When I heard way back in December that an Isabelline Shrike had turned up
at a place called Marjal de Alnamara, I was very interested. First of all, in all
my travels I had not seen one, and secondly it was only an hour and a half south of Alcossebre. Not only that, it was a first record for Spain!
The local Spanish birdwatcher’s had posted some excellent photograph’s of it.
Which meant it was not averse to being photographed, always a good sign.
I asked a bird watching friend – Dave Williams – if he was interested in driving down to see the bird? He was all for it, a good thing, because I don’t drive!
So on the 19th December we made our way down to see it.
We spent two or three hours familiarising our self with the reserve, and checking all the bare leafed tree’s – it had been photographed on such a tree.
We saw a good variety of birds, but nothing that resembled a Shrike.
Not only did we not see the Shrike, but there were no other birdwatchers looking for it? Not a good sign.
I checked the website that the bird had been reported on – Reservoir Birds -
but no reports. Two days later it was reported and phographed again.
So a second trip was in order.
We went back down on the 23rd December.
As we we walked through the reserve, we saw a Shrike, Yes, we said.
It was against the light. So we slowly approached it. It flew further on.
No problem, with a bit of luck it will turn back and show it’s full plumage.
So camera at the ready. What we saw was a disappointment. Yes it was a Shrike, but not the Isabelline. It was a Southern Grey Shrike, a regular winter visitor. That was not the only one we saw that day. We saw another one too.
Would the two species of Shrike winter together? I doubted that?
But then what do I know. So another day, and another disappointment.
No word of it over Christmas, so did the other Shrikes see it off?
Then, a few days into the New Year, more superb photo’s appeared on Reservoir Birds, and also on Rare Birds in Spain. We have to have another
go, Dave and I both agreed.
Our third trip was on the 7th January – New Year, New Luck? No chance!
We spent a determined five hours going round in what seemed like endless
circles. Even met one of the Spanish birdwatchers who had seen and photographed the very bird.
He showed us it’s favoured stretch, and even it’s favourite tree, but nothing.
The two Southern Grey Shrikes were still showing well. As were three fine Booted Eagles. We returned home disappointed again.
We thought if there is another photo on the bird sites tomorrow we will not be amused. Guess what? There was.
After a fortnight of yet more records and photo’s, we came to the conclusion that the Shrike was definitely wintering. So with that thought, we made our way back down on the 19th January.
By this time we were beginning to know every tree and bush where the bird had been photographed. There is no way that we can miss out this time, after all it’s our fourth visit, and about twenty other people have seen it already.
By now there were three Southern Grey Shrikes in the area. Surely we will see it this time? Yet again we drew a blank. My reputation as Hawk Aye the Noo, was fast diminishing! As was my will to live! Just a fleeting glimpse, not much to ask, but no.
Is that it, were we going to give up?
No we have got to have one more crack at it.
So seven days later with our disappointments behind us we set off with new found optimism.
We are not leaving this place until we see this B….. Shrike! We thought.
The first hour of observation revealed very little, not even a Southern Grey Shrike was seen. We met a Spanish birdwatcher. he had his camera at the ready. He had been here from first light, but seen nothing. Not looking good.
We parked the car near where the last sighting of the Shrike was seen.
We decided to go to the reserve cafe/bar and have a coffee.
Good idea as it turned out, because looking over one of the many small lakes, we saw a flock of about a hundred Common Coots. In amongst them?
A winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe, a new bird for Dave.
So that lifted our spirits.
After a coffee, we set off again with a spring in our step.
Dave investigated a path that had a no entry sign on it? He shouted me over.
Look at this – there was a big expanse of former rice fields, and better still, hundreds of birds in the distance. Dave spotted a small bird on the muddy edge of a ditch – a White Spotted Bluethroat! Another new one for him!
We both agreed the area would be worth exploring, but only after we had another look for the Shrike.
We walked back to the car, and drove a short way down the road. A bird suddenly appeared on a tall weed. After all these visits The Isabelline Shrike was there in front of us!! My hand was shaking as I looked at it through the telescope. Would it stay there long enough for a photograph – Yes.
The Isabelline Shrike showed well for the next ten minutes of or so, then disappeared.
We drove next to the abandoned rice fields, adding more species to our days list. 50 + Great Cormorants, 30+ Grey Herons, one Great Egret, 200+ Little Egrets, 60+ Cattle Egrets, 180 Glossy Ibis, one Eurasian Spoonbill, 200+ Northern Lapwing, 50+ Golden Plover, 60+ Black-winged Stilts, four Common Sandpipers, 12 Green Sandpipers, 20+ Common Snipe and 1500 Black-headed Gulls. Yet another new species for Dave five Water Pipits, in amongst 200+White Wagtails.
A great way to round off a great day!