Iberia: Birding Xabia

The New Year was kicked started with the annual trip to the village of Xabia, situated in the Spanish province of Alicante on the SE coast of the Iberian peninsular. The town of Xabia and its surroundings provide ideal birding grounds all year round with arid farmland, orchards, mountains, pine forests and suburbs, in addition backing onto the med. On the week long visit a total of 74 species were recorded including two Iberian lifers: Iberian Grey Shrike & Hawfinch, a complete total of the birds seen can be found at the end of the post.

Sea watching in the Mediterranean is pretty barren so species seen whilst observing Xabia Bay was low: Northern Gannet, Balearic Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Cory’s/Scopolie’s Shearwater, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Sandpiper, Kentish Plover and a Booted Eagle patrolling the cliffs/lighthouse on the eastern headland of the bay was an unexpected event given how large raptors avoid large water bodies.

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Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) – From the first evening at the port.
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The view from the balcony

The bulk of birding took place in and around the town with a few trips outside to Denia, Calpe, Oliva and the cueva Prehistorica de las Calaveras aka Prehistoric Cave of Skulls! The cave was a fantastic site to visit with the geologist in side me coming out to play; the images below just don’t do justice on the extent of the cave system along with the countless ammonite and belemnite fossils on display.

The trip down to Calpe produced the usual Greater Flamingo and Black-winged Stilt with a flock of Common Crossbill being the highlight of that trip. Elsewhere in Denia and the outskirts were on fire with a Eurasian Scop’s Owl flushed by my Yorkie, Monty with Golden Eagle in the back mountains, Black Redstart littering the place & the only Lesser Black-backed Gulls (ssp. graellsii) of the trip.

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male Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
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European Serin (Serinus serinus)

In the suburbs of Xabia I managed to connect with a few of my target species including the continental subspecies of European Stonechat (ssp. rubicola), Western Cattle Egret and after three years of visiting Iberian Grey Shrike, a well overdue and welcomed lifer. The suburbs also provide idea wintering grounds for a wide variety of birds: European Serin, Black Redstart, Common Firecrest and Sardinian Warbler are all in abundance and a large population of Common Chiffchaff of which at least 1300 wintering around the town.

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Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) – The Spanish equivalent of the Rose-ringed Parakeet found in the British Isles.
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Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionlis) – Noted the salmon buff to the belly, a feature helpful in separating it from its cousin the Great Grey Shrike.

The orchards on the outskirts of Xabia are the richest habitat to be found in the area: little disturbance, little use of pesticides, plenty of growth and plenty of food. One afternoon I spent several hours working the northern orchards and ran up a list my best day list yet in Xabia: European Serin (250+), Common Chaffinch (130c), Meadow Pipit (20c), European Goldfinch (70c), Long-tailed Tit ssp. irbii (11), Eurasian Crag Martin (89), Peregrine Falcon (2), Monk Parakeet (46), Common Firecrest (3), Sardinian Warbler (43), Booted Eagle (1), Common Buzzard (4), Crested Lark (4), Black Redstart (23) and Hawfinch (1).

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1cy ‘Iberian’ Peregrine Falcon (ssp. brookie) – Iberia is known to hold a host of the Peregrine Falcon taxa during the winter months from resident brookie to the nominate peregrinus and the arctic form of calidus. What sets this apart from the other Peregrine Falcon taxa and a brookie, is that the bird has richly coloured underparts, had small size in the field and shows strong markings which also rule out the very similer Barbary Falcon from North Africa.
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‘Continental’ Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis)

Last but not least there was a highlight to this trip. On the last day we drove up to the town of Oliva to give it a check out; firstly there was a brief visit to the outskirts of Pego Marshes, one of the few wetland areas along the east coast of Iberia that had a typical variety of birds including my first Eurasian Penduline Tit & Moustached Warbler along with Common Snipe, Water Pipit and another Spanish first for me, Eurasian Coot! Who would have thought I’d have seen the likes of Golden Eagle, Eurasian Eagle Owl and Rufous Bush Chat all before what us UK Birders think as a common species. Next planned visit to Pego will be in the summer with Luke Anderson, peak time for action at Pego with breeding Western Swamphen, Little Bittern, Red-necked Nightjar and more recently Collared Pratincole!

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Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
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Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)

It was after this short stop that we continued up to Oliva, a Western Cattle Egret was a surprise to spot along the roadside in the village center, with upon arrival the 2 mile long sand beach was virtually empty except for the odd couple and dog walker. As any birder would the alarm bells started ringing….Kentish, where are they?! I glanced up the beach using my brand spanking new Leica bins courtesy of Bill Aspin, to see a flock of small waders a few hundred meters up, but they were Sanderling, not what I was hoping to encounter.

The flock was then flushed by an encroaching dog walker which resulted in them relocating further along the beach and joined another large of waders, more Sanderling or something else? All were bleached white by the sun and too far to pick out anything so investigation was needed…sure enough there was a few extra Sanderling, but just up the beach away from the shore line there where my sort after Kentish! Utterly fantastic birds, no Western Pelearctic wader trumps it.

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Sanderling (Calidris alba)
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male Kentish Plover (Charadrinus alexandrinus) compared to Sanderling

Later that evening it was a night spent touring the outskirts of the Xabia to get a few owl species which after a few hours ended in singles of Eurasian Eagle Owl, Eurasian Scop’s Owl and a Barn Owl which was almost made dinner. That the last time I bird’d before my departure the following day. Overall my trip yet and looking forward to returning later in the year for two weeks with a few birding buds.

Trip List: 74 species

Red-legged Partridge, Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, European Shag (ssp. desmarestii), Western Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Greater Flamingo, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Eurasian Scop’s Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Barn Owl, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Kingfisher, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Dunnock, Euroepan Robin, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Euroepan Stonechat (ssp. rubicola), Common Blackbird, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Common Firecrest, Winter Wren, Great Tit, European Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit (ssp. irbii), Iberian Grey Shrike, Eurasian Magpie, Western Jackdaw, Northern Raven, Common Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Common Chaffinch, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch, European Serin, Hawfinch, Common Crossbill, Rock Bunting, Common Reed Bunting & Yellowhammer.

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