Budapest September 2016

For the second time in a couple of years Sheila and I had a package holiday rather than using our time share points. Diamond Resorts not having any presence in Budapest we chose to use Jet2 Holidays for a 5 day break in the Hungarian capitol. The flight from Leeds was a late afternoon one on the 19 September so we arrived in Hungary after 8.00 in the evening so Sheila’s first sight wasn’t brilliant, I had been previously a couple of years ago.  The taxi journey from the airport goes through a lot of the less scenic parts of Budapest, although we did pass the football stadium which was a good size and really looked the part. Thankfully by the time we arrived at the hotel the rain had stopped and luckily it stayed dry for the rest of the holiday.

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The Basilica – the first photo of the holiday

The hotel we had chosen was in the centre of Pest and check-in was a bit of a joke as the key system had crashed when we arrived meaning we had to be escorted to our door and let into the room. It took until mid way through the following day to get a key card that worked. The room itself  was in need of a lot of TLC – holes in the plaster work where shelves etc had been removed, a shower that was great as long as you were under 4 foot tall and a view of the back of the apartment block next door. But it was close to the Basilica and all the other touristy things, I’ll not name it to spare their blushes.

Sheila hotel stairs

Sheila on the staircase in the hotel – one of it’s redeeming features

For  those who haven’t been to Budapest, the City is really two towns united and separated by the River Danube (which isn’t blue but a rather mucky grey), Buda is on the West bank of the river whilst Pest occupies the Eastern bank. Buda is the more picturesque half of the city but lacks the shops and bistros that you find in Pest, which is the more industrial side. There are several bridges crossing the Danube, with the Chain Bridge being probably the most central, this is more or less on a line from the Basilica in Pest to the Castle in Buda, North of this there is the Margaret Bridge with road and tram traffic, whilst South of the Chain Bridge is the Elizabeth bridge which leads to the foot of Gellert Hill on the Buda side. There are a total of eight bridges but the others are further away from the tourist areas

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Chain Bridge with Margaret Bridge in background

Chain Bridge with Margaret Bridge in background

Chain Bridge with Basilica

Chain Bridge from Castle Hill

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Chain Bridge from Pest

 

 

 

 

 

 

High above the city you have the Liberty Statue, visible from most of the city the statue is 14 metres tall atop a 26m pedestal at the Southern end of the Citadella ( fortress) on the summit of Gellert Hill. The best way to visit is to take the hop on/hop off bus and let that take the strain. The walk down through the woods is not to be missed as the views of the Danube and across Pest are fantastic.

Liberty Statue from Chain Bridge

Liberty Statue framed by the Chain Bridge

Liberty from boat

Liberty Statue from Danube near Elizabeth Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The statuary in Budapest is everywhere, there’s hardly a street corner without at least a token piece of art. These range from the young lady with a dog not far from the Intercontinental Hotel in Pest to the huge war memorial by the Buda end of the Margaret Bridge. Probably the most photographed is the fat policeman just down the street from the Basilica, judging by the sheen of his tum people give him a pat daily. The most poignant piece of artwork is the memorial to those killed by the Arrow Cross militia (local NAZI party) during WWII, the shoes along the Pest side of the Danube are extremely moving to see.

Girl and dog

Girl and dog

 

Newspaper boy

Paper sir?

Shoes

The shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another moving place is the Dohany Utca Synagogue – the building is architecturally very interesting and is well worth a visit for that alone but the garden area is even more moving. The raised flower beds in this area are a little more than ordinary flower beds – they are the site of the mass graves of those poor Jewish people who succumbed during the Second World War when this was part of the ghetto for Pest. Alongside the graves stands the Weeping Willow sculpture whose leaves bear the names of many of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews killed during the War.

Inside Dohany Utca Synagogue

Interior of Dohany Utca Synagogue

Mass graves

The graves – the stones are commemorating the known victims.

Weeping Willow

The weeping willow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a lighter note no visit to Budapest would be complete without a trip on the Danube, we were greedy we took two. One during the daytime was lovely as the sun was out and it was a glorious hot afternoon, the second trip was at night and it was the exact opposite in that as soon as the sun disappeared the temperature on the river dropped like a stone. Neither of us had prepared for this so by the time we got back to the dock we were two icicles.

Buda Calvinst Church Margaret Bridge Night

Looking towards Margaret Bridge

Parliament from riverbank

The Parliament Building from the Danube

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s one other statue that is a must see and I am so glad that this time I was able to get to see it close too. that’s the Turul bird statue in the Castle grounds. When you look towards the Castle the bird dominates the view. The Turul is the legendary state bird of Hungary, a sort of cross between an eagle and a vulture. The Castle is another beautiful area but again I’d suggest catching the bus up to it and then walking down. When we were there the buses couldn’t drive up the hill due to roadworks and boy is the climb steep. The main building is now an art gallery but there are other buildings housing government offices and even a barracks. The views across the city from Castle Hill are as good as those from Gelert Hill.

 

Turul by night

Turul by night

 

Turul in daylight

Turul by day

 

Statue outside National Gallery

Children fishing – Castle Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eugene of Savoy - National Gallery grounds

Prince Eugene – Castle Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To finish off this little blog I’ve posted 3 of my favourite murals seen in the city, I have no idea who did them but they are great – especially the last one which really gives that playground a countryside feel.

Street Art 3

Street Art 2

Street Art 1

 

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Catch up 2 – Crete 2015

Later that year we paid a visit to Crete, a first for us and most definitely not the last trip there. It was in September and there was a mini-heatwave when we arrived, even the locals were complaining that it was too hot. Diamond Resorts has a couple of resorts close to Hersonissos, the Village Heights Golf Resort up in the hills about 10 km outside the town  and the Village Appartments which is situated in Koutouloufari a small village only a km or so from the town. We stayed at Village Heights on a promotional week, meaning that at some point we have to spend time with a rep who will attempt to sell us more time share points. The views from the resort are great – you can almost see Heraklion in the West and Malia in the East, whilst Hersonissos is almost invisible due to the lie of the land. Hersonissos has a sm,all sandy beach to the north side of the harbour whilst to the south of the harbour it is extremely rocky.

We both really fell in love with the resort and are detemined to revisit as often as possible. Crete is a gorgeous place, it seems like around every corner there is a fantastic panorama, the people cannot be more helpful and the wildlife is fantastic. Driving on the island can be ‘fun’ as the locals will insist on trying to make 3 lanes on the 2 lane motorways. We toured the Eastern end of the island as the weather was so hot that it made driving long distances very uncomfortable, Agia Nikolai was one of the many places we stopped. Whilst there we had a boat trip out to Spinalonga Island ( a former leper colony) in the bay, Sheila was most annoyed to find out that the boat stopped for people to enjoy a little sea bathing mid trip, she’d not got her cossie with her. The tour of the Island was interesting, our guide having a good grasp of English and a wry manner about her.

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Agia Nikolai harbour

Later in the week I attempted to drive up to the Lesithi plateau but gave up after struggling with gears in the hire car, a Yaris, I’m too used to a diesel engine which pulls up hill brilliantly, the petrol engine laboured appallingly.

Looking towards the Lesithi plateau from Village Heights

Looking towards Lesithi Plateau from Village Heights

During the week I saw a fair number of birds but sadly only 1 lifer – a southern grey shrike which I managed to get a fairly rubbish shot of. Had some great views of griffon vulture and buzzard. The highlight of the trip was a european praying mantis which we found walking along the side of the pathway on the resort. On the day we were to leave we visited the Apartments in Koutouloufari and had a quick look around, Sheila had a dip in the pool there whilst I had a Mythos. Looked nice so we determined to try and book for the Apartments in 2016.

Praying mantis

European Praying mantis

Balkan Green lizard 2

Balkan green lizard

Hummingbird Hawkmoth 2

Humming-bird hawkmoth

Catch Up Post 1 – Italy 2015

Well it’s been a while since I last posted – sorry about that. Things have been a bit hectic with trips to Birmingham on a regular basis taking our youngest son to and from Uni. Thankfully he has now graduated but we don’t get away from visiting Birmingham as he now has a job there and moved down there in April.

So back in 2015 Sheila and I achieved a lifelong ambition and visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum – all thanks to an Uncle of mine dying intestate and my inheriting a few thousand pounds. This paid for the trip to Sorrento, a bit of home decorating and left enough over to allow me to upgrade my scope to the HR80ED from Opticron.

The Sorrento trip was a short city break taken during Late May and early June 2015 – we stayed in the Hotel La Badia on the hill above Sorrento. The views across the bay to Naples and Mt Vesuvius were fantastic.

Mount Vesuvius from Sorrento

This was taken in the gardens of the Hotel La Badia.

 

On the Sunday we made the short boat journey to Capri, thankfully the first ferry over as by late morning the harbour area was like a refugee camp. There were hundreds of tourists and several cruise ships were disgorging more, ( the bane of the Bay of Naples – cruise ships come along and dump several hundred passengers thereby swamping an area) . Capri is geared up to taking your money as quickly and as efficiently as possible, prices are well above those in Sorrento – even for an espresso.  In the afternoon when we were waiting for the ferry back it was horrendous in the harbour area, crowds of people milling around. The queue for the funicular was humongous. One of those places I’m glad I’ve been but I don’t want to go back, except for just one view Belvedere Cannone – it’s not easily found and you have to climb a lot of steps but the view is to die for. My two snaps do not give it justice. Sadly I thought I’d got the panorama spot on – I hadn’t.

Sorrento is a beautiful place but there isn’t really a huge beach there, most of the resort is well above above sea level and that is reached within 6 feet of high water mark.

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Water level to the Cathedral Gardens level approx 70 foot

You can descend from the Cathedral garden to the beach via a long ramp that twists it’s way downwards, very pleasant when you are descending but oh boy it gets your calf muscles when you are climbing back up.

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One of the very narrow streets of Sorrento

The tourist areas are good and have a great many food outlets, ranging from good cheap stomach fillers to Haute Cuisine wallet strippers. If you visit Sorrento then the must go to destination is David – they are a Gelateria and that is an understatement. They produce some of the best ice cream dishes I have ever tasted. Be prepared to queue for a table .

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Marina Grande Sorrento

This little beach is a gem, not visited much by the tourists as it is tiny (but it calls itself largest) is used by the local fishermen. We didn’t discover this place soon enough as it is a great place to sit back enjoying a latte or a lager and indulge in a little people watching.

Herculaneum and Pompeii

The trips were on two seperate days and were roughly 1/2 a day each, not long enough for anything other than a taster. Both sites are from the same eruption of Vesuvius but whilst Pompeii got the ash, Herculaneum got the pyroclastic fallout – extreme temperature – which meant the paradoxically more was preserved at the latter site. We both knew about the sites as our interest in them was long standing, mine from primary school over half a century ago.

We visited Herculaneum first – much the better site as it is smaller and better preserved. Roughly 3 streets by 4 streets in area a lot of the buildings have an upper floor still visible, unlike Pompeii.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum – The houses in the distance are suburbs of Naples.

There are few if any plaster bodies here due to the high temperatures that struck the site during the eruption but those same high temperatures meant that there is a lot more wood preserved than at Pompeii. What is really touching is the boat houses – many hundreds of skeletal remains were found here – people who were waiting for boats to carry them to safety but for whom time ran out.

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The boat houses – those really are actual skeletons

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Herculaneum – These are wooden doors that survived the eruption. Now under glass due to numpties who can’t understand that touching is not allowed

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Herculaneum – household wall painting

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Herculaneum – mosaic, glass tesserae

Pompeii – what can I say – it’s a huge area, it’s THE tourist destination for anyone visiting Naples so it gets busy. The major buildings do get choked with people so not much fun on a hot day. The biggest traffic jam is at the Lupanar (brothel) as everyone wants to see the murals. They aren’t brilliant as time has taken it’s toll – if you like that sort of thing visit the Naples Museum and go to the Black Gallery – they’ve pictures and statues that should satisfy.

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Pompeii – the theatre

The state of preservation and conservation at Pompeii is much less than at Herculaneum, as the latter has been exposed for so much less time and has suffered less from people taking away masonry to build there own homes.

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Pompeii – not where the Lupanar is so no people

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Pompeii – one of many streets – this one close to the cafe.

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Obligatory naughty picture – not obvious until the guide poured water on it.

Glad I went but even gladder that we took up the optional vist to Heculaneum as that was so much better.

Right that’s the first update – next one shortly

Edinburgh Trip with Sheila

In February Sheila and I had a short break in Scotland, my birthday present from last year. We traveled up by train on the 10th, it was only 10.00am out of Leeds and we had a drunk Scotsman serenading the carriage, sadly he was as close to London as he was the tune but at least he kept to the other end of the carriage.

Holy Island

Holy Island

I managed only a couple of photos through the train window, Holy Island and then Berwick on Tweed, sadly most of the scenic parts of the journey was shrouded in mist.

Berwick On Tweed

Berwick On Tweed

We were in Edinburgh Waverley Station by 1.00pm and made our way out to find the hotel, 2 minutes walk from the station I don’t think!

We did eventually find the Crown Plaza Hotel, checked in and dumped the cases. Next stop exercise and sustenance, we had a stroll down Princes Street pausing to look in shop windows, even venturing into a couple. We turned left up Lothian Road as there are a few cafes etc along here, we decided upon Coletti’s which seemed to be the nicest of the ones we saw. As it turned out it’s a great little cafe/sandwich shop and well worth looking out for if you are in the town. We were too late to have the best choice of sandwiches but the Brie sarnie I had was delicious. Sheila was happy with a scone and a fruit salad.

A stroll around the streets behind the Castle and then up onto the Royal Mile and slowly back to the Hotel enabled us to get our bearings for the next day. The street art can be quite dramatic, these giraffes were just around the corner from our hotel. Made from car parts and other scrap iron.

Sheila with the giraffes

Sheila with the giraffes

We dined in the hotel on the first night, part of the deal, mistake… they have 2 dining areas and one of them had a large party in it, with not enough staff to service both areas adequately. 2 courses took over 2 hours, we were even having to find someone to take payments for our drinks which were not part of the deal. The Deputy Manager came over and was most apologetic about the unexpected booking – sorry but bookings cannoit be unexpected. He waived the drinks bill, which if I’d known was going to happen before the meal started I’d have ordered the £20.00 bottle of Rioja instead of the couple of pints of San Miguel.

So to Wednesday, following a hearty breakfast, including haggis for me, we had a steady walk up the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace, stopping off in the Tollhouse museum to see how Edinburgh folk used to live. We also went looking for Greyfriars Bobby, which is the little dog who, as everyone knows, sat by his masters grave for years, there’s a little commemorative statue of him near the George IV bridge, his nose is awfully shiney as locals rub it for luck as they pass. After seeing him we made our way back to the Royal Mile, passing the cafe where Harry Potter was created, or so the poster in the window said and then up the hill to our destination.

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby

We reached the Castle and as I’d booked tickets online it was a doddle at the gate, no queues, just straight in. As the weather had taken a turn for the worse we made for the cafe and had a hot brew before exploring further within the buildings.

First up was the Royal Scots museum, the only regimental museum we visited although there are a few more. I found it fascinating from my interest in Waterloo and that period of history, although Sheila wasn’t too interested. Some of the stuff they have there is priceless. Next up was the Prisoner of War exhibit, I hadn’t realised that POW’s were kept in the Castle during the Napoleonic Wars. Not a very large area and when we saw the reconstruction of the sleeping arrangements, I am awfully glad we were not there when they were in use. Fellas in hammocks sleeping above fellas on sleeping platforms ( not beds as no mattress) and something like a dozen to 10 sq ft! Cramped is not the word for it.

Then it was the Scots Crown Jewels, a nice exhibit and when you get to them, the jewels are good but having seen the English Crown Jewels in the Tower of London they lack a little something, quantity mainly. The Great Hall was magnificent – medieval construction at it’s best, sadly most of the photos didn’t come out well due to the low lighting, this one is probably the best.

great hall ceiling

The roof of the Great Hall

war memorial

Scottish National War Memorial

memorial dedication

War Memorial Dedication

 

The Scottish National War Memorial building is just across the courtyard from the Great Hall and like the Crown Jewels area – no photography was allowed. The inside of the Memorial has separate small areas set aside to commemorate the fallen from every Scottish regiment that took part in World War 1. It was a very sobering experience moving through the areas, so many men who gave their lives being remembered, somewhat humbling.

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Gargoyle on Memorial building

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Gargoyle on the other side

 

 

 

 

 

 

memorial support

To the left of the War Memorial door

To the right of the door

To the right of the door

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now it was time for the One O’Clock Gun, something I was looking forward to seeing and videoing, did just that but like a numpty I’d not got the mike on so there’s no sound on the video. So if you can imagine a fairly loud bang when the smoke appears.

Following the gun we then made our way back onto the Royal Mile and lunch, which we had in  Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. I got myself a pint of ‘Heavy’ – another ambition achieved. Good food and a really nice atmosphere made for an enjoyable meal. Once out of the pub we tried to find the ‘Real Mary King’s Close’ to see the forgotten streets of the town. We passed it a couple of times before we noticed the sign, Celtic Jewellery stalls along the road hid the signage quite well. As luck would have it the next tour was starting in just a few minutes so we bought tickets and went underground. No photography allowed, again! during the tour so have a look at their website to see what’s there. The hour passed incredibly quickly and that was thanks to the guide Keith who was both entertaining and educative. Once outside we we headed back to the Hotel to wash and change for the evening meal which we were not going to be having in the hotel, not after last time.
We started out by the JD Wetherspoons place at the side of the theatre, too crowded, there were a couple of other places but they were empty. So we headed back towards Princes Street, and then up North Bridge to the Royal Mile, we passed a few of the big brand outlets but we weren’t interested in pizzas that we could get back at home. We had seen a place yesterday that we had liked but we couldn’t remember whereabouts it was. So we mooched up and down the Mile looking in places for a free table, eventually settling upon the Mitre Bar, a busy place but the menu looked good. When the menu arrived we realised it was part of the same group as Deacon Brodies Tavern, never mind that. We decided upon a Basket of fish for Sheila and a Roast Boar burger for myself, I’d wanted one of these at a previous pub and it was off so the Haggis, Tatties and Neeps will have to wait until our next visit to Scotland. The meal was good and so was the wine. Dessert and Sheila wasn’t hungry so I had Cranachan – which is a national dish of oats, raspberries, whipped cream and honey. Sheila quickly found her appetite and a spoon as she helped me to finish what was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, my phone photo doesn’t do it justice.

Cranachan

Cranachan

We left the Mitre and had a slow walk back, our original intention to have another drink somewhere on the way evaporated and we just made a beeline our room and sleep. Thursday morning and another full Scottish for me, can’t get enough of the haggis and tattie scones. The hotel was pretty good at checkout time and we were able to leave our cases there until the afternoon when our train was due. This allowed us to do a bit more touristy things, including visiting Holyrood Palace and Greyfriars Kirkyard. The Palace is fascinating but as we were coming to expect no photography inside please.

holyrood palace

Holyrood Palace – the only parts you can photograph

The Kirkyard was also, in it’s way, fascinating as within it are stones relating to the Black Death, the memorial headstone to John Gray ( Bobbies owner) and some fine vaulted tombs. Sadly none of these photos came out well enough to put on here. After a coffee and sandwich in The Deacon’s House Cafe, well worth a look as parts of the place are 600 years old, we made our way back to the hotel to collect our cases. We made our way across Calton Hill, intending to visit the Gallery there but it was closed for installation of a new exhibit. Still we did get marvelous views across the North of the city towards the Firth of Forth and beyond. Last couple of pictures show the view towards the Forth Rail Bridge, the first with no zoom and the second with full zoom.

looking towards the bridge

Looking towards the Forth Bridge from Calton Hill

forth bridge at full zoom

Same view at full zoom

 

All that remained now was to get the cases and get to the station and the train. On time and other than it being full of commuters between Newcastle and Darlington a very pleasant end to a great couple of days away. Still want to go back though as there was so much we didn’t do in Edinburgh.

Majorca 2013 – The last bit honest!

Friday 28th June

Our last day, and to avoid stress I was to make myself scarce for most of the day, to allow Sheila to pack in peace. So I was once again visiting the s’albufera, not all day though as needed to be back before 3pm in order to drive to the airport.
I visited the Sa Roca hides first but sadly no stone curlew today, I did have stilts, common tern and a squacco heron though, along with both Kentish and little ringed plovers. A distant purple gallinulle was the last one I saw on the trip. After visiting all of the hides I made my way along the path to the depuradora area, a good day for raptors as I found Eleanora’s falcon, kestrel, osprey and marsh harrier whilst scanning from the viewing platforms along the way.

Looking west over the marsh

Looking west over the marsh

More bee eaters as well when I passed the ruined finca. I attempted to make the whole circuit of the reserve but had to give up less than halfway round due to my right knee giving me lots of grief, probably due to Wednesday’s tumble in the Bocquer. However I did connect with purple heron, little and cattle egrets, Sardinian, sedge and fan tailed warblers and a very obliging greenfinch in the stand of pines by the old finca.

Greenfinch by the old finca

Greenfinch by the old finca


I also managed to at last get something like a decent image of the swallowtail butterfly as well as a couple of dragonflies, not sure if they were male and female of the same species or two different species but I was quite pleased to get them both in one shot.
Swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly


Dragonflies

Dragonflies


The walk back to the car park was necessarily slow but this did mean I got good views of yellow wagtail, purple heron and another squacco heron.
Cattle egret

Cattle egret

Purple heron

Purple heron

Totting up the trip list I had 58 species with 2 lifers this trip, not bad to say I only had couple of days of full on birding. I want to go back again with a better map so I can do the s’albuferetta properly, and also get right down to the south of the island to have a look round there, this is terra incognito to me.

Majorca 2013 – part 5

Tuesday 25th June

The drive to Cap de Formentor was not my favourite drive on the island. The last couple of hundred yards especially were somewhat nerve-wracking as you are looking down several hundred feet into the Med one side, as you try and avoid cars coming towards you on the other. As my phobia about heights is most definitely kicking in I was immensely grateful to reach the car park. Around the church there were a few spot flycatchers but sadly no Eleanora’ s falcons. A brief sea watch, hampered somewhat by the height did get me several shearwaters but not enough to allow id of the birds. The bird in this photo looks like a diver but is the local subspecies of shag.

Shag from Cap de Formentor

Shag from Cap de Formentor


The afternoon was spent in Puerto Pollenca enjoying a decent meal at the water’s edge. On the walk back to the car we found a piece of sand sculpture, there was skill in the way the sand held together but I defy you to recognise Homer and Bart Simpson in it.
simpsons sand art

The Sand Sculpture

Wednesday 26th June

My first visit in over 15 years to the Bocquer Valley. The area at the bottom of the valley was greatly changed as the Pollenca bypass road now runs between the valley and the town. The steep path up to the finca is still there, as are the gates but gone are the keep out signs that were there in 1998.

The Finca

The Finca


Difficult to work out if anyone is still living in the finca but the land is still being worked and there is still a dog tied up by the side of the dwelling so someone is using the place. The first crag martin’s were seen as I rounded the building, along with numerous spuggies nesting in the roof.
The start of the Bocquer

The start of the Bocquer Valley


The walk up the valley to the sea was uneventful and apart from the martins and the occasional stonechat, largely bird-free. I did manage to find the slimiest bit of mud on the island and almost dumped the scope and camera in it as I found my feet sliding from under me. Thankfully the wildlife improved after this mishap. I found a few small lizards basking in the sun but they were way too quick to get a picture of, blackbirds and Sardinian warblers started to appear and I had a very distant raptor which I couldn’t id as it flew across the sun and I didn’t really want to blind myself. Settling down on a small rise above the beach I had a rest and scanned the waters with the scope, initially with little success, eventually I got focussed on the end of the cliffs in order to catch any birds flying across the end of the valley .
Top end of the Bocquer

The view of the sea at top of the valley

After a few dozen yellow-legged gulls had drifted west, a bird skimming the water showed up. The first shearwater I could id positively, a Balearic, having got my eye in I realised that there were several birds moving west. Most of them were Balearics but there were a few larger, slightly paler birds with them, which I initially put down as paler than usual Cory’s shearwater but was later told that they would have been the subspecies known as Scopoli’s shearwater. One to watch as I believe the split is going to be made so an armchair tick is possible.
After seeing the last of the shearwaters disappear to the west I made my way back down to the car without encountering any new species sadly. A quick bite to eat in Puerto Pollenca and then off to explore the s’albuferetta area. I got hopelessly lost and whilst I did see loads of woodchat shrikes, fan-tailed warblers and little egrets, I didn’t find the areas I had hoped for. This was largely due to the map I had not being up to Ordnance Survey standards when you were away from the main highways. I found out later that there were at least 2 roads I drove along that did not exist on the map, we are talking proper metallized roads not tracks, crazy. I realised I was lost when I reached a t-junction which should have been a crossroads according to the guidebook. Later on worked out that the crossroads was in fact about 5 miles away from the T junction. After mooching around for a while, stopping at likely spots and scanning the fields, I realised the road I was on was going to intersect with the Alcudia-Palma highway, well away from where I thought I was, so having got my bearings I got onto the motorway and headed back to the hotel.

Thursday 27th June

Another drive to the east and Son Mill, no great birding as it was a family day. Did find a couple of lizards scuttling about the rocks above the harbours edge. I managed to get a decent snap of the fish in the harbour today, I’d been foxed on other occasions as the camera would focus on the water surface, today it actually focussed on the fish. A very photogenic Audouin’s gull stayed put whilst I got the picture I wanted.

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One of the lizards


Audouins gull son moll

Audouin’s gull

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Fish at Son Moll


However the drive back got me a new bird, seen whilst driving but well enough to rule out the confusion species. A nice black kite, my initial id was red kite but as the bird turned to glide away I got a good look at the upper tail area and realised the feathers were a pale greyish hue rather than the lovely red of the red kite. Get in!

Majorca 2013 – part 4

Monday 24th June

The Reserve Map

The Reserve Map


Off the leash today, down at S’albufera for 08.00 and it’s hot. Shoot – even arriving at this time I’m taking one of the last spaces in the car park. On the yomp from the car park I worked out why I got it wrong about the roost the other day, I’d been looking in the wrong place on Gran Canal due to my remembering things as they were last time. Vegetation grows over time and the open area I remember is now full of reeds and trees. Got good views of both cattle and little egret at the roost but couldn’t find any night herons. Once more had good, though brief, views of Cetti’s from the path to the Visitor Centre.
View along  Gran Canal

View along Gran Canal


Squacco heron - Gran Canal

Squacco heron – Gran Canal

I started my exploration of the reserve by following the Sa Roca loop this took in a couple of hides and an observation hill. The first hide, Sa Roca overlooks what should have been a decent wetland but with all the hot dry weather now looked like a desert in places. First holiday tick of the day, purple gallinule (they are not swamp-hens – end of!) a nice adult plodding across one of the few bits of open water. A moorhen that swam by really gave you a sense of the size of the gallinule.

Purple Gallinule - Sa Roca hide

Purple Gallinule – Es Ras hide


Black-winged stilt chick - Sa Roca hide

Black-winged stilt chick – Sa Roca hide


There was a constant stream of egrets flying over, both cattle and little along with an occasional purple heron. The black-winged stilts were pretty vocal, then I saw the chick and realised why they were giving all the other birds grief. Even the Kentish plovers were getting flown at. There a couple of common terns in the area occasionally landing on a dead bough. Plus all the usual suspects, spot fly, house spuggy, Sardinian warbler and wood pigeons. After about thirty minutes here I moved on to the next hide, Es Ras, this looked out over the same area but from 1/4 past rather than 1/2 past (clock face).
Common tern -Es Ras hide

Common tern -Es Ras hide


Kentish plover - Es Ras hide

Kentish plover – Es Ras hide


So much the same sort of birds again or so I thought until I caught sight of a brown blob across the other side of the dustbowl, a curlew I guessed. Getting the scope on it proved me almost right, it was a stone curlew! The bird was pretty relaxed and I was able to watch it for almost 10 minutes before it disappeared in to the scrub. I even remembered to get some pictures of it as strutted through the vegetation. I took my cue from the bird and quit the hide shortly after it disappeared.
First sight of stone curlew - Es Ras

First sight of stone curlew – Es Ras


Stone curlew - Es Ras

Stone curlew – Es Ras

Following the path around I was hearing nightingales in several places but could not get as much as a fleeting glimpse of one. The observation hill, basically a mound giving views over the lagoon and reedbed, was the next stopping place but sadly there was nothing to see from the top. However in a dyke at the bottom of the mound I found my first lifer of the trip, red-knobbed (crested) coot, a couple of tagged birds which seemed to be a pair. Wandered a bit further along the path and heard great reed warbler singing, couldn’t at first locate the bird but then found it across the water of a small pool and almost at the top of a reed, not where I’m used to seeing ordinary reed warblers. Managed a couple of record shots of the bird.

Red-knobbed coot by observation hill

Red-knobbed coot by observation hill


Great reed warbler behind the observation hill

Great reed warbler behind the observation hill


Arriving back at the visitor centre, the choice now was whether to head off North or South, North won and I started the walk to the Es Colombar hide, there were a couple of viewing platforms on the way but there was naff all to view unfortunately. No major sightings anywhere along the path unless you count a swallowtail butterfly that just wouldn’t stop still for a moment. The approach to the hide is via raised decking and health and safety went out the window when it was built, the wooden slats of the deck are various widths / thicknesses and it makes for interesting walking. Once in the hide I was looking out on a landscape that at first was difficult to understand, then I realised that the white stuff stuck in the bushes was probably Izal or the local equivalent. So that was where the smell came from the other night…
Power station - Es Colombars hide

Power station – Es Colombars hide

However there were birds here, egrets and ducks and little ringed plovers! Was not expecting them, and not breeders. There were also little grebe in abundance. Way over at the back of the area were a couple of ducks that took some time to id, one was a female red-crested pochard which was a mere trip tick, but the other was another life tick, a marbled duck. Sadly the marble was too far away to get even a rubbish record shot, I was only able to id after prolonged views with my scope up at 40x and second guessing the heat haze.
Little egret - Es Colombars hide

Little egret – Es Colombars hide


Little ringed plover pair - Es Colombars hide

Little ringed plover pair – Es Colombars hide


Sardinian warbler - Es Colombars hide

Sardinian warbler – Es Colombars hide


After the lifer there really wasn’t anything to keep me in the hide so I meandered back towards the visitor centre, calling in at the Es Cibollar hides on the way. The first one was good, shelduck, common tern and chicks, more black-winged stilts and another stone curlew, this time not very far away. I prepared myself for a long wait and sure enough the bird started ambling towards the hide.
Stone curlew - Es Cibollar 1 hide

Stone curlew – Es Cibollar 1 hide

I took several photos over the course of the next few minutes and then it all went wrong. A family entered the hide, 3 generations youngest in backpack on its Dad’s shoulders, none of them birders (no bins). They were quiet enough and the stone curlew kept coming closer, then the middle generation committed the cardinal sin of sticking a camera out the hide window to capture a view. I quickly got through to them that this was not good but the damage was done the stone curlew was spooked and it beat a hasty retreat to further away than when I first saw it.
The closest he got - Es Cibollar 1 hide

The closest he got – Es Cibollar 1 hide


I managed to stay calm and tried my best with my schoolboy german to explain that putting hands out the hide was not good as it frightened the birds. I’d forgotten the words for go, now, before, I, murder, you so couldn’t quite explain how narked I was. I stayed in the hide for a while longer in the hope that the stone curlew would return but sadly it was not to be. Another couple came into the hide, this time at least one of them were birders as he had bins, the chap got onto the stone curlew but was having difficulty getting through to his other half what she should be looking for. I offered her my camera to look at to see the pictures I’d taken of the bird. We managed to communicate successfully and she got a decent view of the bird eventually. At this point I left the first hide and made my way to the second one, a mistake as there was less to see from this hide. In fact no birds at all so I decided to head back to the visitor centre and plan my next move.

So where next, I hadn’t a clue, so after looking at the map and reviewing the water bottle I decided to go clockwise as that would mean a shorter journey to the car if I had to cut things short. The path here overlooks Ses Puntes to the left and Es Ras to the right, or it would do if the reeds weren’t so high. The walking wasn’t the best as the path although not tarmac was just as bloody hard. I had plenty of fan-tailed warblers, Sardinian warblers and goldfinches but no new species over the first half of the path. As I approached the Ses Puntes Deck observation platform I saw a large raptor with a small bird harassing it away to the left, at first I thought it was something like a marsh harrier with a thrush or something doing the harassing. After getting the bins on the smaller bird I realised it was an Eleonora’s falcon, which meant that the other bird had to be huge! Thankfully a common buzzard also started getting annoyed about the big birds presence and came up to dispute things, this gave me a good size indicator, the big bird was roughly twice the size of the buzzard. Turns out that it isn’t a mega-tick, rather an escapee golden eagle that hangs about down there so not a tick by any stretch of imagination BOO!

Golden Eagle with Eleonora's falcon - near Ses Puntes deck

Golden Eagle with Eleonora’s falcon – near Ses Puntes deck


View from Ses Puntes deck

View from Ses Puntes deck


Consolation was achieved quite quickly with my first bee-eater of the trip and also my first in Majorca so a double tick. Followed up by a woodchat shrike and another Cetti’s warbler. At this point my water bottle was looking a little bit lean so discretion being the better part of valour I thought it prudent to turn back. I’d reached the corner by the depuradora gates by this time but as the sun was pretty hot I didn’t want to get into difficulties any further into the reserve so turned back to walk to the car. I was rewarded by a fairly close in osprey that sadly didn’t hang around long enough to get a picture but I did manage to get a shot of a yellow wagtail, one of the subspecies rather than the all yellow bird.
Yellow wagtail - path to car park

Yellow wagtail – path to car park


It was just short of 3.00pm when I got back to the car, so my 2 litres of water had lasted me 7 hours in the field, not bad but I was wishing I’d taken 2 bottles. A bite to eat wouldn’t have gone amiss either. I’d meant to stop and get a sarnie but in my rush to get a parking space I had forgotten all about food. Those who know me will find that last sentence hard to believe.