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A Report from

Murcia and Alicante, Spain, 12-17 April 2008,

Alan Jack.

Arrived at Alicante Airport,and picked up the hire car through the excellent Do You Spain company.

Driving the 60k to our house in Fortuna, north of Murcia,where we stayed for the five days.The area looks very barren at first glance, but to the East of the main E15 dual carriageway, lies the fertile, green area of El Hondo,with it’s pools and marshes. I was to visit here next day.

At our village, most of the typical mediterranean species could be found, with hills behind holding some more high altitude species.

The other main attraction of the area is the salt pans and pools at the coast at Santa Pola. The weather for our stay was warm ,in the low 70’s, sunny all except the last day, but sometimes with a fresh north east wind blowing.

The area around Fortuna, a mix of orange and lemon groves, gardens, some cultivated fields, and dry,  rocky hillsides. Birds easily found were Serins, Goldfinches, Woodchat and Southern Grey shrikes, Little owl, Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Swallows, House Martins and Spotless starlings.

On one day 500 Swifts fed over the nearby hills, Red Rumped Swallow, and a pair of Peregrines were seen. Each day migrating Bee Eaters passed over, heading north as did a small flock of Corn Buntings, calling.

A short drive out of the village into a small rocky gorge in the hills on the road to Gar pacho, produced a pair of Choughs feeding young in a crag nest, 12 Crag Martins, Kestrel and 8 Blue Rock Thrushes on territory and singing. Beyond here, as the road crossed a small stream, a pair of Red Rumped Swallows were nesting, there slow, gliding flight giving superb views. Three Cuckoos were on wires and a pair of Woodchats sat together on a branch, the male singing .

Next day ,I headed off to the coast and the salt pans at Santa  Pola, south of  Alicante.

Full of birds, the pans looked good, but are bisected by a busy, noisy main road, so care must be taken when pulling off the road or walking. There are two small laybys.

At least 2000 Greater Flamingos fed at varying distances in the shallow pans, 300-400 Avocets were nesting on raised areas. Resident and migrant waders included  Redshank.Greenshank, Curlew Sandpipier, Little Stint, Little and Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin, in varying numbers.

Both Slender billed and Audouin’s Gulls were common ,with about 100 of the latter flying south along the beach and more feeding in the pools.

Whiskered, Gull billed and Sanwich Terns fed , the far carrying Whiskered’s calls rasping  overhead, one carried a fish to it’s mate.

A single Purple Gallinule was spotted at the reedy edge of one pool,not common in this part of Spain.

To the south is the village of La Marina, and a right turn opposite the junction and sign for Elche ,leads to the beach ,pine clad sand dunes, and more pools and salt pans. The whole area is well managed by the with hides and some boardwalks, overlooking more colonies of nesting Avocets, affording close views. More of the above species here, and a nice feeding group of 9 Northern Wheatears, hopped ahead of me ,no doubt on there way to breeding sites in northern Europe. A female Redstart ,another passage bird ,sallied out from it’s tree perch to catch a meal. Great tits and Serins flitted through the pines and  a flock of Bee Eaters headed north.

Driving back North towards Santa Pola,then turning left to Elche ,then following the well signposted route south west to El Hondo (el Fondo on some maps/signs), via Dolores saw me arrive at the excellent visitor centre,with its live cameras focussed on the nesting birds. A short boardwalk overlooks some reed fringed pools, although a little distant ,a scope would be a must here. They could really do with a hide here,but alas no.I saw Little Egrets ,85 Red Crested Pochard, Bearded Tit, Reed and Great reed Warbler and common Fan Tailed warblers,Whiskered Tern, but the highlight was around 100 Collared Pratincoles,hawking just overhead, calling as they did. One male Montagu’s Harrier hunted nearby as did a single Marsh Harrier.

The warden here told me that the main reserve area of pools ,lakes and marshes to the east were unfortunately closed to the public, by the water company which owns them, and have been since January, though negotiations to re-open the area are underway, sadly not while I was there!

Well over 1,000 Gulls,mostly Black headed and Yellow legged fed at a nearby rubbish tip and large numbers of swifts fed overhead.

All in all, an excellent variety of birdlife was seen ,as part of a family holiday, in a good selection of habitats.This area would offer a superb introduction to Spanish birding.

Editors Note:

Other excellent areas to visit in Murcia include:

Lo Pogan: (At the north end of the Mar Menor) An area of salt pans and protected dune systems with plenty of birds at any time of the year. Flamingos, Slender-billed Gulls etc.

The Sierra Espuna: Lots of Montane species including Crossbills, Crested Tits and Eagles.


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