Valencia, more than just oranges!

A last minute trip, i would call this. Generally one would visit Spain for bird/landscape photography April though to June. Not many (as far as i know) visit Spain late autumn. So end of November i will be going to Valencia and the surrounding mountain area. Not only a large contingent of (elderly) English and Dutch like the warmer climate of Southern Spain, so do our summer birds! By then most of them will have moved to this part of Europe or have crossed to Northern Africa and even further afield.

i will be spending some time in a number of hides to photograph species like Blackcap, Goldcrest, various warbler species, Goshawk, Mistle Thrush and for me a speciality: Ring ouzel!

Ring ouzel (Photo courtesy Vicente Estelles)

i will also be going to spend some time photographing the wintering Eurasian cranes from a hide, Genet cat and Red legged partridge and anything else that is willing to show up. A visit to the Albufera wetlands near Valencia is also on the agenda. The weather around that time of the year should be decent. It is an area not known for a lot of rainfall and in the mountains (1500M) it can get pretty cold. As always i will be updating my diary on a daily bases, internet permitting, and i hope you will all be following me on this trip

Goshawk (Photo courtesy Antonio Hernandes)

 

Albufera wetland Valencia (Photo courtesy Salva Llavata)

Friday 24th of November

Hoopoe,Iberian Grey shrike, Black Wheatear, Black redstart, White wagtail, Collared dove, Kestrel

The usual early morning drill. Up around 04.45, cab picked me up an hour later and another 45 minutes later i was at Gatwick airport to fetch my British Airways flight to Valencia. Spent a little time in the lounge and before i knew it i was up in the air!

The flight was , as always, uneventful and 2 hours later i landed at Valencia airport. Lovely weather, 18 degrees and outside was Yani, my guide for the week, already waiting for me. The plan was to spend the afternoon in a hide close to Valencia. The hide was called La Cantera. We stopped en route at a small cafeteria as i forgot to turn one of the camera bodies off the evening before ....so the batteries were totally drained. What a rookie mistake!

The hide was built near an abandoned quarry and i must say it was built beautifully and spacious. Lovely background of out of focus trees and reddish sand. A little drinking pool in front and a number of, in my opinion nice perches. We set up our camera's and waited for the things to come.

Hide la Cantera

To begin with it was slow but soon the first birds arrived. Serin and a White wagtail, which Yani called, the owner of the drinking pool, as it chased everything and everyone away that came near! Black redstart showed up regularly and allowed for some really nice images. In the small bushes around the hide i could hear the Sardinian warbler but unfortunately it didn't show. The light is coming from behind the hide, which i very much prefer. The arrival of two Kestrels was super. A lovely male and female. We took many images and the birds stayed for quite some time. A Hoopoe was also a regular. In winter they look so much paler then in their reddish summer plumage.

Inside la Cantera

Highlights for me this afternoon was the Iberian shrike and 3 Black wheatears! Very restless birds but they look lovely in the late afternoon sun and i took many images. Around 17.00 the light started to fade but the last visitor of the day was an Iberian Green woodpecker. It decided not to come down and after a little while and being pestered my one of the Kestrels it decided to fly off.

Yani's pool director, the evil Wagtail

At that point we called it a day, packed up and Yani drove me to my hotel in lliria. Tomorrow i will be spending the whole day in hide El Caseto. Should be excellent for crossbill, Blue Rockthrush and many other passerines. The good thing about the hides here is that they are all within close vicinity of valencia. So no long drive necessary. The only long haul trip will be to the Cranes. Weather should be ok tomorrow but later in the week a bit of rain can be expected. 

My room in Hotel Puerta de la Serrania

Saturday 25th of November

Jay, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Serin, Blue tit, Great tit, Coal tit, Rock bunting, Cirl bunting, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Crossbill, Crested tit, Great spotted woodpecker, Sardinian warbler

 

View from hide El Caseto

 

The alarm went off at 06.00. A quick shower and downstairs for a bit of breakfast. To my amazement the bar area was full of hunters getting ready to empty their guns on whatever they could get in front of their double barrel guns! Not only hunters but also the Guardia civil was present. All having their early morning cup of coffee and something more stronger and alcoholic. I had some toast and asked for a cheese roll and a bottle of water to take with me to the hide. Today i would be spending in Hide el Casito. The hide is especially good for passerines and is built along the edge of a forest. In fact there are 2 hides. In the afternoon you swap one hide for the other, so at any time you keep the light coming in from behind you.

Hide El Caseto

 

Around 07.15 Yani picked me up and we drove off in the direction of the village of Titagues, where the hide is situated. On the way we stopped in a small village to pick up Ximo. Ximo is a member of the Nature photography group in Valencia. This group maintains the hides and of course they are all skilled birdwatchers (jjust like Yani) . A good half hour later we arrrived at the hide. We put up the camera's and tripods and made ourselves comfortable. Within no time i counted 8 Robins around the hide, a massive amount of Blackbirds, Tits and all the birds that i mentioned in the header of this chapter. It was really non stop.

The El Caseto set-up

At times the birds would disappear in a rush. I was anticipating the arrival of a Sparrowhawk (apparently it is a regular visitor at this hide) but not today. Well you can't have it all. I heard frantic shooting in the distance. Clearly the hunters were out and about and after a while i could see one walking (at distant) along the hide.

Around 13.00 the drinking pool was slowly but surely out of reach of the sun and we decided to move to the other hide. We picked up the gear and in no time we were sitting and waiting in anticipation of what would happen! this hide is as comfortable as the other one and of course the sunlight comes from behind. The issue here is that the small drinking pool is somewhat low, which makes it more challenging to take good images. In these hides you are allowed  to re-arrange the setting by moving twigs around if one wishes to do so. You are NOT allowed to break off any twigs from trees.

Cirl bunting

All in all the afternoon was a bit more subdued then the morning session. I still managed to get some nice images. Highlight was the arrival of the Sardinian warbler but it moves around so quickly that it is hard to get a decent image. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the hills and by 15.30 we decided to call it a day. It was another great day and so far i am really impressed with these hides.

Tomorrow i will be going to hide la Coscoja. A hide built more in the open and should be excellent for all kind of Thrushes, Crossbills and other small birds.

A room with a view (don't think i take my wife here)

Sunday 26th of November

Fieldfare, Ring ouzel, Mistle thrush, Song trush, Crossbill, Hawfinch, Cirl bunting, Crested tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Citril finch, Rock bunting, Serin, Black redstart, Siskin, House sparrow, Great tit, Greenfinch

Up at the crack of dawn, a simple piece of toast and a cup of coffee is all i had. Yani picks me up 07.20 sharp. Today we are heading for hide la Sabina. This hide is about 1 hour drive from lliria and is set in the mountains. I am wearing layers today as it can be pretty cold up there!. For me this hide has something truly special: Ring ouzel. If someone can tell me where to photograph these handsome birds: please step forward! I would not have a clue where else to photograph them.

Hide la Sabina

We arrive after a good hour's drive. The weather is absolutely beautiful. The hide is comfortable and can easily sit 3 photographers. In front of the hide is a small drinking pool. The water is frozen, so Yani opens up the ice and adds some fresh water for the birdfs. The landscape up in these mountains is stunning and there is not a single village in sight.

We set up the gear and what follows is, in my opinion unbelievable. In no time the hide is "surrounded" by many Ring ouzels, Crossbills (i counted 40 birds at some stage), Serin, Cirl bunting....the list is endless and the birds keep coming at regular intervals. I have been literally photographing throughout the day i was in the hide!

Hide la Sabina

There are some nice perches around the hide as well and the birds use them to sit on. Especially the Crossbills are from time to time sitting with 4-5 birds in a row. In total there are 6 Thrush species around the hide. At one moment i photographed Redwing, Songthrush and Ring ouzel sitting next to each other!

Other birds that regular visit are the Cirl and Rock bunting. Crested tit and Robin also show up and give ample opportunities to take nice images. I also try my luck with flight shots of Ring ouzel and Crossbill. Of course more hit then miss but i do end up with some nice shots!

Speaking about camera equipment. If you DO intend to visit these hides: 300-500-600MM will often be too long. Best is a 100-400, 70-200F2.8 and one of the 150-600 Zoom lenses. All hides can easily fit a tripod as well and you photograph through spy glass.

By 16.00 we call it a day and pack up. I can honestkly say that this is one of the most spectacular hides i have ever visited and i am intending to return early 2018. After a good hour, Yani drops me off at the hotel. Bad news: kitchen is closed, so i am eating a bar of chocolate instead. Tomorrow i will be visiting another hdie for passerines. So far this trip has been excellent!

Ring ouzel, Crossbill, Song thrush

Monday 27th of November

Dartford warbler, Robin, Great tit, Crested tit, Black redstart, Serin, Blackcap, Sardinean warbler, White wagtail, Dunnock, Rock bunting, Cirl bunting, Hawfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Firecrest, Hen harrier (passing by)

A leisurely start of the day. Up by 07.00 hours and half an hour later downstairs for breakfast. I ask for an omelette with some bread but the only thing on offer is toast and jam. Disappointing! The hotel is ok but the catering is poor. No diner yesterday and breakfast a limited affair unless you want breakfast after 08.00! The hotel has to upt their game in my book.

Yani has other business to attend today, so she left me in the soft but capable hands of Gorka, a Belgium birding guide. Today he will not be a birder but a photographer. When he arrives he has is 300mm with him! The good thing about the hides of Salva is, is that they are all very close by. No long drives from one hide to the other! The hide i am going to today is merely15 minutes from the hotel!

Hide El Caseta

The weather is superb! Cold and sunny. This autumn has seen very little rain in Valencia. So birds are very much attracted by the drinking pools of Salva's hides. Today i will be spending in hide El Caseto. We drive through a lovely countryside and after a short drive over a dirt track we arrive at the hide. In fact there are 2 hides. One for a morning session and the other for the afternoon. At all times you will have the sun in your back. The drinking pool is built on eye level and as with the other hides you are allowed to move twiggs and stones at will or just have the bar sand drinking pool. It is a true reflection pool!

Only the best for Rene

We make ourselves comfortable and within no time the first birds arrive for a drink and a bath. Black redstart in abundance, Robins, Dunnock, Hawfinch. Cirl and Rock bunting......it's a constant stream of birds and there is hardly a moment that there are no birds to be seen in the viewfinder!

Around 12.00 Salva's father arrives. He will prepare a barbecue for Gorka and myself in the little farm adjacent to the hides. Salva wants to use this renovated farm as a base for photographers that want to use El Caseto and the Goshawk hide near by. A good plan in my book! The barbeue exists out of tradional sausages, peppers, white wine and a whiskey to top it off! i am not complaining!

Oleeeeeeee

Afetr lunch we change hides. The second hide is a bit smaller but it is a nice setting. Superb for reflections of birds coming to drink. We spent a good 3 hours photograohins all that appears in front of us. We see a hen harrier flying by and a Firecrest tries to stop by but is scared off by much larger audience around the pool.

Around 17.00 we call it a day. The sun is too low now. We pack up our stuff and Gorka drives me back to my hotel. Tomorrow morning i will be going back to the Ring ouzel hide till around noon. In the afternoon we will drive for another 2 hours west to the Crane hide, where i will be spending Wednesday. So far this trip has been superb. I can honestly say that these hides are among the best i have ever been to.

The renovated farm, ideal for bird photographers

Tuesday 28th of November

Today i will be spending in Hide la Sabina in the morning and around 14.00 we will be heading north-west in the direction of Zaragoza, where i will be spending the night. Tomorrow i will photographing the wintering European cranes from a well camouflaged hide. It was a slightly later start this monring and the early morning sunrise was beautiful. It was going to be anohter good day! I have not added a list of the birds to this chapter. You can find all the birds that i photographed from this hide in the chapter of Sunday.

Crossbills

After a good hour drive we arrive at the hide. The small pool is frozen stiff, so we need to open it up so the birds can get to the water. We are here, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, at 700 meters above sea level. Last year helicopters were used to ferry food for the cows and other farm animals as there was a meter snow which made it impossible to drive up the narrow roads. I forgot to mention that, while driving towards the hide, i saw many massive flocks of all kind of Thrushes and Finches. This unknown part of Spain is absolutely stunning.

Soon the first birds arrive at the drinking pool. At one point i counted 11 Ring ouzels, a number of Song thrushes, Blackbird and Mistle thrush. Of course the resident large flock of Crossbills are ever present. So are Hawfinch, Cirl and Rock bunting. Funny enough one Thrush that seems to get everyone excited is the Redwing! A rarity in this part of Spain and the Redwing didn't disappoint by showing up on a number of occassions.

Cranes hide Fuentes Claras

I try to get some flight shots with the Sony A9 but the light is not as good as yesterday, so after a little while i gave up and concentrated instead on the birds sitting on the twiggs around the small drinking pool. Around 14.00 hours i hear a car pulling up: Yani and Gorka have arrived to pick me up.

We load up the car and start to make our way to Fuentes Claras, a small village 2 1/2 hour drive north-west from Valencia. In this agricultural area European cranes winter and Salva has erected a hide near this village to photograph them. When we arrive, we decide to inspect the hide first as we have to be in before sunrise tomorrow. We can see around 40 European cranes around the hide! 

Casade la Gloria

Before heading towards our guesthouse we make a small round tour and see a number of Red kites, Hen harrier and Griffon vulture. Heading back to Fuentes Claras you will notice how empty and dead everyhting is. Many houses are abandoned. Really depressing to see! The guesthouse is nevertheless lovely. Spacious, nice kitchen and quiet! Yani has brought ample food and wine as she will be cooking. We started of with some tapa's and a nice glass of local red wine! Diner will follow later this evening. Tomorrow will be a long day and i am not sure, at this stage, that i will be able to update the diary. So please be patient!

The highstreet in Fuentes Claras rivals Oxford street as you can see from this image!

Wednesday 29th of November

Raven, Carrion crow, Jackdaw, Red kite, Common buzzard, Marsh harrier, Lapwing, Water pipit, Meadow pipit, Tree sparrow, Reed bunting, Corn bunting, Crane, Starling, Linnet, Spotless starling, White wagtail

After my first excellent diner (home cooking by Yani) and a good night sleep up at 06.00. A quick breakfast and 30 minutes later we are on our way to the hide Fuentes Claras. The hide is built against a small reedbed and a small pond is in front of the hide. The Cranes regularly visit the site to rest, preen and feed on corn. The whole week, the weather has been absolutely fantastic. It seems, today, we have escaped a day of rain in lliria! Here in Fuentes Claras it is cloudy and sunny.

Ity is pretty cold with -4 and there is some ice oin the spy glass. We clean it up and pout some small ventilatos on in the hide to keep the glass moist free. The hide easily can fit 3 photographers and there is a small WC as well. Not very suitable for me as the ceiling is very low. Peeing is done, by me, on my knees! Quite an experience.

As the hide is far away from "civilization" is has never been visited by photographers outsixde Spain. You can call me a pioneer in this case! We also put some small pieces of chicken out for the Red kites, hoping they will stop by to grab it. In order for them not to take off with it, we pinned it down.

It doesn't take long before Crows, Jackdaws and Raven arrive at the hide and this attracts a Common buzzard that starts to feed on the chicken followed shortly after by at keast 6 Red kites. Swooping down, annoying the Buzzard and finally a number of them come down to eat as well! It is a fantastic sight and i take many many images of the spectacle.

Common buzzard

After some time peace returns and all that is left is a lonely Lapwing, a few Pipits and a Marsh harrier that slowly passes by overhead. By 10.00 we can hear Cranes and soon a number of them come down not too far from the small pond, followed by another group. In total there are about 25 Cranes. They seem very wary and only slowly make their way to the pond but never seem to relax. After an hour the whole group takes off! Disappointing but hopefully they will return later on.

From there onwards all remains very calm. The weather is lovely. Not too cold, clouds and sun. I take some images of the local Lapwing to kill the time. It started to look like the Cranes would not return. We can see groups flying overhead so they are definately around.

It must have been around 16.00 that we can clearly hear the Cranes flying nearby and before we know it we have a group of 50 Cranes in front of the hide. This time they do apporach and start feeding, chasing Jackdaws, preening, you name it. Fantastic! The biggest surpirse was the arrival of a number of FRed kites late afternoon. Before they go to roost, they stop by to drink water from the pond. I have never seen it, nor have i ever photographed it! 

Common cranes

Around 18.00 the last Crane leaves the pond. We clean up and the local Ornithologist and carer of the hide stops by to say goodbye! We start the long way back to lliria were i arrive around 21.00. A fantastic day has come to an end.

Thursday 30th of November

My last day in Lliria. Tomorrow i will return home. Today Yani picks me up at 06.45 for a session in Hide El Madrono. This hide should be good for Goshawk. No live bait is used here. The only bait is a dead Partridge from the local butcher. Yesterday the weather was pretty bad in Lliria. It rained the whole day and a Spanish photographer was not able to visit any of the hides yesterday, so he will join Yani and myself to the Goshawk hide.

Hide El Madrono

The hide is just 15 minutes drive from the hotel and built against the edge of a forest overlooking a small valley. It is private property so no disturbance whatsoever! It is a beautiful day. Stars in the sky and it is cold. We arrive at the hide and set up our kit. The hide fits 2 photographers comfortably and 3 with a sqeeuze. The Goshawk (male and female) visit the hide normally early in the morning and given the bad weather from yesterday it was expected that the bird(s) would be on the bait early. That was not the case. An hour later still no Goshawk but then: they are free flying birds and come and go as they please!

Another 15 minutes later and there was the Goshawk. The female arrived on the tree and after securing the area started to feed off the partridge. She must have been in front of the hide for a good hour. At times calling out and looking around. These birds are so wary. Light was beautiful! I must say that all these hides are well built and a lot of thought has gone into the placement of them. In a way i was not surprised as the owner is an architect! The hides are his hobby but he is now looking into exploring them  more for foreign photographers.

After an hour the Goshawk moved to another tree and start cleaning and preening. Warms herself in the rays of the sun and short while later she flies off. We stay a bit longer and are hoping that the male will show up. Unfortunately that was not the case. We pack up and head for the car. The Soanish photographer goes to the Bonelli eagle hide and i will soend the rest f the morning in the passerine hide El Caseto, which is on the same estate.

The Goshawk

The hide is not as active as a few days ago but i still get sme nice images of Hawfinch, Blackcap, Black redstart, Crested tit and Citrin finch. Around 13.00 hours we call it a day and Yani brings me back to the hotel, so i can start to clean up a bit and get ready for my departure from this beautiful part of Spain. I can honestly say that this week has been one of the best in my "career" as nature/bird photographer. The hides, weather and of course the birds were superb! A big thank you to Yani and Gorka. You guys DO know how to make a customer happy and your level of service is fantastic. I will return in February and i will also organize a week trip for a few photographers that are interested to photograph birds from first rate hides in first rate surroundings. If you are interetsed let me know and i will forward details on cost as soon as i have them.

Yani

Factsheet Valencia trip

I organized the trip myself and booked the hides direct with the owner. The owner doesn't speak english and as of now the organization and bookings are done by Yani, who speaks fluent english. If you require her email and other contact details please contact me.

Flights were booked through British Airways. Cost of an economy return was around £150. I flew business class as it was just £50 more. Flights depart from Gatwick South terminal and take approximately 2 1/2 hours. I did not rent a car as i was ferried around by Yani. The service and care of Yani are first class. Everything was done to make my stay as comfortable as possible. Moreover: the itenerary was adapted so that i had the best of the weather. For example: the Crane hide was booked for a Tuesday but when it appeared that the weather in Valencia would be bad on a Wednesday, Yani moved the Cranes trip to Wednesday. These hides were 3 hours north-west from Valencia, so i avoided the prolonged rain. 

Speaking about the weather: The whole week i had sun, some clouds. Temperatures can vary from 17 degrees down to minus 5 in the mountain area where the Ring ouzel hide is. Layers is a must! The hides are very comfortable, spacious and give easy access. Photographing is done through spy glass.

Hotel accomodation was ok. Nothing more than that. The hotel is actually along a motorway. Food is okish. Restaurant was closed most of the time and i ended up eating with the truck drivers! Rooms are clean, spacious and WIFI is available. I paid for the week including meals and drinks EURO 375. Reason why this hotel is being used is because it is very central for reaching all the hides.

In terms of camera equipment: long lenses like 300-500-600MM on a crop body are pretty useless as the birds are really close. Best options are zoom lenses like 120-300, 100-400, 150-600. I used Sony A9 and A6500 with a Sony 100-400 and 1.4 converter and the Sigma 150-600 from tripod.

I will be organizing 1-2 trips to these fantastic hides in 2018. I am awaiting the cost detail from the owner. Anyone who is interested or would like to have more information, feel free to contact me.