Friday, December 30, 2011

A Christmas Trip to the Valencian Coastal Wetlands.

Following a cool frosty night, the morning dawned bright and by the time we´d arrived at the cafĂ© bar by the beach, the sky was a watery blue, blending almost seamlessly with the Mediterranean horizon.

Today´s guided trip by was provided for an English lady new to birding and was bought for her as a Christmas gift by her husband. During our coffee break by the sea we discussed the day´s target birds and I provided an outline of the habitat of the Valencian Wetlands and the birds that spend the winter months here.

Our first stop by a small lagoon and reedbeds gave good views of Chiffchaffs busily feeding amongst the reeds, plus the day´s first sighting of one of the target birds –Purple Gallinule. This stocky bird with its stunning purple sheen and comically huge feet has done extremely well over the past couple of years and has established breeding grounds throughout the Mediterranean coastal wetlands.

As we walked along the coast we were treated to views of a Dartford Warbler, soon to be followed by another stunning little bird, the Bluethroat. The next lake held Teal and Shoveler, both in good numbers, most of which appeared to be sleeping until startled into activity by the passing of a Marsh Harrier. Further sightings of 3 more Purple Gallinules were enjoyed too.

As we made our way back through the coastal scrub to the next lagoon, we watched numerous pairs of Stonechat, a passing flock of Greenfinch, a Meadow Pipit, Hoopoe and a Kestrel which allowed us to pass very close-by, seemingly at ease with our presence. A pair of Booted Eagles passed high overhead, another superb bird that appears to be doing well in this area.

A lunch break in a hide overlooking a much larger lake gave further views of Teal plus Grey Heron, Kingfisher, Sardinian Warbler and yet more Purple Gallinule. Although not seen, we heard the call of Cetti´s Warbler. A flock of Yellow Legged Gull rested on the water whilst a Little Grebe busily dived for food. Another highlight of the day was enjoyed as we were able to enjoy great views of a Hen Harrier hunting over the reedbeds.

The afternoon sun continued to shine, making the next section of walking through fields and lakeside tracks extremely pleasant. Robins were active in good numbers, Stonechats were in constant attendance, Spotless Starlings passed overhead and the surrounding meadows held good numbers of Lapwing. We enjoyed further views of the pair of Booted Eagles seen earlier. Another special moment was in store when an Iberian Grey Shrike perched just 15 metres from us, giving excellent views of this very smart bird.

As the day drew to a close and we made our way back to the beach, the wind suddenly picked up bringing in dozens of Cormorants and Gulls. As we enjoyed this influx we were treated to another beautiful spectacle as a flock of 20+ Greater Flamingoes flew by, the low afternoon sun illuminating their striking pink plumage.

A fitting end to a very pleasant day. We´d managed to see 33 species in just a few hours. I´d had a great time and very much enjoyed the company of my guest who appeared to be becoming hooked after her first days birding!
David Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide -

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sea watch and Valencia rice fields

Dave and I decided on a morning out to check out Cullera Light House, a rocky outcrop, and see what birds could be seen out at sea. On arrival at the car-park we came across a Black Redstart numerous Chiff Chaff, Stonechat and a Robin. On the beach was a lone Audoins Gull and a Yellow- legged Gull. We set up our scopes and before long had good views of numerous groups of Balearic Shearwater. We estimated 200 plus in 2 hours. Other species included Sanderling, Common Tern and Cormorant. Also among the rocks and undergrowth were 2 Cettis Warblers showing well.

Dave Warrington Valenciabirding

On the way home we came across some flooded rice fields and decided to stop and scan the area. Hundreds of Grey Herons were in residence along with 3 Great White Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets. Other birds seen were Shoveler, Grey Wagtail, Teal, Marsh Harriers, Meadow Pipit and Booted Eagle.

Great White Egret

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Pre-Christmas Trip up onto the Steppe.

One of Dave's important roles as a birding guide is to constantly visit our favoured sites as many times as possible throughout the year. This is essential in order to maintain and develop knowledge of an area and it´s changing characteristics and bird life throughout the seasons. That way, we ensure that our clients are taken to the sites that are “at their best” whenever their visit may take place. That today´s trip meant that we avoided having to go Christmas shopping only seemed to reinforce its value!
Our destination was the vast upland Steppe of Castilla de la Mancha, some 90 minutes’ drive due west from our home base of La Drova.  To make the most of the day we left home at 7am on a dark and windy morning. Having driven through a beautiful day-break we left the main road and headed out across the steppe.

Great Bustard

The morning provided a good omen from the outset as we immediately spotted a group of 23 Great Bustards strutting across the fields just 200 metres from the road. Having parked the van, we left the warm cab to be greeted by a bitterly cold wind that made it feel close to freezing point…welcome to Castilla de la Mancha – it´s not always warm in Spain! Despite this we enjoyed superb views of these majestic birds for over 10 minutes before they took flight across the plains.
Our next stop was a favourite lagoon. This time prepared for the wind, we strategically parked the van so we could use it as a shelter as we set up the scopes! The usual busy flocks of Rock Sparrow were flitting around as were Goldfinch. A lone Fieldfare made a brief appearance, followed closely by a female Black Redstart.
Crested Larks and Lapwings were around in good numbers too. On the shore of the lagoon a Little Ringed Plover scurried around. Scoping across the water revealed Shoveler, Shelduck and Teal. As we stood there, proving that awful instant soup can taste heavenly when out in the freezing cold, a Buzzard passed over and landed in the edge of a nearby field. Then another highlight – a pair of Hen Harriers appeared over the hill and flew characteristically low over the fields, giving superb views. After a while we retreated to the van and headed on to our next lagoon where we watched Teal, Little Grebe, Pochard, and yet more Shelduck and Shoveler. A pair of Yellow Legged Gulls flew by before settling on the water. A flock of Spotless Starlings landed on one of the barns and Skylarks were also around in good numbers.

Cattle Egret

After a welcome coffee break in a village bar we set off across the steppe once more where we made various stops to scan around. We were indeed rewarded by the day´s second view of a flock of Great Bustard, probably the same birds as earlier but nonetheless great to see. Skylarks and Crested Larks were plentiful as were Kestrels. A Little Egret was feeding by the shore of a small pond and was soon joined by a Cattle Egret. A raptor passed over but was too far away to give a positive ID although Booted Eagle was the likelihood.
The third and final lagoon, beside which we sat in the hide gave great views of Kentish Plover, Ruff, Flamingo, Wood Sandpiper and an over-wintering Black Winged Stilt. Scoping across the water gave views of huge numbers of Shelduck, Shoveler and Teal. A Marsh Harrier passed by extremely close over the reeds.
Satisfied with a superb day out we headed back across the plains, making a few more brief stops during which we had super views of Stonechat, Green Woodpecker and Iberian Grey Shrike. As we all know, sometimes you have to brave the weather and put in a little effort, but when you do, the rewards are often fantastic! With some superb views and a species list of 37, today had been such a day.