El Hondo & Santa Pola

We indulged ourselves with a bit more birdwatching. Wetlands / Salinas are a good option whilst Aileens knee is still painful, as you can see a lot from near the car,….but at least her knee is getting better.

The flip side to that is after me jog on Monday my knee started giving me gyp!. Same problem as Aileen, same “side” but not as painful. Old age and doing too much jogging too quickly :-(. Unfortunately, that will knock jogging on the head for a while, just as I was starting to enjoy it again 🙁

Parque Natural el Hondo

It might be a good time to tackle the “Aileen wrapped up warm” question :-). The main reason Aileen always looks like “Nanook of the North”!. Virtually all of our SAAB miles since we arrived in Xabia and emptied the boot, has been with the top-down. No matter how long or short the journey, no matter the temperature or whether day or night!

The temperatures have generally been hot while you are in the sun, sometimes very hot, but cool when in the shade or there is a breeze. Seldom cold ….but top-down in the car needs a different level of preparation and “layers” 🙂

Parque Natural el Hondo

This time we headed south of Alicante near Elche to El Hondo then onto Santa Palo. We visited here in 2017 when we spent a few weeks in Murcia and we met Pau Lucio for a day’s birdwatching. Pau is a bit of a legend and has Birdwatching Spain (but also Lynx tours, foreign tours, orchids butterflies etc) https://birdwatchingspain.net/ We had an unforgettable day out with him and learned a lot. It is a real joy spending time with someone who really knows his subject.

We took advantage of the Tolls being removed on the AP7 again 🙂 and some 90 minutes later we were at El Hondo near Sant Filip Neri. For such an important Reserve it really isn’t well signposted. The track there was smooth but pockmarked with potholes. Poor old SAAB !

Parque Natural el Hondo

It is a large wetland area with some boardwalk, paths and hides, and a visitor centre. Apparently there are other areas you can access …..by apointment…..on certain days …

Purple Swamphen or Purple Gallinule

Straight off we saw the bizarre-looking Purple Swamphen (Purple Gallinule). A chicken-sized bird which is bright blue and purple with a huge red beak and “crown” and huge red feet and legs! Our first sighting of them was here in 2017. We saw lots today.

Lapwing

Teal, a Lapwing (not sure how unusual that is here), assorted small waders. We saw a few Red-knobbed Coots which are not that common. Again the first one we saw was here in 2017.

Marbled Duck (Marbled Teal)
Little Grebe

We saw a few Marbled Ducks (Marbled Teal) which was a first for us. Another “vulnerable” species and a very smart little bird. A Common Snipe was spotted, VERY noisy Little Grebes , Marsh Harrier, lots of moorhens, coots and the comical Black-winged stilts with their unfeasibly long bright red legs! . We saw a Kingfisher and grabbed a few pics, and lots of other species.

Kingfisher
Our Spanish chums

It seemed to amuse two Spanish locals that we had a scope and a camera. It is interesting there is a distinct split (I think) between birdwatchers and photographers. Most seem to have cameras rather than scopes. Of course, digital photography and long telephoto DSLR lenses for “accessible” prices has made it within reach of more people. The affordable Bridge and compact cameras with HUGE zooms make it even more accessible and can give decent results. We had an entertaining “Spanglish” chat with them 🙂

Stuffed !

It was time for grub so we headed the couple of miles to Sant Filip Neri and stopped at the wee bar we met Pau at the other year. This really is a one-horse town…..but no worse for it.

Caballitos at Bar El Lugarico

Bar el Lugarico is a quiet but very local, very friendly and helpful bar with a good choice of food. It has become much more of a habit to have a nice lunch in the sun and have a simple “tea” at home. We shared a Russian Salad (almost a staple diet for local), Gamba Caballito (tempura prawns “on horseback”. A Murcian dish and known by different names in different regions), Pincho del Polo (chicken skewers), Jamon & Queso, Chupitos (Baby squid/calamari) …and rounded off by a coffee and Arroz con leche (rice pudding !). It has to be said there was far too much food!

We rolled out of the bar and into the car to head for Santa Pola Salinas. When we were there with Pau he took us through fields and alongside irrigation channels where we saw loads of raptors and non-wetland species ….but we couldn’t remember where that was!

Salt harvesting at the Salinas

Santa Pola has big commercial Salinas with massive piles of salt along the route. The problem is there are very few places to stop and it’s a busy coastal road with restrictions crossing the centre line, or no left turn onto the main-road etc for the odd place you can stop. These places are really where you need local knowledge.

Black-winged Stilt

We saw distant Flamingos, Black-winged stilts and Avocet (nice to see) and again lots of small waders. We aren’t good on gulls so we weren’t sure exactly what we saw!

Sundown

We headed back as the sun was going down so most of the journey was top-down in the dusk/dark.

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