As birding guides, we are especially privileged to spend a lot of our time with clients in the region´s top birding sites and reserves. However, as birders it´s often of great value and interest for us just to spend a little time exploring the bird life that we have quite literally, on our doorstep. This can include urban, sub-urban, agricultural and even industrial environments.
One day last week, I had just a couple of free hours in the morning so decided to take a walk along the side of a local canal. The Barranco de Carraixet has its source in the mountains of the nearby Sierra de Calderona, and heads South-East eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea next to the small town of Alboraya, just to the north of the city of Valencia. I walked the last couple of kilometres from Alboraya to the coast, returning by the same path. Although the barranco has benefitted from some excellent conservation work by local ONGs, it does not immediately strike you as a potential birding spot. However, I was in for a surprise…actually quite a few surprises!
Along the course that I walked, its southern side is mainly covered by an industrial estate. The land on its northern side is largely agricultural, an area locally known as “la huerta”. As the canal enters the sea, it passes firstly under a dual carriageway and and then flows beside a retail park. This area is of some cultural interest, being exceptionally fertile land that is farmed right up to the city limits of Valencia. Once a rural region, it is now bordered by the city. But somehow it seems to staunchly retain its rural, agricultural identity. It´s also the area where the tiger nut sedge, or chufa is grown. This small tuber when blended with water, lemon, cinnamon and sugar produces the traditional Valencian drink “horchata”.
As I began my walk, I looked under the road bridge that takes traffic in and out of Alboraya. I immediately saw a variety of common species including Moorhen, Common Coot, a Little Egret and a small group of Black Headed Gulls. I stopped for a while, enjoying these often overlooked species, when a Purple Swamphen suddenly walked into view. During the last decade, the population of this species has enjoyed yearly growth in the Valencia region.
I walked a little further along the path, listening to the song of Cetti´s Warbler, the soundtrack of almost all Valencian wetlands. I turned my attention to an area of reeds where a large flock of Common Starlings were gathered. Many of these northern European birds fly south in the winter months to join their Iberian cousin the Spotless Starling. They often form mixed flocks.
I stopped once more, sitting and scanning the reeds attentively. As I was thinking that this would be a likely spot for Kingfisher, one immediately flew past. Then, movement in the reeds caught my attention, so I patiently looked for signs of life. After just a few moments I was treated to fabulous views of Penduline Tit! They were soon joined by Chiffchaffs, feeding on insects in the reeds. A Zitting Cisticola flew past, before diving into the reed bed.
More than happy with the views so far, I strolled further down the path keeping an eye open for movement in the reeds and aquatic vegetation. What struck me was the cleanliness of the water and the quantity of fish, no doubt accounting for the Grey Herons that were stood at regular intervals along the water´s edge. I then saw a Little Grebe diving for food, clearly not wanting to be photographed! As I tried unsuccessfully to get a shot, another movement caught my attention…the second surprise of the day – a Water Rail. Although a brief glimpse, the long red bill and barring on the flanks were immediately clear.
I soon reached the end of the canal where it flows into the sea. Despite a lot of human activity – cyclists, dog walkers, passing traffic and the noise from the adjacent DIY store, there were Cormorants stood on the waste barrier drying their wings. A White Wagtail was perched on a fence post and a Stonechat atop a nearby bush.
A little short of time I made my return, walking back along the same track. This time I paid more attention to the surrounding farmland. A flock, or charm of Goldfinches was constantly moving between the reeds in the canal and a stand of trees by the fields. Another flock of birds flew by, a closer look revealing them to be Skylarks. Following them took my eye to a low bush by a ruined building. A flock of Sparrows were sitting quite still. I always check Sparrows carefully and today this rewarded my attention with great views of Tree Sparrows.
Once back at the road I checked the pylons. One held a flock of Spotless Starlings, whilst a female Kestrel perched on another. I crossed the road bridge and returned to my car, again quite surprised to see a Greylag Goose on the water under the bridge. I´d only had a couple of hours but they´d been extremely well spent. Taking a little time to enjoy the more common species that live alongside us is always of value. And as today proved, with a little patience, the day can often hold a few surprises.
The species list for this two hour stroll included…
Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Spotless Starling, Black Headed Gull, Greylag Goose, Purple Swamphen, Common Starling, Goldfinch, Penduline Tit, Zitting Cisticola, Serin, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Cormorant, Magpie, Great Tit, White Wagtail, Little Grebe, Water Rail, Kingfisher, Stonechat, Grey Wagtail, House Sparrow, Blackbird, Skylark, Tree Sparrow, Kestrel.
Written by Dave Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.