05/12 : El Hondo (Murcia)

Sorry about the long silence but things have not been good in the Paterson family and I didn't even get my trip down to Tarifa on 24/11 written up (I saw a juv. Bearded Vulture / Lammergeir / Quebrantahuesos!) as when I got back my wife, who had been suffering from liver cancer for the past 4 years 6 months was very unwell (ie. even worse than she has been) and, as Dave very kindly alludes to, died on 30 November after being in free fall for the previous 3 weeks. And now to birding and to Dave's report of the Arboleas Group's official visit to El Hondo this day.   Having made our reservation to visit El Fondo (Hondo) Bird Reserve near Elche some weeks ago, high winds were not going to put us off.....might put the birds off though. It was an early start for us all, leaving home at 5.30am to get there for the 8.15am opening plus time for breakfast! There were nine members of the group and about six others who were allowed access for the three hours. Our first bird was a Kestrel. We then drove slowly down towards the elevated viewing platform at the far end, flushing a Snipe as we did so. From there we had good views to the large expanse of water to the east, with the sun causing problems, and to the smaller pool to the west. On there we saw both Little and Great Crested Grebe. There was far more on the larger pool. There must have been a flock of 150 Red-crested Pochard together with some Common Pochard. There was also Cormorant and Black-necked Grebe. In a tree to the north sat a Common Buzzard.
Whizzing around us were Crag Martins and the occasional Barn Swallow. There were numerous Marsh Harriers quartering round the reedbeds. Suddenly a flock of dark birds rose up beyond the small pool - Glossy Ibis, in two or three groups numbering about 47 birds. Also flushed were Lapwing. Both Shelduck and 4 Greylag Geese flew over. Also seen were Chiffchaff, a Reed Bunting and a fast flying squadron of Teal.
     Our group then left there and headed back towards the outer hide through the reeds. On the way a Great White Egret took to the air. We also saw its smaller cousins, the Cattle and Little Egrets. At the hide itself we apparently just missed good views of a Purple Swamphen. We did see a steady stream of Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls heading towards the adjoining refuse tip.
     Returning to the elevated hide, a Booted Eagle was overhead but we'd apparently missed a male Hen Harrier. Checking the hirundines, I was very surprised to find some House Martins. I was positively shocked to see a Red-rumped Swallow as were others confirming my sighting! Then a shout went up. Tonn, the Estonian satellite tracked Spotted Eagle was flying along the line of eucalyptus trees towards us. Its antennae was easy to see, confirming the identity. He was being harassed by a Booted Eagle.
There are three Spotted Eagles in the area. Before we headed back to the gates for release we also saw Golden Plover and a Kingfisher.
     We then headed to the information centre. Through the large viewing window out over a pond with reeds we saw at least three Red-knobbed Coot and a Purple Swamphen. A Black Redstart and a Stonechat were also noted. A walk round the wooden walkway didn't add to the list, but stragglers, Brian and Gilly did see a Southern Grey Shrike and some very distant Griffon Vultures over the mountains.
     A total of 50 species in all. Already booked another day at the end of January!
     On a personal note, I'm sure you'd all like to join Gilly and I in offering our sincere condolences to Andy Paterson following his tragic loss last Friday.

Thanks, Dave. The moral support we (the youngsters and myself) have received has been tremendous from both my Spanish birding friends and from the few of you who knew of the situation. All is now done and we are rebuilding lives and I am of the definite opinion that the Spanish method of getting the defunct disposed of rapidly (she was cremated just on the 24 hours limit) is a huge help to family recovery and not like dragging on and prolonging the agony as in the UK. Many thanks to those who have been in touch, Elena, Andrés and myself are most grateful.

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