Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Valencian Short Break

18th - 21st February 2006

Report by Julian Sykes

18th February:- At lunchtime today I met Jon Starie & David Taylor at Alicante Airport who were here for a short break. We immediately headed for Santa Pola Salinas hopefully to find the first two of several target (T) species they had hoped to see. We were not disappointed as we found 100+ Slender billed Gulls (T) (some displaying), and the 4 Caspian Terns (T) amongst the flock of Sandwich Terns, Mediterranean, Black headed, Lesser Black Backed, & Yellow legged Gulls, plus 2000+ Greater Flamingos, 200+ Black tailed Godwits, 100+ Avocets, Great Crested Grebes, Marsh Harriers and an Osprey. Great start. We then headed for the Crevillente Hills and lunch at the Bonelli's Eagle site, seeing a Booted Eagle, Spotless Starlings, Southern Grey Shrike, and a Swallow en-route. During lunch we were treated to excellent flight views of an adult Bonelli's Eagle (T) and a walk around the area produced 6 Black Wheatears (T), Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, a Firecrest, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbirds, Goldfinches and Linnets. We left and headed for our last stop in the hills above Elche starting at the huge starling roost where we again saw 100's of birds flying in. A Sparrowhawk made an appearance, as well as lots of Chaffinches, and a Green Sandpiper, Chiffchaffs and a Hoopoe. Just prior to dusk we made the short journey to the Eagle Owl site and waited seeing 2 Black Wheatears and a Blue Rock Thrush. As dusk fell I picked up the male Eagle Owl (T) flying across the canyon but unfortunately it landed out of sight. It flew again and this time David saw it and watched it land but we couldn't get Jon on to it. Just as we got his telescope in place it again departed and away out of sight in the near darkness, he was gutted. The journey home was quite sombre despite a great afternoon, we would have to try again before they left!.

19th February:- Today we were travelling inland to a steppe area just over the border in Castilla la Mancha. Unfortunately the weather was against us with very high cold winds blowing over the plains but we still managed to see a few species. Outside Bonete we saw Thekla Larks right next to the car as well as our first Carrion Crows, Magpies and a very distant flying sandgrouse. A little further another stop produced a large flock of Corn Buntings with a couple of Rock Sparrows amongst them plus a Southern Grey Shrike and a Kestrel. We reached Corral Rubio seeing much of the same with other species such as Linnets, Spotless Starlings, and a few Goldfinches. Then on the track between Coral Rubio and Petrola we found our first Great Bustards (T) with a flock of 9 birds, over the course of the day we were going to see at least 90 - 100 birds in various places and some very well. We carried on traversing the various tracks adding a couple of Common Buzzards and our first few Calandra Larks, but it was difficult in the conditions. So we decided to go to Petrola Lagoon hide to get out of the wind, unfortunately it blew right into the viewing holes. However we could look out of the side slots and managed to find 2 Common Cranes, 50+ Greater Flamingos, 20+ Shelduck, 20+ Red Crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, 3 Grey Plover, Avocets, Ruff, and a Water Pipit, which was welcome. After lunch and an agreed decision we tried again for the sandgrouse and I returned to one of their favoured spots. As we approached a Black bellied Sandgrouse (T) flew up from the side of the vehicle and flew a short way before dropping back down to feed. We watched this bird for a long time and later a pair flew in and landed in the next field showing superbly. Here also were a big flock of 200+ Calandra Larks, and a Merlin made a low flight across disturbing the Linnets and Corn Buntings. It was now time to leave and as we made our way slowly back to Bonete we added a Mistle Thrush and a few Red legged Partridge.

20th February:- Our third morning started at Oliva Beach with a seawatch which produced a Cory's Shearwater & 17 Balearic Shearwaters moving south. We also saw 30+ Razorbills, Black headed & Yellow legged Gulls, 30+ Sandwich Terns, 4 Gannets, Sanderlings, and a couple of Kentish Plovers on the beach with Ring necked Parakeets sat on a hotel balcony. After breakfast at the guesthouse we headed out to Pego Marsh where we found Little Grebe, Mallard, Grey Herons, Little & Cattle Egrets, White Stork, Peregrine, 2 Booted Eagles, Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, a Water Rail, Lapwings with a single Golden Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpipers, 2 Audouin's Gulls, Kingfisher, Skylarks, several Swallows & House Martins, Crag Martins, Hoopoes, Crested Larks, Water & Meadow Pipits, White & a Grey Wagtail, Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's & Moustached Warblers, Sardinian Warblers, 4 Bluethroats, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, and lots of finches, starlings and sparrows. The biggest surprise was hearing a very early Savi's Warbler from deep within the reeds, unfortunately the winds were keeping it hidden. Next we headed to the Val de Gallinera where we stopped for a picnic lunch while watching the crags. Conditions weren't ideal but we soon saw our first of many Red billed Choughs, and shortly after that an adult Golden Eagle flew across and landed in full view. Over the next hour we watched as it sat then soared around for a while, then landed again, a magnificent sight. Again our last destination was Alcoy, and again the 30+ Griffon Vultures showed brilliantly allowing for some photography by Jon. Other birds in the area included 2 Woodlarks, Raven, Crested & Coal Tits, Red legged Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike and Magpies, and as dusk fell on the way home we found a 3 Little Owls sat on telegraph poles.

21st February:- Today was Jon & David's last day and we drove south to the Clot de Galvany on the outskirts of Santa Pola. This small reserve is always fantastic and today was no exception, with good birds seen from entering the site to leaving. We saw a Wryneck, a pair of Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike, Crested Larks, Swallows, House & Crag Martins, Stonechats, Black Redstarts, Meadow Pipits, Robin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, & Serins. We continued to the Charco de Contacto were we found it was quiet with 2 Purple Gallinules, a Common Snipe, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Coot, Little Grebe, 2 Carrion Crows, plus a male Bluethroat. At the main scrape we added 2 Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, Crested Larks, Shelducks, Shovelers and Black winged Stilts. However the shock was finding a Pallid Swift amongst the swallows and martins, quite an early record for Alicante Region. At Santa Pola Salinas we saw much the same species as the previous Saturday including the 4 Caspian Terns, but also Turnstone, some Little Stints and a Kentish Plover. We then drove the short journey to El Hondo where we saw the affects of a large fire that's recently ravaged some of the scrub and reedbed. Starting at the visitor centre for lunch and where I negotiated a quick visit to the main reserve that afternoon. We were after our final target so drove around the perimeter to the Vistabella Road to a quiet pool, but unfortunately they were not showing. We did however find 6 White headed Ducks, in with the Coot, Eurasian Teal & Common Pochard. We waited seeing Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harriers, Corn & Reed Buntings, then I saw 3 birds flying in low David's final target Marbled Duck. We managed to watch them for several minutes before they decided to fly off again. We left and returned to the Main Centre stopping at the Rio Vinalopo for to very showy Temminck's Stints, allowing for some more photography. At the main reserve we were allowed through the locked gates and travelled down to the bottom viewing platform, where the spectacle was amazing. Wildfowl were everywhere with 100's of Red Crested & Common Pochards, Shoveler, Mallard, Eurasian Teal, and Coot, with lesser numbers of White headed Ducks, Shelduck, Greater Flamingos, Cormorants, Little & Black necked Grebes. Marsh Harriers flew around, 2 Ospreys sat on posts in the water, and a single Purple Gallinule was in the reeds. Unfortunately we had to leave due to our evening meal being booked and as we drove into the hills we saw Black Wheatear, Black Redstarts, and a Rock Bunting. I was taking them to the airport later but first we went to the owl site for a second go for Jon. We arrived and set up our telescopes and waited, I wandered off and returned quickly looked in my 'scope' and there was an adult male Eagle Owl in full view. Over the next 20 minutes we watched it call, fly, sit on various crags around the canyon, before it flew right over our heads and away to the next hillside, what an end to an excellent few days birdwatching.


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