May 14, 2018
Both of us had a terrible night’s sleep; Paul’s throat was sore and his nose was either plugged or running, and Rosemary’s allergies were still raging.
But the tour must go on, so we were back in the vans after breakfast. We were leaving Extremadura and heading for the east coast, so we drove east for quite a while, passing through Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Don Quixote. There were several statues of the Don here and behind the town there were antique windmills.
Eventually we arrived at Alcázar de San Juan, where there is a wetland in a natural reserve. This is the home of the endangered White-headed Duck. We quickly found some of them, along with a lot more wetland species. After lunch we went to another part of the reserve, which had more muddy lake edges and hence more shorebirds. Neither of us are too good at identifying shorebirds but luckily there weren’t too many of them.
An hour later we stopped at Pedro Muñoz, which had another wetland with similar species. But Chris, one of the other guests, had scratched his cornea with a contact lens yesterday and now his eye was very painful. So we all diverted to the nearest urgent care centre. They checked him out very quickly and soon Rob was going to a pharmacy to get the prescribed eye drops.
But our diversion wasn’t finished yet. When Alberto tried to start the silver van it had a yellow flashing light and a message scrolling across the screen, and it wouldn’t start. It turned out that the message said that the van needed more “blue stuff”, so the leaders went off in the black van to two gas stations to get the “blue stuff”. (The “blue stuff” is actually transparent, but it comes in a container with a blue lid.) Then they went off again to get more “blue stuff”, and finally we were on the road again.
(Our vans were Volkswagen diesel vehicles. Not so long ago Volkswagen got into big trouble for cheating on their emissions tests, so it seems like the “blue stuff” is to make up for that.)
After all that we got to our hotel just before dinner time. It was a hotel with a winery attached, so they served us their own wines. Dinner was a barbecue, with local sausages and pork. All very good.
After dinner we went out looking for Scops Owl. As soon as we walked out the door we could hear them hooting, but Rob spent 45 minutes looking in trees with his powerful flashlight. Eventually he located two of them in a big oak, and they fluttered down like moths. We got a great view of one of them sitting on a post and we could hear about half a dozen more hooting nearby.
May 15, 2018
We were out early again, at 6:45 am, for a quick walk through the vineyard. There were only a few birds, but the Crested Tit was a nice sighting. And Rosemary’s allergies were fading away now that we had left the cork oaks behind.
After breakfast the vans headed down the road towards Valencia. We were targeting the 9 am opening of a wetland reserve, L’Albufera National Park, in order to beat the school groups. But Valencia traffic intervened and we got there at more like 9:30 am. Luckily the school bus was in the same traffic, because it pulled in just behind us.
Our local guide there was Tony, a friend of Alberto’s. There was a special hide which overlooked a pond with nesting gulls and terns and a lot of other water birds. There was even a vagrant Elegant Tern hiding amongst them. But that special hide was limited to a small number of visitors, so we had to break up into three groups which visited it separately. There were other hides to visit, so we didn’t have to sit around waiting for our turn, and there were lots of flamingos and avocets and stilts to watch.
Back through the Valencia traffic and up the coast we stopped at the Marjal dels Moros reserve to find Collared Pratincole—a very spiffy bird but one which was hard to see and photograph. And after lunch we stopped at Torreblanca National Park to search through the reed beds for Moustached Warbler.
Finally by about 5 pm we arrived at Hotel Miami Mar in Sant Carles de la Ràpida, in the delta of the Ebro River. We’d be here for two nights, so we started to do some laundry. Our balcony was an ideal place to hang it out to dry! We had plenty of time as dinner wasn’t until 8 pm; they served us a big dinner with lots of starters and a dessert, so we were very full!