Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Valencian Short Break

23rd - 27th February 2007

Report by Julian Sykes

Friday 23rd February :- Today saw the arrival of a party of seven birdwatchers from England lead by Richard & Jane Palmer (Calandra Holidays) for a Valencian Short Break. We returned to Oliva from Valencia airport settling everyone into their rooms, before going for a light lunch and an afternoon visit to Pego Marsh. A long walk around a set of paddy fields produced some excellent species and a good introduction to the commoner birds of Spain such as Cormorants, 2 Great White, Little & Cattle Egrets, Grey Herons, Mallard, a few Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Moorhen, a single Lapwing, 10 newly arrived Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpipers, 2 Audouin's with the Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, lots of Crag Martins, with several Swallows, House & Sand Martins, Grey Wagtail showed well, and Wendy found 3 Yellow Wagtails amongst the White Wagtails. We heard plenty of Moustached & Cetti's Warblers, along with Zitting Cisticolas, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, couple of Water Pipit & Meadow Pipits, Magpie, Jackdaws, Chaffinch, Goldfinches, Serins and Reed Buntings. However the bird of the day went to the 10+ Bluethroats we watched along the edges of the flooded fields giving wonderful views.

Saturday 24th February :- Our first full day was going to be spent on the Albacete Plains and arrived to find a strong cold wind was blowing and making things difficult for birdwatching. Along the Higueruela road we made a couple of stops before finding a sizable flock of Calandra Larks, and as we drove a track to get a better look of the larks we flushed a pair of Black bellied Sandgrouse, which showed extremely well in flight. As we returned towards Bonete I checked another field and found some sandgrouse-like shapes with some medium sized plover-like waders (Golden Plover?) close by. I was decided we would brave the cold wind and walk out to a large mound of earth for camoflage and protection from the wind. We got to the mound and sure enough there were 40+ Pin tailed Sandgrouse dotted around the field in small groups showing fantastically. While enjoying these I thought about the plovers and scanned to where they were, and couldn't believe my eyes as 38 Dotterel were looking back at me. What a start. Eventually we pulled ourselves away, after photos had been obtained, and headed for Corral Rubio, true to form we found our first of 53 Great Bustards in this area. It was time for lunch so we drove through to Petrola having added Common Buzzard, Red legged Partridges, Crested Larks, Linnets, Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike. After lunch we visited Petrola Lagoon and found 23 Common Cranes, with the Common Shelducks, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Marsh Harriers, Avocet and Common Snipe. We made our way back to Corral Rubio along te farm tracks finding more Great Bustards and Calandra Larks before going to Higuela Lagoon, which held 20+ Red Crested Pochard, Avocets, Coot, Raven amongst birds we had seen previously. Finally as we were heading back into Bonete I saw a six passerines sat on overhead wires that turned out to be 5 Rock Sparrows and a single Corn Bunting. A great finish to a great day despite the difficult windy conditions

Sunday 25th February :- Today we were heading south to the Alicante Region and in a very optimistic mood after the previous day's successes. I had booked us onto El Hondo reserve and it was here we met up with Malcolm Palmer (Richard's brother) and his wife Juani who were also joining us for the day. At the first hide we found various duck species plus Black necked Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Grey Herons and Little Egrets. The hide was a little crowded so I stood outside scanning the air for raptors and soon enough I had found our first (of 15+ seen) Booted Eagles being harassed by a couple of Marsh Harriers. While watching I noticed there were lots of Pallid Swifts moving through, plus the odd few Alpine Swifts, a very early date for this species. We quickly made our way to the viewing platform and eventually got great view of the migrating swifts and also White headed Ducks, more Black necked & Great Crested Grebes. However the major highlight for me was finding one bird mobbing another only to realise the bird mobbing the other was a Booted Eagle. The other much larger raptor had to be the Greater Spotted Eagle, which had been in this area since Christmas, I made sure of the identification before getting the rest of the party on to the bird and then continued to enjoy it for the next 3 or 4 minutes as it slowly made it's way across the horizon. When it disappeared we had to leave but continued to search around the reserve's edge finding Lesser Short toed & Crested Larks, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzards, Grey Wagtail and a Woodpigeon. Next we visited the Santa Pola Salinas briefly but managing to add an Osprey, Black winged Stilts, Avocets, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Ruff, an Audouin's, Slender billed, Mediterranean, Lesser Black backed, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls and Sandwich Terns. At the Clot de Galvany we had a short walk around the reserve, with more White headed Ducks at the Charco de Contacto plus 2 Black Wheatears, Little Owl, Black Redstarts, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, single Dartford & Sardinian Warblers. It was now time to head up into the hills above Crevillente for our evening meal at Colin & Jane's Finca, which as usual superb. Not only was the food excellent but we were aso treated to awesome flight views of the female Bonelli's Eagle a it soared around the canyon, aong with a few Thekla Larks, Linnets and Blackbirds. Just before dusk we headed for the Elche Hills but the clouds were building and looking fairly threatening. We waited and then clearly heard an adult Eagle Owl sat on the near hillside, but by the third call the heaven's opened and it started to pour with rain, much to our major disappointment. We couldn't complain it had been another great day.

Monday 26th February :- Our last full day was a gentle affair compared to the previous couple of days and we started with a pre-breakfast visit to Oliva Beach. The off-shore rocks held quite a few Cormorants, Sandwich Terns, Audouin's, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, and on the beach we found a few Sanderling. Passing out to sea we soon saw our first of several Balearic Shearwaters, along with 2 Razorbills, 10+ Gannets, and a steady stream of Crag Martins moving north. After a leisurely cooked breakfast we made our way to Pego Marsh and a walk along the bottom track proved to be a good move, as it gave us a chance to watch the migrating hirundines. The sky was full of Crag Martins and a comment of " there's thousands!" was probably not that far off, and checking through them we found Barn Swallows, House & Sand Martins. Swift species were also seen in small numbers with definitely a few Pallid Swifts and at least 2 Common Swifts but most amazing was finding my earliest ever Red rumped Swallow (by a long way) amongst the throng. Other birds seen in this area included a Yellow Wagtail, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Serins, Robin, Hoopoes, 2 Tree Sparrows, heard only Water Rail, Savi's & Moustached Warblers, plus fantastic views of 4 Penduline Tits feeding on pussy willow. A quick drive round the paddies produced the usual Bluethroat, Meadow Pipits, Jackdaws, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Black Redstart, Cetti's Warbler and Stonechats. Lunchtime was due so we made our way through the impressive Vall de Gallinera and en-route I spied a few birds above the ridge line, which turned out to be a few Red billed Chough. As we were watching these an adult Golden Eagle came into view, which was soon joined by the second adult bird. Over the next five minutes we were treated to these two magnificent aquilas, soaring above us and also sat on the rock face. During lunch we enjoyed better views of about 50+ Red billed Chough, along with Blackcaps, Sardinian Warblers, Serins, Goldfinches and Song Thrush. After lunch we drove up to Alcoy and the Griffon Vulture colony, of which we saw 20+ in the air together. Common Crossbills sang from the power lines and in the pines we found Crested, Long Tailed, & Coal Tits, Short toed Treecreeper, with a Raven, Magpies and a Sparrowhawk around the feeding area.

Tuesday 27th February :- We had a few hours before needing to be at Valencia Airport so we decided to make the short journey to the Denia Headland. En-route we found 4 Monk Parakeets nest building in the palm trees, and at Cabo de San Antoni we found 3 Mediterranean Shags, Sandwich Tern, male Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Black Redstarts, Serins and 2 Ravens. Finally we had a short walk along the Sierra de Montgo which was quiet but we did see 2 Firecrests, Coal & Long tailed Tits, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Southern Grey Shrike and Stonechats. We got back to the airport in good time and said our fond farewells. I had been a great few days and many thanks to Richard & Jane, Albert & Hazel, Michael & Wendy, and John for their great company.


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