Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Valencian Short Break

26th - 30th April 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Saturday 26th April :- I met Hugh at the airport on time and with a few hours of daylight left we drove the short distance to Moro Marsh, this amazing wetland is set between a local beach resort and an industrial port area to the north of Valencia. We started at the north end seeing Turtle Doves and possibly a sick Gannet just off shore as we drove along the beach, at the first lagoon we found the breeding colonies of Collared Pratincoles, Whiskered, Common & Little Terns all giving exceptional views. Also here we found a few Bee-eaters, Black winged Stilts, Kentish Plovers, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Zitting Cisticola, a Willow Warbler and a Great Reed Warbler. We found a few Purple Herons flying north then Hugh saw four other birds with them which he quickly identified as Glossy Ibis, this was closely followed by a single Great White & Little Egrets. We returned along the beach stopping at the observation platform for a while and on the main lagoon there were Mallards, Red Crested & Common Pochard, Little Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Moorhens and our first Little Bittern of the evening. A quick check of the Mediterranean Sea was fruitful as we saw 3 Arctic Skuas chasing the offshore Common & Whiskered Terns, plus some more Audouin's & Yellow legged Gulls. The evening was wearing on and it was time to make our way back to Oliva after a short look at one more lagoon. Here we found a Squacco Heron, 2 Little Bitterns sat out in the open, Little & Cattle Egrets, Purple & Grey Herons, plus 100's of Common Swifts, Barn Swallows and a Kestrel. It had been a great start to our Valencian Short Break.  

Sunday 27th April :- It was a fairly slow start today for Hugh and me and after a good breakfast we set off towards Denia and on the way I stopped so we could look at the Monk Parakeets that are breeding there. Soon afterwards we arrived at the headland of Cabo de San Antoni, the weather was fine but there was now a stiff breeze which made viewing difficult at times. We spent some time watching the colony of Pallid Swifts going in and out of their breeding crevices along with a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes, Sardinian Warblers, 10 Gannets, Audouin's & Yellow legged Gulls. A walk around the headland was quiet with very few migrants but we did find a Shag, a few Willow Warblers and another pair of Blue Rock Thrushes. As we drove off the headland we stopped at some pines where we got fantastic views of Firecrests plus Long tailed & Great Tits, Willow Warbler and a few Bee-eaters. After lunch, we visited Pego Marsh for the where things were initially quiet but improved as it started to cool down in the late afternoon. During the time we were there we saw Little Grebes, Cormorant, Grey, Purple & Squacco Herons, Little & Cattle Egrets, Mallard, Red Crested Pochards, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhens, Black winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plovers, Redshank, Greenshank, Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Audouin's, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Gull billed & Whiskered Terns, Woodpigeons, Turtle & Collared Doves, Common Swifts, Bee-eaters, Hoopoe, Sand & House Martins, Swallows, White & Yellow Wagtails, Zitting Cisticolas, Great Reed, Sardinian, Willow & Melodious Warblers, Nightingale, Whinchats, Stonechats, Northern Wheatears, Great Tit, a Southern Grey & Woodchat Shrikes, Jackdaws, Tree & House Sparrows, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Serins.

Monday 28th April :- Hugh's third day and we were also being joined by Howard Broughton, Ken & Marion Hall who were all over on holiday. We started at Pego Marsh at the north end of the reedbed, which produced singing Savi’s (not seen), Moustached, Eurasian Reed & Great Reed Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas, Black winged Stilts, Marsh Harrier, Purple & Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Yellow & White Wagtails. Next we went for a good walk around the paddies and the allotment area at the north end. In the flooded fields we found Squacco, Purple & Grey Herons, cracking views of Little Bitterns, Gull billed & Whiskered Terns, egrets, 20+ Wood Sandpipers, Ringed & Little Ringed Plovers, Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, Audouin's, Yellow legged & Black headed Gulls, Kingfisher, Hoopoes, Jackdaws, White & Yellow Wagtails, Sand & House Martins, Tree & House Sparrows. The walk around the vegetated hillside and allotments produced another set of species, which included 2 Short toed Eagles, Kestrel, Woodpigeon, Bee-eaters, Crested Larks, Blackbirds, Zitting Cisticolas, Sardinian Warbler, Nightingale sat out singing on an overhead wire, Whinchats, Woodchat Shrike, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Serins. It was now nearly lunchtime, so we drove up into the picturesque Val de Gallinera and a stop near La Carroja produced brief views of an adult Golden Eagle, and a singing Golden Oriole, which unfortunately didn't show itself. Lunch was taken (as usual) outside in the warm sunshine during which we saw 10+ Red billed Choughs, a few Bee-eaters, a couple of Alpine Swifts (found by Hugh) and 100's of Common Swifts. After lunch we continued inland but things were quiet, however we did add Grey Wagtail and Crag Martin to our list en-route to the vulture feeding station high above Alcoy. Here (as normal) we got terrific views of 30+ Griffon Vultures, Black Kite, Ravens and Magpies plus the pine woods we found Iberian Green Woodpecker, Long tailed & Coal Tits, Short toed Treecreeper and a Black Redstart was seen by Howard. Now late afternoon we returned back down the Val de Gallinera making a couple of quick stops on the way to Oliva finding a Wryneck in a dead tree, more Nightingales, Kingfisher and 'heard only' Cuckoo and Cetti's Warblers. I took Ken & Marian back to where they were staying, then Hugh and Howard to my guesthouse with a plan to go that night for nightjars; so later a slow drive around some local tracks was very successful as we got wonderful views of 6 Red necked Nightjars sat on the warm earth and flying around.

Tuesday 29th April :- An early start saw Hugh, Howard and myself driving inland to the Albacete Plains, west of Bonete. En-route we found a Little Owl sat on an overhead wire along with the usual Magpies and Crested Larks. Surrounded by the deep oranges and greens of the agricultural fields we made our first stops on the road to Corral Rubio, which produced several Stone Curlews, 3 Great & 2 Little Bustards displaying from the emerging wheat, 4 Black bellied Sandgrouse flew overhead making their distinctive call, plus several Calandra Larks, Black Kite, Common Buzzards, Kestrels, Corn Buntings, Red legged Partridges, Linnets, Hoopoes, a Quail called deep from cover, some Bee-eaters flew over and a Southern Grey Shrike, what a good start. Beyond Corral Rubio we followed the farm tracks and our luck was definitely in as we saw a Great Spotted Cuckoo fly into a nearby tree, Hugh found 4 more Black bellied Sandgrouse flying in the distance and Howard found a cracking Short toed Eagle sat in a field. We also saw an interesting female Montagu’s Harrier, Rock & Tree Sparrows, a couple of Short toed Larks with the Calandra & Crested Larks, Northern Wheatears, Whinchats, Lapwings, and surprisingly a few Lesser Kestrels hawking insects over the plains, not an easy bird to find in this area. It was now lunchtime so visited my usual bodega, which is like stepping back in time to the ‘Old Wild West’ and they make the best Bacon Sandwiches this side of the Ebro!. After lunch it was getting quite hot outside and the birds were quietening down so we visited the nearby Petrola Lagoon where we found 2 Marsh Harriers, another Black Kite, Avocets, Black winged Stilts, Common Sandpipers, Kentish Plovers, Shelducks, Gadwall, Red Crested Pochards and Spanish Yellow Wagtails. We returned to Corral Rubio in the hope of finding more Great Bustards, which we did but the small flock were a long way off and the heat haze was shocking. So we made one last effort near Higueruela and managed to find a few Great Bustards fairly close to the track and got good views as they moved away. Satisfied with our haul we returned to Bonete where we said our “goodbyes” to Howard who was continuing north to stay with some family for a few days.

Wednesday 30th April :- This was Hugh’s final day and as he had an evening flight it gave us a chance to birdwatch all day. Our first stop was at the pine clad mountain of Maigmo and an easy stroll through the woods produced several Crossbills, Woodlarks, Jay, Crested, Coal & Great Tits, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Serins. We left here and made our way to the mountain village of Tibi before dropping into the valley of Monnegre and within minutes of entering the valley we had seen a male Black eared Wheatear, Stonechat, Red legged Partridge and Raven. We dropped down to our usual parking area and on the wires sang another Black eared Wheatear, which was quickly followed by a Dartford Warbler and a pair of Rock Sparrows. Then a very distinctive call alerted me to our main target and sure enough in flies a male Trumpeter Finch followed by a female & 2 young affording fantastic views as they fed amongst the esparto grass. They departed back down the barranco so we explored a bit more of the area finding our first Black Wheatear of the trip. Very pleased we continued slowly down the valley towards Alicante, on the way finding a pair of Red rumped Swallows, Woodchat Shrike, Bee- eaters and a male Blue Rock Thrush. It was now time to go to our lunch stop at the well known Finca Bonelli’s Eagle with Colin and Jane, unfortunately a closed road caused a bit of confusion but eventually we were winding our way up to their lovely accommodation, but before we got there Hugh spied an adult Bonelli’s Eagle above the ridge, which was soon joined by it’s mate. At the finca we settled down with a cool drink followed by the usual excellent lunch during which we watched the adult and also one (almost grown) juvenile Bonelli's Eagle at the nest. Other birds were seen during the time we were there including Thekla Larks, Alpine & Common Swifts, Crag Martins, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Black Wheatears and a Kestrel. We left the mountains and returned to Crevillente then on to the excellent reserve of El Hondo, which unfortunately is currently closed to the public due to a landowner/water authority dispute. We only had time for a few short stops in this area but did very well finding 2 Rollers, 3 Montagu’s Harriers, 50+ Collared Pratincoles, Purple Heron, White headed Duck, Common Pochard and Great Crested Grebes. Next we drove the short distance to the salinas and at Bonmati, were we found 50+ Slender billed Gulls, Greater Flamingo’s, Little Stint, Kentish Plover and Avocets. Then a little further on the N332 a stop at the lay-by produced a good selection of waders including 10+ Curlew Sandpipers (some in breeding plumage), Dunlin, Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Common Redshank, Black winged Stilts, plus Little, Common & Whiskered Terns, Yellow legged Gulls, Squacco Heron, Coot, Red Crested Pochard, Mallard and Yellow Wagtails. Time was going on and our last stop before the airport was the excellent Clot de Galvany. A good walk around this prime site produced great views of 3 White headed Ducks, Little Grebes, Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Little Owls, a female Pied Flycatcher, Linnets, Turtle Doves, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Finally, I drove Hugh to the airport thus completing his short break where we managed to see a total of 130+ species again highlighting the potential of this underwatched area.


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