Torrevieja Trip – Daniel Newton

posted in: Birders Reports | 0

Saturday 29th April – Arrivals

I arrived into Alicante Airport around midday. Birding started as I waited for my hire car. House Sparrows, Swifts, Starlings. Nothing to set the pulse racing, but at least I was off the mark. I made a decision not to try birding from the car as I headed to my apartment near Torrevieja. Just get used to the vehicle and to driving on the right! After a spot of shopping for essentials and having a bite to eat, it was getting towards 4pm.

My friend Phil Andrews had advised me of a spot near Laguna Rosa that might be worth trying so I gave it a go. Almost straight away I found my target. IBERIAN MAGPIE. My first lifer of the trip. I spent half an hour watching them – and failing to get a decent photo – during which time I also added MONK PARAKEET, SARDINIAN WARBLER and SPOTLESS STARLING to my trip list. The Monk Parakeets would prove to be ubiquitous around Torrevieja. A quick walk down to the shore and I flushed a BLACK-WINGED STILT before picking up a string of GREATER FLAMINGOS in the distance.

Monk Parakeet by Daniel Newton©

I decided to move on to La Mata de Torrevieja. I followed the path towards the hide. An IBERIAN GREEN WOODPECKER accompanied me along the way, laughing maniacally every couple of minutes. Once in the hide, I scanned the shoreline. The first bird that I landed on was a KENTISH PLOVER. Lovely. LITTLE TERN, AVOCET, YELLOW-LEGGED GULL and SLENDER-BILLED GULL were all nearby. A bird dropped in to the extreme right of the hide. I swiveled my scope towards the area where it landed and, sure enough, it was a STONE-CURLEW.

Slender-billed Gull by Daniel Newton©

I headed back towards the car, wandering through the scrub. As the rain started to fall, a flock of SERIN jangled for the bushes and melancholic call of THEKLA LARK caught my ear. What a lovely first day.

Sunday 30th April – El Hondo

A visit to El Hondo had been top of my to-do list since I first booked my holiday, so with my first full day ahead I made my way there straight after breakfast. I actually took a wrong turn and had to cut back through the backroads from a village called Catral. This proved fortuitous as I stumbled upon a freshly cut field with a dozen or so CATTLE EGRET on it and then, around the corner on a telegraph pole, a pair of WOODCHAT SHRIKE.

Woodchat Shrike by Daniel Newton©

I eventually parked up on the Vistabella Road. Opening the car door, I was immediately serenaded by CORN BUNTING, CUCKOO and ZITTING CISTICOLA. A RED-RUMPED SWALLOW zipped in and out of a derelict building. I crossed the bridge a walked to the first couple of hides. CETTI’S WARBLER and GREAT REED WARBLER filled my ears. WHITE-HEADED DUCK, BLACK-NECKED GREBE and RED-CRESTED POCHARD were all close by whilst GREATER FLAMINGOS were everywhere. LITTLE BITTERN and NIGHT HERON both flew across the reedbed, whilst a MARSH HARRIER quartered further back and several GLOSSY IBIS flew overhead.

Flamingo by Daniel Newton©

I decided to head to the visitor centre at San Felipe by swinging around the north side of the reserve. I’d been advised that stopping at the “goalposts” could be fruitful, and so it proved. A GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO and IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE were sat at either end of the crossbar, and a LITTLE OWL was sat on a crumbling wall a little further back.

San Felipe itself was extremely busy with locals and a squadron of cyclists in the car-park. Birding was undeterred. MARBLED DUCK, RED-KNOBBED COOT and PURPLE SWAMPHEN all fell before the visitor centre was out of sight. A good twenty minutes were spent on the boardwalk just watching a flock of WHISKERED TERN. Then onto the hides where GREAT WHITE EGRET, SQUACCO HERON, BEARDED TIT and GREEN SANDPIPER were added to the trip list. Best of all was a COLLARED PRATINCOLE that I picked out resting by a small lagoon.

Collared Pratincole by Daniel Newton©

I returned by the north road again. Nothing on the crossbars this time but, about two-hundred yards beyond the turning for the North Gate, I caught a glimpse of my first ROLLER sat on top of a palm tree. I slammed on my brakes, pulled over and managed to get a little bit of footage before continuing on towards the Old Monastery area of El Hondo Fields.

Roller by Daniel Newton©

This area had been strongly recommended to me by Mary Brazier and it did not disappoint. Superb views of GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO, IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE, TURTLE DOVE and another ROLLER were all obtained in quick succession. The jaunt had been a huge success and I headed back to base in high spirits.

Great Spotted Cuckoo by Daniel Newton©

Still giddy from day, I returned to La Mata de Torrievieja later that evening and spent an hour or so watching THEKLA LARK before heading home for a much-needed sleep.

Thekla’s Lark by Daniel Newton©

Monday 1st May – El Clot

Birding continued at a pace with a morning trip up to Clot de Galvany. Expectations were immediately raised by the call of a TURTLE DOVE purring as soon as I stepped into the car park. A walk to the hide produced several SARDINIAN WARBLERS, as well as WESTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER that was tacking away relentlessly but steadfastly refused to pop out from its bush to give decent views.

Sardinian Warbler by Daniel Newton©

I made myself to the first hide. A crake was running about between two islands at the back of the pool. Spotted Crake, I presumed… incorrectly. It actually turned out to be a LITTLE CRAKE! What a bonus!

Little Crake by Daniel Newton©

A LITTLE BITTERN flew across the lagoon and I was surprised to see a couple of RED-KNOBBED COOT in front of the hide, along with pair of MARBLED DUCKS. Another couple of hides and WHITE-HEADED DUCK, NIGHT HERON and, of course, BLACK-WINGED STILT were added to the day list.

Red-knobbed Coot by Daniel Newton©

I then took the path up the middle of the reserve, turned left and spent some time in the scrub above the central lagoon. SERIN were everywhere. An IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE held territory over a plot of gorse, and a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER flitted in and out of a mature tree not far from the steps up to the mirador. A TURTLE DOVE flushed up from beside the path and further along another three were feeding unobtrusively just off the track. After half an hour I doubled back and a scan of the scrub added a WHINCHAT to the trip list. After a good morning’s birding, I returned to my car and then made the short trip to El Pinet.

Iberian Grey Shrike by Daniel Newton©

My target here was Elegant Tern, which had been reported several times in the previous week. I parked up and followed the boardwalk that ran alongside the lagoons… SLENDER-BILLED GULL, MEDITERANNEAN GULL, COMMON TERN, LITTLE TERN, SANDWICH TERN were all picked up. I walked straight past the first hide, which was packed, and continued on until the boardwalk gave way to a sandy track. I found a spot that gave a clear view to the islands in the middle of the Salinas and started scanning. WOOD SANDPIPER, LITTLE STINT, SANDERLING and COLLARED PRATINCOLE were picked up on the fringes of the islands until finally, success, I picked out the ELEGANT TERN amidst a flock of Sandwich Terns. Happy days. I continued to the second hide, relocated the tern and watched it for about twenty minutes before heading back to base.

Elegant Tern by Daniel Newton©

I stopped off at Laguna Rosa for another look at the IBERIAN MAGPIES. I explored a little further around the shoreline and was thrilled to find my first NIGHTINGALE of the trip, singing from a dense copse at the end of the track, as well as yet another WOODCHAT SHRIKE.

Azure-winged Magpie by Daniel Newton©

I had a big day the following day, so it was then home for an early dinner and then to bed.

Tuesday 2nd May – Birding with Bryan Thomas (Part I)

The aforementioned “Big Day”, was in fact two big days. I had been put in touch with Bryan Thomas through Mary Brazier at the Costa Blanca Bird Club, and in the previous weeks we had devised a plan for a couple of days guided birding which involved a main target each day and a “no lunch” blitz to mop up as many birds as possible. Tomorrow’s primary target would be Trumpeter Finch. Today’s goal was GREAT BUSTARD.

Despite a brief delay due to me setting off without my binoculars, it was still dark when we set off for the plains of Petrola. After a quick stop for a couple of fortifying coffees we arrived at our site and were getting our first tick of the day, CRESTED LARK. Moments later Bryan picked up a LESSER KESTREL on some wires by a barn, that promptly flew revealing it’s pale underwing. A lifer for me, the first of several. We soon added ROCK SPARROW, GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK and, of course, CORN BUNTING… A bird that soundtracked our day.

Greater Short-toed Lark by Bryan Thomas©

We worked the tracks around the fields, slamming on the brakes whenever a bird flitted up and occasionally getting out for a quick scan. COMMON KESTREL was soon added to the day list, as was YELLOW WAGTAIL and MARSH HARRIER. As we got further from the main road, we started to encounter CALANDRA LARKS, their long-winged flicking flight them easy to pick up as they scattered across the fields. Occasionally they’d pop up, but they seemed determined to defy Bryan’s camera lens! It took time, but it was a battle that Bryan eventually won as we got great views of one sat up on a rock by the side of the road.

Calandra Lark by Bryan Thomas©

And then, mid-morning, we got our quarry. A scan of a distant field adjacent to a small plantation we saw our first GREAT BUSTARDS. I got a good look in my scope and we worked around the tracks to get a better vantage point. We had timed it right, as twenty birds appeared on top of an undulation and formed a procession to the shade of the nearby copse, where they promptly melted away.

Great Bustards by Daniel Newton©

With our mission accomplished, our birding took a more freewheeling approach. We soon picked up a raptor high and watched it drift slowly closer until we nailed it… A BLACK KITE. A stop at a small watering pond produced several WHINCHATS, along with good numbers of Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings.

Whinchat by Bryan Thomas©

We stopped for a look over Petrola Lake, with was fetid due to the drought but still produced plenty of birds including, amongst many, GLOSSY IBIS, countless GULL-BILLED TERN and even a squealing WATER RAIL. The next stop – a series of pools off a railway service track – was even better. Pretty much my idea of paradise. There were birds galore; WHITE-HEADED DUCK, SHOVELER, WHISKERED TERNS, BLACK TERNS, BLACK-NECKED GREBES, PURPLE SWAMPHEN, WOOD SANDPIPERS, LITTLE RINGED and RINGED PLOVER. As we watched this spectacle from a bridge, we heard a gentle fluty call. GOLDEN ORIOLE. We turned our heads and there it was, sat out watching us! Unbelievable.

Golden Oriole by Bryan Thomas©

We continued on. Bryan pulled into a small plantation and we opened our ears. Within minutes we were watching a WESTERN BONELLI’S WARBLER fluttering above us.

Finally, we arrived at our final destination. Yecla. I knew it was going to be good as we spent about half-an-hour just loitering around a single spot watching a colony of BEE-EATERS on one side and a pair of GOLDEN ORIOLE vying for territory on the other. I picked up a WOODCHAT SHRIKE at the back of the compound and Bryan found a BLACK WHEATEAR.

We had to get moving. We followed the track around the site. Another LESSER KESTREL, an IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE, another BLACK WHEATEAR, a flock of RED-BILLED CHOUGH and then what I think may be my favorite bird of my entire holiday, BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR. What charismatic little birds. And such subtle beauty too. They will linger long in the memory.

And still we continued on. SKYLARK, THEKLA LARK. We looped around and the fields got rockier. Bryan picked out a STONE-CURLEW. Then something caught the corner of my eye. I looked again and saw nothing. We almost moved on but Bryan, in his wisdom, said give it more time just in case. And then it wandered out of a rut and into view. A PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE. I got out of the car and watch it through my scope. What a stonking bird, and a big fat life tick!

We had seen 83 species in total. We headed home very happy, and looking forward to the next day.

Wednesday 3rd May – Birding with Bryan Thomas (Part II)

Day two of my road trip with Bryan took us to the twin peaks of Monnegre and Maigmo, with a primary target of Trumpeter Finch and a secondary goal of “mopping up as many birds as possible”.

The morning started with a bang. No sooner had we started up the track for Monnegre and turned the first corner, we got our first tick of the day. BLUE ROCK THRUSH… A bird that had been high on my wish list and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We continued on. The next corner presented a WOODCHAT SHRIKE and then, at a small pull-in, we found several BLACK WHEATEARS sat out on the walls of a derelict structure.

Blue Rock Thrush by Bryan Thomas©

We then continued on until we arrived at a spot overlooking a valley that Bryan had ear-marked for our primary target. We pulled that car up, sat quietly and waited. A RAVEN flew overhead, a CRAG MARTIN patrolled back and forth, and several ROCK SPARROWS landed nearby. More surprisingly, a ROLLER appeared on a post above us. Finally, after a short but anxious wait, a TRUMPETER FINCH dropped in. A female. It took a quick drink and flitted off. We waited again, and another dropped in. This one a male. Wow. These birds had been at the top of my to-see list ever since I booked this trip and they did not disappoint a single iota. They blend in so well with their arid, dusty surroundings yet have such subtle beauty, with their pink wing panels, in particular, drawing the eye. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement.

Buoyed by success, we continued on. We passed several BLACK-EARED WHEATEARS and simply couldn’t resist stopping to watch each one. They are so charismatic.

We then slipped into the valley and pulled over at a small bridge over the river. A NIGHTINGALE was singing its heart out alongside us. We got out and had a dander. Soon we were watching a MELODIOUS WARBLER belting out its own particular song with real gusto. We must have stood watching this bird for a solid quarter of an hour.

Melodious Warbler by Bryan Thomas©

And still we pressed on. Our luck briefly deserted us when we failed to spot a Griffon Vulture in an area that Bryan had had hopes for, but this was only a minor blip. We were soon making our way up the Maigmo. We stopped near a ranger’s lodge on the ascent and Bryan soon picked out a SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER. It played a bit of hide an seek but eventually showed well as it worked its way up towards the canopy. I was actually surprised how strikingly different to the British Treecreeper it was. The wing bar really stood out and in profile the bill seemed longer and thinner. A little bit further along and we were looking at a very handsome CRESTED TIT, which Bryan worked a miracle in getting a photo of!

Crested Tit by Bryan Thomas©

We continued to the top. A FIRECREST was heard, but not seen, and a JAY shot out over the road. Bryan had a large raptor off the side of the mountain but the time we managed to pull the car over safely and get out the bird had vanished. We kicked about at the mirador for a while where I lucked upon another Crested Tit, and then we headed to the fire station at the top to take in the views before heading back down. The mountain threw up one more bird as we descended. A ROCK BUNTING shot up and posed on a rock in front of us. Fabulous. We made the decision to head to El Clot to finish off our trip.

We stayed at El Clot about an hour. No sign of the Little Crake today, but a LITTLE BITTERN made a couple of forays across the reed bed, as did a SQUACCO HERON. A BEARDED TIT popped out of the bottom of a stand of reeds before bouncing across the lagoon. The RED-KNOBBED COOT particularly delighted Bryan as these appear to be very recent arrivals to the site. I moved around to the back of the lagoon where I bumped into a couple who were members the Costa Blanca Bird Club, Gary and Joanne Partida. We had a little chat about Turtle Doves and were amused to discover that Joanne and I were not only brought up less than fifteen miles apart in the darkest fens of Lincolnshire, but also used to frequent the same fish and chip shops! During our conversation a NIGHT HERON popped out onto an island below us.

Night Heron by Daniel Newton©

I finally said my goodbyes to Bryan Thomas. I honestly couldn’t thank him enough for the previous two days of birding. It was spectacular. If you’re reading this report and are looking to hire a guide at reasonable rates, I strongly recommend you get in touch with him. His local knowledge is phenomenal and he makes damn fine company as well. You will not be disappointed.

Still abuzz from our adventure, I headed to Santa Pola, bought an ice cream and had a wander around the harbour. Dozens of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were on the quayside and a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was amongst them. Even better, there were plenty of AUDOUIN’S GULLS to be seen too. Picking one of these beauties out on the shores of Belfast Lough remains one of my more fantastical ambitions!

Audouin’s Gull (with red bill) by Daniel Newton©

On a bit of advice from Bryan, I headed up to my regular spot at Laguna Rosa at dusk. The NIGHTINGALE was in full song when I arrived and a LITTLE OWL perched up on the wires to watch over me. As darkness started to envelop the trees around me, a song that I had long hoped to hear started up. RED-NECKED NIGHTJAR. A second bird started singing from the other side. I stood in the middle of the path after an epic day and drank it all up. This is what life is really all about.

Thursday 4th May – San Pedro del Pinatar

After the hectic birding madness of my previous forty-eight hours with Bryan, I had promised myself (and my partner) a lighter day. A late breakfast and a quick visit to check out San Pedro del Pinatar, which was a short drive from base, was just the ticket. I spent an hour or so here. It was a pleasant enough, with particularly good views of KENTISH PLOVER, including one watching over a newly hatched chick. SANDERLING and LITTLE STINT also showed well, along with LITTLE TERN, SLENDER-BILLED GULL and YELLOW-LEGGED GULL. I was especially glad to find a pair of CURLEW SANDPIPERS feeding discreetly along the fringes of a nearby island, which were my only trip ticks of the day.

Kentish Plover by Daniel Newton©

The rest of the day was spent shopping at La Zenia Boulevard, sipping coffee and loafing in the pool like a normal person. It felt weird. I did pop back up Laguna Rosa at dusk for another hour with the RED-NECKED NIGHTJARS though. I couldn’t resist it!

Friday 5th May – El Hondo (The Return)

I’d be flying out early the following morning, so Friday was my last full day in Spain. I’d promise myself another bite of the El Hondo cherry before I left so I set out early, with a low mist still blanketing the Iberian countryside. It was a great decision. I arrived at the Vistabella Road and made my way to the first hide. A SAVI’S WARBLER was reeling as I made my way up the reed-lined path. Superb. I had no sooner arrived in the hide when I caught sight of a Heron coming into the pool from the left. Was it? Yes! It was a PURPLE HERON, a species that had completely eluded me all week until that point. I followed it down and it landed slap bang in front of me in a patch of reeds below the hide. I tried getting a photo but it never allowed a clear shot. After a couple of minutes, it got up again and continued right until it was out of sight.

Purple Heron by Daniel Newton©

It was great to be back again and I lingered on all of the birds knowing that this was my last visit of my trip. WHITE-HEADED DUCKS, COLLARED PRATINCOLES, BLACK-NECKED GREBES, GREAT REED WARBLERS. I hit all four hides and the last one had one final treat. Perched out on a tree distantly through the heat haze I picked up a large raptor. It was a SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE. I watched it for about thirty minutes as it got mobbed by several birds – from MAGPIE to MARSH HARRIER – before it alighted and disappeared from view. A quick visit to San Felipe followed, where I got my final views of WHISKERED TERN and CATTLE EGRET, before I made my way to the old monastery area of El Hondo Fields.

Black-necked Grebe by Daniel Newton©

It turned out to be a fitting end. I passed a freshly mown field along the way that was covered in a flock of GLOSSY IBIS, and when I arrived at the fields CORN BUNTING, CRESTED LARK, SERIN, IBERIAN GREEN WOODPECKER and IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE were all on show. As I worked my way around the tracks, a BEE-EATER flew across the road and perched close by the car. It posed for ages, allowing me to get some fantastic footage. I eventually tore myself away and was glad that I did, because when I got back to the monastery a ROLLER flew up onto the telephone wires.

Bee-eater by Daniel Newton©

It proved the last bird of a truly memorable trip that ultimately totaled 140 species seen over six fabulous days.

I’d once again like to thank Mary Brazier and Bryan Thomas for all of their time and effort in helping me with this trip. For anybody wishing to visit the area, the Costa Blanca Bird Club website and Bryan’s own blog, Birding Costa Blanca, are well worth more than a few evenings pouring over. The same can be said for the epic “Birding Alicante” thread of Birdforum. Last but not least, I’d also like to thank Phil Andrews and Derek Charles for their guidance, tips and support.

Roller by Daniel Newton©

Here is my full list of species seen on my visit: –

Common Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant.

Short-toed Snake Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Great Bustard, Water Rail, Little Crake, Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Collared Pratincole.

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Little Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, European Roller, European Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Monk Parakeet, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Jay, Iberian Magpie, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Western Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven.

Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Great Tit, Bearded Reedling, Eurasian Skylark, Thekla Lark, Crested Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Common Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler.

Common Firecrest, Eurasian Wren, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Starling, Spotless Starling, Common Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Nightingale, Blue Rock Thrush, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, Trumpeter Finch, European Greenfinch, Common Linnet, European Goldfinch, European Serin, Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting.