Mallorca- The Re-discovery of a Gem- Part One

In July 2015, the two intrepid Nash birders visited Mallorca. They gradually eked out their target species in the searing heat of the Spanish summer. And yet, there was a desire for better photos, the lure of better cameras yielding better photos, a lure which led to them going back…

Mallorca Day 1- Saturday 8th July- Refamiliarisation

Having woken up at an ungodly hour of the morning back in the UK, we set off for Stanstead Airport. Security was predictably smooth & there were no problems, and soon we were jetting off to the sunny island of Mallorca.

We arrived slighly behind schedule due to air-traffic congestion, but still managed to see Kestrel & Cattle Egret from the plane as it was taxiing along the runway. With the far-less-than-desirable pick-up of the hire car, the small but mighty piece of German-Czech engineering that is the Skoda Fabia, out of the way, we were soon cruising out of Palma along the motorway.

Two motorways, 45 minutes, and umpteen examples of crazy Spanish driving later, we arrived in our cosy little villa right on the outskirts of Port de Pollenca, the large settlement which attracts tourists like moths are attracted to a light. We immediately liked the look of the outside of the villa, with its various seating areas sheltered from the scorching Mediterranean sun. However, further inspection inside yielded several immediate problems, most notably the infestation of ants in one of the bathrooms which spread right across the house to the kitchen dishwasher. Mosquito larvae were soon found living IN the sink, and there was the expected yet annoying lack of round-the-clock air conditioning.

Having shopped for food in the local supermarket & settled down to a very late Spanish-themed lunch of serrano ham, manchego cheese & picos, we planned for the late afternoon of birding ahead. Retrospectively, we didn’t plan well enough, because soon we were rushing to get to S’Albufera National Park.

The S’Albufera National Park is one of the best reserves in the Balearic Islands (and arguably most of Spain), and attracts all sorts of things at peak times. Unfortunately, the reserve shuts at 6 for those who don’t have a permit to go in outside of hours: you have to get them from the visitor centre before it shuts at 4. To put things into perspective, Albufera is a 25 minute drive from our villa, and we left for Albufera at 3:35…

We arrived in the car park at 3:55 having rushed through tbe hustling resorts of Alcudia & Playa de Muro, but there was still the 1.1km walk to the visitor centre to tackle. Sure as eggs, once we reached the visitor centre at 4:05, it was shut. However, we could still kill a couple of hours, which we spent exploring the reserve.

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Little Ringed Plover outside the main hide
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Western Purple Swamphen standing guard…

We got back to the villa in time for dinner. We decided to eat out at Los Faroles, a restaurant smack bang in the middle of the seafront in Port de Pollenca: this decision was based on the fact that it had done us such a good turn during our last visit. Though it does specialise in fish, it does excellent meat dishes. However, this must not detract from the fact that their fish dishes are spectacular, especially the calamarines. We dined away our first night as the Mallorcan sunset played out behind us.

Day 2- Sunday 9th July- Re-exploration

We were up bright but not-so-early for an explore of the southern limits of S’Albufera. First stop was the Depuradora de S’Illot, an old set of sewage works just clipping the very south end of the National Park. The road to the Depuradora is surrounded by agricultural land & quarries, hence we found several interesting birds including Thekla Lark, Bee-eater & Wryneck.

The Depuradora itself was alive with birds, but they were all fairly far away & the only one vaguely of interest was a Hoopoe which batted across. We were surprised to find small numbers of returning waders here, especially Green Sandpiper, and we assumed that these were failed breeders. Some birds we knew weren’t failed breeders, however, were the local Black-winged Stilts, who were busy chasing off everything in the immediate area.

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Thekla Lark perched on the fence outside the Depuradora
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Black-winged Stilts were flying around the Depuradora itself constantly

We then moved on to the Cami des Polls, a track at the very SW end of the National Park, which we had been told was good for encountering both dragonflies & the very small population of Common Waxbills on Mallorca. Alas, there weren’t any waxbills this time, but we did manage to find Norfolk (Green-eyed) Hawker, Red-veined Darter and even a Migratory Locust!

We also found the ditch around us, which is up to its ears in reeds, to be very good for reed-dwelling warblers, namely Reed, Great Reed, Cetti’s & Fan-tailed Warblers. One surprise we weren’t expecting, however, was the presence of at least four Moustached Warblers which appeared to be breeding in the ditch. Though often elusive, they occasionally popped up & showed for us.

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Moustached Warbler partially concealed in the reeds

We then returned to the villa for lunch, and the heat of the day was played out in both the swimming pool & anywhere in the immediate vicinity of air conditioning.

We timed our afternoon visit to Albufera a bit better this time around, and we arrived at the visitor centre in time to get our evening permit… with a minute to spare. We then did our usual circuit on the reserve, starting at the centre but moving on round to the main hides, along & up over the canal, before returning back & exiting the reserve. Today, it yielded some very cute Kentish Plovers, a few Crested Coots & a Lang’s Short-tailed Blue butterfly amongst other bits & bobs. The Crested Coots on the reserve, along with the Red-crested Pochards, Purple Swamphens and, in part, Marbled Ducks, are all part of a long-established reintroduction programme (this also included White-headed Ducks, but these long since died out in the depths of the 1990s)

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This Kentish Plover had chicks nearby
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Crested Coot sporting its fine facial accentuations

And so, another excellent meal of classic seafood paella at Los Faroles completed our first full day on the island.

Day 3- Monday 10th July- Re-invigoration

We were up & out again this morning, this time headed for the fabled Cami de Cala Boquer on the north side of Port de Pollenca; however, to most birders, it’s known as the Boquer Valley. This is a very long walk through a large valley with huge cliffs dominating either side. Not only is this a great spot for raptors & dragonflies, there is an even greater prize lurking in the coastal scrub…

We eventually got to an area of low scrub, just as the path starts to descend towards the Cala Boquer, where we knew a pair of Balearic Warbler were breeding, thanks to the ever-useful Mike Montier & his Birdforum crew. It was getting very hot & we hadn’t had much success on the bird front, with the highlights of a very lacklustre list being three Blue Rock Thrushes scattered around the valley. However, this was countered by the wonderful Striped Grayling which showed beautifully on the path for us.

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Striped Grayling on the rocks at Cami de Cala Boquer

Finally, just as we were about to give up & go home, a little bird flew up from underneath us: it was none other than the male Balearic Warbler. It proceeded to show on & off for the next 30 minutes before we finally upped sticks & moved on. We were lucky to have several Eleonora’s Falcons on the way back down. We also briefly drove nearby & found three more.

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A male Balearic Warbler perched up with some food
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The recently-split Mediterranean Flycatcher is far less streaky than our Spotted Flycatchers

This afternoon, we went up the Formentor Peninsula, a 20km piece of rock sticking out of the north-east of the island. First stop, however, was 13km up the peninsula, in an area of pine woods along the Cami de Cala Murta: it’s named after the myrtle bushes which spring up along the track down to the beach apparently.

Our primary aim here was to see the endemic Balearic subspecies of Crossbill, and we luckily managed to see around ten birds coming down around a drinking pool, accompanied by three Crag Martins whizzing around. The difference between the Balearic birds & the nominate is that young Balearic males are more of an orange colour, mature Balearic males are a paler shade of red & Balearic females are far less green (this is alongside very slight morphological differences).

 

We soon moved on to look for our next target: after failing to see any Eleonora’s Falcons on the way up, we decided to stop at the lighthouse at the very end of the peninsula, which, once you have negotiated the parking, provides a great vantage point to scan from. It was pleasing to see up to seven Eleonora’s Falcons of both dark & pale phase come up off the cliffs, hang in the breeze & then go off hunting along the peninsula and out to sea.

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A slightly orange young male Balearic Crossbill in the pines
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Another one, this time a female- note significantly less green
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Eleonora’s Falcon– master of the Mediterranean cliffs

We then headed for home, but we couldn’t resist stopping to photograph the resident gulls on the beach at Port de Pollenca. A seafood tapas meal at our favourite restaurant, Los Faroles, ensured the day ended on a true high.

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The Audouin’s Gulls in Port de Pollenca typically come down once the beach-goers have left

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And with them comes the complementary Yellow-legged Gulls

HERE ENDETH PART 1. PART 2 COMING SOON.

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2 thoughts on “Mallorca- The Re-discovery of a Gem- Part One

  1. Great blog and some great birds seen
    Well done for enduring the Spanish summer heat.
    I visit most years in either Spring or Autumn and the heat even then can be too much

    Like

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