30 December : El Fondo /El Hondo

Reed Bunting
A few weeks ago Helen Commandeur e-mailed us, inviting Gilly and I to visit her patch. El Fondo, which is near Elche, is about 40 minutes from her house. El Fondo is a very large bird reserve, but it has limited access. Helen says that the North Gate entrance is only open now on a Saturday morning. The water level in that area is apparently very low. 
I asked John and Alan to join us. Us lot met up at the Cox Service Station before heading to the reserves Information Centre to meet up with Helen. Have got to say what a transformation has taken place since our last visit. Alan had never been here before. 
The Information building is now surrounded on three sides by shallow water with small reed beds and shrubs, instead of unfriendly low lying scrubland. We'd already logged many of the commoner usual suspects before we saw our first Marsh Harrier. It's fair to say that during our visit we must have clocked up 30-40 sightings. Chiffchaffs were in abundance. We saw a few Robins and numerous Stonechats. At the small pool adjacent to the centre I spotted a Purple Swamphen. The sun was directly in our eyes so observing it was hard. Very luckily another one was seen behind us, showing very well and giving Gilly plenty of photo opportunities. Also seen in that area were Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Little Egret. A flight of Greater Flamingos was seen in the distance. 
We moved along the raised boardwalk to the observation platform. Alan spotted a Bluethroat and Helen saw our first Kingfisher. Some Reed Buntings were seen feeding. We saw more Kingfishers, one of which posed delightfully (Sorry, Val!). Moving on to the first hide, John thought he saw a female Hen Harrier. Here we added Cetti's Warbler, Common Pochard and Black-necked Grebe. The next hide gave us Greater Flamingos and numerous Shelducks. A Bluethroat displayed well right in front of us, but I only managed to get a rear view! 
A flight of Glossy Ibis was seen. Heading back to the vehicles a squadron of 16 Stone Curlews flew round us. We were then taken to a raised platform on the south western side of the reserve. From this elevated position we had great views over most of the reserve. We could see the line of mature eucalyptus trees lining the track from the North Gate some two kilometres away. 
flight of Glossy Ibis
Alan spotted it first....a very large dark/black coloured  eagle perched on top of one of these trees. It had to be one of the three Spotted Eagles wintering on the reserve. Couldn't tell from that distance whether is was "Tonn" , "Not Tonn" or "The other one". Tonn is a satellite tagged eagle from Estonia ('Tonn' was seen on 23/12, satellite transmitter not working now: from rarebirdspain - Andy). We also saw Booted Eagle, a flock of about 60 Lapwings (desperately searched for the reported Sociable Lapwing without success!) and Cattle Egret. Smaller birds seen included Jackdaw, Greenfinch, Serin and Iberian Grey Shrike (or is still Southern Grey Shrike?). 
leucistic Black-necked Grebe
After a hearty lunch we made or way to the southern end of the reserve. We luckily came across a field with 20 odd Glossy Ibis  feeding therein and in another field a flock of 20 Common Cranes. Also seen were Linnet and Goldfinch. At the final hide which gave great views over a large expanse of water we added Red-crested Pochard amongst a huge number of Common ones. One pair of Shoveler and John had a Teal. Also of interest was a part albino (= leucistic) Black-necked Grebe.
What a great day. Thank you so much, Helen. We saw 49 species in all. No gulls and only Green Sandpiper in the wader department if you exclude Lapwing and Stone Curlew! We also missed an Osprey which flew over the Information Centre as we were leaving!

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