Sunday 5 February 2012

Mallorca trip report

OK so it was in April last year but it's taken me this long to get around to writing a trip report for Mallorca 2011. The main reason for doing it now is that during those dark and wet winter morning commutes I have been casting my mind back to our week in Mallorca last year when the skies were blue, the days were warm, the food was great and the birds even better. Its memories like that which keep you going through the Irish winter! (mind you according to P's mum it was -34 Celsius in Riga last night so it could be worse!!).

Riga - last Friday night - where did I park the car?
I had been to Mallorca for the first time in 2007 with David Browne and Bob Strickland. Bob being a veteran of at least 6 trips to Mallorca meant we needed no guidebook. In that one week we saw over 100 species, 36 of which were lifers for me at that time. Mallorca was were I saw my first ever Firecrest, along with male Blackburnian Warbler, now my all time favourite bird. 
I could recall the whereabouts of most places we went to in 2007 but rather than take any chances I got hold of this great book on amazon.

A birding tourists guide to Majorca

It's a very fine guidebook, written by 5 local birders, good quality photographs and best of all GPS coordinates for each location. Just punch the details into your satnav and off you go.
We had booked the flights Cork-Palma in January so we got a good deal. The next thing was accommodation, rather than a hotel we checked and found this smashing villa near Alcudia in the heart of the best birding sites on Mallorca.

5 minutes from Alcudia and 10 minutes from Pollenca it was perfect, well done P for digging it out. We went in mid April so it was well priced but prices do increase as the season opens up.
Once it was all booked we spent the rest of the winter looking forward to our trip. On 9th April we took the late evening flight to Palma and we were finally on our way. We picked up a rental car at Palma airport (a nice little diesel Seat...of course), entered in the coordinates and 40 minutes later we had pulled up to the gates of the villa....easy!
Because we were arriving late I asked the owner if they would mind leaving something in the fridge for breakfast. Well as it turned out there was enough food in there to last a couple of days....very generous and a very nice welcome! It was heading for midnight so we dropped our bags and sat out on the porch enjoying a cool bottle each of Cruz Campo beer, eating some tasty snacks and listening to the Nightingales singing and the Stone Curlews calling. I remember saying to P that I'd expect to hear a Scops Owl sometime when just a couple of minutes later out came that distinctive single note call from several fields away. Probably not the right thing to do but we played Scops Owl song on the ipod briefly and the bird came into the garden, sat high up in a tree and studied us both. After that we left it well alone and every other night we enjoyed its simple song as we sat out on the porch drinking our Spanish beer. Shortly after that a Barn Owl flew past, it gave a single shriek before disappearing into the night.
The next morning after breakfast it was time to take a wander around the gardens. The villa was set on about an acre of land, in front there was a nice lawn and pool and to the side a very attractive looking orchard with about 50 fruit trees of various types (lemon, orange and olives mainly).The first bird to catch my eye was a nice male Sardinian warbler, I chased this little chap around all week but never got a decent shot of him. I'd spend an hour sitting in the car with skrim netting covering the window so I could get a nice shot but never succeeded.  Just as I would finally give up it would show well. Sardinian Warbler =  1: Graham =  Nil

heavily cropped and a little blurred - Sardinian Warbler
P, without too much effort, did a little better as you can see from this shot.

Sardinian Warbler - Mallorca April 2011
However, all was not lost because I did manage to get some shots of another garden regular from my Seat Ibiza hide. A Zitting Cisticola was busy gathering nest material most of the week and sat up nicely for a shot.

Zitting Cisticola / Fan-tailed Warbler
Once P had managed to drag me away from the birding we headed into Alcudia for supplies. There was a very nice market in the old town where we stocked up with lots of nice cheeses and meats, all other essential supplies (i.e. Cruz Campo) came from the local supermarket. Each evening we'd light up the stone barbecue and grill fish or meat, smashing!!

The barbeque - P became quite the expert on this!
On the second full day I thought it'd be worth driving over towards the excellent S'Albufera reserve. This national park is one of the most well known birding locations in Mallorca. There is a network of small canals around reedbeds, saltmarsh and brackish lagoons. There are several very nice hides and a small visitor centre. Throughout our week in Mallorca we visited S'Albufera about 3 different times, the light wasn't always that great but there were plenty of opportunities to see some good birds up close. S'Albufera is an excellent location to see the rare Red-knobbed Coot and Marbled Teal as well as the almost prehistoric looking Purple Swamphen.

Dinosaurish!! - Purple Swamphen

Red-knobbed Coot

Other birds that were present at the reserve during the week included Red-crested Pochard, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Harrier, Kentish Plover, Garganey, Common Tern, Cattle Egret, Night Heron, Great Reed Warbler, Little Ringed Plover and Litttle Stint.

Red-crested Pochard - good numbers on the canals and waterways around the reserve

Black-winged Stilt -always posing for photos.

Male Kentish Plover

Little Ringed Plover

One of the highlights of the week in fact was the flock of about 30 Spotted Redshanks that stayed for several days while sporting their very striking black breeding plumage. This rather obliging individual came close to the hide on one occasion allowing some decent shots.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank
 And on the final visit this Wood Sandpiper dropped in briefly.

Wood Sandpiper - S'Albufera, Mallorca.
Another a place I wanted to visit though was Son Real. This is about 20 kms down the coast between Alcudia and Arta. In the guide book is was given the title 'Kingdom of warblers' and described as one of the best spots on the island to see the endemic Balearic Warbler as well as Dartford Warbler. We set out with high expectations and reached Son Real at the relatively early hour of 9.30am (very early for us). Son Real was once a working estate now under public ownership. You park the car and then walk past the farm buildings and house before reaching a path that goes through an area 'characterised by low Majorcan garrigue of rosemary, heather, together with coastal pine woods and rain-fed arable land'.....sounds nice eh? It looked spot on for those nice Sylvias. But the further we walked the more disappointed we got. No Dartfords and no Balearics at all, only the resident Sardinians. No sign either of any Stone Curlews. We reached the end of the path as it opens out onto the beach and found a nice Tawny Pipit and on the way back a pair of Woodchat shrikes (though not the endemic badius subspp.). Half way back along the path I realised I was missing sunglasses, back I tracked to pick them up on the beach and even though it was April it was getting hot and we were getting tired. I joined P again and we headed back to the car for lunch, the pine trees in the car park had a single Wood Warbler, at least that was something. So no joy at Son Real, perhaps we were unlucky or the wrong time of the day, I don't know, but the walk is nice all the same. Just don't forget your sunglasses.
The following evening we took a drive into the town of Pollenca. There is a small stream that runs under the road and I remembered Bob telling me in 2007 that it is a good spot for Yellow Wagtail. Since my last visit they have created a nice little path around the stream with plenty of signs for visitors about the birds they are likely to see. We spent about an hour here and enjoyed good views of Yellow Wagtail (subspp. iberiae) as well as several Auduoins Gulls on the rooftops.

Yellow Wagtail gathers nest material - an excellent shot by Polina

Yellow Wagtail (iberiae) - Pollenca, Mallorca
Another spot I had visited in 2007 was Cuber Dam, a large reservoir set in the Tramuntana mountains and a great spot for Black Vulture, Spectacled Warbler, Firecrest and Booted Eagle. In 2007 I recall seeing Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Thrush, Subalpine Warbler, Firecrest (for the first ever time), Black Vulture, Osprey, Booted Eagle and Tawny Pipit. As I recall it was a Saturday or Sunday when we drove up to Cuber Dam so the whole area was pretty busy with cyclists and walkers although few birders. The first part of the path around Cuber was pretty quiet on the bird front unfortunately, we checked the usual spot for Spectacled but were probably too early. Nonetheless the views of the reservoir were spectacular, the cold clear mountain water looking very blue indeed.

Cuber Dam, Tramuntana Mountains, Mallorca
However as we continued on along the path in due course at least one Black Vulture drifted over. The habitat surrounding the path changed from grassland interspersed with rocks to small stunted pine forest. Here there were several Wood Warblers picking their way through the trees, presumably on their way further north.

Wood Warbler en route - Cuber Dam, Mallorca
The path switches around then and tracks back towards the car park on the opposite side of the reservoir.

Cuber reservoir from the north-eastern side

There are more trees here and this is where I had seen Firecrest in 2007 so I broke off the path and starting listening and looking. The area was full of sheep resting in the shade of the trees, the sound of their 'sheep' bells clanging adds to the overall feel of the place, its the sound of Cuber.

The local sheep - with bells on!

In several spots the cliff face rose upwards from the woodland and there were groups of Crag Martins here with the occasional House Martin also. After 20 minutes of searching I picked out the high pitched call of a 'crest' and got onto a single Firecrest feeding alongside another Wood Warbler in the small trees. A little bit wary of me but I did manage a shot for the record.

Firecrest - Cuber Dam, Mallorca
I joined Polina back on the path just as a Booted Eagle drifted past. We met a pair of German birders and chatted with them briefly before moving on towards the car park. In the trees and bushes below where we had started from was where the most bird activity seemed to be. Several Nightingales, a female Common Redstart and a couple more Firecrests. Just then Polina spied a very smart Tawny Pipit sitting up on a rock. We got into position and it afforded us close approach giving us what I think were the best shots of the week including this excellent image by P.

Tawny Pipit - Cuber Dam, Mallorca

It was evening time by now so the crowds had thinned down a little. We took our time coming back down from the mountains and stopped at several other spots just to take in the views.

Lake beside Tunel del Puig Major

Me and our mobile photography hide
Looking for Crag Martins
Back at the villa, I had continued my daily walks around the orchard and it was clear that stuff was passing through all the time. Each morning was an exciting time, to see if anything new had dropped by and if anything from the previous day had stayed around. On the first morning I had a very smart male Common Redstart that stayed for about 3 days but was very wary of me and never allowed any close approach. A female Whinchat was present for two days and for one day only a nice male Northern Wheatear. On the second evening a striking male Woodchat Shrike turned up and spent at least one day singing in a tree at the bottom of the drive-way. I guess you could describe his song as a scratchy type of warble, for a brief moment I was reminded of a distant Marsh Warbler. Using the Seat Ibiza hide he allowed a few shots.

Woodchat Shrike - Mallorca
By the end of our week he had moved on. Another thing I noticed was how flocks of swallows would come through every couple of hours, clearly on the move and busy calling to each other as they headed northwards towards Formentor. A close check of these flocks often indicated the odd Red-rumped Swallow. One bird that seemed to be surprisingly scarce during our stay was Hoopoe, again a tick for me in 2007 when we saw plenty. This time I was wondering if we'd see any until I heard one singing distantly from the villa. It came into a field about 200 meters away and sang from a tree, the next day it had moved on.
Corn Buntings and Red-legged Partridge were ever present but again like many birds in Mallorca, quite wary of people. I guess shooting and trapping of small birds may have something to do with that. Raptors were on the move too, a single Red Kite passed over and I'm pretty sure I had a Bonelli's Eagle during the middle of the week but couldn't get enough on it to be certain. On the second last day of our trip the Bee-eaters turned up. I heard them first, the chorus of their purring calls, a few seconds later and the flock goes past, wonderful birds.
I mentioned earlier that the old town of Alcudia has a very nice open air market. Old Alcudia is well worth a visit itself. The old town is walled and within the walls are lots of nice charming little cafes, shops and restaurants. Narrow little streets which you can wander around for hours.

Graham wanders off!
We bought the obligatory 'tat' here, fridge magnets and ceramic lizards that stay on the fridge or bathroom wall for a few days when we get home until one of our 2 cats decides they need closer examination and they end up in little pieces on the floor. One year on a single 'lizard' has survived.
Just to show it wasn't all birding on our last day, for a "bit o' culture" we visited Els Calderers. A beautifully restored old Manor House / Country Estate. A glimpse of Mallorca in days gone by, privately owned and well maintained. I'm sorry now we didn't take some more shots of the house and grounds itself. Here are a couple of the chapel within the estate and one of the many bedrooms within the manor house itself (which if you look at the photo closely you can just about make my reflection out in the mirror.....creepy looking!)

Els Calderers Chapel

Bedroom - me in the mirror!

After that we headed back to the airport, dropped off our little Seat and headed for home. Any of you familiar with Mallorca will notice that there were plenty of great spots we didn't visit, Boquer Valley, Albufereta, Cases Velles and Cape Formentor to name just a few. That's for the next time!

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