La Safor Birders are a small group of Birdwatchers based in the mountain village of La Drova in the La Safor region of the Valencian Community. The key members have a long experience of birding both here in Spain, the UK and elsewhere. The purpose of the blog is to provide a forum for recording species seen throughout the year in La Drova whilst also acting as a base upon which to record specific birding trips throughout our local area.
Last month I was privileged to be invited to speak at the First Congress on Nature Tourism in Valencia.
The aim of the congress was to gather the various public and private sector entities that are involved in Nature Tourism in the Valencian Community and to share experiences as well as to discuss how we can promote this fabulous area.
The Valencian Community (Comumidad de Valencia) comprises 3 provinces – Castellon, Valencian and Alicante.
It is relatively well known as a holiday destination but largely for the beaches of the Costa Blanca and the avant-garde city of Valencia.
What relatively few people are aware of are the stunningly rich natural environments and bird life of the region.
Many of my clients are truly amazed by habitat diversity, the vast wild spaces and the wildlife that thrives here.
The Valencian Community is home to no less than 21 Natural Parks. These areas of special scientific interest and / or outstanding natural beauty are officially designated and protected by law and include some of Europe´s most important habitats.
One of Valencia´s many coastal wetland sites
They include mountains in excess of 1800 metres (5900 ft) above sea level, vast areas of rolling forested hills, deep river canyons, coastal wetlands, marshes and ancient forests.
The peak of Penyagolosa (1813m)
Clearly, such a diverse habitat range not only provides breeding or wintering grounds for a huge number of bird species, but the geographical location of the Valencian Community places it right on a major flyway for migrating birds in both the spring and autumn passages.
Sunset over Albufera de Valencia (P.Gudgeon)
The current year-round list for the Valencian Community stands at around 400 species.
To detail the most important species is a difficult task, as quite simply, they´re all important!
However, during the past four years, I have listened to my clients and a trend has developed in terms of the species that they most enjoy whilst bird watching in Valencia.
Squacco Heron photographed near Valencia. Image kindly provided by Stacey Bergman
During spring and early summer, the coastal wetland areas provides vital breeding areas for species such as Collared Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, Purple Swamphen, Great Reed Warbler and Montagu´s Harrier. Aquatic species include Squacco Heron, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Bittern, Little Bittern, Great Egret and the ever popular Greater Flamingo.
The more mountainous areas provide nesting habitat for Eagles, including Short-Toed, Golden, Bonelli´s, Booted as well as species such as Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and Alpine Swift.
The forested hills and river valleys provide home to breeding populations of Golden Oriole, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Red Rumped Swallow, Melodious Warbler, Crested Tit, Dartford Warbler, Wryneck and another “favourite”, the Bee-Eater.
The region is equally important for wildfowl and depending on the season, we´re fortunate enough to watch White-Headed Duck, Red-Crested Pochard, Garganey, Pintail and Marbled Teal.
The upland “steppe” areas provide home to Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Black-Bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse Crested Lark and Calandra Lark.
In the winter months, not only do we see huge influxes of wildfowl to our wetland areas, but we´re especially fortunate to have wintering habitat for two very special birds that are always popular with clients…the Bluethroat and the Alpine Accentor.
All of this, combined with an extremely rich culture and history, superb gastronomy, and easy access to the region´s two airports (Valencia and Alicante) make the Valencian Community a fascinating birding destination. Many of my clients enjoy the diversity of a city break in Valencia combined with a few days of guided birding in areas that are exceptionally close-by.
The historic quarter of the city of Valencia
Others opt for a rural base, and enjoy the tranqulity, wild spaces and the culture and history of the region´s ancient villages. Some of my clients understandably want to enjoy both, and as such we work together to design a bespoke twin-centre holiday that combines city, countryside and some fabulous birding days.
The high mountain village of Morella in Castellon Province
I hope that this article has been of interest, and has at least helped to raise awareness of what I believe to be one of Europe´s best birding destinations. That we can combine such diverse habitat and birdlife with the cultural and historical riches of the region is of huge value to the visitor. For more information, or to discuss the possibilities of designing a bespoke trip, please feel free to contact us.
Mid October was a strange time in Valencia this year. It was as if autumn had not yet decided to show itself and summer was still well underway. Some of our species that are “officially” summer visitors were still here, although today´s trip was blessed with great views of passage migrants.
Albufera de Valencia
Valencia´s location, right on the east coast flyway, coupled with its extensive wetlands make it a perfect spot for passage migrants to stop, feed and rest on their autumn voyage to the south. Today was no exception, and we were privileged to have great views of an Osprey that has been enjoying a short stay in Valencia for the past week!
Ospreys often stop at Albufera de Valencia during their Spring and Autumn migration
Today´s client Judy was a keen birder from the USA and was also enjoying a short stay in Valencia as part of a wider European trip. She was keen to spend a day birding from Valencia, particularly to see some of the wetland species. We began our day scanning the rice fields and canals of Albufera de Valencia, where we had views of Kingfisher, Snipe, Common Tern, Cattle Egret and Little Egret.
Glossy Ibis and Little Egret
Swallows and House Martins were passing through in huge numbers, and interestingly, “our” Spotless Starlings had been joined by small flocks of visiting Common Starlings from the north.
We then moved on to one of the areas protected reserves where we had close views of Black-Winged Stilt, Fan-Tailed Warbler, Grey Wagtail, Shoveler and Skylark.
We made a brief stop to enjoy fabulous views of a flock of Glossy Ibis, and also saw Lesser Black Backed Gulls and yet more Cattle Egrets.
After a brief lunch stop we spent the afternoon walking around another coastal wetland area where we were treated to super views of Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Flamingo and Black Necked Grebe.
Perhaps the visiting Osprey had been the highlight of the day but to spend the day with someone with such interest and passion for birding had indeed been a pleasure for me.
The day´s species list included :
Swallow, House Martin, Spotless Starling, Starling, Kingfisher, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Fan Tailed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Skylark, Shoveler, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Little Grebe, Black Necked Grebe, Purple Swamphen, Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Winged Stilt, Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, Black Headed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Cormorant, Common Tern, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Kestrel.
Last week, I was very happy to welcome back a small group of returning clients from Scotland. They had previously been on a guided birding trip with me when we explored the wetlands of Valencia, but this time they were keen to see the upland birds of Spain. Therefore, the Steppe and Lagoons of Castilla de la Mancha seemed to be the ideal trip.
Having met at a convenient village in the rolling hills of inland Valencia, we continued the journey up onto the plains of Castilla de la Mancha (just over an hour´s drive from Valencia).
Steppe of Castilla de la Mancha
As we made our first stop to scan across the fields, we had good views of Crested Lark and Skylark. A Buzzard was perched nearby then a Hoopoe made a brief appearance.
The first lagoon of the day provided a very interesting hour or so. In amongst a flock of Lapwing on the shoreline, we spotted Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and a Redshank. A small group of Flamingoes were feeding in the shallows, and flocks of Linnets were passing through the nearby pines. As we scanned some ruined farm buildings, we had a good view of a Rock Sparrow.
Little Ringed Plover
After a coffee break in a small farming village, we made our way up onto the higher steppe. We had good views of Red-Legged Partridge and a Southern Grey Shrike. We also spotted a Little Owl sat atop a pile of rocks, before making its swopping flight into a tree.
We were hoping for Great Bustard but as yet we´d not found any. Our next stop was another lagoon, this time giving views of Marsh Harrier and Black-Necked Grebe.
Southern Grey Shrike
The final leg of our journey was across some of the high plains and cereal fields. Skylarks and Crested Larks were around in good numbers, and we also enjoyed views of a Green Woodpecker in a small stand of trees. We were then we finally blessed with good and relatively close views of a group of Great Bustards. It´s amazing how such a huge bird can blend into its surroundings. We very quietly stopped the van before making ourselves inconspicuous to get some great views of these exceptionally noble creatures.
It was a fitting end to a very enjoyable day. The species list for the trip included :
Magpie, Crow, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Linnet, Crested Lark, Skylark, Wheatear, House Martin, Swallow, White Wagtail, Spotless Starling, Green Woodpecker, Hoopoe, Buzzard, Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrike, Little Owl, Marsh Harrier, Lapwing, Ruff, Greater Flamingo, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Black-Necked Grebe, Red-Legged Partridge, Mallard, Coot, Great Bustard.
Last week I had the pleasure of providing a couple of days of guided bird watching for a client from UK. He was staying close to the town of Xativa, a short drive from Valencia and had previously contacted me to arrange two specific trips.
His choice for the first of his 2 day birding trip in Spain was a day on the high steppe and plains of Castilla de la Mancha.
A very keen and experienced birder, he was eager to see the species that this very special environment holds, especially the Great Bustard. He was accompanied by his wife on our first day, also a knowledgable birder and nature lover.
After the obligatory morning coffee, we headed out across the plains and made our first stop to scan this vast area. The first sighting was of a Hoopoe and a small flock of Crested Lark. As yet…no Great Bustard!
The plains of Castilla de la Mancha
We then travelled to one of my favourite lagoons of this area, and opted for a lengthy stay here as it´s a spot where patience is often rewarded. Upon scanning the water, we enjoyed views of Black Necked Grebe, Teal, White Headed Duck and Greater Flamingo. The shoreline held Ruff, Black Winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover and Little Stint, and also gave a brief view of Water Rail.
Black Necked Grebe
We then turned our attention to the tall pines on the edge of the lagoon and were rewarded with good views of a Melodious Warbler. As we watched the mixed flocks of Swallows, House Martins and Swifts that were passing through on migration, we were fortunate to pick out a few Alpine Swifts.
After lunch we spent the afternoon on the high steppe. The first thing to catch our attention was a sizeable flock of Lesser Kestrels that were slowly moving from pylon to pylon, and perching for enough time to give us some great views. Whilst watching these graceful little falcons, we also had a view of an Iberian Grey Shrike.
Iberian Grey Shrike
As we moved higher onto the steppe, we stopped at another of my favoured spots where we were fortunate to see Stone Curlew and a Black Bellied Sandgrouse.
As our day drew to a close, we´d still not seen the day´s main target, the Great Bustard. Despite taking a detour and scanning the steppe, still no luck. However, we were satisfied with some great views of some superb species, so headed for home.
Then, just a couple of kilometres prior to joining the motorway something caught our attention. We pulled off the road, took out the scopes and focussed in on a group of male Great Bustards! What a magnificent end to a great day. We celebrated with a coffee before making the journey back to Valencia.
The choice of venue for the second day was Albufera de Valencia. This wetland of significant importance is home to some of Valencia´s best nature reserves. We were fortunate to spend the morning in one such reserve where the staff treated us to a very special visit. First, we walked through the reserve, looking out over the reedbeds and lagoons which gave views of Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Great Crested Grebe and Gadwall. We also had views of an Osprey on passage.
We were then accompanied to a highly protected area of the reserve where we had views of Marsh Harrier and a passing Honey Buzzard. The reserve staff were manning a ringing station and had Reed Warbler and Bluethroat in the mist nets. We had been told of a rarity that had been spotted that morning, a Citrine Wagtail. After a few moments, a little patience and some good fortune gave us views of this delicately marked wagtail.
Glossy Ibis and Little Egret
After lunch we made a brief visit to a spot that often gives good views of Glossy Ibis, Squacco Herons, and Black Tailed Godwit. Today was no exception. These were also joined by Cattle Egret, Purple Heron and Common Sandpiper. We ended the day at a small protected reserve where we enjoyed some great waders including Temminck´s Stint, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper.
It had been a pleasure to spend a couple of days with such an enthusiastic birder, and to provide something bespoke for him.
The species list for the two days included :
Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Marsh Harrier,Iberian Grey Shrike, Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Swift, Alpine Swift, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Magpie, Crow, Wood Pigeon, Kingfisher, Citrine Wagtail, Spotless Starling, Hoopoe, Great Tit, Crested Lark, Skylark, Melodious Warbler, House Sparrow, Stone Curlew, Black Bellied Sandgrouse, Great Bustard, Greater Flamingo, Black Winged Stilt, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Temminck´s Stint, Water Rail, Glossy Ibis, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black Tailed Godwit, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black Necked Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, White Headed Duck, Shoveler, Cormorant, Audouin´s gull, Black Headed Gull, Yellow Legged Gull, Gull Billed Tern, Common Tern, Whiskered Tern, Little Tern
Last week I was especially privileged to be invited to take part in a raptor release programme. The day was organised by an animal recuperation centre based within Albufera de Valencia. We are fortunate enough to enjoy a diverse range of birds of prey in Spain, owing to it´s geography, topography, habitat and ecosystems. As well as the many breeding species here in Valencia, many raptors pass through our region whilst on migration.
Kestrels ready to be released
The animal recuperation centre in Albufera does an incredible job of rescuing, treating and releasing hundreds of injured or sick birds each year and has a team of dedicated raptor specialists. Today was in important day as there were a good number of fully recovered raptors that were ready for release.
To give them the best chance of survival, we drove into the inland of Valencia to an area of forested highlands, ideal for birds of prey to hunt, rest and regain their optimum fitness levels.
The moment of release for a fully recovered Kestrel
The first birds to be released were Kestrels, all of which had been taken to the centre having been found injured or having fallen from their nests as chicks.
I was fortunate enough to release one of the Kestrels
Lurdes and I were fortunate enough to release a couple of these beautiful creatures ourselves. It was a great feeling to see them take flight and rediscover their natural World.
A male Kestrel about to be released
The next species to be released was a mighty Eagle Owl. This magnificent creature breeds in some of the mountainous regions of rural Valencia and is always a very special sight, but to see this animal at such close quarters is stunning.
The magnificent Eagle Owl
Then it was the turn of one of my favourite Spanish raptors, the Booted Eagle. This is a bird that we often see on our trips, and one that always delights.
A Booted Eagle about to be released
The moment of release for the Booted Eagle
Once these birds had taken flight, a Honey Buzzard was released. This is a raptor that we often see on migration through Valencia, and we´d enjoyed good views of one just the previous week whilst with clients at Albufera. The big yellow eyes are remarkable even when viewed through binoculars but now that we were right next to the bird, they were especially piercing.
Once the Honey Buzzard had soared out of sight, it was the turn of a Red Kite, followed by one of our most beautifully coloured birds of prey, the Short Toed Eagle.
We enjoy great views of these magnificent raptors each year in Valencia as they hunt for their preferred prey, snakes and larger lizards.
Short Toed Eagle
The day was brought to a close with the release of another Eagle Owl. It´s huge orange eyes and “ear” tufts add to the visual impact of this iconic face.
The stunning face of the mighty Eagle Owl
To see these amazing creatures take flight and to take part in the day was an unforgetable experience.
A very special moment – the release of an Eagle Owl
In September Dave spent a wonderful day with two great clients from his native Yorkshire. There were on a journey through France and Spain and wanted a day of guided wildlife and bird watching in Valencia. Not only keen birders, they were also particularly interested in ecology and natural history in general. Dave designed a trip with this in mind, hoping to provide a bespoke day.
After a short drive from their hotel in the city of Valencia, we stopped for a morning coffee and discussed plans for the day, before heading to one of Albufera´s best nature reserves. We walked through the reserve where we enjoyed views of Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Snipe, Little Bittern and Marsh Harrier. The lagoons held Greater Flamingo, Great Egret, Purple Swamphen and Shoveler.
Upon scanning some nearby pylons, we were fortunate to see not only an Iberian Grey Shrike but also an Osprey. This area is regularly used by Ospreys as a stopping-off and feeding point on their migration to and from their wintering grounds in Africa.
We were then treated to a fascinating presentation by the reserve staff, which focussed on the history and ecology of the area, and also gave an insight into the ongoing efforts to promote conservation and specifically to improve the water quality of the Albufera. After the presentation, we were fortunate to watch the release of a young Garganey that had been rescued by the reserve staff the previous week and had been cared for at a local wildlife rescue centre.
We then enjoyed a picnic lunch by one of Albufera´s many canals before heading to the day´s final area. A short drive through the rice fields took us to one of the park´s lesser known areas where we were treated to great views of Collared Pratincole, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Black-Tailed Godwit and Audouin´s Gull. We finished the day with a talk on the rice growing cycle and how that influences habitat for Albufera´s bird life before returning to the city of Valencia.
Glossy Ibis and Little Egret
The species list for the day included :
Black-Winged Stilt, Redshank, Ruff, Little-Ringed Plover, Black-Tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Collared Pratincole, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Greater Flamingo, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Coot, Mallard, Shoveler, Garganey, Yellow-Legged Gull, Audouin´s Gull, Cormorant, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Whiskered Tern, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Kingfisher, Fan-Tailed Warbler, Kestrel, Iberian Grey Shrike, Marsh Harrier, Osprey.