Known locally as ‘the kingdom of warblers’, Son Real is an impressive area of Pines, beach and walkways. I have another name for this excellent site – ‘the kingdom of Orchids’, as April and May will see some great species such as Giant, Bug, Pyramidal, Tongue and Bee Orchids. But winter here is also a special time. To reach Son Real, drive into Can Picafort (the next town after the Albufera Marsh). Drive through Can Picafort to join the MA-12 road. After the Km18 marker post look for a sign on the left marked Son Real. If the gates at the entrance are shut, open those to pass through ensuring you close them behind you. They are there to prevent livestock getting onto the main road. Follow the track for about a 100yards to the large (free) car park.
There are two routes I like to explore in this area, the blue route and route 2. Soon enough it will be migration time again, and the Pines and the understorey of vegetation can be alive with passerines looking to re-fuel before they carry on with their journey. Resident Sardinian, Balearic and Dartford Warblers can all be found along with summer visiting Woodchat Shrikes, and Blackcaps breed in the region too. Spotted Flycatchers can be seen in the wooded areas as well. From the openings in these wooded areas, I scan out over the open fields for Red-legged Partridge, Stone Curlew, Thekla Lark, Short-toed Lark and wheatears. This can also be a reliable site for Barn Owls – sometimes seen perched up during the day. Common Crossbills are regular in the woods forming small feeding parties. Nightingale, Serin and Firecrest are regular. The Wren is always present and the region holds a few surprises too. For example, of the main routes that you can take through the Pine woods, I prefer to explore the ‘blue route’ which is marked up as Route 4 which is 3.6km long. Along this track keep an eye out for a sign with a binoculars logo saying 50m. This leads to an artificial large pool where Crossbills and other birds come to drink and bathe. There is a nice little hide you can sit in to look at the birds without disturbing them.
In the winter, Rosemary and Southern Tree Heather are in flower adding a nice shade of blue and pink to the landscape. Crossbills come down to drink and bathe. If you’re lucky, a Hawfinch may drop in to drink also, definitely worth putting in some time to look for them as this pool is one of the best winter sites to see them, and will allow for some great photo opportunities. The wooded areas can also hold some interesting fungi in the winter, with Hairy Curtain Crust and Turkey Tail being two such species, but on occasions around the Pines you sometimes see large groups of Boletus fungi growing, and occasionally one of my favourite here, Milk White Russula.
Milk White Russula.
After exploring some of the wooded areas, I like to continue along Route 2 which will take me down to the beach where Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters can be seen along with Shag and Yellow-legged Gulls. In January 2018 I watched a Turnstone (a rarity here) along with numerous Kentish Plovers and Grey Plovers along the beach with good close views of Audouin’s Gulls. Plant species of note around the beach area include Sea Medick, Kidney Vetch, Purple-flowered Bugloss and Branched Broomrape. The beach is a rugged area which on a stormy cold day is a challenging place to be. The thick garigue vegetation and mass of shrubs beyond the beach are ideal places to seek out the Dartford Warbler with occasional sightings of Balearic Warbler here too. Wrens, Chiffchaffs, Black Redstarts and Song Thrushes will be present in good numbers though. There are some lovely walks to be had along the beach area, and a network of paths take you back into the thick vegetation and the Pine woods. The Purple-flowered Bugloss that grows here is quite short, kept low by the winds and salt air, and to an extent, grazed by the local Rabbits. It does however add a lovely splash of colour to the low landscape. Likewise, the delicate yellow of Kidney Vetch can carpet large areas, and on occasions the bright eye-catching Hottontot Fig can be seen.
One strange looking plant along here however is the Broomrape. These are a genus of over 200 species of parasitic herbaceous plants. The Broomrape plant is small, from 10–60 cm tall depending on the species. It is best recognized by its yellow- to straw-coloured stems which completely lack any chlorophyll. The flower shoots are scaly, with a dense terminal spike of between ten and twenty flowers in most species. It’s seeds are minute, tan-to-brown in colour which blacken with age. These plants generally flower from late winter to late spring. As they have no chlorophyll, they are totally dependent on other plants for nutrients. Broomrape seedlings put out a root-like growth which attaches to the roots of nearby hosts. Once attached to a host, the Broomrape robs its host of water and nutrients.
Wader species along the beach of Son Real can be quite varied, as can the sea birds to be seen off-shore here, but one wader in particular is a real eye catcher, and found only in very small numbers on migration and in late winter – the Turnstone (Arenaria interpes). Arenaria is the Latin term for ‘sand shore’ with ‘interpes’ being translated as ‘interpreter’. As the common name suggests, they turn over stones looking for Molluscs, Worms and insects underneath. If you see a group feeding together, look for the one with a lowered tail and hunched appearance – this is the dominant bird. They have a short nasal alarm call and a longer call given in flight. They are 21-24cm in length with a wingspan of 49-55cm and a weight of 80-140g. during the winter, this stocky short-billed wader can be found on a range of coastal habitats from exposed rocky shores to sheltered estuaries. The dull orange legs are distinctive. Apart from the characteristic feeding by turning stones over, they also search amongst Seaweed and in particular the ball shaped Neptune Grass which washes up along the beach in vast numbers. The short but powerful bill can also be used to break into the shells of Crabs and Molluscs. Kelp Fly larvae can be found along the beach amongst kelp and Seaweed and provides a rich food source. This particular food source can see their body weight increase significantly within a few days – ideal as fuel before they continue with their migration. As a result, long migrations with only a few short stop overs will be possible.