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Valencia 8 15 March 2018

Birdwatching and orchids in eastern Spain

Valencia remains a little undiscovered region for British naturalists, but it offers an attractive mix of birdwatching and early season orchids. Honeyguide’s local leader, Pau Lucio, lives near Valencia and his local knowledge will guide us to protected areas and wildlife hotspots in marshes, mountains, fields and steppes among the developed coast and intensive arable elsewhere.

Paddy fields, a huge 14,000 hectares, are the third largest wetland in Spain. Flooded in winter, we arrive after the end of the shooting season as the area begins to dry. In early March there are just a few fields with water that can be packed with birds. Our previous group found large numbers of greater flamingos, some 500 glossy ibises, numerous egrets and quartering marsh harriers. Elsewhere there’s a daytime roost of night herons.

Glossy ibises
Glossy ibises (Steve Fletcher)

Waders will be here and also at the salt pans of Santa Pola, which are especially good for gulls, notably slender-billed. Audouin’s gulls are plentiful in Gandía’s harbour, where shearwaters follow fishing boats.

The Natural Park of El Fondo is a man-made reservoir with some 70 breeding pairs of the globally-threatened white-headed duck, numerous black-necked grebes, a few introduced red-knobbed coots and perhaps marbled ducks. Another interesting species is the rare greater spotted eagle, which uses the reserve as winter ground. This eastern European species is now a regular wintering bird in this part of coastal Spain. There aren’t many of them and the chances of seeing it are probably less than 50:50 (we were lucky in 2016); there’s no better area to search.

A fourth wetland type, with reedbeds, is Pego Marshes. This is one of the many small wetlands spread along the Mediterranean coast that play a vital role for many migrants as re-fuelling places. From mid-February to June, a ringing group carries out an intensive ringing project to study the effect of climate change on resident and migrant warblers. We will attend a ringing session where we hope to see one of the resident moustached warblers and wintering species such as reed bunting, penduline tit, bluethroat, kingfisher or Cetti’s warbler.

Pego Marshes
Pego Marshes

Away from the coast there is a variety of varied habitats, including botanical reserves, cork oak and the gorge of the Monnegre River. This is a moon-like landscape with birds such as blue rock thrush, rock bunting, black redstart, crag martins and maybe early breeders such as red-rumped swallow.

The steppes of East Albacete is a Special Protection Area in neighbouring La Mancha region with traditional farming. Here some of the birds we hope to see are calandra larks, great bustards, corn bunting, rock sparrow, sandgrouse and raptors. Temporary lagoons scattered among the steppes have wildfowl, especially red-crested pochards, and waders including black-winged stilts.

Hotel Font Salada

 

Our base is the rural Hotel Font Salada, set in orange groves near the Pego Marshes Natural Park and just one kilometre from the coast.

Birds

Spring comes early to coastal Spain, and we expect to see early migrants such as swallows, martins and passage waders. Scrub has Dartford and Sardinian warblers. Elsewhere we hope to see Bonelli’s eagle, red-billed chough, crested tit, short-toed treecreeper and firecrest. There’s a chance of wintering alpine accentor.

Orchids

Abandoned orchards and mini-nature reserves hold a range of orchids, including giant, mirror, sombre bee, woodcock and sawfly. Remarkably, there are two regular hybrids of these in this area: Ophrys x castroviejoi is a newly described cross between mirror and sawfly orchids and Ophrys x pielteri is a cross between woodcock and sawfly orchids. The local Ophrys lucentina is here too. A Spanish version of early purple orchid, Orchis olbiensis, is common.

mirror orchids Silene diclinis (Pau Lucio) Tolpis
Mirror orchids, Silene diclinis, Tolpis barbata.

Other wildlife

We hope for warm weather to bring out a few early butterflies such as western dappled white, Moroccan orange-tip and Lang’s short-tailed blue. Several flowers are called valentina or lucentina which means they are named after Valencia: the sandwort Silene valentina is endemic to the area and the scorpion vetch Coronilla valentina more widespread. One of the rarest species is the pink Silene diclinis.

Itinerary

Two days are very local, in and near Pego Marshes. Two days have longer journeys, to El Fondo Natural Park and into La Mancha to Albacete. The other days have more typical travel times.

Conservation project

Our leader Pau’s ringing group Grupo de Anillamiento Pit-Roig runs bird ringing stations in Valencia.

The group is studying the survival rate and dispersion of moustached warbler. Data loggers placed on Savi’s and reed warblers are tracking their migratory movements, provided they can be trapped again and the data downloaded. Support pays for nets and other ringing equipment.

Highlights in the group's work are described in our La Mancha holiday report from October 2014.

Holiday details

Price: £1,190 per person in twin room for seven nights (Thursday to Thursday)

Single room supplement: £100

En suite facilities

Flights: Scheduled easyJet flights Gatwick to Valencia.

Deposit: £300

Maximum number (two leaders): 14

Leaders

Pau Lucio lives near Valencia and runs a wildlife tour company Birdwatching Spain. Pau is involved in conservation projects on bird migration and the importance of Spanish coastal wetlands for species such as the moustached and Savi’s warblers. Pau has collaborated with SEO/Birdlife and spent nine months at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. He also works at a nature reserve where he guides visitors through the forest and marshes.

Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 15 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.

Valencia map

For prices, see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

travel aware logo

FCO travel advice for Spain here.

 

Holiday reports

Holiday report from February-March 2016 here.

Holiday reports from La Mancha (with Pau and Chris) via our La Mancha pages.

Audouin's gulls

Audouin's gulls in Gandía’s harbour

Steppe and lagoon at Albacete

Steppe and lagoon at Albacete

blue rock thrush

Blue rock thrush (Steve Fletcher)

Photos and links

Flowers of Valencia: photoset from the Valencia holiday in February-March 2016 on Facebook.

Iberian orchids

Orchid photos by Pau

La Mancha flora: a web page with some tricky species from the adjacent region.

Ophrys lucentina

Ophrys lucentina

Pego Marshes

Pego Marshes - paddy fields

great bustards

Great bustards on East Albacete's steppes

western dappled white

Western dappled white

News

white-headed duckling
Pau Lucio writes:

"El Fondo [in Valencia region] has always been one of the best places in Europe to watch the threatened white-headed duck. The last census shows an increase of the population to more than 70 pairs thanks among other things to water and habitat management and the eradication of ruddy ducks. The breeding season is going well with good numbers of ducklings (photo, above).

"In addition, last April there were 24 marbled teals released into the reserve, five of them with GPS transmitters. The aim is to know more about their wintering movements and the survival rate of birds from the captive breeding programme."

penduline tit

Work by the local ringing group has revealed just how vital sometimes small coastal Mediterranean wetlands are for birds, including migrants from northern Europe. Photos from that meeting here on Facebook, including moustached warbler and this penduline tit.

Holiday leaders

 

Pau Lucio

Pau Lucio

Chris in Valencia

Chris Durdin in Valencia, 2016.

Photos on this page by Pau Lucio or Chris Durdin unless otherwise noted.

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