Bryan Thomas© (Library Photo)
Great Bustards by Bryan Thomas©

After the cold wind it was a relief to get back into the car. We had planned to stop at the little lake further along the road. Perhaps the Purple Gallinules were waiting for us, but after seeing two Lapwings at the corner, we saw the bad condition of the road and turned around, heading in the direction of Chinchilla. The lakes just beyond Petrola gave us good views of a male Marsh Harrier, but no new species for the list. We headed back towards Corral Rubio, avoiding the tracks to the windmills because of the bad condition of them after last week’s rain. Instead we took time to search from the Petrola to Corral Rubio road for “big birds” in the fields below us. And yes, 14 Great Bustards, showed themselves quietly. From the road we were able to look over the two pools where we saw Grey Heron, two dozen Corn Buntings, and three Great Bustards, possibly from the group we saw earlier.

Pin tailed Sandgrouse by Dave Eddy©
Pin tailed Sandgrouse by Dave Eddy©

Once again the car provided a more pleasant temperature as we headed for our lunch at the El Lenguëtero Restaurante and Hostal in Caudete. On a water reservoir just behind Monte Alegre, 3 Pochards were a surprise, Kestrel and Buzzard wanted to be on our list and on the outskirts of Yecla a Raven flew over the road. After a good lunch we set off to the ZEPA (special protection area) of the steppe of Yecla. At first we could see only stones, but suddenly 20 Pin tailed Sandgrouse flew up. Very obligingly, they did not climb up high in the sky, to a place where they could not be seen, but landed in the same field again. A group of eight wise ones didn’t even fly up at all so we were able to look at leisure at these magnificent birds. We continued along the track, hoping to see the third steppe species. We were lucky, a total of 8 Black bellied Sandgrouse could be seen, but these were a lot more careful and we had to be satisfied with seeing them only during short flights.

The crossroads at the end of the track is always a good place to wait and see what might turn up and as we were turning the cars round there, a flock of 39 Great Bustards suddenly took flight giving us a great view of them. We followed a track that we thought might have given us a better view of the Black bellied Sandgrouse and were rewarded with a sub adult Golden Eagle, that flew too soon behind the trees. On the way back to the road at the end of the trip, we stopped for some larks in the distance, and heard above us Skylarks singing, as well as several Calandra Larks. Other birds today were – Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Meadow Pipit, Black Redstart, Blackbird, Spotless Starling, Serin.