Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A morning at ‘El Hondo’

I was invited last weekend to go with Mick Brewer and his son Darren to the ‘El Hondo/Fondo’ park near Elche in neighbouring Alicante province. Something I couldn’t refuse, so Saturday morning (11th October) saw us all at the information centre carpark there at 9 am.  The day started with fairly clear skies, although it clouded over during the morning, and light wind – just enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay!

We started off from the information centre, around the wooden boardwalk, to the new Volcam hide.  We spent quite some time watching a Booted Eagle which was perched on a fencepost – it’s not usual to see them for such a long time in the same place, so we made the most of it with our scopes.  Unfortunately, it was just a bit too far to get decent photos, but here’s a link to a short video I took of the bird.

Booted Eagle

On the same fence were numerous Bluethroats which are now here for the winter – this must be one of the best places in Spain to see them, hopping up on the fences and fenceposts.  Also seen around there were our only Fan-tailed Warblers (Zitting Cisticolas if you prefer), and a few Cetti’s Warblers, as always, heard but not seen!

At the Volcam hide, we were surprised by the lack of ducks – the same time last year we’d had Wigeon, Tufted Ducks and plenty of Pochards, Mallard, Shoveler, but this time, almost nothing.  A single Black-necked Grebe in with the Little Grebes, and a number of Grey Herons with four Great White Egrets mixed in, Little Egrets and a couple of Squacco Herons still around.  We watched the antics of a Kingfisher, and found a reasonably close Wood Sandpiper to supplement the numbers of other waders (Redshank, Greenshank, Green and Common Sandpiper, Avocets and Black Winged Stilts).  In the distance over the reedbeds, we saw our first Marsh Harriers of the day.

 A record shot of Wood Sandpiper

 One of a couple of Squacco Herons fishing from the reedbeds

Returning to the information centre (not open on Saturdays!), we had a sandwich in the picnic area where we watched the birds in the small pond there – the usual crowd – Common and Red-knobbed Coots, Moorhens, Purple Gallinules, Mallard and Little Grebes, with a few Swallows swooping around.

 A couple of 'El Hondo's' specialities - Purple Gallinule (Swamphen) ...
 ... and Red-knobbed Coot (here with a Common Coot)

From here we decided to go round to the south of the reserve to have a look from the hides there.  On our way, we bumped into some other birders who had stopped at the rubbish tip where they’d had a White Stork, and mentioned that they’d seen a Spotted Eagle earlier on, but both birds had now gone – we started to think it was going to be one of those days!
Still, we had a quick look in the smelly rubbish tip area, where we saw a minimum of 200 Cattle Egrets (that’s where they’d all been hiding), but didn’t linger too long as there was not much else, and the smell was overpowering!

Carrying on towards the Vistabella area, we had more Marsh Harriers and passed a small raptor in a dead tree at the side of the road.  Deciding to turn around for a second look, we eventually found somewhere not too dangerous where we could stop, and watch a Hobby for a few seconds before it leapt out of the tree and flew off over the reedbeds.

We eventually got to the first hide on the south side of the reserve, where there was a Swiss family watching a distant eagle, but it was another Booted.  There wasn’t a lot of water visible, and once again, hardly any ducks, but there were quite a few Wood Sandpipers, plus Little Ringed Plover, Little Stints, Redshank, Greenshank, and Lapwings and Ruff hiding in the reeds opposite.

The Swiss family left and we had the small hide to ourselves, and Mick or Darren (can’t remember who) spotted another raptor.  This looked much more promising – 7 fingers, broad wings with protruding secondaries – definitely one of the larger eagles but not a Golden, got to be a Spotted as that’s all there is here!  I took a few distant record photos, more for the silhouette than anything else, and through the ‘scope, I could see it had a pale base to the tail (a bit like a ringtail harrier) and a pale base to the primaries on the upperwings – but couldn’t see much else.  It soon disappeared beyond the trees and we concentrated on other things.

Three record shots of the eagle

After a while we decided it was time for a change of scene.  We decided against walking all the way down to the second hide as due to the lack of water we thought it might also be very quiet, so we decided to have a drive around the fields on the other side of the road, looking for a flooded field.

We eventually found one, and true to form, birdlife on it – a White Stork at the bottom of the field, Marsh Harrier flying over, a Green Sandpiper, and various Blue-headed and White Wagtails.

 White Stork seen at the bottom of the flooded field

We eventually left the area at 3pm, having had a minimum of 54 bird species during the morning – not a bad total, but we did have the feeling that things were a bit on the quiet side.

In the evening, checking up on www.reservoirbirds.com to see what birds had been seen around Spain during the day; I was amazed to see that not only had Spotted Eagle been seen at El Hondo, but also Lesser Spotted Eagle as well!  This made me wonder about the bird we had seen, so checking the photos I had taken and using the Forsman European Raptor identification guide I managed to get very confused!  The silhouette of the bird we’d seen was almost typical Spotted Eagle, with the bulging secondaries, but the 7th ‘finger’ was very short, and by playing with photoshop I got some of the markings on the underside, including a double pale crescent on the underwing at the base of the primaries, both identification features of Lesser Spotted Eagle!  So I have been in contact with the people who had the other sighting, and they have sent both their and my photos to experts in Estonia, and we are awaiting the outcome!  (which could well be Greater/Lesser hybrid!).

Playing with 'photoshop', I managed to get some of the detail from one of the above photos!

And that’s all for now folks, so till my next post, happy birding!!



  1. Hi Richard
    Love reading your blog page
    Two friends & myself got a great view of the Greater Spotted Eagle at a Palm Farm just up from the rubbish tip near Hondo on the 18th/Sept
    see. . .

    1. Hi Brian, thanks for your comments. I tried the link, but just got a 'This content is currently unavailable' message. So I had a look at your facebook page, but couldn't find the photo.