This past week, two good friends came to La Antigua for a visit. Becky and Jeff live in Michigan, U.S.A, and are about as close to professional birders as I have ever come across. Their visit was a real treat, not only because I was able to catch up with them on old times, but also because I learnt more than I thought I would about birding.
Jeff used to be a professional bird guide who would take cash-money paying bird fanatics on tours where the main objective was to see birds that they normally wouldn’t be able to see whilst looking outside the windows of their houses. This all made sense to me until I found out that he used to conduct these tours in places like Venezuela, Madagascar, and Cuba, not to mention all over the United States. Okay, so it was beginning to be clear to me that birding is some serious stuff. This revelation was firmed up when they started to unpack and out came the binoculars, telescope, iPod with speakers, and camera and we went up to the roof terrace of La Antigua for a cursory glance around. Yes, when doing serious birding, you do need a telescope, as often it is possible to see the bird you are looking for through your binoculars, but a telescope brings them right into your eyes. And what you can see truly is impressive, even to me. I was intrigued.
I had known from previous conversations that the real birding effort on Mallorca would take place on the eastern side of the island near Alcudia and Pollensa where there are some apparently substantial bird breeding grounds, but whilst trying to help me understand what the attraction to all this birding thing was, Jeff spotted a Blue Rock Thrush flitting about on a neighbour’s roof. In what seemed to take a tad less than a nano-second, we all had our binoculars focused on the little bugger. Two things to note here; 1) I said WE ALL had our binoculars focused on the bird because even I had been drawn in by the opportunity to see what this was all about, and being an ex-boater, I still had the binoculars I had whilst living on Angelina; and, 2) my reaction time to a sighting was miserably slow compared to Jeff and Becky. They would be all over the bird in question and I would still be trying to figure out where to look…clear evidence of a rank amateur at birding.
The Blue Rock Thrush was pretty flippin’ spectacular, and my level of intrigue was escalating pretty quickly. Jeff, in about 2 nano seconds, had the telescope focused on the BRT (this is not what true birders call a Blue Rock Thrush, but I am getting lazy in my typing). He had brilliant, almost iridescent, looking feathers that seemed to change hues in the sunlight. By now I was getting worried that I was having too much fun so I sat down and just marvelled at my houseguest’s ability to notice what I had apparently been surrounding La Antigua that I hadn’t even paid attention to previously.
Just before dusk, we set out in Amelia so I could show them some of the scenery on the back roads near Puigpunyent, but it didn’t’ take too long for a request made for me to stop the car. So here we were, three grown adults, standing outside with our brollies protecting us from the rain that had materialised, listening for bird songs in the forests. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I thought I would get into this, I would have replied that birding was right up there with getting meningitis probably, but here I was, gobsmacked that all the twitting and chirping that I previously considered background noise, was clear and distinctly different, and to make it even better, Jeff and Becky were telling me which songs were made by which birds. Bugger me. There we were, standing in the rain, listening to and watching birds in the trees. The worked like this: Jeff would say, ‘there is a (insert the name of some exotic bird here) in that tree; Becky would spot it in the tree; and I would, upon borrowing Becky’s binoculars, say, ‘wow, it is a little porky-looking-black-and-white-striped-brown-bird-with-a-red-thingy-on-its-head.’ I don’t think that they were too overly impressed by my knowledge level.
The next several days, Jeff and Becky spent over in swamp-land doing their birding thing, returning on Friday evening with a list of over 110 species of birds that they had seen, including several ‘lifers.’ When I heard that their list included ‘lifers,’ I was very impressed. Of course, my glee was only surpassed by my ignorance about what ‘lifer’ was. Quite logically, a ‘lifer’ is a bird that you (as the birder) have never seen before, and with over 10,000 bird species out there, I suppose that seeing a new one is a big thing. But hell, I was still impressed that of the over 110 species they had seen whilst on the eastern side of the island, none of them included a Blue Rock Thrush. Specific evidence that Puigpunyent is special. And to solidify my village’s position as a good place to bird-watch from, the day after they returned to La Antigua, the three of us (yes, I actually was out walking around looking for birds, but at least I was in the company of two people who knew what they were doing) saw another ‘lifer’ for them.
We walked along a village path looking for a Wryneck that Jeff had heard from the terrace. It didn’t take long before Jeff produced his iPod and played the bird’s song, which, astonishingly to me, resulted the little bugger to sing back. After a few duets, we were able to see it. A big ‘tick’ in the ‘lifer’ category for all of us. Of course, just about every bird I saw with Becky and Jeff were firsts for me, but it was fab that they were able to see quite a few birds that they came to see.
I thought at this part of the letter, I thought it would be helpful to identify the classification system used to identify bird species, but I don’t think I was listening that closely to what I had been told. Instead, I will share the Dr. JBR personal bird classification system: two wings, two legs, one head, and feathers all over the place means it is a bird. Now having said that, for those readers that are not as cheeky as I can be, and do have a sense of what this is all about (the birding thing), here are some names of birds that were seen by Jeff and Becky whilst in Mallorca. Eleonora’s Falcon; Booted Eagle; Audouin’s Gull; Marmora’s Warbler; Golden Oriole (this is interesting because I always thought they were chocolate wafers on top and bottom with a white cream centre…oh, that’s right, I was thinking of Oreo’s…never mind); Woodchat Shrike; Hoopoe; Linnet (the porky-looking-black-and-white-striped-brown-bird-with-a-red-thingy-on-its-head) and the fabled Blue Rock Thrush.
In all fairness, whilst I was extremely impressed with even my lame ability to spot birds after their visit here, I think I will still keep listening to Van Morrison, Linda Ronstadt, and the Commitments on my iPod.
cala Mirado el Aguila
Jeff, watching and listening...JBR, trying to avoid getting wet
the local Blue Rock Thrush....getting wet
a perky Chaffinch
a tall red-stilt-equipped lanky bird
first light, and the roof terrace already has two
highly committed birding fashionistas on the job
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, James B. Rieley