In the region of Murcia, there are two ‘plains’ areas. One is the ‘saladares del Guadalentín’ nestled in a triangle between Alhama de Murcia, Totana and Mazarron. The other is the ‘estepas de Yecla’ located to the north of Yecla in the northeast of the region, bordering the regions of Alicante and Albacete. They both have the same type of birds, but the ‘estepas de Yecla’ are interesting in that they hold small populations of Great Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in addition to Little Bustards and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, unlike the Guadalentín valley. There is also small colony of Lesser Kestrels there.
Having been to the ‘saladares del Guadalentín’ twice recently, I thought it was high time for my first visit to Yecla of the year, hoping that the recent rains wouldn’t have left the area flooded. So, on Saturday morning, I set off at 6-30am from Los Belones, and eventually arrived at Yecla at 8-10, travelling by the A-30 and A-33 motorways to Jumilla, and then the local roads to Yecla itself.
Some general views of the Yecla countryside - here a cornfield with the corn about a metre high
(high enough to hide both Little AND Great Bustards)
Recently ploughed fields
Attraction for the birds, there are plenty of fields just left as meadows (presumably for making hay)
And buildings are few and far between
The route I use in Yecla is to take the road north (signposted Almansa), and then at the Km 5. Marker, take the service road into the steppes area. This area is all farming land with mud ‘caminos’ (tracks) between the fields, and what I do is take the tracks off of the tarmac’d road to explore. I spent the whole morning there, but unfortunately didn’t find all the birds I was looking for. I presume that now that we are into May, the bustards (both Great and Little) are nesting either in the cornfields (now about a metre high) or in the scrub to the side of them, but they were definitely NOT being visible. Neither were the sandgrouse. Apart from a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse that I inadvertently flushed from a field, there were no sandgrouse to be seen.
On the positive side, the small colony of Lesser Kestrels were in the area where I see them every year now – I only saw 5 of them but the rest may well be sitting on eggs. In the same area were a lot of larks, the commonest being Calandras, some singing from the ground and others in high song-flight. I reckon that there were at least 50 in the general area, with a further 30 or so Short-toed Larks, and a few Lesser Short-toed and Crested.
Some of the birds seen at Yecla
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Two shots of a Calandra Lark singing from a pile of stones
Carrion Crow on another pile of stones
Male Lesser Kestrel
And finally, another Short-toed Lark
I took a slow drive around the whole area in the hope of seeing Great Bustards and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in particular, and in doing so came across some interesting birds such as Great Spotted Cuckoo, Carrion Crow (not common around the coastal area of the Mar Menor), a pair of Common Buzzards, an abandoned stone cottage with a small Rock Sparrow colony in it, and to the north of the area I was checking out, at least two Woodlarks singing away.
Birds seen in the ‘estepas’ were Rock Sparrow; Turtle Dove; Mistle Thrush; Goldfinch; Swallow; Woodpigeon, Collared Dove; Lesser Kestrel; Crested Lark; Calandra Lark; Short-toed Lark; Lesser Short-toed Lark; Black-bellied Sandgrouse; Carrion Crow; Black-eared Wheatear; Great Spotted Cuckoo; Common Buzzard; House Sparrow; Hoopoe; Swift/Pallid Swift.
Having done two loops of the area by 12:30, I decided it was time to move on, and I decided that as I had gone that far, it was worth driving the extra miles to the lagoon at Petrola in Albacete, especially as up to 3 Pectoral Sandpipers had been seen in the area in the last couple of days.
Arriving at 14:30 at this wetland area, there was a lot of standing water from the recent rains and after a circuit around almost the whole of the main lagoon (I couldn’t do the ‘full tour’ as there was water across the track), I had seen Black-headed Gulls, Gull-billed Terns, Whiskered Terns, Black Winged Stilts, Great Reed Warblers, Moorhen, Coot, Black-necked Grebes, Mallard, Avocet, Reed Warbler, Lapwings, White-headed Ducks, Shoveler, Gadwall, Red-legged Partridges, Spotless Starlings, Red-crested Pochard, Bee-eaters, Common Sandpipers, Fan-tailed Warblers, Crested Larks, Northern Wheatears, a group of 8 ‘flava’ Wagtails including a ‘flavissima’, Redshank, Corn Buntings and Marsh Harrier. But the most impressive of all were the (Greater) Flamingos on the central island of the lagoons – adults and juveniles in their nests. This is the second year running that they have bred there and are certainly quite a spectacle.
General view of Pétrola, looking Northwest
View looking across to the lake again - the distant brown 'shed' in the middle is actually a hide
View from the western side of the lake. Note the pink 'stain' on the right side of the island...
... which is in actual fact the Flamingo colony
Typical birds at the lake - here a breeding-plumaged Black-headed Gull
... and here Great Reed Warbler
Leaving Pétrola at just before 4 in the afternoon, driving on the way back, I began thinking of all the larks I had seen today, and the fact that there was only one ‘common’ species left to see (although if you look in the UK guides, it’s seems to be nothing like common). I am of course talking about Dupont’s Lark. I know of a location for them that would take me a little way off my route home, but in the end decided against this as at that time of day, they wouldn’t be singing or displaying. But that made me think of other birds I haven’t seen for a while that I could look for on my way home, and I decided to call in at Archena and search for Western Olivaceous Warbler. I knew that these late summer migrants had arrived as one had been caught in a ringing session last weekend. Stopping there for just over half an hour, I eventually located one singing alongside the river over the sound of all the Nightingales. These birds are not easy to see as they seem to like the middle of dense tamarisk trees to sing from, but eventually it showed itself – and I don’t know if maybe it was the same bird retrapped by the ringers a week ago, but it also was ringed.
A bit dark, due to the birds habitat preference, the Western Olivaceous Warbler
Another photo of the same bird, showing its typically flat bill
Finally, on my way home, leaving Murcia I detoured once again to call in at the Salinas at San Pedro. Over the last week there have been a few unusual waders seen (for example 3 Pectoral Sandpipers in the lagoons around Pétrola, and Broad-billed Sandpipers in various places around Spain), so I thought a look at the Salinas just might pay dividends. As it happened, it didn’t, but as the saying goes, if you don’t go, you won’t know! At the Salinas the only waders of note were a group of seven Turnstones and a single Sanderling, all at El Mojón. Otherwise the Salinas were very quiet (obviously with the exception of the breeding birds, such as Shelduck, Black Winged Stilts, Avocets and Kentish Plovers.
I decided to call it a day at that.
By the way, thanks to Paul 'Gale-force' Griggs for putting me right on the raptor in my last post that I had tentatively labelled as Honey Buzzard. It was in fact another Marsh Harrier.