Saturday, June 25, 2011

Balearic Spring Day 8 - A Golden Ending

Our final day on Mallorca. We had booked an evening flight to give us as much time as possible on this wonderful Mediterranean island and decided it would be a fitting end to finish the trip where we had started and bring the trip to full circle. The marsh at S'Albufera had been kind in showing its wealth of avifauna during the proceeding days and had generated some indelible memories. It would also provide a relaxing day as we had many hours stretched out before us with the journey home. As we took the long path into the marsh for the last time, we were unaware of the very special moments that awaited us at the end of the day.

I decided to start the session with trying to improve on my efforts with Cetti's Warbler. Despite my best efforts, I didn't progress very far with this tricky species with only a couple of photos for considerable effort.

I returned to one of the hides and settled in for a couple of hours of photographing whatever birds would happen to wander into close range. Greenshank and Spotted Redshank waded around constantly in front of the hide and only occasionally distracted occasionally by a passing Marsh Harrier in buoyant flight on the far side of the lagoon.
I went for a wander to go and find some more Red-Crested Pochard to photograph and to add some images to those taken previously.
Whilst waiting for the ducks to drift in to range a Cormorant surfaced directly in front of me and quickly dispatched a Common Carp in a couple of swift moves that ended in the fish being swallowed whole.

I finished off the afternoon photogaphing some Little Egrets that looked very ornate with their long, ruffled breeding plumes as they strutted around in front of the hide.

We moved to the final location of the trip. To one side of the hide was a large field with grass kept low by an abundant rabbit population. On a previous visit we had seen a few Stone Curlew superbly camouflaged and moitionless on the far side of the field. These were some of several of these birds seen through the course of the week. They are so incredibly shy and it seems if you look sideways at one from a distance of about 1km and it will start making its exit.

As I watched a Spoonbill slowly working its way around the lake, I kept checking the field. Time was rapidly approaching the time we would have to make tracks to the airport. A movement caught my eye, the Stone Curlew were on the move. The birds that had been only seen at long range or heard calling in the night were now steadily approaching the hide. There were five birds in total which would walk then pause and then walk some more. They just came closer and closer until we were getting frame filling photographs in the late sun.
A brief display to another bird
A bird I never thought I would get to photograph was there before me, and I can't think of a a more golden ending to the week. As quickly as the birds has appeared they drifted away once more to the far side of the field. Meanwhile the Spoonbill had made its way across the lagoon as was now feeding directly in front of the other hide. I made a quick dash around and managed to catch the bird before it carried on its circuit of the lake. This was to be the last bird I photographed in Mallorca.
A small fish disappears between the 'spoons'.

Overall it had been a very enjoyable week in great company, with wonderful weather and beautiful birds. I am sure this will not be my last visit to the island of Mallorca. Please drop over to Steve Rounds Blog where you can see some more images from the trip.

Now I have to start on the backlog of UK images that have built up since the trip. The Mallorca trip took much longer to post here than I would have liked so thanks for bearing with it. I am hoping to increase the frequency of blog posts in the coming weeks to bring everything back up to date. There are plenty of memorable images of birds waiting in the 'wings' and I hope you will follow me on my spring search for birds in the western oak woods, on upland moors and across expanses of crop farmland.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Balearic Spring Day 7 - One End to the Other
Over night there was rain. The first clouds of the week had rolled in over the hills with the approaching darkness and my sleep was periodically interrupted by the sounds of the swirling wind and rain outside. By morning it was gone with only a few remnants of cloud remaining as we headed down to the south of the island to see what the famous saltpans may hold. We made our way along the ornithologically infamous 'Eddy's Track'. Steve headed one way and I the other. Bird photography rarely works in pairs.

I headed towards a lagoon which had a small penninsula that allowed me to get in amongst the birds and down to water level. The aroma surrounding the lagoons was memorable and the mosquitoes in a hungry mood. All that was on offer for the camera was a number of Stilts wading through the placid brine. It was good to be out in the open and down at water level with the birds rather than being constrained by a hide.

After taking some stilt photos I met back up with Steve who had little to report from his wanderings, so we headed back to the car and drove around to check the rest of the saltpans. If there had been any other birds in the other lagoons they appeared to have been scared out of camera distance by a person in a red car and bright yellow t-shirt who kept jumping out with his camera on the road ahead of us. We decided to check an adjacent field althought it produce no images Serin, Tutrtle Dove and a Hoopoe were seen. Steve also managed to do his best impression and called a cuckoo in several times but it evaded having its photo taken. Back in the car again and we came across a Corn Bunting in full jangling song on top of a post. So we stopped for a short while ,got out of the car and took a few images of a very acommodating bird.

We decided to then head to most southerly point of the island which is known as a good place to find weary migrants crossing the Mediterranean. We thought the previous night's rain may have brought some down to earth. However, once more no migrants were present with only the occasional Sardinian Warbler breaking the silence of the garrique scrub under the late morning sun. Time to head northwards.

En route we came across a lake and decided to stop for a while. Steve busied himself with some large red dragonflies while I thought I would photograph some of the low flying Swifts using my Canon 7D.

I doubt that these fast flying birds contributed to the subsequent meltdown of the camera body, which from then on showed a persistent 'Error code 40' message (electrical fault) and refused to work. Fortunately there was only one day of the holiday to go but it shows the importance of taking two camera bodies when travelling. The only other bird that appeared at the lake was a Greenshank that appeared at point blank range to completely fill the viewfinder.

We continued our journey northwards and decided to head to the lighthouse at far end of the Formentor pennisula, the most northerly point of the island in an attempt to try and find some Blue Rock Thrush. However, all we found was one calling at great distance and out of sight. We had now covered the full length of the island from north to south.

Heading back down the pennisula we saw a sign for the beach. As the sun was now dropping we decided to see if there were any Yellow Legged Gulls around as we still had not managed any good photographs of these birds. Yellow Legged Gulls are the southern equivalent of the Herring Gull but much more photogenic in my opinion. If you wonder why they are called yellow legged gulls ;)

We found a number of birds drifting off a small jetty, built out from the beach, and had some great fun with them as the sun sunk rapidly down towards the hills behind.

Having got the portrait images done, it was time to have some fun and get some more interesting poses in some wonderful light. Steve donated his remaining uneaten sandwiches to the cause and some great fun was had with the birds who ended up with a free meal for their fine display. I was also glad of all the flight photography practice I have done on the gulls close to my home over the years which was now proving useful. There are quite a few images below but it may be a long time before I post a yellow legged gull photograph again.

An adult showing a young bird who is in charge.

The last we saw of the sandwich.

The gulls had saved an otherwise fairly quite day. We now had only 24 hours lef,t as this time the following evening we would be heading for the airport. What would the last day bring, something special and memorable?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Balearic Spring Day 6 - From Dawn to Dusk

Over the evening routine of sorting through the days images with a couple of beers and a salad, the plan for the next day's photography was usually hatched. We decided it was time to have a day of relaxation and rest the aching feet and undertake a dawn to dusk session at S'Albufera. Up to this point we had not visited the marsh in the morning so were keen to see what it offered for the camera in the early light.

The day dawned once more with cloudless crystal skies and with a stillness through a complete absence of wind. At breakfast the Zitting Cisticola as usual was circling the field adjacent to the villa in roller coaster song flight and the Stone Curlew had returned to its daytime resting position in the field beyond. After the short drive out to the S'Albufera, we were once more taking the long walk in to the marsh to the aural accompaniment of canary yellow Serin and rust brown Cetti's Warbler singing from the bordering bushes.

The quietness of the early morning had encouraged the Snipe to emerge from the reed fringe to feed in open water.

The birds were busy using their long bill to probe the lake sediments for insects.

There was a new member of the avian cast in front of the hide that morning in the shape of a single Greenshank.

The still water allowed for some wonderful reflections.

The omnipresent Black-Winged Stilt were going about the usual early morning duties that included making a good deal of noise.

Running around.

Taking flight with their long trailing legs...

and showing each other 'affection' after mating.

I decided to leave the hide and take a wander. First stop was an attempt to try and photograph a Cetti's Warbler along an overgrown path. These are a very frustrating bird to try and capture with the camera as they flit around in dense undergrowth. The bird has a habit of bursting in to a loud warble right next to you and then immediately moving on. So often you attention is drawn by the call only to see the bird flying away through the bushes.

I eventually managed to get a couple of photographs but a further attempt would be needed before the end of the week.

The other species I went to photograph on my travels arund the reserve was the Red Crested Pochard as I had noticed a couple of birds in the vicinity the bridge that crossed the main channel when I arrived.

Returning back to the hide, a Great White Egret had arrived much to the upset of a pair of Common Terns that took a particular dislike to this large bird.

Up until this point I had tended to ignore the Little Egrets that were frequently in front of the hide, as this is a species I have taken a good deal of time photographing in the UK. However, when one ruffled up its full breeding plumage it was difficult not to take photos.

A good number of photographs were taken through the course of the day at this very productive site and obvious a blog post only allows me to show a small sample at time. I will therefore move forward in time to the end of the day when I spent the last 2 hours of light photogaphing some Kentish Plover.
A female bird first, followed by the slightly more colourful bird. They are great little characters these birds as they hesitently dart around the shallow water and lagoon margins. A wonderful way to end a day spent at this special place.


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