Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Valencian Short Break

28th Oct. - 1st Nov. 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

October 28th :- Today was the start of Nicky Green’s Valencian Short Break and we were meeting at Alicante Airport in the morning. I was also taking out Richard & Heather Piner for the day so I drove through early and we visited a couple of sites before meeting Nicky. We started on the beach at Santa Pola were we found several Mediterranean Shags, Cormorant and Sandwich Terns off-shore, plus Turnstones, Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plovers and Audouin’s Gulls on the shoreline. A quick check of the scrubby areas produced a few Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Greenfinches, Serins and Sardinian Warblers. We then visited the close reserve – Clot de Galvany and almost immediately found a Wryneck, which just sat in a carob tree giving fantastic views through the telescope. Richard & Heather were thrilled as this was a particular species they wanted to see today. We continued along the track with birds flitting everywhere such as Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Black Redstarts, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Serins. We found no less than 5 Hoopoes together next to a Little Owl, an Iberian Green Woodpecker posed for a while and lots of Crag Martins wheeled overhead. It was now time to leave and as returned to the vehicle we saw another Little Owl, along with a late departing Turtle Dove and 11 Common Teal flew past. Luckily we timed our airport pick-up to perfection and soon we were back on the road heading for the Santa Pola Salinas. Our first stop was at the ‘Tower Lay-by’ and this produced several new birds including Great Crested Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Little Egrets, Shelducks, Mallard, Coot, Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, 50+ Slender billed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls. However the major highlight was being shown the ‘long-staying’ Lesser Flamingo by Jacabo Ramos, an excellent local Spanish birdwatcher. Although it spent the most part tucked up, it did show its diagnostic bill colour a few times briefly – Nick hadn’t been off the plane an hour and he had already seen a major Spanish (& European) rarity!. We continued along the N332 to our next stop, which produced 11 Spoonbills, 2 Common Sandpipers and a distant Osprey sat on a pylon. The next pull-in was again very good with 6 or 7 Great White Egrets, 3 Stone Curlews flying over the salt marsh, and a variety of waders that included Avocets, Black winged Stilts, 27 Black tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Little Stints, Turnstones, Ringed & Kentish Plovers. It was nearing lunchtime so we quickly visited the salt pans at El Pinet where we added a Spotted Redshank, Common Redshanks, Sanderlings, single Yellow & White Wagtails. What an incredible morning. We lunched at a small roadside tavern I knew that produces some awesome Ham & Cheese Bocadillos and we enjoyed them al fresco.  After lunch we then visited the nearby El Hondo nature reserve spending the rest of the short afternoon (due to rain) checking a few areas.  The first stop was fairly quiet but was good for Dartford Warblers and a late migrating male Spectacled Warbler. At a small lagoon we found several Red Crested Pochards, female Wigeon, female Gadwall, lots of Common Coots, Peregrine Falcon, Kingfisher, 3 white spotted Bluethroats, Lesser Short toed & Crested Larks, Skylarks, House Martins, Barn Swallows, Hoopoes, Meadow Pipits, Zitting Cisticolas.  The weather had worsened considerably with heavy rain but we still had a drive along the Vista Bella Road, which paid dividends with lots of Cattle Egrets, female Merlin chasing some unsuspecting passerine, close views of a Booted Eagle and the ‘icing on the cake’ 2 Common Cranes right next to the road showing incredibly well – a fantastic end to the day. I returned Richard & Heather to their home in Gran Alacant and drove back to Oliva with Nick, discussing the next few days birdwatching.

October 29th :- We had ended the day before in torrential rain, it had rained all night and was still raining when I met Nick in the morning, but was definitely easing. We drove the short distance to the beach at Oliva and set up our scopes on the platform. The sea was incredibly high with huge breakers rolling on to the offshore rocks but it was generally quiet bird-wise. However the beach held Audouin’s & Black headed Gulls Sandwich Terns, Sanderlings, Ringed & Kentish Plovers, with lots of Yellow legged Gulls moving north. We next went to Pego Marsh starting at the north end where we spent time just watching a flooded track with reeds either side. This produced plenty of birds such as 4 Bluethroats, Water Rail,  Water Pipit, 2 Kingfishers (actually fishing), Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Robins, Great Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaffs, Serins and White Wagtails. We drove round to the main paddy fields, which were completely flooded and start to scan the open water finding a small flock of Common Coot, with a few Mallard and 2 Shoveler. I then found another flock of wildfowl that were mainly Common Coot but there were also several Red Crested & Common Pochards in there. I then saw something different – immature drake Tufted Duck, what a great record and my first for this site. Then as I was trying to get Nick on to the Tuftie another smaller ‘Aytha’ came into view, it could be – reddish colouration, white eye, white vent patch – a Ferruginous Duck, unbelievable. Not only was this a great bird for Pego Marsh but also for Valencia Province, and then another swam into view (somebody pinch me!). I eventually calmed down and Nicky and I were getting fabulous views of the 2 male Ferruginous Ducks swimming and diving together. It was time to concentrate on other things as the place was bouncing with wildlife such as Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little & Cattle Egrets, juvenile Squacco Heron, Grey Herons, 12+ Marsh Harriers (with 8 flying together), 4 Booted Eagles, Purple Gallinule, Moorhens, Kingfisher, Hoopoes, Skylark, loads of Crag Martins, with a few Swallows and House Martins, Water & Meadow Pipits, 6 Yellow, single Grey  & White Wagtails,  Bluethroats, Stonechats, Chiffchaffs, Jackdaws, Spotless Starlings, House & Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches, Chaffinch, Reed Buntings and a couple of Corn Buntings. After a much-needed coffee break we drove through to Denia and on to Cabo de San Antoni where we wandered round the headland. Two Crossbills on the wires was a good start but it was pretty quiet with lots of Sardinian Warblers, Black Redstarts and Robins plus we found a male Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Peregrine Falcons with a Mediterranean Shag and a few Gannets over the sea. At the nearby Sierra de Montgo we walked out towards the mountain and in the pine wood we incredibly found a Goldcrest (a very scarce bird in Valencia Province) followed by brief views of a Firecrest. This was then followed by another 2 Goldcrests, which was really strange – were these birds blown in by the recent bad weather and northerly winds?. On the way back to the vehicle we saw more Sardinian Warblers and a (heard only) Dartford Warbler, Stonechats and Kestrel. It was now time to head back to Oliva but en-route we stopped in Denia to look at a couple of Monk Parakeets followed by a grilling of the gulls in the harbour that were mainly Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls but we also found a Lesser Black backed Gull amongst them.  So completed another brilliant day – what will tomorrow bring?. 

October 30th :- Although the weather had greatly improved the winds were still high and after a quick discussion with Nick, we changed our original plans and headed for Alcoy. This pretty hillside city hosts Valencia’s only vulture feeding station and it was there we made our way to. We parked in the pine woods and immediately found a few Common Crossbills sat on overhead power lines followed by views of Crested, Coal & Great Tits, Mistle Thrush, Black Redstart and Short toed Treecreeper for Nick. We started up the hill to the feeding station finding Serins, Greenfinches, Sardinian & Dartford Warblers on the way. Then at the top the Griffon Vultures appeared leaving the surrounding pine trees and rocks gathering in a large spiral above our heads – making an impressive sight. We stayed there for quite a while enjoying the spectacle of 50+ Griffon Vultures plus Ravens and Magpies milling around our immediate area.  The walk back was quiet and at the car park we again search the area finding a couple of Firecrests, Long tailed Tits plus more Common Crossbills, Crested & Coal Tits. Eventually we set off back to Alcoy stopping for 5 birds sat on the wires, which turned out to be Woodlarks. I had planned to have lunch in the Val de Gallinera and en-route we stopped at the ‘Barranco de Encantera’ where we found our first Southern Grey Shrike of the break with Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Robins, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. After lunch we continued down the valley and near Alpatro I spied a large bird above the ridge, found a parking place and we got close but brief views of an adult Golden Eagle. I then saw several large birds in the distance travelled to where they were and found 10+ Griffon Vultures flying up the valley. Again we continued towards Pego and then at Benissiva I saw too more large birds above the opposite ridge – stopping we found a single Griffon Vulture and an adult Golden Eagle. This was great as we got superb views of both birds before the vulture drifted off and the eagle pitched on top of the crag next to 2 more Golden Eagles!. There briefly sat 2 adult and a 1st winter Golden Eagle before one adult set off again and began to make aerial dives right above where we stood. Nick’s expletives fairly summed up the situation pretty well. After this awesome display we left for Pego Marsh and just beyond Pego Town I stopped for a Cirl Bunting followed by Nick finding a Common Buzzard. At the marsh it was still very flooded in fact the tracks now were pretty much impassable but we did locate a juvenile Purple Heron, Common Snipe, Black winged Stilts, Booted Eagle, Marsh Harriers, Bluethroats, Zitting Cisticolas, Water Pipits, Swallows, House & Crag Martins. We spent our last hour seawatching at Oliva Beach seeing pretty much the same species as before plus a couple of distant Gannets.

October 31st :- As a change to the usual day out on the Albacete Plains, which Nick had done previously we spent the day around Valencia. We drove up through the rice fields of Cullera & Sollana seeing lots of Grey Herons, Little & Cattle Egrets, Black headed, Yellow legged & Lesser Black backed Gulls, White Wagtails, Common & Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Goldfinches. Eventually we got to the nature reserve of Raco d’Olla on the edge of El Palmar where we spent some time searching through the wildfowl. Estimates of duck here included 500+ Mallard, 300+ Red crested Pochard, 100+ Common Pochard, 100+ Common Teal, 50+ Pintail, 50+ Shoveler and a Ferruginous Duck. In addition to this we also saw 500+ Cormorants, 4 Booted Eagles, 10+ Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzard, Kingfisher, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers, Robins, Greenfinches, Serins and Chaffinches. Next we stopped off at the boat station on the edge of the lake were we added 2 Audouin’s Gulls and lots of Sandwich Terns, before going to the beach at El Saler. A walk around the coastal dunes produced a few Crested Larks, Black Redstarts, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats. We spent a little time seawatching here finding several Mediterranean Shags on the water plus a few Balearic Shearwaters and Gannets moving south. It was now nearing lunchtime so Nicky and I drove around to Moro Marsh on the northern edge of Valencia and where we would spend the rest of the day. We ate our picnic sat in the sunshine watching seabirds pass by over the Mediterranean Sea. After lunch we walked along the beach to the first viewing platform and from there we found Little Grebes, Cormorants, 2 Wigeon, 200+ Teal, Shovelers, Red Crested Pochards, Marsh Harriers, 10+ Mediterranean, Yellow legged, Lesser Black backed & Black headed Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Kingfisher, Swallows, House Martins, Bluethroat, Reed & Cetti's Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas and Magpies. This was then followed by a walk to the second platform seeing Southern Grey Shrike, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Chiffchaffs but these pools were quiet so Nicky & I continued to the next area of wetlands. This was by far the most productive as we found all three of our target species - Crested Coot, Purple Gallinule and Moustached Warbler along with Water Pipits, Eurasian Reed & Cetti's Warblers. It was now time to leave so we returned to our vehicle and returned Oliva after yet another very good day.

November 1st :- Our last full day and again we were going to be lucky with the weather as the forecasted rain didn't occur until late afternoon I returned Nicky to Alicante Airport. We started at the Clot de Galvany where we met up with Richard & Heather Piner for the morning. During the morning we enjoyed many good birds such as Little Grebes, male White headed Duck, Common Teal, Common Pochard, Mallard, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Common Snipe, Black winged Stilt, Marsh Harriers, Little Owl, 2 Wrynecks, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Hoopoes, Crested Larks, Crag Martins, Swallows, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtails, Bluethroat, Robins, Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Cetti's & Sardinian Warblers, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Great Tits, Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Ravens, Serins, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and 5 Siskins flew over heralding the start of Winter. We enjoyed our lunch at Richard & Heather's apartment, which is very near the reserve before heading for the Santa Pola Salinas, en-route we called in at the Sierra de Santa Pola. We were looking for Thekla Lark but only got brief views of this difficult species but we did find a Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Red legged Partridge, Meadow Pipits, Long tailed Tits, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers. At the salinas we enjoyed much better views of the Lesser Flamingo amongst the throng of Greater Flamingos plus 6 Great White Egrets, 20+ Black necked Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Shelducks, Marsh Harriers, Black winged Stilts, Avocets, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Little Stint, 50+ Black tailed Godwits, Turnstone, Slender billed, Western Yellow legged, Lesser Black backed & Black headed Gulls. Next we visited El Pinet, first calling for a coffee on the sea-front and this produced Nick's best view of a Balearic Shearwater as it passed by close to where we were sitting. At the nature reserve we checked out the saline pools finding our first Greenshank of the week, Spotted & Common Redshanks, Dunlins, Kentish & Ringed Plovers, Avocets, Slender billed Gulls and Sandwich Terns. It had now started to rain fairly heavily so we called a halt to our birdwatching and spent our last hour before taking Nicky to Alicante Airport having a drink and discussing our favourite parts of the break of which there were plenty.



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