Wednesday, December 27, 2017

7 weeks in Costa Blanca

In March 2017 we decided we would like to give up regular work. To do this we would need to rent out the house to provide an income and live somewhere cheaper. In September we moved out after a summer of clearing out 20 years worth of clutter. For the first month or so we lived in the campervan travelling around the UK and then looked after a house and pets in Norfolk. But it was always part of the plan to live somewhere warmer during the winter and that somewhere turned out to be Gran Alacant just south of Alicante on the Costa Blanca in Spain for November and December.

We stored the van and flew out to a rented house on a development on a hill above the sea and a low-lying nature reserve. With no car for most of the time life developed a routine of morning walks around the reserve and or the shore with sometimes a second visit in the afternoon. We did hire a car for 2 days and visited El Hondo reserve both around the visitor centre and to a hide on the southern side from the so-called Vistabella Road. On those days we passed the extensive saltpans at Santa Pola a few times and saw more species there. On two other days we were passengers in our friends car when we all visited Cartagena one day and the mountains just NW of Alicante on the other.

El clot de Galvarny became something of a second home and I got to know the wildlife very well over the seven weeks we were there. In the morning the reserve is best accessed from the eastern, beach end, which keeps the sun largely behind you. The habitat near the entrance is dry with pine woodland and mature scrub with many wintering warblers and a lot of Robins and Blackbirds. Mandering west the habitat becomes more open with scattered, old, mainly dead carob trees loved by Little Owl and Southern Grey Shrike. The track then rises to overlook the first lagoon. Continuing and skirting left around this takes you to the first hide overlooking the lagoon from the south. Although fairly small and heavily reeded this is a very productive spot and also hosts the main egret and Jackdaw roost.

The area west of here has a scrape totally overgrown with reed and a visit to the hide there is pointless until the reed is cut, which it wasn't during my stay. Another track head north onto higher ground and a mirador overlooking the reserve. Dry open habitat was home to Stone Curlews and flocks of finches and pipits. A little further west was the main area of wetland, much of which can't be viewed easily, even by straying 'accidentally' from the paths. The largest open area of water, the 'Central Charca', is best viewed at a distance from the high ground to the east and a scope will prove useful to pick out all of the available wildfowl from the melee.

There is an entrance (always open) on the southern edge at this point. A long track heads away to the north here passing a small area of farmland, which held larger numbers of common birds at times, and continuing in a loop through largely birdless short pine woodland on low hills. A small area of mature pines eventually provides a few more birds as the path returns to the western end of the wetland.

Back at the central entrance a track also continues west past dry scrub with open areas that held some of the more unusual species. A bit further along a path to the right leads to a third hide overlooking a small area of partly obscured water and a small, open dry area. This produced far better birding than I would have expected at first and is well worth the visit. Heading a bit further west the reserve fence ends and here there is an area off the reserve that proved very good for certain species, including Bluetail. Well worth a look and easy to access from the last roundabout on the road running alongside the reserve.

Back on the reserve at the westerly track this passes low salt-loving plants, eventually meeting up with the other track to complete a circuit. It is possible to head further west, skirting south of the largest hill on the reserve, as far as some Roman remains but there would be few species here you couldn't see elsewhere on the reserve, at least at this time of year.

Greylag Goose
Very scarce. One bird showed very briefly among reeds on Central Charca on 8th Dec. only.

Common Shelduck
Numerous on the Santa Pola saltpans and El Hondo

Northern Shoveler
Common. Most numerous duck on the reserve. Peak count 156 on 8th Dec.

Single Male and female present on Central Charca from 8th Dec. but not always easy to see.

Small numbers on the reserve throughout.

Northern Pintail
A male from 8th Dec onwards but only seen occasionally. A single female also seen but even less frequently.

Eurasian/Green-winged Teal
Common. Peak count 57 on 8th Dec.

Red-crested Pochard
Present from 22nd Nov. Numbers peaked at 8 on 3rd Dec.

Common Pochard
Common and numerous. Peak count 90 on 8th Dec.

White-headed Duck
Present throughout. Peak count 25 on 12th Dec.

Red-legged Partridge
Up to 3 seen very occasionally on the reserve.

Little Grebe
Common on most open water.

Black-necked Grebe
2 first seen on 30th Nov then 3 present from 17th Dec on the Charca Anatidas. One also seen at the hide from the Vistabella Road, El Hondo.

Greater Flamingo
Immatures present daily on the Centra Charca peaking at 10 on 19th Nov. Thousands on the Santa Pola saltpans and at El Hondo.

Balearic Shearwater
116 counted passing north in parties of between 10 and 20 on 23rd Dec. Further birds could be seen further out but not identified.

Northern Gannet
Small numbers on several days when looking out to sea. E.g. 10 on 23rd Dec.

Great Cormorant
Present throughout along the coast in fairly small numbers. Quite numerous on Tabarca.

European Shag
A few along the shore at Carabassi and also seen at Tabarca and Palma.

Little Bittern
One flew in to the Charca Anatidas in the daytime on 19th Dec. Most unexpected.

Grey Heron
Scarce. At most 2 visiting the reserve but only on a few days. 4 around the visitor centre at El Hondo.

Purple Heron
1 immature in flight then seen by reeds near the Central Charca on 7th Nov.

Great White Egret
1 on the Santa Pola saltpans on 24th Nov and 3 on the reserve but elusive on 10th Dec.

Little Egret
Seen in ones and twos along the coast and occasionally on the reserve. At least 4 to roost on 23rd Dec and 4 in the El hondo visitor centre area on 28th Nov.

Cattle Egret
Seen singly or in small parties just about anywhere during the day. 218 counted in to roost at the Charca Anatidas on 8th Dec with possibly more on 23rd.

Glossy Ibis
1 over the visitor centre at El Hondo on 28th Nov and about 20 from the Vistabella Road on 29th Nov.

Eurasian Spoonbill
5 around the visitor centre at El Hondo on 28th Nov.

1 seen from south of El Hondo on 29th Nov.

Booted Eagle
1 pale phase adult seen on the reserve most days up to 12th Dec. Also a dark phase bird seen occasionally earlier on. At least 2 seen on El Hondo on 28th and 29th Nov.

Golden Eagle
2 sub-adults seen well over Sax Castle on 6th Dec. Drifted off towards the Sierra del Maigmo.

Western Marsh Harrier
Present over reserve throughout. Usually up to 4 but 8 seen on 13th Dec including an adult male (only seen a few times).

Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Singles seen every other day or so.

Common Buzzard
Single bird seen on 10th Nov. Then again on 1st, 3rd & 25th Dec.

Water Rail
Present throughout but normally only heard. Seen once well at 'dry' (3rd) hide and an individual from around 19th Dec showing very well right of the main on cleared ground.

Western Swamphen
Common around wet, reedy areas and often easy to see. Many out in the open at El Hondo visitor centre.

Common Moorhen
Common in most suitable habitat.

Red-knobbed Coot
At least 3 around the visitor centre at El Hondo.

Eurasian Coot
Common on most open fresh water.

Common Crane
7 passed over the reserve heading south on 4th Dec.

A single bird seen on 19th Nov, then 6 on 21st Nov. Further singles seen on 1st & 23rd Dec. 8 on 17th in two parties. Always seen in flight or heard at dusk, never seen on the ground.

Black-winged Stilt
Singles seen occasionally over the Central Charca and by the hide of the Charca Anatidas. Very common on the Santa Pola saltpans and at El Hondo.

Pied Avocet
Small numbers (mainly singles) seen on the Santa Pola saltpans and at El Hondo in late Nov.

European Golden Plover
1 flying over the reserve calling on 3rd Dec.

Northern Lapwing
Only small numbers seen around El Hondo on 29th & 29th Nov.

Kentish Plover
2 along Carabassi Beach on 18th and 23rd Dec.

A single bird seen on the rocky shore of the Carabassi Beach on 3 days between 14th Nov and 24th Dec.

Bar-tailed Godwit
3 on the Santa Pola salt pans on 29th Nov.

Black-tailed Godwit
2 on southern El Hondo from Vistabella Road on 29th Nov.

Ruddy Turnstone
Present along the rocky shoreline of Carabassi Beach throughout. Peak count of 13 on 14th Nov.

2 on southern El Hondo from Vistabella Road on 29th Nov.

1 on the Santa Pola saltpans on 29th November and 2 on Santa Pola beach on 5th Dec.

2 near the visitor centre at El Hondo on 28th Nov and 1 on the Santa Pola saltpans on 29th Nov.

Little Stint
2 near the visitor centre at El Hondo on 28th Nov and 2 on the Santa Pola saltpans on 29th Nov.

Jack Snipe
At least 4 seen near the visitor centre at El Hondo.

Common Snipe
Seen throughout. Often seen feeding in dry areas away from the water. Peak count, 5 on 18th Nov.

Common Sandpiper
1 at the river mouth on Palma de Majorca on 15th Dec.

Green Sandpiper
Singles on the reserve on 15th Nov, 7th & 17th Dec. 2 on 28th Nov when 2 also seen near El Hondo visitor centre.

Spotted Redshank
1 near El Hondo visitor centre on 28th Nov.

Common Redshank
2 at the Santa Pola saltpans on 29th Nov and 1 on the reserve on 17th Dec.

1 flew south past Carabassi Beach on 21st Dec.

Slender-billed Gull
Seen at the port of Santa Pola on 8th and 28th Nov. 2 on the saltpans on 29th Nov. with others presumably present throughout.

Black-headed Gull
Common throughout along coasts and wetlands.

Mediterranean Gull
3 in Santa Pola port at dusk on 8th Nov. Otherwise not recorded.

Audouin's Gull
1 ringed 2nd cal year bird present throughout on Carabassi Beach. Others seen here off and on.

Yellow-legged Gull
Very common throughout.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
1 in Santa Pola port at dusk on 8th Nov. Otherwise not recorded.

Whiskered Tern
1 from the 14th Nov over the main lagoon. Presumed present throughout but only seen during warmer periods, usually in the afternoon. Last seen on 25th Dec!

Sandwich Tern
Up to 5 seen along the coast and virtually guaranteed along most of the coast.

Rock Dove
Common in some urban areas.

Common Woodpigeon
Common on the reserve with large numbers building up occasionally and appearing to pass through.

Collared Dove
Not common. Only seen occasionally in Gran Alacant and in Palma and Cartagena.

Little Owl
Up to 3 seen often on the reserve. One almost always on the same branch of a dead carob tree most mornings.
Eurasian Hoopoe
Seen daily. Usually singly but occasionally up to 3 together.

Common Kingfisher
1 near El Hondo visitor centre on 28th Nov.

Eurasian Wryneck
Suspect present throughout but extremely elusive. Singles seen from 3rd hide on 30th Nov and 3rd Dec.

Iberian Green Woodpecker
1-2 present throughout on the reserve but could be unobtrusive. Heard more often.

Common Kestrel
Singles seen every now and then on reserve and elsewhere.

Peregrine Falcon
1 on Tabarca Island on 8th Nov. 1 over Palma on 15th Dec.

Ring-necked Parakeet
A party of 5 seen by the main road near San Javier on 24th Nov.

Monk Parakeet
Common in Cartagena town on 24th Nov.

Southern Grey Shrike
Common on the reserve and seen elsewhere. Sometimes noisy and in groups of up to 3.

Eurasian Magpie
Scarce. 1-2 seen occasional on or around the reserve.

Eurasian Jackdaw
Only seen in late afternoon/evening when a roost gathered near the first hide. Estimate around 100 roosted in the reeds on 23rd Dec.

Eurasian Skylark
Heard flying over on 7th and 8th Nov. Small numbers only.

Crested Lark
Not common but often seen in groups of 2 and sometimes up to 4 on the reserve and elsewhere (e.g. Faro de Santa Pola and El Hondo).

Eurasian Crag Martin
Common throughout but more numerous at start with about 40 around the house on 6th Nov. Often good numbers over the Central Charca in the afternoon.

Barn Swallow
1-2 over the Central Charca on 10th & 11th Nov and 3rd Dec.

Red-rumped Swallow
A single seen over the Central Charca on 21st, 22nd & 27th Nov with other hirundines.

Common House Martin
Present throughout, always with Crag Martins over the Central Charca. Peak count 10 on 18th Nov, but more usually 2-4.

Crested Tit
At least 1 at Petrer Castle and at least 2 at Xorret del Cati in the Sierra del Maigmo, both on 6th Dec.

Great Tit
Often seen on the reserve, usually in pairs.

Long-tailed Tit
Often seen on the reserve in groups of up to 12.

Heard briefly on a few occasions but only seen twice on the reserve. Probably present throughout but elusive when not calling. Common in the woodland around Castell de Bellver at Palma.

Cetti's Warbler
Commonly heard on the reserve throughout and occasionally showing well.

Common Chiffchaff
Very common everywhere.

Zitting Cisticola
Very elusive. Seen on 21st & 22nd Nov and 17th Dec just off the reserve. Best place seemed to be the stand of reed opposite the beach carpark near the junction for the Carabassi Road.

Eurasian Blackcap
Common throughout, especially early on. Particularly numerous on the reserve and along the ravines in early November.

Subalpine Warbler
1 unexpectedly located from a subsong heard on the reserve near the 2nd entrance (may not have been this bird) on 22nd Nov. Presumed 1st winter male.

Sardinian Warbler
Very common everywhere throughout.

Dartford Warbler
Widespread on the reserve but not always seen or heard. Also 2 reliable birds near the Faro de Santa Pola.

European Robin
Common in small numbers. Seemed more numerous early on.

Elusive on the reserve but seen and/or heard throughout. One bird showed particularly well at the first hide after the reeds were cut to the right of the hide. Also seen well near El Hondo visitor centre.

Black Redstart
Very common everywhere.

Blue Rock Thrush
1 at Faro de Santa Pola on 9th Nov

European Stonechat
Common throughout.

Black Wheatear
Up to 2 seen around the residential area of Gran Alacant and also seen from the house. Often went for days without seeing them though. The areas at the tops of the ravines and around building sites seemed most reliable.

Eurasian Blackbird
Very common. More present early on in November.

1 over the beach end of the reserve calling on 25th Nov. A local rarity.

Singles seen on 7th & 10th Nov and 12th Dec.

Song Thrush
Small numbers around the reserve throughout but not always seen. Most often encountered on the southern edge of the reserve by the undeveloped land.

Mistle Thrush
1 at Xorret del Cati in the Sierra del Maigmo on 6th Dec.

European Starling
Not seen until 10th November when a flock of 200 noted passing south. Then large numbers seen on and off including big swarms over nearby towns or roosts. Thereafter smaller flocks seen almost daily.

Spotless Starling
Seen throughout, usually in single figures.

1 on 17th Dec only.

Grey Wagtail
1 present most days on the reserve. Singles also seen in Cartagena and Palma.

White Wagtail
Seen daily, usually singly or in pairs.

Meadow Pipit
Present throughout in small numbers.

Water Pipit
Small numbers seen at El Hhondo on 28th & 29th Nov.

Common Reed Bunting
1 just off the reserve on the edge of the undeveloped land on the south side on 12th Dec.

Common Chaffinch
Common but not numerous.

2 flew south calling over the edge of the Carabassi Dunes on 11th Nov.

European Greenfinch
Up to 3 present but not always seen.

Eurasian Linnet
Small flock (up to 12) present throughout and also seen elsewhere.

Common Crossbill
Seen over the housing and near the dunes on 7th, 15th, 17th & 21st Dec. Also seen in the woodland around Castell de Bellver at Palma.

European Goldfinch
Common throughout but not large numbers.

European Serin
Common throughout but not in large numbers.

Eurasian Siskin
2-3 seen on the reserve on 14th & 25th Nov and 7th Dec. Also 10 in pines in the Santa Catalina area of Palma on 16th Dec.

House Sparrow

Other wildlife:

Spanish Psammodromus
1 on 11th November

Ocellated Lizard
1 resident under a rock by the main track past the Central Charca. Could be seen basking in the sun on all but the coolest days. Also seen once elsewhere.

Painted Lady
Singles seen on odd days throughout.

Red Admiral
Singles seen on odd days throughout.

Plain Tiger
At least 2 by the visitor centre at El Hondo on 28th Nov.

Queen of Spain Fritillary
1 identified on 26th Nov.

Two-tailed Pasha
1 spectacular insect showing really well on the castle walls at Cartagena on 24th Nov.

Lang's Short-tailed Blue
Identified once on 6th Nov.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth
2 around the castle in Cartagena on 24th Nov.

Red-veined Darter
Seen most days in small numbers.

Vagrant Emperor
1 resting after dark in the house porch on 6th Nov.

European Pincer Grasshopper
Common on Tabarca on 8th Nov including egg laying females.

European Mantis
1 high in a date palm in the same place on consecutive days: 9-10th Dec.

Robber Fly
1 with a wasp on 11th Nov.

Wolf Spider
1 on 26th Nov.

Red Squirrel
Up to 3 on the reserve usually near the car park.

European Pond Terrapin
Up to 3 seen from the main hide up to around 26th Nov.