It’s not often that I take a trip out of the province of Murcia, but having had a long weekend at the ‘Delta del Ebro’ where I missed two lifers, when I heard about a ‘Spain-tick’ at the El Hondo reserve in the form of a Laughing Gull, only an hour up the coast, I thought I’d take a look. Plus I wanted to check out all the changes I’d heard had been made to the information centre area. So, on Saturday 18th April after checking the lighthouse gardens at Cabo de Palos and then doing some household tasks, I made my way up to El Hondo, arriving at just after 1pm. I went directly to the visitors centre, and I must admit I was quite impressed with what I saw there. On my previous visit with Mick Brewer earlier in the Spring, there was heavy earth-moving machinery everywhere, but now the visitors centre was more or less on an island, the water surrounding it not being particularly deep – ideal for Marbled Duck and waders.
For those who've not seen it yet, one of the pools that surround the visitors centre
I wasn’t 100% certain as to where to go, knowing only that I was looking for the furthest hide on the ‘green route’ on the ‘La Raja’ pool. This is quite a walk, and I was quite pleased that it was a relatively cool day (with the temperature ‘only’ reaching 24ºC in the heat of the afternoon). I made my way round the ‘Raja’ pool, stopping at each of the observation hides (as much for a short rest in the shade as anything else), but although I saw some good birds, there was no sign of the gull.
Some of the birds seen on my way around the lagoon
Adult Mediterranean Gull
Another Purple Heron
Another Cattle Egret
Male Black Winged Stilt
Female Black Winged Stilt
I finally got back to the information centre, and decided that I would go and sit at the ‘Volcam’ hide and have my sandwiches there, as normally when I go to this hide it is in the morning, and so with bad light (always looking into the sun). By now though, it was late enough in the afternoon to have the sun to one side, and what was more important, the hide had a bench to sit on!
Marbled Duck (or Teal as it was formerly known)
So I stayed there and had lunch while people drifted in and out. I kept an eye on the groups of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls that were on the various islands, and I got talking to some Irish people who I later found out were ‘FaceBook’ friends of mine (hi Brian and Rachel), and had just about had enough of being there when I noticed another distant spit of land to the far left had some gulls on it. Scoping through them, Brian and Rachel must have thought I’d gone mad when suddenly changing from whatever subject we were talking about I said ‘I think I’ve got it!’ And with the magnification ranked up to the full 60x, there it was in the heat haze, totally unmistakeable, being an almost blue-grey colour as opposed to the white and light grey of the Black-headeds and Meds. A first winter bird, larger than the Black-headeds, about the size of a Med., dark almost all over with a dark bill and upper breast. Boy was I happy! We sat watching it for a while and then I decided It was time to make my way back home, so I left at about 5-30pm.
A couple of 'record' shots of the Laughing Gull, in the centre of the picture. Note the much darker colour compared to the Black-headed Gulls.
Full list of birds seen
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis); Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus); Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos); Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna); Pochard (Aythya farina); Red-Crested Pochard (Netta rufina); Shoveler (Anas clypeata); White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala); Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris); Little Egret (Egretta garzetta); Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis); Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides); Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutes); Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea); Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea); Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus); Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus); Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus); Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus); Coot (Fulica atra); Crested Coot (Fulica cristata); Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio); Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola); Black Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus); Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta); Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius); Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus); Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos); Little Stint (Calidris minuta); Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea); Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus); Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola), Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis); Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus); Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus); Laughing Gull Larus atricilla); Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus); Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto); Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus); Bee-eater (Merops apiaster); Hoopoe (Upupa epops); Crested Lark (Galerida cristata); Swallow (Hirundo rustica); Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica); House Martin(Delichon urbicum); Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cettia); Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis); Reed Warbler(Acrocephalus scirpaceus); Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceas; Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala); Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator); Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis); Jackdaw (Corvus monedula); Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor); House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Serin (Serinus serinus); Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris); Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra).
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