Mallorca – winter birding, January 22nd-29th 2017.

hoopoeWell what a fantastic weeks birding, I will never say that winter birding can be boring ever again. With 88 different species seen, the most Alpine Accentors I have seen at one time, seeing my first ever twister, being part of a Spanish television program and finally getting to meet Michael Montier who writes a weekly birdwatching column for a daily Mallorcan newspaper. The week was full of excitement and some terrific bird species. I ‘m sure you will enjoy reading the full feature article below.
Jan 22nd. So off I went to Bristol airport for an early morning flight where I met two friends from Caerphilly who I would be joining for the week (they would be staying on for an extra four days). The flight was on time and uneventful and by lunch time we had collected our hire car at Palma airport and were on the road (with yours truly driving for the week) heading to our self-catering apartment in Puerto Pollensa. We started to clock up the species en-route with Hoopoe, House Sparrows, Starlings, Cattle Egrets, Yellow-legged Gulls, Stonechats, Little Egrets and Red-legged Partridges all seen. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains – but it sometimes travels across to Mallorca too and arriving in Puerto Pollensa we were greeted by the same wet stuff we had left behind in Wales – only a lot more of it. The island had been experiencing its worse weather in 10 years and we were arriving at the tail end of it. So a lunch stop was the order of the afternoon and around the harbour we watched numerous Black Redstarts, several Sardinian Warblers, a few Black Headed and Audouin’s Gulls overhead and a pair of Shags roosting by the boats. Thunderstorms stayed with us so late afternoon we retired to the apartment before venturing out for an evening meal.
Day 2, Jan 23rd. The weather had improved by the morning and we were off to Sallinas de Llevante (the Salt Pans) in the south to hopefully catch up with a Dotterel that had been reported there and to meet Michael Montier who writes a weekly bird column for the Mallorca Daily Bulletin called Wild Mallorca ( I had been in touch with Michael for quite some time via email and it was nice to finally put a face to the name. The Salt Pans ( as they are known by the visiting birders and local birdwatchers alike) have as of January this year been made a natural park which is fantastic news. The salt workings have now been taken over by new owners and although there is a public footpath through the site, you are quickly challenged if you stray off this and into the surrounding areas. You can however if you chose pay nine Euros and be guided around the site by a staff member. Unfortunately the wet weather had made the path down to where the Dotterel was impassable even with wellies so we spoke in-depth for quite some time as we birded along Eddie’s Track and the surrounding area adding to the list Greenfinch, Woodpigeons, Collard Dove, Robins, 7 Marsh Harriers hunting together over the pans, Fan Tailed Warbler, a pair of Kestrels, Grey Heron, Chiffchaffs, Crag Martins, Skylark, Lapwing, Little Grebe, 35 Greater Flamingo’s (there had been over 200 here a month ago), Black Winged Stilts, Spotted Redshank and Meadow Pipits. Song Thrushes were numerous and they can be found all over the island during the winter period, and I would not be exaggerating if I said that we saw in the region of over 200 each day. The four of us headed around to Es Trenc which offers views over the lagoons and the pans from the other side and were greeted to views of 3 light-phase Booted Eagles circling overhead. On the lagoons we also added a pair of Black-necked Grebes, 6 Ringed Plovers, 5 Grey Plovers, Greenshank, 2 Avocets, Linnets, Ravens, a Little Stint and a pair of Crossbills which landed on a telephone wire before disappearing into the adjacent pines. The Crossbill on Mallorca is a sub-species and is known locally as ‘Trencanpinion’ which means ‘pine nut cracker’. We talked with Michael for some time and instantly found him to be very friendly and with a passion for birds and we listened about his article due out that week where he was mentioning the hunters who indiscriminately target the birds during the shooting season. I read the article later that week and he had valid points. The article was well written and very interesting.
So after eating some of Michael’s packed lunch which he insisted on sharing (bread, cheese and a local pie) we said our goodbyes and thanks and headed off for the nearby Far de Cap Ses Sallines. The weather was holding off although when we arrived and parked up there were some threatening looking dark clouds over the sea itself. In fact what first caught my eye was my first ever twister. I could not believe what I was seeing as the typical funnel shape came from the cloud and at one point touched the surface of the sea before disappearing back inside the cloud. This happened two more times as we watched but eventually it fizzled out and the dark clouds thankfully were going the other way. We didn’t pick up any warblers in the thick scrub around the lighthouse (Balearic Warbler is possible here) but we had some interesting birds fishing just off the beach including 5 Shags, a first-year Gannet, 3 Sandwich Terns and a Balearic Shearwater all close in. Late afternoon we made the first of several visits to the waterworks site to the south of the Albufera Marsh. From the viewing platform overlooking the five lagoons we watched Shoveler, Coot, Little Grebes, Kestrels and Marsh Harriers hunting and a Red Kite passing over. That evening the thunderstorm’s returned.
Day 3 – Jan 24th. Fangar to Alaro. This was to be a new site recommended by the friends I was travelling with and involved a very nice scenic drive through Fangar down to Alaro where we would be visiting a restaurant renowned for its local meats and featured in the guide books. Prior to starting the drive down we headed quickly into Ternelle’s Valley and although access to the valley itself is now restricted you can scan the high escarpments and the river below from the roadside. A pair of Black Vultures drifted slowly and purposely over the high ridge and out of sight but a falcon caught my eye on the same ridge and as we watched, it landed on a distant peak. Telescopes were needed to identify it and we added Peregrine Falcon to the growing list. Woodpigeons were passing through the narrow gorge in their hundreds every ten minutes or so, flying fast and hugging the rocks as they passed through the narrow valley gorge. In between we saw a Rock Dove which is a true wild species on the island and not the feral type we are used to back home. After showing my friends the Roman bridge close by in Pollenca we headed onto the Fangar road. Chiffchaffs and Robins were numerous along the journey as were the ever present Song Thrushes. When we reached Alaro a narrow tarmac road took us to the sign for the restaurant which to my amazement was situated very high up on the top of the ridge. The twisting road with its hairpin bends leading up to the restaurant was something else, and the smooth tarmac soon gave way to potholes but it all added to the fun. I never got out of 2nd gear but to be honest the scenery was spectacular and the mountain air so crisp that it was nice to slow down for a bit. The trip was well worth it as the food was delicious.
We arrived at the car park and were greeted by a male Blue Rock Thrush perched on a telegraph pole. 134 House Sparrows (the most I have ever seen at one time) were busy feeding in the short grass and Blackcaps (mostly females) were also present. Their numbers were interesting counting up to 8 females and 3 males feeding together. We stopped off for a coffee inside before taking a little walk before our lunch. The restaurant called Es Verger was something else. The building was hundreds of years old with walls about three feet thick and inside was magical. A colossal wood burner adjourned the top end fuelled by large pieces of Olive and Cork Oak wood from the surrounding area. Farming tools and other implements lined the walls and the whole place had a feeling of serenity and homeliness to it, and the smell of wood smoke gently filling the air was divine. We headed along the twisting track that eventually reaches a castle on the top of the ridge. The air was so clear and we passed several mountain springs gently cascading down the tracks and Heather was in bloom adding a nice feel to the walk. The sheer rock face had several ropes running up it from the occasional rock climbers that visit the area.
After a gentle walk we returned to the restaurant and settled down to a beer, a mix of bread, olives and garlic and ordered our meals. The local food was amazing and we tucked into hearty meat dishes and took in the ambience of the place – and the smell of wood smoke. Several visitors came and went as we tucked in, some having a coffee before continuing their journey others a full meal, including a group of Spanish schoolchildren out on an amazing adventure no doubt. As time went on, apart from several other diners we were the only ones still there and at this point a camera man entered with a colleague and lots of equipment including lighting, and with a large camera mounted on his shoulder he began to get some shots. His colleague approached us and asked in Spanish if we wouldn’t mind being included in the filming for a documentary. Being able to speak some Spanish I checked with my friends and said we were fine with that. So there we were tucking into our dinner and trying to look natural as the camera passed through our direction several times. Afterwards I asked one of the crew for the program details which will be aired on Spanish television on 4th February at 13.30hrs, on TV IB3. The program is called Ben a Prop. After lunch we spent some time photographing Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers before heading back down to ground level.
We headed to Alcudia to check out the Tucan Marsh site which is basically next to the local Lidl’s. It is a very interesting area with plenty of Tamarisk and other shrubs and looks ideal for warblers. As we walked on the path got wetter and deeper and so we couldn’t quite get to the area of open water, but we did see numerous species and enjoyed watching a large group of Crag Martins feeding over the vegetation and the water. Next we returned to the waterworks site on the outskirts of the Albufera where Black Redstarts were numerous. A pair of Hoopoes flew quickly past and Cettis Warblers and Water Rails were added to the list. We left the viewing platform to head down to another platform in the area and parked up adjacent to the sewage works which today thankfully was not testing your sense of smell to the maximum. Several Cattle Egrets were feeding around the wet areas in the grounds and as we walked along the track into the marshy area of the south end of the reserve we could hear several Water Rails ‘squealing’. Seven Common Snipe flew up at the last minute from the waterside vegetation and a single Moustached Warbler flitted into the thick cover of the reeds.
Passing the now derelict house we reached the wooden gates at the end of the path and not surprisingly, the path ahead was flooded and so we couldn’t get to the second viewing platform. We did however scan the wet areas and watched 4 Purple Gallinules, a Hoopoe, several Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, 2 Spotted Redshanks, 6 Green Sandpipers and all the while being serenaded by the local Cettis Warblers. As it was now late afternoon we were hoping to see the spectacular ‘murmuration’ of over one and half million Starlings that roost in the reeds of the marshes during the winter, but sadly not tonight (or any other night for that matter) although we did encounter many hundreds out feeding in fields elsewhere. At this point we decided to head back to the first platform as the light started to slowly fade and whilst at the platform we watched 32 Cattle Egrets going off to their roost site and 2 Glossy Ibis flew past low over the reeds. I have seen up to six here on previous occasions during winter visits that fly up when a Marsh Harrier passes too close.
Day 4 – Jan 25th. Puerto Pollensa to Cuber Reservoir. The week before had seen this road closed due to heavy snow fall, but one thing we can thank the following rain for was that the road was now open again, and so we headed up to the reservoir, along twisting mountain roads with numerous hairpin bends that goes on for 30km. The Serra de Tramuntana mountain range that runs for 84k along the north of the island is now a UNESCO site which is fantastic news. The journey was quiet with only a handful of other motorists seen. The local Goats made several appearances though as they ran across the roads or stood precariously on the edge of the rocks with the sheer drops below. En-route we saw several Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs and Blackbirds. Once we arrived at the reservoir we were pleased to see the car park had now been tarmacked with another smaller car park added close by. Being up just over 5,000ft we were not surprised to see some low cloud, and Puig Major (Mallorca’s highest mountain at 1,447m above sea level) had some snow on its peak. We had a pleasant walk around the reservoir itself which is about two miles although the bird species this time were a bit disappointing. We did however see 7 Griffon Vultures, 4 Black Vultures, several passing Red Kites and both Cormorants and Yellow-legged Gulls on the water itself. We dipped on both Water Pipit and Alpine Accentor which my friends had seen here the previous January. A Great Tit was added to the list and as we got back to the car 8 Ravens were calling and circling together. It was evident another shower was about to start so we headed back down stopping at Lluc Monastery for some lunch. To give you an idea of how water the island has experienced, in January 2016, Cuber and the nearby Gorg Blau reservoirs had 27.9% water level. In January 2017 it was 102% – no wonder the reservoirs overflowed.
The heavens opened as we got inside the adjoining restaurant to the Monastery and so settled down for a beer and food to sit out the heavy shower. From inside we watched Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers flitting through the trees surrounding the restaurant and a single Firecrest was a nice surprise. The rain eased off and we did the short circular walk from the Monastery and around the rock face and back to the car park. The aptly named Friar’s Cowl was in flower and another Firecrest fed in an Olive tree close to the path
A Kestrel, Red Kite and two distant Black Vultures were seen also. That afternoon we headed back to Puerto Pollensa for a walk into the Boquer Valley. Unfortunately the weather looked dodgy again and we only got as far as the entrance to the valley just past the finca (farm) before rain stopped play. However, at the car park we had lovely views of a light-phase Booted Eagle flying over the town and into the sheep fields we were facing and landed on a telegraph pole. We had amazing views through the telescopes but unfortunately we could only get distant photographs. We didn’t see anything new on the short walk but as we sat in the car waiting for the showers to pass, under some trees on the roundabout opposite we watched numerous birds feeding on the ground and included House Sparrows, Blackcaps, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Starlings and Song Thrushes all feeding together.
We decided not to wander far from our car so drove along the back roads of Puerto Pollensa instead to see what we could find. Numerous species were seen and every wet field seemed to have several Cattle Egrets in them. Hoopoes were seen in ones and twos and a Pheasant and 3 Seren feeding on a path were added to the list. A Hare was added to the mammal list. As we stopped to photograph some Cattle Egrets feeding amongst Horses in a damp field, I was approached by a lady from the house opposite shouting at me in Spanish as to what we were doing. When I explained we were watching and photographing the egrets she calmed down. I think she thought we may have been eyeing up the horses, but to be honest, I have never heard of horse rustlers putting a fully grown horse into the boot of a hired Vauxhall Corsa before. As we headed back to base we stopped off in a turning just prior to the Albufereta Marsh and were delighted to see that a boardwalk with a viewing area had been erected looking over the marshes. We were rewarded with a sighting of 2 Great White Egrets. After our evening meal I took us all on a night drive along the Formentor road to Cases Velles in the hope of catching up with a Scops Owl but sadly to no avail. We could see lightning in the distance so knew that night would eventually see another thunderstorm which duly arrived over our apartment around 3am. We were lucky in that the worse of the storms passed overnight and cleared by the morning.
Day 5 – Jan 26th. Albufera Marsh. The weather had indeed improved and we had a great half a day at this magnificent reserve seeing 53 different species. Several of the tracks to the hides had been closed due to the flooding but we were able to visit three of the main hides at least. Numerous species we had seen in the previous days were sighted again but we had several new ones for the list and as walked towards the CIM hide we saw 22 roosting Night Herons in the Tamarisks on the opposite bank of the canal. Shelduck were plentiful and large groups of Crag Martins were aerial feeding. From the hide we watched a Rabbit, several Black Redstarts and a Hoopoe. A Golden Plover fed close in to the hide and a Kingfisher was an unexpected surprise. A Common Sandpiper fed along the edge of the water before flying off into the distance. As usual, several Marsh Harriers quartered the reed beds. Moving on to the Bishops 1 and 2 hides we had lovely close views of numerous ducks and waders including over 25 Black Winged Stilts, 5 roosting Greater Flamingos, 5 Avocet, Common Snipe, Ringed Plover, Wigeon, Teal, Grey Wagtail and a roosting flock of 24 Spotted Redshanks with 6 Common Redshanks mixed in. Little Grebes were busy diving under the water always resurfacing nowhere near to where they had dived. Purple Gallinules showed well as did Moorhens, Gadwall, Greenshanks and Shoveler. The light was ideal and we sat for quite some time in these two hides. It was from the Bishop 2 hide I picked out a raptor circling steadily higher on the thermals, and with good views I identified it as a Bonelii’s Eagle – a spectacular bird and one that has recently been re-introduced on the island to boost the low numbers already present. heron
As we walked back to the entrance of the reserve, stopping to look at Cettis Warblers and the Night Herons again along the way, 3 Serens feeding in the bushes was nice to see. An Osprey flew across the reserve low down and looked lovely as the strong sunlight shone through its wings. By the two stone bridges over the canal a Little Bittern burst from the side of the canal and quickly flew out of sight into the thick rushes over the other side of the second bridge ending a great visit to this reserve – the most important water area in the Balearic’s.
After lunch at our favourite pizza restaurant in Can Picafort – Vinnicius, we headed along some different back roads around Puerto Pollensa stopping to watch several White Wagtails feeding with the Pieds. A Stone Curlew crouched down low looking at first like a small boulder as we drove past. We stopped and watched it for some time. We returned for a quick visit to Ternell’s Valley and watched a Blue Rock Thrush and a light phase Booted Eagle. Another Hoopoe, Greater Flamingo and Common Pochards were seen during a drive along the Albufereta back roads and on a return to the new platform we found near to this site we watched a pair of Marsh Harriers displaying, Kestrels, 22 Cattle Egrets flying across the marsh, the two Great White Egrets again, numerous Chiffchaffs and Sardinian Warblers feeding. Water Rails were calling and as the light was fading a single Night Heron flying low across the marshes. That evening in the hope of seeing or hearing owls again we took a night drive to Cala San Vicente to a remoter spot I know, but apart from an unidentified rodent we saw or heard nothing new.
Day 6 – Jan 27th. Talaca de Alburcutx – Alburcutx Tower. From picking up several free Country Walking calendars from the local Municipal offices which contain photographs submitted by wildlife enthusiasts, we noticed that our new friend Michael had an Alpine Accentor picture on the September page and photographed at the Tower, so the plan was to visit there for ourselves on the off chance of finding one seem as we had dipped at Cuber. Crag Martins, a Blue Rock Thrush, Raven and Robins were evident but no Accentors. At this point I decided to walk along the path around the Tower and drop back down to where I had parked the car. This only took about five minutes but as I walked up the path I could see my friends ahead of me doing strange arm movements and flapping about. I wasn’t sure whether it was a mix of having a cardiac arrest with some sort of aerobics workout, but as I got closer I could see the ground being pointed to, and as I scanned the floor I could see two Alpine Accentors feeding with two more close by on the steps. I couldn’t believe my eyes and as I slowly walked closer, camera in hand ready, they took off and to my surprise were joined by two more from the adjacent vegetation that we didn’t even know were there. All six flew past me and out of sight over the rocks. I couldn’t believe that I had just seen six together. If only I had stayed put I would have had them feeding within ten feet of me – what a photo that would have made. But for me it is all about watching the birds, if I get a decent photo it is a bonus. But what a magical sight.
Ending this short visit on a high we continued on to the Albufereta Marsh between Puerto Pollensa and the Alcudia turn off on the coast road. The weather was holding off and after parking up I took a quick scan over the water where six waders quickly flew out of sight before they could be identified. Walking along the path into the reserve we did however have brief views of a Balearic Warbler flying into some thick Tamarisks and doing what they do best – staying out of sight. Bermuda Buttercups carpeted the fields and along the edges Tall Ramping Fumitory flowered adding some more colour to the landscape. As we walked along the path we watched 17 Collard Doves and several more Sardinian Warblers. We reached the new high viewing platform recently erected offering commanding views over the whole reserve. As expected the path leading to it was flooded but large concrete stepping stones had been strategically placed which made it easier (with a few smaller ones added by myself prior to these). It was great to finally be able to scan over the expanse of water as far as the eye could see and along the little channels, and the variety and numbers of birds did not disappoint.
Red-crested Pochards, 180 Coot, 2 Hoopoes, a pair of Kestrels, 58 Gadwall, 10 Pintail, a Greater Flamingo, Lapwing, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck, Wigeon, Common Pochards, Black-winged Stilts, Water Rail, Greenshank, Cattle and Little Egrets and Red-legged Partridges all added to an increasing list. We were delighted to see not two but three Great White Egrets in the area. A Great Crested Grebe was diving continually close to several Yellow-legged Gulls perched on the water’s edge. In the spot known as ‘the mound’ a second viewing platform has been erected overlooking the far side of the marsh and also over the adjacent fields where Quail can sometimes be seen in the spring and summer. A Fan Tailed Warbler competed for the same perch as the resident Corn Bunting – the bunting won. Returning to the car I took a quick look over the same area of water where the waders had took off from. They had returned and this time I could see they were several Spotted Redshanks and Greenshanks.
We visited another new site known as ‘the kingdom of warblers’. This is Son Real situated 5k outside of Can Picafort on the Ma-12 road and thankfully a recent planning proposal for a golf course had been turned down. It is an area of outstanding beauty with rolling fields and a lovely pine forest interspersed with Olives and Cork Oaks. Wild Rosemary was everywhere and covered in delicate blue flowers. There are several routes one can walk along of varying lengths. On one such route we found an area that had an artificial pond made. Although we didn’t see any, this is where the local Crossbills come down to drink. The area looked ideal for warblers hence the name and I would love to explore this area further in the spring. Linnets were in good numbers with Serens and Greenfinches mixed in.
We stopped off on the outskirts of Alcudia for a late baguette and were greeted to lovely views of a Hoopoe feeding in the grass (cover picture) which we watched for some time, and as we sat outside having a bite to eat two Swallows passed overhead – certainly our first of the year. Michael had said he saw two fly over just before we joined him at the Salt Pans on the second day but I wasn’t expecting to see this species on this particular trip. We finished off that afternoon back at the waterworks site near to the Albufera and the Shoveler numbers had increased to 400 birds with 210 Teal mixed in. Three Common Sandpipers gave good views and the distant artificial raptor nesting platform had an Osprey perched on the top for a while.
Day 7 – Jan 28th. I have always said that the holiday week is the quickest week in the year and this was no exception. But it had been a brilliant weeks birding despite some dodgy weather at times. For the last day we were heading off to Arta to look at a few sites, but not before an early re-visit to Alburcutx Tower. Sadly there was no sign of the Accentors but a female Blue Rock Thrush was perched on the hand rail of the tower and as we headed back down I could see several Crag Martins stopping to drink from a puddle that had formed on the roof of one of the derelict outbuildings, giving a nice photo opportunity.
Heading into Arta we followed the signs for Ermitage de Betlem where we were hoping to catch up with a Thekla Lark. Upon our arrival we watched Seren, Blue Rock Thrush, Chiffchaffs, Black Redstarts, Kestrel, Hoopoe and finally a Thekla Lark feeding in the short grass. We continued deeper into the area and visited a waterworks site on the outskirts. The water treatment area itself was alive with birds all taking advantage of the water, the vegetation and the abundance of insects. Chiffchaffs were plentiful and we counted at least 20 individuals. Also seen was a Grey Wagtail, Pied and White Wagtails, Stonechats, 18 Moorhens, Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 pairs of Black Winged Stilts, Starlings, Coot, Mallards, Little Grebes, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Great Tit and a Blackcap – all in this one area. A Dunnock was feeding alongside the river. A Firecrest feeding nearby proved difficult to photograph but nice to watch as it fed in the canopy of a Cork Oak. Elsewhere in the region alongside a mountain stream was a nice group of Narcissi in flower, some almost submerged where the stream had increased with the rains. Talking of which, it looked like the damp stuff was creeping back in so we ended the trip with the last visit back in the north to the waterworks by the Albufera where a pair of circling Black Kites was the last species of an impressive list and a thoroughly enjoyable week’s winter birdwatching. I returned to a rainy Wales the following morning with my friends staying on the island for an additional four days. I look forward to seeing what else they may have had.
Pictures top to bottom: Hoopoe (Alcudia), Lemon, Blue Rock Thrush (Alburcutx Tower), Greater Flamingo (Sallinas de Llevante), Night Heron (Albufera Marsh), Bermuda Buttercups, Holm Oak acorns (Alaro) and morning sunrise from Alburcutz Tower.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *