I knew Ibiza would be pretty, but I didn’t realise how dramatically beautiful it could be. While not exactly a known birding destination, I found the avifauna fascinating – as much for what was missing as for what was present (more on that later).
I was there for five days – along for the ride, so to speak – with my wife who was performing to packed theatres in a play she had written [in the same way that I excel at geekery, my wife excels at creativity]:While she rehearsed and prepared during the daytime, I set out to tour as much of the island as I could in a few days. The island feels quite big, but everywhere is pretty much reachable in under an hour and I circumnavigated (what is the terrestrial version of this word?) the entire coastline and much of the interior.
I went in hope of finding two species of bird in particular: Audouin’s Gull (see immediately below) and Balearic Warbler (which I shall discuss more later).
In total, I ticked off four ‘lifers’ with the wonderfully named Zitting Cisticola (photo below) and (finally catching up with) Stone Curlew adding to the two mentioned above. I also made a further six world year ticks set out below with a single ‘*’ in the full trip list in order of appearance.
For more (sometimes prose-heavy) descriptions of some highlights, read on…
Right next to the airport are the ‘Ses Salines’ or salt flats.
The highlight for most people here is inevitably the resident flamingo colony. Whilst I was not well covered optically to watch the distant water-life, I still took a record shot of the pink wonders:This is my second European sighting of these birds after last year at the Camergue in southern France.
Quite large numbers of egret (possibly more than one species) flew in and out in the distance, occasionally being sent up into the air as the dark shape of a Marsh Harrier patrolled low over the wetland. Shelduck and Mallard were present, but fewer species of waterfowl than I had hoped for. Apart from the egret and flamingos, waders were few and far between. I spotted Greenshank and Common Sandpiper treading and bobbing through the fringe areas.November is obviously not the ideal time for warblers in Europe, but a few residents could be found amid the marshy and scrubby vegetation surrounding the wetland:
Salt extraction is big business there, and has been for hundreds of years, although others seem to live even more rustically…
Where have the crows gone?
Some birds in Ibiza are the typical and familiar European flavours.
While other birds we might expect were absent. I only saw one Great Tit, for example, and no Blue Tit. Greenfinch and Goldfinch were nearly everywhere, but I only saw a single Chaffinch. This contrast was most noticeable with the corvid family. There are no crows, magpies, jackdaws or rooks on the island at all. The only resident corvid appears to be the raven – I watched a pair fly over ‘cronking’ away one day.
It is a similar case with the Larids. It is obviously too far south for Herring Gull, but there were also no Black-headed, Great or Lesser Black-backs, and nor are there any Common Gull. There are, however, a few Audouin’s Gull (as above) and a lot of Yellow-legged Gull. Everywhere:
I didn’t see any Cormorants, but there were a lot of Shag (sometimes swimming at speed in the extreme shallows right up to shore on beaches snapping at the sand eels or whatever collect there – behaviour I have never seen before). The bushes in the scrubland would often scream with seemingly hundreds of Serin sounding like a thousand glass bottles being industrially crushed, Meadow Pipits seemed to be hiding in almost every patch of grass. And if they weren’t, then Linnet, House or Rock Sparrows would be. But the stand-out birds for me, the birds that characterised much of the trip, aside from the Sardinian Warblers clicking in every other bush, are Black Redstarts. They are almost literally everywhere. Changing seasons
Much of the un-utilised land is scrub with some (probably planted) wooded areas higher up the hills. I would sometimes leave the car and wander in these areas in the hope of seeing a Balearic Warbler. It was sometimes unseasonably sweltering – we had days when it was around 24 degrees in the shade (in late November I remind you). One such day, by the side of an almost deserted road, the scorched earth I walked on looked how I imagine the Australian bush to be.
I trod carefully through the patches of grass and plants when a small flock of large-ish birds took off about 20 metres in front of me. Then, after the initial blur of feathers, they flew low and out of sight. They seemed the wrong shape for partridges , but I could not work out what they were instead – I had watched Red-legged Partridge do something similar the day before. I walked carefully towards where I believed they might have landed and scanned with my binoculars. There, camouflaged and as still as a rock, was a bird watching me with a very large eye. Although it was my first encounter with this bird, I knew it immediately; my first Stone Curlew. It disappeared before I could get my camera out along with four or five others.
The Southern part of the island has some lovely coves and beaches and generally seems ‘softer’ than the North.
Sometimes I would walk by the sea before dawn or after dusk and the water would barely ripple. My luck with the sun changed a bit towards the end of my short trip. The wind picked up. In fact it picked up a lot. This coincided with my fullest exploration of the North West coast. The most dramatic weather waited for the most dramatic scenery.
There were times when I could barely stand as the wind coming off the sea blew so hard. How different it had been just a couple of days before, when a tiny gust of wind would actually warm you rather than chill you.
Searching for a special Sylvia
As mentioned above (well done if you have got this far), my Ibiza ambition was to tick off Audouin’s Gull and Balearic Warbler. The latter proved harder than the former.
Next to an exclusive resort on the North East coast, some huge cliffs tower above the turquoise waters. The stunning area has the unfortunate name of ‘bay of pigs’ (or cove of pigs, but the similarity to the infamous cuban location was too good to miss).
I left my car far below and walked slowly up the hillside. I was literally the only person on the peninsula. It was wonderful.
Sardinian Warbler were – of course – common. Blue Rock Thrush flew between seemingly designated points – like a magnetised bearing on a rigged pin-ball machine – perhaps marking out its territory, or watching me from a wary distance. Unfortunately, I never got close enough to get a photograph. Well, not really anyway… The attempt below reminds me of the photos of Big-Foot/Yeti that used to be so popular in the 1970s and 1980s – it is at full zoom and any further cropping of the sub-image would have been uselessly pixelated.As I climbed further, a bird flew up and perched in the distance. It looked good for my quarry. Good that is until I raised my binoculars and saw the amount of velvety red that was on its breast. Not the Balearic Marmora’s Warbler, but its close relation… Several other birds perched on high twigs on the low bushes – all the original trees that would have been here are long, long gone – including Stonechat: As you can see from the hideously bad quality photos in this series, even perching birds were wary here. Maybe humans really are as rare there as it seemed to me on that out-of-season day – I didn’t see another human being for at least two or three hours and well after I had got back in my car.
Some shapes whipped over my head and I just managed to snap the blurred image of a Crag Martin:When at the top, I gingerly peered over the top of the cliffs looking down the dizzying metres to the richest of blues below. Perhaps I was lucky, or perhaps I disturbed it, but as I looked down a Peregrine took off from a ledge below me, swooping down a great distance and then gliding still high above the sea below it: As I completed my walk I turned south to begin the hour-long walk back to the car. My walk went something like this:
Dartfor… *wait a minute!*
The Dartford Warbler in the distance was different, it had a pale throat and its breast was like a duller version of its blue-grey back as opposed to being the deep red of a dartford. As the puzzle pieces of identification came together and I smiled with recognition and gratitude – probably muttering something silly like “Hello Gorgeous!” along the way, the bird disappeared down into a bush. One more fleeting glance five minutes later and that was it. But I had seen a Balearic (Marmora’s) Warbler (Sylvia [sarda] balearica) – a species or sub-species (depending on whose authority you follow) that is endemic to this small group of islands. Endemism is always the jewel of travel birding – a bird you can see ‘there’ and only ‘there’.
As I can’t share a photo of the bird, here instead is a description in my Collins Bird guide of its favoured habitat and a silly selfie of me standing near where I saw it:
Breeds on hillsides in low maquis and garrigue and in rocky coastal scrub – Lars SevenssonIf you have made it this far through this rather epic blog post, I would remind you of the connection Ibiza has with the epic and the legendary. The amazing island of rock that seems to burst so high out of the sea off the West coast, Es Vedra – an important breeding site for Eleonora’s Falcon – was said to be where sirens and sea nymphs attempted to lure Odysseus from his ship: