Every birdwatcher or bird photographer will tell you that they have a bogey bird or birds – a species which they should have seen or photographed, but they never seem to be in the right place at the right time. How many times have I heard the phrase “you should have been here 10 minutes ago, there was one showing very well but it’s just flown off!”
A few years ago I was asked by Jose Manuel at the Santa Pola tourist office to provide him with some photos of the birds to be found around the area. One of the species he was particularly keen to have in his brochure was the Eurasian Spoonbill, but I had to admit to him that I had no suitable photos of one. Oh, I had plenty of distant shots taken from one of the laybys on the N332 where it crosses the salinas, but in every case the birds were just distant white blobs.
This state of affairs continued until November of last year, when after my enforced absence from the area, I visited El Hondo. Quite unexpectedly, I came across a group of three or four Spoonbills, and was able to fill an SD card with hundreds of shots as they were within easy reach.
My photo shows one of these birds, alongside the very common Black-winged Stilts, and the difference in size is easy to see. Spoonbills are very large birds, about the size of a Grey Heron, and bigger than most of the other white egrets to be seen in our area.
As you can see, they get their name from the spatulate beak which they sweep from side to side. The bill is very flat to minimise drag in water, while the mandibles are smooth edged without the sharp ‘teeth’ or cutting edges often found in fish-eating birds. The edges are curved inwards and have tiny thin ridges at the tip and many tiny tubercles towards the face, which develop during the bird’s first winter and apparently allow it to grip a variety of prey items. The bird in my picture is a juvenile – the adult birds have black bills with yellow edges.
Most Spoonbills seen in our area during the winter are northern birds, migrating down from the Netherlands and increasingly the UK where they have started to breed. Spanish breeding birds tend to migrate further south to the southwest coastal areas of Africa.
The best places to find them locally are along the N332 as previously noted, the layby by the salt tower going south is a prime location, as well as in the El Hondo reserve where you may come across them quite by chance as I did! I haven’t yet seen one in the Clot, but with the recent improvements to the water system, it can only be a matter of time before these elegant birds find out that the Clot is an ideal environment for them.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.