Friday, May 27, 2016

Memory Lane Menorca

It’s been a rubbish week. Laid low with a vicious bug, lethargy has been the order of the day. I’ve barely eaten a thing, spent 10 hours at a time in bed and struggled to leave the house. Even the thought of a glass of wine has left me cold. 

But now it’s time to shake off the self-pity and head off to Menorca for the last time this year. It’s a journey we make each year to Punta Nati, a remote, unforgiving and brutal landscape of rocks and field after field of moonscape with dwarf vegetation but where speciality birds abound. Don't forget to "click the pics" for better images.

We left our hotel soon after breakfast, found our way to the Me1 and joined the commuter run to Ciutadella, Menorca’s second city. The Ronda, the Ring Road, skirts the busy city where with luck we’d find the purple signpost that would send us to the parallel world of Punta Nati just ten minutes from the old world charms of Ciutadella. 

I pulled the car into the barely possible parking spot, the wing mirror just a whisker from the stone wall. The old fellow came out to greet us as he always does and explained again in zero English how the Cattle Egret colony here is the only one for many miles, maybe even the only one in Menorca. In my best zero Spanish I nodded in agreement and motioned with the camera that a few shots later we’ll be on our way and leave the egrets to their squawking family squabbles and bad hair days. 

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Towards the point Bee Eaters were on the move, circling high in the sky, resting on overhead wires and bubbling out their unforgettable contact calls. There’s urgency in their excited calls. Some drift off, others move closer together before as a group their calls grow more eager and they’re off as one, specks in the sky and heading over the lighthouse, over the Med and towards Europe. 



Punta Nati

The calls of larks, buntings and pipits are constant as all seem to be in the throes of breeding. Searching for food, looking out for their nests, warning of predators or snatching a song; it’s all in a day’s work where the dry atmosphere and unrelenting sunshine takes its toll on a bird’s plumage. 

Thekla Lark

Short-toed Lark

Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipit

Corn Bunting

Towards the lighthouse we eventually found a pair of Blue Rock Thrush, the calls of the male leading us to the spot where the pair lived. A Kestrel watched us as we went, the species is a common sight dashing across the bare fields and where there are more than enough vantage points. Red Kites lazed through the skies, their twisty tails a delight to watch in the remarkable blue of a Menorca sky. 

Punta Nati

Red Kite


An hour or two later the trippers arrive, fresh from their tourist maps looking for something to do, something to see, a little excitement on a sunny day. But unless they are into birds, and very few are, there’s little for to do except walk without purpose to the lighthouse and back, trample over unforgiving terrain along coastal paths and maybe sprain an ankle. Most give up at the sheer desolation of the place, jump back in their shiny hire cars and probably vow never again to visit Punta Nati. 

We’ve had our fun, seen some great birds, laughed at a few German tourists with their huge knapsacks and knobbly white knees but we kept the secret of Punta Nati. Now it’s time for a trip to the busy city ten minutes away. 

We park in the main square for all of two Euros and head to some favourite watering holes. 


The Aurora


The Harbour - Ciutadella

Ciutadella is a fabulous place, a working Spanish city which remains untainted by the tourism that has blighted so many other similar places. And after a dry, dusty trip birding along Memory Lane, what better than a coffee or two, an ensaimada or a bocadillo and a spot of people watching for a change?

Linking today to  Eileen's Saturday.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Port

Weekends are for birding but with builders in the house, there was the inevitable aftermath of the clearing up. Sunday I got stuck into the clear up operation so had to give birding a miss and now on Monday I'm painting,

So for today I’m posting pictures of the recent holiday to Menorca with a morning trip to Es Grau, the tiny fishing village on the north-east coast.  "Es Grau" is not Spanish but Catalan and means "The Port"

Es Grau is home to the well-known nature reserve of S’albufera where there’s a rich variety of bird life. Sand dunes, wetlands and scrubland make up one of Menorca’s most beautiful and peaceful locations. The reserve stretches 8km north along the coast from Cap de Favaritx and contains over 100 species of birds and animals living in their natural habitat. It’s fairly important to arrive here early with a large bottle of water for the hours ahead, not to mention beating the procession of visitors, often school parties learning about their environment.

On the way there and up on roadside wires we spotted a European Roller, the only one of the two week holiday and a much sought after species. It was just a shame that the bird was above a particularly fast piece of road with no stopping places. Despite turning the car around in a gateway and looking afresh, there was nowhere to pull in for a closer look or a picture.

So we headed for the entrance gate from where around the edges of the pool and by searching hard we found 6 or more Black-crowned Night Herons, a few feeding on the tree-lined perimeter, the others just roosting in the higher branches. Here we also found a couple of Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Audouin’s Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Not far from the visitor centre and watching from screen hides found many distant waterbirds, more gulls, hundreds of Coot, dozens of Little Grebe, a dozen or more Great Crested Grebe and even two Greater Flamingos. Unfortunately most of the birds remain distant on the huge expanse of water, both open and reed fringed but it’s a peaceful and relaxed environment in which to spend a morning or longer.

Hide at Es Grau

Little Grebe

Black-winged Stilt

The usual raptors were in evidence – Red Kites, Booted Eagles, Marsh Harriers and Kestrels plus a bonus in the shape of a dashing Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines aren’t numerous in Menorca but they do nest around the often rocky and remote coastline.

Along the paths we heard the purring of Turtle Doves without actually getting any really exciting or prolonged views. Similalry the Nightingales, Cetti's Warblers and Sardinian Warblers stay out of sight while proclaiming their prescence.

Turtle Dove

Purple Herons mostly remain hidden from sight as they sneak through the reeds hoping to catch unwary prey. That’s a mighty big dagger of a bill than can easily despatch a good sized Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe or an unsuspecting frog or lizard.

Purple Heron

We encountered good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers here, not unreasonable since it is a common resident of Menorca whereby by mid to late May it’s fairly certain that migrants heading for northern Europe are long gone.

The local Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata balearica are smaller, noticeably paler, and less streaked than their northern counterparts as can be seen from the pictures below, my Menorca photos from early May. For comparison, the third image is the type  of Spotted Flycatcher that we see in the UK. Dutch birders are currently working on the idea that Mediterranean Spotted Flycatchers should be treated as a full and separate species, one differing from Muscicapa striata in morphology, migration and mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.

Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata balearica 

Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata balearica

Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata - Photo credit- Ian N. White via / CC BY-NC-SA

Moorish Gecko was a first for me. It’s native to the Western Mediterranean region of Europe and North Africa and widely introduced to America and Asia. It is commonly observed on walls in urban environments, mainly in warm coastal areas, though it can spread inland - especially in Spain 

Moorish Gecko


I hope everyone enjoyed the morning in Menorca. Come evening time we decided to try a glass of Cava and a few chocolates brought all the way from Belgium by two friends and blog fans, Ivan and Jeni. 

Belgian treats

Thanks guys. the chocs sustained a little superficial damage on their long journey but after close inspection they were just fine. A lovely ending to a perfect Menorcan day.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday .

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Back To The Grey Stuff

Keen to see what I had missed while on holiday in sunny Menorca, I spent most of the morning up Cockerham way. It was good to get out and do some local birding again, even in the grey May skies. 

At Wrampool and where I expected to see the Lapwing pair of three weeks ago, there’s a pair of nesting Oystercatchers instead. The female sat tight on the eggs while the male patrolled silently nearby, both trying to be inconspicuous. For such an obvious nest it will be interesting to see how well the birds do. 



Conder Green was quiet although it was good to see 2 Common Terns back on site. It must have been the male I saw at Glasson Dock soon after. It caught a tiny fish and flew immediately back towards Conder Green a quarter of a mile away where it would present it to the female. This is exactly the initial feeding pattern for last year which might suggest the male at least is one and the same bird. 

Common Tern at Glasson Dock

On the pool and in the creeks I found 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Oystercatcher, 12 Redshank, 14 Shelduck, 6 Tufted Duck 25 Mute Swan, 3 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. The stretch between Conder and Glasson Dock found a good number of birds in song - 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Sedge Warbler, 3 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler and 2 Chiffchaff. 


I saw handfuls only of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins on a cool morning with not many insects on the wing. The five or six House Martins were busily collecting mud from the roadside and flying up to this year’s preferred building. I noted that the wretched human occupants of the House Martin’s often used gable end of the café have installed strips of plastic under the eaves to keep the martins out. 

House Martin territory 

House Martin

What a joy it would be to have House Martins around my own house each year. No such luck with a bungalow.  A neighbour has 6/8 pairs each year under the eaves of a large house and doesn’t mind sweeping the path when the martins are in residence. 

A circuit of Jeremy Lane and Moss Lane proved very rewarding. In a stubble field were 18+ Stock Doves, 30+ Wood Pigeon and several Lapwings, some of them with largish youngsters. Brown Hares were conspicuous if rather distant with a combined count of 15+ scattered across several fields. 

 Brown Hares

The ditches, fences and hedgerows gave counts of 6 Sedge Warbler, 5 Whitethroat, 5 Reed Bunting and 8+ Skylark, the male Sedge Warblers in particular giving some virtuoso performances and showing themselves to good effect. 

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

There was a Barn Owl in the distance. I watched from the car as it sailed along the ditch coming ever closer, stopping occasionally to take a closer look below. The last shot is taken through the car windscreen, hence the fuzziness. I must learn to clean the windscreen!

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Oh well, as a birder you can’t win them all. But as a morning goes, it was pretty damn good. 

I’ll post new pictures from Menorca soon. Don’t miss them, so remember to look in to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Run A Round Ranch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Blog Is Back

The blog is back online after our two week sojourn in sunny Menorca. Thanks are due to regular readers who followed our adventures and kept in touch. There’s the necessary catching up with friends and family so it will take a few days to get back to local birding and ringing. 

In the meantime here are some words and pictures from that sunny Mediterranean island. Don’t forget to “click the pics” for a better view of Menorca and its birds. 

As usual we picked up a Fiat Panda from Mahon Airport via Momple Cars. The little Fiat is great for negotiating some of the narrow, poppy-lined lanes off the main tourist trails, places where birds are more often found. 

Near Es Mercadal, Menorca

Menorcan Donkey

Wild Poppies, Menorca

Near Es Mercadal, Menorca 

Two weeks allowed us to visit birdy places but also tour the island and drop by a number of favourite places. While our stay wasn’t just a birding holiday, we came across a good number of birds as well as enjoying rest and relaxation. Some days we found specialties like European Roller, Whiskered Tern, Quail, Great White Egret and Red-footed Falcon which livened up the everyday common stuff like Woodchats, Nightingales, Bee Eaters, Booted Eagles and Red Kites. 

Near the centre of the island and close to the town of Es Mercadal and the lanes of Tirant, Bee Eaters bubble overhead and Hoopoes call from far away. Raptors crowd the morning skies to a background melody of Corn Buntings, Nightingales and the chattering of Cetti’s and Sardinian Warblers. 

While Booted Eagles are common enough it is very difficult to get good photos of a wary raptor which keeps a good distance away from people and roads. The local Red Kites are often slightly more accommodating while Egyptian Vultures sail overhead on their aeroplane wings. Once or twice we saw vultures on the ground feeding amongst the livestock whereby the animal droppings become an unusual source of food for this specialised and mainly vegetarian vulture. 

Red Kites
Red Kite

Egyptian Vulture

 Egyptian Vultures

Booted Eagle

Bee Eater

Woodchat Shrike

Hermann's Tortoise

On more than one occasion we stopped the car to avoid running over a Hermann’s Tortoise, Testudo hermanni, a common and seemingly abundant resident of both Menorca and southern Europe. 

Via Wiki - “Early in the morning, the animals leave their nightly shelters, which are usually hollows protected by thick bushes or hedges, to bask in the sun and warm their bodies. They then roam about the Mediterranean meadows of their habitat in search of food. They determine which plants to eat by the sense of smell. In addition to leaves and flowers, the animals eat small amounts fruits as supplementary nutrition. Around midday, the sun becomes too hot for the tortoises, so they return to their hiding places. They have a good sense of direction to enable them to return. Experiments have shown they also possess a good sense of time, the position of the sun, the magnetic lines of the earth, and for landmarks. In late afternoon, they leave their shelters again and return to feeding.”  

Once again and as in previous years of visiting Menorca, the commonest bird of the island seemed to be the Corn Bunting, its local abundance a tribute to the traditional way of farming that is employed. What a contrast to the UK where a once common farmland bird and its "bunch of jangling keys" song is but a distant memory to many bird watchers. 

Corn Bunting

After a morning in the hot sun a short drive to the fishing village of Fornells in the north of the island is a regular lunch and coffee stop. There’s a chance of a resident Osprey fishing the shallow waters, but if not, just along the shore there’s always an Audouin’s Gull or two to admire. 

Fornells, Menorca

Fornells, Menorca

Audouin's Gull

Fornells, Menorca 

And after a morning in the hot sun who can resist an ensaimada crema for lunch? There are a number of variations of ensaimada - plain (unfilled), filled with angel's hair (squash jam), custard cream (crema), almond puree, ice-cream, chocolate or apricots. That’s a lot of ensaimadas to try. But someone has to get stuck into the thankless task. 

La Palma, Fornells

 Ensaimada Crema & Coffee

There’s more birds and birding soon. Don’t miss it.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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