Thursday 7 April 2016

Excellent Birding in Valencia, April 2nd to April 6th

Back in 2008 I was very fortunate to be chosen to attend the EBMT conference in Florence, Italy, and had a great time - the conference was very interesting and Florence was amazing. I didn't see much in the way of birds but the highlight was a male blue rock thrush which would sing every morning on the rooftops opposite my hotel bedroom.

Eight years later and I was again chosen to attend EBMT, this time in Valencia, Spain. The conference was again very interesting and Valencia was very nice too but this time I managed to get out on a birding trip and saw some excellent birds.

The train trip to Gatwick Airport on April 2nd went smoothly despite the early start (4.30 in the morning!) and I had some excellent views of 3 red kites flying low over Reading train station on a beautiful sunny morning. It was beautiful and sunny on arriving at Valencia airport too and it was lovely to see swallows and house martins flitting around the airport buildings as I got off the plane. Our hotel was in the centre of the old town of Valencia and while sitting on the rooftop terrace as the sun was setting I watched monk parakeets, yellow legged gulls and swifts flying over.

Yellow Legged Gulls from my hotel room, Valencia

April 3rd was warm and sunny but April 4th was cool and rainy (I thought the rain in Spain fell mainly on the plain) but we had 2 full on days at the conference anyway and I managed to add magpie, white wagtail, spotless starling, serin, grey wagtail, collared dove, feral pigeon, house sparrow, blackbird, woodpigeon and Sardinian warbler to my bird list on the journeys to and from the conference centre.

April 5th and after a morning at the conference my brain was starting to freeze up during the lectures and so despite the continuing rain I decided to break away and take a trip to the Albufera nature reserve, a large freshwater lake just outside Valencia and home to a good selection of birdlife.

I had purchased a 3 day travel pass costing 11.70 Euros for getting around Valencia and it included the bus journey to the lake, about 40 minutes away from the city centre, and despite my polite hints that I wanted to go alone my colleague Sue came along too despite having a very nasty chest infection with a noisy cough. Before getting the bus we visited a pharmacy where we were able to buy a course of antibiotics (amoxicillin) for 2.50 Euros despite having no prescription - so much for the worldwide concerns regarding antibiotic resistance!

The forecast was for the rain to stop during the afternoon but as we travelled on the bus to the lake it began to absolutely chuck it down and I missed our planned stop as the bus windows were all misted up and I wasn't exactly sure where we were meant to get off. We decided to carry on and get off at the end of the line with a plan to have a drink and something to eat before heading back towards Valencia and a stop at the lake, hoping that the rain might have stopped by then. We got off at what we thought was the end of the line but it was just a small village which fortunately had a small bar/restaurant that was open and where we had drinks and snacks. It was also fortunately by a large canal with lock gates linking the lake to the sea and a quick walk along the canal side in the pouring rain gave me some nice views of mallard, grey heron, little egret, swallow and a stunning summer plumaged whiskered tern that flew back and forth over the water dipping down to the surface - a lifer for me and well worth the soaking I got and the stress of the journey!

Grey Heron

The rain was beginning to ease as we headed back towards Valencia and this time we got off at the right stop at Playa de La Devesa, another large canal with lock gates linking the lake to the sea but with a great view over the large expanse of fresh water from the roadside. Scanning around the lake and I managed to add a distant marsh harrier over the reedbeds to my list along with Sandwich terns resting on wooden posts and cattle egrets flying over, while the roadside bushes held a few blackcaps.

We then headed off along a boardwalk by the canal side leading to the beach which luckily was mostly under pine trees and so a little drier but the rain was easing and eventually did stop. Sue was still coughing like a good'un and spotless starlings scattered as I tried to photograph them but never mind. Great tits were calling in the trees and I saw a few long tailed tits and a male whitethroat feeding in the undergrowth. A hoopoe was a nice surprise as it flew up from the ground and disappeared into the trees, an all too brief view, and also too brief were a group of 6 yellow wagtails flying over calling and looking very yellow on a very dull day but I am not sure what race of yellow wagtail they were.

Eventually the boardwalk arrived at the side of a lagoon and right in front of me was the bird I was really hoping to see - excellent views of 2 Audouins gulls, 1 preening on the lagoon side mud and 1 perched on a sign post. I have seen Audouins gull before in the harbour in Tripoli, Libya, but they were quite distant and I was really glad to get much better views of them this time. They eventually flew off but later 4 birds flew in to the lagoon side where they called and displayed to each other - I have to say I was quite smitten with them, they were larger than I had expected and very graceful looking with a lovely courtship call and have become my equal first favourite gull, tied with little gull.

 Audouin's Gull

Audouin's Gull

 Audouin's Gulls

 Audouin's Gulls

Audouin's Gull

Around the lagoon were calling crested larks, a pair of black winged stilts, 2 greenshank, a summer plumaged dunlin, Kentish plovers, a common sandpiper, 2 shelduck, a night heron and a rather poorly looking winter plumaged sanderling with a limp which was trying to feed on the muddy shore.

 Kentish Plovers

 Kentish Plover

 Kentish Plover

 Black Winged Stilts

 Crested Lark

 Night Heron

A small duck caught my eye and I was very pleased to see it was a female white headed duck, another lifer for me and a bird I hadn't really expected to see. Unfortunately it remained a little distant and regularly dived underwater but I managed a few ropey record shots of it.

 White Headed Duck

White Headed Duck

It was time to head back to the city centre all too soon but despite getting soaked and having very little time I had had a great birding experience with 2 lifers in the bag.

The following day and the weather was rapidly improving but it was time to head back to the UK and as we waited on the tarmac to get onto the plane at Valencia airport the sun was shining and it was surprisingly hot. The train ride back to Plymouth was fraught at times due to delays and transfers but eventually we were back in Plymouth and I was pleased to have seen more red kites near Reading, a swallow over Exminster Marsh and 6 Sandwich terns diving for fish on the River Exe from the train on the journey.

Valencia Oranges

The Snow-capped Pyrenees

All in all not a bad few days away!

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