Valencia diaries: Saturday, day 5

Saturday 14 March – El Fondo Natural Park
Jillian left for home this morning, partly as El Fondo is a place she visits from home and on account of wider coronavirus developments. All cafes and restaurants were shut today and until further notice, a reaction to growing fears about the spread of Covid-19.

We had an early start, eight o'clock, for a longer journey today, south on the motorway past Alicante and the skyscrapers of Benidorm. Part of El Fondo that previous Honeyguide groups had visited was not open, a coronavirus casualty, so the first stop was to another new wetland called Paratje Natural Municipal del Clot de Galvany, adjacent to a typical coastal collection of apartments and houses. Winter rains meant a rich mix of ruderal plants, including dark-centred tolpis, Fagonia cretica, joint pine and bright patches of purple vipers bugloss. The first hide overlooked a lagoon that seemed to be under restoration, though it still had three cattle egrets and half a dozen wintering black redstarts. From the second hide there were red-crested pochards and little grebes. The third and final hide had the best selection, especially at least three penduline tits feeding acrobatically on a tamarisk. An Iberian woodpecker called loudly and landed briefly. A snipe and a kingfisher were both close but quite tough to find until lined up in a telescope.

Our usual routine of finding a café was replaced by a stop at a service station, which combined re-fuelling and a loo stop. The shop there was shut, and I paid the lady who was wearing surgical gloves through an after-hours kind of partition.

Slender-billed gull at Santa Pola (Pau Lucio).

We moved on to the saltpans of Santa Pola, viewed from a layby by a square tower erected to keep watch for Arab pirates. Flamingos were immediately obvious and there was a single great white egret. A small lagoon on the other side of the road had an excellent selection of waders, including spotted redshanks, redshanks, black-tailed godwits, ruff and black-winged stilts, plus a yellow wagtail. Our second Santa Pola stop had lagoons behind a screen, with suitable viewing slots. The many avocets were somewhat outshone by elegant slender-billed gulls, upending as they sought food. Two Kentish plovers showed well on a shingle island.

We arrived at El Fondo at lunchtime, no coincidence as it has lots of picnic tables in the shade. We ate picnics and drank coffee brought by Pau. Two red-knobbed coots and marbled ducks swam on the lagoon by the picnic tables, both species part of a reintroduction/re-stocking programme.

There was plenty to see and we spent the afternoon here. There were many Iberian water frogs on the edge of a stone-lipped pond. On the first lagoon were two purple swamp-hens, feeding in the open. From the boardwalk over the lagoon was a very close red-knobbed coot: its blue-grey beak was a lovely feature seen close to. On the walkway's uprights were three shed larval skins of dragonflies, probably from the red-veined darters that occasionally showed over the water. There was also a very good view of a glossy ibis, and also of Pau’s hat that was caught by a gust of wind and floated away.

 Red-knobbed coot (Pau Lucio).

Moving on, from a small hide – too small for all of our group – were two black-necked grebes in fine plumage. A duck nesting box on stilts had a marbled duck inside it, two on top and about ten around the base.

By the final hide and lagoon there were two very close black-winged stilts, by which a wood sandpiper appeared for a time. A pair of garganeys flew in to join the many shovelers, though didn't stay long on show. We paused to watch a tiny butterfly as we headed back, an African grass blue.


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