Monday, 13 April 2015

6th April - Boquer Valley; Far de Formentor and the Torrent de Vali d'en Marc, Majorca

Another wonderful sunny morning, but maybe a little fresher today away from the sun.  we headed out in the opposite direction today, we were going to the Formentor peninsula, the northern tip of the island, and an area renowned for migrating birds.  We have not seen too many of these on our trip, but since our arrival on Friday there have been signs that things were beginning to move.  

The peninsula is a continuous area of pine woods and scrubby garrigue with coastal cliffs on either side that give excellent panoramic views over coves and beaches.  Our first stop was to be the Boquer Valley.  This valley is slotted between the mountains and leads down to the sea.  There are plenty of figs and other tree and shrub species where the birds are able to take refuge as they pause on the northerly migration.

What was to be a sign of the day in this area met us when we turned into the rocky car park, people.  On all of our early starts so far we were always the only ones, today this seemed different it was clearly a popular place, and they were not here for the bird watching, but to run through the valley.

We started up the path, and through a low gate (my head bears testimony to that, another scar to accompany the one from the hide!).  As we walked the Serins continued to sing from the surrounding trees.

The initial walk was on a path, and took us up through some buildings, from the wall you could look down and across towards the mountains that make up the Serra De Tramuntana.  As we did so a Booted Eagle soared below us, drifting away beyond the nearest peak.

The sun was struggling to get into the valley, and without the benefit of the sunshine it felt quite cool.  The breeze was from the north and was being funneled through the valley making it that little bit more cooler.  This though did not seem to have affected the movement of quite a few Swallows.  Small groups would pass through in waves their calls alerting you to the next little group.

Looking back down the valley the sun was making an appearance just not where we were.

It was very quiet, the occasional sharp alarm call would come from within the low scrubby bushes, but the owners would not come out into the open, and if they did they would scuttle away to the next bush and out of view.  Movement in the bush would also cause excitement only to realise that the the movement also made the sound of a ringing bell, and it belonged to a Goat.  Young goats bleated away, their calls travelling some distance in the echoes of the valley.

If we saw any birds it would be Sardian Warblers or Serins that would fly around singing.  Scanning the ridges was also proving unsuccessful.  At one point there was a hoot that sounded like an owl, but we were never really satisfied that is what it was.  Then a call went out that at first had me scanning the ridges looking for a falcon, maybe a Peregrine, but then the call, a "key, key, key" repeated for a longish spell made me remember something else, and I decided to look somewhere different, and was instantly rewarded.

I had changed the scan to the tops of the bushes, thinking that was the most likely place a small woodpecker would want to deliver the song, and got lucky.  There at the top of a bush was a Wryneck, my second and first one that was self found, the bogey was well and truly busted.

I tried very carefully to get closer, it continued to call, allowing me better views

It was still sitting at the top of the bush, but there were small branches in front of it that was affecting the cameras auto focus.  I now had to circle around, continuing to take photographs while it continued to call.  This was the best picture I was able to get as I just after this it flew across the valley to a group of tall pine trees, and then called from there.

Really pleased with that find it gave me a bit more energy and warmth to keep on looking.  It did though seem to affect my hearing, as when I stopped to inform two birders I thought their Scottish accent was foreign, and proceeded to try and explain to a non English speaker what a Wryneck was and where it was.  Much to Helen's amusement I did realise my mistake and apologised.

We carried on but the optimism granted by finding the Wryneck quickly dwindled, and did the warmth, the wind getting stronger as we approached the sea.

Ahead of us were lots of trails through the low garrigue, but unfortunately the only birds about were the Swallows that continued to flow through.

We decided to turn back and to also try and find the sunshine to warm up.  Where the sun did appear the birds were a little more active, this Stonechat appearing at the top of a bush.

We made our way back to the group of pines the Wryneck had flown into, half in the hope it was still about.  It wasn't and all that was there were a few Serins, doing what all Serins do this time of year sing their trilling song from the trees, and then as thy fly around in circles.

Never one to give up I continued to scan the ridges and tops of the surrounding mountains.  There were no raptors but there was a small group of Rock Dove that flew in to land on the ledges.

There was always slight movement around the edge of the bushes and you knew a bird was in there, but it would never show.  As we came through a small gap, Helen stopped me as she had seen one at the base of a clump of grass.  We waited until it appeared, which it did but not very well, it was dark and the bird continued to stay close to the grass and rock.  However I am confident that this was in fact a Balearic Warbler.  The flanks and belly look pinker, and this one has a definite paler throat.

We were encountering many people coming up the hill as we reached the buildings, some in just t-shirts and shorts who would soon be very cold.  As we walked past them I heard the rush of wings, and turned to have the closest encounter I think I have ever had with a Peregrine.  I could literally see the whites of it's eyes as it made an unsuccessful dive on a very lucky Woodpigeon.  The falcon turned to show the underbelly and extended talons, then turned again as i finally managed to get the camera on it as it decided to lick its wounds and try again somewhere else.

Heading back off into the valley, where the Rock Doves were.

When we got down to the car park there were a lot more cars, we were now going to head out to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula, the Far de Formentor.  This involved some steep and twisting roads though rocks and pine woods, and we were not the only ones attempting this.  Not only were there plenty of cars, but also hundreds of cyclists.  This it would appear is the ultimate destination for all the cyclists, and they showed no respect for anyone.  As far as the cyclists were concerned it was all about them.

Pelotons three or four cycles wide would block the road as they made their way up hill, while others would be coming down at full speed taking the racing line  around the bends.  It was to be frank extremely dangerous, with the cyclists taking no care whatsover.  If there were any accidents then I am sure the poor motorist would not have a chance.

We made our way to the end of the road, and were lucky to find a parking space as the numbers of cars and cyclists trickled in.  The views were spectacular as we took the chance for a coffee.

As we drank our coffee the Yellow-legged Gulls drifted by checking for any scraps of food.

As the numbers turning up increased the possibility of parking became more of a problem, but this also meant the ability to leave was difficult as cars and Bicycles blocked the road. We finally managed to get away and headed back to the mainland.  As we did so there was a constant stream of cars passing us and you couldn't help wondering where they were all going to fit in.

The bicycles didn't seem so much of a pain heading back, and we made good time.  We were heading for the mountains around Mortitix, an area of vineyards and orchards but also limestone rock faces and rocky outcrops.  I was using a guide book that showed parking places, but what it didn't say was that the parking is restricted to a few spaces, and that this is also a busy spot .  There was no where to park, so we had to admit defeat, and turn around.

In an effort to check for somewhere else to go, parked the car in a spot alongside a river.  Helen saw this as an opportunity to get away from me for awhile, I wasn't happy.  However in doing so she came upon the frogs that own the calls we had been hearing in the marshes

It also presented us with the entrance to a walk that ultimately would go as far as Lluc in the mountains, following the river de Vali d'en Marc.  The sun was out, and it looked a lovely spot so we decided to follow the path as far as time would allow and for us to do some exploring of our own.

As usual there were Serins singing in the pine trees and plenty of Chaffinches.  It looked a good spot for butterflies and almost immediately after I said it a Red Admiral appeared.  

The walk crossed over the river and came out into the open.  There were fields of Olive groves and old and new fruit trees while away in the distance were the mountains.

The path wound through small settlements with lovely houses and gardens.  There were large flocks of both Swallows and House Martins flying around the tall conifers and swooping low over the grass fields.

More butterflies appeared, but always at a distance and never stopping long enough for photographs.  Some I could identify like a Brimstone and Wall Brown but there was a fritillary that frustrated and a large white butterfly that just kept on going.

The birds were mostly familiar, Greenfinch, Goldfinch sang along with the Chaffinches.  Wrens rattled out their song while Robins fed on the road.  In the trees Chiffchaff could be heard along with several Firecrests and the odd Willow Warbler.  This male Blackcap showed well, but unlike the others remained silent.

We came across a lovely cottage so in keeping with the area, and in the garden was a lovely display of Arum Lilies, or Crowborough Lilies as they are called.

Looking up into the mountains it was possible to make out a waterfall that was either the source of the river, or fed into the river.  You could also make out what looks like mud or silt that has been washed down by the water on the sides of the rocks.

As we were looking at the waterfall two Booted Eagles drifted across our view, this one being the closest we had encountered yet.

They are a small eagle, of similar size and shape to that of a Buzzard, the "hand" though is more ample with one more "finger" (6 instead of 5, check the right hand wing).  The tail is definitely square cut with straight sides.  We had seen both the dark morph as in this bird, and the paler morph.  The darker morph can have pale inner primaries as can be clearly seen here.

Both Eagles drifted away, and we decided to turn back.  The swallows continued to drift through, taking their time to hawk the green grass fields for insects.

Back at the car the frogs were showing a lot better now, sitting on the rocks, from this I think it is safe to say they are Marsh Frogs.

So that was it, we had to take the car back and get ready for our flight home early the next day.  It had been a good trip taking in some lovely places both old and new.  A trip list of 87 birds, 9 of which were new wasn't bad, but perhaps I had hoped for a few more, but then you always do.  The late spring migration was clearly not just a problem in the UK, but extended as well into Europe.  the Swallows moving today though was a n encouraging sign for fortunes back home.

For reference the book I used to pick the sites was;

"A Birding Tourist's Guide Majorca" by M. Rebassa; J. Manchado; S. Torrens & MC. Oriola

It was invaluable with GPS coordinates which made navigating so much easier.  Some of the descriptions of the sites were also taken from the book.

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