Mallorca, surprisingly, is one of the most remote islands in the Mediterranean! Almost 200 kilometres from the nearest mainland coast, it has a range of high mountains (with 37 peaks over 1,000 metres), one of the largest marshes in the western Mediterranean, and a wealth of the garrigue and maquis vegetation so typical of the region. These features are in part the reason for the island’s rich birdlife, but Mallorca’s appeal to the naturalist also lies in the close proximity of its very varied habitats, enabling all of them to be covered easily from a single base, without the need to change hotels or travel vast distances, thus leaving more time to enjoy the natural sites in a more relaxed way. Further, Mallorca lies along one of the major bird migration routes across the Mediterranean and, due to its comparative isolation, is home to a number of rare species such as Cinereous Vulture, Eleonora’s Falcon, Audouin’s Gull and Balearic Warbler, not to mention over 30 endemic plants, including a relict from the ice ages, Hypericum balearicum.
Our holiday is based near Puerto Pollensa, a relatively quiet Mallorcan coastal town, situated in the north-eastern corner of the island and well away from the main tourist metropolis. From here we will take daily minibus excursions into the surrounding areas and pass our time enjoying easy walking in our search for birds and other wildlife. Behind our hotel lies S’Albufereta Marsh, a prime site for passing migrants together with a wealth of resident species. Our hotel has a private hide overlooking the marsh which is an excellent facility to enjoy some pre-breakfast or post-dinner birdwatching. Another local site worth exploring is the Bocquer Valley which attracts raptors, shrikes, wheatears and warblers during migration.
Amongst the other special sites we will be visiting is the Parc Naturel de S’Albufera, a 2,200-hectare freshwater marsh and one of the most important birding areas in the western Mediterranean. This provides a wealth of insect-life for passing migrants such as terns, bee-eaters, hirundines and warblers, and is home to such resident birds as Marsh Harrier and Moustached Warbler, of which the latter number some 1,000 pairs. We will also be looking for the marsh’s excellent selection of herons, egrets, waterfowl and waders, and some of the re-introduced populations of Purple Swamphen and Red-knobbed Coot.
We will spend at least one day in the northern mountains, the ‘Tramuntanas’, home of the rare Cinereous Vulture. These mountains are mainly composed of limestone, and the scenery here is magnificent. As well as enjoying some pleasant walking, our primary purpose will be our search for raptors, and we will hope to see Cinereous and Griffon Vultures, Booted Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel and Red Kite.
The spectacular Formentor Peninsula is another area not to be missed. A rocky extension of the Tramuntana Mountains, the peninsula provides superb coastal cliff scenery and views, and is home to Blue Rock Thrush and Shag (the Mediterranean subspecies desmarestii). We will visit the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula in search of newly arrived Eleonora’s Falcons, a summer visitor which breeds colonially on the cliffs, and spend time at Casas Vellas, a cultivated area containing fig and olive trees as well as vines in the middle of this otherwise pine-covered peninsula, which attracts many northbound migrants in spring.
Finally we will take a trip to the Salinas de Levante in the south, an area of worked and disused saltpans that are often the first landfall for migrants from Africa, and a particularly good site for waders that include such species as Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Pied Avocet. They are also an important area for wintering wildfowl, and small flocks of Greater Flamingoes have begun to overwinter here in recent years. We will view the pans from the main tracks and then explore the Cabo de Salinas, the southernmost point on the island, and a marvellous area of undisturbed garrigue which is home to Eurasian Stone-curlew and Thekla Lark. From the beach we should see the elegant Audouin’s Gull, one of the rarest gulls in the world, and possibly Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters if the weather is favourable.
The comfort and simplicity of a birdwatching tour in this area, and the short driving distances involved, make this a most relaxing holiday. The exceptional range of southern European birds makes it an ideal venue for the less experienced birdwatcher and beginners. In this respect, Mallorca has certainly not changed since it first became a birdwatcher’s paradise over 40 years ago.