We recently provided a 5-day birding holiday for a group of RSPB members from Northern Ireland. It was made more special by the fact that the leader of the group had previously attended a trip with us and had recommended us to her local group.
We´d worked with Pat to design a tailor-made trip, focussing on habitat diversity, a few special target species and authentic and traditional accommodation. As such, we put together a 2-centre break. They arrived at Alicante airport on an evening flight from Belfast, where we were waiting to welcome them.
After their arrival we made the easy journey up into the rural interior of Alicante Province and to their guest house for the first half of the trip, L´Alqueria del Pilar, a converted farmhouse in the village of Banyeres de Mariola. After a good night´s rest and a leisurely start we began our first day :
Day 1 – Mountains
The first day was designed to include very little travelling, and a walk in the mountains of the Sierra de Mariola Natural Park. The plan for the morning was a circular walk of some 5kms, through high pine forests to the top of a rocky peak. Alpine Accentor was our main target species as for some in the group it would be a “lifer”. The going was quite steep in places but the blue sky and great views of Griffon Vultures in flight made the effort worthwhile.
Cries of “easy day, almost there!” were of course another source of inspiration, as were views of Crossbill, Short Toed Treecreeper and Firecrest.
We soon arrived at the high point where we enjoyed a picnic lunch. Initially there was very little bird movement, other than the soaring Griffon Vultures. Then after a few moments, a small flock of Alpine Accentors approached, giving superb views and great opportunities for photographs.
After lunch we opted for a slightly longer but easier descent route, and along the way had yet more views of Firecrest, and Short Toed Treecreeper. We also saw Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Crested Tit and Serin.
After a coffee break, we spent the afternoon exploring a spectacular gorge where we enjoyed views of another of the day´s target species, the Blue Rock Thrush.
Day 2 – Steppe
Having made a slight change of plan to avoid a cold weather front, we opted to spend day 2 on the high steppe that lies very close to Banyeres de Mariola. After a drive through thick fog, we suddenly emerged into bright sunshine and beautiful views across the fields of this unique area.
Our first stop gave views of Water Pipit by a small lake together with Snipe and Marsh Harrier. Soon after we saw Raven and Buzzard, before stopping at a favourite spot to see Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Although quite distant, with the scopes we all enjoyed good views of this classic steppe species as well as a sizeable herd of Crane.
We made our way onto the higher steppe where we saw Calandra Lark, Skylark and Crested Lark. We also enjoyed views of Little Owl, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Iberian Grey Shrike.
One of the principal target species of the day was Great Bustard. After a few distant views, we were eventually rewarded with numerous sightings of this magnificant creature.
The afternoon provided yet another highlight – excellent views of a Golden Eagle in flight, followed by Sparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon. We´d been blessed with excellent weather today, a real plus in this high and exposed place! Pleased with the day´s sightings we made the trip back to the guesthouse.
Day 3 – Wetlands of Alicante
Today was the day when we were to move our base, from Banyeres de Mariola to a delightful restored guesthouse El Patio de las Cebollas in the historical quarter of the town of Segorbe. Along the way we spent the day birding a few favourite spots within the wetlands of Alicante.
The day was designed to provide sightings of some target species, including Crested Coot, Marbled Duck and White Headed Duck. Our first spot proved to be successful, with views of both the Crested Coot and Marbled Duck.
A short walk through a reserve area also gave views of Shelduck, Red Crested Pochard and Black Necked Grebe. We also saw the year´s first Barn Swallows and House Martins.
The next stop was a site where we´re fortunate to have one of Europe´s largest concentrations of White Headed Duck. We enjoyed good views of this as well as both dark and pale form Booted Eagle.
The final stop of the day gave views of Spoonbill, Turnstone, Greater Flamingo, Black Winged Stilt and Yellow Legged Gull. We then headed north to Segorbe, to be well positioned to visit some excellent sites close to Valencia.
Day 4 – Albufera de Valencia.
Today was going to be spent exploring this extensive Natural Park, including some of its best reserve areas. The first stop gave views of Shelduck, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank. We heard Cetti´s Warbler and enjoyed views of some other common species including Greenfinch, Long Tailed Tit and Chiffchaff.
As we moved on through the rice fields, we had views of Cattle Egret, Great Egret and Glossy Ibis.
The next reserve area gave us great views of Purple Swamphen as well as Bluethroat. We also enjoyed views of many waders, including Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Snipe, Jack Snipe and Avocet.
We then moved on to visit a colony of Night Herons that breed each year in Albufera.
The final stop of the day was the beach where we saw a small flock of Sanderling. On the way through the dunes we also saw Red Legged Partridge and Stonechat.
Day 5 – Coastal Wetlands.
The final day of the trip was designed to include a special highlight for the group. A slight detour from the guesthouse to a closely guarded location gave us excellent views of Eagle Owl!
Having enjoyed views of this amazing bird, we headed for the coastal wetlands of Valencia, stopping along the way to enjoy very close views of Glossy Ibis.
At the wetland, our stroll through the reserve gave us views of Dartford Warbler, Reed Bunting, Zitting Cisticola, Kingfisher and another special bird of this area, Audouin´s Gull. Sadly, time was running out so we couldn´t wait for views of Penduline Tit, and had to be satisfied with only hearing them.
It was time to head to the airport. We´d had a great week and had seen some fabulous birds in great surroundings. For Yanina and I, it had been a pleasure to spend the time with such lovely people and we were both sad to have to say goodbye.
The species list for the 5 days comprised…
Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Common Teal, Marbled Teal, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, White Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Night Heron, Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon,Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Griffon Vulture, Marsh-Harrier, Eurasian Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Little Owl, Eagle Owl, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Red-Knobbed Coot, Purple Swamphen, Crane, Great Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Audouin’s Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Skylark, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Crag Martin, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Bluethroat, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird
Blue Rock Thrush, Blackcap, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Sardinian Warbler, Darford Warbler, Moustached Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrest, Alpine Accentor, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Penduline Tit, Iberian Grey Shrike, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Hawfinch, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Serin, Common Crossbill, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting.
Written by Dave Warrington & Yanina Maggiotto.
Bird Watching Guides at Valencia Birding.