Yecla, Petrola area – Paul Coombes

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Day 12 – It was a very long day yesterday, not back in Montesinos till nearly midnight, so not too surprising that we ‘slept in’ this morning. A text was sent to Mark explaining we’d be half an hour late but we still managed to be enjoying ‘Café con leche y una magdalena’ in Caudete, Castilla La Mancha by 0900.

We’d travelled just over an hour north and were looking forward to exploring the ‘Estapas de Yecla’, a known wintering site for GREAT BUSTARD and with a little luck both species of Sandgrouse plus other niceties. Quickly noted were Hoopoe, Black Redstart, Song and Mistle Thrush, Crested Lark, Robin, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Linnet, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and the first of around a dozen Little Owl. We were driving along a dirt track from Caudete which would soon cross over the border into the very North East of Murcia and onto the Estapas de Yecla. Tree and Rock Sparrow were soon added to the Trip List along with Carrion Crow and Thekla Lark.

Whilst having a mid morning snack Mark spotted a distant raptor being mobbed by some Chough and Jackdaw. It was to be the third Golden Eagle of our holiday. It stayed high and unfortunately, with our cameras at the ready, it drifted off and was soon lost. Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting, Buzzard and Black Wheatear were the next additions.

On the west side of the steppe we stopped for some lunch and whilst scanning a grassy meadow the first Great Bustard of the day were found. Four birds, that we watched through the scope for probably half an hour. We decided to take a dirt track that would take us closer and as we approached them another two were spotted. Then half a dozen more in a further field. Suddenly it turned into Bustard central. Between forty and fifty were counted slowly making their way across the steppe with many groups taking to the air and relocating. It was quite a sight and easily the most we’d seen during our visits to the south east of Spain.

Soon after, we saw flocks of both Calandra and Lesser Short toed Larks and as we approached the eastern side once more another group of around twenty Bustard. Different birds to some of the others seen earlier, we’d never know. The heat haze was disappearing as the temperature dropped and that allowed us some reasonable photos. They were still a good 100yds plus away though. Whilst photographing these, the distinctive calls of Pin tailed Sandgrouse could be heard and several groups totalling around thirty circled us and dropped into nearby stony fields. Then three Black Bellied Sandgrouse flew over us, It was all happening now!

The birding was coming to an end as the sun began to drop quickly.
We made our way back to Caudete for more ‘Café con leche’, a sneaky ‘Zoco Pacharán Navarro’ which was very tasty indeed, then the drive home where not surprisingly Paula managed a good sleep.  Bird Trip list -113 species.