I had just finished my season as a ranger, waking up every day to the spectacle of thousands of terns wheeling over a beautiful golden beach. How on earth could I follow that act? By finding a stack of new birds, that’s how! And that meant leaving Britain (or maybe going to Scotland, but I fancied some sun). Our budget restricted us to Europe and, after reading some trip reports, we decided on the Balearic Island of Mallorca.
On the morning of September 2nd we landed at Palma de Mallorca, stepping from the plane into the dry heat of the Mediterranean summer. It was a nice change from the cold nights of Northumberland, although (to be fair) our summer was pretty mild. After breezing through the airport, we checked in at the transfer desk to inquire about our coach. The guy there was really helpful, giving us some pretty detailed directions to our bus. Unfortunately, the directions were entirely wrong, but we eventually found the coach parked at the opposite end of the station.
After rushing aboard, we ended up sitting on the upper deck of a stationary bus for almost an hour, with the air conditioning off and lots of nice large windows to soak up the sunlight. On the plus side, from the discomfort of this four-wheeled sauna we did pick up our first bird for Mallorca: a group of scruffy House Sparrows were loitering in the nearby bushes.
Finally the bus roared to life, the vents above our heads began to wheeze gloriously cold air, and we pulled out into the bustling traffic of the country’s capital. Before long, the city gave way to open countryside, with arid fields stretching like a desert towards the distant mountains. The only birds I managed to spot were Wood Pigeons, a Kestrel, and a distant pair of Ravens. I was paying particular attention to fields holding livestock, hoping for a glimpse of a stocky white bird that would be a lifer for me. Then, looking ahead, a spied a white blob in a field of sheep. I held my breath as we drew closer, straining my eyes to get a better look. The white blob slowly morphed into a bird, but unfortunately it was a Little Egret, not its cattle-bothering cousin.
We wound our way through the spectacular mountains, eventually reaching Puerto Pollensa on the Northeast of the island. From this point the journey became a slow crawl through towns and suburbs, stopping regularly to disgorge a tourist or two at their respective hotels. The slower pace allowed us to add Coot, Moorhen, and Mallard from a small lake, as well as several Shags that were resting on a breakwater just off the beach. Then, in a patch of scrub, we spotted our first target species of the trip – a Hoopoe! This incredibly bizarre bird kept us smiling all the way to the hotel.
We checked into Club Hotel Tonga (a rather unappealing high-rise), dropped off our bags and grabbed something to eat. We were pretty eager to get birding, so decided to do a reccy of Son Real Nature Reserve, just to the south of Ca’n Picafort. It was really easy to find, and only took about 40 minutes to reach – keep the impossibly blue sea to your left and just follow the beach!
A number of gulls were lurking around the harbour. Closer inspection revealed Yellow-legged Gulls and my first lifer, Audouin’s Gull. I love gulls, and although I’m still very much learning to ID them, I enjoy the challenge. This smart-looking adult didn’t take much identification, and even allowed us to get within a few metres! Shame my camera was back at the hotel.
Just before Son Real lies an estuary, a sort of boundary between man and nature. The river here held a few birds, so we stopped to take a look. Mallards, Coots and Moorhens were joined by a pair of Muscovy Ducks, unfortunately no more “tickable” than the one I often see at Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham. We were inspecting a small bush that had more House Sparrows than leaves, when a Spotted Flycatcher popped up a few yards away, scrutinizing us from a bare branch. My girlfriend was delighted, as this was a lifer for her, but I barely registered it. I had picked up something else on the far bank, something with bright white feathers. I shifted vantage point and yes, there it was! Roosting in a bush on the far shore was a Cattle Egret, looking a little podgy in comparison with the Little Egret to its right.
Buoyed by this discovery, we crossed the popular beach at the mouth of the river and struck out in search of the fabled Son Real, which we had heard was THE place for Sylvia warblers. The path had scrub land on one side and a rocky shore on the other. This area was absolutely covered in birds, although they all belonged to the same species – Stonechat. There seemed to be at least one for every bush!
Then an unfamiliar call had us scanning around frantically. We couldn’t see any other birds, so started walking further down the path. Suddenly a bird burst from the scrub, disappearing over a hill before we could get our bins on it, though it was clearly a lark of some kind. It took another similar encounter before we finally found one on the deck, nailing it as a Thekla Lark. A few steps further down the path and another strange bird appeared, popping up on a rock to our left. It stood its ground as we approached, its stance remarkably upright. A fresh-looking Tawny Pipit, barely a streak in sight. I was surprised by how handsome it was, so different to the meadow, rock and tree pipits I’m used to seeing back home: a definite contender for bird of the day.
It wasn’t in contention for long, though. After a quick walk around Son Real revealed not a single warbler, the draw of the hotel restaurant was becoming too strong to ignore. We climbed the ridiculously tall stile that separated Son Real from the coastal path, and began the long walk back. I was seriously considering putting my bins away, when I spied a distant bird perched atop a spindly little tree. I knew immediately what it was, and shouted to my girlfriend in excitement. Woodchat Shrike! It was a gorgeous 1st winter bird, easily bird of the day. But then, I have always had a penchant for shrikes!
With a suitably climactic ending, we headed back to the hotel. Our first day in Mallorca had delivered only 19 species (including the Muscovy), but there were some fantastic birds amongst them, including 5 lifers (7 for my girlfriend!). We were already desperate to be birding again, but would have to wait till morning for our next excursion – the country’s flagship reserve, s’Albufera de Mallorca.