Sunday 15 September 2019

Mallorca day 12: one last visit to the swamp

Our penultimate full day on Mallorca had been ear-marked for a day at the Hidropark Alcudia, a hideous dystopia of water slides, junk food and verrucas which apparently counts as a fun day out for my fellow family members. Typically, it was the coolest day of the holiday and a stiff breeze was blowing in from the sea, making us shiver as we queued up for various forms of chlorine-fuelled entertainment. After a wholesome lunch of gristle, fat and chips, the strain was beginning to show, and I was granted time off for good behaviour to go and have another look at nearby S'Albufera marsh.
Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover - juvenile
Black-winged Stilt - juvenile
I checked out a different route on this occasion, heading north from the stone bridges near the visitor centre following the Itinerari des Colombars. The walk was long and straight and the heat was rising, but I knew there were pools at the end which might be worth checking out so I persevered. I had been surprised by the lack of Kentish Plovers on my earlier visits, but Colombars seemed to be where they were all hiding: as I headed left off the main track on to a boardwalk to the hide, an unseen Kentish Plover peeped and flushed almost from under the boardwalk itself. From the hide an adult and youngster strutted at close range, with Stilts, Glossy Ibises and Marbled Ducks in the background.
Black-winged Stilt
Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret
Black-winged Stilt

Thursday 12 September 2019

Mallorca day 11 (part 2): all along the watchtower

After a successful day searching for vultures in the Serra de Tramuntana, there was just time before dinner to return to the Albercutx Mirador at the base of the Formentor peninsula. On my first visit there the previous week I enjoyed excellent views of several Crag Martin as they hung off the sheer cliff face just below me. This evening there were none to be seen, but I could just make out a few higher up, feeding around the Albercutx Watchtower, a well-known viewpoint for migratory birds. After a short drive and an even shorter walk I approached the base of the tower to find a small flock of birds feeding in something of a holding pattern around the summit. After some trial and error I found a good spot which the Crag Martins seemed to be passing regularly, and adopted the best available strategy for photographing small brown birds belting past at high speed: spray and pray!
Crag Martin at Atalaya d'Albercutx
An insect prepares to meet its doom
Crag Martin is a pretty distinctive hirundine with white 'windows' in the fanned tail
Crag Martin

The white windows vanish when the tail is closed
View towards Boquer Valley from Albercutx
Sightseers on the Albercutx Mirador
Cairns at the Albercutx Watchtower
Albercutx Watchtower
Crag Martin

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Mallorca Day 11 (part 1): back to Cuber

We did well for vultures on our previous holiday in continental Europe last summer, and while we saw both Black and Griffon Vulture on our first visit to the Cuber Reservoir on our Mallorcan summer holiday this year, they were dots on the horizon viewed through a fierce heat haze. With some lower cloud and a cooler forecast I was keen to try again for better views. The promise of not walking miles in baking heat, and lunch in the beautiful mountain village of Deia, was enough to persuade the rest of the family so we started the long climb into the mountains.
Black Vulture near Lluc Monastery - a mean looking bird
This bird gave excellent views circling above the car
Shortly after we passed the monastery at Lluc, generally considered to be about 'half way up' to Cuber, the plan paid off: George called a Black Vulture circling reasonably close above us. As the plan paid off, I paid out: our family holidays are enlivened by the promise of cash rewards to offspring who locate Dad's target birds. Loathe though I am to commercialise the practice of birding, I find it keeps them interested and keeps sharp young eyes on the skies while mine are on the road!
A view of the Black Vulture's upperwing
Another Black Vulture against bluer skies at Cuber reservoir
Arriving at Cuber another 30 minutes later we were treated to more reasonably close views of both Black and Griffon Vulture. From there it was on to Deia for refreshments and a bit of Mallorcan mountain culture.
Griffon Vulture, Cuber
Griffon Vulture
Deia had been recommended by a friend and it was well worth a visit. Built on a hilltop, we walked the narrow streets, had lunch near the beautiful church at the top of the village, and coffee in a charming youth hostel café which will live long in the memory: a real 'happy place' memory from the family holiday.
Deia in the Serra de Tramuntana
Coffee and cokes in the idyllic youth hostel café in Deia

Sunday 8 September 2019

Mallorca day 9-10: back to the swamp

Day 9 on Mallorca was another rest day. I did little more than trundle to the beach at Port de Pollenca to photograph the desmarestii sub-species of Shag which is found in the Med, and was amused to find a few revellers from the night before enjoying the early morning light on the beach. Returning via the town's La Gola nature reserve, a few more Mediterranean Flycatcher were the main highlight. My son and I did manage a brief trip to the S'Albufureta - S'Albufera's little sibling - where an Osprey, more Stilts and my first Woodchat Shrike of the trip provided some interest, but otherwise day 9 saw me subject to the tyranny of time by the swimming pool.
Marbled Duck at S'Albufera
Marbled Duck is considered globally vulnerable due to habitat loss and hunting
Six birds were present in total
Two of the flock loafing on the water's edge
I find these rest days quite stressful so resolved to get up early the next morning while everyone else was still in bed and revisit S'Albufera. The mosquito bites from my first visit had changed by this point from angry red burning wheals to angry red itchy rashes, so this time I went better prepared. Long-trousers and boots got their first outing of the holiday, but covering my arms presented a dilemma as I had only taken one long-sleeved shirt with me: a dark blue number with tan trim which my sons would describe as a 'party shirt'.
Juvenile Black-winged Stilt, S'Albufera
Over 50 Stilts were on this one pool at S'Albufera
This youngster was attempting log-balancing
Adult female Black-winged Stilt
It was not your typical birder's outfit, and I did get some funny looks from other visitors as the morning progressed, the heat rose, and the inappropriateness of my attire became more apparent. I consoled myself with the thought that these T-shirt-and-shorts folks would be itching by the time they got home, while I would smugly be bite-free, protected not just by my disco gear but by the lashings of citron-scented insect repellant procured at vast expense from a local chemist.
This young Goldfinch landed on the street in Port de Pollenca
The Mediterranean desmarestii sub-species of Shag, Port de Pollanca
Med Flycatcher at La Gola, Port de Pollenca
Med Flycatcher, Port de Pollanca
Anyway, enough catwalk talk, there was birding to be done and it started well: the fine selection of herons from my first visit were still present, with Night, Squacco and Purple Heron in a variety of plumages. Before the sun had risen convincingly, a small flock of Greater Flamingo rose briefly above the skyline, just long enough to grab a few pictures.
Glossy Ibis - commonplace at S'Albufera
Juvenile Night Heron, S'Albufera
Purple Swamphen, S'Albufera
Immature Squacco Heron, S'Albufera
All very nice, but not yet what I was hoping for. S'Albufera is a good site for the Marbled Duck, a globally threatened species classified as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN and I had yet to see one anywhere in the world. Fellow Dorset resident Marcus Lawson had provided some potential site details including a lagoon on the edge of the reserve, but this had dried out in the summer heat unfortunately. The deepest water at this time of year would be on the main reserve and sure enough, as I entered a hide on the Sa Roca trail, first one, then two, and eventually half a dozen of these attractive waterfowl gathered in front of the hide. A good morning then, even though Moustached Warbler continued to elude me.
Greater Flamingo at S'Albufera
The flock held 13 birds in total
Adult Red-knobbed Coot at S'Albufera
Juvenile Red-knobbed Coot at S'Albufera
It was a productive return to the swamp, but one of the best moments of the day was yet to come: as I made my way home via the Port de Pollenca ring road, two large soaring white birds with black wing tips caught my eye. My instinctive reactive was 'White Stork' but on pulling over for a better view it became clear they were in fact Egyptian Vultures - a bird I had hoped to see on the trip but had been advised could be very difficult!
Egyptian Vulture, Port de Pollenca
Egyptian Vulture, Port de Pollenca
Egyptian Vulture, Port de Pollenca
Woodchat Shrike on the back roads to S'Albufureta