8 March : El Fondo, Alicante

Dave promised that the mouse would play whilst the cat was away, and thus it was .....
     Told you I'd be out playing while Gilly's in the UK! Having dropped her off at Almeria Airport on Thursday, I popped over to Las Norias. Very disappointing. Hardly anything of interest there and no photos, hence no report.      I conspired with Barrie to book up for El Fondo on Saturday. We had to be at the North Gate at 09.30 to be let in by a ranger. I got there very early so managed to do a bit of birding beforehand. I made my way to the local rubbish tip. There were stacks of Cattle Egrets waiting in the trees for tasty snacks, but they were outnumbered by hundreds of gulls, mostly Black-headed, but a few Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed. Jackdaws were also seen, plus an overflying Grey Heron. I got back to the entrance where I met up with Barrie. Apart from about 6 Spanish, there was also two local British Birders, Graham and Gordon. This part of the reserve is only open Saturdays 09.30 - 12.30 hrs by reservation only. The not-so-good Information centre area is open normally, I believe. It's all going to pot because of access disputes with the landowners. I only hope something gets sorted to preserve this important bird reserve.

     Thankfully a coachload of 43 failed to turn up so we entered & made our way down towards the viewing platform down the far end. Graham and
Gordon stopped at a raised hide half way along (more later). On the way down we stopped to observe at least 4 Booted Eagles around the line of eucalyptus trees. Barrie also saw a Southern Grey Shrike. At the platform we saw Little Grebe and Common Pochard on the smaller lake. The larger lake had more of the above plus Shoveler, Teal, Cormorant and Great Crested Grebe. Also seen were Tufted Duck, Black-winged Stilt and Shelduck.

The reeds contained a phenomenal amount of Chiffchaffs, so it was a nice change to see some Reed Buntings. Cetti's Warblers were heard. Both of us saw "it" at the same time and both said "Merlin" simultaneously as the bird shot low over the reeds. Within a minute I spotted Penduline Tits feeding on the reed tops.

     We made our way towards the hide by the channel, seeing Stonechat on the way. We both saw the passing Osprey at the same time, but Barrie spotted a distant Purple Swamphen first. Black-necked Grebes were also seen.    
We then walked towards the hide in the centre of the reserve. It is surrounded by about 50 metres of reeds, then water. I missed the Little Bittern seen by Barrie. At the hide we had good views of Marsh Harrier and distant views of the now perched Osprey. I spotted a flight of about 12 Black-tailed Godwits. A large shadow then passed over the hide....a Great White Egret.

   We got back to the viewing platform at about 12.10 where we met with some other British birders who informed us one of the three Great Spotted Eagles had been showing well all morning at the hide Graham and Gordon were at. We got into our vehicles raced to the scene. Climbed up to the top and were delighted to be shown the distant eucalyptus tree where the eagle was still perched. Couldn't tell which one it was, but it was probably " Not Tonn", as no satellite aerial could be seen and not "the other one" as it was a full adult. A Little Egret also seen. We left the reserve at exactly 12.30 and headed for the Information Centre. There, we had our picnic lunch watching the collared Red-knobbed Coot and Purple Swamphens in the Centre's little pool. There are two hides a short walk from there. At the furthest we saw Greater Flamingo, Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Duck and an uncollared Red-knobbed Coot. We added nothing to the list at the nearer hide. I'd been saying we had not seen one single hirundine all day when Barrie spotted a small mixed flight of Barn Swallows and House Martins above the Centre which completed our list.
      A cracking days birding. 50 species in total.

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