Sunday, 8 January 2017

El Fondo, Elche with the Arboleas Bird Group

Saturday 7 January

Dew-covered Spider's web (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
This, I believe, is Dave's second visit to the El Fondo reserve in less than a month and it must be at least five if not more years since my visit where Dave introduced me to the local Moustached warblers - and loads of dead and dying fish as a result of low water and lack of oxygen.  However, no mention of the latter since s I am assuming that the oxygen/water problem has long since been resolved.  And the following report, you will note that not only is the Spotted Eagle still about but also a Wryneck and a rather lovely Long-eared Owl; now there's two birds I would like to see, along with many others no doubt.  I know it was a very long day, Dave but, despite a touch of the green eye, most impressed so make sure that you get a good siesta today - and also the next few days!

El Fondo, Elche   -   Saturday 7th January

I apologise now.  Normally when I come back from a trip, I write out the bird list, sort out the photos and then write the report and send it, all within a few hours so the details are fresh in my mind.  This report is being done at 5.30am the following day.  As you will read we had a cracking day.  Got home totally knackered and hungry so report had to wait.  Apologies if I get spotters names wrong.
Sun clearing the mist above the reeds at El Fondo (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Gilly and I were up at 4am, leaving the house at 4.45am to pick up Richard H.  It was an hour and three quarters drive to the Cox Service Station, south of Elche, where we were met by Alan and Les. After a couple of coffees we made our way to the North Gate of the El Fondo Bird Reserve.   Sorry to repeat myself, but access to this area is restricted to 8.15am to 11.30am on Saturdays only and by prior reservation.  Things didn't look promising.  It was foggy.  Visibility was down to about 150 metres at best.  We were met there by Helen, who kindly agreed to guide us round after visiting the main reserve.  By the time Antonio, a Park Ranger, arrived to let us in there were ten birders eager to begin.  A further 8 or so entered after us.  We'd already logged Chiffchaff and Robin as we drove slowly down to the elevated hide as the far end, adding Reed Bunting and Lapwing flying past through the mist.  We climbed up onto the covered platform and waited for the sun to rise above the horizon and hopefully clear the fog.  Slowly we could see birds out on the reed-surrounded lake in front of us.  Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe were first to appear out of the gloom.  As the sun began to do its work, we spotted flying Cattle Egret, Black Winged Stilt and the first of numerous Marsh Harriers.  Flocks of fast flying Teal and slower Common Pochard flew in to the reeds behind us, but visibility in that direction was poor due to the bright low sun.  We saw Lesser Black Backed Gulls and a nice flight of three Glossy Ibis.  Immediately to our left a call came from the reeds which Alan identified as a Water Rail.  Further to the left, in the adjacent lake, we could now see Red Crested Pochard, Shelduck and White Headed Duck.  Apart from the many Chiffchaff, little birds seen included Iberian Shrike, Robin, Stonechat and Spotless Starling.  Cetti's Warblers could be heard. Alan and Les combined to spot three Common Cranes way over to the right.  Two adults and a juvenile.  A Spanish birder found a Purple Swamphen on the far reed line.  Also seen were Black Necked Grebe, Grey Heron and Shoveler.

 Cranes Grus grus(PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
We then moved to the next hide.  From there we could see more of the same wildfowl and Chiffchaff. They were everywhere.  Must have seen at least 1-200 during the day.  Above us were small flocks of Crag Martin. Helen spotted a Kestrel.  We got to the elevated hide closest to the North Gate.  Richard wasn't able to climb the stairs and Gilly gets vertigo, so the rest of us were up there.  To our backs we could see vast numbers of resting Lapwing and some Avocet.  Where we could, we scrutinised the Lapwings for the reported Sociable Plover/Lapwing with no luck.  Les did find Black Tailed Godwit, Ruff, Dunlin, Redshank and Greenshank.  I found a Snipe.  I then saw a large dark bird of prey perched a long distance away on a dead tree.  A (great) Spotted Eagle.  Luckily we could point it out to Richard H and Gilly when we came down.  A Little Egret was seen and Les saw a Stone Curlew.  A flight of Jackdaws flew over as we drove back to the other elevated hide.  Here a pair of distant Booted Eagles were seen before we headed back to the North Gate to be let out by Antonio.

Distant Great Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
We drove round to the information Centre and parked up.  Almost immediately, on the shoreline, we spotted a Bluethroat, the first of many.  During the hour or so we spent in this section of the reserve we must have seen at least twenty individual Bluethroat!  Also seen were Black Winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint and Ruff.  Being a holiday and a Saturday there were numerous small groups of interested non-birders in the area but all relatively quiet which was good.  There wasn't as much bird activity on the pool adjacent to the visitor centre.  Amongst the Coot and Moorhen were two collared Red Knobbed Coot.  There was a very obliging female Black Redstart perched atop a post close by.  We made our way slowly along the raised footpath.  Another birder informed us that there was a Barn Swallow in the large flock of Crag Martins feeding low all around us.  I eventually managed to spot it.  As we were looking at another Bluethroat on the track, Gilly found a perched Kingfisher on some short reeds to the left of the track.  It was flushed by another one and a fast low dogfight ensued before they both disappeared.  The flooded track to the second hide (see previous El Fondo report) was now open.  Alan and I got there first. 

Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

Richard H by this time was struggling with his legs so had wandered back towards the information centre determined to get a decent Bluethroat photo.  We found a large resting group of Shelduck, but within feet of the right of the hide, the Rangers had set up a small feeding station, consisting of a raised tray of meal-worm.  A 1st winter Bluethroat was very interested in it.  Unfortunately Gilly had the camera!  By the time she arrived It had been replaced by a Stonechat and a Dartford Warbler.  Also seen was a Sardinian Warbler.  Walking back towards the vehicles via the unelevated path, Alan spotted a beige bird in the reed line.  Luckily I got a photo before it disappeared which after later examination proved it to be a female Little Bittern.  Gilly then spotted a bird in the crook of a leafless tree.  A Wryneck.  Returning to the vehicles we heard from Richard H that both he and Helen had been successful in their quest!
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica (PHOTO: Richard H.)
It being near 2pm we stopped in the next village to a well deserved lunch.  We then followed Helen round the highways and byways of the southern section of the reserve.  Stopping at a pool we had good views of Dunlin, Little Stint and Black Winged Stilt plus a Water Pipit.  On route we saw Greenfinch, Serin, Grey Wagtail, Green Sandpiper and Hoopoe.  A very obliging Kingfisher was hunting right next to the track.  Helen stopped at a Little Owl hotspot.  We were successful. Alan and Les found a Common Buzzard sitting in a tree close by.  Helen saw some Red Legged Partridge and Alan a Meadow Pipit.  Helen the stopped by a gateway.  She'd spotted some Common Cranes in the field beyond.  Whilst there Alan spotted two distant eagles soaring.  One we could see was a Booted Eagle, the other's ID caused much discussion.  I later got an e-mail from Helen who'd photographed the suspect.  It was a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle.
Peek-a-boo Wryneck Jynx torquilla (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
What a day!  Saying goodbye and thank you to Helen we made our way to my friend's house between Lorca and Puerto Lumbreres.  They had text me earlier in the day to confirm their roosting Long Eared Owls were there.   With some difficulty at first we managed to spot one individual.  A second had flown from one tree to another.
Another peek-a-boo;  Long-eared Owl Asio otus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

Including the latter, we'd notched up 72 species for the day!  An incredible, fantastic, amazing, but tiring day!  And I'm back To El Fondo with more of the group in two weeks time!  Oh dear, what a pity!                       Regards, Dave

More photos from the visit:
Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Female Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Male Stonechat Saxicola torquatus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binn
Another peek-a-boo. This time a Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Little Stint Calidris minuta (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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