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Charlie Fleming | profile | all galleries >> Birds by Country. >> Spanish Birds 2011 >> Spain_2011 tree view | thumbnails | slideshow


Last Wednesday night saw me sat on a plane on the way to Southern Spain, I had a few days gap and I had been thinking for a while that I would go if I had the chance. It turned out to be a fantastic few days of photography ending in what can only be described as a "nightmare". But firstly the good things. After a good flight and a night at the Holiday Inn, I drove the hire car to San Pola and the Saltpans, south of Alicante. As soon as I pulled in to a little parking area next to the first disused pool I could see Flamingos, Curlew Sandpiper, Avocet, Squacco Heron, Little Gull and a few other potential goodies.
I think it is quite amazing that you can travel two hours from the UK and see Flamingos in the wild. A longer trip at a different time of the year could have been more productive but I realised before I left home that it is not the best time of year to visit. Firstly, breeding season is over and migration has hardly begun, so August is probably the quietest month. That said, as a photographer I enjoyed some great birds.
Black-winged Stilt, are always lovely to see and were very common everywhere in the right habitat. The first "special" bird on the salinas was a Curlew Sandpiper, in fact several. These are a very common bird on migration. I was excited to see and photograph them and instantly I began to realise that my trip, even though it had been quite an effort, was going to be worthwhile. ??My next stop was The Cot De Giveny, reported as a special place, "full of birds". This is a massive area of dry and dusty scrub with scattered, mostly dead looking trees here and there, with 2 pools, although I could only find 1 of them and this was nothing more than a muddy wallow, not deep enough for the ducks that are reported to be here. I am sure that at other times of the year it would be brilliant but it was quite difficult to find much because of the very dry conditions and the early afternoon heat. I caught sight of both Grey Shrike and a lone Bee-eater as well as some other interesting warblers that were too quick for me to identify properly. I had a tantalising glimpse of what I presumed to be a Bonellis Warbler. At the dried pool, Little Ringed Plover were present along with a few Dunlin. I sat close to the edge and tried to conceal myself and then photographed them when they came near enough. ?After the endurance of the walk in 34 degree heat, I headed back to the hire car, hoping that it was safe,fortunately it was, and I then began my journey north to the town of Oliva. The landscape around Alicante, to my eyes is nothing short of ugly, it's a dustbowl with a martian-like landscape. The few scattered shrubs are scorched and brown, there is no grass or greenery whatsoever and dotted amongst, what to me is a nightmare landscape, are pink and whitewashed villas and small modern houses surrounded by just rocks and red dust. It's a mystery why anyone would leave England, our green and pleasant land, as they do, to live there in their millions now. I must be missing something! Thankfully as I drove north, the landscape improved and the distant hills and mountains made it more attractive. The town of Oliva is pretty and full of character and my B&B was just perfect, in a small dusty street adjoining an orange grove. The landlady Jill is the mother of Julian Sykes, a local expert and tour guide, he was away in the UK unfortunately, but left me directions and tips to good birding places, very good of him. Pego Marsh was 5 k away and just perfect for Herons of 5 species, it was easy to see dozens of Squacco Heron and Cattle Egrets and also watch them feeding. The former is a small "bittern-shaped" heron, light in appearance with tan striations and a piercing yellow eye. On Pego Marsh they could be described as numerous and as I had not seen them before, it was a surprise to see so many. Hoopoe were also really common as were Yellow and White Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Red Rumped Swallow, Marsh Harrier and some other goodies that I will mention later. However, this is also an odd place. Hunting is allowed on the edges of the reed beds and rice fields and I found the dodgy gun toting characters that you encountered now and then, a bit worrying. Also the entrances to the marsh, from the main N332 road, was frequented by prostitutes plying their trade to the passing motorists, (even on Sunday morning) and I found this to be an unseemly and scary contradiction and it felt like I was running the gauntlet every time I drove by. But that apart, this is a tremendous habitat, rich with thousands of birds and a great place to photograph them...... especially Kingfishers..... my favourite bird. ??I saw and photographed an interesting and unusual Kingfisher - (Alcedo athis). It had white pied markings on the chest, in fact the chest from throat to feet was almost completely white. I have often wondered if such birds exist and have to say, in this case it didn't enhance the bird's appearance at all, but it was interesting never the less.
With Pego Marsh being so rich in birdlife, a ringing station is in action every morning in August and September. A biologist from the University of Valencia was present. She was a pretty dark haired girl called Monica who had a constant stream of interesting birds to deal with. This was mostly Reed Warblers but while I was there she caught and ringed Moustached Warbler. This is a tiny little warbler, very similar to Sedge, rarely encountered in the UK, the last time in 2005 I believe, and difficult to see in Spain also.
I have seen Bluethroat before, not in Spain but Portugal. Monica, the ringer, was as excited as me when she caught one, the first at this site for two years, so again, it was a thrill to see one so close, and I was obviously very fortunate. In fact, we caught two, both juveniles on migration, these were "white spot" Bluethroat. There are two subspecies and this race is known to breed in Northern Spain. The second one we caught had more blue on the throat and was probably older than the first. According to the text books, immature birds can't be sexed. Apart from the obvious bluethroat and hint of red beneath that, the rufous red tail was a very attractive feature. I was struck with how much they resembled Robin and, of course they are related.?
On Friday I went to the town of Alcoy in the hope of seeing Griffin Vultures in this more mountainous area, inland. There is a feeding station for the vultures which was over an hours walk up hill in 30 degree heat...... that's too extreme without proper planning and preparation so I limited myself to watching them circling above at the tops of the mountain. Excitingly I caught sight of my very first Golden Eagle. It was being mobbed by a Raven, in it's self a massive bird. When I compared the size of these two birds in silhouette, I could get a good idea of the size of the eagle knowing that a Raven stands at least two feet tall and is almost twice the size of a Carrion Crow. I took a walk up a ravine between two very steep and sheer cliffs, the heat was intense and well over 30 degrees making this a real effort, but well worth it in the end. My short walk gave me the chance to see and photograph a Black Wheatear, a spanking, impressive bird, common in this kind of Southern European mountainous habitat. Black Redstart were numerous with a bird every 100 mtrs or so as well as Sardinian Warbler, mostly heard as is usual with this species, always hard to see.
Saturday, apart from first light at Pego Marsh, was a slight disappointment. I went to "St Anthony's Cape" near Javea to look for Blue Rock Thrush but unfortunately this wasn't successful and again it was a little too hot to enjoy during the day. On the cliffs though, I did see Pallid Swift which are known to breed here so that was some compensation. In the evening, I considered searching for Red-necked Nightjar which are apparently easy to find after dark on the tracks that dissect Pego Marsh, but travelling alone as I was, I decided that the local bar and a pint or two of lager, was a slightly more appealing and, certainly safer option after dark.
On Sunday I made my way back to Alicante for my flight home. It had been 4 great days, albeit a bit lonely on my own. The local bar had served a nice pint and a good meal so that was taken care of. I had seen and photographed some fantastic birds including Squacco Heron and I took some great shots of them. Arriving back in Alicante, too early for the flight, I went on further south and back to the Santa Pola Salinas to finish the trip off nicely with some more Flamingo photographs........ and this is where the nightmare began. I had a vehicle full of suitcase and a flight case full of equipment including a Macbook Pro laptop as well as my Sigma 300 prime lens. To cut the story short, as my back was turned and attention drawn to the salt flats, the car was smashed in to and everything stolen, leaving me with just the shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops that I was wearing. Now with £4000 worth of kit stolen, all my clothes and my passport, it had turned in to the nightmare that we all dread. I was close to tears to be honest and needed to be able to get home now. The police were shockingly unhelpful leaving me with the obstacle of getting on my flight without a passport. Amazingly I managed that hurdle and arrived back in to Exeter feeling sorry for myself, only to be confronted by border control who would not let me back in to the UK. They muttered on about how I had broken the law by travelling without the correct documents and said that the airline will probably be fined £2000 for allowing me to travel without a passport. After a "jobs worth" lecture which was unnecessary and frankly I couldn't have given a dam, they let me in! Home to a loving wife who innocently asked, "Have you had a nice trip"?
Squacco Heron Squacco Heron Squacco Heron Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron Squacco Heron Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea
Greater Flamingo Kentish Plover Curlew Sandpiper Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper Curlew Sandpiper Curlew Sandpiper Kingfisher August Alcedo this (An aberrant white breasted bird).
Bluethroat Birding Trip report August 2011 Cattle Egret -  Bulbulcus ibis Cattle Egret -  Bulbulcus ibis
Reed Warbler Sardinian Warbler Hoopoe Hoopoe
Hoopoe Hoopoe Black-winged Stilt Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron Squacco Heron - Ardeola ralloides Squacco Heron Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron Squacco Heron Squacco Heron Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron