Monday, September 24, 2012

Albufera de Valencia

On Wednesday 19th September we provided a “tailor made” trip to the natural park of Albufera de Valencia.  The group comprised experienced birders and general nature lovers so the trip was designed to offer something for everyone.  The day began with a visit to a reserve that not only provides a superb habitat but also serves as an open-air laboratory in which a great deal of valuable conservation work takes place. The reserve staff gave a fascinating presentation on the ongoing projects at the reserve and the history of the area. Following that, we spent some time in and around the reserve and immediately were able to enjoy good views of a flock of Spoonbill.


We also had great views of Marsh Harrier, Greater Flamingo, Great White Egret and Purple Gallinule.
We then moved across to the other side of Albufera where we stopped at another reserve and had views of Black Winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and Ruff. We made a brief stop along the way to watch an Iberian Grey Shrike that was perched quite close to the road.

Iberian Grey Shrike

As Albufera de Valencia is the “birth place” of Paella, it seemed appropriate to take a leisurely lunch and to taste Spain´s most famous dish. A local restaurant provided a great meal, with a good selection of local dishes, including meat paella and seafood paella. Having eaten our fill we made our way across the southern area of the park in search of more birds.
As we left the village and made our way across the rice fields, we immediately came across a Booted Eagle followed by further great views of Marsh Harrier. We then spotted quite a large bird perched high on a pylon. Upon setting up the scope it became clear that we were looking at an Osprey, complete with a sizeable fish in its talons. Albufera de Valencia is often used by these iconic birds as a stopping point on their long migration to and from Africa.

Squacco Heron

The rice fields held Black Headed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull and a few Whiskered Terns.  Our day ended with a visit to another small reserve which is developing very well and now is used as a roosting site by Squacco Herons and Little Egrets. Although too early for roosting, we had fantastic views of a Squacco Heron plus an adult Night Heron with two juveniles.

Night Heron

The day had been taken at a relaxed pace and had been great fun. Our species list included…
Black Headed Gull, Black Winged Stilt, Booted Eagle, Cattle Egret, Common Sandpiper, Cormorant, Great Egret, Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, House Sparrow, Iberian Grey Shrike, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Little Egret, Little Ringed Plover, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Night Heron, Osprey, Purple Gallinule, Ruff, Spoonbill, Spotless Starling, Squacco Heron

Written by David Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Birding in Valencia

On Tuesday 18th September, we provided a trip to the Valencian Coastal Wetlands.  After a long and very dry summer, water levels are generally dramatically low throughout the region, although some of the smaller lakes and lagoons do still hold water and therefore birds.
The day got off to a good start as soon as we parked the van, with good views of an Iberian Grey Shrike perched on a wire. The first lake along the usual route normally holds one or two good birds, despite it´s somewhat scruffy appearance. As it was one of the few places with significant water, there was a good selection of species all present in the same place. Within ten minutes of arrival we´d seen Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile White Headed Duck, Purple Gallinule and a Little Bittern.

Curlew Sandpiper

We continued our walk to a larger coastal lagoon where we enjoyed unusually close and prolonged views of Water Rail. We also watched Little Ringed Plover, Black Winged Stilt and a further three White Headed Ducks.

Water Rail

After a pleasant walk along the coast we arrived at another lagoon, whilst although relatively dry held a couple of Avocet, Little Egrets and gave fantastic views of a female Marsh Harrier quartering the adjoining reedbeds.  Further exploration of the wide expanse of reedbeds revealed another Iberian Grey Shrike and Whinchat. By now, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were streaming past in significant numbers on their long journey south.
We enjoyed lunch in a small picnic area under a stand of poplar trees in which we had good views of Pied Flycatcher and a pair of Sub-Alpine Warblers. Our return route took us through fields before passing through further reedbeds. A Kingfisher made a brief appearance followed by an unexpected sighting of a pair of Common Waxbills.

Common Waxbill

Despite the low water levels, we´d seen a good selection of species. Hopefully the autumn rains will materialise soon and the habitat will be restored to its usual state.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Birding on the Steppe & Lagoons of Castilla de la Mancha

Last Friday was one of those days when work really didn´t feel like work.  Despite being a fairly long day, the weather was perfect, the birds were great and the company of my clients for the day was excellent.  Both were scientists who had spent the week at a conference in Valencia and wanted to escape for a days birding.  Tony, a very experienced, accomplished but refreshingly “down to earth” birder had travelled extensively and had a superb knowledge of the birds of Australia in particular.  His own website can be seen at   Jason, a nature lover and birder was also an experienced wildlife photographer.
Having met at their hotel in the city of Valencia, we made the journey west, out of the city and up onto the plains of Castilla de la Mancha. Our first stop was at a vantage point that I usually use as it affords far-ranging views across the steppe.

The plains of Castilla de la Mancha

Within just a few moments we´d seen Skylark and Crested Lark in the fields, Spotless Starlings on some farm buildings and a Buzzard on a pylon. The first of many of the day´s Wheatears sat up on a rock, showing well. Then one of the days highlights – suddenly a small group of sizeable birds took flight from some rocky ground beneath us, flew across the road and settled in a field. The swiftness of their flight and the heat haze were initially confusing, but having focused the scope onto them it was obvious that we were looking at Stone Curlews – a great start to the day.

We then drove across the plains on rough tracks in search of another of the day´s target birds, the Great Bustard. Twenty minutes of searching revealed nothing but Skylarks, Kestrels and Crows so we decided to head for another area, but first stopped off at one of the area´s lagoons.  Scanning the water, we saw a few Greater Flamingoes, Shoveler, Little Grebe and the usual Coots and Grey Herons. House Martins and Barn Swallows were feeding over the water but careful observation picked out a juvenile Red Rumped Swallow in amongst them. A Sparrowhawk appeared from over the hill, and settled in a nearby tree, flushing out a small flock of Spotless Starlings. Enjoying the shade and generally peaceful surroundings, further scanning around revealed a few Little Ringed Plover feeding on the shoreline. We then returned to the van and set out once more across the steppe in search of other local specialities. We´d been on the move for a matter of minutes when a raptor caught our attention. It was obliging enough to circle above us for long enough to allow great views of this superb bird of prey – a Red Kite. The pale grey thin underwing bar and the less forked shape of the tail suggested a young bird.

Red Rumped Swallow
Then it was back to the trails that cross the seemingly endless plains. Something ahead caught our attention – it was indeed a group of male Great Bustards, their sheer size evident, even at fairly long distance. Then yet another highlight, Tony found a Great Spotted Cuckoo perched on a wire. Although it didn´t linger for long enough for us to get the scope on it, its key ID features were clear.
Further searching of the plains revealed yet more Great Bustard, a few passing Crag Martins and we were also treated to good views of an Iberian Grey Shrike. We then stopped at a place of previous sightings of Great Spotted Cuckoo. Although there were none around, we were fortunate enough to enjoy good views of yet more Stone Curlew, the big eye and yellow eye-ring showing really well.

Great Bustards

The final stop of the day was at another of the area´s lagoons, where we saw many more Greater Flamingo, a Common Sandpiper, Black Necked Grebe and Marsh Harrier.  We stopped at a local village to grab a coffee before making the journey back to Valencia. We´d seen some superb birds and had been fortunate to enjoy perfect weather conditions. Thanks to Tony and Jason for a great day out.
The day´s species list comprised…
Barn Swallow, Black Necked Grebe, Black Winged Stilt, Buzzard, Collared Dove, Common Coot, Common Sandpiper, Crag Martin, Crested Lark, Crow, Great Bustard, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Great Tit, Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, House Martin, House Sparrow, Iberian Grey Shrike, Kestrel, Little Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite, Red Rumped Swallow, Shoveler, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Spotless Starling, Stone Curlew, Wheatear.

Written by David Warrington
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Birding on the Steppe.

Following a long, hot and very dry summer a few of us spent last Thursday (6th Sept) up on the steppe of Castilla de la Mancha.
It was clear that the recent prolonged dry conditions had left water levels much lower than usual, and some of the smaller lagoons had dried up completely. This of course meant less birds, but as always with this area, if you put in the effort there are always some interesting species to see.
After a brief road-side stop to watch Crested Lark, Skylark, Hoopoe and Woodchat Shrike, we began at one of the larger lagoons that holds water throughout the year. The Coots were there in good numbers as always but scanning across the water revealed a lone juvenile Shelduck, Black Winged Stilts, Little Grebe and a Greater Flamingo.

Juvenile Greater Flamingo
The shoreline held a few Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper. A little more time spent waiting and watching resulted in good views of Barn Swallow, Red Rumped Swallow, House Martins and Sand Martins. A male Marsh Harrier then appeared and spent a good 15 minutes hunting over the reed beds in front of us.
Patience was rewarded with three great birds in the next five minutes – firstly a Short Toed Eagle passed over, followed by a Honey Buzzard. Whilst we were watching the Honey Buzzard, a pair of Golden Orioles passed by right next to where we were standing.
Satisfied with our first stop, we then headed out across the vast plains in search of the Great Bustard – Europe´s heaviest flying bird.  Having spoken to a few locals we were told that they´d not been seen for a few days. The first 20 minutes of searching gave great views of Wheatear and Booted Eagle but no Bustards. Then out across the plains we spotted them – a group of 6 males. No matter how many times we see these birds, the sight of a Great Bustard strutting across the steppe is always special.

Distant view across the steppe of Great Bustards.
We ended the day with a brief visit to another lagoon where we had good close views of Greater Flamingo and Wood Sandpiper. Scanning across the water with the scope also gave views of Black Necked Grebe and Lesser Black Backed Gull.  Despite the low water levels and far less birds than usual, we´d enjoyed some great views of some interesting species. The steppe is always worth a trip and effort is normally rewarded with some special birds.

Written by David Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mid-Summer Birding

July and August are generally not the best months for birding here in Spain. This summer has been especially hot, even by our standards so we´re all looking forward to the autumn when migration is underway and the weather is much more comfortable. The diary is already filling up so it looks like being a great season.
However, whilst on holiday visiting family in our area in mid August, Nora asked for a day trip to see some typical Mediterranean species. A nature lover and general bird enthusiast, she was happy to see a few special target species rather than to maximise a tick list. With that in mind, and the summer heat, we decided upon a slightly modified “Mountains & Marshes” trip.  We began the day with a couple of hours in a spectacular mountain gorge and although the path was a little steep in places, the cliffs did provide some welcome shade.

Griffon Vultures on their breeding cliffs
We were soon enjoying great views of Griffon Vultues, both in flight and on the high ledges of their breeding cliffs. Closer inspection of the cliffs revealed Crag Martin, Black Redstart, and eventually another of the day´s target species, the Blue Rock Thrush.

Blue Rock Thrush

A little further into the gorge, we had good albeit brief views of Crested Tit and Black Wheatear followed by Black Redstart and Sardinian Warbler.

Griffon Vulture
As we made our way back to the van for welcome cool drinks and sandwiches, a couple of Ravens passed low overhead. Whilst sat enjoying lunch, we were able to put the scope onto Bee Eaters that were perched on wires nearby, their stunningly colourful plumage showing beautifully in the sunlight.
After lunch we made the short journey to a relatively new reserve that comprises a lake and reedbeds whilst being surrounded by high and rocky mountains. As it´s still quite new it needs a little more time to fully develop, although progress can be seen with every visit so it´s always worth the effort to see what´s around. Initially we had good views of a family of Great Crested Grebes. Swallows and House Martins were swooping over the reeds and a Little Egret passed by.

Then, things became much more interesting and to my surprise, a Little Bittern flew up from the reeds and settled quite close to the hide. Then, as we were watching a group of Common Swifts, a much paler bird caught my eye – a Pallid Swift. That would have been good enough, but they were soon joined by four Alpine Swifts. These surprisingly large birds breed on the high mountain cliffs close to the reserve but it was fantastic to see them feeding at such close proximity.
A disturbance in the reeds took our attention. As we watched and waited, a Purple Gallinule steadily made its way into a clearing, a first for me at this site.
Despite my reservations about birding on such a hot day, we´d chose the sites carefully and had been rewarded with some great views of some iconic southern European species.

Written by David Warrington.
Bird Watching Guide at Valencia Birding.