For the last 20 or so years, I have visited Menorca in the spring, usually for seven to 10 days and timed to coincide with visible migration over the Island. I’ve also often visited in September and October when the weather is very pleasant but the birding slow. The Island is small and compact – about the same size as the Isle of Wight in England – and all of the main birding sites are easily accessible by hire car. To give you an idea of distances, the island is approximately 17km north to south, and 48km wide. There is about 216km of coastline to be enjoyed, much of it only accessible on foot or by boat. The Island is much less developed than neighbouring Majorca and is dissected north to south by a number of deep gorges. In broad terms, the North coast is rocky and wild whilst the South coast is generally gentler with beautiful sandy beaches and coves. There are a couple of important wetland sites, some of which dry out as the summer progresses. The Island also boasts a very interesting suite of archeological sites including towers, caves and ancient stone dwellings.
One of the joys of birding on Menorca is that you are largely on your own and have to find your own birds. In the spring I see the occasional tour group from the UK, but only know of one local birder.
This report is for late April and early May 2019. I also made a short business trip to the Island in the first few days of July when it was far too hot for birding after 8.30 am. it was also very quiet bird-wise although there were plenty of bee-eaters around to keep me entertained.
Getting there and car hire
From the UK, there are numerous direct flights to Menorca (Mahon) and I generally use Easyjet, direct and reliable from London Gatwick.
I personally find a car is essential, and I have always been totally satisfied with the service provided by Sol Cars Hire (www.solcarhire.com). This is an English owned and managed company and you collect the car from the airport car park. In my experience there are no hidden extras with this company - the price you are quoted is the price you pay.
Except at the height of summer, public transport is limited so a car is really very helpful.
There is a huge choice when it comes to accommodation on the Island, including beach side hotels, self-catering options and rural/eco hotels. I always self- cater in the North of the Island, at Playa de Fornells, an urbanization on the outskirts of Fornells (a picturesque fishing village).
One of the many benefits of being based at Playa de Fornells is that I am able to walk to the Tirant wetland and there is fantastic birding within walking distance of the apartment. I book directly through firstname.lastname@example.org
Local birding guide
The top birder on the Island is Javier Mendez. Javier was born and raised on the Island, and earns a living as an ecologist, researcher and bird guide. Javier is also an accomplished ringer, and not surprisingly, knows the top birding sites and has all the up to date gen. In May 2012, Javier also helped me to visit a ringing station on Isla del Aire, more of which at the end of this report. Javier has his own website at www.menorcawalkingbirds.com
Birds seen late April and early May 2019
We arrived on 25 April on an early flight from London Gatwick. However, by the time we had collected our rental car, shopped, unpacked and enjoyed a siesta, there wasn’t really any time for birding. We had also arrived on a day when there were very strong winds and so most birds were keeping low. A few Red Kites were noted as we drove across the Island to Fornells, a Nightingale was heard while we filled the car with petrol, and Yellow Legged Gulls were seen from the apartment.
The following morning (26th) dawned bright and clear, although it was still quite breezy. In the afternoon we walked from the apartment across the beach at Cala Tirant (Audouin’s Gull) and then along the Tirant Track. The breeze seemed to keep the smaller birds hunkered down, although Nightingale and Cettis Warblers were signing heartily. A single Fan Tailed Warbler was seen and heard singing in flight, and there were lots of House Sparrows around.
As we got closer to Piggy Farm, and a small wet area viewable from the road, the bird activity picked up. On the raptor front were Red Kites, Booted Eagles, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier. And over the water were good numbers of House Martins, Sand Martins, Barn Swallows and Common Swifts. A couple of Glossy Ibis were also seen (with 13 reported by another Birder), together with Little Egrets, Red Crested Pochard and a single Grey Heron.
Back close to the apartment we found a Blackbird, numerous Collared Doves and a couple of Blue Rock Thrushes singing from the top of chimney pots. At dusk a Scops Owl called loudly from a nearby pine tree, but he also kept out of sight! They are always all around the apartment, but notoriously difficult to see.
The 27 April was a day of sunshine and a moderate breeze, with temperatures very comfortable for walking. From the terrace of the apartment at breakfast time Greenfinch, Sardinian Warbler and Balearic Shag were added to the trip list.
Later in the morning a walk along the beach at Es Grau and around the board walk gave great views of a very bright Wood Warbler, more Sardinians, and out on the lake were numerous Coots, accompanied by Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, Moorhen, and a single Purple Heron flying majestically by.
There must have been an arrival of Turtle Doves because their soft ‘purring’ call could be heard all around and two birds were seen feeding on the ground around the car park. Later in the afternoon a further 12 Turtle Doves were seen just a short walk from the apartment.
Sunday 28 April dawned overcast, but there had been an arrival of Bee-eaters overnight, first heard and then seen very close to the apartment. At one point up to 12 birds flew above and below our terrace, calling as they foraged for flying morsels for their breakfast. What a start to the day!
Later in the morning we walked into Fornells, and en route added to the trip list a Great Tit, Goldfinches, six Ravens, a single Hooopoe and a single Tawny Pipit. In the afternoon, a Blue Rock Thrush was in fine voice in an adjacent garden and we enjoyed another flying display from Bee-eaters right over our heads. Magnificent.
Monday 29 April: a very Grey and overcast morning with a chilly breeze from the north east. We drove to Cala galdana and from the car saw a flock of Cattle Egrets consorting with cattle! A short walk West along the cliffs to Bar Suzy was quiet but Wood Pigeons, two Eygptian Vultures, and a number of Chaffinches were noted.
Tuesday 30 April was devoted to birding along the North Coast. At 8 am the weather looked decidedly unpromising, with heavy rain and a brisk breeze. But perseverance paid off as the weather improved markedly after about 11. AM. The first port of call was Son Parc where Blackbird, Wood Pigeons, a single Grey Heron, Swallows and House Martins were seen. From a view point overlooking a wet land, Red Crested Pochards, Coots, Moorhen, Ferrigunous Duck, Little Grebes, a single Purple Heron, Gadwal, Common Swifts, Turtle Doves and Goldfinches were easily found. An immature male Marsh Harrier was seen sheltering from the rain. The number of Swallows hanging around - grounded by the weather - was truly phenomenal. A couple of Cettis Warblers and Nightingales were heard, and a showy Spotted Flycatcher was a new bird for the trip.
The next stop was Addai Salt Pans/Montgofre where the only Woodchat Shrikes of the trip were seen. House Sparrows were abundant, a Tawny Pipit and 12 Shelducks were seen. On the old salt pans I was delighted to see a number of Black Winged Stilts, two Greater Flamingos, and a Common Sandpiper.
As the weather improved, we arrived at Favaritz Lighthouse where a saline pool is easily viewed from the road and car park. Always good for Plovers, I was able to compare side by side a number of Little Ringed Plovers, Ringed Plovers and Kentish Plovers, the latter delightful little birds. The breeze was pushing sea birds towards the shore line and both Corys and Balearic Shearwaters were seen really well and close in. Yellow Legged Gulls were also around.
The next destination was Es Grau, and en route Ravens and Cattle Egrets were seen from the car. At the lake itself we saw Mallards, a single Great Crested Grebe, and a single Great White Egret. A Nightingale was also watched singing from the top of a bush, a very shouty bird indeed.
Lunch was enjoyed beside the beach at Es Grau village, and an Audouin’s Gull paid us an inquisitive visit. We then headed towards home, but not before checking out the Piggy Farm/Tirant area where we picked up Common Kestrel, Squacco Heron (three); 50 Bee-eaters, a single Corn Bunting, a few Sand Martins, and 14 Glossy Ibis. The latter represented the largest flock I had ever seen anywhere, and they were on a pool right beside a quiet country lane. The day finished with Rock Doves on the cliffs below the apartment, and a Scops Owl was heard at dusk.
The 1 May was warm and sunny and we headed to the south of the Island for a walk between St Thomas and Son Bou. A Cetti’s warbler was seen singing from the top of a bush and a Northern Wheatear was seen from the cliff top path. Nightingales seemed to be everywhere as we walked a short stretch of the Cami on the west side of the Son Bou reed bed and there was a supporting cast of Turtle Doves, two EgyptIan Vultures, and a Fan Tailed Warbler in song flight.
The 2 May started with a walk from the apartment across Tirant beach. On the beach two Common Sandpipers and a Ringed Plover were seen. From the beach we then walked inland for a mile or so along the Tirant Track where a Fan Tailed Warbler, Corn Buntings, four Red Kites, a Marsh Harrier, Hoopoe and fourteen Bee-eaters were enjoyed. Inevitably we were obliged to check what will now be known as the ‘Glossy Ibis pool’, and at least eight Ibis were seen, together with five Wood Sandpipers, two Snipe, and five Black Winged Stilts. A very enjoyable two hours of birding.
On the 3 May, we headed south again to Cala Galdana and the Algendar Gorge. The walk along the gorge was very quiet, but at least a Great Tit, EgyptIan Vulture, Purple Heron and Hoopoe put in an appearance. The beach, as usual, had a few Yellow Legged and Aoudins Gulls chancing their luck amongst people enjoying a picnic.
The 4 May saw us tackle another stretch of the Cami, from the Son Bou Urbanización end. There seemed to be a large number of Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and Common Swifts over the areas of open water (viewed from the Cami) and there were Cettis and Nightingales singing everywhere. An influx of Bee-eaters was noticeable - birds that I never tire of. A stunningly close EgyptIan Vulture wrapped up the walk very nicely.
Notable birding sites with directions:
This is marked as Lluric on some maps.
The marshes are to be found in the North of the Island, just a few miles from Playa de Fornells (Platages de Fornells on some maps and sign posts). If you are heading from Mercadal towards Fornells, you will reach a large roundabout with a modern metal sculpture. Turn left here towards Cap de Cavalleria. This is a narrow lane that requires a little driving care, especially as in spring and summer you are likely to be distracted by Bee-eaters. The Tirant Marshes are seasonal, and the water levels vary considerably, depending on how much winter rain there has been. The Marsh starts behind the farm of Es Prat (on the right) and can be viewed from the road. But you do have to park with care and avoid blocking entrances to farms. The pool behind Es Prat can attract a wild range of wildfowl and I’ve also seen Greater Flamingo there. Just beyond Es Prat is a turning to the right that takes you eventually to the sandy beach of Cala Tirant. As soon as you have turned on to this track, there is a wet Marsh to your left. This can be excellent for Marsh Harriers, Bittern, Purple Heron, Fan tailed warbler, Cettis Warbler and Nightingale. This site has also produced Whiskered Terns and a Collared Pratincole. What’s around depends very much on the water levels and the height of the vegetation.
As you drive along the track to Cala Tirant, flocks of up to 30 or more Bee-eaters are frequently encountered, especially during the first week of May. I’ve also found Rollers and Lesser Kestrel on the wires criss-crossing the area. The sandy bay at Cala Tirant is very good for Audouin’s Gull and Yellow-legged Gull and occasionally Osprey fishing in the bay.
I once found a male Rock Thrush perched on the wall of a villa that overlooks the bay. This was probably one of my best ever self-found birds on the Island.
Cap De Cavalleria
Retracing your route, Cap De Cavalleria is only a couple of miles away. As you make your way along the road towards the Cap (there is a lighthouse there) you pass through a number of gates that should be closed as you pass through them. The route starts with quite fertile countryside and I’ve often seen Egyptian Vultures and Red Kites along here. The last mile of the road is more desolate, but in spring anything could turn up. At the Cap itself, there is a small, rough, car park and in this area I have seen Northern Wheatear. Blue Rock Thrush are also easily found, whilst out at sea, distantly, there could be Cory’s Shearwaters in the evenings.
Cala Galdana and Algendar Gorge
Cala Galdana and Algendar Gorge, are two sites that can be combined with a lazy time on a stunning sandy beach. Cala Galdana, on the South coast, is easily accessed from Ferreries and the mirrador overlooking the sea is a good place for Alpine Swift (especially towards sunset) and Peregrine Falcon. As you approach Cala Galdana there are two mirradors signposted and you want the one to the left. Parking on the residential street is easy and the view point looking out to sea at the end of the road is the best place for the swifts. Common Swift are common here and down beside the beach, Audouin’s Gull and Yellow-legged Gull tolerate the humans swimming in the sea!
The Algendar Gorge is to be found by driving down to the Galdana resort. By car, you cross the river and then have to turn either right or left at a T junction. Turn right and drive along the road with restaurants to your left. At the end of the road (less than one mile) there is ample parking. The gorge is accessed by climbing over a stone style by the locked gates and after about 100 meters, turning sharp right. Ignore the left fork concrete path. The path passes close to a boggy area to begin with and you follow the path up the gorge until the vegetation blocks your route. The gorge is like a lost world, often cool because of the shade, and absolutely alive with birds in the spring. April and early May visits will produce numerous singing Nightingales and Cettis Warblers, together with Blackcap. The gorge is also a reliable place for common Kestrels, House Martins and Swallows. The stars of the gorge, however, are the Egyptian Vultures that nest nearby, together with the occasional Red Kite and ubiquitous Booted Eagle. I have also heard a Scops Owl calling here in the early afternoon. I would recommend allowing at least two hours for a visit to the gorge – it rarely disappoints.
The walk to Bar Suzy starts beside the bridge over the inlet, ie at the west end of the beach. Follow the Cami for about two or Km and you will reach the bar and a stunning sandy cove. This bar is not open year round, only in the tourist season.
Es Grau (and the S’Albufera – a large brackish lake)
These sites are to be found on the Eastern side of the Island and are easily accessed from Fornells or Mahon. Es Grau is a pretty seaside village with a sheltered bay and sandy beach. The beach is good for Audouin’s Gull and Yellow-legged Gull, and Balearic Shag is commonly seen here. S’Albufera national park is clearly signposted as you approach Es Grau and there is an interpretation centre and car parking. There are a number of marked trails here (leaflets should be available from the interpretation centre) and there are a couple of hides. Common birds on the lake include numerous Coot, Mallard, Little Egrets, and a small number of Gadwall. Purple Swamphen and Red Crested Pochard breed here and are easily seen. This site is also good for Osprey, Booted Eagle and Black-Winged Stilts.
North Son Saura wetland
Some years ago I visited the Son Saura wetland with the help of local guide, Javier. To be honest, without his help I would never have known about this superb site which is difficult to access. The starting point is the westerly beach car park at Son Parc in the North of the Island. There is a small and obvious sewage works here, behind which runs the Cami de Cavall (a mainly coastal footpath that encircles the island). You take the footpath West, in the direction of Fornells, and just before the numbered Cami post 04/23 you veer off left in to the bush. There is an indistinct path here, and lots of snags, but eventually you climb a gate and have views of the wetland. Fortunately the ground slopes away from the open water, and from here you can set up our a scope and see a large percentage of the lake. The birdlife can prolific and includes Red-crested Pochard and a few Common Pochard (both breeding), Feruginous Duck, Shoeveller, Purple and Squacco Herons, and Cattle Egrets. Hawking over the lake can be 100s of House Martins, Common Swits and Barn Swallows.
This is a site that has become much easier to visit with the completion of the Cami de Cavall, and no longer involves trespassing or trying to seek permission from the landowner. The starting point for the walk (of a couple of miles in each direction) is Addaia, an urbanization and small port in the North East of the Island
As you enter the urbanization, there is a small supermarket and the Taj Indian restaurant, beyond which you turn immediately right on to Carrer Fontanlelles. The ‘Corner Cafe Bar’ will be on your right at this turn (if it hasn’t changed it’s name). About 200 meters along this road on the right is stile that you climb and this leads on to the Cami. You then follow the Cami for a couple of miles, along farm tracks, down to the water’s edge, and eventually to the redundant salt pans. The pans can be very good for birds, but unfortunately the Cami has increased disturbance and it’s possible that the number of species is declining. On one of my visits of just a couple of hours I saw a pair of Osprey, Shellduck, small numbers of Ringed Plover, and a single Curlew Sandpiper and a single Greenshank. A scope is useful at this site as the birds can be a little distant.
The Torre Fornells is an old watch tower, found by following the brown tourist signs through the village/port of Fornells. There is a small car park at the end of the road (at the Cap de Fornells). On occasions I have found both Tawny Pipit and Thekla Lark here but they are not easy. The headland here is high above the sea and can be really good for sea watching. The early evening, with an on-shore wind (best from the north) is best for passing Shearwaters.
Isla del Aire
Isla del Aire (Illa de L’Aire on some maps) is a tiny islet off the South East coast of the island, visible from Punta Prima. I had been aware for a number of years that Isla del Aire was a ringing station and had always dreamed of making a visit. But it was only in 2012, and with considerable help from Javier, that I was able to realise this dream. Access involved a using a Sea Kayak to cross the couple of hundred meters of choppy water from the beach at Punta Prima. Once on the islet, we were warmly welcomed by a couple of ringers and two researchers (the latter researching the extent to which migrating birds might carry parasites on their migrations from Africa to Europe). For me it was a huge privilege to spend a day with these dedicated people and to observe the ringing and research that was taking place.
The ringing station is best visited in the last two weeks of April, although early May should still deliver many interesting birds. On average, between 3,000 and 3,500 birds are ringed each year and I understand that Javier can now arrange a boat as an alternative to a Kayak, although this might depend on the number of people wishing to make the crossing. I have got to say that after many years of visiting Menorca, a day at the ringing station was a top experience, and I just loved seeing common migrants in the hand.
Son Bou (walking from Sant Thomas)
The walk is eastwards, along the Cami path, and if you are arriving by car then there is a large car park beside the xxx hotel. The Cami skirts the cliff and sea on one side and fields on the other. The cliffs are often good for migrant Northern Wheatears in early spring and autumn.
This headland, together with an impressive lighthouse, is on the East coast, clearly signed from the minor road from Fornells to Mahon. You can drive to a very rough car park that looks out over the sea - at one pint it looks like you are entering a private farm but just keep going. The saline pool is to the left of the car park and in spring is good for passage waders.
Cami de Cavall
This footpath runs around the entire Island, usually as a coastal path. There are a few stretches that run in land. The path is usually well signposted and is easy to follow, often leading to delightful coves.
The highest ‘hill’ on the Island, and accessed from Mercadal. The views on a clear day are magnificent and I’ve known occasions when there have been hundreds of Swifts swirling around the car park. It’s also a good vantage point for viewing raptors.
The ‘Glossy Ibis Pool’
This pool is beyond the turn off for Cala Tirant (Tirant Marshers area). If heading West, ignore the right turn for Cala Tirant and carry on for about 200 + hundred meters. There is an area beside a farm gate where you can park, with care, without blocking the access. You then walk down hill (heading West) and after another 100 - 200 meters or so the seasonal pool is on the right hand side of the road. This is a narrow road so you have to be careful about passing traffic. But it is possible to view the pool safely from the road and the rewards can be considerable.
Menorca species list April and May 2019, unless July is specifically mentioned:
Little grebe - Es Grau
Great crested grebe - Es Grau
Cory’s shearwater - Cap Favarritx
Balearic shearwater - Cap Favarritx
Mediterranean shag - daily Cala Tirant
Cattle egret - near Galadana with cattle and from Tirant track
Little egret - daily in suitable habitat
Great white egret - Es Grau
Grey heron - Piggy Farm
Purple heron - Es Grau
Glossy Ibis at Piggy Farm x2 and 14 at the Glossy Ibis pool on 30 April
Shelduck - Montgofre Nou
Gadwall - North Son Saura
Mallard - Es Grau
Red crested pochard - Piggy Farm/Lluriac on 25 April and several at Son Saura north 0n 30 April
Red kite - seen daily
Egyptian vulture - Tirant track, Algendar Gorge
Booted eagle - seen daily
Kestrel - Tirant track and Piggy Farm area
Moorhen - Es Grau
Coot - Es Grau and Glossy Ibis Pool
Black-winged stilt - Montgofre and Glossy Ibis Pool
Little ringed plover - Favarritx
Ringed plover - Favarritx
Common sandpiper - Cala Tirant beach
Audouin’s gull - seen daily by the coast
Yellow-legged gull - seen daily by the coast
Rock dove - Tirant area
Wood pigeon - Son Parc, Bar Suzy walk
Collared dove - seen daily
Turtle dove - good numbers around Es Grau, Playas de Fornells access road
Scops owl - heard only most evenings from the apartment
Barn owl - heard only at nest site
Common swift - seen most days
Hoopoe - often seen from the car, with typical undulating flight
Bee-eater - daily in April, May and July, especially along the Tirant Track
Barn swallow - seen daily
House martin - seen daily and nesting in Mercadal
Tawny pipit - on cliffs when walk to Fornells
Nightingale - more often seen than heard, the sound of spring on Menorca. A few birds were still singing in early July
Stonechat - a family group on the cliffs walk to Fornells on 2 July
Blue rock thrush - seen most days in April and early May, but curiously not seen on my July visit
Blackbird - seen daily around the apartment in April and May and occasionally in early July
Cetti’s warbler - heard daily during April and May, occasionally in July
Wood warbler at Es Grau from the boardwalk behind the beach 0n 27 April
Zitting cisticola - a few always seen along the Tirant track, April, May and early July
Sardinian warbler -widespread and seen or more often heard daily
Spotted flycatcher - widespread in April and May, for example around the apartment, and a pair seen feeding young in July. Looked to me that the July birds were of the newly split species
Great tit - not abundant but a few seen around the apartment and at the Algendar Gorge
Spotless starling - a few around the apartment/urbanization in April and May
Woodchat shrike - only a couple of birds seen this year, from the Cami just outside Addai on 30 April
Raven - many birds seen in April and May all over the Island, whereas just a few seen in July
House sparrow - abundant all over the Island
Chaffinch - seen around Bar Suzy on 29 April
Greenfinch - seen and heard around the apartment daily, in small numbers, April, May and July
Goldfinch - frequently seen in April and May along the Tirant track, and a few in July
Linnet - several seen on the cliff walk from the apartment to Fornells 0n 2 July
Corn bunting - abundant, especially along the Tirant track in April, May and July