Cheating in Majorca!
The title could also be called – the quest for Bill Odie’s bee-eaters as I'm sure many more than me have seen his TV programme, jumped off their sofas and dialled up EasyJet. Majorca, the last weeks of April is one ‘hot’ migration places to be with plenty of birders with tripods, telescopes and binoculars all over the island. Anne and I sometimes think, in our amateur and naïve way, that everyone other than us is born with an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds and most have Swarovski tattooed through them like seaside rock!
It’s not just that everyone seems to know more than us but they all saw – a dozen bee-eaters flying up the road last evening. And, only this morning they had 40 in their villa back garden – you could have got a lovely photo! Well, we did a bit of homework, invested in some specialist Majorcan bird books, bought a new map or two, oiled the telephoto and charged up all the batteries. And, we were not disappointed! In fact we ticked off over 100 species in our 12 days, discovering the beautiful Boquer Valley, the Albufera Reserve, the Cuber Reservoir and of course a few coastal treats. This particular time of year allows for a wonderful variety of species, popping up or landing nearby – so that’s why it felt a bit like ‘cheating’.
We were based in Porta Pollenca at the north east tip of the island, a truly lovely spot – geographically a mix of flat plain bordering the coast then striking pine clad hills soaring to dramatic rock scenery. During our holiday we had no wish or need to go more than about 30 or so kilometres from home. On one late afternoon walk (pre gin and tonic) we finally actually saw a nightingale in full throat, plus common sandpipers, yellow wagtails and egrets.
The Boquer Valley, a stroll from our beach side apartment can be walked in as little as one hour or take four or five. It really depends on, how many times you stop, how long you take for lunch at the beach end and how long a chat you have with other birders! Excitement started right in the car park with a flock of goldcrests and then after much patience seeing clearly the bright red eye of a sardinian warbler. With the help of a loaned telescope a beautiful wheatear magically appeared on a far away rock, and on the sea were a family of shags. Another species, a very friendly goat, liked our lunch too! Buntings and warblers (maybe even a dartford) were all around on the way back but very skittish. In the mountains we kept a good lookout for raptors and we were rewarded with black vultures, booted eagles, possible eleonora, and a harrier or two. The Cuber Reservoir was a bit hard work (bird spotting wise) but a wonderful relaxed walk around. We saw our first cirl bunting and crag martin but the famous blue rock thrush eluded us. The dramatic drive from Pollensa is one of the best we’ve ever had in Europe. But, do watch out for cyclists – seemed like thousands, from all countries, in all shapes and sizes and many in matching lycra!
The main reserve we visited several times was S’Albufera de Mallorca Natural Park. Just south of Alcudia, it is the largest (1600 hectares) and most important wetland area in the Balearics. There is a visitor centre, picnic area and trails. You can hire bikes, but no cars are allowed in – so be prepared to walk some way. There are different entrances so you can decide which area you want to view depending say on weather and sun angles – and of course where other people say they spotted a species still to be ticked off your list! We were entertained at one hide by a nesting black winged stilt, so close to the hide you could almost feel the warmth coming off the eggs! We also saw ringed, kentish and little plover all at the same time close together – great for comparison. A really bright spotted redshank was a treat as was one solitary snipe. Ducks are always great value. New to us were a red crested pochard, marbled, garganey, gadwall and the highlight, a purple swamphen. In the distance from the hide there were ospreys and marsh harriers plus a purple heron or two…just to keep you interested!
On a trek around to the other side of the reserve it’s easy to become a little nonchalant – hearing many a cettis sing and then just when you think it must be a recording a great reed warbler pops out! We thought the red knobbed coot was to be our ‘lifer’ that day but more were to come with a little help from an ‘expert’ with sightings of a whiskered tern, a red rumped swallow (just one!) and our first bright red/orange headed woodchat strike. The cameras worked overtime (as did my brain trying to work out if yet longer telephoto could be procured ASAP with image stabilizer!). The bee eaters were magnificent albeit for us at a distance on power lines, but hey, short toed lark, thekla lark, hoopoe and a pair of stone curlews (magnificently spotted by Anne) – all within 30 metre binocular range, was simply a great experience.
Finally, a couple of sea birds that really helped make the holiday special. A spectacular dawn was bonus enough but on spotting a telescope sporting bloke set up right outside our apartment we saw in our binoculars our first audouin’s gull. It has a very distinct red beak and we were lucky enough later to photograph five of them in fairly stormy weather on the beach close up.
And finally finally a story with no collaboration! Very near the northern tip of the island we scrambled down to a small cove, but just as the sandwiches were unwrapped a mighty thunder and lightning rainstorm blew up. Sheltering in the bushes, overhead towel getting soggier by the second, we spied a pair of what we think were loons, possibly red throated. It was the way they moved through the water that made them appear different – as they were not shags or cormorants. So we ticked that box as well and headed for shelter of a plastic loo, only to get bitten all over by mosquitoes! Of course, no one else that evening had even had the storm, so the story of the loons raised a few eyebrows. We’re sticking to it – and will go back again maybe for the reverse migration in late autumn.
Book your trip to Majorca now!
John and Anne