13 Aug 2009

Benidorm Island - Over...

Time for a bit of local tourism!

So, we have this big UGLY town just up the coast north from Alicante. You've probably heard of it? Does the name Benidorm ring a bell? Well if not then you're lucky! My mom likes to say that when she was a girl the only town between Altea (where she was born, nicest town on the coast of course!) and Alicante was Villajoyosa, and that Benidorm was just a collection of fishermen's huts. Anyone who has sailed down the coast probably wishes it had stayed that way... :p It's just a massive grouping of skyrises. A collection of hotels and appartment buildings destined to inexpensive tourism (which is a good thing for the tourists I guess). A traffic nightmare... and doesn't feel at all like you're in Spain! If you walk around the streets or along the beach you'll see signs in English, German, Dutch... but not much Spanish! In many restaurants and bars you might actually have a hard time finding someone who can speak Spanish! Sadly there are quite a few places like this (like Playa de los Cristianos in southern Tenerife...) all around the Spanish coast) and they make me nervous and/or angry... Trust me, you haven't been to Spain if all you've been to is one of these places!

Ok, but let's veer away from the negative! The one good thing I REALLY like about Benidorm (other than a great traumatologist / chiropracter my Dad and I go see who can do miracles with our backs!) is the little island that sits peacefully in the bay in front of the city.

If you look back behind the town you might see an odd mountain top... one with a square hole in it!

Legend has it that an angry giant tried to squash an annoying hero up there, and ended up kicking a bit of the mountain into the sea, creating the island! Well geological studies have proven that the rocks are of the same age/material/origin on the island and the mountain... plus it's just the right shape so... who knows? ;o)

So you can hop on a ferry from Benidorm Harbour to go over there (it ain't cheap, but they will also take you around in a glass-bottom boat), if you do be sure to take snorkling mask/tube/fins and pack a picnic lunch (the one bar/restaurant charges insane prices). You can walk around the seagulls on top for a while (or look for other birds like cormorants or storm petrels in the caves if you're there during breeding months), or jump in the water and enjoy the damselfish, wrasses etc you'll see swimming and nibbling on the algae on the shelf.

More on the underwater aspect in the next post. I want to share a few secrets hidden within the Island first! ;o)

So, last June I was lucky enough to be able to participate as a volunteer to help with an ongoing (over 15 years) census of Storm Petrels (or paiños in the local lingo). These are small birds who travel far and wide spending most of their lives in the skies, dipping into the waves for food. But like all birds they have to come to land once in a while, basically to breed! There are just a few spots along the coast here where they have breeding colonies, and the Island of Benidorm is one of them!

We walked across and then around the back of the island until we had gone about 3/4 around from the landing platform. The beginning of the walk was easy as pie (there's even an area with a gravel path), still quite easy once we started cutting across the brush (avoiding seagulls and trying to ignore the scrapes of the sharp bushes on our calves).

But petrels nest in caves... so that required a lot of scrambling and using hands, knees and butts in some areas (so my hands were to busy to get pictures)! lol! Our first destination was a rather large cave with several hundred nests in it.

Those metal cages you see are to trap seagulls (they've done this in previous years to try and control the seagull population, apparently they've grown to such numbers they're considered pests, plus they kill the rare petrels so a threat). Can you spot the nest hidden in a crag in the roof of the cave? If you click for a bigger picture you just might make out the bird in the centre:

The tasks were to complete the petrel census (as much as possible) by going through each nest (they're numbered) where petrels hadn't been counted yet, see if there are chicks or eggs present, write down the ring number of the adults or if they're not tagged then ring them. Here's an egg that never hatched and was abandoned:

And here's a storm petrel carcass as we also had to count those to help determine mortality levels. Our guide was a bit worried because several of the carcasses we found had no heads, more a sign of death by rat than seagull... a rat here would be disastrous!

Speaking of our guide, Ana, she's done her PhD studying this colony and another in Mallorca, and although she's finished (and looking for a job like so many biologists) she's still devoted to this colony and these birds and came several times throughout the season to help the park rangers out! Want to see how devoted? Well she'll do what it takes to get at a nest and get the job done:

And here's our bird, the storm petrel:

As you can see, they're small birds (so easy prey for gulls). The other volunteer, Stephen, also studies petrels in England and Scotland, and came over just to help out for a couple of days (now there's a motivated person!). Among other things he was interested in measuring beak sizes:

If you're worried about these birds having their necks squeezed like that (I was!) don't be, apparently that's the proper way to immobilize them. Here one bird is getting ringed:

And here are a few more relaxing on their nests (easy to access for once!):

Want to see a chick? ;o)

aren't they adorable?!?!?!

Once you get past the smell (ugh!) this cave is quite impressive from the inside:

but even better is the view looking out towards La Sierra Gelada natural park:

Once we finished off in the big cave (several hours later), we made our way back across the island to the second, smaller cave. To give you an idea of how easy it WASN'T to get to these things... take a look, the cave's down at the bottom:

nearing the entrance:

look! a guardian watching over his buffet? (young seagull) :p

I was too tired to get any photos in this cave (and it wasn't as interesting as the first and stank more), but boy was it refreshing to be right on the water like this!

And voilà! You've had a glimpse into areas of the island that only park rangers and biologists usually get to see! Hope you enjoyed it. Mañana how about a view of what's under those waves? ;o)


  1. I know those holiday places can be dire, but I'm much more fond of them than I used to be, because the best deals are always attached to them. Without them, I would never have been able to go to Tunisia and ride a camel in the Sahara! On the other hand, there are some I avoid because British girls (and guys) have such a terrible reputation, and because I can fight off idiot drunk Brits at home and do not wish to do so on holiday...

    Love the pics from the cave, gorgeous!

  2. Yeah, they do seem to get the best travel deals!

    But if you want to avoid idiot drunken Brits... then you'll definitely have to avoid Benidorm in the summer (the winter is mostly retirement communities)! There's a lot of them out brawling in the pubs, trying to get drunk as fast as they can (hey people! bars don't close at 11pm in Spain, you have all night!!!).
    Trust me they give your country a bad reputation... :s It's a good thing I know better! ;o)

    yeah, all the effort in getting to that cave was worth it! :o)

  3. Very cool! I love the folklore involved with piece missing from the mountain.

  4. That was an interesting adventure! Thanks for sharing and educating.

  5. My pleasure! It's nice to have people to share these stories with... thanks for tuning in! :o)

  6. Spending many months in Spain, mainly for holidays, surely have heard about Benidorm...sounded like Lloret de Mar, north of Barcelona, where I spend much good time, even though asking in Spanish, being answered in German ;)
    Interesting as well learning about birds. Please have a nice Friday.

  7. Wow, what a spectacular adventure you went in, thanks for taking us along.

    Interesting birds and even more interesting flying and nesting habits.

  8. Anonymous12/1/12 11:11

    I visited the caves with the ringing group in July 2011 and was quite impressed. The Storm Petels breeding in the Mediterranean are now considered a separate species from the Storm Petrels breeding in the Atlantic (UK, Canary islands)and are called Mediterranean Storm Petrel. I came especially over to the Costa Blanca for two days just to see this rare and endangered bird!
    Eric Jan Alblas, the Netherlands.


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