Urban birding in Benidorm (and Calpe)

Another week, another adventure, this time to the tourist hotspot and renowned centre of debauchery that is Benidorm. A location I first visited on a family getaway two years ago that, much to my surprise, I found to be a rather fantastic spot for some urban wildlife watching. Well, fast forward a couple of years and this past week, once again, I found myself pacing the cities sunny outskirts, hectic streets and forgotten areas in search of some of the party destinations less conspicuous inhabitants. Between festival activities, that is – this was not a birding holiday per say.

Staying in the Belroy Hotel, my first encounter came on our first day when, at dusk, the characteristic call of wagtails was heard from our balcony. Scanning the adjacent rooftops, it soon became apparent that the opposing hotel was favoured by the local White Wagtails as a roost site; with upwards of 100 birds arriving in loose flocks during the proceeding hour. A spectacle which, much to my delight, repeated each and every night during our stay.

Early morning watches from the comfort of the balcony saw the wagtails long gone – the monochrome ones rising far earlier that I – though that same rooftop later yielded Spotless Staring, Black Redstart and my first Blue Rock Thrush of the trip – a rather pristine male. Not to mention the many Crag Martins elegantly traversing the skies at eye-level with my makeshift viewpoint, accompanied on occasion by the odd Pallid Swift.

Venturing out into the streets before the inevitable rise of my fellow Britons proved worthwhile; the roadside palms and plain trees chiming with the merry twittering of Serin and Goldfinch and, of course, the familiar chirrup of the cities many House Sparrows. It was the larger gardens and scant parks that yielded the greatest reward, however, with one particular visit to a nearby skatepark producing 13 Sardinian Warbler (the first of many seen throughout the trip), Long-tailed Tit, Firecrest and, best of all, Crested Tit. The experience here amplified by a hovering Kestrel and a handful of Little Egrets passing overhead at first light.

Perhaps the best birding of the trip was had amid the more luxurious villas located along the cities boundary with Serra Gelada National Park to the west. Here, the cherry on top of an outing on the second day came in the form of a stunning, and very confiding, male Black Wheatear; though a surprise Short-eared Owl came a close second. Indeed, I had no idea this species could be seen here, and seeing one quartering above Mediterranean coastal shrubbery was a far cry from the windswept moors of Northern England or the Scottish Highlands. Similarly, a covey of five Red-legged Partridge here was also nice to see – a familiar species in the UK, yes, but one I had not yet seen in their natural environment.

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Red-Legged Partridge – Benidorm

The fringes of Serra Gelada were the focus of much of my birding exploits during the week: with two more Black Wheatear seen during my last visit, alongside a trip-tick Dartford Warbler, two Raven and a further four Blue Rock Thrush. Not to mention countless more Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Crag Marten and Firecrest and a few more familiar additions to the weeks tally: Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch, Chiffchaff, Linnet and Robin. A flyover large raptor here, far too distant to properly scrutinise, providing a tantalising hint of things to come upon a brief outing on the bus to nearby Calpe.

Having heard much of Calpe before our trip, it was only fitting that myself and Matt set some time aside for a proper outing before we were forced to head home. We did this on the third day; arriving at the inner-city Salt Lake early in the morning and immediately finding ourselves greeted by 47 Greater Flamingos feeding contently by the roadside. A first for me, having never before seen this species in the wild, and a queer sight to behold, in truth. Flamingos with a backdrop of high-rise accommodation and passing traffic, not something I had thought to see anytime soon. Also here, a number of Shelduck, Cattle Egret and Moorhen provided new additions to the growing trip list and a passing birder was kind enough to draw our attention to an overhead Booted Eagle – another lifer. What a bird!

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Greater Flamingo – Calpe

The real highlight of our stay at Calpe, however, came in the form of a lone gull sitting alone towards the Northern shore – far removed from the squabbling hoards of Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls amassed in the interior of the lake. Drawing closer, the identity of the pristine-looking bird soon became clear: Auduoin’s Gull – perhaps my most hoped for target of the trip and, by all accounts, a splendid bird to behold. The gull was enjoyed until our busy schedule forced us to depart for a whistle-stop tour of the Pobla de Ifac, where another male Blue Rock Thrush was the highlight of a decent cast of more familiar species. Including the ONLY Great Tit seen throughout the entire trip.

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Audouin’s Gull – Calpe

Back in Benidorm, our final ventures of the week saw us add Iberian Green Woodpecker to the trip-list; while a single Crested Lark was unearthed on a local building site. Taking a much more touristy trip to Benidorm Island, it was similarly great to immerse ourselves in the resident Yellow-legged Gull colony; while the short boat voyage to our destination provided sightings of Shag, Greater Cormorant and Sandwich Tern.

A brief mention should be given to Benidorms non-avian inhabitants that also amused throughout the week. With butterfly sightings including Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Wall, Long-tailed Blue and Lang’s Short-tailed Blue, there was plenty to look at on this front. A notable bonus coming in the form of my first ever Silver-striped Hawkmoth (pictured below) found hiding in the shade cast by a local supermarket.

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Silver-striped Hawkmoth – Benidorm

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Lang’s Short-tailed Blue – Benidorm

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Greater Flamingos against an urban skyline

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