We recently had the privilege of welcoming back an extremely valued friend and client, Nigel from Northern Ireland. A very experienced birder and bird photographer, Nigel had previously visited as part of a group from the Northern Ireland Ornithologists´Club but this time he came alone so we were delighted to design a tailor-made 7 day bird photography trip to fit his wishes and priorities.
Having discussed his preferences, we came up with a good mixture of bird photography in the field plus a few visits to specially designed bird photo-hides, each aimed at specific species. His flight arrived at Alicante quite late so we´d arranged for Yanina to collect him and then to spend the night close to the airport, well placed to visit some of the local saltpans and wetlands the next morning.
During the morning, they enjoyed sightings of Ringed Plover, Sandwich Tern, Black Tailed Godwit, Iberian Grey Shrike and White Headed Duck. There was news of a rarity in the area, an Olive Backed Pipit. First attempts proved fruitless, but with the usual determination, they found it. A great start to the week!
The second night was also spent near Alicante, and the next day they spent the morning at another local reserve area where the key wildfowl species included Shoveler, Pochard, more White Headed Duck and Teal.
The surprise of the day was perhaps the Little Bittern, appearing right on cue as Nigel was asking if we see any in winter!
In the afternoon, they headed north towards Valencia where they spent the rest of the day in a passerine photo-hide. Here, they were able to get some great shots of Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike and Iberian Green Woodpecker. They also got nice shots of Kestrel and Red Legged Partridge. After the short drive back to Valencia, Nigel checked into a small hotel in the historical heart of the city where he was to spend the rest of the week. We work closely with the Adhoc Carmen as it´s ideally located, beautifully restored and offers excellent value.
The next morning, our plan was to visit a photo-hide high in the sierras that are located to the west of Valencia. The objective of the day was to photograph Bonelli´s Eagle. I met Nigel in the city centre, and we made our way inland, stopping at a local farming village for breakfast before taking a 4×4 up into the mountains. The wind was very strong so we were a little concerned. After waiting for two hours, a large shadow suddenly raced across the ground in front of us, startling us into life! The source of the shadow then appeared right before us – the Bonelli´s Eagle! It was soon joined by its mate, both of them spending enough time on a rocky outcrop just in front of the hide to allow us to take plenty of shots. They flew off and made several return visits, extremely special moments indeed, to be able to get so close to this magnificent raptor.
Delighted with the morning´s results we headed back to the valley where we enjoyed a celebratory lunch in the village. The next day was to be spent in another passerine hide in the same locality, so we went to take a look at it before returning to Valencia.
The next morning we made the short journey back up into the hills and after breakfast we established ourselves in the hide. We remained there all morning, surfacing for a break at midday to take lunch before spending the afternoon in another hide that was better positioned for the afternoon sun.
We were blessed with great light conditions, and virtually no wind. During the day we were able to get great shots of many birds including Black Redstart, Blackcap, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Crested Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Sardinian Warbler, Serin, Song Thrush and White Wagtail.
We both agreed that we´d never had so much fun watching what were relatively common birds – being able to spend so much time watching them closely, seeing how the different species behave and interact.
After spending all day sat in hides, we were looking forward to a little exercise, so spent the next day walking around a local wetland site. We decided upon a relaxed approach, simply enjoying being out in the field in the winter sunshine. The morning gave us views of White Headed Duck, Little Grebe, Marsh Harrier and Audouin´s Gull. There was an amusing moment when as Nigel was photographing a Red Crested Pochard, I noticed a Water Rail running past just behind the duck. Upon inspection of the photo, he´d managed to get that too!
As we walked through the reserve, we also had great views of Purple Swamphen, Booted Eagle, Black Winged Stilt, Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark and Crag Martins, a bird that in winter, descends from its mountain habitat to sea level.
The next day involved an early start as we had to be inside a hide before dawn. Today´s target was the mighty Goshawk. We´d both seen this fabulous raptor many times in the past, but usually as it dashes through forests, so the anticipation of seeing it close up was very exciting. Once in the hide, we carefully and silently organised ourselves and sat, waiting. Unlike the Bonelli´s Eagle a few days ago, the Goshawk wasn´t to keep us waiting for long. We heard the call even before dawn, and as soon as the sunlight began to illuminate the forests and fields before us, the Goshawk swooped into view.
We sat speechless, watching this amazing creature feeding right in front of us. During the first 30 minutes, the light was too low to get quality photos, but the bird remained for enough time for this to drastically improve. We took so many photos but also spent time just watching the bird through the binoculars, fascinated by it´s raw beauty and power. When it eventually flew off, low over the pastureland, we we both so stunned by what we´d seen that we had to spend a few moments gathering our thoughts and taking deep breaths before exiting the hide. A very special experience indeed.
As we´d begun the day early, we had plenty of time left, so we opted to make a short drive to a mountain site that we usually watch in Spring. It was good to stretch our legs a little and despite this not being the optimum time of year for this spot, whilst having lunch we enjoyed views of Raven, Griffon Vulture, Black Wheater and Short Toed Treecreeper.
The last day was upon us so both Yanina and I spent the day with Nigel, enjoying the time together before he was to return home. We opted to have a “field” day, visiting various sites in and around the wetland region of Albufera de Valencia. The morning was spent at a couple of special reserve areas where we had good views of Booted Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Greater Flamingo.
Our efforts to find Bluethroat were of limited success, with sightings but not of sufficient length to allow for photography. So, we turned our attention to one of the outstanding target species, the Black Necked Grebe. We were much more fortunate with this and Nigel was able to get some superb shots of what is a very pretty bird, even in its winter plumage. Whilst we were watching the grebes, we also enjoyed views of a Caspian Tern that has spent the past view days here.
The day ended with a brief drive through the rice fields, where we saw Meadow Pipits feeding amongst the stubble, and Glossy Ibis in huge flocks. Then it was time for a farewell coffee before I drove Nigel back to Alicante.
It had been a superb trip, with great birds, diverse habitats and plenty of photographs. For both Yanina and I it had been especially delightful to see Nigel back in Valencia and to work together to provide this trip for him.
Written by David Warrington & Yanina Maggiotto.
Bird Watching Guides at Valencia Birding.