Early this month we were privileged to have designed and provided a tailor-made 7-day trip for a fabulous group of birders from the Northern Ireland Ornithologists´Club. This was the forth trip that we´ve provided for members of this club, and we´re always delighted to welcome them back to Valencia. We´d previously designed a plan that would hopefully maximise habitat and species diversity specific to this time of the year.
Their flight arrived late into Alicante airport so we collected the group and drove to the village of Banyeres de Mariola where the guesthouse Alqueria del Pilar would be their base for the next 4 nights.
Day 1 – Coastal Salt Marshes.
Our first day was to be spent exploring the coastal saltmarshes of the Alicante province, which at this time of year hold some very interesting species. After a drive of just under an hour we arrived at our first spot, and stopped to enjoy great views of Slender Billed Gull, Little Tern and Turnstone. We also saw White Winged Black Tern, Whiskered Tern and a huge group of Great Crested Grebe.
We then turned our attention to waders, and enjoyed some good views of Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin and Black Winged Stilt.
Having got the species list off to a good start, we took a brief coffee break before moving to the day´s second site. During a very pleasant picnic lunch we watched Red Rumped Swallows, Skylark, Crested Lark, Green Woodpecker and Whinchat. A Stone Curlew passed low overhead.
After lunch we enjoyed an easy walk around the reserve where we saw what was for many, the bird of the day – a magnificent male Montagu´s Harrier. The surrounding trees and bushes gave good views of Black Redstart, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Turtle Dove.
We then spent some time in a hide from where we saw Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover and Little Stint before visiting a viewing tower where some of the group had fun photgraphing Red Rumped Swallows in flight.
The stroll back to the vehicles gave yet more views of the Montagu´s Harrier as well as Pallid Swift and Cuckoo. We then made the easy journey back to the guesthouse, leaving behind the coast and returning to the peace and tranquility of the Sierra de Mariola.
Day 2 – Wetlands of Alicante.
Our second day took us to one of the region´s premium wetland reserves which often catches some great species, especially during the key migration periods. It also provides great habitat for breeding summer visitors and has enjoyed some significant success stories with conservation work to protect endangered species such as Marbled Teal and Red-knobbed Coot.
Indeed, the day began with views of Marbled Teal, together with Red Crested Pochard and Purple Swamphen. The reed beds gave us some great opportunities to watch and photograph Great Reed Warbler, and the shoreline of the lagoons gave views of Collared Pratincole, Little Tern and Squacco Heron.
A visit to a couple of the reserve´s hides were very rewarding, with good views of Avocet,Glossy Ibis, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Whiskered Tern. We also enjoyed seeing Bee Eaters passing overhead as well as both Iberian Grey Shrike and Woodchat Shrike.
After lunch we made a short drive to some other hides that look out onto some larger lagoons. We were delighted to see White Headed Duck, Black Winged Stilt, Black Tern, Purple Heron and Little Bittern.
Very happy not only with the species list for the day, but with some great photographs that some of the team were able to capture, we (not including the drivers!) enjoyed a cold beer at a local roadside bar before making the trip back to Banyeres de Mariola.
Day 3 – Desert, Scrub and Gorges.
Whilst the previous two days had been about species diversity, day 3 was designed to visit some very specific habitats with the objective of tracking down some very special and unique species. Firstly, we headed for a fascinating area of Mediterranean desert and scrub which is frequented in the breeding season by a small population of Trumpeter Finch. As we drove to the spot where we intended to stop, we enjoyed views of Black Eared Wheatear and Crag Martin.
After a short drive into the gorge, we parked the vehicles and waited patiently, carefully scanning the surrounding area. After a very short time, we were thrilled to see a Trumpeter Finch which landed briefly very close to us before moving into a bush within easy viewing distance. It remained long enough for everyone to enjoy great views. For some of the group, this was a “lifer” which made the moment even more special.
We then celebrated the sighting with a great picnic lunch and some good craic!
In the afternoon, we headed for two more spots…the first to try to see Olivaceous Warbler. This time we were less successful, although we heard its call, we were unable to get a view. However, we did see Black Wheatear very well.
The day wasn´t over yet, so after a brief stop at a local bar we headed for one of our favourite spots in the mountains close to Banyeres de Mariola. We set up the scopes and waited. Soon enough we were enjoying views of Griffon Vulture, Raven and Blue Rock Thrush. Then we saw two raptors circling high overhead. After various successful attempts at getting them in the scopes, and with the help of a few photographs, we made a positive ID as Bonelli´s Eagle. Certainly a great end to a very interesting day!
Day 4 – Steppe.
This morning we were to leave Banyeres de Mariola and head north east to the beautiful Mediterranean city of Valencia, where the group would spend the following three nights. But first, we spent the day exploring the vast steppe area of Castilla de la Mancha that lies less than an hour´s drive from Banyeres.
After a comfortable drive, our first stop was by a small lagoon that we often visit. This gave good views of Great Reed Warbler, Lapwing, Tree Sparrow, Marsh Harrier and Greater Flamingo. We also heard the call of Quail. We then moved a short distance to a spot that we use to scan the surrounding fields. From here we enjoyed views of Lesser Kestrel, Crested Lark and a Golden Eagle!
We then turned our attention to an area of farmland and old barns. This spot gave us views of Rock Sparrow, Corn Bunting, Calandra Lark and Wheatear.
After a very short drive we arrived beside a lagoon surrounded by cereal fields and reed beds. This location proved to be superb today, so much so that we chose to make it our lunch stop! From here we enjoyed great views of White Headed Duck, Ruff, Gull Billed Tern and more distant views of a Hen Harrier.
After a coffee break in a local village we decided to spend the afternoon exploring the high steppe. This was most enjoyable and gave us views of some classic steppe species including Short Toed Lark, more Calandra Lark, the mighty Great Bustard and eventually great views of Little Bustard.
The day was brought to a close with views of Red Legged Partridge and Yellow Wagtail. We then headed for Valencia, where the group stayed in a hotel very close to the famous City of Arts and Science complex.
Day 5 – Valencia´s Coastal Wetlands.
After a long day yesterday, today was a very easy day. A short journey took us to the site of another of the week´s highlight species…the Eagle Owl. After waiting quietly and patiently, we were rewarded with good views of this amazing creature. The Valencia region of Spain is home to a number of pairs who breed successfully each year. Here we also enjoyed great views of Bee Eaters in flight as well as Hoopoe.
We then moved to the coast where we spent the rest of the day at one of Valencia´s best wetland reserves. The visit began with views of Audouin´s Gull, Little Bittern and Zitting Cisticola. The rest of the morning was spent in and around a hide from where we had excellent views of numerous species including Collared Pratincole, Slender Billed Gull and a colony of Little Tern, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern.
By now it was quite hot so we stopped for a cold drink at a local bar. Whilst sitting on the street terrace we enjoyed watching Monk Parakeets that were nesting in a nearby palm tree.
The day ended with a visit to one more spot within the reserve that gave us views of Purple Swamphen and Marsh Harrier. The finale was a fabulous view of a Booted Eagle that circled directly above us.
Day 6 – Mountains of inland Valencia.
Within an hour´s drive of Valencia city is a vast mountanous region that is home to some spectacular wildlife. This was to be our destination for the penultimate day of the trip. Once in the region, we began the day with morning coffee and collected the sandwiches to take with us up into the mountains.
Before we headed for the highest viewing point we made several short stops in the forest. This was delightful and gave views of Melodious Warbler and Golden Oriole and a brief view of a Short Toed Eagle. We then drove up into the higher mountains where we parked the vehicles and established ourselves watching a huge cliff. We enjoyed watching Alpine Swift, Chough, Raven, Peregrine Falcon and Griffon Vulture.
The surrounding pines gave views of Bonelli´s Warbler, Sub-Alpine Warbler and Firecrest. We waited patiently, enjoying lunch in the Spring sunshine, hoping to see today´s target species. Then just after lunch it appeared! One of only a few Egyptian Vultures that visit the Valencia region each year.
Everyone had great views of this amazing bird, both in flight and perched on ledges high on the cliff face. We spent a long time watching and enjoying the Egyptian Vulture before retreating to the lower forests where we had a brief walk and saw Crested Tit and Woodchat Shrike.
A cold beer brought the day to a close, with beautiful views of a Serin singing in a nearby tree.
Day 7 – Albufera de Valencia.
We were quite sad to see the final day of the week as we´d enjoyed being with this group so much. Today was to be spent in the Albufera de Valencia natural park, a huge freshwater lake surrounded by rice fields, reed beds and some excellent reserve areas.
We started the day in one such reserve where we had views of Black Tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Ruff, Meditteranean Gull and Turtle Dove. After a coffee stop we then headed for a very special restricted reserve where we spent the rest of the morning.
This gave us some fabulous sightings of Marbled Teal, Wood Sandpiper and Curlew Sandpiper as well as two rarities – Pectoral Sandpiper and White Rumped Sandpiper. We also saw a White Stork in flight as well as views of huge numbers of the area´s Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets and Glossy Ibis.
Before we had to leave, we had just enough time to stop and see a colony of Night Herons. We then headed to the hotel to collect the luggage and for the group to freshen up before beginning their homeward journey.
We then headed for Alicante airport from where we said fond goodbyes to a fabulous group of people that had made the week a very special one indeed. Great fun, lovely people and amazing birds!
The species list for the week totalled 160 and included…
Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Barn Swallow, Red Rumped Swallow, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, House Martin.
Chough, Crow, Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie, Raven, Bee Eater, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Rock Dove, Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Green Woodpecker, Hoopoe, Iberian Grey Shrike, Monk Parakeet.
Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting, Rock Sparrow, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Serin, Linnet, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Trumpeter Finch, Blackcap, Bonelli´s Warbler, Cetti´s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler (h), Sardinian Warbler, Sedge Warbler (H), Reed Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Coal Tit, Crested Tit, Great Tit, Long Tailed Tit.
Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short Toed Lark, Skylark, Black Eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Wheatear, Blackbird, Blue Rock Thrush, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat, Whinchat, Firecrest, Redstart, Black Redstart, Robin, Short Toed Treecreeper, Spotless Starling.
Audouin’s Gull, Black Headed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Meditteranean Gull, Slender Billed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Black Tern, Common Tern, Gull Billed Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Cormorant.
Avocet, Black Tailed Godwit, Black Winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, White Rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Little Stint, Redshank, Ruff, Snipe, Turnstone, Curlew.
Gadwall, Garganey, Pintail, Mallard, Marbled Duck, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Shelduck, Shoveler, White Headed Duck, Coot, Crested Coot, Black Necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Water Rail (h), Black Stork, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern.
Stone Curlew, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Quail (h), Red Legged Partridge.
Barn Owl, Eagle Owl, Little Owl, Scops Owl (h), Buzzard, Red Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Marsh Harrier, Montagu´s Harrier, Hen Harrier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Golden Eagle, Short Toed Eagle.
Written by Dave Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.