Sunday, 15 January 2012

ALICANTE ( the secret gem) November 2011

Province of Alicante.

Deciding to leave Benicassim, we make an early start, as we have decided to make a few detours en route, to explore future birding sights, before reaching our destination of Guardamar de Segura, south of Alicante. We make a brief stop north of Valencia at Platja de Pucol, which looks promising for a future visit, birding on the marshes. We arrive at El Pinet, south of Santa Pola, where there are hides giving a good view of the salt pans, for photography and lovely walks through the dunes and pines. The water levels are high and not many birds to be seen, but we did see some Avocets, Sanderlings, Curlew Sandpiper and a few Gulls.

Exploration was on the agenda, so we hired a car. The next day, we set off to El Hondo nature reserve, hoping to see "Tonn" the Greater Spotted Eagle from Estonia, who we know has arrived here after being tracked across Europe. He has overwintered here for the last 4 years, but now experts are worried that the lack of water will mean he will come no more. This we witnessed photographing some Lapwings resting where a few months ago, Flamingos stood up to their bellies in water.

Lapwings on the mud.

Whilst sitting in one of the visitor hides, having a cup of coffee, we miss the cop of the day, as a Little Bittern suddenly erupted from the undergrowth and crashed headfirst into the reeds. Bird photography is like this, sometimes you are in the right place with good light, and sometimes you just miss the shot. No more coffee breaks!! A Spanish school party then arrived (noise as you can imagine!) putting paid to quiet bird watching, but I will NOT knock this, as it's so important for ecology and nature to educate, and we also enjoy these places in Spain FREE. We then drove to the south gate of the reserve and walked to a hide, over a wooden walkway, through the reeds, where we photographed the Lapwings above. There were Shelduck and two Ospreys there also, but at great distance, and the light had gone.
Returning eventually, in the direction of the car, we saw a great dark form, flap lazily,
 disappearing from view - "Tonn", at last we had seen him.

The next day dawns, unsettled, but bright. Inland towards the mountains, it's clagged in, so we head to the Clot de Galvany, on the coast nr Gran Alicante Urbanization. We took the very picturesque coast road from Santa Pola, running below the cliffs, far out to sea, Gannets dived for fish, and nearby Mike photographed this lovely Iberian Grey Shrike.

From here we travelled to the mountainous region just inland from Alicante, towards the village of Monnegre (Montnegre) and what a wonderful world we discovered there. Some of the most breathtaking
coloured rocks I have ever seen.

Rocks coloured as though graffiti!

To me, it was amazing that in the distance I could see Alicante, with all its noise, hustle and bustle, but here, another world of beauty, tranquility, distant vistas, and rocks of a rainbow hue.

 It's good here for Eagles, Vultures, Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting, and the only breeding Trumpeter Finches in the area, but although we saw no birds to speak of, the landscape more than fulfilled our expectations.
Next day, the weather has changed for the worse, but we still set off to visit Font Roja Sanctuary, near the old university town of Alcoy. High in the mountains, it is normally good for bird watching, but this time, for us, it's White Out, freezing fog all arround. How ghostly the great pines looked.

Not to be put off, we still climbed to the mirador, (yes we did find it) We used our imaginations, the views must be amazing, we will come back another time!
We wound our way back down from the mountain and the fog, on to the Barranc del Clint, in the Park Natual Serra Mariold, where we parked at the foot of a towering gorge, with Griffon Vultures floating above, but the weather is still grey, not good for photography. Tramping up the gorge along a little rough track, we remembered that this was also a route for pilgrims going to Santiago de Campostella. I could not help thinking how wild and foreboading it must have felt for those pilgrims, back in time, with many a place for bandits and ambush, those great weatherbeaten rocks soaring above.

As though nature had caught my mood, we heard thunder rolling and the lightning flashed. Not a place to be in a storm, we made our way back rather faster than comming, just making it back to the car as the heavens opened, to deluge!

The day ended on a highnote of Sun! As we passed Santa Pola the sun was setting, so when we reached the Salinas, we pulled over to capture the sight, wonderful light and reflections on the water, great storm clouds rolling away.

Footnote- We would like to thank Grahame Critchell for his very informative guide to the area.

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