A sunny Saturday seemed like a perfect day to escape Jalon’s rastro [flea market] by visiting the Parque Natural El Hondo just a spit south of Alicante. I was mainly thinking of seeing what birds might be around though, given our recent record-breaking Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) at L’Albarda, I would keep an eye open for any that might have held on at Hondo. Also in the back of my mind were Vagrant Emperors (Anax ephippiger), several of which have recently been reported on the western side of the UK in places such as Cornwall and Anglesey. As the name might imply, given the correct winds, it is a species that can turn up at almost any time of year from Africa.
Following some leisurely coffee, we began the 90-minute drive at 10:00 arriving at Hondo at 11:30 in time to see a bus load of older folks [Ed: older than you?] leaving. Setting off along the boardwalk, there was a unfamiliar looking duck on the far side of the lake. Fortunately, expecting more distant birds, I’d packed the older camera with the longer lens. Later, we found an information board that identified our friend in several languages, one being English. How considerate; one so often has to work only with the scientific name. This is a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata).
An altogether more elegant bird provided entertainment next. It took me a while to realize that we’d seen these long legged waders at the lagoon in Calpe in previous years though they seem absent this year. It’s a Black-winged Stilt/Common Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). I shy away from names including “common” so personally I stick to Black-winged Stilt. I spent some time trying to get a shot clear of most reeds and with a reasonable reflection.
By now most of the way along the boardwalk, Francine indicated a flight of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) approaching from behind me. With an older, more familiar camera in my hands, I managed to switch setting fast enough to catch them. We’d met these before at the Marjal de Pego-Oliva. Being black against a bright sky, they are not the easiest of subjects and then I’d failed abysmally. These are much better and show some detail but I have to say they don’t look particularly glossy.
Our final interest in the avian line was very nearly overlooked. I did overlook it, it was Francine who spotted something unusual. There were lots of Coots swimming about. Francine studied a relatively close individual and asked if I’d ever noticed any red above the white shield on a Coot’s head. Well, no, I hadn’t, so I snagged a couple of shots. Our new friend rejoices in the name of Red-knobbed Coot or Crested Coot (Fulica cristata) – naturally I prefer Red-knobbed Coot – and is resident across much of Africa, particularly southern Africa, and southern Spain. We were lucky as regards season because the red knobs are apparently present only in breeding season. At other times it is difficult to distinguish from our more familiar Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) so we really would have overlooked it. You do have to wonder about some of the folks who coin common names.
We were at the end of the boardwalk watching a few Glossy Ibis foraging in the reeds. They never did move out to give a clear shot. As I turned back to begin wandering back a large dragonfly flew past about half a metre above the water. It had to be a Vagrant Emperor but I didn’t see one again. I did then see a smaller, red-coloured dragonfly flutter into the reeds at some distance and settle. I couldn’t get focus on it, though. Eventually it flew off to a grassy mound where I did mange to get an identification shot. It was a Common Darter, as expected. My latest latest, if you see what I mean.
Hawk-eyes Francine was looking down at some nearby reeds and I was surprised when she yelled “damselfly!”. What? Wrong time of year, surely, even in Spain. “What does a Winter Damselfly look like?”, she asked, peering through her lens. I’ve fallen into this trap before, not being present in the UK I forget about the only odonata species in Europe that hibernates over winter as an adult. Actually there are two closely related species but only one in Western Europe, the Common Winter Damselfly (Sympecma fusca). We saw, I think, four individuals including a pair ovipositing, all keeping low down in the more open reeds. Being brown they can be quite difficult to spot in such habitat. I have previously been told there is a colony at a site quite close to Alicante but they were new to me here. One local source has suggested that this may have been the first ever sighting of them at Hondo. If so, that would be quite exciting. What a pity Spanish recording is so poor.
Well spotted Francine.