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Mallorca RETURNING! Autumn in the Balearics

An 8-day, small group, single-centre birdwatching tour to the Balearic island of Mallorca

Mallorca is both an ideal destination for an autumn birding getaway and the perfect introduction to birdwatching in the Med. Its mountains and marshes, woodlands and spectacular cliff coasts are attractive to a host of resident and migratory birds. October is the best time for great views of Eleonora’s Falcons, the adults now busily feeding their young on migrant passeriness; 'black-bag' Cinereous Vultures hulk over the limestone hills, where Sardinian, Spectacled and the endemic Balearic Warblers can all be found. The island's extensive wetlands secrete other of Europe's scarcest breeding birds - furtive Moustached Warblers, chunky Western Swamphens, and rare Marbled Ducks and Red-knobbed Coots. Lying across a major migration route, there's the added thrill of autumn passage, too!

Tour Dates

2019

Available

Leaders
Fernando Enrique

Max Group Size: 7
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1795

inc flights London Heathrow-Palma (Mallorca), nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £195
Land Only: £1645

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Eleonora's Falcon Gary Elton copy resized

The dashing Eleonora’s Falcon times its breeding to hit the peak of autumn bird migration through Mallorca, picking off tired passerines as they come in off the sea! © Gary Elton, Limosa

Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, flanked by Menorca to the east and Ibiza to the west, and situated 200 kms from the nearest mainland coast in Spain. It is classically 'Mediterranean' in its limestone landscape, with a range of high mountains along the north coast, which drop sharply into the sea creating some magnificent cliffs, and a wealth of the garrigue and maquis habitats typical of the region. In s’Albufera, it has one of the largest marshes anywhere in the western Mediterranean, and there's an area of productive saltpans near the island's southernmost tip.

Although many visitors head to Mallorca in spring, in autumn the weather is warm and the southbound bird migration is an exciting time. Thousands of birds pass over and through the island, resting and feeding before continuing to their winter quarters in Africa: anything can turn up here!

The elegant Eleonora’s Falcon times its breeding to hit the peak of autumn bird migration through the island, picking off tired passerines as they come in off the sea! In early October, it is superb to watch both the dark and light morph adults and their recently fledged young as they sear across the cerulean skies and azure seas.

Mallorca’s comparative isolation from mainland Europe has resulted in a number of rare species making the varied habitats of the north their home: Cinereous (Black) and Egyptian Vultures, Audouin’s Gull and the endemic Balearic Warbler await!

Taking a lesson from Eleonora's Falcon, our October tour is planned to coincide with the likely peak of autumn migration. And by staying beside the northeast coast at Puerto Pollensa, we shall be within easy reach of most of the island’s best birding locations. We'll take a walk along the famous Boquer Valley watching for migrants and birds of prey; explore the island's two key wetlands - Albufereta marsh and S’Albufera de Mallorca - in search of Moustached Warbler and Marbled Duck; drive up into the Tramuntanas Mountains seeking the immense Black Vulture; and pay a visit to the coast at Cala San Vicente, where migrants arrive in the trees and Balearic Warblers skulk in the maquis.

To the east, the Formentor Peninsula is spectacular and, from the tip, Balearic and Scopoli’s Shearwaters may be seen passing offshore. At the opposite end of the island we'll visit the Salinas de Levante, where passage waders stop to refuel, and Cabo de Salinas, where the fields are good for Stone-curlew and the headland offers another chance of Balearic Warbler. Small clumps of pine can hold Pied, Spotted and Mediterranean Flycatchers, Icterine Warbler, Wryneck and the sentinel Woodchat Shrike.

Making a long overdue return to the Limosa programme, our autumn tour to Mallorca is ideal for those that are new to birding in southern European and wanting to enjoy some of the best and most exciting Mediterranean species. It's also a great destination for anyone wishing to experience the thrill of autumn migration - or simply looking for a short autumn break packed with good birds. The pace is gentle, with warm autumn sun and rewarding birdwatching under the excellent tutelage of our top rated, English-speaking Spanish specialist, Fernando Enrique, who knows the island well.

Purple Swamphen Ebro Spain FE IMG 2020 copy resized

In s’Albufera, Mallorca has one of the largest marshes anywhere in the western Mediterranean - a home to localised specialities such as Western Swamphen © Fernando Enrique, Limosa

Day 1
FLY PALMA, TRANSFER TO PUERTO POLLENSA

Our autumn birdwatching tour to Mallorca begins with morning departure from London Heathrow to Palma, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. The drive northeast along the island's new motorway will whisk us away to the coast at Puerto Pollensa in good time to settle into our hotel for the week.

Having freshened up at the hotel, we will take a first walk nearby to get a feel for the area and some of the birds of Mallorca. The Albufereta Marsh is a wonderful wetland area close to our hotel and here we could well be treated to our first Zitting Cisticolas, Marsh Harriers or even Audouin’s Gulls on the beach. In places, we might find flowering Autumn Narcissus and the twisting spikes of Autumn Lady's Tresses. Night Puerto Pollensa

DAYS 2-7
BIRDWATCHING ON MALLORCA

Puerto Pollensa is perfectly situated for an autumn birdwatching tour, being right on the island's bird-rich northeast coast. With fresh migrants arriving daily and a wide variety of habitats to choose from, we shall never be short of places to go - although we may make more than one visit to some sites as, in autumn, the island's birdlife changes every day. Throughout the island we may come across the likes of Black Kite, Pallid and Alpine Swifts, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Short-toed Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Crag Martin, Cetti's, Fan-tailed and Sardinian Warblers, Serin and Cirl Bunting... well, just about anywhere!

BOQUER VALLEY

The Boquer Valley is a beautiful place to stroll as well as being an area well known for migrant birds as they arrive from the north and funnel along the valley. Highlights here might include the attractive Hoopoe, smart Cirl Buntings and Serins, perhaps a ‘real’ Rock Dove, Wryneck, Crag Martin and Common Redstart. Keeping one eye on the sky, we'll also be looking out for Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and the dashing Eleonora's Falcon high above the peaks.

PARC NATURAL DE S’ALBUFERA & ALBUFERETA MARSH

Just to the south near Alcudia is the most important wetland habitat on Mallorca: the Parc Natural de S’Albufera, a 2200-hectare freshwater marsh with extensive reedbeds that provide a wealth of insect life (notably dragonflies) - fuel for passing migrants such as terns, Bee-eaters, hirundines and warblers. Among resident species, Marsh Harrier and Moustached Warbler are key – the latter has up to 1,000 pairs, but they are a very secretive species that typically feed very low in the reeds, close to the water’s edge, and can be tricky to find.

Having taken the main track along the canal and checked the trees for roosting Night Herons, we will call at the reserve headquarters before exploring some of the numerous tracks that give access to the reedbeds and open areas of water. In autumn, there is usually an excellent selection of herons, egrets, waterfowl and waders as well as localised specialities such as Marbled Duck, Western Swamphen and Red-knobbed Coot. Each of the places we visit has its own special attractions. S'Albufera is home to around 50% of the critically endangered Spanish subspecies of Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus witherbyi; notable for their thicker bills typical of southern European subspecies, there are now fewer than 100 pairs in the whole country.

Here, and at the smaller Albufereta marsh (on the other side of town), we'll seek a variety of other wetland birds. Little Egret, Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Garganey, Osprey and Great Reed Warbler are often about, while October brings the possibility of rarities such as Squacco Heron, Marsh Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull and Red-throated Pipit.

TRAMUNTANAS MOUNTAINS, CUBER RESERVOIR & CALA SAN VICENTE

Driving east from Puerto Pollensa, we head up into the picturesque and rugged limestone mountains of the Tramuntanas. Watching for raptors as we go, we visit the Cuber Reservoir. A small patch of pines could produce the local Balearic race of Red Crossbill and Tawny Pipits are sometimes calling here or a little down the path to the reservoir.

Scanning the surrounding limestone peaks we hope to spot the huge Black Vulture coasting over one of its few remaining European haunts, and we may be lucky with Egyptian Vulture, a declining species which has become very scarce in recent years. This can be a great spot for Booted Eagle and Peregrine, and the reservoir edges are well worth checking for Eleonora’s Falcon (which regularly comesdown to bathe) and Osprey. In autumn, migrants often frequent the track and streamside vegetation. Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and Blackcap are usually about and we'll listen for the wren-like call of the secretive Spectacled Warbler from the scrubby slopes.

Along the island's north coast, small secluded valleys head down to the sea. Cala San Vicente is one such place, where we will search the autumnal trees for migrants and take a track into the coastal maquis for a chance of seeing the diminutive and endemic Balearic Warbler.

CASAS VELLAS & MIRADORS, FORMENTOR & ARTA PENINSULAS

The Formentor Peninsula is an extension of the Tramuntanas range - and another area not to be missed! in autumn, this immensely scenic and northeasternmost corner of the island is a good spot for southbound migrants. Just as we wind up the hills north of Puerto Pollensa, the Mirador viewpoints at the start of the peninsula provide views back to the town as well as into the mouth of the Boquer Valley. We may be treated here to eye-to-eye views of Blue Rock Thrush, Raven, Crag Martin, Peregrine and - best of all - rakish Eleonora's Falcons as they enjoy the breeze and search for tired migrant birds on the way south.

The road to the lighthouse is interesting and arriving at the eastern tip of the peninsula we could well see more Eleonora’s Falcons plus shearwaters as they coast by offshore. We will spend some time at Casas Vellas, an area of fields harbouring fig and olive groves as well as grape vines in the middle of this otherwise pine-covered peninsula. The varied vegetation attracts many southbound migrants in autumn and amidst the many Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps we will look for flycatchers, Serin, Red Crossbill and the diminutive Firecrest.

The Artà Peninsula lies south of Formentor and is a scenic although not very high mountainous area, rising to around 500m (1600 feet). The habitat here is very similar to the Tramuntana area, with valleys covered in Mediterranean scrub and patches of pine woodland. Mallorca's last breeding pair of Egyptian Vultures is to be found here, as are Balearic and Sardinian Warblers, and Artà is a good spot for Thekla Lark, Blue Rock Thrush and Tawny Pipit, too.

SALINAS DE LEVANTE AND CABO DE SALINAS

On one day will drive south to the saltpans at Salinas de Levante - the best site on the island for shorebirds. Access is best on the southern pans and by stopping frequently we should find Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt. In the autumn, the salt pansare attractive to migrant waders and by following the road that skirts the southeastern edge, we will gain good views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Ruff, plus numerous Little Stints. Numbers of Greater Flamingo have risen over the years and they can be seen here in autumn as they gather to spend the winter feeding on the pans. Osprey put in regular appearances and autumn butterflies to watch for include Two-tailed Pasha, Plain Tiger (African Monarch) and Swallowtail.

To the south of the salt pans, the Cabo de Salinas lighthouse marks the southernmost tip of the island. Getting there involves crossing rough sheep pasture and a marvellous area of undisturbed garrigue, which is home to Eurasian Stone-curlew and Thekla Lark. Migrants such as Turtle Dove, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear and Woodchat Shrike may be found sheltering amidst the low stone walls and scattered bushes.

From the beach and headland we should see the blood-billed Audouin’s Gull - one of the rarest gulls in the world - and if the winds are right, Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters may also be passing by offshore. Balearic Warblers occur in the scrub - but there are Sardinian Warblers, too so we shall need to look (and listen) carefully!

Day 8
PUERTO POLLENSA, FLY LONDON

Depending on airline flight schedules, we should have time to enjoy some further birdwatching on Mallorca today.

Leaving Puerto Pollensa, we travel back to Palma, the island's capital, and check-in for our return flight to London, where our autumn birding tour to Mallorca concludes. 

Audouin's Gull SandM GE 2017 resized

Rare but increasing, Audouin’s Gull is restricted to the Mediterranean and the western coast of Saharan Africa - the northeast corner of Mallorca is a good spot to find this attractive bird © Gary Elton, Limosa

What To Expect

Mallorca is both an ideal destination for an autumn birding getaway and the perfect introduction to birdwatching in the Med. Its mountains and marshes, woodlands and spectacular cliff coasts are attractive to a host of resident and migratory birds.

October is the best time for great views of Eleonora’s Falcons, the adults now busily feeding their young on migrant passeriness; 'black-bag' Cinereous Vultures hulk over the limestone hills, where Sardinian, Spectacled and the endemic Balearic Warblers can all be found. The island's extensive wetlands secrete other of Europe's scarcest breeding birds - furtive Moustached Warblers, chunky Western Swamphens, and rare Marbled Ducks and Red-knobbed Coots. Lying across a major migration route, there's the added thrill of autumn passage, too!

Our daily routine on Mallorca will be to take a pre-breakfast walk (optional) - perhaps visiting Albufereta Marsh or the beginning of the Boquer Valley. After returning for breakfast, we'll travel out by minibus to one of the island's many excellent sites for our main birding of the day. The majority of Mallorca's best birding locations lie within an easy drive of our hotel and we will then spend a full morning watching birds and other wildlife before thinking about lunch.

Lunches may be taken at a local restaurant or as tasty picnics comprising fresh bread, local cheeses and hams, fruit and drinks, bought from a store. After lunch on some days (particularly if the weather is hot), we may take the opportunity of a short break - if possible back at the hotel - before heading out mid afternoon to another prime birding spot. We return to our hotel in good time to get ready for dinner and to call the day's checklist.

The weather on Mallorca in early October is often warm and sunny, with daytime temperatures at Puerto Pollensa in the range of 13-23C/55-73F (average 18C/64F). It can be cool first thing, however (ground frost is possible at this season). Being near the coast, it can be breezy at times - notably on the cliffs at Formentor - and you should expect some rain or showers in autumn (30% chance)... but these bring the birds!

Birds

90-120 species

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at a good quality hotel close to the coast near Puerto Pollensa, in the birdy northeast of the island. All rooms have private facilities

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner at our hotel on Day 1 and concluding with either breakfast or lunch (according to flight schedules) on Day 8.

Breakfasts and evening meals will be taken in the hotel. Our lunches may variously be taken at a local restaurant or as picnics in the field.

Walking

Easy. Short walks (up to 3 km or so) over predominantly level terrain. Being on limestone, some tracks can be rough at times

- a walking pole can be useful here, and some participants might like to carry a lightweight collapsible stool. We recommend comfortable walking shoes or lightweight boots, with sturdy corrugated soles for grip.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow-Palma, nonstop with British Airways.

[Flights from Gatwick and some UK regional airports may also be possible for the benefit of participants wishing to avoid London. Please ask our office for details and flight supplement at time of booking.]

Ground Transport   By minibus

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