On a dry but very windy November day, nine hardy CBBC members met at the De Gusta café/restaurant in Yecla, before making our way onto the steppes of the ZEPA (Zona de Especial Protección para las Aves), just north of the town.
We turned off the road that runs parallel to the Sierra del Cuchillo and, at our first stop on the dirt track, we saw several Crested, Thekla and Lesser Short-Toed Larks close by in the bare fields and an Iberian Grey Shrike further away on some rocks. As we continued further along the track, Black Redstarts were everywhere, and a Corn Bunting perched obligingly on some rocks. A small flock of Meadow Pipits were seen to our right, before we stopped at a ruined farmhouse and outbuilding. There was nothing to be seen there until we spotted a male Marsh Harrier flying in the distance. One of the group, whose hearing is much better than mine, heard Skylarks calling.
We continued on our slow, anti-clockwise loop back to the road, hoping to get a glimpse of sandgrouse and bustards, but none were to be seen. All we saw were some Calandra Larks. At the road, we stopped for ten minutes and were rewarded with good views of an adult Golden Eagle flying by. We then decided to turn off the road onto another dirt track and do a slow, clockwise loop in the hope of seeing the elusive sandgrouse and bustards. Rock Doves and House Sparrows were in the farm buildings to our right and, a little further on, we spotted a family of Red-Legged Partridges. As we continued, a flock of about twenty Linnets were drinking by a muddy puddle. Stonechats and Magpies were seen from time to time. Further on, we spotted two Mistle Thrushes and several Hoopoes, before we saw another Golden Eagle, this time a subadult.
On arriving at another farmhouse, our intrepid leader decided to take the group of cars on a track that we’d never taken before. This turned out to be a mistake, but it produced an unexpected bonus. The track got worse and worse, finally ending at a ploughed field. However, as we got out of our cars, we had very good views of a Red Kite. We turned the cars around, returned to the farmhouse and then back to the road. Still, there were no sandgrouse or bustards to be seen.
Back at the road, we turned left and continued parallel to the Sierra del Cuchillo, in the direction of Caudete. Carrion Crows were seen to our right and we also got good views of two Iberian Green Woodpeckers. Further on were 3 Black Wheatears, plus small flocks of Goldfinches and Chaffinches in the fields.
It was now well after 2pm and we decided to head to El Lengüetero restaurant in Caudete for an excellent menú del día. After lunch, the wind was still very strong and the light was fading, so we decided to call it a day. We hadn’t seen any sandgrouse or bustards and we all agreed that it had been the first time that we had been to Yecla without seeing a Little Owl. That’s birding for you! Anyway, we’d seen some good birds and had enjoyed the day.