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Sunday, 19 September 2010

VALENCIA September 9th-12th

September 9th- afternoon

Arrived at my aunts and uncles place, Sue and John late morning on Thursday after flying from Stanstead to Valencia with Ryanair, cost was £168.00, returning on Monday 13th.I am very lucky that I have 3 sets of uncles and aunts all with great properties, with pools within ½ a mile of each other on the outskirts of a village called Betera .This is around 10 kilometers from Valencia. Where they live is quite a wild area and this is reflected by the amount and quality of the birds seen from the garden, I also quickly discovered with 75 – 80 degrees heat and strong sunshine, there is only one way to watch birds from the garden, in the pool with a Gin and Tonic.

John and Sues place

During the course of the afternoon I became aware of a number of birds nearby, 1 or 2 Crested Tits, afterwards I found that these were quite common to the area, especially the Calderona Mountain Range; this was around 5 kilometers north. There was also a calling Firecrest seen briefly, 2 or 3 Sardinian Warblers contact calling nearby, always skulky and hard to see and small numbers of Spotless Starlings.

The real goodies came later in the afternoon, John picked up a large raptor soaring pretty low to the east, after locating it with bins it turned out to be an adult Short Toed Eagle, a great bird to have anywhere in Spain, let alone from your back garden. Even as I watched it, it began to hover, quite a sight for such a big bird. During the remaining days of my stay, this bird (presumably the same one) never failed to appear around the 3.00pm mark.
Short Toed Eagle
Along with this we had 23 Bee Eaters go over the garden, 2 groups of 11 and 12, these were relatively low and seemed to lose height as soon as they passed over, it turned out that they were feeding up at an orange grove about ½ a mile away near my other uncle’s place. Soon sussed out that Bee Eaters are like Yellow Wagtails up in the sky, you can hear them coming but they are very difficult to pick out in bright sunshine.

Bee Eater

With dusk approaching was then treated to the finale, again John got on to it, a Red Necked Nightjar straight through the garden and heading towards the orange groves. Never seen one before so a very happy chappy, on sight the first thing that I noticed is how noticeably bigger they are than European Nightjar.

September 10th – Sierra Calderona Mountains

Arrived at 6.50am dawn with a view to doing some raptor watching, from what I understand the mountain range is not known for its birds of prey like the Pyrenees but with the Short Toed Eagle seen yesterday in the afternoon was very hopeful. Decided to get to a high point around 9.00am as I felt the heat rising straight away as the sun got higher, in the meantime I walked the paths climbing all the time. Again became aware of Crested Tit calling, these were joined by Sardinian Warbler, Serin, Chiffchaff, 2 Firecrests calling and 3 Hoopoe straight across in front of me, got off a couple of photo’s but very distant. As I walked through an open area of Fir Trees I located 4 Spotted Flycatchers, a cracking male Pied Flycatcher and 3 Common Redstarts, a great start to the morning.

Spectacled Warbler

Further along as the area and habitat opened up I had 4 Crossbills over, 2 Wheatears sitting in a tree, threw for a minute as they don’t often land in trees, not large ones anyway. Then had 2 Hawfinches going over, always a pleasure to see, so far the morning had been brilliant. Also could not help noticing as well, there were many nest boxes placed where ever I walked. Some of the birds seen may well have been local breeders mixed in with some migrants. I suspect that many were for Crested Tit as they are resident along with the Flycatchers and Redstarts, some were open fronted.

By now had decided that the only way was up if I wanted to catch up with any raptors so started to climb up the shallow rock face, complete with bins, camera, telescope and backpack. Halfway up as I was sweating big time and the ticker off the scale, the thought came to me, mad dogs and Englishmen. Too late to turn back, eventually reached the peak, a flat area of grassland after 25 minutes.

As I walked through the high grass to the peak I walked into a spider’s web, as I looked down at it, I thought **** me, looking at me was the biggest spider I had seen in the wild. It looked like a species of Wasp Spider, a female, certainly bigger than any that I had seen at Rainham Marshes RSPB, to give you an idea of size, the male was with her measured about an inch long.

Wasp type Spider

Presumably female and male Spiders, dont give a lot for his chances after mating

Anyway back to the raptor watching, the following was recorded from 9.20am to 1.00pm.

9.30am – male Marsh Harrier going west, high

10.02am – Short Toed Eagle distantly heading off to the flatlands

10.35a.m – Kestrel up with Swallows mobbing it

10.35am – Peregrine up and thermaling

11.22am – a White Stork going west, very, very high

12.05pm – a Common Buzzard drifting west with 3 Bee Eaters for company, quite a bizarre sight

12.16pm – a flock of 38 Bee Eaters going over quite low heading west

12.30pm – a cracking high Black Stork which I managed to just about photograph

12.50pm – a Griffon Vulture west, so high, the only reason I picked it up was due to its size. It was as I as watching this I became aware of other birds of prey above it, I counted 8.From what features and outline I could get, they all looked like Honey Buzzards.

1.02pm – another flock of 14 Bee Eaters going west highish.
Black Stork

Short Toed Eagle

Griffon Vulture
 Not so much quantity but some good quality birds seen, most were heading down the coast past Alicante, presumably to cross around Gibraltar. These birds were so high, any raptor passage this high meant there were undoubtedly many birds missed.
Griffon with Buzzard sp above

 September 11th Albufura Wetlands, Lake and Coastline

John dropped me off next to the lake just before dawn, had a rough idea of the layout of the area from maps, decided to head for the coastline through the trees and scrub, thinking that it would not be that far. In the darkness it seemed miles, kept heading for the light and eventually reached the shoreline ½ an hour later, it was probably around a mile. On arrival the first bird that I heard was Woodlark, they seemed to be singing everywhere, also Red Legged Partridge were in evidence, probably the commonest bird there, certainly up in the 50’s during the couple of hours I spent there. They were even feeding on the beach.

Cattle Egret
Swallows were now streaming through and as the light got better everywhere came alive, the shoreline, dunes, bushes and trees at the edge of the dunes were dripping with migrant and resident birds.

Sandwich Terns were going past in good numbers but failed to locate any Gull Billed Terns or Audouins Gulls, no doubt if I had stayed there longer I would probably had one passing. I covered about ¾ mile of shoreline and the following was seen:

Woodlark – a minimum of 9

Fan Tailed Warbler -1 seen

Sardinian Warbler – 8

Sub Alpine Warbler – 1 definite and another possible

Stonechat – 1 male

Spotted Flycatcher - 11 including a group of 5

Common Redstart – 4

Whinchat – 3 seen

Northern Wheatear – 7 along the dunes

Red Rumped Swallow – 3 seen in amongst the 100’s going by

Turtle Dove – 4 in trees

Great Grey Shrike – 1 on the edge of trees , initially thought this was Lesser but checking with Collins it is Great.

Marsh Harrier – 3 – female/juv types

Sanderling – 4 on the shoreline

Kentish Plover – 2 shoreline

Curlew – 1 flyby

Bar Tailed Godwit – 1 overhead

Common Tern – 7 going by

Cattle Egret – 2 on the beach
Bar Tailed Godwit
Very distant Great Grey Shrike
Spotted Flycatcher

A great selection of birds to start the day off so headed inland to the lake, got very lucky and walked straight into the bird reserve, it has a series of shallow lakes, a couple of hides and a tower for looking over the lake.

Here I recorded many Little Ringed Plovers along with some Kentish, a single Curlew and Greenshank, 3 Common Sandpipers, 5 Avocets and 6 Black Winged Stilts. Many Mallard were present and about 25 Shoveler there as well. Also got caught out by a very long legged and long bodied plover type wader, the only thing that I thought it may have possibly been was one of the Sand Plovers, got a few photo’s before it flew. On reviewing the photo’s at a later date and going through the book it was nothing like a Sand Plover and most agreed that it was a juvenile Little Ringed Plover looking very leggy.

Black Winged Stilt

From here I pressed on to the lake and found a few viewpoints, it is very hard to approach, without doubt the best way would be to go on a boat trip, the lake is enormous.

Recorded Little, Black and Whiskered Tern from one viewpoint, all distantly unfortunately. Marsh Harriers seemed to be quartering every large reedbed and a raptor flying low distantly turned out to be an Osprey. Scanned the reed beds for any of the rarer Herons but could only locate Greys. It was now past mid day and very hot, needed a beer so called it a day.

September 12th Calderona Mountains and Betera

The very first bird seen as I arrived was a Red Necked Nightjar hawking over the pine trees in the half light, no chance of a photo.

Decided to commit to watching for raptors in the morning, similar area but further east, my plan was to try and get a better photo of the Short Toed Eagle. As it turned out I saw it around the same time that It showed on the previous visit, unfortunately it was probably half a mile away, got some records shots of it hovering but very distant. It showed around the same time when I had seen it on the Friday, so presumably it was coming from roost. As I was watching this another large raptor came up about a ¼ of a mile away from the Short Toed, again distant but certainly as large as the other bird, the likely candidate for the area would be Booted but this was too big.As quick as it appeared, it was gone again.
Pied Flycatcher

Crested Tit
Raptor watching was slow, only a Marsh Harrier recorded so decided to walk the trails and concentrate on photography, recorded Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, 2 Common Crossbills, a Woodlark and 8 flyby Bee Eaters. Crested Tits and Sardinian Warblers seemed to be everywhere.

Betera Orange Groves

Decided to try and ambush the Bee Eaters late afternoon as I had noticed that they came down here and fed on earlier days, was hoping to get some good photo’s. As usual the best laid plans usually cock up, did not manage any Bee Eaters, could hear and see them passing either side of me but , in there place was rewarded in by 2 species of Eagle.
Short Toed Eagles
 As I was scanning I picked up 2 high thermaling Eagle species, one was an obvious Short Toed with the other a less paler bird, both birds wing shape and outline were the same. Decided that the other was a Short Toed as well, although darker I could see the ‘bib’, so this was very likely a pair or an adult and juvenile. Even as I watched them another raptor came up underneath them, smaller but again pale underneath, got good views, again distant, but enough to confirm a pale phase Booted Eagle.                                            This bird eventually left the Short Toed Eagles and came down lower giving good views and was able to get some half decent photo’s.
Booted Eagle pale phase
Short Toed Eagles
 2 Hoopoe flybys rounded off the visit

Had an excellent time thanks to my aunt and uncle, John and Sue, they ran me everywhere, great food, great beer and great birds.

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