Arriving late, with only heavy traffic as a feeble excuse, I was pleased to find new faces amongst the 16 enthusiasts waiting patiently at our rendezvous near Yecla. We set off immediately, out onto the Almansa road, then a right turn onto the ZEPA (Zona especial para protección de aves – Bird protection area) which covers a ‘steppe’ area in that part of the world.
Off onto stony tracks we went, then stopped for our first scan, immediately rewarded by good views of a rather pale young Merlin, which flew rapidly from its perch on a rock, to the left. As we continued along the tracks, members were constantly aware of the many Thekla Larks – here, on the stony ground replacing the very similar Crested Larks. Black Redstarts and Stonechats abounded, and a Blue Rock Thrush was seen by sharp-eyed Greta as it flew from an abandoned farmhouse. An Iberian Green Woodpecker vanished into an orchard, where Linnets and Serin fed under the trees.
We doubled back and when we headed out on another track, stopped to watch a very distant Buzzard, whereupon Barry drew the attention of the rest of us to an almost equally distant flock of large birds that the Buzzard had obviously flushed. They (between 20 and 30 of them) had to be Little Bustard, confirmed when they flew somewhat closer, and appeared to drop in the area we had recently vacated! We retraced our steps, to no avail – there was no sign of the elusive birds, so we had to make do with the initial distant view.
On our way to lunch at Caudete, Little Owls seemed to be everywhere, but the ‘best’ birds we saw were Red-billed Chough, two birds displaying, then others mixed in with a flock of Jackdaw. Lunch at the Restaurante Lengüetera was good as ever, then we headed back from whence we came – the Little Owls were still there, but a nice Buzzard and a Iberian Grey Shrike preceded them. Another Chough flew over, then, just as we were about to call it a day, and say our farewells, three Rock Sparrows perched obligingly on wires almost above our heads. A nice finish to an interesting day.