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Dave Williams

Hide not seek in Spain. January 2019.

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Dave Williams

Each year for the past few years I have taken a dedicated photography trip somewhere in Europe with my birding pal and near neighbour Mike. This year was to be no different !

We are both fortunate to have wives that give their blessing to our annual trip as they have no interest in birding and prefer to stay at home and let us get on with it!

This year we chose Spain mainly because two of our mutual friends, Rich and Steve had already signed up for this photographic tour designed for 6 people and I guess better the devil you know, they asked us along!

As it happened we had a good group, with the final two being Cornelius, fluent in English and from Sweden and Paul, an Englishman who lives and works in Germany.

The company we were booking with is Turia Hides who do both photographic hide tours and general bird guiding too.

https://www.turiahides.com


Our contact, Yani, was also to be our organising guide too who picked us up and dropped us off at most hides with the exception being where a 4x4 vehicle was needed which was the case on a couple of occasions. She puts some hours in to keep her clients happy often leaving home at 6.00am and not returning until probably 7.00pm on some days. Her determination to give us the best possibilities of all the species that were regular visitors to their hides was a plain to see although on occasion some hides were not available as they had been booked to other clients on a one off day basis or the weather meant it was unsuitable to try.


Our chosen mode of transport was an Easyjet flight ( £113 pp including a hold bag at 23Kg) to Alicante as you couldn't fly to the nearer Valencia from either North West airports. This incurred two extra nights in Spain but the Ibis Budget hotel proved to be more than adequate and only cost £53 for the two nights on a room only basis.A hire car was a very nice Vauxhaul Astra estate at just £28 for 9 days. We opted to take the toll road both ways at a cost of £34.Petrol added around £54.

Our hotel for the 7 nights of the tour was motel style just off the dual carriage way at Lliria.

http://www.puertadelaserrania.com

The cost for a rather confusing half board deal was a very reasonable £312 and a pint of beer at 2.60 euros didn't push the bill too far despite our best efforts!

The use of the hides and transport came to around 800 euros per person.


All of us had experienced  professional  hide photography in the past. I think we probably all agree that a mix of hide and walkabout is a better mix than being sat in a box all week but we were prepared to give it a go.

This is how we got on!

TBC.

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Dave Williams

We had an arrangement to meet Yani, our guide, at the hotel in Lliria at 10.00am from where she would take us to our appointed hides.A traffic free drive from Alicante took 2 hours.

We were to be split in to two groups of three myself,Mike and Paul, the other three being Rich,Steve and Cornelius. We dropped off the latter three at their hide before heading back towards Valencia and a hide in a disused quarry.

The hide was set up with a small drinking pool on a raised bed to give decent eye level photo opportunities. Like every other hide we used, you photographed through mirrored glass but although you lose a little light we were to have bright sun all week so it wasn't a problem.

The action was continuous right from the moment we arrived.

We were still setting up when the Blue Rock Thrush put in an appearance.

Blue Rock Thrush.   Monticola solitarius

I think everyone had it high on their wanted list, none of us had seen one at close quarters before.

Blue Rock Thrush.   Monticola solitarius

I think I was the only one who got a shot of it, but there would be further opportunities we were confident.

No time to think about what we'd missed, the birds just kept coming.

There were two supposed stars for this hide, Black Wheatear being the first.

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

I found the males extremely difficult to expose correctly in bright sunshine.

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

The white's in the bird's tail easily blown if you tried to expose detail in the blacks.

The female was a little less challenging being a paler shade of brown.


Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

Before I knew it I was collecting "best ever" images of several species.

Rock Sparrow

Rock Sparrow  Petronia petronia

and especially the beautiful Serin.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

The smaller birds were all chased away by the aggressive White Wagtails who seemed to claim the drinking pool as their territory.

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba

Water was scarce in the vicinity but the wagtails didn't want to share. You had to be quick to catch the Serin before they were chased away again.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

Some of the visitors we are very familiar with at home in the UK.

Goldfinch

European Goldfinch   Carduelis carduelis

Song Thrush

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

The more attractive Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail  Motacilla cinerea

and Collared Dove are all common UK species but we only had a few visits from each one during our entire week's birding.

Eurasian Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto

Another species seen often enough in the UK is Common Kestrel.

Common Kestrel   Falco tinnunculus

But rarely do you get to see them at such close quarters and we had a pair too!

Common Kestrel   Falco tinnunculus

They were such frequent visitors we got fed up taking "best ever' snaps!

Common Kestrel   Falco tinnunculus

Were these the Kings of the Hide though? In a word "No"!

The smaller birds kept away when they were present and that included those bully boys the White Wagtails too.

No, the undisputed ruler was the Hoopoe and the other special for this hide. 

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

We didn't nickname this one "Psycho" without cause. We discovered that a small round hole had been bored through the hide wall at the bottom corner of the window and that was the first port of call for the Hoopoe. He's start with a few gentle taps but before you knew it he was going berserk hurling himself at the window  attacking it furiously. Now we knew it was mirrored glass so maybe he was attacking his own reflection but I have a feeling it was more about not getting fed that got him so wound up!

Mind you, there was no shortage of food either. There was seed as well as mealworms for those that prefer their protein in such fashion.

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

It was good fun, well initially anyway, trying to capture the moment the bird swallows their dinner.

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

We would later have reason to hold a grudge against the Hoopoe but more of that later!

To complete our sightings for that first day we had Crested Lark on two occasions

Crested Lark  Galerida cristata

Black Redstart on numerous visits but only the female.

Black Redstart · Phoenicurus ochruros

but my personal favourite was the furtive but determined Sardinian Warbler.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

another victim of the bully boys his visits were usually very brief so you had to grab the moment as soon as it appeared.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

As with so many other shots I took the majority were sent to the recycle bin but I was happy with what I had got.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

I'd spent days trying unsuccessfully trying to get a decent image of this species on my last trip of 2018 so this was indeed satisfying.

That first afternoon set the bar for the rest of the week. Would it live up to this? If it did we were in for a great week ahead!

We were duly picked up by Yani and returned to the hotel to compare notes over a beer with the other three.

Their day had been eventful for more reasons than one. Their space had been invaded by hunters and they had abandoned their hide when the shooting got too close for comfort and they started to fear for their safety. Having been unimpressed with what I'd seen of the hide set up I made a mental note it was one to avoid.

Yani had outlined our plan for the week. A proposed visit to a distant hide to photograph Cranes was cancelled as illegal hunting had dispersed the birds so it was decided it better to avoid an unnecessary journey which at least had the benefit of not having to change hotels for just one night, and for that matter split the group of 6 for three days.

The evenings would prove to be almost as as enjoyable as the days as it was always good fun comparing notes of what we had seen whilst enjoying a San Miguel.

It was an early start the next morning though.Our group, No 2, was heading in to the mountains whilst Group 1 was due to visit the much anticipated Goshawk hide.

TBC

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janzin

Simply amazing photos!!

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Towlersonsafari

brilliant photos-I love the kestrels and hoopoos-sorry to hear about the hunting @Dave Williams

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TonyQ

Beautiful photos- the Sardinian Warbler with tail up and the Kestrels are particularly stunning.

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Zim Girl

All stunning pictures but I really love the kestrels, especially the pair together.

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Peter Connan

Magnificent photography. I am truly looking forward to the rest!

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Dave Williams

Day 2...in the mountains.

The second day of our photo tour began early. Our guide, Yani, picked us up at 7.00am and drove us to a cafe where we met with her colleague who has a 4x4 to take "Group1" to a Goshawk hide not too far away. Group 2 in the meantime had another coffee in a very crowded cafe.

Life is different in Spain. Our hotel bar opened at 5.00am and there was a constant stream of customers right through the morning. Today was Sunday so instead of workman's clothes order of the day was camouflage. This place was full of the enemy! Hunters. 

I'm not totally against hunting, but when it's killing for the sake of killing I certainly am and some of these people will shoot at anything that moves. What worries me even more is that it was a common sight to see hunters having their breakfast coffee with a large brandy chaser then getting in the car and driving before opening fire. Where are the police? In the bar having coffee with them!

Anyway, 20 minutes later Yani returned and off we went up in to the mountains and a good hours drive away to the allocated hide for the day.

The scenery was stunning, the roads beautifully maintained and traffic free.

The hide? Well, I could immediately see problems! The hide is placed in front of another levelled off pile of soil. A small ( and frozen) drinking pool immediately in front of us. The problem was that the level of the ground was higher than eye level when you are sat down and as the ground was slightly undulating it was easy to not be able to get the birds feet in the shot. The minute they got to the pool the bottom half of the bird would totally vanish from view.

That said the visiting birds were excellent and if you waited for the moment all was well!

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

The male Girl Bunting is a really striking bird.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

The female not quite so but still very pretty.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus

They weren't the only Buntings either, we had visiting Rock Bunting too.

rock bunting (Emberiza cia

The last shot shows how the camera picks up those little blades of grass we should have noticed and plucked earlier.The next shot an example of missing feet!

rock bunting (Emberiza cia

The main attraction of this hide though were not the Buntings but the Winter Thrushes. At 1600m it was pretty chilly especially when the wind chill factor was taken in to account. It hadn't rained for some time either so demand for water, especially once the ice had been broken, should be high but it was gone midday and still no Thrushes.

Another star though was a single Brambling. We get them at home too but not commonly seen. 

Brambling  Fringilla montifringilla

It was hanging out with a small flock of Chaffinch.

Common Chaffinch  Fringilla coelebs

and they dominated the numbers, often getting in the way of a photograph of the target species.

Common Chaffinch  Fringilla coelebs

I think I might have caught a fleeting glimpse of a Greenfinch but the only other small birds we saw were Robin and Great Tit.

Great Tit  Parus major

Where were the stars of the show, the Ring Ouzels? I have seen photographs taken here with a dozen or more birds all at the drinking pool. Today nothing. We were beginning to think our luck was out. We were told by Yani the Ouzels would arrive in a distant tree, maybe 100m away, from there they would fly to the back of the raised area in front of us then quickly move forwards to the drinking pool. We needed to be quick to catch a full sight of them!

A pair of Blackbirds gave us some practice.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula

They both posed well too,

Common Blackbird Turdus merula

Then suddenly, a single Ouzel appeared!

I decided to gamble on my camera settings and use all available focus points in the hope of keeping track of the bird as it approached.

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

It seemed to work!

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

and I'm reasonably happy with the result

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

even if the wide aperture has reduced the depth of field and detail on the rear of the bird.

Not too bad when it stood side on though.

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

We had four separate visits, all by the same bird. Only two visits gave half decent photo opportunities but we were grateful for what we had., I have never been anywhere near as that to this species before.

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

I'd never been this close to a Mistle Thrush either! A very shy and alert bird they fly at any sign of humans.

Mistle  Thrush Turdus viscivorus

This one was very wary too ( shame about that bit of grass again!) It could hear sounds of camera shutters behind the mirrored glass.

Mistle  Thrush Turdus viscivorus

But the more cautious approach meant better photo opportunities.

Mistle  Thrush Turdus viscivorus

and ultimately the desire the bird had for drink overcame caution!

Mistle  Thrush Turdus viscivorus

Numerically we hadn't had as many birds as the previous day but in some ways it was better to have fewer birds than try and get a shot of a single one without others getting in the way.

We returned to the hotel happy with the day and eagerly looked forward to hearing how Group 1 had got on with the Goshawk.

Sadly, they were not exactly happy. Placed in the hide before it got light, the Goshawk had landed on a perch right in front of them but then flown away never to return almost immediately. They had been able to get some shots of Crested Tits as compensation but the star species had failed. An almost unknown occurrence it seems.

What had gone wrong? The birds are wary so until they start to feed it's imperative everyone keeps still and silent. Had the bird detected movement or sound? There was another possible reason it later was revealed. A Bonelli's Eagle was photographed flying past some time later and perhaps the Goshawk had seen it . We'll never know for sure but Group 1 would get another chance later in the week but before then our group was due to the Bonelli's Eagle hide the next day.

TBC

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Dave Williams

Day 3 and 4. Goshawk!!

 

With two days gone Group 2 were feeling quite happy with their lot, we'd seen some good birds and had some excellent photo opportunities, however, it wasn't a competition and we were felling very guilty that Group 1 were having very little luck at all. They'd had the experience of being in the midst of an illegal shoot one day and a no show Goshawk against all the odds on the next.

Day 3 we were down for the Bonelli's eagle hide, the were going for their turn in the quarry hide.

The Eagles are late risers so we had a leisurely start to the day which was nice, we headed off to our hide at around 10.00am. Placed near the edge of a cliff on a high ridge, the views are spectacular.

So was the wind!

The previous week the wind had been so strong it had blown the hide over and had been man handled back in to a temporary position by the photographers on that day. Despite their reservations the Eagles soon came in to feed.

The hide had to be properly secured though and a work party had been up the previous day to do just that. The Eagles had been flying overhead while the work was going on so it was fully expected they'd be ready to feed on the offered rabbit.

It was not to be and this hide experience soon entered my top hide disasters at No 3 in the top 5 rankings. It wasn't as bad as the 16 hours I spent all alone in a tiny hide in Spain with nothing to look at all day, and not quite as bad as attempting to sleep in a wooden box hide at near zero temperatures waiting for a Black Grouse lek that never happened in Estonia.

At least this time I was properly prepared with adequate, well almost adequate, clothing and with two people for company to while away the time for 7 hours. The downside was the wind.... and consequently the dust.  Sat next to the door there was a huge gap which I attempted to block with my camera bag and foot. I lost feeling in my foot fairly quickly! The floor of the hide was several inches thick with dust and the wind was blowing in more all the time. Reaching the  far end of the small hide it hit the wall, swirled round and deposited dust on everything. I'm not sure what i looked like but Paul and Mike looked like the mummified bodies seen in a cave in a typical Indiana Jones movie.

It wasn't any fun at all and all for nothing. 

Group 1 meanwhile had an excellent day at the quarry, getting lots of Blue Rock Thrush opportunities. Well, we wanted them to catch up on our good fortune and today they had done.

Day 4 it was decided we'd try a double. Goshawk hide first, Bonelli's Eagle in the afternoon. Neither had been fed , at least with bait, for a couple of days so surely they would return now?

An early start to get inside the hide before daylight. Group one had advised us to ask for the bait to be placed on the furthest of two perches and this was done as requested. The food, rabbit. The same rabbit that had been put out the two previous days it seemed. I'm not sure what the usual colour of Spanish rabbits are but this looked very much like someone's pet. A black bunny.

The three of us sat motionless and silent. First the male Goshawk landed on the near perch, then the bigger female dropped on to the rabbit on the furthest perch. Still we didn't move.

Don't move until the bird starts to eat was the word of advice and we intended sticking to it.

Suddenly the male flew away, it wasn't anywhere near light yet and we'd possibly lost one bird already.

The female started to eat.

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis

A pretty gruesome sight as the rabbit was disembowelled.

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis

The Goshawk spent about 2 hours feeding. What a magnificent bird. Shame that the "prey" looks inappropriate for a natural looking shot.

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis

The best you can do is to try and crop it out.

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis

It kind of works but not ideal.

We spent two hours watching this, if you want to relive it try this movie clip below.To watch you need to click on the image that will take you to Flickr to watch.it's not for the squeamish though!

Bunny...not for the squeamish!

The morning session over, the time was right to move on back to the Bonelli's Eagle hide

TBC

Edited by Dave Williams

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Dave Williams

With the first half of the day successful in seeing the Goshawk all that remained was to see if we'd get lucky with the Eagle this time.

Bearing in mind it was still only Tuesday, we would still have another chance if we failed again but I wasn't sure I would want to spend a third time trying. The other group hadn't seen either yet and the plan was that they would have another double attempt on Thursday. A gap had to be left to make sure the birds built up an appetite to visit.

Once again we headed up the mountain only this time it was calm with only a strong breeze blowing up at the hide. It was so calm you could take in the delicious aroma of wild herbs growing, thyme and rosemary particularly abundant.

Another rabbit was put in place, another black one. Ah well.

Within 10 minutes a head appeared just above a rock beyond the bait.

Up popped the magnificent Bonelli's Eagle, a male.

Initially the bird showed a little caution.

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

Having a good look around to make sure all was correct.

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

He then proceeded to walk up the rock to the waiting rabbit.

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

What a magnificent bird.

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

Now the Goshawk was impressive and a species I had really wanted to see but the Eagle was something else. Just look at those talons!

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

Once the bird has grabbed it's prey there would be no escape.

Unlike the Goshawk, eating the rabbit seemed effortless and without mess.

It simply ripped a leg off the carcass and swallowed it whole.

Bonelli's Eagle  Aquila fasciata

No doubt some will think it's unnatural, the birds are habituated etc etc but if they weren't there is no way you would ever get this close.

When he finished feeding after 15 minutes or so he took off before plummeting like a stone to disappear from view. Both male and females flew past together on a couple of occasions but we didn't witness the female coming in to feed. We did see them mating on the opposite side of the gorge though albeit about a mile away!

The wind started to increase and we decided that we'd call it a day, ringing to ask if we could be picked up as soon as was convenient.

We'd had a very satisfactory day. Looking back though we didn't get the opportunity we should have had to spend a full day at the Goshawk hide(s). There are two side by side and usually you would move to the second one during the early afternoon in the hope that with the sun behind you, the Goshawks would return as was their habit for a late afternoon feed. Meantime there were Crested Tits a plenty to keep you occupied. That was a species I really wanted to see and photograph too. Fingers crossed that would happen sooner or later.

TBC

 

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Towlersonsafari

What magnificent  birds @Dave Williams

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Dave Williams

With 4 of the 7 days already gone and two of the main target species under our belts we were now thinking about what might be next. Originally it had been intended that we'd move hotels for just one night whilst we journeyed further inland to photograph Cranes. Unfortunately it seemed the Cranes had been disturbed by illegal hunting so we all decided that it was in our best interests not to bother as it was a long journey and we would have the inconvenience of packing etc. The downside was we were running out of hide options, and the weather was deteriorating too. Plenty of sunshine but the wind was increasing in strength and that would reduce the chances of seeing birds out and about. We hadn't visited the first hide Group 1 had been to on the first day but to be honest having heard what they had seen there I wasn't keen to go. I don't think Paul and Mike took much persuading that we should try the Quarry hide again, it had been so productive on our first visit and we'd only had a few hours there. I had two objectives, to get some more images of the Blue Rock Thrush (the other two hadn't taken any at all so they were even more keen than I was) and to try and get some images of the Black Wheatear where the tail feathers weren't blown.

Group 1 had visited this hide two days previously and had some really good opportunities with the Thrush although overall they'd had far fewer species than we'd seen. We were told via Yani that a group of local photographers had used the hide the previous day and they'd witnessed a remarkable fight between the Thrush and the Hoopoe. Feathers had literally been flying.

We hoped that the birds were still presentable!

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

Well Psycho was looking cool, calm and collected and still up to his tricks.

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

Occasionally launching an attack on the hide.

Eurasian Hoopoe  Upupa epops

before calming down and just peering through the glass.

In the end we got a bit tired of his antics as he was a destabilising influence on all that was around.

We waited in vain all day but there was no sign other than a distant flypast as far as the Thrush was concerned.Oh well, we were assured that there was to be another opportunity the following day. Group 1 had also done well there for the Thrush too.

Maybe it was a mistake to revisit the hide so soon, it wasn't nearly as prolific as the first occasion but maybe that's because it was dominated by the Hoopoe and the only birds that seemed immune to his presence, the Kestrel pair.

I'd taken so many Kestrel images on the first day that I was reluctant to take more. How daft is that!

When do you get opportunities like this

Common Kestrel   Falco tinnunculus

In short...rarely!

More opportunities to snap the Sardinian Warbler are always welcome though.

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

Such a stunning looker!

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

as are the Serins.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

They were not looking at their best though as they often had green gunge all over their bills. A drink helped wash some of it away.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

At least today we could see what they were eating, the unripened seed pods of a plant that was growing around the edge of the drinking pool.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

I had one additional species to add to my list, Common or Eurasian Magpie.

Eurasian Magpie  Pica pica

We had been visited by one on the first visit but as it didn't have any tail feathers it wasn't typical of the species!

Eurasian Magpie  Pica pica

I could have settled for the head shot though.

Anyway, the other personal objective for me was to improve on my Black Wheatear shots.

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

It's so easy to blow the white tail feathers and I was still doing it!

Much easier when the tail is in the shade

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

In the end I have to settle for what were my best efforts.

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

Not perfect

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

but I'm reasonably happy.

Black Wheatear  Oenanthe leucura

But would have been happier if I had made more provision for depth of field too!

Ah well.

My Rock Sparrow shots were certainly an improvement.

Rock Sparrow  Petronia petronia

We had a couple of visits by a fair sized flock.

Rock Sparrow  Petronia petronia

and as the last shots demonstrate, some of them have the foot disease quite common in Finch species.

All in all it wasn't a bad day but the lack of something new was a bit disappointing.

Not to worry, tomorrow we'd crack the Blue Rock Thrush. We were told it was a near certainty.

TBC

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Dave Williams

Day 6 Crisis Point!

Today was the day so much rested on, not just for our group but for all six of us.

Group1 were down for another attempt at the double which we'd successfully completed two days previously. Goshawk in the morning, Bonelli's Eagle in the afternoon.

Our group was heading for the Rock Pool hide in the morning, the Reflection Pool hide in the afternoon. That was where Group 1 had been the previous day and they had had great views of the Blue Rock Thrush that owned the rock, guarding it for hours at a time. We were told it was a dead cert! They had later moved on to the reflection Hide where they had views of Crested Tit albeit just before they were due to be picked up.

I was hopeful for both. I didn't realise at the time but the Crested Tits had been viewable from the other two positions in the Goshawk hide and the other two did at least get some shots, on the other hand I had been the lucky one to date with the only shots from our group of the Thrush.

Hopefully all this would change today.

I made one big decision before we left the hotel. I was going to travel light. A recent operation on my back still causing some pain and numbness in my legs but more worrying, I seemed to have picked up a painful knee problem to which I could only assign to having sat awkwardly in the hide the previous day. I knew that the Rock Pool hide involved a short uphill walk so the less I carried the better. My 600mm lens stayed in the hotel and instead I had just my 100-400mm plus a 1.4 teleconverter. More of that later, in the meantime the scramble up the hill and for the first time everI felt my age as I had to use my tripod as a walking stick to take the pressure off my knee.

Still I got there and soon all three of us were sat in the hide eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Thrush!

This is the Rock Pool...not what you might have imagined I don't suppose!

7M3A6274

It was some feat that managed to manhandle this large rock some distance and taken several people to do so. A small pool of water was created for each visit by topping up the pool from a supply of bottled water. No wonder the site was guarded jealously by the Thrush. There was little evidence of water for miles around. You could see stunning almond groves for as far as the eye could see.

Almond Groves

Beautifully manicured plots, they relied on irrigated water during these dry periods. Today was going to be dry but the weather was changing, a lot more cloud cover and the wind was really quite strong.

We sat and waited..... and waited.....and waited. There was little sign of anything, let alone the Thrush.

Word came through that Group 1 had the Goshawk in front of them for over an hour. Good news there then.

Eventually the first bird appeared, a Rock Bunting. We'd seen them at the other mountain hide but they looked much better here as they were perched on rocks!

Rock Bunting

The light wasn't the best though

Rock Bunting

but we were at least encouraged that life still existed up here in the wind!

Rock Bunting

For a brief while we had visits from several other birds too.

Crested Lark

The Crested Lark looked good in this rocky terrain too

7M3A6472

There was disappointment when a male Black Redstart, our first, flew in from behind us for the briefest of visits and I certainly didn't see him looking any where other than ahead of us.

Black Redstart

He might come back!

But he didn't.

Along with a single Robin we had another bird to photograph, the humble House Sparrow.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

It seemed illogical that that we'd find them here, off their normal terrain but this one looked good anyway!

7M3A6355

Much better than the ones frequenting the hotel car park who were usually sat on the fence, however, I'd been grateful to see Spotless Starlings sat there on most days.

Spotless Starling  Sturnus unicolor

In the Rock Pool hide though we were beginning to despair of seeing the Thrush. If it hadn't turned up to defend the rock when 5 other birds were present it can't be in the vicinity. The wind was getting stronger too so eventually we decided to move on and try our luck at the Reflection Hide.

At least when we arrived at our new destination the sun had come out again so the light wasn't an issue. The wind though was quite fierce. We felt for the guys up at the Bonelli's hide knowing that if it was strong here it was gale force up there. Would their chances be ruined by the wind? Apparently not! They stuck with it and eventually the female Eagle landed and fed for 15 minutes or so. Great Stuff!

The reflection hide was basically a huge concrete table with a pool in it. The pool and seed attracted quite a lot of birds , the majority by far being Blackcaps.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

The female of the species is an exception to the rule that the males are more attractive of the two,

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

We had as many as 4 all lined up along the pool's edge. Sometimes with other species.

Blackcap and Robin!

There, I've included a Robin shot at last!

European Robin  Erithacus rubecula

It's the one bird that seemed to be nearly everywhere, as indeed was the Sardinian Warbler!

Sardinian Warbler

Thrilled to get some decent images of this species on Day 1, I was now getting quite complacent about them however there was a bonus. Our first decent opportunity of photographing a female.

Sardinian Warbler

The wind continued to blow.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

as demonstrated by another strong gust here.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

We witnessed birds struggling to keep their feet on the table without being blown off. Suddenly I spotted something in the corner of the pool, at first I thought it was a piece of twig blown off a nearby tree. Oh no, this was my favourite sight of the day!

Horseshoe Whip Snake  Hemorrhois hippocrepis

I couldn't believe it, a snake!

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Snakes need a drink too.

Horseshoe Whip Snake  Hemorrhois hippocrepis

It's a perfectly harmless Horseshoe Whip Snake but we didn't know that at the time!

Horseshoe Whip Snake  Hemorrhois hippocrepis

They can grow up to 1.5 metres but this was just a third of that size. We debated to whether we should move it as it might scare off any birds but was it poisonous? Were we at risk! It's generally agreed that snakes with round eyes are not venomous, those with slit eyes are. King Cobras are deadly though and they have round eyes! Paul, being nearest the door volunteered to go, I decided to go with him to get some close up shots but the snake was off like a shot the moment the door opened. Amazingly it vanished in to thin air and how it appeared on top of the table was a mystery too. Seems they can travel to places you wouldn't expect! With hindsight maybe we should have left it to see what would have happened, I can't think it was a threat to any birds but there again what does it eat?

Anyway, with that visit over the next best thing was another Black Redstart male visiting.

It landed right in front of us.

Black Redstart

With my 100-400mm plus a converter attached the minimum f stop is F8. At this distance the depth of field would be too shallow so to keep the whole bird in focus I closed down the aperture to f10. The downside is that as the bird was likely to move or the wind might move it, I needed a higher shutter speed. I opted for 1/1250th of a second. Using auto-iso ( apologies if you have no interest in photography!) this then bumped it to 10,000. which would horrify some!

Looks OK to me but I just take photos for fun really.

Black Redstart

Back to f8 can you see what I mean about depth of field on the next one, the tail feathers are not sharply in focus. It's a lower shutter speed too, just 1/400 sec so auto-iso produced 1600.

Black Redstart

Not sure which is preferable really. Anyway, the female took up some better positions and poses than we'd previously had seen.

Black Redstart

Sadly though, the Crested Tits didn't appear before pick-up time.

Still, there was much to celebrate back at the hotel with everyone pleased that Group 1 had done the double. We were envious too that instead of Black Rabbit, the Goshawks had been baited with not one, but two perches of Red-legged Partridge, a much more natural looking and less gory prey for these photographs.  Once again though only the female Goshawk had come down to eat, likewise only the male Bonelli's. Two birds hadn't appeared at the provided food for nearly a week now.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but instead of going to the reflection pool we should have requested a visit to the Goshawk hide for our turn for an afternoon session.We might have had the male Goshawk back as they often reappear late afternoon and meantime we'd have had an opportunity of Crested Tits which appear on a very regular basis..usually.

Mind you, we'd have missed the snake!

TBC

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Dave Williams

So there we were, Day 7 already and still some unfinished business, particularly for our Group. We were really keen to see Rock thrush and Crested Tit. Group 1 on the other hand had seen everything we had with the exception of Mistle Thrush and female Kestrel.

Our hide options however were now very limited, in fact so limited we were given a choice of one!

We were to go to the one I really didn't fancy, the one we renamed the Hunter's Hide which was the one Group 1 had abandoned on the very first day. It was good for Blackcaps they said but they didn't enthuse anymore than that. A Firecrest had been seen and photographed earlier in the week we were told, Group1 had heard it but not seen it. It had a lot of appeal so with no alternative to choose that's were we headed. Group 1 meanwhile were back to the Reflection hide.

The big problem was it was now very windy indeed. The upland hides would be useless because of the wind and they had even had rain and sleet where the Ring Ouzels where so they wouldn't be performing either.

The Hunters hide it was then!

And a Blackcapfest .

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

There's only so many shots you can take.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

so I won't be trying for the ones that are in our garden this year!

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

I don't know what they were feeding on but as the day wore on, the more yellow their faces appeared.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

It all got a bit boring if I'm honest.

My favourite was the shot in the rain.

Eurasian Blackcap  Sylvia atricapilla

Yes, we had wind and rain at one stage.

We'd had plenty of Blackcap opportunities the previous day too se we were desperate for something new.

On the whole that wasn't to be.

Rock Bunting   Emberiza cia

Just the usual suspects.

European Serin  Serinus serinus

It's amazing how complacent you can become in just 7 days!

Sardinian Warbler  Sylvia melanocephala

As time went on we began to realise we were not likely to see the Firecrest.

Small compensation was a visit by a pair of Chiffchaff

Common Chiffchaff   Phylloscopus collybita

The bramble perch working well!

Common Chiffchaff   Phylloscopus collybita

Although they were the only ones we saw all week they were not exactly high on our wish list.

We rang Yani and asked if we could move to the Goshawk hide for the rest of the afternoon to try for the Crested Tits. She told us it would be a lost cause, it was far too windy there, why didn't she ring Group 1 and ask if we could take their place in the Reflection Hide?

We were unanimous in that it was Crested Tit or nothing! It had become a shared amusement that every time Yani said something was a certainty through bad luck it hadn't happened. Think Bonelli's and the Rock Thrush! She didn't make rash predictions, it was based on experience.  

We decided that if she said it wouldn't happen there was a better chance it might!

So it was back to the Goshawk hide we went, and yes, she was correct, there was a fierce wind blowing. We asked was it possible to bait the Goshawk hide too but her answer was that there were clients using the hide the next day so if it was fed the day before it might not turn up as it wouldn't be hungry. Oh well, so be it.

Things didn't look good for 90 minutes or more then suddenly we had a visit!

Crested Tit   Lophophanes cristatus

Despite the wind, a single bird appeared at the baited pine cones.

Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus

The size of the cone brings home how small the bird is but isn't the best for photos! The wind flattened the crest too.

We weren't sure if that was our lot but luckily the bird returned . Only once, but enough to grab a better shot than on the first visit.

Crested Tit   Lophophanes cristatus


That was it then, job done!

Along with Group 1 we headed back to the hotel in Yani's People Carrier. The day at the Reflection Hide had't brought any Cresties in there so our decision not to try and swop was vindicated too.

So that was it, our 7 days of hide photography was over but we still had a day left to our own devices which would end up back in Alicante.

Yani had provided us some ideas to work on so we had something to mull over a beer before dinner.

TBC

 

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Dave Williams

All 6 of us were up and about fairly early but we all hung around to say goodbye to Cornelius, Paul and Yani too when she came to pick them up to take them to the airport.

The rest of us had made a decision on what to do that last day but sometimes plans don't quite work out as intended. All I would say is, when ever you hand over your passport, whether you might be checking in at a hotel or handing it over at some other place, just make sure it's your passport and thus avoid unnecessary stress when you realise you have someone else's!

Mike and I ended heading back to Alicante before Rich and Steve.

The first port of call was a reserve near the city where White-headed Duck can be seen. It was nice to be out in the fresh air again instead of in a box but boy was it fresh!

We had a howling gale and despite sticking it out for a few hours we didn't get to see the duck in question.It's a shame as I wanted to see the reason the Ruddy Duck ( an American import) was eradicated from Europe to stop them breeding with the White-headed ones. The following photo was taken locally to where I live over 10 years ago and I haven't seen one since.

Ruddy Duck   Oxyura jamaicensis

Ah well, a journey wasted perhaps. We were told that there was a pair in residence but they must have taken refuge from the wind by hiding in the reed bed along with nearly everything else that was about.

On the open water it was quite choppy.

Eurasian Coot   Fulica atra

And only those that loved being under the waves seemed to be prepared to put up with it.

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis

No, the Coot we were after was to be seen some distance away at another reserve south of Alicante. With nothing doing, we decide to go for it and although it was a good 45 minute journey it proved very worthwhile. The Red-knobbed Coot is only found in Southern Spain where Europe is concerned and to be honest at first appearance it was a bit underwhelming, however, when the sun came out later it made all the difference!

Red-knobbed Coot   Fulica cristata

Quite a handsome bird after all.

Red-knobbed Coot   Fulica cristata

There was another bird of note , well in as much as one I had never seen outside of captivity that is.

The Marbled Duck.

Marbled Duck  Marmaronetta angustirostris

Again, not really eye grabbing but at least it put my number of "lifers" for the trip up to three when I included the Bonelli's Eagle.

The reserve had more to offer than just those two though.

Some nice birds to add to my 2019 list!

Western Swamphen.

Western Swamphen  Porphyrio porphyrio

Yes that's it's name now it seems, used to be Purple Gallinule, Purple Swamphen but now no Purple at all.It's been divided in to 6 different species and this is the European version and always a lovely bird to see no matter what you call it!

It was still very windy and as I'd packed my tripod away in the suitcase my lens had to be hand held and to be honest I struggled.

Glossy Ibis  Plegadis falcinellus

Some distant Glossy Ibis took flight but I still had the 2.0TC on the 600mm and it's not the best combination for those shots.

Glossy Ibis  Plegadis falcinellus


We found where they had moved to later on on our way home but it was now too dark to be worth trying to re-assemble our gear from the back seat of the car.

There was one last treat in store before we left though. 

7M3A8117

And it wasn't the Black Redstart male either!

Better than that.

When the Redstart flew Mike followed it to try for some pictures in better light, meantime I decided to go for the Red-knobbed Coot now the sun had made a brief appearance. He came back to show me the images he's taken of one of my favourite birds of all time.

Bluethroat!

I went off to look for it in the area he told me he'd seen it. At first I had no luck but then "Bingo".

A bit distant but I'm not complaining.

Bluethroat  Luscinia svecica

What a cracking way to end the day, to end our trip too.

Bluethroat  Luscinia svecica

Amazingly it could have had an even sweeter end too. As we were packing our gear away in the car park, suddenly there was a commotion out over the lagoon. Both Male and female Hen Harriers flew over the very spot we had been standing 15 minutes ago. What an opportunity that would have been!

Ah, well. I would still have had the 2.0x converter on the lens and would no doubt have struggled. 

We returned to the Ibis hotel in Alicante to meet up once again with Steve and Rich. They had been lucky and caught sight of a single Alpine Accentor, a species neither Mike and myself had seen before, but dipped out like ourselves on the White-headed Duck. Still they were happy bunnies too.

A last night's supper and a few beers in celebration were called for. 

It had been a good week, the weather had at least been largely sunny even if the wind had counted against us. This was probably the most successful and enjoyable trip for a few years.

Who knows, we might repeat something similar next year.

I wonder where?!

Anyway if anyone has any extra questions don't hesitate to ask.

cheers

Dave

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Zim Girl

Great trip report, @Dave Williams.  A really stunning set of pictures.

The Red knobbed coot is indeed handsome and fantastic that you got the Bluethroat.

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TonyQ

Excellent report Dave, and superb photos throughout

You finished with a real beaury of a bird

Thank you for posting!

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Peter Connan

Thank you for another wonderful trip report Dave, and truly magnificent photography!

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xelas

Another great report from @Dave Williams, supported by his usual stunning photography.

 

However, during the first part of the report, I have asked myself, why so many disturbing photos of that poor rabbit?! Not that I am have a problem with nature way of how breakfast is consumed; other thoughts run through my head. Is there a message hidden somewhere deep in those photos :huh:?? Have Dave changed the his avatar photo? Uh, no ... for now :D.

 

Jokes aside, while photographing from the hides is not very much my forte (sitting for 30 minutes still is something I could do only when waiting for the Lady In Black), hides does allow for being close to the subjects, and if that aspect is added to an excellent gear, and the well known skills that Dave have shown us so many times, one can only have the pure enjoyment in watching all those little birds so up close and personal and sharp.

 

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Dave Williams

@xelas No matter where I go you seem to follow me Alex!

7M3A8097.JPG

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xelas

@Dave Williams, my reply to your post is already prepared :D!

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michael-ibk

A great report Dave, you got many excellent shots. Particularly love Goshawk, Bonelli and my Hoopoe of course, even if it's a psycho one. Happy that this hide trip to Spain obviously was a lot more enjoyable than your last one. I'm not quite sure this would be for me since I much prefer running around but there's no denying the fact that this setup is the best way to get these high quality photos.

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