Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Valencian Short Break

2nd - 6th September 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

2nd September :- I met John at Valencia Airport after a short delay and headed south to the general wetland site of the Albufera d'Valencia starting at one of it's sub-sites the Tancat de Settla. Previously this site had been excellent for waders but today it was fairly quiet with only Black winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers and a Wood Sandpiper plus Black & Whiskered Terns, Shovelers and a very close Zitting Cisticola. We had our lunch and while watching an juvenile Collared Pratincole flew in, and we also saw several Bee-eaters, Turtle Doves, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Squacco & Grey Herons, Little & Cattle Egrets, with dragonflies including Banded Groundling, Lesser Emperor, Red veined & Scarlet Darters. We then drove around this huge inland freshwater lake to the Raco D'Olla a small nature reserve on it's edge and short visit produced 2 Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ruff, 2 Avocets Black winged Stilts, lots of Mallard, Common Teal, Little Grebe, Common & Whiskered Terns but a pale phase Booted Eagle soaring over was a good find. Finally we headed into the rice fields near El Palomar stopping there for the wonderful sight of 1000+ Sand Martins sat on overhead wires. Most of the paddy fields were ready for harvesting but eventually we found one field that was flooded and stayed there quite a while enjoying the mass of birds. During this time we found Little Bittern, Grey & Squacco Herons, Cattle & Little Egrets, 9 Glossy Ibis, 72 Black tailed Godwits, Greenshanks, Spotted Redshank, summer plumage Grey Plover, Turnstone, Curlew, Wood & Green Sandpipers, Ruff, 3 Little Stints, Ringed & Little Ringed Plovers, 40+ Gull billed Terns, Black headed Gulls, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Hobby flashing through disturbing the melee.  This rounded off a very good start to John's short break, this evening I head for Alicante Airport to pick up Donald & Helen, so they can start their holiday tomorrow.

3rd September :- This morning we made a pre-breakfast visit to Pego Marsh to join the ringing session for an hour or so, and we did very well seeing a Moustached Warbler, several Reed Warblers, Great Reed Warbler, 3 Savi's Warblers, Willow Warbler and a few Greenfinches being processed. Many thanks to Pablo & Carmen of the ringing team for their patience and explanations of what the campaign is all about. While we were there we also saw a couple of Kingfishers, Grey, Purple & Squacco Herons, Little & Cattle Egrets, Mallard, 3 Marsh Harriers, Woodpigeons, Sand & House Martins, Swallows, Spanish Yellow Wagtails and Goldfinches. After a fantastic breakfast we promptly headed for the hills eventually reaching the Vulture Feeding Station above Alcoy, it was now quite hot and things were generally quiet. The walk up produced a Red rumped Swallow amongst other hirundines and our first Griffon Vultures soared over in the bright blue skies and at the top we found several more including one sat on the rocks not far from where we stood. We also saw a few Serins, Northern Wheatear, Kestrel, Stonechat and John found a Short toed Eagle over the distant pines. We walked back to the vehicle seeing an Ocellated Lizard on the track and had our picnic sat in the sunshine and getting excellent views of a Crested Tit above our heads. We headed back to Oliva this time back through the Vall de Gallinera and got great views of an adult Golden Eagle as it did an aerial display around the ruined Castilla de Gallinera. After a very welcome refreshment break we decided to spend our final hour at the beach were we found a few Sandwich Terns, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls. However Helen thought the highlight of the day was being able to take a dip in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

4th September :- An early start saw us inland on the steppes of Castilla la Mancha and a Little Owl en-route was hopefully a good sign. We drove out towards Higueruela and some shapes moving towards the road made me stop quickly. We watched as 2 adult Wild Boar and 9 piglets raced across the open terrain over the tarmac and into the corn field on the other side. The next 30 minutes were amazing as we found a Black Kite sat on the ground, then 10+ Pin tailed Sandgrouse flew right over calling, there were 2 Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Red legged Partridges, Thekla Larks and Woodpigeons. Next we travelled the fields south of Higueruela having a fantastic time as we found 16 Dotterel (some still in summer plumage), 2 Little & 6 (distant) Great Bustards, 4 Lesser Kestrels following a tractor, 5 Common Quail flew up from next to the vehicle, a female Marsh Harrier, 50+ Short toed Larks, Crested Larks, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Carrion Crows and Magpies. We returned towards Petrola and at a small pool we found a couple of Lapwings, Green Sandpiper and incredibly our only Corn Bunting of the day, then Donald found a Roller fly up from the side of the road before going for lunch in Petrola. We left the hostal and found a Griffon Vulture and 2 Black Kites circling above, the first time I had seen any vulture species in this area. We checked Petrola Lagoon but it was unfortunately dry so we drove slowly around the agricultural fields near Petrola first finding 14 Little Bustards, and then got excellent views of a couple of Great Bustards, plus a small flock of Calandra Larks. The wind had strengthened making things a little uncomfortable so we left the hot dry tracks and went to Higuela Lagoon, which still had some water in it. We found a whole new set of species with Gadwall, Shoveler, Common Teal, Mallard, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Wood, Green & Common Sandpipers, Black winged Stilts, Kentish & Little Ringed Plovers. Eventually we left and headed back towards the motorway and home but en-route we stopped at the small pool where we added an Avocet to the day's list and then another 6 Great Bustards and a couple of Marsh Harriers before the main road.

5th September :- Today we made the journey south into the province of Alicante and subsequently a whole new set of potential species. As usual we started at the excellent Clot de Galvany, which generally produces a surprise or two and today was no exception although it was another hot day and things were quiet. The initial walk produced a Red rumped Swallow around our heads, Southern Grey Shrike, Red legged Partridge, Sardinian Warblers, Turtle Doves, Spotted Flycatcher and Serins. At the wader scrape John found a lovely Summer plumage Grey Plover amongst the Wood Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover and Black winged Stilts. We walked on to the Charco de Contacto and at the hide we added Little Grebes, Shovelers, Mallard, Coot, Moorhens Green Sandpiper and Eurasian Reed Warblers but at the viewpoint we added both Marbled & White headed Ducks, Common Pochard, Common Teal, Purple Gallinule and a Common Snipe. Although the surprise was me finding a juvenile Western Orphean Warbler this smart sylvia warbler on steroids showed very well to the delight of all present, as well as Pallid Swifts, Hoopoe, Crested Lark and 4 Ravens flew over. It was time to return to the vehicle but en-route we found a juvenile Iberian Green Woodpecker and a gorgeous male Black eared Wheatear making a great start to the day. We took the coastal route towards the Santa Pola Salinas getting excellent views of a Whimbrel stood on the rocks, then at the salinas we saw Great Crested Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Glossy Ibis, an Osprey, Avocets, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, Black tailed Godwits, Spotted & Common Redshanks, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Stints, Slender billed, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Little & Whiskered Terns. Although rare bird of the day went to a Mute Swan skilfully found by Donald & John without knowing it's true status in this part of Spain. It was now lunchtime so we drove round to a small rural cafe for a welcome drink and bocadillo, and a rest from the now very hot conditions. A drive around the perimeter of El Hondo reserve was quiet apart from a couple of Marsh Harriers, Kestrel and a Stonechat before finally heading into the hills above Crevillente. After a detour due to the town's local market we reached the sierra and a stop for some Alpine Swifts was more notable for excellent flight views of 2 adult Bonelli's Eagles. We continued to the head of the valley finding both juvenile & adult Woodchat Shrikes and a short walk produced a few Thekla Larks, Sardinian Warbler Crag & House Martins, more Alpine Swifts and a distant Black Wheatear. We started back down to Crevillente where we found another Black Wheatear just outside the town, which showed extremely well, which completed yet another good day.

6th September :- Our final day was first spent with another pre-breakfast visit to Pego Marsh and the ringing station, and it paid dividends with 3 Bluethroats, a female Sardinian Warbler, Savi's & Reed Warblers. We also saw a Kingfisher, Sparrowhawk, Little & Cattle Egrets, Purple & Grey Herons, Marsh Harriers, Green & Common Sandpipers, Moorhens and Jackdaws then as we left the reserve we found a couple of juvenile Montagu's Harriers quartering the newly harvested rice crops. After breakfast we loaded the vehicle and headed north towards Valencia, when at Cullera we left the motorway and drove through the rice fields to an area just south of the Albufera d'Valencia. Although it wasn't as good as earlier in the week we still found Squacco Herons, 7 Glossy Ibis, juvenile Collared Pratincole, Black tailed Godwits, Black winged Stilts, Wood & Green Sandpipers, Little Stints, Greenshank, Ringed Plovers, Whiskered Terns and Black headed Gulls. We then headed north once again as the cloud from the west started to build and give the threat of rain. We were going to the usually excellent Moro Marsh but as we got towards the reserve we given a treat. I had noticed a large raptor above the car so we pulled in and as we got we then noticed at least six more- all of them Marsh Harriers. Then over the next hour we witnessed 40+ Marsh Harriers, Booted Eagle, Black Kite and a Sparrowhawk coming in off the sea as the rain hit from the west. It was an incredible experience and something I had never witnessed before in Valencia. We continued the short journey to the edge of the reserve and had our picnic while watching the sea where we watched a few more Marsh Harriers toiling over the Mediterranean Sea along with Sandwich Terns, Black headed, Yellow legged & Lesser Black backed Gulls. After our picnic we visited the reserve but it was very quiet although we did manage to find a Water Rail out in the open, Common Coots, Squacco Heron, Common Sandpiper, Zitting Cisticolas, and a Southern Grey Shrike. It was now time to take John to the airport and on the way we stop for an ice cream and doing so we find a Short toed Eagle and another Sparrowhawk, making for a fine finish to the short break. John got to the airport in plenty of time and I returned to Oliva with Donald & Helen who were staying at the guesthouse for a few days.


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