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A Report from

Bird watching in Menorca,

John Girdley


I visited Menorca for a family holiday during August 25th-30th 1996.  I travelled with Thompsons and stayed in the Hotel Milanos / Pinguinos in the resort of Son Bou. The hotel was perfectly adequate for the family needs being situated directly on the beach.   However, rather more importantly, it was just a two minute walk from the huge Son Bou reed bed / nature reserve where I spent most of my early mornings.

The end of August proved to be an excellent time to visit because southbound migration was well under way.  Obvious migrants through Son Bo included Bee-eaters, Tawny Pipit, Great-white Egret, Marsh Harrier and Nightingale.  In addition to these, all of the regular breeding species were still available with birds like Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Blue Rock Thrush all being fairly easy to see.  From my hotel balcony sea-watching provided regular views of of Mediterranean and Cory's Shearwaters.

I did hire a car for three days and managed to visit several other key sites. Relying on the local bus service would have been less than satisfactory and anyhow, bird watching at this time of year is best done at first light before it gets too hot.  My information came primarily from Steve Whitehouse's FBRIS reports.  Whilst on the island I was able to buy "The Birds of Menorca" by Enric Ramos, which has detailed species accounts and status (I.S.B.N. 84-273-0761-6) but I haven't seen it for sale in this country.  The following book also had some useful site information:

Bird Watching Guide to Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera  Heart, J. Busby
Mallorca and Menorca: the Rough Guide  Phil Lee

Birdwatching sites in Menorca

Son Bou

Son Bou is a major birdwatching area with a wide variety of habitats.  It is situated fairly centrally on the south coast of the island.

The main habitat is a huge reed bed comparable in size to the famous ones at Minsmere and Leighton Moss in England.  Unfortunately however, (at the time of my visit) the reeds are undergoing rapid succession and will be turning into a woodland in a few years time!   There is no open water and some  needs to be created, urgently!

The town of Son Bou has encroached on to the eastern most part of the reserve but the western end is little affected.  A steam flowing between rugged limestone cliffs feeds this western end and it is here that the likes of Egyptian Vulture and Raven can be seen.

The reed beds are fronted by dunes and coastal scrub and the largest beach on Menorca.   Most tourists stay close to the hotels and so the beaches become less disturbed at the western end.

To the east of the big hotel is a big limestone cliff sticking out into the sea.   This is good for Blue Rock Thrushes and for sea-watching.  Migrant hirundines and swifts swirl in the thermals above this area.

It is possible to walk the whole way round Son Bou.  This would take three to four hours (assuming frequent stops along the way) and would certainly provide many birds.

Santa Cala Galdana / Algendar Gorge

Santa Cala Galdana is a small resort to the west of Son Bou.  Following the left bank of the river inland leads to the Algendar Gorge.  Park near to a gate marked no entry and walk in!  (I was assured that the sign was to discourage casual visitors.)

The Algendar Gorge is an excellent place to see Booted Eagle and Egyptian Vulture.   Nightingales and Cetti's Warblers were also plentiful.

There is a Mirador (viewing area) looking down on Santa Cala Galdana from the eastside of the cove.  Approach this by turning left on the way into town, (sign-posted to the Hotel Sol Gavilanes) and drive to the end.  Mixed Swift flocks including both Pallid and Alpine can be present here.  They pass at eye-level and are a fine sight.   It is also possible to look back from here towards the Algendar Gorge and get telescope views of soaring raptors.

Mahon Harbour

This is a six km long natural inlet and the only way to see it easily is by boat.   I took a very reasonably priced, glass bottomed boat trip.  In addition to getting close views of Audouins Gull, I also learnt a lot about Menorcan naval history!

La Albufera (S'Albufera des Grau)

This is Menorca's only freshwater lake and it has been an official nature reserve since1986.  It is about six km north of Mahon, close to the resorts of Shangri La and Es Grau.  It is scenically delightful and holds many birds. ( Best birds included Osprey, Booted Eagle, Wryneck, and Black-winged Stilt.)  A telescope is fairly essential.

Habitat here is quite varied and includes open water, salt-pans, dune scrub and coniferous forest.  It deserves more time than I gave it, (my wife said that it was too hot and that the beach was a better bet.)

The Cap de Cavalleria

This is Menorca's northern most point and as such, has a huge potential for recording migration across the Meditteranean.  It should also be excellent for sea-watching, in the correct winds, as it sticks out so far into the sea.

On my visit things were quiet, although some Audouins Gulls were lingering off shore.   Blue Rock Thrushes graced the headland and inland were a scattering of migrants including Redstart, Wheatear, Short-toed Lark and Tawny Pipit.

Just south east of the the Cap de Cavalleria is Cala Tirant with what is a large area of wetland earlier in the season.   It was dry in August.

El Torro.

This is Menorca's highest peak.  It has a road running right to the top and is an obvious viewpoint for raptor watching.  (or so I thought! )  I did see a few warblers however including Spectacled.

The birds of Menorca

Species seen Comments
Little Grebe Seen at La Albufera, the main base on the island for this species.
Cory's Shearwater Seen in small no's, mornings and evenings off Son Bou
Meditteranean Shearwater As above but perhaps even smaller numbers.
Cormorant Two at La Albufera must have been very early winter visitors.
Balearic Shag Five off Son Bou.
Cattle Egret A migrant individual in the pasture at the end of the Son Bou reed beds.
Little Egret One at Son Bou, ten at La Albufera.
Great White Egret Vagrant! One flew over the Son Bou reed bed on 29/8/96.
Grey Heron One at Son Bou, ten at La Albufera.
Mallard Common duck. (the only one that breeds in Menorca)
Egyptian Vulture Two at Son Bou and four in Santa Cala Galdana Gorge.
Marsh Harrier An early returning migrant was at Son Bou 29/8/96.
Booted Eagle Up to four over the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge. One at Cap de Cavalleria.
Osprey Two seen at La Albufera, where they breed.
Kestrel Fairly common.
Red-legged Partridge Lots at Cap de Cavalleria.
Moorhen Seen at Son Bou and La Albufera.
Coot At least thirty at La Albufera.
Black-winged Stilt About twenty at La Albufera.
Stone Curlew One at Cap de Cavalleria.
Ringed Plover One at Son Bou.
Kentish Plover One at Son Bou.
Common Sandpiper One at Son Bou, one at Cala Tirant.
Yellow-legged Gull At least ten regularly on the beach at Son Bou and forty plus in Mahon Harbour.
Audouins Gull Four seen in the outer harbour at Mahon, two off Cap de Cavalleria.
Rock Dove Fairly common.
Wood Pigeon Only seen at Son Bou.
Turtle Dove Two at Son Bou.
Swift Very common.
Pallid Swift Actually more common than Common Swift, especially around the south coast.   Look carefully!
Alpine Swift Fifteen obviously migrant Alpine Swifts from the Santa Cala Galdana view- point area.
Bee-eater Migrant flocks included c.250 at Santa Cala Galdana Gorge and twenty at Son Bou.   This species is in serious decline on the island. (Down from fifty pairs to none at Son Bou in recent years.)
Hoopoe One seen from the car!  Apparently common.
Wryneck A migrant individual at La Albufera.
Short-toed Lark Four at Cap de Cavalleria.
Thekla Lark Apparently abundant but I didn't see any!  Crested larks don't exist on the island and so there are no identification problems!
Sand Martin A few migrants seen.
Crag Martin Six with Swifts off the cliffs at son Bou.
Swallow Remarkably, just one migrant flock seen.
Tawny Pipit Three seen, all presumed migrants, though it does breed!  One at Son Bou and two at Cap de Cavalleria.
Yellow Wagtail One migrant at Son Bou.
Nightingale At least ten in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge plus odd migrants at Son Bou.
Redstart A migrant at Cap de Cavalleria.
Whinchat A migrant at Son Bou.
Stonechat Common Resident.
Wheatear A scarce migrant! One at son Bou and two at Cap de Cavalleria.
Blue Rock Thrush Common on coastal cliffs, especially at Son Bou and Cap de Cavalleria.
Blackbird Resident.
Fan-tailed Warbler Very common in the reeds at Son Bou.
Cetti's Warbler Heard many times from the reeds at Son Bou and in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge. (Not that I actually saw any.)
Spectacled Warbler Apparently scarce, but individuals seen at El Torro and in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge.
Sardinian Warbler Common resident.
Blackcap Two in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge.
Spotted Flycatcher At least ten in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge, plus two presumed migrants at Son Bou.
Woodchat Shrike Two in the Santa Cala Galdana Gorge, plus two individuals (presumed migrants) at Son Bou.
Raven Two at Son Bou.  This species is in drastic decline on Menorca.
House Sparrow Common resident.
Chaffinch Common resident.
Greenfinch Very common resident.
Goldfinch Very common resident.
Linnet Common resident.
Corn Bunting Very common resident.

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