San Pedro del Pinatar, Cabo de Palos, Palos Salinas and Los Urrutias – By Malcolm Palmer

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Spotted Redshank by Bryan Thomas©
Spotted Redshank by Bryan Thomas©

When the Costa Blanca Bird Club met at San Pedro del Pinatar for our traditional January visit to the Mar Menor, the weather forecast was, to say the least, unpromising, but nonetheless 24 members braved the lowering skies and met at the beach, where nothing much rarer than Grey Plover and Turnstone was to be seen. Things improved as the party drove along the salinas, with Grey Wagtail, Spotted Redshank and Common Sandpiper turning up, along with a party of Black tailed Godwits. But the real excitement was provided by a gull, for once. Not normally a family to raise the blood pressure, the sight of this one individual certainly got discussion moving. Obviously a first-year bird, it had a black bar at its tail-end, and pale legs, and was rather smaller than the Yellow legged Gulls present. Bryan Thomas, whose photographs have been widely published, did his stuff, and further analysis was able to confirm that the bird was, indeed, a young Ring billed Gull, an American species which has been making more and more frequent visits to this side of the ‘pond’ in recent years, though not so often as far south as Spain. The Club seems to have a knack of turning up rarities on its field-trips! (This being at least the fifth ‘reportable rarity’ we have found). Next stop, after a long drive, was the lighthouse at the Cabo de Palos, where Crag Martins and the odd Robin were seen, and so to the salinas nearby, where a large party of Golden Plover was nice to see, and Audouin’s Gulls, Greenshank and Avocet were present.

An excellent lunch was taken at the restaurante Campoverde, Los Belones, but then the weather rather closed in and the visit to Las Urrutias was a somewhat moist affair, though spirits were improved as a Marsh Harrier put up a party of 9 Stone Curlews, while 6 more flew along the coast. A raft of Common Scoter was just about visible through the murk, and Black necked Grebes swam offshore too. A Lesser Black backed Gull made up five species of gulls for the day, and the species total, on a pretty grim day was 51 – not at all bad.

Footnote: Regarding the  Ring-billed Gull which initially was claimed, subsequent exhaustive studies suggest that it was, indeed, a young Yellow legged Gull. Which tends to show that a gathering of ‘experts’ can still get it wrong on occasion. The important thing, of course, is to be prepared to admit your mistake.