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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Back to the mountains and blown away all the way back! Morella, Ares del Maestre, Cabanes & Alberfura.

Seems a bit strange to say but I got a little tired of tramping around rice fields full of birds at Ebro. I don't know if it was the lack of relief, the shooting or just the sameness of it all, or a combination of all 3 plus a dash of 'itchy feet',... I just fancied going back into the mountains to see if the conditions were less harsh and the birds more plentiful - they weren't on both fronts!

Anyway, I shouldn't moan, here's the places covered in this posting -
9:Ebro Delta 10:Morella 11:Ares 12:Prat de Cabanes 13:Alberfura

Don't let the blue skies deceive you, the high towns of Morella and Ares Del Maestre were feisty cold and more than bracy windy! They were however uniquely Spanish and beautiful places. Morella was cited in one of my guide books as a good base for exploring the Meastrat region. The place took me completely by surprise as I rounded and a bend and saw this ....

Morella, Castellon
Morella, Castellon (back of the town)
Some info here on the wiki if you want it on this ancient walled city and its strategic influence between the Ebro and the coastal plains of Valencia

Icicles on the north side of Morella

Like I said, it was cold up there and on the north side even colder, and with a force 6 or 7 blowing, totally useless for any kind of wildlife watching, so I did what us Brits do best and had a day out shopping!

Streets of Morella

Only one street of shops to choose from but I got what I wanted.... some new gloves and another hat, fresh fruit & veg and some pork loins for cooking later, oh and of course a couple of these

and a bag of some of the most delicious cakes you can get anywhere and a speciality of the Catalans - flaons

Streets of Morella

I passed the school and whilst the building itself was totally out of character to the rest of Morella I could only wonder how any pupils attention could be held with a view like that for distraction!
Had a couple of Rock Buntings on that roof and a new species for the trip!

Next stop another mountain town in the Maestrat area- Ares del Maestre. One steep road in and one out (the van handled it like a dream), just as stunning, just as windy, just as cold, in fact more so. Almost no people, 1 hotel (closed), 1 shop (thankfully open) and a bar (always open) with internet access and hot coffee - perfect!.

Ares del Maestre
Deserted streets of Ares

I took a brief stroll on one of the many paths around the town and took my life in my hands negotiating sheer drops around every bend .... silly thing to do in that wind really, I'm no young Gazelle anymore!



So that was that, my second trip up into mountainous areas and yes you could say I was blown away, and I was by the scenery but I quickly realised that this is no habitat for warm bloodied flying things!

Back down to the coast I went, into Valanciana region and a place where there are reputedly up to 200 pairs Moustached Warblers - El Prat de Cabanes. It was less blowy and the habitat superb for the hairy top lipped little ones I've been scouring the reed beds of north-eastern Spain for, but did I see one, did I hell .. 200 pairs my new bobble hat Mr Michael Rebane!) Cetti's, Fan Tailed, Dartford and Sardinian warblers a plenty but not a sniff of a 'tashed! Never photographed one so its on my list to get this trip. This is what I'm looking for .......(pic right)

Not to worry, I did get close to not a dozen, not 50, but several hundred Crag Martins. This was indeed the place of the Crag and I got close on a perfect pic of one over the reeds .....

Crag Martin, Cabanes
I heard from the UK that there's a huge weather system in the North Atlantic that's been sending in high winds and snow to much of Western Europe and set to dominate for another week at least. Its not particularly cold here but at the risk of repeating myself I'm sure getting the wind. It stops most birds flying about but it don't stop the land so here's a few more landscapes from Cabanes ...

Shingle beach at Cabanes
Mohicans hiding in the sand? Cabanes

Reed beds at Cabanes

Reed bed walkway, Cabanes

On the way to the well known and notable wetland areas of Alberfura I took a wrong turn (thanks satnav) and ended up in 5 lanes of city centre traffic in Valencia itself. Not for the feint hearted and to anyone even slightly tempted to take a motorhome into this madcap place ... just don't do it. It was mayhem!

I just drove out anyway I could, ended up on the motorway to Madrid but it didn't matter, I was out. I couldn't because I was driving but felt like both of these after that!


Eventually navigated my around to Alberfura and guess what....

Alberfura wind


Alberfura lake in a force 7/8 wind

They actually closed the reserve bit whilst I was there because of falling trees. I took shelter best I could and parked on the streets of nearby El Perolet for the night but my oh my the van was rocking ... and not just because I was playing my guitar till midnight!

Some degree of calmness in the morning and the rice fields around El Palmar, a quaint and relaxing village full of fancy fish restaurants, and a nice place to hang out for a couple of days in the hope of better weather ahead.

Got my second Merlin of the trip here so all was not bad. Well hunkered down out of the wind it looked a little forlorn and a trifle exposed , maybe this is a young one, a young male? Not quite good enough to elude my lens but good camouflage oh little falcon!

 A nice flock of Black Tailed Godwits braving the wind felt like a bonus

Black Tailed Godwits in flight, El Palmar
Marsh Harriers fly anytime they want and almost seem to revel in the extra challenge a strong wind brings. I'd love a Hen Harrier down here and was expecting more after my last trip but I suspect they're all further West from here where there's less disturbance. I'll certainly make do with Marshie's though, especially when they come this close!

Marsh Harrier, El Palmar

This is such a common site at this time of the year in the rice fields of Spain .... specially designed tractors ploughing the rich chaff back into the wet fields to add nutrients to the ground ready for the planting of more rice in the Spring. Followed at all times by Egrets, Herons and Gulls by the bucket load! For something to do whilst I sat and ate my lunch one day I decided to count all the Heron species in this very field - 62 Grey Herons, 131 Little Egrets and 22 Great White Egrets in one field!!


Typical rice field in Winter before its ploughed back in, El Palmar.

I've been to some of the best reed bed habitats in Eastern Spain and despite the weather I've revelled in them but always, just over the horizon or round the next bend, the spectre of 'urbanization' raises its ugly head. The Spanish have no viable equivalent to the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the rest that fight hard to maintain wild places where wildlife can flourish and the people can enjoy it, SEO (Spain's only viable wildlife organisation is tiny in comparison) and whilst this is the case, bit by bit, this country's wild places will wither and be engulfed and lost. What a Brit abroad, you or anyone can do about this I'm not sure but let's be clear about this, wild places are being lost every single day to the 2 major culprits -  intensive farming & urbanisation and I hate to see more of this every time I come back to Spain.....

Ok that's me done for another week and apologies for not too many bird pics but this weather! I'll leave you with some of the emerging plant and flower sp that are beginning to emerge here ... only really sure about the first one ....

Salicornia, Glasswort or Samphire ... take your pic on the name but it glows red around here!
No Idea, will have to look in the book but resembled Gorse.
and I believe this is a Mediterranean Liverwort sp
Well into Valencia region now, passed the monstrosity that passes for a holiday place - Benidorm, where the apartment blocks of this once sleepy little fishing village have been replaced by skyscraper holiday blocks... nice; and now camped out at El Pinet, some 15k from El Fondo and 30k south of Alicante... lots of Dutch, German and a few Brit motorhomes down here but some great salt pans and have now caught up with a few of the Costa Blanca birders so I'll be hanging around here for a couple of weeks and hoping for a bit of early passage. Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin and Yellow Wagtails have all been seen in the past week!

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