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Sunday, February 15, 2015

El Fondo memories and a new haunt at El Pinet, a place to rest up in the company of Eagles, Waders, Shrikes, Gulls & friendly birders

14 - Pego / Marjal: 15 - El Fondo: 16 - El Pinet: 17 - Segura River: 18- Santa Pola saltpans
For the past week or so, me and my van have been camped out at El Pinet, few kilometres away from the notable, if restricted from an access point of view, reserve at El Fondo. Restricted it may be but it brought me a 'lifer' and lets start with that' ... my first ever Greater Spotted Eagle. A bird of the Baltic states and Northern Asia, a handful over winter in Spain and what a glorious sight it was to see it soaring high over El Fondo.  Many thanks to Graham Critchell and his mate Gordon for pointing me in the right direction and enabling me to capture this aquiline monster, even if it was a kilometre away!

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Greater Spotted Eagle, El Fondo, Feb 2015
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Booted Eagle, Pego, Feb 2015

Perched their size can be misleading, but with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet, in flight they are monstrous and to me akin to a Black Vulture in their sheer presence. At one point this bird was being mobbed by a Booted Eagle (pic right) and then a Peregrine, both of which it dwarfed!

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Audouin's Gull, Segura River, Guadamar (9/02/2015)
Just before I landed at El Fondo and the surrounding good birding areas just south of Alicante, I paid a brief visit to Marjal de Pego-Oliva a smallish but very undisturbed little reserve nr the village of Pego.  Here I finally caught up with my first Audouin's Gulls of the trip.

Restricted to the Med and N.Africa this is one of the rarest gulls in the world with around 10,000 prs, but on the East coast of Spain they can be seen quite readily. My hurried pic at Pego was useless ...this is a better one taken some days later along the Segura River at Guadamar.

Pego itself is a small hillside town that I didn't go into (it looked a bit exclusive!) but the reed fringed reserve was just a delight to walk around. All the usual birds were here and  I got my first Wood Sandpiper, broke some records for numbers .. like appx 50 Bluethroats and maybe 200 Chiffchaffs in the wet fields and reeds.

Pego & surrounding reedbeds (1/02/2015)

Marjal de Pego-Oliva

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In amongst the reeds at Marjal / Pego reserve... a great spot for lunch!

Marsh Harriers encircling and mobbing a Booted Eagle, Marjal-Oliva (02/02/2015)
I counted a total of 6 Marsh Harriers here and at one point they were all in the air together, calling and shrieking like demented harpies. I've rarely heard them call and this was an exceptional racket ... I later figured out after seeing a departing and very harassed big bird that they were in fact all mobbing a grounded Booted Eagle!

Marsh Harrier calling / mobbing behaviour, Marjal-Oliva (02/02/2015)

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Booted Eagle, Pego / Marjal. (2/02/2015)

Booted Eagles themselves are relatively common around the whole area and always great to see cruising around but perched they tend to look a bit 'scruffy'!

Not in the least bit scruffy is this splendid quartet of smaller birds that are all showing well on this stretch of the Costa Blanca at the moment ...

Great Grey Shrike, El Pinet (04/02/2015)

Bluethroat, Segura River (09/02/2015)

Dartford Warbler, El Pinet (10/02/2015)
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Black Necked Grebe beginning to emerge from Winter plumage, El Pinet (06/02/2015)

Its been a bit of a strange 10 days or so down here but also strangely relaxing. The weather for one has been literally blowing hot & cold, with alternate blustery cold winds one day and then calm and sunny the next. I've found a bit of a spot alongside the Santa Pola salt pans and apart from brief excursions to some of the nearby hotspots I haven't done a lot and in many ways just realized that I'm on holiday and don't need to do much!

Strange to see so many other motorhomes .. Brits, Dutch, Germans all parked together 'bonnet to bumper' in the usual convenient but unattractive places.

With a bit of effort (going the extra mile?), your very own spot and a view similar to mine not difficult!
(both images lifted from Google Earth panoramio.
Santa Pola saltpans and my base for 10 days or so.
Not strange but a thorough waste of time .. I stupidly left my wallet on a counter top in a shop in Alicante but actually thought I'd lost it or had it pinched. The whole business of stopping one card, a phone call to VISA to arrange some emergency cash and a tedious conversation with an automaton I was never entirely sure was human was ameliorated somewhat by an email from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to say that the shop owner had found said wallet in the shop (they'd found my YWT email address in the wallet.. good thinking guys!). I'd lost the will to live after stopping 1 card with VISA so thankfully I was able to access funds from another account and just transfer money. Just as well too .. got a call a full 4 days later to say that my emergency cash had been authorised. On my own in a foreign country with 4 euros in my pocket, begging for food / money could have been a reality! Cheers VISA ... bet you're not so keen for me to complete that customer satisfaction survey now are you!! Count to 3, breathe and ..... relax ....and let it go .....YOU USELESS VISA BOTS!!!

Strangely relaxing waiting around for the early Spring migrants to start returning ( there's already been a trickle of Yellow Wags and Sand Martins) and just taking it all in. Here's a few more from my ramblings along saltpan alleys, reed beds and dirt tracks ...

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Slender Billed Gull, El Pinet (10/02/2015)
Slender Billed Gulls, one of 10 or so at El Pinet, now developing that glorious rosy tinge on their breeding plumage.

Slender Billed Gull, El Pinet (10/02/2015)
Prickly Pear bearing fruit and other emerging plant / wild flowers, some of which I've managed to identify some not (I'm on holiday!)

Prickly Pear, Pego (02/02/2015)

Mediterranean Storksbill, El Pinet (13/02/2015)
Mediterranean Ragged Robin?

Bermuda Buttercup ... an invasive but attractive & its everywhere!
Onion Weed ... another escapee from Western European gardens

Sweetpea sp?


Osprey with a fish, Santa Pola saltpans (06/02/2015)
One of a pair of Ospreys that were hunting over the Santa Pola Saltpans... distant shots the both but you can clearly see this one has been successful!

Osprey with a fish, Santa Pola saltpans (06/02/2015)
White Headed Duck still in eclipse plumage, El Fondo (04/02/2015)

This was first White Headed Duck I'd seen in Spain for nigh on 25 yrs!

They are in fact fairly numerous at El Fondo but the Spanish population is down to about 2,500 individuals with habitat loss, shooting and the hybridisation with the non native North American Ruddy Duck the main causes for decline.

Across the road on the Santa Pola side I estimated about 1300 Greater Flamingoes stretching out into the distance like a pinky white wave of confetti across the salt pans. On my side of the road there were never more than 30 or so but they were very entertaining at times ....
Greater Flamingo agro, El Pinet (13/02/2015)

Greater Flamingo agro, El Pinet (13/02/2015)

Greater Flamingo agro, El Pinet (13/02/2015)
So yesterday morning (14th Feb) things came full circle with another trip out to El Fondo for the weekly 1/2 day opening of the best parts of the reserve. I can't believe and don't understand the restrictive public access to this wonderful place (with some help and advice from the Wildlife Trusts or the RSPB, Comunidad Valenciana could make a killing and secure much needed funds to preserve the wildlife of this under threat environment!) ... anyway, less of the political (I'm on holiday!) Greater Spotted Eagle spotted again but the pics turned out to be rubbish, 3 House Martins, 1 Red Rumped Swallow and 1 Barn Swallow this morning at El Pinet are all good early returning migrants and although not a migrant and sadly no pic (they're a bugger!), my first ever Richard's Pipit flushed from my little patch at El Pinet .... been a bogey bird for me for years that one!!

Graham Critchell, Spain birding guide.
It was good to meet up again with Graham and Gordon and may I take this opportunity to thank both for their tips and tricks for birding around this bit of the Costa Blanca. Graham Critchell is probably no stranger to birders in the area but to anyone wishing to experience bird watching of the highest quality with an experienced guide here he is.....Graham Critchell
Other birds around here not mentioned above include a roving flock of Stone Curlew and a very average ney disappointing pic! Greenshank (2), Redshank (2), Avocet (c450 on te Santa Pola side), Kentish & Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint, Black Tailed Godwits (c150 Santa Pola), Black Winged Stilt, Curlew (not many) Whimbrel (1), Common & Green Sandpiper, Shelduck (100s), a pair of distant Bonellis Eagles, Meadow Pipits (c60), Stonechat, Audouin's Gull (single numbers) and a resident and very noisy Little Owl!
Stone Curlew flying past, El Pinet (13/02/2015)
Avocet, El Pinet (06/02/2015)

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That's one fit Shelduck!, El Pinet (13/02/2015)
Ok that's me for another week, I've already moved on ... currently in some cracking Steppe lands around Petrola and already have Great Bustards in the bag ... next post ok!


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