Wednesday, 8 April 2015

3rd April - S'Albufera Natural Park, Majorca

After all the cold and miserable weather of the last few weeks, and no real sign that spring was on the way we decided to take a last minute break to Majorca over Easter.  On Good Friday we were up at an unearthly hour for a very early fight out of Gatwick, it turned out though that fog in Palma was delaying flights, and we eventually arrived 30 minutes late.  That wasn't too bad compared with the organised hotel transfer of a two hour coach trip for a journey that would take 50 minutes.  Our hotel was in Playa de Muro, which was just outside Alcudia, but more importantly about a kilometre from the entrance to S'Albufera Natural Park.

The name derives from the Arabic for 'lagoon', but the site has been exploited since Roman times. There are Roman works that describe Night Herons, probably from S'Albufera, being sent to Rome as a gastronomic delicacy. The wetlands were then drained for agriculture in the l9th century by a British company which subsequently went bankrupt; the network of canals which cross the marsh probably dates from this time.  Rice was introduced in the early 20th century, and paper was manufactured from the reeds and sedge.  It is only since 1985, following fears that tourist development was damaging the area's fragile ecology, that S'Albufera has been a protected nature reserve.

After check-in, lunch and encounter with Ed from Matrix Media who thought I was a paparazzi photographer and wanted to know who was about (he did look rather embarrassed when he finally realised where we were going - once a Pap always a Pap!), we decided to spend the afternoon there, and so we headed out along the road to the reserve entrance.  Cetti's Warblers could be heard singing in the gardens and along the road side, things were looking up.  From the entrance at the bridge the path goes alongside the Canal de Siurana, away in the distance are the mountains that form the edge of the west side of the island.

Alongside the path, and just in front of the very tall reeds were spiky flower shoots, the flowers of which were very attractive to bees, and also Wall Brown butterflies that were about.

They were also interested in the fruits of the bushes too.

I had been told that the park is very popular  and it was, as this was a public holiday the numbers were probably a lot higher today.  As we walked in, many families past us leaving, but behind us there were many more looking to enter.  In most of the cases they were just tourists and I often wonder what they expect to see.  As well as walkers there were cyclists, it was very busy.  

Movement on the far side of the canal caught my eye and I found a pair of Red-crested Pochard having a preen on the far side close to the reeds.

Looking further down the canal several pairs could be seen on the open water.

We made our way to the reception where we were to get a free permit.  But the building was closed so we just continued on.  In the trees around the buildings Sardinian Warblers and Serins could be heard singing.  The Serins though were more confiding, and would perch out in the open to deliver their trilling canary like song.

We followed the path that led around the various canals, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers could be seen at the tops of the trees, while more Sardinian Warblers skulked around the lower branches.  The commonest sound though was that of Cetti's Warblers.  As you walked every 10 metres or so one would mug you with the volume of its song, and then it would be gone.

I thought as we walked past one canal that I should take a photograph of one in the sun and blue sky because it may not be there tomorrow.

In the heart of the reserve there are several hides overlooking scrapes and open water. We entered the first, and I must admit I did not expect the scene we came across as we opened the door.  A family was in there, and the children were screaming, jumping off the benches and slamming around, it was chaos.  I have experienced bad hide etiquette in many around the UK, but nothing like this.  We settled down to look outside, but not hoping to see much the noise from the hide being what it was.  A pair of Black-winged Stilts though were not concerned and seemed quite at ease.

A few Little Egrets were about, and I could hear Yellow Wagtail calling but little else, so we decided to cross the canal to the hide that overlooked a large pool.  The hide was packed and again noisy, and there was nothing to see other than mallard.  Leaving the hide almost as quickly as we arrived we headed back across the canal.  As we climbed a bridge I looked into the scrape and saw something that hadn't been there when we left.  I called to Helen and we ran back to the hide.  The family were still there, and the behaviour hadn't changed, but we were prepared to accept it.  we squeezed back into the spot we had left, and looked out onto the scrape where an Osprey was having wash.

A very thorough wash...

Followed by a good shake.

The washing would be interspersed with periods when it would just sit in the water and look around, looking up into the sky, and also scanning the area close by.

We sat watching it while the mayhem continued in the hide, then it turned away from us and flew up onto a dead branch. probably positioned for this very activity.  It flew up and sat there holding the wings out to dry in the afternoon sunshine.

Between spells of holding the wings out it would preen, using the large bill to sort out the feathers, and shaking itself to remove the water.  Clearly it wasn't going anywhere, so we decided to look at what else was going on. The children continued with their exercises, but the birds didn't seem to mind too much, it was only probably upsetting me.

A little Egret made its way towards the hide, in this view you can see how much their eyes look forward to give them binocular vision, and the ability to judge distance essential to support their hunting technique, or is it the other way around?

There were several pairs of Black-winged Stilts, and one or two were quite active.  This pair engaging in a little courtship.  The display is similar to that of the Avocet, standing side by side, dropping the head and calling.

Then the male hops on the back of the female.

And then once all over they both turn the same way and speed off side by side calling again.

Meanwhile with all this going on the Osprey was still drying its wings.

There was quite a few duck about, Gadwall and Shoveler and several pairs of Teal.  Shelduck were asleep on the distant islands, and as I scanned by I noticed a flash of white on the head of one small duck.  The family had all but gone now, only a few remained and a birder with a telescope.  I asked to look through it and the duck with a white flash was indeed what I thought it could be, a drake Garganey.  I then looked a little further and found two pairs on another island.  Unfortunately a little far away for the killer shot, but good enough as a record of this gorgeous little duck

The Yellow Wagtail I had heard earlier had started to appear on the islands.  They would also fly around the ponies that were feeding in the water, catching the flies from around the ponies eyes.  This one came closest to the hide.

I think this one is a male of the race iberia, with a definite darker cheek patch.

The temperature was cooling down, and the birds were becoming more active.  Kentish Plover were calling and flying around chasing each other, and then fighting off any contender that would approach a pair.

These are demure slight plovers, that do not seem as brash as the Ringed Plover probably because they lack the darker bands that make the Ringed Plovers stand out.

A drake Gadwall preened close by, showing off the lovely brick red speculum patch on the upper secondaries.

By now we had the hide almost to ourselves, others would drop in, and we would point out the Osprey, they would look and then go leaving it to us.  Another little Egret walked past the hide, the sun casting a lovely reflection on the water.

Every so often distant male and female Marsh Harriers would appear, sometimes dropping into the reeds with a stick to what was probably a nest.  Unfortunately they were both very distant, and had the sun behind them so the attempts at photography were not successful.

During all this the osprey remained on the stick, preening.  There was a closer hide, but we had seen hands reaching out and a lot of movement so had decided to stay where we were.  However now that the time was moving on, it looked a little empty so we decided to walk around in the hope that we could get closer to the Osprey.

On the walk round to the hide we were mugged by a few more Cetti's and found more Sardinian Warblers and a single Willow Warbler.

As we entered the hide the osprey was still there, and as we thought closer

There then followed some wing flapping.

And then it flew from the perch, at last some action.

But it flew back to the pool for some more washing, but this time a little closer, and there was a lot more wing flapping.

Finally the wing flapping looked a little more serious, and it started to jump about in the water.

Then took off back to the perch.

Where it started the preening and shaking all over again.

Once on the perch it wasn't going to do much, and I looked around the scrape.  A pair of Yellow-legged Gulls were away to my left.  they caught my attention by engaging in a little love.

Back to the Osprey it just seemed content to just perch there, scanning around.looking to the sky and even down into the water.

There is something about the eyes, at times they can have quite a hooded look about them.

I am sure there will not be many times I decide to leave an Osprey just sitting there in front of the hide, but today was one of those times.  The very early start was just beginning to hit home, and we decided to leave and start the walk back to the hotel.

As we walked by the visitor centre a group of House Sparrows were dust bathing in the gravel on the path, something I have not seen for quite awhile.

Walking back alongside the canal there were several gulls on the water, and they were also taking the chance to bathe and drink.  These were smaller than the Yellow-legged gulls and had a deep red bill.  This is Audouin's Gull, in the late 1960s, this was one of the World's rarest gulls, with a population of only 1,000 pairs. It has established new colonies, but remains rare with a population of about 10,000 pairs.  Its distribution is restricted to the Mediterranean and the western coast of Saharan Africa. 

 Audouin's Gulls, unlike many large gulls, rarely scavenges, but is a specialist fish eater, and is therefore strictly coastal and pelagic. This bird will feed at night, often well out to sea, but also slowly patrols close into beaches. The adult basically resembles a small European herring gull, the most noticeable differences being the short stubby red bill and a string of white wing spots on the primary tips, rather than the large "mirrors" of some other species. 

The name comes from the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin.

The black band on the bill probably serves the same function as the yellow spot on a Herring Gull, provide a target for the young to encourage the adult to regurgitate food.

As we leftthe reserve we noticed that it opened at 9.00 am in the morning, we were hoping to get there just after dawn to escape the crowds we had seen today.  We questioned this with a warden that was standing by the gates, and after a little explanation we were told that as we wanted to bird watch we could slip around the side of the gate, but had to report to the visitor centre to get a permit when it opened.  Satisfied with this, and the afternoon's events we made our way back to the hotel to report to Ed our sightings!

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