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MALLORCA - APRIL 1997,Mike King
Tuesday 1st April 1997 Bright and sunny
We left home after breakfast and headed north up the motorway to Birmingham Airport. We made excellent time and arrived in plenty of time for our lunchtime flight to Palma. I saw eleven species of birds on the trip to the airport, seven of which I did not see in Mallorca, although all are common here. The exception was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was probably a motorway tick.
The flight was delayed for one hour which did nothing to calm me down as this was my first flight. However once on the aircraft, an Airbus, I was fine and found taking-off to be quite a buzz, and the view over the Pyrenees was spectacular.
We landed at Palma Airport on Mallorca at around 6pm local time and our coach transfer to our hotel, the Pollensa Park Hotel in Puerto de Pollensa, took an hour. I only saw five species of birds on the transfer - Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, House Sparrow and Shag - the fifth species was a flock of four Cattle Egrets in a field near Sa Pobla. These egrets were more like it, I was already anticipating what was to come.
Once settled in to our hotel room I relaxed watching Swallows and Swifts from our balcony and listening to all the familiar and strange bird sounds and songs. It was then that two adult Audouin's Gulls flew into view, brilliant, a life tick without leaving the room.
I noted that they were large near Herring Gull sized gulls with pale grey back and wings with black tips with small white spots, white head, underparts and tail. They had heavy dark red, drooping bills and dark legs.
Later in the week at closer range I noted that the red bill had a black band near the yellow tip and the legs were dark green.
After dinner during a stroll around the grounds of the hotel I immediately heard the plaintive call of a Scops Owl. It was exceedingly difficult to locate because it was dark and the owl was very high in the treetops. However I was successful in seeing it twice, thanks to the outside lighting, in fluttering flight between the treetops. It was its unmistakable call that really clinched the identification.
An excellent day, my first flight tucked under my belt, beautiful weather, five year ticks including two life ticks and plenty more to come.
Wednesday 2nd April 1997 Warm and sunny with a light breeze
I got up before 5am and was disappointed to find that it was still pitch black so I ended up going back to bed for an hour. I left the hotel at about 6:45am, heard the Scops Owl still calling and headed off for the Boquer Valley. On the way I saw at least six Yellow-legged Gulls on the beach, it was useful to see them as I find them very difficult to identify back home. They are similar to a darker grey Herring Gull with yellow legs and a sore throat, with their deeper, croakier call.
At the base of the Boquer Valley I started to see lots of birds including the first of many Stonechats, Sardinian Warblers, a Hoopoe and a Wryneck. I really didn't know which way to look first. The Wryneck showed for only a frustratingly brief moment as it flew between the trees in an orchard although it called persistently. The Hoopoe was just perfect and has always been my favourite bird, ever since it was the one I most wanted to see in my first "Observers Book of Birds".
Sardinian Warblers were a life tick for me and the males were particularly stunning. I noted that the males had a jet-black head, red eye and eye ring, white chin and neck above pale grey breast and underparts, slate grey back and wings, tail blacker, orangey legs. Scratchy song. The females were similar but head grey/brown.
I headed on up a track to the Boquer Valley itself passing through an imposing pair of gates which, but for Graham Hearl's bird guide I probably wouldn't have done. I walked past a large farmhouse, avoided the noisy, but chained dogs and passed between two huge boulders into the valley.
It was here that I spotted another new bird to me - four Crag Martins were flying high above the left-hand ridge. Later in the day I had even better views when four birds flew around our heads back in the Boquer during the afternoon. I noted that they were similar to Sand Martin but larger, the underparts were pale brown whilst the upperparts were darker brown. The leading edge to the wing was noticeably darker brown than the flight feathers giving a two-tone effect. Their flight seemed slower and more measured than other martins. At close range it was possible to see white spots on the end of their shallow notched tail.
At this point it was getting late so I needed to be getting back to the hotel for breakfast. I also noticed another birder a little further up the valley who was heading my way. I waited for him and introduced myself. His name was Chris Abbott from Cawood in Yorkshire. We found we were both family birders staying in adjacent hotels so we arranged to meet the following morning at around 7am.
After breakfast, with Bridgette and Michael, we walked through the hotel gardens to the beach. In the gardens I was very pleased to see Serins, three males and a female. The males were a lovely shade of green with bright yellow rumps like taillights and all had characteristic stubby bills. These were a million miles in looks from the only other Serin I had seen, a bedraggled stray, in driving rain in a mud heap of a field in Cromer, Norfolk.
Also in the gardens was my first Willow Warbler of the year and two explosively noisy Cetti's Warblers.
Whilst Bridgette and Michael were on the beach I examined the rather aptly named Smelly Stream in the centre of town. I saw my first Yellow Wagtails of the year, they were in fact Spanish Wagtails of the race 'iberiae', a race tick. They were very like Blue-headed Wagtails of the flava race but the notable difference was that they had white chins and throats and a darker mask on the face. Also here was a super summer plumaged Water Pipit, a Meadow Pipit and many Swallows.
After a leisurely lunch the three of us returned to the Boquer Valley. At the entrance to the valley there were two fine male Redstarts, the first of the year. Near the entrance to the valley I was pleased to gain yet another lifer. It was a male Blue Rock Thrush feeding in a small orchard. It was an all blue songbird similar in size and shape to a Blackbird but with dark legs and bill and was more noticeably blue on the head. Later I both saw and heard another male and saw a pair together. The song was fluty and again reminiscent of Blackbird. The female was greyer and more mottled.
As we walked along the valley on this beautiful afternoon we saw a male Kestrel, another four male Sardinian Warblers, the four Crag Martins I have already mentioned and two pairs of Serins.
The main reason for walking the valley in the heat of the afternoon was hopefully to see raptors. It wasn't long before Bridgette spotted a large raptor gliding along the left-hand ridge. It was a superb Egyptian Vulture, yet another life tick and my first Vulture species. Although it was far above us it was easy to see that it was a huge bird. I noted that it soared along the ridge on flat wings. It had a white leading edge to its wings in contrast to black primaries and trailing edge and it had a white wedge shaped tail. This was one bird that was unmistakable really.
We had only gone a few yards further along when up popped another lifer. This was birding heaven surely. On a gorse bush up to the right of the path there appeared a warbler not unreminiscent of our own Dartford Warbler. It was a male Marmora's Warbler, one of the island's specialities, which I had hoped for but soon learned not everyone was connecting, with it. Chris didn't see one all week despite great efforts, and Dave Gosney struggled when he filmed 'Gosney in Mallorca'. This bird was a male of the race 'balearica'. I noted a uniformly slaty grey warbler with a long tail which it often held cocked. It had a long bill, red at the base with a dark tip, red eyes with red orbital rings and quite bright orange legs. It was singing from the top of a bush, the song being quite a pleasant trill.
On reaching a deep blue cove at the end of the valley we saw two adult Audouin's Gulls, two adult Yellow-legged Gulls and a flyover Peregrine. Then we started the hot return journey to the hotel. Almost immediately a large raptor appeared along the ridge on our left. It was a Booted Eagle, my sixth lifer of the day. This bird was the first of many that I saw during the week here. It was of the dark form with uniform dark brown coloration except for a paler brown tail and pale patches at the trailing edge of the wing near the hands. It was seen several times soaring along the ridge. It soared on flat wings. I saw it several times as we walked back along the valley.
Back at the valley's entrance there was a good congregation of birds and British birders. The birds included two or three Hoopoes busily flying to and from nest sites, another brief Wryneck, and my first Whitethroat of the year, a Black Redstart and a magnificent seventh lifer. This was a Fan-tailed Warbler, also known as Zitting Cisticola. I noted that it was a small buff coloured warbler with a short tail. It was perched on the top of some dead vegetation until it flew into a pine tree to gather nest material. Then it flew in the direction of its nest site. It gave a 'tew' flight call. Its back and wings were streaked and I also noted white spots in the tail.
Thursday 3 rd April 1997 Warm and sunny
I left the hotel at around seven at met up with Chris as we had decided to walk the Back Roads before breakfast. On the beach were two adult Audouin's Gulls and an adult Yellow-legged Gull. Our first notable bird was a Fan-tailed Warbler, the first of three.
There were many commoner species including a flock of eight Meadow Pipits, three Corn Buntings, six Goldfinches, a Cetti's Warbler and a Chiffchaff. Best birds were a Hoopoe, two Wrynecks heard calling and a pair of Sardinian Warblers.
After breakfast Bridgette, Michael and I left for a drive up into the mountains. As we gained height up the winding mountain roads a dark form Booted Eagle gave excellent views as it soared over the car. Higher up at a pull-in near D'Escorca where we stopped to enjoy the view a confiding Firecrest was a welcome sight.
When we arrived at Gorg Blau (the Blue Gorge) a pair of Ravens flew over, the islands only corvid species. Also here a pair of Crag Martins were nesting in the tunnel through the rocks at the head of the gorge.
Unfortunately none of the special birds were being obliging at Cuber Reservoir and only a pale form Booted Eagle was of note. The rest of the day was spent on non-birding activities but a Hoopoe flew across the road during the afternoon at Bunyola.
In the evening after dinner a walk around the scrub at the back of the hotel and the hotel gardens brought a nice selection of birds including two male Sardinian Warblers, two Fan-tailed Warblers, a Cetti's Warbler, two male Stonechats, a male Serin, a male Spanish Wagtail and in a tiny swampy pond a Water Rail. Best of all was a flyover Purple Heron and finally the Scops Owl was calling again.
Friday 4 th April 1997 Very warm and sunny with a light breeze
A pre-breakfast walk around the hotel brought all the usual species, most notable of which were two Fan-tailed Warblers, three Sardinian Warblers, a Hoopoe and a Wryneck calling.
After breakfast we all went to the famous S'Albufera marsh. It was excellent birding. At the entrance to the marsh a small pool held hundreds of marsh frogs, the noise they made was wonderfully cacophonous. Unsurprisingly this much free food attracted both Little Egrets and a Cattle Egret. We saw seven of the first and two of the latter. Also around the carpark were a Fan-tailed Warbler, two male Sardinian Warblers and two male Serins.
From the bridge looking towards the Tower Hide I saw a pair of Garganey and nine male and two female Red Crested Pochards.
Then from the Bishop Hide I had a much hoped for lifer - a Purple Gallinule. It was a large unmistakable rail, ungainly in appearance. Its plumage was a glossy dark blue with a white ventral area, noticeable especially when it cocked its tail like a Moorhen. The legs were long and red with large feet and long toes but its most obvious feature was its huge red bill and red shield extending from bill to forehead. I saw a second bird later from the CIM Hide. These birds were re-introduced to S'Albufera from the Coto Doņana in 1991 and almost certainly all the current birds are offspring of the introduced stock, therefore they fall into a similar category to our Little Owl and Capercaillie so I have no qualms about ticking them.
Also from the Bishop hide were two Little Ringed Plovers, six Black-winged Stilts, I saw three more later, three Snipe and a Yellow-legged Gull.
I walked up to the Tower Hide then in blistering heat and was serenaded all the way by at least four Cetti's Warblers. From the tower, a cool oasis, I watched two female Marsh Harriers, a Purple Heron and a Grey Heron all flying across the reed beds.
I finished the morning at the CIM hide where the best bird was a superb Whiskered Tern, the only other one I have ever seen was at Bredons Hardwick.
After lunch at the hotel we drove out to Cap Formentor. Bridgette drove for which I was very grateful, as there were far to many birds to distract me on what was a dangerous winding road. At one stop we saw four Crag Martins and a Kestrel.
We stopped at Cases Velles, which at that time was unfortunately off limits to the public. However there were three Crossbills here and another lifer a wild Rock Dove. This dove was similar to many Feral Pigeons I have seen but this bird was slate-grey with a darker head, double black wingbars, white lower back, dark band at tail tip, pinkish flush to upper breast, thin black bill with white cere, orangey-red eye and pinkish legs.
When we arrived at the Cap there were two more Crossbills, one of them a male. The crossbills on Mallorca are of the race 'balearica'. This male was a very bright red with quite a bulbous bill reminiscent of Parrot Crossbill.
A fishing boat lingered below the Cap and when it started to ditch fish heads and all manner of disgusting leftovers a flock of Cory's Shearwaters appeared as if by magic. These special seabirds were yet another life tick for me and I knew I would never get views like this on an English seawatch. They were large grey/brown shearwaters with white underparts and white underwings edged in grey. They had noticeable yellow bills with dark tips and their flight was a smooth glide on down-turned wings towards the feast from the fishing boat. Also of note here was another male Blue Rock Thrush.
Back in Puerto de Pollensa I had a look at Smelly Stream before the evening meal. This was a very profitable half an hour because there were many birds here. Best of all was a Bluethroat which came within touching distance, however there was no spot on the throat to enable racial identification. Also here were a pair of Spanish Wagtails, a Hoopoe, a Common Sandpiper (first of the year), a Water Pipit, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and a Wryneck calling.
Saturday 5 th April 1997 Cloudy at first but becoming very warm and sunny
I was out early before breakfast and drove the short distance along the coast to S'Albufereta. This proved to be an excellent area for birds and the first notable bird I saw was an adult male Night Heron. It was fishing in broad daylight and was a picture in soft grey, black and white with three extravagant head plumes. This whole area proved to be good for herons because I also had two Grey Herons, eight Little Egrets and two Purple Herons. Passerines were also well represented with seven male Stonechats, surely the islands commonest small bird, four Fan-tailed Warblers, two Corn Buntings, a male Serin, two male Sardinian Warblers and a Cetti's Warbler. Waders here included a Common Sandpiper, six Little Ringed Plovers, nine Black-winged Stilts and best of all a pair of Kentish Plovers. Quartering the surrounding fields were two female Marsh Harriers and one male and two female Garganey were also notable. Two winter plumaged Black-headed Gulls on the beach were uninspiring but a good record for Majorca.
After breakfast we drove down to Porto Cristo to visit the caves of Drac. On route we stopped and had wonderful close views of a pale form Booted Eagle. Also here was a Corn Bunting and a Kestrel. In the carpark of the Caves there was a pair of Crossbills and as we ate lunch I was surprised to see at least two Collared Doves, as they are not on the species list in Hearl and King's book. However I later found reference to them being at Porto Cristo in the 1995 bird report.
Having enjoyed an al fresco lunch we drove down to picturesque Porto Colom and whilst Michael and Bridgette played on the beach I went off for a short walk. The scrub here was packed with birds including two Rock Doves, four male and three female Stonechats, three Wheatears, a male Sardinian Warbler, a pair of Redstarts, a 'flava' Blue-headed Wagtail and best of all another male Marmora's Warbler. Also in the harbour was a Little Egret.
On leaving Porto Colom I was very pleased to see a Woodchat Shrike on telegraph wires, the only one of the week, and also another Corn Bunting.
We made one last stop on the journey back to the hotel. It was at Ermita, the route to the top was winding and narrow and very steep. We parked at the top and found we had wonderful views in all directions. It was very breezy and windswept up there. Michael and I set off to look for birds, with Thekla Lark in particular as the target. The first very obvious species were three Booted Eagles all of the dark form which hung on the updraughts effortlessly. Birds here were few and far between, the other species seen here were two pairs of Stonechats, a pair of Goldfinches, a male Sardinian Warbler and a female Serin.
Just as we were about to give up Michael spotted two birds on a low stone wall. They were Thekla Larks. He was extremely pleased that he had found a lifer for me, and I was well pleased too. They were quite similar to Skylarks in many respects, however they had prominent pointed crests, streaked upper breasts with whitish lower breasts and bellies. The legs were orangey and they had thin dark pointed beaks. Their flight was typical of the lark family. The clincher however was the clear, fluty song, which I had heard on CD previously and I had brought a tape of the calls and songs of Majorcan birds as a reference with me.
In the early evening I was able to see the Scops Owl flitting around the treetops in the hotel carpark. All through the week we had brilliant views of the comet Halle Bop in the black Mediterranean sky.
Sunday 6 th April 1997 Very warm and sunny
I met with Chris at 6:45am and we set off up the Boquer Valley. It was very warm already and it proved to be an excellent couple of hours for raptors. We saw two Booted Eagles, one pale and one dark, an Egyptian Vulture, two Kestrels, a Peregrine and an Osprey.
Other notable species included a Blue Rock Thrush, four male and two female Sardinian Warblers, a male Redstart, a Fan-tailed Warbler, five Crag Martins and a male Serin. New species for the holiday were two Red-legged Partridges and a male Cirl Bunting. Also notable was a flock of twenty Rock Doves.
After breakfast we left for Mortitx up in the mountains where we hoped to see Black Vultures as we had heard that this was a feeding station for them. It had become a very hot day and the walk afforded us spectacular views of the mountains. It became very steep as we neared the summit and we found the heat rather exerting, having to stop frequently to take drinks. Michael and his friend Richard ran ahead with ease but we eventually caught up with them at the top just after we had passed a deep, fish-filled lake. We saw where carcasses were laid out for the birds but unfortunately they were again unobliging.
The birds of note here were one dark and three pale Booted Eagles, a Raven, a male Blue Rock Thrush, two Crag Martins and two male Sardinian Warblers. Also here was a Peregrine seen in flight and perched high up on a craggy cliff-face. It was calling loudly and constantly indicating that a nest site was probably nearby.
On the way back down we found a small group of wild donkeys and enjoyed free-wheeling down into the valley just taking in the sights and sounds we had missed on the way up as we were to busy trying to breathe.
Later in the day I checked the Smelly Stream and saw a Little Egret, a Water Pipit, two male and a female Spanish Wagtails and a White Wagtail. On the beach was an adult Audouin's Gull and on the offshore rocks were four Shags.
Monday 7 th April 1997 Warm and sunny but breezy. Cloudy late in the day.
Early in the morning I drove to S'Albufera with Chris, we parked near the English Bridge and together with other birders we waited and watched as two adult Night Herons flew out from their roost.
We decided to turn left down the Ses Puntes track through the reedbeds and were rewarded with many good birds. Herons were the stars, there were seven Little Egrets, a Grey Heron, a Bittern booming (a call tick for me), two Purple Herons and best of all a lifer in the shape of a Great White Egret. This was a large all-white egret with a long neck and long dark legs. It had a dark yellow-based bill. In flight I noted its large wings, fairly slow wingbeats and pronounced neck bulge and long trailing legs.
There were five Marsh Harriers, four females and a male, quartering the reeds and two Ospreys flew over. One caught a large fish and we had excellent views of it as it settled in a dead tree to eat it.
Warblers were also everywhere, there were Reed Warblers, four Fan-tailed Warblers, a Cetti's Warbler, a male Sardinian Warbler and best, but most frustrating, of all was a Moustached Warbler which sang from the reeds close to the path but remained out of sight.
Other notable species included a Hoopoe, a Whiskered Tern, a Serin and six male and two female Red-Crested Pochards.
From the bridge facing the Tower Hide we scrutinised a large flock of Common Swifts, amongst them we found a single Pallid Swift, a life tick for me. It was identifiable by its paler brown colouring, faintly scaled underparts, pale lower wings, larger white throat patch and broader less pointed wings and slower flight.
So after a good couple of hours birding including two life ticks we headed home. After breakfast together with Bridgette and Michael we headed to Palma for the day. On the way we saw a flock of six Cattle Egrets in a field. A pair of Kestrels nesting in Palma Cathedral were also notable.
On the return journey we stopped a Cuber Reservoir and even as we were parking the car I could see that my target species was already blotting out the sun. A huge Black Vulture was soaring above the carpark. A massive raptor with a giant wingspan and prominent primaries was not difficult to identify. A second bird shortly joined it. Although I had left it until the last few hours of the holiday I felt mission was accomplished. Also here was two of the ubiquitous Booted Eagles and ten Crag Martins.
Tuesday 8 th April 1997 Warm and cloudy and showers.
In the hotel carpark as we waited for the coach to the airport was a Serin and two adult Audouin's Gulls waved us goodbye from the beach.
It started to rain for the first time as we boarded the plane home. We had had a great holiday, I had seen many new birds and lots of British scarcities and as a family we had seen many new places and experienced many new things. We can't wait to go back.
Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East - Lars Jonsson. Published by Helm.
Collins Pocket Guide Birds of Britain & Europe with North Africa & the Middle East - Hermann Heinzel, Richard Fitter & John Parslow. Published by Harper Collins.
A Birdwatching Guide to Mallorca - Graham Hearl & Jon King. Published by Arlequin.
Anuari Ornitolōgic de les Balears 1995 Volum 10. Prepared by GOB.
Gosney in Mallorca (Spring) (Video). Published by The Red, Green & Blue Company.
Š Mike King 1997
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