Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Mallorca: 12th May - last day

We had to get out of town early because of an Iron Man race which meant a lot of the roads were to be closed from 8.00 to 8.30 (depending on location). We decided to go to Porto Colom – it seemed to offer somewhere to look around and somewhere for some birding.
We got to Porto Colom at 9.00 and after a coffee and breakfast Pete and myself went to the peninsula . It was supposed to have Balearic warblers but to be honest we didn’t see too much. There were a good head of stonechats in the scrub and on the stony ground near the sea we found a few Thekla larks and a tawny pipit. There was absolutely nothing on the sea – no gulls, no terns, no nothing.
Thekla Lark
We didn’t last long out there (the temperature was around 28-29C) so we went back for a drink and  a leisurely lunch with the ladies. After lunch we visited Castell de Santueri. This is a location that doesn’t appear in  “Birding Guide to Mallorca” but I had read in a report on Mallorca that it had a colony of alpine swifts.

Castell de Santueri from the car park
As soon as we arrived we could see the swifts – about a dozen were wheeling around over the valley but always distant. Had the castle been open we could have got a little closer but it wasn’t so we had to watch from the car park.

Alpine Swifts
There were some other birders there who told us there was a juvenile Eleanora’s falcon in a hole up on the cliff face so the next hour. This seemed strange  because Eleanora’s breed late in the year to coincide with the autumn passage so it would have to been one of last year’s brood – I had no idea when they attained adult plumage and decided I’d just have to do some research when back in the UK. Whilst waiting for the “Eleanora’s” to show itself a couple of peregrines went back and forth. We also had great views of hoopoe (flying), blue rock thrush (a pair collecting food), gold crest and a few distant crag martins.
Blue rock thrush
Eventually the thing showed and I got some pictures.

Juvenile Peregrine falcon
 It was only when I got home and studied the pictures that I decided the juvenile “Eleanora’s” was in fact a juvenile peregrine. I must admit it was difficult to see much detail in the field – the rock face was very bright and the shadows in the cave very dark; with the aid of Photoshop a more evenly illuminated image can be produced that makes the id easier.

Hole where Juv peregrine lived
So we managed 5 new birds at this little stop over (alpine swift, crag martin, gold crest, turtle dove and peregrine). I haven’t listed all the common stuff but this was one of the more productive sites we visited so an ideal place to combine sight-seeing with birding (assuming the castle is open).
Then it was off to the airport and back to the UK. We landed at ~10 pm arriving home at midnight and 4C - a bit  of a shock to the system.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mallorca 11th May 2012 Stone curlews and Eleanora's Falcons

I had intended to go to the beach to try and get some yellow billed gull pictures but in the end I couldn’t be bothered with the walk so I went to the disused old road/pine trees close to the apartment in the hope that the hoopoe I found there yesterday had returned and perhaps get a serin picture. As I started up the derelict road I spotted something moving at the top, by some rubble. I’d only seen movement but my hopes were that it was the hoopoe. I crept closer keeping behind the trees when a collared dove walked out from the rubble. I assumed that was what I had seen. However as I set up to wait for a serin to pose on some nearby weeds a stone curlew walked out then immediately disappeared into the weed bed.
I slowly moved closer and with the camera on a tripod I hid behind the last pine tree and an adjacent sapling and waited in hope.  Now normally this is where the story would end... disappointment; but not today! This was to end up being something very special, an Ashton moment in fact.
After about 10 minutes the bird started to emerge from the weeds. It was about 25 yards away but stopped and although partially concealed the head was in the open so I took a few shots hoping these wouldn’t be the last.
Stone curlew
Eventually it came right out and posed nicely before disappearing into the weeds on the other side of the track – the camera clicks didn’t seem to disturb it.
I continued to wait, not moving, when out it came again but this time it started running towards me very quickly! It got within 10 yards or so with me firing off a few shots then stopped but in the shade of my pine tree. 
It either saw me or the click of the camera were now too much of a concern because it retreated a few yards then stopped again .......but now it was in the open,  standing still and at the perfect angle. It’s a time like these that you fear the camera settings will be wrong or the card full or the battery will die but I’m glad to say none of these happened!

It was only there a few moments then moved away up the road and disappeared behind the rubble for a few minutes before re-emerging, walking back towards me and sitting down. I couldn’t get on the bird from where I was so I moved the camera very slowly a few inches to my right and got some more shots.

Again the bird disappeared into the weeds but eventually re-emerged and stood in the open some 20 yards away. I was firing away when a second came out of the scrub from the other side. They only stayed out together for a few moments when one walked off.

Eventually one bird flew over the hedge and the second moved off to the far end of the track about 50 yards off and that’s where I left it and waited for Pete to arrive. It had been a fantastic 45 minutes.
Pete arrived soon after and although we tried to relocate the birds they didn’t show. He took it well..........NOT!
After that the rest of the day seemed dull!
The plan for the morning was the Formentor peninsular to search for Eleanora’s falcons. I think it was at our second stop along the peninsula road that we saw 2 distant falcons that looked like they could be Eleanora’s but they were too far away to be sure so we moved on. At the next stop we had up to about a dozen in sight, some alongside the cliff face, some high above the ridges.
Formentor - typical view from a view point
 The falcons never came really close but we saw and photographed both pale and dark morph birds. I won’t say the birds are stunning because they are pretty drab compared to a hobby but it was great to see them and get some record shots. Needless to say this was these were the first Eleanora’s I had seen.

Eleanora's Falcon

Eleanora's Falcon - dark morph
We stopped off at another couple of places along the peninsula and although we could still see them they were always very distant.
A brief stop at the lighthouse at about 10.30 didn’t actually produce anything of note. The falcons were miles away and nothing other than very distant gulls were visible out to sea and tourist numbers were building quickly – including 50 seater coach loads.
The journey back was equally uneventful other than the delays caused by the coaches as they tried to manoeuvre round the tight hair pin bends on what is a very narrow road. Most of the view point car parks were now pretty full but where we could stop the falcons had either flown off or landed (Pete saw a couple land) so we returned to base for a late breakfast.
The afternoon was spent lazing in the sun at a little cove on the Alcudia peninsular just beyond Bonaire which just happened to have a few resident Audoin’s gulls to keep me amused!

The bay

Audouin's gull
I only really saw 3 birds on this day, the stone curlews, the falocons and the Audouin's but I was pretty happy at the end of it!

Mallorca: 10th May 2012 - Son Real again

Today we decided to have a second go at Son Real but this time early in the morning in the hope that we might catch the Balearic warblers singing hence easier to see. We were out of the apartment by 6.00 (still pretty dark) and by 7.00 we were in the low scrub bordering the beach. As we arrived at Son Real there were 5 red legged partridge in the tilled field and we could hear a cuckoo (the first of the trip) off in the distance. We conducted a quick survey of the fields but no sign of of a stone curlew – allegedly common in the area.
Once near the beach we wandered back and forth for a couple of hours seeing Thetkla lark, tawny pipit, a Kentish plover and a host of Sardinian warblers but no sign of a Balearic (or Dartford warbler for that matter). I did spot a one interesting warbler but it was off before I could get a good look at it – it was either a common whitethroat or spectacled warbler.
Eventually we gave up and making our way back to the car and on the way we saw several woodchat shrike.
In the taller scrub, where pine trees start (albeit sparsely), a couple of warblers dropped into the scrub only feet from where we were standing. After a few minutes first one then the second showed themselves – Balearic warblers!!!!!!!! Pete got some decent pictures of the female which was collecting cobwebs and we both got poor images of the male deep in a bush. The pictures were poor quality but you can clearly see what it was.

Balearic Warbler (male)
Near a rest area/picnic table a hoopoe flew past giving great if fleeting views and another woodchat shrike sat in the top of a dead tree.

Woodchat shrike
On the way home we decided to stop off at the Depuradora view point of the S’Albufera marsh. We couldn’t find it at first and went down the wrong road but this was quite a beneficial mistake as we saw 4 bee-eaters - the main reason for going for going to the Depuradora.
Eventually we found the view point but didn’t see any bee-eaters there. We did see a flock of 7 ruff and 2 common sands fly past though. The only other birds of note were the marsh harriers - probably 8 or so were flying about.
We went back to the first road we had gone down to try and reconnect with the bee-eaters. We did see some 8-10 but always distant. We were later told there is a breeding colony on the S’Albufera reserve (down towards the Depuradora area) – I just wish someone had told us when we were there.
The afternoon was spent lazing around the apartment/poolside and whilst trying to get some pictures of the swifts and swallows a purple heron flew past (as did numerous little egrets and yellow legged gulls).
Purple heron

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mallorca: 9th May 2012 (part 2) - Albufera

Mid afternoon we decided to go to Alberfera again. On the entrance track there were the normal Cetti’s, Sardinians, Nightingales. There were only a few little and cattle egrets in the heronry and where the path branches off to the left we heard a moustached warbler but couldn’t see it.
We first visited the hides on the green path - we hadn't gone to these on our first trip. At the first hide we could see the normal stilts, Kentish plover and little ringed plover only today a couple of the Kentish plovers came right up to the hide. Both a male and a female came up with the male hanging around for at least 10 minutes; the female only made a fleeting visit.

Kentish Plover - female

Kentish plover - male
One of the little ringed plovers also came quite close but the LRPs spent most of the time chasing each other around both on the ground and in the air.
 From this hide we could see several purple gallinules but they always very distant. The second hide on the green path looked over the same scrape so what we saw was very similar however 4 Kentish plovers were fighting/chasing each other in front of this one.

Kentish plovers
As we continued on the green path we came to a small pool where a red knobbed coot had taken up residence. This one seemed very at ease with people and came right up to us. We did see red knobbed coot on our first visit (and which was a life tick) but I had been hoping to get some pictures of unringed birds.
Red knobbed coot
After that we went to the hides on the purple route on the way seeing a great reed warbler in flight though Mary had actually seen it in the reeds singing but it flew off before she could direct us onto it.
 On the purple path there was nothing really new from the hide by the heronry but down towards the other hide I could see a marbled duck asleep on a spit so we packed up and went to get closer. When we arrived the duck was still in sight though asleep we I settled down to wait for it to rouse itself. Good job too as whilst we were waiting a purple gallinule walked from the bank out to an island in front of the hide and gave us great views.  After 10 minutes of feeding (i.e. ripping plants out of the ground) the gallinule returned to the bank and disappeared.

Purple Gallinule
Eventually the marbled duck showed its face and we got some reasonable, if quite distant images.

Marbled duck
From the hides we saw lots of black winged stilts young, some coming right in front of the hide, numerous Kentish plovers, Kentish plover, common sand, curlew sand, greenshank, redshank, a lone spotted redshank and several avocets.
On the walk back to the car we finally got decent if distant views of a nightingale that was singing near the visitor centre and Pete also found a great white egret – the only one we saw during the holiday.

Great white egret
 As we left the swamp we looked for moustached warbler down the side track but it had stopped singing though we did find and get distant shots of a great reed warbler. Also whilst standing there 2 purple heron flew past as did a hoopoe.

Distant great reed warbler
That was our last visit to Albufera and in reality it’s large enough to warrant a couple of full days. We managed most of our target birds though failing to find a moustached warbler was a major disappointment. We also failed to locate white faced duck. Herons were not easy to photograph from the hides/areas we went to and the only raptors we saw were marsh harriers and a lone osprey.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Mallorca: May 9th 2012 - Son Real

The post for the 9th will be in 2 parts due to us having a pretty good day both with the birds and the camera.
Morning session:
One of the areas I birded before Pete managed to stirred himself was an area of scrub, pines, rubble and old tarmac that had been left behind when the new roads had been built. Normally it had several spot flys in residence plus a small flock of serin but today it also had a hoopoe. I heard the hoopoe from some distance so made my way slowly along the old road hoping for a photo opportunity.  I was under the last pine when it called again – it was about 10 feet above my head. I tried to back away so as to get a shot but it was off and that was that, opportunity missed. 
At 8-ish Pete arrived and we went to Son Real.  Son Real is an old estate just east of Can Picafort that is now being preserved as a nature reserve with a visitor centre. Several walks are set out in the reserve and we took the shortest one that went direct to the sea. The first part of the walk is through farmland but you soon go into a pine covered area which then thins into scrubby garrigue which is supposed to house Balearic, Sardinian and Dartford warblers. The coast is rocky and is said to house Thekla lark and the occasional tawny pipit.
Son Real - Visitor Centre

Son Real - track through the farmland to the pines
As we left the car park we immediately started seeing birds, common stuff mainly but also serin and with distant hoopoe calling. It was certainly the birdiest place we had visited.  As we entered the pine woodland we started seeing/hearing dozens of nightingales and seeing a lot of spot flys . A little further inland the trees thinned somewhat and it was predominantly scrub. Plenty of warblers were making noises so we looked at all those we could. Unfortunately most were Sardinians.  However we stood around for a while as plenty seemed to be going on. This proved to be a good call as whilst looking for a corn bunting we spotted a woodchat shrike and a few minutes later a Balearic/Marmora’s warbler popped up (a life tick) and rapidly disappeared into some low scrub a few feet away. Both of us noted the blue-grey mantel and dark underside and a few minutes later a female gave similar views ( ie for about half a second). This too was a dark bird but without the blue-ish tint and with very noticeable orange-red legs.
Woodchat Shrike
We saw several woodchat shrikes on the estate. The local woodchat shrike is of the badius subspecies as is noticeably larger than those I saw in Donana and lacks the white patch at the base of the primaries:
We soon moved onto the coastal garrigue because this was reported as the prime site for Balearics. Here we saw a lot of Sardinians and a hoopoe flying away with another calling but no Balearics. Though we did see a couple of stonechats which were incredibly dark – unfortunately no pictures as they were always into the sun. As we reached the more open slopes leading down to the beach we spotted a lark – the first lark we’d seen in the trip – and getting closer it was clear we had found a Thekla lark (a second lifer). There were several there and the next 30 minutes was spent trying to get close enough to get some decent images but I was always shooting into the sun.
Thekla Lark
Eventually the birds disappeared so we wandered along the beach hoping to relocate them when we came across a female black redstart then a tawny pipit( lifer number 3).  At first the tawny was on some scrub and too distant to lock on but them it landed on the fence and we managed to get close enough some reasonable pictures.
Tawny Pipit
A few minutes later we had 2 of them chasing each other around but they disappeared into the beach side scrub and rocks so we crossed the fence via what in Mallorca constitutes a style  (think of 2 small ladders linked at the top like an A frame and all made of branches) and went after them. We soon relocated one in a rocky area and moved closer for a picture. As we stood there clicking away the bird started hoping and walking towards us getting to within 10 yards or so and catching a caterpillar as it came.

Tawny Pipit
We were just about to pack up when I spotted what at first instance I thought was going to be a house martin – dark bird, white rump – then the coin dropped it was a pratincole ( the views were not great so I assume a collared).  A quick holler to Pete got him on to it but all he saw was it flying off away from us. We stood around for a few minutes hoping it would return to allow a few shot but no such luck and we returned to the car. However we weren’t finished.
We had just left the Son Real car park when I noticed something on the telephone wires. From a distance I could see a orange-brown back and was expecting a kestrel but as we got closer I could see a blue head – Roller I screamed (life tick number 4 for the day). Now due to Pete’s rather heavy right foot we hurtled past the bird so a few hundred yards along Pete had to do an emergency U turn. Luckily it was still there when we got back so Pete got to see it. Unluckily (or should I say predictably?) as we stopped it flew off so all I got was a fuzzy inflight shot of it disappearing over the horizon but you can see the orange-brown back and blue in the wings.

Roller - disappearing

We then went back to the apartment for a late breakfast......now that’s what I call a productive morning.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mallorca: 8th May 2012 - Cuber

I didn’t go out first thing as all 4 of us were going to Cuber today leaving at 8.00.
We took the scenic route stopping at severalplaces on the way to admire the views which were stunning. We also stopped at Gorg Blau as we spotted several  vultures circling high and distant – only griffon vulture being positively id’d by shape and colouration. In the end we didn’t arrive at Cuber till about 10.00 and the omens were not good because several walking parties (~30 people) were being dropped off as we arrived. We set off on the opposite bank to the walkers and almost immediately we found a stonechat, spotted flycatcher plus a few common finches but the birding was best described as slow.
By the dam I chatted with another birder who had seen a male subalpine warbler so we hung around there for 20 minutes hopeful . Eventually it re-showed so another life tick. The views were poor but good enough to see the orange-red under-parts with a blue grey upper.  No pictures though. Also from the dam there were lots of nightingales and spot flys and a blackcap all in the gully below the dam but little else.
Just after the rest station at the far end of the lake Angie spotted a pair of birds darting out from a bush then returning – they were woodchat shrikes. Again we only had distant views then they disappeared completely.
Woodchat shrikes
As we were wandering round we were watching the sky but all we found was 1 (possibly 2) red kites then 3/4 of the way, round 2 black vultures drifted over very high up.

Black vulture
The only other thing of note is the lake seems to hold a colony of yellow legged gulls. There were about 100 or so on the cliff face and another 50 on the lake.
So no raptors to speak of, not a single hirundine, and no sign of the rock thrush or spectacled warbler that are said to frequent the valley….. not a good day really.
After that we went on to Port de Soller for a very pleasant lunch and lazy afternoon. A superb place to sit and watch the world go by though a long drive from Alcudia.
2 views of Port de Soller from where we ate lunch.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mallorca 7th May 2012 - Boquer Valley

Out at 7.00 again and a wander around the local lanes. The Sardinians were near the horse paddocks again and further along I found a serin and a couple of spotted flycatchers (plus the usual sparrows/Cetti’s/greenfinch/nitghingales etc). Out in some farm land there was a corn bunting and 3 or 4 zitting cisticolars were bouncing around.
Around 8.00 Pete came out so we went to the Boquer Valley. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip but in reality it was disappointing. As we parked we saw a pair of stonechats and a small flock of goldfinch and as we went past the Villas we found a garden warbler. As we started to climb we started seeing and hearing Sardinian warblers – something that abounds in the valley. The sound of something different singing caught our attention and we spotted a superbly marked male cirl bunting singing his merry little head off and a little further along we found a blue rock thrush though he didn’t want his picture taken.
Sardinian Warbler

Cirl Bunting
At one point 3 raptors cruised along the far ridge - 2 of them were booted eagles – one pale morph (white with black primaries) and one dark phase bird, the third remains unidentified. These were the only raptors we saw in 3 hrs. Because of my lack of knowledge of the calls/songs of these birds we stopped to investigate any Sylvia warbler singing (I use the term loosely) so continued to see Sardinians all the way along and eventually one posed brilliantly but didn’t see anything we could call a Balearic/Marmora’s warbler.

Sardinian Warbler
Whilst we were searching for the Balearic I did spot a very distant hoopoe but stupidly took my eyes of it to try and direct Pete onto it and couldn’t find it again though it did call a few times. It’s remarkable just how well they can blend into the background.
On the way back we had 2 ravens circling.
Here are 2 views of the valley. A stunning place just sad about the lack of target birds.
Looking SW towards the start of the Valley

Looking NE towards the bay at the end of the valley
I don’t know if we got there too late in the day (we arrived about 8.30) or whether we spent too much time getting to the seaward end of the valley where it seems the Balearics live but overall it was very disappointing – no raptors to speak of, not a single hirundine of any description, no migrants.  We were probably too late for the migrants but I had hoped for a little more cooperation from the resident species.
Still the weather was nice.