Thursday, 7 June 2018

Estepas De Yecla

On Tuesday 5th June at 7.25am we left Gran Alacant with the temperature a very pleasant 21 degrees. We arrived on the edge of Estepas de Yecla just an hour later in heavy cloud, some light rain and only 9 degrees. However, it didn't matter that much as we already had our first raptor when an adult Bonelli’s Eagle flew across our vision and we were able to watch it for several minutes. We had some target birds in mind and this area being very good for Larks we spent some time searching the various suitable habitats for them. One particular field had been recently worked and what vegetation had been growing, in this stony soil, was drying out on top. We took our time and had easy views of Crested, but with Thekla being more difficult. Calandra were very evident, calling, flying and feeding on the ground. Short-toed were easily spotted in the tracks and when perched.

(Greater) Short Toed Lark

Calandra Lark

It was when we were paying attention to Larks that a large white bird was seen in an Almond Tree. Again we watched our second raptor fly away. This time it was a very pale Short Toed Eagle. We already had heard Sandgrouse calling and then four Pintailed flew around us and then again they too disappeared in the distance. We kept on hearing them and they flew twice more with our last sighting quite low and near to the car. That was the closest I have been to this species.

The farm buildings were devoid of Lesser Kestrels, but there were two feeding in the air and on the ground nearby. A photo of a grounded male proved that the ID was correct.

Other species were Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Serin, Linnet, of the seed eating birds and with Green-woodpeckers both seen and heard. In many respects it was a disappointing list and some of the frequently previously seen not in evidence. Bee-eaters and Woodchat Snrikes have been very common here in the past, but today, only a small number of the former and just two Shrikes.

Woodchat Shrike

Of the Corvids, Crows showed well, a few Jackdaws too and six Chough flew and perched. Several Little Owls were on show too.

We normally see more Kestrels here, but it seems that things are changing. We know that Spring was very late and the weather still is very unreliable. As another example we only saw two Black-eared Wheatears and no other wheatear species.

Black-eared Wheatear

Photographs by Bryan Thomas Copyright 2018

Tuesday, 29 May 2018


By 8.30am on Monday 28th May we had turned off the A31 and we were heading towards the village of Higueruela just north of Almansa and in the province of Albacete. The temperature being a chilly 12 degrees, a cold wind and with cloud cover. The surrounding fields are a favourite destination for us where we have had success in the past. Our first stop was where the road turns in a 90 degree angle before the rail line. A Common Buzzard flew and perched on a pylon.

Two Kestrels flew away from the building ridge without us being able to decide whether they were common or lesser. More importantly a Little Bustard flew quickly and we heard Pintailed Sandgrouse calling and then we observed them in flight with two landing in the distance. A Stone Curlew called and one walked in a cultivated field. We were pleased with all that and considered a good start for our morning, but we had hoped for better and closer views of everything.

The fields had had a thorough soaking and run-off lagoons and puddles were present. Everywhere was green and amongst all the cereal crops were red poppies, blue/mauve upright stemmed flowers - an id. awaits - and a multitude of grasses and vegetation. All very colourful and beautiful.

We moved on and before Higueruela we turned onto a camino. We stopped and listened and in the pines a Bonelli’s Warbler called and we caught a partial call of a Golden Oriole. Our day was about to get much better. Orioles flew and a female perched on a bare branch of a large tree and in a clear view. It got even better when a male joined her in the same one. There was no branch or foliage to obscure our view although they were not that close. Will we ever be satisfied? The photographs prove exactly what we saw. We were delighted as these two birds were our best ever clear vision views of this sometimes difficult-to-see bird. Again we heard Bonelli’s Warblers and we both had very clear just-over-our-heads sighting of this lovely little bird. What a great spot we had found.

Female Golden Oriole

Male Golden Oriole

Bonelli´s Warbler

We traveled on towards Lagunas de La Petrola in search of Great Bustards especially, but with an open mind on whatever species we could see. There are wide open spaces out there and in the skies Pallid Swifts flew. On this occasion we were not successful with not one Bustard in sight. Apart from seeing two Kentish Plovers, and a little later, a male and female Marsh Harrier flew over a reedbed there was nothing of real note to be found. Many of the common species were seen, but some others were absent. Bee-eaters which are usually easily to find were there, but only one or two were around . Gull-billed Terns were easily spotted. The cold weather has made Spring very late. The occasional small white was seen, but butterflies? Where have they gone?
Cameraman and photos by Bryan and I did the driving and enjoyed it all.

Kentish Plover

Saturday, 26 May 2018

It's a Final Day.

It's another Saturday afternoon, but it is not really as there are important games to be played. Twickenham host the Aviva Premiership final, the Guinness Pro14 final in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin and in France their league final is also taking place. Add to that the million pound game at Wembley between Aston Villa and Fulham for the right to play in our own premier football league.

But that is not it. In faraway Kiev, in the Ukraine, the European Champions Final will take place with Real Madrid and Liverpool fighting it out to get their hands on the trophy and to take it back to their rapturous fans. It will be a great evening, but here is the rub. Kiev may be on my wish of places to go, but it is one helluva distance from Western Europe. Then we hear of flights cancelled so that some Liverpool fans will not get there in time or not at all. Apparently hotel managers have ratcheted up the cost of their rooms to astronomical highs. The mayor, Vitality Klitschko when confronted by this has suggested that residents ‘throw open their homes’ for one or two nights for the fans. Let's hope that it happens. Also I hope that it is a great game, fitting for a final and that the game, the city of Kiev, and the celebrations afterwards occur without a problem. I suspect that Putin’s non-democratic Russia will have some say. Will they want disorder to shame Ukraine or do they want a trouble free event with their focus on the World Cup in July. I hope that it will all be peaceful.

At the same time the world is going through history like a sharp sword through jelly and Ireland is taking another historic event in its stride with women having the right to have abortions. I listened with interest to Mary Lou MacDonald, leader of Sinn Fein be interviewed and I was impressed. She speaks well for Ireland and women. As a male person I feel that it would be incorrect for me to vote on this as I consider it should be ‘a female only’ matter. It is their body they are personally responsible for. At the same time Northern Ireland remains out of date with their views on abortion, and same sex marriage. They are totally out of kilter with the rest of the United Kingdom.

I hope that this day will end well. Before then I will be in The Stray Sod, in La Fuente, Alicante enjoying the Guinness, the company and the game. What else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon?

Linwood Barclay and Broken Promise

I turned over the page and read the last few words and ‘You Bastard’ flew out of my mouth.
Hmm, you could say and what does that mean? I am not prone to giving clues away but Broken Promise, first published in Britain in 2015, is the first one in a trilogy and that is all you will get from me. I met Linwood Barclay in Harrogate two years ago and he is back at The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival again in July. He is fun to listen to. I thought that I should read another one of his books before then. It is set in Promise Falls, a fictional town located in the mind somewhere near to Albany in New York State.
Barclay has so much going and as the characters and the plots unfold you are led through the pages at a surprising pace. The interactions between family members are key. The chapters switch from one aspect of the main story to another part without confusion. Along the way there are side issues that also draw you in. It is a book about people, relationships, addiction and some very bad things. I loved it. He is an excellent story teller and a writer. I am a fan. But what will the next one, Far from True, reveal?

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Book Review - Long Drop by Denise Mina

The Long Drop, published by Penguin Random House UK, and written by Denise Mina,
is ‘long-listed’ for Harrogate Crime Writers this July. It is referenced to the serial killer, Peter Manuel, and his trial in a Glasgow court room. Mina is a story teller and in this instance it would not be difficult to give away the plot! The truth is already out there and has been told on TV. The characters tell the story of some of the worst parts of life in Glasgow in 1957 and 1958. It was brought to life for me in her use of dialogue between the two main protagonists, Wait and Manuel, and the other low life ones than inhabit their world.

It could be trail of dead bodies, but it isn't. The murdered are treated with respect, although later in the book, when Manuel defends himself we only have his version. He is a killer and he wants the focus of attention and the brutalized dead are of no significance to him. He thinks he is a story-teller. He thinks he is the star, but he is so badly wrong.

I love the detail given by Mina. I like the way she portrays the ‘polis’, the criminals, the club life and heavy drinking and the streets of Glasgow too. The detail and dialogue are amazing. Also we have an insight into the Manuel household, the not so clever father and his devout catholic wife. That is sad too. The court room scenes have energy and then there is the end. Again in detail. This is not a happy read, but a well executed one.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Book Review. Sirens by Joseph Knox

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festivals have introduced us to more writers. It brought to our attention new authors as well as letting us rub shoulders with the established ones. Val McDermid’s New Blood event in July last, let us hear, four authors talking about their books. One of the new bloods,Jospeh Knox, had his first book published. ‘Sirens’ is an exceptional and an intense read.

It is set in Manchester mostly in places where you would want to wipe your shoes on leaving!

You do have to pay attention. This is one helluva story. Knox is a 25 year old author and I would love to know where did he get all that detail from? They are all damn good questions when one reads about the dark details of the characters that are revealed to us. Summing the guts of it up, I can say it is about the trade in drugs and who and how they pay the price for their involvement. Their lives are woven intricately throughout and who is the actual hero is in doubt. It is told through the eyes of one man. A cop who is able to tread the narrow path of survival and to deal with the trauma, physical pain and suffering that could be beyond the strength of a normal being. He is our man and operating in an ‘undercover cop’ mode. He was ‘fitted up’ by his own kind and thrust into the hidden world of drugs. And of course there are people with power and money. It is a gripping tale.

It could win this year’s coveted Theakston’s trophy. It is that good.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Parque Natural - El Hondo and surrounds in Alicante

A farm bird for me but wild in Africa, Guinea Fowl. A striking head and wonderful plumage

This one popped up on the reed long enough to be photographed. Great Reed Warbler

Common Cuckoo. We had three very good views of this bird.

The last bird of the day and we were on our way home. Roller.

All photographs copyright Bryan Thomas 2018.