San Felipe, El Hondo fields and El Pinet – JohnEdwards and Bryan Thomas

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At 8am on Friday 22nd April we left Gran Alacant to investigate any local site that would yield good views of our resident birds and summer visitors. Our main purpose was to travel towards San Felipe Neri and the area surrounding the Information Centre at El Hondo, but taking plenty of time as we did so. The lagoons next to the Salt Tower at the Salinas yielded very little and we quickly moved on towards El Pinet where we saw a lot of activity. There was a mixed flock of Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper obligingly close to us, but very flighty. Mediterranean Gulls and Slender billed Gulls were plentiful and Little Tern and Common Tern were easily seen. A Sandwich Tern flew over and Whiskered Terns were active. Kentish Plover and Little Stint were also easily seen. For me (John) the star bird was a perched male Yellow Wagtail showing its spectacular breeding plumage. We quickly moved on and checked the beach area over a coffee and saw nothing except Woodchat Shrikes in the pines.

We used the farm track on the other side of the N332 and headed towards El Hondo. Here we heard Woodchat Shrikes calling and had good active views of them. Along here we saw three Great Spotted Cuckoos, heard but did not see Bee-eaters and a Common Kestrel flew around. In the freshly tilled fruit groves we were fortunate to see three hares running around. They were great to see and yes, they were definitely hares and not large rabbits! We were also fortunate to see a Zitting Cisticola fly along in front of us.

Although it is still early and not yet that warm we did hope to see Roller. When we arrived at their usual location, where the palms are on the road towards the North Gate of El Hondo, we got lucky. There was one sitting in the middle of the road and it flew up when a truck came along. Then in a tall dead Palm tree two beautiful Rollers sat to be photographed. It was not one of our closest sightings, but still good. We checked the road leading to the North Gate for Montagu’s Harrier, there was no sign of one but a Bee-eater flew across the road.

Moving on towards the Information Centre and around the surrounding lagoons we had good views of Cattle Egrets, Collared Pratincoles – on the edge of the lagoons and sitting in a freshly tilled field alongside the entry road, Common Sandpipers, Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Flamingos, Glossy Ibis and Grey Herons – three flew in the distance. Mediterranean Gulls and Black-headed Gulls were seen in very good numbers along with some Slender-billed Gull and Yellow Legged Gulls. Three Great Spotted Cuckoos were seen and Great Reed Warblers called in numbers. Greenshank, Kentish Plover, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Little Stint, Marbled Duck, Pochard, Red crested Pochard, Purple Swamphen, Sardinian Warbler, Shelduck, Spoonbill – only one, but there are believed to be two in this location, Squacco Herons and Whiskered Terns. We were hoping to see Purple Herons but if they were there they did not show.

Along the road into San Felipe a farmer was flooding a field and this had had attracted a large number of Little Egrets, Cattle Egrets, both Black-headed and Med Gulls, and Glossy Ibis. In our travels we also met some like minded people and that is always good.

We returned later to El Pinet specifically to check the islands and to observe them from the unmade road below the urbanizations. We had been told that two Elegant Terns had been seen there, but we were unsuccessful, although we did see Collared Pratincole.

Note – Elegant Terns (Thalasseus Elegans) breed on the western seaboard of the southern USA and Mexico. They winter southwards as far south as Chile and are said to be a rare vagrant in Western Europe. It is similar in appearance and habits to Royal Tern. Sibleys – pages 226/7 – contains good photographs and bill comparisons. It would be a good ‘twitch’!