Take a walk into the Albufera reserve, and apart from the tall Pines on your left and the wide open Canal Siurana on your right, the next thing you will notice that really stands out are the Giant Reed, growing tall, and making a ‘whooshing’ sound as the wind passes through the tall, upright stems. The Giant Reed (Arundo donax) is a perennial cane of the so called ‘reed species. It enjoys several other names such as Elephant Grass, Spanish Cane (one of my favourite names), Wild Cane and the more commonly known name, Giant Reed.
The Albufera offers them the ideal habitat, which is moderately saline, where the reeds can comfortably grow up to 20ft in height (and up to 33ft in some cases). They are among the fastest growing terrestrial plants in the world growing nearly 3.9 inches in a single day. The hollow stems are up to 2 -3 centimetre’s in diameter, with the grey-green sword-like leaves being alternate, 12 – 24 inches long and 2 -6 centimetre’s wide.
Small birds such as the resident Cettis Warbler and Great Tits can nonetheless still hide away amongst this vegetation, and take some spotting at times, and one such bird in particular which we will look at elsewhere in this article, can be a real ‘skulker’, where patience is needed to see them, despite their numbers.
The plant generally resembles the common Phragmites Reed, or even a Bamboo, and by late summer, they show off the upright, feathery plumes 16 -24 inches long, and gently moving on the cool breezes. The seeds within them are rarely fertile. This doesn’t stop this being an incredibly well-established species however, where tough, fibrous, underground rhizomes form thick, knotty spreading mats which will penetrate deep into the soil, anywhere up to 3.3ft deep.
Occasionally, the large white trumpet-shaped flowers of the Large Bindweed intertwine amongst the canes adding usually the only splash of colour – unless of course there is the purple of the Purple Gallinule at its base, or the white shield of the Eurasian Coot, or the red shield of a Moorhen. Stems that have fallen over along the edges of the canal make good basking places for the Stripe-necked Terrapins, and good vantage points for the summer breeding Little Bittern, to stalk the small fish with stealth.
With Mallorca’s temperate climate, characterized by a warm and dry summer and relatively milder winter, the new shoots will emerge around March, and by June they are growing rapidly, producing stems and leaves by July. From late July the leaves start to dry, and by the autumn, anthesis begins to occur from the beginning of October until the end of November (anthesis is the period when a flower is fully open and functional).
By the winter, the growth will have ceased. Field studies have shown the Giant Reed to be resistant to long periods of drought, and resistant to fertilizer and pesticide needs, and minimal soil tillage. The next time you visit the Albufera, stand next to a Giant Reed and see how small it makes you feel.
Look at that moustache!
Despite the Albufera being a stronghold for this resident with around 3,000 breeding pairs, patience can be needed to see these small, fast, and well camouflaged warblers. I find sitting quietly on the stone bridges near to the paths for the Bishop and Eddie Watkinson hides the best location for me, but they can equally be seen from anywhere on the reserve.
They are a sought-after species for many visiting birdwatchers, and a species you never really tire of seeing. As with most warblers, the sexes are identical, but young birds tend to be more heavily streaked and have markings on the breast. The song is fast and similar to the Sedge Warbler (a passage migrant here), and they adopt some mimicry in their song as well, occasionally sounding reminiscent of a Nightingale (a summer breeder here).
The Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon) has a soft ‘t-rrrt’ alarm call with the song a distinctive musical medley. They are a small bird weighing a mere 10 – 12g with a length of 12 – 13cm and a wingspan of 15 – 16.5cm, so easily overlooked when moving amongst the reeds. The head is a good identification feature with a distinctive pattern of a black crown and a broad white supercilium which becomes ‘square ended’ behind the eye, and highlighted by dusky lore’s.
The nape and mantle are rufous-brown (with the nape unmarked and the mantle streaked black). The un-streaked rump is the same colour as the dark-brown tail, with the wings an olive-brown with paler feathers. The underparts are whitish with rusty flanks, vents and sides to the breast. So, overall, it is a very smart looking bird and understandable why bird watchers want to see them.
Food consists wholly of anthropds, esepcially small Beetles, and the Albufera is swarming with invertebrate life, easily sustaining a high population of warblers. The nest is a deep cup, loosely made of plant material and lined with reed flowers and feathers, where 3 – 4 white eggs with an olive mottling are laid. Noted for its skulking, it can be approached closely with patience.
The call and song is usually the best way of locating them in the first instance. Listen out for introductory series of low notes, ‘tu, tu, tu, tu’, followed by a crescendo similar to that of the Nightingales, and this is followed immediately by a scratchy warble.
Please note: Copies of my book Birdwatching in Mallorca still available for sale, please email for details.