Sunday, 13 August 2017

Mallorca

I picked up a very unpleasant cold on the plane back from the Canaries. Then it became unseasonably cold back in the UK. Then the rain started again. Housebound and miserable at so-called ‘home’, there was nothing for it but to get on the internet and see what my options were. Come Saturday, I was once again on a plane and off somewhere with more agreeable summer weather, this time Mallorca, the second destination I'd hoped to be able to fit in whilst back in Europe. I once again chose to fly out of Leeds with Jet2, a terrific budget airline (the only drawback with it being that it necessarily returns to Leeds) offering cheap flights everywhere if you choose to do your trip hand luggage only. I arrived in Palma Saturday evening, nervous of the long queues and delays I had read about in the British press (as Spanish border guards had been intermittently engaged in industrial action the week I chose to fly), only to transit passport control in under thirty seconds, being basically waved through by the border official there. I got straight on an airport transfer bus to Playa de Muro at the other side of the island to overnight in an overpriced resort before picking up a (brand new) scooter from Cooltra at Playa de Muro the following morning. I made my first big mistake Sunday in not spending any time (contra my original intentions) at the massive s’Albufera reserve right at Playa de Muro, instead electing to begin the steady drive up to Lluc where I would be staying for the next five nights. Surprisingly, the day turned out to be almost a total write off, with only Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata finding its way onto my camera all day long (though I would later learn that the Balearic form had been split as Mediterranean Flycatcher Muscicapa tyrrhenica, so it did in fact become my first lifer of the trip), together with a single Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus against the sun at a watch point just above Lluc.

 
My second day (Monday) spent mostly around Lluc and the Cuber Reservoir also proved to be poor. Although I was certainly seeing plenty in terms of the raptors I was after (Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture Aegypius monachus, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, and Eleonora’s Falcon Falco eleonorae), I was unable to get close to any of them and was starting to feel a bit frustrated by it all. I had also arrived on Mallorca in the middle of a ‘heat wave’, meaning obvious haze on photos of anything over five metres away. It took until the afternoon to get anything like near anything, but this at least did prove to be a few Eleonora’s Falcons which I found hunting just beyond Port Pollenca. Like everything else, these too were spending most of their time against the sun, making getting shots of them both frustrating and difficult.


Things picked up a bit on my third day (Tuesday) with several Common Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos photographed reasonably well in the gardens at Lluc. These were surprisingly tame early morning, not the kind of behaviour I would have expected from them before I set off, but they did seem to know exactly when it was time to disappear (i.e. when there was sufficient light in the day to be able to lower the ISO levels on my camera and get sharper shots).


Back at Cuber Reservoir, I finally managed to get a low Black Vulture (which had been attracted to the gorge below the dam by a small group of low-flying Red Kites Milvus milvus). Further inspection of the gorge below the dam also brought about my first (known) lifer of the trip, a Moltoni’s Warbler Sylvia subalpina, a west Mediterranean endemic and a big prize on the Balearics. Once more there would be frustration attached, though, as the bird (presumably a male as it had been singing) was wary and the only shots I would manage of it would turn out poor in the haze.


On Wednesday, I descended to the coast as I was missing Balearic Warbler Sylvia balearica and felt I needed to have a proper go at that. I spent the entire morning in the Boquer Valley, failing to find anything except for exceptionally skulking Sardinian Warblers Sylvia melanocephala. A drive along the beach in the afternoon did allow me to add the wonderful Audouin’s Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii to my trip list, though once more the photos I would manage (of very close birds) would turn out to be nothing more than average in the persistent and annoying heat haze.


I was back up at Lluc before dark on Wednesday, unhappy with the way the day (and the trip thus far) had panned out. A close Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla did its best to cheer me up, but still I was averaging something like a bird a day on my camera (despite seeing plenty), and Mallorca was not proving to be the straightforward glut of easy birds I had been expecting it to be (it was in fact proving to be probably the most challenging destination I had ever visited).


The weather changed unexpectedly on Thursday, with heavy rain overnight through until noon and uncharacteristically stormy conditions. I spent this time south of Can Picafort at the all too exposed spot of Son Real, where yet more Audouin’s Gulls but no Balearic Warblers (at a prime site for it) to speak of, perhaps not entirely unexpected given the conditions.


I finally took a close look at s’Albufera early afternoon, where I would find numerous Purple Swamphens Porphyrio porphyrio and add a single Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina to my ‘photographed’ list (a species I was for some reason wanting to get a much better suite of photos of). I would also learn from the information boards there (and from subsequent Googling) that Crested Coot Fulica cristata was apparently present on the reserve (albeit part of a reintroduction programme), and that it was reportedly doing quite well. Although I would fail to encounter one in the couple of hours or so I spent there Thursday (making them still far from straightforward), it did look as though s’Albufera might offer a real chance of connecting with this unexpected mega, so it would certainly have to be visited at some point the following day, too.


I returned to Son Real late afternoon, hopeful of Balearic Warbler in the much-improved conditions, but only managed rather awful photos of both Thekla Lark Galerida theklae and the Balearic race of Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator. Son Real was stated to be a place with abundant Balearic Warblers (so I was expecting them there, together with plenty of Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata), and you can imagine my disappointment at failing to encounter any Sylvia outside of the ubiquitous Sardinian. The early evening at Son Real did at least give me the chance to get a better Eleonora’s Falcon on my camera, something I really could not have left Mallorca without!


Friday was my final day of birding on Mallorca, and my options for it were back up to Cuber Reservoir for better photos of the Moltoni’s Warbler (which at least was staked out and I really wanted more of); back to Son Real for another attempt at Balearic Warbler (which it would be embarrassing to leave the island without); or back to s’Albufera for Crested Coot, which, given that it is close to extinction in Europe, needed doing as the chances of encountering one elsewhere are realistically nil. I had little choice but to go with the latter and, astonishingly, after about an hour or so of waiting on a bridge above a well-vegetated channel, a coot with an obvious blue-grey-toned bill (the easiest way to pick the species out at range, Common Coot Fulica atra having a pink flush on its bill) appeared in the reeds in the distance and proceeded to swim directly towards me: a Crested Coot!  Finally, at least one bird was willing to allow me to take some decent photos of it on this otherwise ill-fated trip, and thankfully it was by far and away the best bird seen on it!


I also managed to see a single Moustached Warbler Acrocephalus melanopogon flit across the same channel shortly after seeing the coot, but this represented an immediate return to normal by ducking straight into the reeds and not giving me any chance to photograph it. I tried a few spots to the south of s’Albufera with what remained of the day, adding Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris and Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa to the trip list (neither of which would be photographed, unsurprisingly). I returned my scooter early Friday and took a public bus from Playa de Muro to the airport (at a cost of €9) to overnight in Can Pastilla, as logistically it would not have worked out to have spent my final night in the east of the island with a morning flight off Majorca back to the UK. I was paged by the airline at 06:00 advising of queues and delays expected at Palma and once more became nervous about clearing passport control. Rather comically, when I arrived at the airport at 07:30, it looked as though it had only just opened for business, and I was pretty much the only person there! In retrospect, I had been completely defeated by the season on Mallorca, and August seems like the worst month possible to visit the island. I also should not have stayed all the way up in Lluc, but this was the only reasonably priced accommodation I could find at such short notice at peak season, with everything down in Port de Pollenca and Alcudia way beyond my paltry budget! Above photos taken on Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain 6-11/8/17.

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