Male Brambling (lef) with a male Chaffinch for comparison

Male Brambling (lef) with a male Chaffinch for comparison.

20-11-2019Neville James-Davies

The forecast for Majorca predicts snow, and that means beautiful landscapes, cold mountain nights, wildlife having to work harder to find food and the lure of getting out there to enjoy crisp mornings. For me, nothing beats the views across the Tramuntanas’ with the high peaks such as Puig Major, Mansalla and Es Tossa to name a few, covered in snow. Many a winters day has been spent walking around Cuber Reservoir, listening to the crunch of the deep snow underfoot, looking for tracks from birds and animals, taking in the clear but cold, crisp mountain air, and enjoying the stillness, only broken by the bleating of a Goat or the call of a Yellow-legged Gull. In the mountains, it is a time to keep watch for a special winter visitor – the Alpine Accentor, which as its name suggests, spends its time at higher altitudes. At times I have seen four together near to the Dam.

Cuber Reservoir (Puig Major on the left)

The 30km drive from Puerto Pollensa up to Cuber has to be driven with care, respect and time, as pockets of run-off water from the hillsides can easily form ice patches on the twisting mountain road. Chaffinches and Greenfinches are a regular sight along the roadside, and the odd call of a Wryneck resonates from deep within the Holm and Turkey Oak woodlands. Opportunists patrol over the peaks, using their fantastic vision to seek out any unfortunate prey that has succumbed to the cold mountain nights, or perhaps lost their grip on the ice and snow and fallen to a certain death. These opportunists – the Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture and Red Kite are always on the lookout for carrion, an essential food source now with the cold, shorter days. Nothing beats a walk around Cuber Reservoir than stopping off on the return back at Lluc Monastery, where a coffee warms you up inside, and where a circular walk behind the monastery gives you some more spectacular views, and the Blue Tit – a special resident bird found in only several sites on the island. Here, every Olive, Cistus, Dwarf Palm and Oak is worth checking for Majorca’s tiniest resident – the Firecrest. The winter visiting Hawfinch may make an appearance if you’re lucky, and the resident Blue Rock Thrush is never far away. The Raven will be patrolling the ridges giving off the ‘cronking’ call and raptors will be circling overhead.

Another place I love to visit in the winter is Alaro, where a snow filled walk from the car park of the Es Verger restaurant up to the castle is a delight to behold. First order of the day is a coffee in the restaurant, where Carlos is always on hand to entertain you with his humour, and the dear old lady likes to stock the fire with large pieces of local Olive and Oak wood. The smell from the log fire is gorgeous, and the place is so inviting and warm that you have to almost prise yourself up to do the walk. Here, the mixture of coniferous and deciduous woodlands hold a variety of bird species, with Siskins forming roving parties through the trees with Coal Tits, occasional Goldcrests, Great Tits and finches.

The walk to the castle is a beautiful scene when the landscape is bathed in white, and here and there the red fruits of the Strawberry Tree will protrude from the snow covered branches, and coupled with mosses and lichens they add the only other colours apart from the white. When I last visited the castle in the snow, there was a young family there building a snowman and having some fun, and other people were scattered about, and all the while a pair of Alpine Accentors fed happily away on the ground, flying up and now and then onto the ragged rocks if someone strayed too close, then dropping back down again once danger had passed. Looking across the steep gorge was breath-taking, everywhere looked cold yet peaceful. Of course, on the return walk, popping back into the restaurant is a must, where the local dish of the day awaits you, this time washed down with a small beer – and then a coffee to finish.

We all keep a look out in the winter for the Accentors and the Hawfinch, but from time to time a rare vagrant turns up that mixes in with the Chaffinches, and is therefore my chosen bird of the week, the Brambling.

Bird of the week in Majorca:

THE BRAMBLING

The species name comes from two Greek words – ‘Mons’ is the name for mountain and ‘fringilla’ is the word for finch. Here, the resident Chaffinch see its numbers boosted in winter by birds from the north, and this is where Bramblings can be mixed in. When scanning through a large flock of Chaffinches, look for birds with a ‘white rump’ which will quickly help to separate any Bramblings. The call is a wheezy ‘tsweep’. They are similar in size to a Chaffinch at 14cm in length with a wingspan of 25-26cm and a weight of 20-28g.
Mixed forest and woodland are loved by Bramblings along with open ground especially in the winter. They can be identified at all times by a buffish-orange breast and shoulders, with a diagnostic long white rump and a black (slightly) forked tail. The rest of the upperparts are white. The wings are black with a narrow white bar across the tips of the greater coverts, with a white patch below the orange shoulders. The bill is a blue-black and the legs brownish. By the winter, the male has lost the black head colour, and this is now replaced with mottled brown and the bill becomes yellowish with a black tip. Females have the underparts and wing patterns of the male but these are more washed out. The head has a dark-brown crown with a greyish nape with brown lateral stripes.

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