20 February : El Fondo (Elche, Alicante)

Sorry, dear readers, but I've not got the time to edit or to put in  Spanish names this morning. Apart from the usual thanks to Dave, thanks also to Helen for the photos and  congratulations for hitting gold on the Sociable Plover. Up to 3 Spotted Eagles have been seen there over this winter, including the well known Estonian bird 'Tonn'.
Whilst the cat, Gilly, is away in the UK on a caring job, the mice, John, Val and myself arranged a personal visit to El Fondo, near Elche, just south of Alicante. Entry to this reserve via the north gate, which gives the best views, is only allowed, by prior arrangement, on Saturday mornings between 08.15 & 11.30 hours. Hence it was a very early start yesterday morning. I met up with John & Val at the Overa Hotel. Jct 547 at 05.45hrs, giving us time for a second breakfast at Cox before meeting up with Helen, who'd kindly made the arrangements, at just after 08.00hrs at the north gate. Whilst waiting for access, we heard Iberian Green Woodpecker and saw Yellow-legged Gull, Chiffchaff, Grey Heron & Wood Pigeon
Spotted Eagle
The ranger duly arrived (early, bless him!) and let the assembled birders in. I suppose there were about a dozen of us, mostly Brits, but a couple of Swiss and Spanish. We drove down to the first hide on the right. With about 6 of us up there (it was elevated) it was a bit cosy. Local birders, Graham & Gordon, had already found a  Spotted Eagle, perched on a palm tree way over to the right. In front of us was a reed bed, then a large expanse of open water stretching out towards the information centre. 
On the water were lots of wildfowl. Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Pintail, White Headed Duck, Common & Red Crested Pochard. Someone also mentioned Wigeon, but none of us saw any. All three resident grebes were seen, Great Crested, Black Necked & Little Grebes. We saw our first on many Marsh Harriers seen during the day. Also saw Common Buzzard, Greater Flamingo & Coot. On the wader front we saw Black Winged Stilt, Ruff, Dunlin and Black Tailed Godwit. Some of the latter were seen flying with flocks of Lapwing, which caused my heart to flutter as a Sociable Plover was also known to be flying with the Lapwings. Behind us was more reeds and water pools. I spotted some Purple Swamphen. I also managed to spot the head & neck of a Great White Egret over to our right. 
I'm not good at bird calls, but luckily Gordon & Graham were. We heard Moustached Warbler amongst the Reed & Cetti's Warbler singing away in the reeds below us. They also identified the Water Rail & Little Bittern calls for us. Some of us were able to see a feeding Penduline Tit. The only hirundines we saw were Crag Martins. A pair of illegally low flying hot air balloons caused major panic amongst the birds. Apparently they are not allowed to fly over at less then 1,200 metres altitude, but these appeared much lower than that.
Southern Grey Shrike (photo: Helen)
We moved down to the larger elevated viewing platform at the bottom end. We had good views of Booted Eagles and a pair of Glossy Ibis, but little else. We returned to the much better first hide. I noted that the Spotted Eagle had flown. Sure enough it appeared above us. As it was nearly chucking out time, we made our way back to the north gate. Whilst waiting for the ranger we added a Robin to the list.
We decided to have an early lunch before searching the southern end of the reserve. We followed Helen round picking up smaller birds like Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Serin, Iberian Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstart and Stonechat. Hoopoe and  Kestrel were also seen. We spent a bit of time overlooking empty meadows, by a abandoned hut where Helen said the Sociable Plover had been seen. No luck so we ended our tour at the southern hide. Couldn't actually get to it as the path was under water. We did see about a dozen Black Necked Grebes & a White Headed Duck.
Many thanks to Helen for making the arrangements and guiding us round. We headed off home. Helen hung around for another 4 hours.....this is what she e-mailed me later! (Some editing done!)
Sociable Plover (photo : Helen)
"Some pictures of this afternoon (3 lifers today, you brought me luck - mercy beaucoup)
The Sociable Plover: I have been waiting on that new path, with the ready to move in house, a couple of hours and was so lucky with 3 or 4 Iberian Wagtails, 101 Cattle Egret so close by. Then 1 of the 2 Southern Shrikes came verrrrrrrry close, telling me: I keep an eye on you.
Almost 6 o'clock Lapwings came flying in, smaller groups bit by bit,  and a couple of Golden Plovers. The Lapwings were flying in and out of the field.
The father and son that were in El Fondo, parked their car behind mine at one point and there IT was.( The Sociable Plover) Later on I learned that I could have gone half the way closer because father and son did so and the Lapwings stayed.
Besides my first ever Pintails I also found a couple of Garganey , another lifer.
What a day!"
Patience & commitment pays! What a cracking day. Can't wait to get back there!

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