Thursday 6 June 2019

Birding press trip- Pollensa, Mallorca.

Earlier this year I was very fortunate and privileged to be invited to Pollensa as part of a group of birders from Northern European countries in order to explore and promote the birding potential of this wonderful island. Although Pollensa and Mallorca in general, are relatively well known as a tourist and birding destination, most visitors arrive during the traditional, summer, high season. The objective of our visit was to promote the birding potential during the much quieter (and cooler) 'off season'. Palma has excellent flight connections from a variety of European hub airports and following minimal formalities and a meet and greet at Palma airport we were whisked to our accommodation in Pollensa. I stayed at the superb Azul Puerto where everything from early breakfast options, helpful, friendly staff and superb, clean, spacious accommodation was perfect for a birding break- and so close to the Boquer Valley!

Early evening saw us enjoying an escorted walk around the 'old town' with a very professional tour guide. Whilst enjoying the ambiance, culture, history and architecture of this wonderful town we were treated to the spectacular sight of Swifts screaming overhead and the 'ticking' of Sub-Alpine warblers feeding in the vegetation. The birding highlight during our stroll was undoubtedly an Alpine Swift that flew past the church tower in glorious evening light- superb! 
Pollensa- a delightful town full of history -and birds! 
A short time later we were whisked to the La Braseria restaurant in Pollensa, This is quite possibly one of the nicest restaurants I have ever been in- lovely atmosphere, delightful decor, superb food and perhaps, most importantly, wonderful, smiling, helpful staff. My Spanish is very basic but the staff seemed to appreciate my trying a few phrases, but they also happily reverted to English when I got out of my depth. It was good to see a cross section of people in the restaurant and although the restaurant was very smart it was not overly formal and we enjoyed a very relaxed evening. 
La Braseria, Pollensa.
Following a good rest, we were up early the following day to start our birding in earnest. The first visit was a short drive to the wetlands of S'Albufereta
The scenery was gorgeous- expansive wetlands with a distant, mountainous back drop and patches of scrub and woodland- birds were everywhere and I found it tricky to stay on top of all the species that were quickly added to our 'trip list'. Our local Mallorcan guide 'Pep', quickly got us onto a range of goodies and initial highlights included Cattle Egret, Purple Heron, Marsh Harrier, and Black-Winged Stilts. The woodland areas held a variety of warblers and flycatchers and so I was kept on my toes, checking out the LBJ's (little brown jobs for the uninitiated) as they flicked through the foliage. 

Black-winged Stilts
We enjoyed a casual stroll back to our transport in the surprisingly hot sunshine- shirt sleeve birding- what a bonus! The tracks held singing Cettis and Sedge warblers and the butterfly action was impressive too with a lovely Swallowtail being my favourite. 

Swallowtail Butterfly
A short time later we made a brief stop on the local coast near Pollensa. We enjoyed superb views of a number of species although my personal highlights were Audouin's Gulls and Kentish Plovers.
Audouin's Gull
Kentish Plover
I had often heard of the famous Boquer Valley just outside of Pollensa as a prime birding destination and I was not disappointed. The  woodland on the lower slopes offer a prime habitat for migrants in addition to a dazzling array of resident species. We were soon met with an impressive vista from the lower access path and there were plenty of birds in the foliage- Willow warblers, Mediterranean flycatchers and Redstarts to name a few. 
Stunning vista from the access path to the Boquer Valley.
As we climbed higher, the scenery became increasingly dramatic with towering rocky walls on either side of the scrub filled valley floor. Sub-Alpine warblers sang, Crag Martins hunted for insects overhead, we heard Bee-Eaters bubbling high up the escarpment and saw Peregrine and a migrant Honey Buzzard flying over our heads. Blue Rock Thrushes could be seen on the rocks too- a wonderful selection of birds so close to the town of Pollensa! 
Boquer Valley- a birding mecca!
Honey Buzzard on passage.

Walking and birding was hungry work so we headed for the superb restaurant Cala Barques in nearby Cala San Vincente. I think this is another restaurant where all the superlatives have been used previously but it was really hard not to be impressed- a fantastic location, friendly and helpful staff, a glorious menu and probably the best Paella ever! To cap the stunning views, as we left the restaurant we saw and heard a flock of 15 migrant Bee-eaters overhead- delightful! 

Back in the minibus and we headed excitedly up the high, winding road that leads to the high hills of Cap Formentor. Long regarded as an excellent migration watch point, we were not disappointed seeing Osprey and Montagu's Harrier. The scenery and views were spectacular but most of our party were here for a chance of seeing Balearic Warblers. As if on cue the birds showed well and we had fantastic views of two singing males! 
Balearic Warbler
Very happy birders on the Cap Formentor peninsula- stunning location and top birding!!
By now we had seen so many good birds and visited so many stunning locations that my day was blurring into a kaleidoscope of highlights- but there was more to come as we headed high into the Serra de Tramuntana to go birding around the estate of the Mortitx vineyard and winery. The vineyard is located over 400 metres above sea level in a natural amphitheatre of impressive rocky ridges and surrounded by ancient olive groves. I am lucky to have seen a fair bit of the world on my travels but this location was one of the best I have ever seen. For the next hour or so I enjoyed some very special birding moments- A pair of Bonnellis eagles were scoped whilst sat on the rocks above the vineyard, two vultures- a Griffon and a Cinerous (Black) soared together over the high ridges, a flock of 3 Hobbies hawked for insects, a multitude of Crag Martins and Swallows chased insects, a Woodchat Shrike sat in the olive grove whilst a Cirl Bunting provided excellent views on the vines and a pair of Firecrests were seen displaying with their magnificent crests raised! To further add to the thrill, a Wryneck and a Nightingale sang as we walked around the vines! 

Vinyes Mortitx- a stunning location for wine and birds!

Following the excellent birding, wine tasting tour and traditional Mallorcan food we headed for our accommodation. The following morning we were up early in anticipation of visiting the coast of Cap Formentor- for a vessel charter that would allow us to look for some very special birds! Before boarding the vessel I walked to the harbour in the cool, still air, picking up a number of common passage migrants en-route. 

Early morning stroll through the port of Pollensa

Having boarded our vessel we set off for the impressive rocky peninsula of Cap Formentor- the impressive craggy headlands were even more impressive when viewed from sea level. As we steamed further from the port we got increasingly close to rafts of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater. Although I have seen these birds at various locations previously it was impressive to get such good views of these birds- settled on the sea and also in flight. We were also treated to marvellous views of Scopoli's Shearwaters in addition to several species of the larger gulls. 
Balearic Shearwater
Scopoli's Shearwater

After a rigorous sea-birding session we enjoyed a lavish lunch of traditional Mallorcan food and some wonderfully chilled white wine under the awning of our charter vessel. Refreshed we continued birding and soon encountered our prime target bird of the session- a really smart Eleonora's Falcon! The bird was initially seen under an overhang of a small cliff above the sea but the bird also made several short flights allowing us to get excellent views. 

Eleonora's Falcon

We finished our birding trip with a brief visit to La Gola- a wonderful wetland reserve in Pollensa. There is an excellent visitor centre with friendly and enthusiastic staff and a great selection of birds.  As well as fly-over Egyptian Vultures and Booted Eagle I enjoyed fabulous views of Little Egret and Little-Ringed Plover. Amazingly, this small reserve is right next to the promenade and beach in Pollensa and provides a wonderful, peaceful haven. An ideal spot for a touch of birding during a busy family holiday perhaps! 

La Gola reserve, Pollensa

Little Ringed Plover

I enjoyed a very relaxed birding trip to Pollensa, Mallorca and in two days saw over 70 species. This total could have been much higher had we put in more field time but it was also necessary to explore the dining and accommodation possibilities for visiting birders. If you have a chance to visit Pollensa you will not be disappointed! The Winter and early Spring months provide wonderful birding opportunities, the climate is agreeable, hotels and flights are cheaper than during peak season and there are far less crowds! 

My press visit was at the invitation of the Pollensa town council and the Pollensa Hotels association- I am indebted to both organisations for their friendship, and assistance during the trip. A special word of thanks should go to Alessia Comis at Pidelaluna who worked tirelessly before and during my visit to ensure all the logistical planning ran smoothly. I made many new friends on Mallorca, enjoyed wonderful birding and really can't wait to return! Please see and and  for more information. 

Friday 31 May 2019


Had an exciting start to 2019 with a 10 week working trip to Albania. I was working on the Adriatic coast to the East of Fier. My work responsibilities included marine fauna mitigation on a pipeline project both on the shore and in shallow water coastal areas. Naturally I was able to do a spot of birding during my coffee and lunch breaks and for more extended spells when work was interrupted by bad weather (Sea state challenges). My early days were spent familiarising myself with the littoral zone where I was fortunate to get regular and exceedingly nice views of Water Pipits, Crested Larks and Black Redstarts.

Crested Lark

Water Pipit

Black Redstart

Albania is what I would describe as a developing country- many aspects of the country appear to be living in the shadow of the former communist regime. Some aspects of the country are rapidly modernising in terms of infrastructure although considerable poverty still exists within some sections of the populace. I admit to having a slightly negative, almost sinister view of Albania before my visit but this was ill conceived, with the people proving helpful and welcoming to visitors. The scenery is often spectacular, the food lovely and the fauna and flora exciting and diverse. The language can be challenging but Italian is widely understood and English becoming increasingly used in the larger cities and transport hubs. In short, a lovely country and well worth a visit. 

Beautiful blue light on the Adriatic coast
Dawn over Fier
Hunting Marsh Harrier with a stunning mountain backdrop

In addition to the avifauna, Albania has an impressive species diversity with regard to butterflies, moths, plants, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. I would highly recommend a visit by any adventurous amateur and professional naturalist. 
Hummingbird Hawkmoth on Rosemary.

Albanian water frog
Dalmatian Pelican

Zitting Cisticola

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Sensational spring & super summer

I have been a little remiss concerning my blog- largely due to my new found compulsion of sharing my birding exploits on twitter. (@pelagicbirder). Time to catch up. I suppose like many birders my favourite months are May and October. By May, even in the far North, most migrants have returned, there is a real chance of an overshoot rarity and it generally feels good to be in the field. This May was rather good for the quality of birds I was able to catch up with. I did a double dash to Aberdeenshire to connect with a very smart lesser yellowlegs and a couple of weeks later managed to twitch a splendid Pacific Golden plover. Things really kicked off two days later with the discovery of an amazing Black- billed cuckoo on North Uist. There was no time for pontification- a quick phone call to see who was up for the twitch, followed by the hard work of organising driving partners, accommodation and ferry bookings.  It's always tricky twitching the Scottish Islands and involves significant effort and coordination- some birders just get it done, whilst others whine about missed opportunities. Over the years such effort has resulted in me seeing some outrageously good birds and also suffering some very painful dips- but as in birding, as in life- I at least now know who will share the responsibilities of getting trips sorted as opposed to the lazy hang-ons that just wait to bum rides once the logistics have been sorted! The bird was stunning and a species I never really ever expected to catch up with, so the hassle of the trip was well worth it. 

A week later I drove up to Balnakiel to see a splendid Stone curlew- in Scottish terms a mega in it's own right. Having been unemployed for a number of months my birding budget was seriously depleted so I frustratingly held off going south to see a marvellous Gull- billed tern. A few days later however, the opportunity to share driving and costs presented itself and was duly seized upon. After an initial evening dip, followed by a night of camping, we chanced upon the bird that eventually did the most marvellous fly-bys! Happy days indeed and once more worth the effort of long drives and a night away living on cheese sarnies.

The summer continued in a similar vein- not huge numbers of birds to be seen but the quality was certainly of a high standard. The next really good bird to turn up was the magnificent male Black- headed bunting on the Isle of Skye. Over the years I have spent countless hours trying to find one in the NW Highlands so it was just reward to finally be able to see one visiting a garden feeder. Unfortunately I could only view it briefly from a private residence but it was still a magnificent bird to see. 

A further dash over to Aberdeenshire with some Highland birding friends allowed reasonable views of the White- winged scoter at Murcar. Although always rather distant it was great being able to finally pin it down after a number of hours searching through the huge flock of scoters that frequent this stretch of coast.  I finally got a short-term contract surveying cetaceans in the North sea and the highlight of my 3 weeks at sea was a self-found Ortolan that briefly alighted on the deck before flying off towards the Aberdeenshire coast- a really good find in Scotland. 

My final 'good bird' of the summer came during a brief visit to the Isle of Lewis in the shape of a splendid Buff- breasted sandpiper. Although I have seen a number of these in Cornwall this bird was a very nice addition to my 'Scottish list'. The bird was very confiding and once I had sat quietly on the turf for a few minutes it wandered over to within 5 metres of my position- an absolute treat! 

Thursday 21 April 2016

King of the Highlands

Great find a few days ago in the shape of a stunning drake King Eider 20 miles up the coast from Ullapool. A few local birders have tried to find out who found and first reported the bird but unfortunately this has not been possible to date. The bird shows well when it moves into the near-shore areas with the small flock of eider, but on occasion is distant and it has also been known to disappear in the numerous rocky inlets that are characteristic of much of the coastline in the area. 

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Bucket list bird at Balranald!

Some three and a half years after seeing a magnificent white morph Gyr in Greenland (see post for Oct 12th 2012) I finally got one for my Scottish list! It took a lot of work including a 3 day dip last January and several more hours during another Barra dip for the American herring gull. Perseverance eventually paid off last week - after another slightly shaky start. The bird had been 'showing well'- a phrase I have often come to dread and upon arrival an hour or so was spent around Balranald, checking fenceposts and rocky hillocks to no avail. The all too familiar 'dip' aura seemed to fill the air so we drove a circuit back to the main road and around the minor road to Hougarry. Suddenly a heavy, broad-winged, white bird, flapped lazily across the road some 100 metres or so in front of us and landed on a post, splaying its barred tail and wings. Someone muttered 'whats that!' and I replied 'thats the bird'! as I immediately recognised the in-flight jizz from my Greenlandic encounters. Imagine that- a tick-able Gyr from the car!! Well as expected there were a few moments of chaos as I put the car on a verge and we quickly got views and record shots from hastily snatched cameras. The bird was aware of us but seemed reluctant to move on, so better photos were obtained, scopes were set up and after much swearing and gasping we eventually settled down to enjoy crippling views of what is certainly the best bird I have ever seen. Another car coming the other way stopped so close to the bird that we were amazed it did not fly off, but later the driver explained that the bird was perched some 5 metres or so from a swan carcass that it habitually visited to feed. We decided that it was then prudent to move on to allow the bird to feed so headed for our accommodation to have a wee drink in celebration. 
jaw droppingly impressive!
Although elated I knew that the following morning was going to be potentially stressful- we had six birding friends due on the morning ferry- two relatively 'local' from the Highlands and four travelling up from Lothian. To really enjoy the bird it was important that everyone got to see it. The next morning back at Balranald we quickly got onto the bird. It sat on a post for an hour and text messages revealed that the rest of the crews were still in Uig on the Isle of Skye. Eventually they sailed but the bird was becoming increasingly restless- preening, wing stretching and I just knew it had been on the post far too long. Still it sat on the post but momentarily flapped its impressive wings when it was mobbed by a couple of very noisy common gulls. I was feeling very nervous at this time. More sending of texts revealed the ferry was on approach to Loch Maddy and then the unmentionable happened. A tourist and his wife asked what I was looking at through the scope and having explained the birds presence I stepped away from my scope to let them have a look. The guy stood back and said 'I can't see it' -it just flew away! Yikes! after almost 2 hours of 'eyes-on' the bird, it had flown at the precise moment I wasn't watching so I didn't have a clue which direction it had gone- pure stress! Fortunately the guy concerned was able to tell me that he thought it had gone 'over that hill'. Having texted the travelling birders that the bird had flown I set off on foot to hopefully 'refind' it before the crowd arrived. One of our party stayed at the junction to provide directions and also to cover the immediate area incase it came back. Another of our party checked the coast and dunes and I headed North. After 20 minutes of yomping with my camera and scope I realised I was almost back at the loch where the bird had been feeding the evening before. A quick scan and I relocated the bird on a distant fence post. I texted everyone to let them know that we had it relocated and 30 minutes later everyone arrived, got stunning views, brilliant photos and even video footage. A truly magnificent bird, a wonderful location and a great bunch of birders made for my best ever twitch. We even had a supporting cast of eagles, harriers, short-eared owls, corn buntings, glaucous gull and a great white egret! Thanks to Steve Duffield of Western isles wildlife- who has spent a lot of time over many months pinning this bird down in order that lots of visiting birders could connect with it- including me! 

At home in the sleet!
sorting out a local 'thug' buzzard!
some serious birding talent here- and all smiling! 

Sunday 3 April 2016

Lovely Cornwall

Not been 'home' for a good while so with a family visit long overdue It was good to get back to Cornwall. I had very little dedicated birding time but it was still good to get a few hours at Penzance, Marazion and Hayle- I had forgotten how easy the birding is down south! ;) A few snaps below with the Black redstart being my bird of the week. Just for the interest of 'locals' I spent a day at the Eden project and recorded a number of birds in the 'biomes' - grey wagtail, blue tit, chaffinch, robin, wren, dunnock, blackbird, chiffchaff etc. Of greater interest was a fleeting glimpse of a chunky green/yellowish warbler with a significant bill that certainly looked like a 'hippo' sp.- worth checking in the 'rain forest' biome if you visit! -I didn't take my bins or camera in ;(

Black redstart- Penzance
Black Redstart
Little Egret, Newlyn 
Stonechat, Marazion.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Fantastic February

With the major crash in Oil prices, exploration survey work is at an all time low so I have not had any pelagic birding work for some months. Instead of moping about at home I have decided to use my time and savings to catch up with some new birds for my Scottish list. Financial constraints have meant greater use of hostels and buses that although sometimes inconvenient, have still allowed me to get a few ticks. Following several dips over the past few years I finally got to see a cracking bittern at Montrose basin. The bird kept me waiting for 30 minutes or so but it was well worth the wait when it eventually flew past the hide.  The memory of a major dip after sitting in a hide for 3 days at Kinnordy loch last year were almost forgotten! 

Bittern, Montrose basin.
Five days later I successfully twitched an Avocet on the Kyle of Tongue and also grabbed a self-found Great grey shrike near Laxford bridge on the way up.  Although I have seen a few GGS in Scotland before it always feels good to find your own birds!

Avocet, Kyle of Tongue.
Great grey shrike, Laxford bridge.
Following reports of marsh tit on bird track I managed to get some specific site details from a good birding friend in lothian. As this bird is so rare in Scotland there was a fair bit of interest in a cost sharing twitch, so I headed down with two other Highland birders and successfully saw two birds. A report of Caspian gulls near Torness meant that we also got to find a 1st winter bird near Dunbar land fill site so amazingly I got two Scottish ticks in one day! 

The Northern Harrier on North Ronaldsay proved difficult and took two trips and nine days of effort including the travel days. We finally got the bird at last light on our 4th 'field day' By then, seeing the bird resulted in feelings of relief rather than excitement for this recent addition to the British list. The next day we scoped the bird for over 40 minutes as it sat in the rain and although always distant it was a very good bird to catch up with. 

Northern harrier, North Ron.
Aside from new 'ticks' it was also good to get self-found common crane and smew in addition to great views of lots of commoner species. A great birding month! 

Common crane, North Ron.