It’s been a while since I wrote an entry in the blog, due to being in the UK over Christmas and the New Year, and since returning being busy doing various Winter Bird censuses, but on Saturday (17th January) I took a break from these and went with fellow birdwatcher Mick Brewer to the ‘El Hondo/Fondo’ nature reserve in Elche, Alicante.
Arriving there at just after 9am, instead of doing our normal route starting from the closed Information Centre, we started from the south side of the reserve. Approaching from the town of Dolores, we noticed that several of the fields at the side of the road were flooded – a good sign – and as driving along we noticed a small group of Common Cranes flying in the distance.
We worked out roughly where they were, and deviated from our route to look for them. The closer we got, the more Cranes we saw flying, and eventually checking out the small fields at either side of the road, found where they had landed. They were at the end of a grassy field directly off the main Dolores/Elche road and we stopped to view them for a while. In total there were 45 of them, with another dropping in as we left. It was great to be able to see them feeding, with a little bit of macho display by some of them, and we watched them tranquilly feeding for about 15 minutes.
Photos and video of the Common Cranes seen from the side of the road
Getting back on our route towards the south gate (Vistabella area) of the reserve, as we drove along I noticed a load of black ‘dots’ in a field. My first thought was of a flooded field full of Coots, but as we got closer it suddenly clicked – they weren’t Coots, but Glossy Ibises! We approached and managed to pull off of the road (or racetrack judging by some of the cars going by!), and got our scopes out and onto the birds. We didn’t get a chance to count them accurately, but I would estimate around 130 of them.
Glossy Ibises in flight, to and fro to the flooded field
While watching them Mick got onto some waders in the same field, and at the same time I had subconsciously registered a wader calling that didn’t seem familiar. Getting the ‘scopes onto the waders, one literally stood out – there were three Wood Sandpipers, and another, taller bird, shank-like which was making the calls. We were looking almost into the sun, but could see it was skinny with a greyish body with a paler grey almost unnoticeable front to the chest and white underneath, eyestripe, longer (than the Wood Sandpipers) fine bill, brighter longer legs (which due to the early morning light did actually look more orange than yellow). I knew that there had been a Lesser Yellowlegs about recently but thought that it had gone, but no, here it was in front of us!
The Glossy Ibises forming an honour guard to the Lesser Yellowlegs!
We watched it for a few minutes, and then the whole flock of Ibises took off, and the waders with them. We didn’t see where the waders went, but they soon came back together with a few of the Ibises and continued feeding on the same flooded field. We watched them for a while longer, and then the 3 Wood Sandpipers and Yellowlegs suddenly flew up an off, and we lost them to view to the south east.
Photos and short video of the Lesser Yellowlegs with Glossy Ibises ...
(in the first part of the video you can hear the 'Legs calling)
(in the first part of the video you can hear the 'Legs calling)
... and one of the Wood Sandpipers that were accompanying the Lesser 'Legs
We decided that this was a good time to continue on to the hides at the south side of the reserve, so parking up we walked along the ditch wall to the hides. Here we had our first problem of the day – the access to the first hide was flooded – not too much, but we didn’t have wellies with us and we would have got wet feet if we’d tried to cross to the hide. We decided to give the hide a miss (very frustrating, especially considering I knew a male Ring-necked Duck had been seen from there a couple of days earlier, and in fact it was seen and photographed again the following day). We went onto the second hide, which any of you who know the area know that to get to, you have to walk along a long gangplank only 3 planks wide over open water – not easy for me – but we got to the hide eventually! And from there, apart from a distant Purple Gallinule in the reeds and a small group of White-headed Ducks on the way out, NOTHING! To be fair, there was shooting going on over to the right of us, so I presume all the ducks were at the left end of the lagoon (and visible from the first hide!), but staying there a while and seeing next to nothing, we decided to cut our losses and head back.
Some of the other birds seen on our travels - Green Sandpiper, Black-necked Grebe and Grey Heron
By now, hunger pangs were kicking in, so we decided to go round to the Information Centre where there is a small pool and picnic area, and have an early lunch. We noticed that a lot of work has been going on at the Information Centre, and the small pool almost devoid of reeds – a few stands had been left, but the banks were totally clear. This obviously has to be done every so often so that the pool doesn’t end up full of reeds, but it was a bit of a shock to the system to see it like this. However, it made finding the Purple Gallinues and Crested Coots that much easier, and we saw five of the former and two of the latter, plus Common Coots, Moorhens and a single Little Grebe.
After our sandwiches, we walked around the wooden trail around the Centre, and then on to the two ‘new’ hides which are always worth a look at. But this time they weren’t – from the one facing west we saw absolutely nothing in the lake (although a pair of Mallard DID fly over!) and from the other one someone was actually in the water in front of the hide taking samples, so there were no birds there either! On the way to the hides though, we did have a single pale morph Booted Eagle and several Marsh Harriers.
We decided to cut our losses, and head on back south, as we had time for a quick visit to the Salinas at San Pedro on the way home. However, as Mick had never been there before, I suggested a look at the ‘desembocadura’ of the river Segura at Guardamar. It’s somewhere I occasionally used to see seaducks (Eiders and Scoters) in the winter although I’d not been there for years.
It took a while to get there since all the roads have changed since my last visit, but eventually we left the car in the parking area by the dunes, we went off to explore. Where the Segura drains into the sea, there were single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and Mediterranean Gull, a Kingfisher, Grey Heron and a few other Yellow-legged Gulls, and out to sea a few adult Gannets, but no sign of any seaducks, so we turned tail and returned to the car, having been away from it about 20 minutes.
A nice close Kingfisher at Guardamar del Segura
We carried on south and paid a very rapid visit to San Pedro Salinas, the only birds of note being a couple of Black-tailed Godwits as we entered - we drove down to the beach to once again look for seaduck, but no luck. And then, home.
It was only when we got to my house that we realized that things were missing from the car – our backpacks and their contents – we’d been robbed when we left the car at the dunes at Guardamar! I’m just SO please that we’d taken all our optics with us, although Mick did lose an iPod, camera and digiscoping attachment, and I an iPod and base unit AND my last sandwich!
So we then spent 2 hours at the Guardia Civil station at Cabo de Palos making a police report.
I’ve subsequently found out that Guardamar beach is infamous for car robberies so I don’t think I’ll be back there for quite a while!