Albufera, one of the most important centres for birdwatching in Majorca.

10-12-2015Michael Montier

I always like meeting new people, especially birders. Very little introduction is necessary as we usually launch straight into conversations about recent sightings, birding around the world and an endless stream of other news about species seen from visitors’ home towns or holidays. Nobody can talk like a birder, we are so gripped by our obsession that we can never get enough information. It bores non-birders rigid. We can talk for hours on end about a single species so if you consider that there are around 10,000 species in the world, then that could keep us going for nearly a lifetime.

These days, there is much correspondence on the internet and sharing of news. I keep a couple of threads going about all things Majorca and I get to "chat" to many people from around the globe. One such person is Mike McSwiss, it’s not his real name, just his internet "handle" or whatever it’s called, and I have been reading about his sightings from the north of Majorca for quite some time but sadly we had never met.

All this changed last Thursday as we finally arranged to meet up at the main reserve of s’Albufera in Alcudia. We met by the Information Centre at a very respectable hour, no rising at dawn today thankfully, and we began talking birds immediately as a rare Little Gull had been seen nearby only the day before. He gets his name from the fact that he lives in Switzerland but he comes to Majorca very frequently. Our wives had come along too which is great for many reasons, Mike's wife Susan is also a keen birder so we waste no time in rushing to the hides where the gull was seen in the hope that it will still be there. Birds can be annoying things as they rarely stay in the same place and even though my hopes were high, I had a nagging doubt that we would connect with this compact and very pretty member of the Laridae family.

What was also nagging me was the fact that Jane had made a super picnic, a great improvement on my normal fare of bread and cheese. I am always in a hurry to get out of the door when I go birding and consequently I spend little time thinking about what I am going to eat. I also don´t feel at my creative best at six in the morning. But on this occasion our lunch had been meticulously prepared with many succulent offerings and my tummy was rumbling in anticipation. I have always been an ill-disciplined and rather hungry person so I have nearly always demolished all my food well before ten in the morning. Not today though, I am told that we will eat at one and I will have to wait. How I hate the word "wait", it always fills me with belligerence.

We arrived at the first hide. Nothing. Not a dickie bird. I really needed to see Little Gull as I have made a huge effort this year to finish near the top of the "Bigyear" in Majorca. This is an annual competition to see who can record the most species during the year. I went all out at the beginning of the year, determined to make up for the past few years where I have finished between sixth and ninth. This year I was in second place at the end of January but I have spent the past few months slipping ungracefully down the rankings. I need to make up a few places and this bird will really help. The problem is, it's nowhere to be seen. We chatted away about birds, the USA and other locations around the world that we have visited. Mike has a good knowledge of birds and is particularly competent with computers, something that has passed me by in life, I just don´t have any interest in the things. A few birds came and went and generally kept us in good spirits whilst we waited for our most wanted quarry but there was no sign of it. Then Mike spotted an Osprey sitting on top of a pole some distance away. Just as we all focused on the bird, it left its lookout and flew straight towards us. Much to our delight, it then plunged into the water feet first and then emerged with a huge fish in its deadly talons. Even more surprisingly, it flew towards us and settled really close to us, gripping on tightly to its enormous lunch, not willing to let it go despite the thing flapping away with all its might. Nature is so cruel, it's not a nice sight and we couldn't help feeling for the poor victim but this is the world of wildlife, everything has a predator just waiting in the wings to devour whatever comes into range. After a lot more wriggling, the fish finally succumbed to the huge power of the mighty Osprey and the whole grisly episode was over.

It did however, give us a rare treat because it is so unusual to be able to watch this master fisherman at work and at such close range. The whole hide fell into silence as we took photos and studied the finer details of this magnificent bird of prey.

I'm not sure if it was this close encounter that provoked the next response but I heard the magic announcement that we would return to the information Centre for an early lunch. What good news.

After enjoying possibly the best lunch I have ever had whilst birding, I took the opportunity to walk round the Centre. There are lots of displays, good photographs and some books for sale. It is well worth popping in for a look round should you ever be at the marsh. There is a short history of the reserve, the jewel of the crown of Majorca and one of the largest reedbeds in Europe.

It is such an important place for breeding birds and passage migrants and it must be preserved and maintained in top condition at all costs so that future generations may enjoy the splendour of all the magnificent wildlife in Majorca.

We visited the other hides and saw many other fine species including Snipe, the weird and wonderful Purple Swamp-hen, rare Greylag Geese, Stone Curlew, two Greater Flamingoes and many small waders. A dazzling metallic blue Kingfisher flashed past and some snowy white wild horses also came into view. Hides are not the most comfortable of places, cold damp and pretty draughty is the norm, but a fair amount of suffering does somehow make the whole day more worthwhile. Having just returned from North Norfolk where some of the hides there are behind glass with heating and a coffee shop, I felt a bit smug that we were more authentic and a bit more hardy too. So a note of caution to the Albufera reserve, please don't install any of these luxuries, we like suffering.

We ambled slowly back to the entrance, chatting as we went. It had been a great day as usual, I could never tire of the place even if I went every day. There is always something new to see, something different to fire the imagination and ensure sufficient enthusiasm for next visit.

And so the time to depart sadly came and we promised to meet up again. It had all been great fun and there is nothing like sharing a passion for wildlife with like-minded people, all in good humour too. There is always something to learn and happily most birders pool their knowledge and experiences. There is also a big world out there and I want to visit as many places as I can during my remaining time on the planet.

So thank you Mike and Susan for a memorable day out and I am sure we will do it all again, the call of the wild is too strong to ignore. There are many beautiful things to see and it sure beats being bent over a computer for hours on end. My thanks to Jane as well for an equally memorable lunch and I´m so pleased that I didn't have to wait until one o'clock. Back to bread and cheese next time I guess.

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Lawrie / Hace 9 days

I like nothing better than waĺking from Paguera to Es Capdella in the spring time trying to identify as many birds as I can along the way with my wife acting as a 'spotter'. Not nearly as good as the north east of the island I believe but good enough for me especially with a couple of good bars at the end of the walk.

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