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A Report from

Mallorca ~ the quiet side,

Christopher Hall

The village of Sineu in the heart of Mallorca, commemorates Good Friday night with a procession of icons, depicting the crucifixion and resurrection, which passes through the narrow streets, blocking all access to our hotel. As we watch the participants file slowly past, dressed in robes and tall pointed hoods, the white silhouette of a Barn Owl sweeps across the black sky above us. We are off to a flying start even before we have checked in to our hotel!

On our first field day we visit the Albufera wetlands. En route, early birds include smart Red-crested Pochard and Audouin's Gull with a very handsome Woodchat Shrike, perching for all to admire in the scope. At the entrance to the Albufera reserve, we pause at the heronry to compare Little and Cattle Egrets, resplendent in elegant breeding plumes. A closer look reveals a sleepy Night Heron with a slender white crest running down its back. Penetrating deeper into the marshes the heron parade continues with Grey, Purple and a single Squacco, sitting almost invisibly amongst the reeds. But the best is yet to come, as we manage to lure out a superb male Little Bittern, which perches up on the tip of a reed stem, while the whole group stares in amazement at this absolutely incredible sighting, again captured in the scope.

Memorable views continue to pour in, like the family of shiny Purple Gallinules, picking up tasty reed stems with their enormous red feet. While tiny Fan-tailed Warblers are zitting overhead, the bushes around us are bursting with loud Cetti's Warblers, which show well, though the singing Nightingales and Great Reed Warblers remain tantalisingly invisible. At Bishop Hide 1, graceful Black-winged Stilts are literally under our noses, and then a nice Little Ringed Plover joins them for a bathe, just feet away from us. Further out are Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshanks in lovely black breeding plumage, with Marsh Harriers showing well as they patrol back and forth at low level. Other notable ticks here included Spoonbill, Ruddy Shelduck and a White-headed Duck, a lifer for us. With Whiskered Tern and Moustached Warbler also on our list of sightings, what a pity there are no Bearded Tits here too!

A gorgeous blue sky for our fist venture into the Tramuntana range, and yet we have the mountains all to ourselves. After some persuasion with the CD, we manage to pinpoint a shy Wryneck, followed by excellent views of a singing Serin. The gentle climb produces an impressive variety of birds including Crossbill and both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, while Nightingales are again singing endlessly from thick cover, and an inquisitive Firecrest is attracted by the CD to within yards of our group, so that we get the best possible views of its fancy eyestripes and bronze neck patches. Climbing higher we add Crag Martin, Raven, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Booted Eagle and up to a dozen or so Black Vultures, with a paler lone Griffon amongst them. As we sprawl out for lunch, the Black Vultures descend to check us out, giving magnificent views as they float by on 9 foot wingspans. On the descent, fluty calls alert us to a group of migrating Bee-eaters. Flying in tight formation they suddenly scatter like a cluster bomb, and are gone as quickly as they appeared. With over 60 species now totted up, we end the day with a leisurely visit to the monastery at Lluc, surrounded by imposing mountain vistas.

Another fine day as we explore the rural Arta peninsula. Besides ubiquitous Sardinian Warblers, we soon have close views of a fine Tawny Pipit, perched on a rock after plummeting from a high display flight. At the Betlem hermitage, the viewpoint produces the first of several male Blue Rock Thrushes enjoyed during the trip, followed by a trio of Booted Eagles, soaring around in the scope almost at eye level. More action follows with another Wryneck, a posing male Cirl Bunting and a circling swarm of Swifts in their hundreds as they journey northwards.

Today we head south for the Salinas de Levante, but soon have to stop for Hoopoe, Corn Bunting and Thekla Lark. Once at the salt lagoons we see a group of Greater Flamingoes and very close Little Stints and Kentish Plovers. On a short stroll in this sandy area, we locate a Stone Curlew, barely 50 yards away, and quickly have it in our scopes for all to see this strange nocturnal bird staring at us with bright yellow eyes. At this range we also notice its yellow beak and bulging jowls, one of many star birds from this trip. After lunch, more lagoons lay on a drake Garganey and a feast of waders at close range including Avocet, Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Ruff, a single Wood Sandpiper and loads of Stilts and Spotted Redshanks. There is even a Black Stork to add to the excitement as it circles low overhead.

It is late afternoon by the time we reach the lighthouse at Cabo de Salinas, where the wonderful view across to Cabrera is full of Cory's Shearwaters as they glide by against the waves. A quick scan locates a feeding frenzy of gulls and shearwaters, some of which turn out to be the rare Balearic Shearwater, clearly smaller, darker and quicker flapping than the Cory's. The Cabo soon has another treat in store as it is a plum spot for another Mediterranean endemic, Marmora's Warbler. Within minutes we have a stunning little male perched out in the open and calling long enough for everyone to clearly see in the scope, a red eye and bright orange beak and legs contrasting with a smart dark grey suit. What a fabulous day.

The Bocquer valley is one of the famous birding sites on Mallorca. We spot a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes, plenty of singing Cirls, a soaring Egyptian Vulture and two exceedingly well camouflaged Stone Curlews, yet this is surprisingly quiet. We decide to head inland and stake out a Nightingale spot near Beehive Bridge. There is one singing from dense cover, so we try to tease it out with the CD. Before long it whizzes past our heads and again disappears into a bush, now teasing us with its rich and powerful song. Scrutinising every branch we eventually pinpoint the bird, train the scopes on it and zoom in.. We didn't just see Nightingale, we saw its tonsils with each verse, as the beak opened so wide! As we celebrate this amazing sighting, we almost miss a pair of Common Sandpipers, quietly foraging along the edge of the stream.

The sea is like a millpond as we set sail for Cabrera. We are barely ashore when we catch sight of a large raptor carrying a small snake. It is of course a Short-toed Eagle, which gives good views as it soars above and below the skyline, but refuses to settle. A short way from the jetty we encounter a fall of Whinchats, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers and beautiful blue-headed Yellow Wagtails. A little further inland is a Cuckoo and an immaculate male Black-eared Wheatear, which keeps returning to a favourite perch close enough for everyone to admire at leisure. This pristine island also produces another posing Marmora's Warbler and then a breathtaking aerial display by a pair of Peregrines, as they hurtle and stoop across the sky, before settling on a rock ledge allowing us to watch them in the scope. On the boat ride back to the 'mainland', we are entertained by several Cory's Shearwaters, flying close enough to the boat to show off their large size and yellow bills.

At Cuber Reservoir we enjoy scopefulls of Woodchat Shrike and a chorus of frogs and Nightingales. As well as bright green frogs in the scope we watch three sizeable turtles basking in the warm sunshine. The valley seems full of Nightingales with nothing to do but sing all day. To our astonishment we even spot one singing from a wire. It stays so long we eventually have to leave it and move on. Another memorable sight is the cloud of over a thousand Yellow-legged Gulls, spiraling over the water like a swarm of flies, while the raptors overhead include Black Vulture, Booted Eagle and a single Red Kite, but still no sign of Eleonora's Falcon.

Formentor is our last chance for the falcon but the many spectacular viewpoints fail to produce one although we do pick up a couple of Alpine Swifts. Out to sea there are more shearwaters when suddenly the outline of a dolphin breaks the surface. As we follow its trail, others become apparent. The sea here is so clear we can even see them underwater. They start to form a narrowing circle, presumably around a shoal of fish, which attracts Shags, gulls, and shearwaters. Soon up to a dozen dolphins are playfully leaping clean out of the water. It's a splashing show. This fantastic peninsula also gives our best views of Crossbill, another fall of songbirds and an Osprey, bringing the trip list to an impressive 108 species.

Christopher Hall

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