My favourite place in the world is on Mallorca, where a raised viewing platform overlooks the Albufereta Marsh and in the one direction the distant mountains of the Tramuntana’s stand proud. This is a lovely spot to spend a few hours in the early evening, watching the Sun set and seeing the birds coming in to roost. The evening air is still but certainly not silent. The squealing calls of Water Rails will break any silence, as will the last calls of the very vocal Sardinian Warblers and the far carrying beautiful song of the Nightingale.
These are the pleasant sounds of the region. Not so pleasant is the occasional nip from a Midge. There will be millions of them around the marsh areas, and it is inevitable that the odd one will take a liking to us birders. even if we do pong a bit after a days birding.
The Midges and other flying insects are what will bring in Common Swifts in their hundreds. Swallows will be accompanied by the occasional Red-rumped Swallow and House Martins will be joined by both Sand and Crag Martins. There is more than enough food to keep every single one of them happy. Such abundance of food also attracts the skilful and nocturnal fourteen species of Bat.
As the Sun begins to dip in the sky and the light starts to slowly fade, the scene takes on a different appearance. The landscape is bathed in a golden glow, and shadows form across the marshes and trees. Strange shapes begin to appear and your eyes start to adjust to the different light level. While there is still good light left, the birds will be noticeably more active as they rush to get a last good meal before going to roost. Consumed foods will turn into fats and help to keep them warm during the long night.
Such activity will include Cattle Egrets in small groups flying towards their roost site, sometimes with a Little Egret mixed in. During the summer months, a Squacco Heron is always a possibility. From the platform there is a large pool area with raised mud and banks along the edges. The water level varies with some patches of mud being wetter than others – but it all adds to a good mix of habitat for the waders. From my visits here, I have enjoyed watching good numbers of Kentish Plovers, Ringed Plovers, and the occasional Green Sandpiper and on a few occasions, a Wood Sandpiper. Of particular note are the more exciting waders such as Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stints, sometimes as many as half a dozen a piece. Dunlin and Ruff also drop in and the raised banks usually have one or two Stone Curlews landing on them.
Black-winged Stilts form small but noisy groups and mingle in with Mallards, Moorhens, Coot, Gadwall and Greenshanks. Stonechats flit about along the fences. It is lovely to hear the distant call of the Stone Curlew and listening to it getting closer and closer, and then looking for them as they drop in to roost on the mud edges. On a few evenings, one or two Night Herons have gone past – not to their roost site, rather coming from it, as they are a nocturnal species as the name suggests, and are only just becoming active while the other birds are looking to get some shut eye.
The stillness of an evening takes on a whole new dimension and really must be experienced to get a feel for what I am writing about here. Nothing beats scanning out over the marsh watching the comings and goings of a multitude of birds, whether they are waders, egrets or the local Greater Flamingo’s putting on a last colourful fly-by. There is movement everywhere. The sky will be alive with activity from Moths of varying sizes and colours.
And then a silence ensues and serenity fills the air. A distant Nightingale will be the only bird song and from the muddy pool alongside the platform, the occasional squeal of a Water Rail, or a call from a Sandpiper may be heard. By now, the Sun will have dipped behind the distant mountains, and a warm golden glow casts shadows as the light fades. The mountains form hard shapes as they take on a dark colour. Then the light fades some more, the soft golden glow loses its strength, the mountains form hard shapes as they take on a dark colour. Then the light fades some more, the soft golden glow loses its strength, the mountains blend in with the late evening sky and then that’s it.
There is a virtual silence across the marsh. Stars twinkle in the dark sky and the flashing lights of passing planes are the only sings of movement.
The busy day in the life of a marsh has ended. The birds and wildlife fall silent apart from the occasional croak of a Marsh Frog. The evening brings in a still, calm effect as everything rests, ready to embrace another busy day.