Blog Archives: Overseas Tours – Menorca

Menorca: Island in Bloom

Over the past five years, my tours to Menorca have been restricted to the autumn: an arid landscape, enlivened by birds, both resident and migratory; the second spring of flowering bulbs; and an array of exciting, often large insects – see here for example.

What a contrast to last week: a wet winter has stimulated the island into bloom, with an abundance I have rarely seen before. Fields of Crown Daisies, sheets of Tassel Hyacinths and Wild Gladioli, banks of Italian Sainfoin, and orchids almost everywhere. Pyramidal, Sawfly, Mirror, Small-flowered Tongue and Bumblebee were the commonest, with fewer Yellow Bee, Violet Bird’s-nest and Balearic – pretty much all that we can expect to see on Menorca at this time of year.

Most of the endemic plants were not yet in flower – for them it is best in May – but Balearic Cyclamen and Dragon Arum, together with Senecio rodriguezii and Astragalus balearicus gave us plenty of localised botanical interest.

 

Despite the absence of significant falls, migrant birds were trickling through, and our frequent wanders down the drive of Matchani Gran often produced northern migrants -Common Redstart, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher – along with local-breeding summer visitors – Balearic Woodchat Shrike and Orphean Warbler – and the resident Hoopoe, Stone Curlew and Booted Eagle. Elsewhere, great views of Bittern, Blue Rock Thrush, Egyptian Vulture and Audouin’s Gull contributed to a week’s total of 92 species.

Insects were relatively few and far between, and generally quite small. However, small doesn’t necessarily mean insignificant as the Golden-striped Tortoise-beetles below show.

Add to that Mediterranean Demoiselle, Oil-beetle, Egyptian Locust and a Chinese Oak Silk-moth, as big as my hand….

….and Balearic Scorpion, Hermann’s Tortoise, Moorish Gecko and the spectacular landscape and geology, all the elements were in place for a very successful trip, despite somewhat indifferent weather. 

As always with Honeyguide tours (and uniquely so), each participant on every tour pays a surcharge which goes directly to conservation projects in the places we visit. From our Menorcan trips, we support GOB Menorca – Grupo Balear de Ornitología y Defensa de la Naturaleza, the Birdlife Partner and main environmental voluntary body in the Balearics. This year the donation amounted to some €600, equivalent to around thirty memberships for an organisation which relies for funding almost wholly on membership receipts. And that membership is just 1350 people….

My previous blog details some of the projects run by GOB, and especially the Agronatural Farms project which our donation will go to support, as we heard from GOB President Carlos Coll who visited one evening in recognition of the value of our support.

Thank you Menorca for providing us with such a super holiday, fittingly in the year it celebrates its 25th year as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and thank you GOB for helping to keep the island like we want to see it!

For more information about GOB Menorca and its work, please visit english.gobmenorca.com

If you enjoyed reading this and would like to know more detail about the trip, a fully illustrated report will be on the Honeyguide website honeyguide.co.uk in due course.

 

A Magical Menorcan Autumn – ‘step by step’ to a greener future

 

 

View from Cap Cavalleria

View from Cap Cavalleria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Menorca, a jewel of the Balearics, always delights. Justifiably proud of its status as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, anyone visiting the island at any time of year can find natural, archaeological, cultural and historical treasures. Last week, I had the pleasure and privilege of leading a group from Honeyguide Wildlife Tours around those treasures.

Torre d'en Gaumes

Torre d’en Gaumes

Wind- and salt-swept scrub, Favaritx

Wind- and salt-swept scrub, Favaritx

 

Sandwiched between intense thunderstorms the day before we arrived and the morning we left, the weather was pretty much idyllic: dry, warm to hot, and often as not with glorious blue skies as an antidote to the prospect of a British winter to come.

As always with my tours, our focus was broad, from the tiniest insect to the wider cultural and geological landscapes.

Albufera Es Grau

Albufera Es Grau

The wetlands were filling up with birds, northern visitors like Pochard and Black-necked Grebes mingling with those of more southerly origins, Ferruginous Duck and Greater Flamingo; the bushes and night skies teemed with Robins and Song Thrushes, nearing the end of their migrations, while a few sub-Saharan winterers like Blue-headed Wagtail, Common Redstart and Balearic Spotted Flycatcher still hung on. And as always Audouin’s Gulls,

Audouin's Gull

Audouin’s Gull

Hoopoes, Stone Curlews and the common big bird triumvirate of Red Kite, Booted Eagle and Egyptian Vulture spoke volumes about the favourability of conditions on Menorca year round, for birds just as much as for people.

 

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew

Great Egret

Great Egret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a long, hot, dry summer, an autumn trip to Menorca can seem devoid of interest to the botanist. But rains over the previous month had arrived, sometimes heavily so, and the ‘Second Spring’ was underway almost as we watched, newly sprouting grass emerging from the previously parched and heavily grazed pastures.

Autumn Daffodil

Autumn Daffodil

Autumn Daffodils sprung up and bloomed widely along road verges, with the stately spikes of Sea Squill, their flowers white stars with striking bright green anthers, on the more exposed coastal sites. Arum pictum was just emerging at Cavalleria, and the rivers of pink Merendera filifolia marking well-worn pathways, especially above Cales Coves, left me simply lost for words.

Merendera filifolia

Merendera filifolia

 

 

 

 

 

And as for the rest, well the insects at this season are as large and numerous as at any time of year:

Egyptian Locust

Egyptian Locust

Egyptian Locusts, Praying Mantises and Rhinoceros Beetles providing the size;

Crimson Speckled moth

Crimson Speckled moth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crimson Speckled moths the beauty; and Cistus Hedgehog Beetles the bizarre, in miniature.

Large Wasp Spider

Large Wasp Spider

Arachnids put on a great show, with Large Wasp Spiders in their huge orb-webs, and the fascinating 3D structures of Cage-web Spiders festooning many a bush. Italian Wall Lizards and Moorish Geckoes basked in the weakening sunlight, and the array of Hermann’s Tortoises included new hatchlings to old adults. The shady gorge of Rafalet produced a fungal highlight, the Pepperpot Earth-star,

 

Pepperpot Earth-star

Pepperpot Earth-star

 

and the rocks at Es Grau kept us entranced with their diverse, artistic friezes of lichens.

Lichen art

Lichen art

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were very lucky during the week to receive a visit from Montse Bau, from GOB Menorca – Grupo Balear de Ornitología y Defensa de la Naturaleza, the Birdlife Partner and main environmental voluntary body in the Balearics, with dedicated groups on each of the major islands. Honeyguide is still, sadly (to my knowledge), the only wildlife tour company which places a surcharge on each and every customer it takes on holiday and then invests those resources in conservation projects in the places we visit. On Menorca, GOB is the organization we support, and Montse described eloquently the breadth of what they do in response to the plethora of problems being faced by its wildlife and environment. GOB is a campaigning NGO, not just for birds but for all aspects of the environment. It advises the local and regional governments on matters relating to the environment. It rescues and rehabilitates injured birds, tortoises and other animals. It educates and informs locals and visitors alike. It gets stuck in on key, hitherto seemingly intractable problems, such as the pollution of the island’s aquifer, and the rapidly falling level of that aquifer as a result of unsustainable exploitation. It promotes wildlife- and water-friendly gardening. And the new project which so excited Honeyguide – ‘Agronatural Farms’ – and led us to double our donation to €800 using money from the Honeyguide Wildlife Charitable Trust. Agronatural Farms is a pilot project to develop and restore environmentally sustainable farming practices, and to seek to ensure that produce from those farms attracts a favourable price. Very laudable and thus far attracting a lot of interest, including from other parts of Spain.

So, in a nutshell, GOB Menorca does at least parts of what in Britain is addressed by RSPB, RSPCA, the Soil Association, Marine Conservation Society, Royal Horticultural Society, and even the roles of some statutory agencies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency. A remarkable achievement, particularly in that it is organized by a team of about eight staff, just four Full Time Equivalent posts…and Honeyguide is more than proud to support those efforts.

Of course, with so much to do, so many battlefronts to fight on, and so few resources, there would always be the risk that nothing would ever get done properly. But here Montse’s mantra comes in to play…’step by step’, making a small but significant difference at each step, such that the sum of those steps is very significant progress towards protecting and enhancing this jewel of the Mediterranean. Perhaps that is a lesson in humility many of us could learn and take inspiration from. It certainly seems to be working for Montse and GOB Menorca: her presentation was the most upbeat of any I have heard over the years. And it makes me want to join in and help making more of those small steps forward…

For more information about GOB Menorca and its work, please visit english.gobmenorca.com

If you enjoyed reading this and would like to know more detail about the trip, a fully illustrated report will be on the Honeyguide website honeyguide.co.uk in due course.

Cap Favaritx

Cap Favaritx

Eroded cliffs near Addaia Lagoons

Eroded cliffs near Addaia Lagoons

Mediterranean Heath

Mediterranean Heath

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Italian Wall Lizard

Italian Wall Lizard

Sea Squill

Sea Squill

Rafalet Cove

Rafalet Cove

Sunset over Mallorca

Sunset over Mallorca