By David Lindo
Stepping off the plane in Valencia to begin a four day vacation in Spain’s third largest city, approximately 300km south of Barcelona, I decided to make the most of my city break by heading directly to a B&B in Albufera de València 11km south of the city. It was once one of the largest expanses of coastal marsh and wetland in the country but thanks to years of reclamation, urban development, pollution and tourism it has taken a battering and is now a tenth of its former glory at 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres).
On arrival I went for a stroll around the plentiful orange groves that enveloped the area and quickly notched up many Nightingales, Serins, Buzzards, the occasional Kestrel and many Grey Heron, Cattle and Little Egrets.
Yes, this seemed like a lovely local patch. Exploring the Albufera de València over the next few days, I also witnessed Night and Purple Herons flying to destinations unknown along with the occasional Squacco Heron. On land there was a multitude of birds to look at with House Sparrows being the default passerine throughout the region. Tree Sparrows were also around, though I may have overlooked the vast majority.
On one occasion, I did glimpse a male sparrow that appeared to have faint dark streaks on its flanks but I didn’t see it long enough to commit to calling it a Spanish Sparrow. It was early spring so migration was pretty evident. I remember seeing a Black Kite casually drifting in from off the sea and watching it for at least 10 minutes as it meandered through.
I did see quite a few Pallid Swifts with their Common cousin being by far the least frequently seen of the two species with its classic frenetic flight and dark ‘sharper’ shape apparent. All the Hoopoes I saw were invariably flying away from me whilst Turtle Doves were reassuringly common.
But it was the waterbirds that made the biggest impression on me. There were plenty of noisy Black-winged Stilts in the nature reserve whilst swooping overhead were at least 20 Collared Pratincoles hawking for insects amongst the Swallows, House Martins and Swifts.
One afternoon I was lucky enough to find a migrant drake Garganey and a Little Ringed Plover on the shoreline. From the hide secreted amongst the hundreds of nesting Black-headed Gulls were several pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, a couple of Audouin’s Gulls and a lone first summer Little Gull that spent most of its time hiding behind the larger Black-headed congeners. Standing around the colony like sentinels were several Yellow-legged Gulls waiting for an opportunity to have late lunch.
My favourite moment was discovering a displaying pair of Slender-billed Gulls on the water right outside the hide. It was the first time I had ever really studied this species close up and the size difference was very clear to see with the male being 10% bigger plus I appreciated their extraordinarily long necks.