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The Parque Natural de El Hondo de Elche ā also confusingly known (and signposted) as El Fondo dāElx in the Valenciano dialect ā is a nature park which is on the RAMSAR wetlands convention list and classified as a special protection area for birds, or ZEPA. The park is of international importance as both a breeding area for rare and endangered species, and also a wintering and migration site. It is part of an area which used to be known as Elche Lagoon, which was almost completely drained from the 18th Century onwards. The area lies to the southwest of Elche in the province of Alicante, and is 2,387 hectares in size.
Today there are two main irrigation reservoirs, Poniente and Levante which are 650 and 450 hectares respectively, around which are a series of ponds and salt marshes, surrounded by fields and palm plantations which together form an area which repays frequent watching all year round.
Winter brings an impressive number of raptors to the area, Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard and Osprey are regular, also rarities such as Lanner Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite and Red-footed Falcon have been recorded, whilst "Tonn" the Estonian satellite-tracked Greater Spotted Eagle arrived again in November 2011 for his fourth consecutive winter there. In December 2010 there were no less than five Greater Spotted Eagles overwintering.
There are large breeding colonies of Herons, including the Grey, Purple, Squacco and Black-crowned Night Heron. Nesting duck species include Common and Red-crested Pochard, Shelduck, Mallard, while other birds of interest include Collared Pratincole, Bearded and Penduline Tit, Glossy Ibis and Whiskered Tern.
Rarities have occurred with considerable frequency at El Hondo. Highlights have included Dotterel, Red-throated Pipit, Lesser Flamingo, Brent Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Pectoral Sandpiper and Isabelline Shrike.
Birds you can see here include:
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Western Marsh-Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Common Quail, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Eurasian Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Arctic Skua, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, Rock Dove, European Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Common Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, (PM), Eurasian Hoopoe, Roller, Eurasian Wryneck, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Spanish Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Common Nightingale, Eurasian Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Wood Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, European Pied Flycatcher, Bearded Tit, Penduline Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Common Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Serin, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting
There are some interesting fish species in the lagoons and pools, including Mullet, Eels and the "Fartet" or Spanish Pupfish which is endemic to the area, along with the Freshwater Shrimp providing a food source for the Flamingoes and other birds. The most common lizard species is the Red-tailed Lizard.
History and Use
What was once the Elche lagoon disappeared due to both the natural silting up of the land and drainage operations; the need for a supply of fresh water to clear the salts from the surrounding farmlands and to irrigate the crops led to the construction of the two main reservoirs, with the surrounding banks creating the swamp areas which have been colonised by extensive reed beds.
It should be noted that there are occasional disagreements with the local farmers about the provision of irrigation water to the surrounding land - this has led to closure of the reserve and some ill-feeling towards the reserve status of the area. At the time of writing (May 2010) the problem had been resolved, but it may resurface during any future drought conditions.
Work is underway from September 2011 to build a dam and irrigation pipework to the south of the reserve in order to prevent the drying-out of the larger lakes, and provide a system to flush out excess salt and debris from the area.
Areas of Interest
El Hondo is within a short drive of Cabo de Santa Pola which includes the Santa Pola Salinas, the Clot de Galvany reserve by Gran Alacant and the El Pinet reserve at La Marina. It is less than half an hour's drive from Alicante Airport.
The nearby city of Elche is famous for its Palm Trees in the Municipal Park and the nearby "Huerto del Cura" (Priest's Garden). Fiestas are held throughout the year, with various processions and fireworks displays - see the local press for details. Accommodation, shops and restaurants are plentiful throughout the area.
Access and Facilities
Access to El Hondo is strictly controlled in most areas, but there are access points around the site and guided tours within the reserve itself which must be booked in advance, either by calling at the Information Centre (well signposted from nearby San Felipe Neri) or by phoning on 966 678 515 where the staff will inform you of the visiting timetable. From the Information Centre, there is also a short boardwalk route across some of the nearby marsh areas giving somewhat distant views of the lakes, but this route is usually open on a daily basis with no need to book beforehand. Further areas between the two main pools are now open to visitors, there are two new hides which can be accessed from the end of the boardwalk, and a further walk to the west takes you to another good viewpoint.
The Information Centre itself is a modern building with a large parking area; wheelchair access is very good and there is a limited catering facility with drinks and snacks available, and also toilets. There is a large display (in Spanish) about the reserve, and a large picture window overlooks an area where in May 2010 a new pond was under construction to hopefully give views of the birds without leaving the centre. The staff at the centre can speak some English, and are very helpful. There is also a substantial picnic area outside where the Sparrows will bother you for crumbs!
The road skirting the southern edge of the reserve (the Vistabella Road) is a very good birdwatching area both for the reserve itself and the farm fields to the south which often hold birds of interest such as raptors, various species of lark, and during the winter months flocks of Common Cranes are regular. There is also a recently-opened hide overlooking a smaller lake called the Reserva Integral which is always open - it is accessed via a small bridge over the canal alongside the road, then a 500 metre walk along the canal until you find a boardwalk through the reeds leading to the hide. Most of the species found in the main reserve area can be observed from this hide.
Parc Natural El Fondo
Tel : 966 678 515
email : [email protected]
Content and images originally posted by Mark Etheridge