Plant life is still a bit slow moving on Mallorca, but once the spring comes, they will race to become a splash of colour all over the island, with Crown Daisies and Common Poppies making an appearance alongside Chrysanthemum’s and Crown Vetch. Fields, open pastures, roadsides, garigue, and orchards will all have their own mix of beautiful flowers, and fragrances too. These will attract the pollinators, and soon, the butterflies will be on the wing, including Speckled Wood, Clouded Yellow and my favourite – the Swallowtail. Rosemary and Asphodels will attract the migrant Painted Lady butterfly, and the special plants on the island – the orchids, will be forming their groups in specific areas.
Already on the move however, are the birds, with several migrants already reported, such as Swallow, House Martin, and Yellow Wagtail. A Hen Harrier (a wintering species here) has been seen moving in the south. Also of note, are the return of several Little Ringed Plovers, a summer breeder here, that will share the same habitat as the resident Ringed and Kentish Plovers. Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers are very alike, but there are some notable differences between them, and once learned, allow for easy identification, even if they are at a distance. The salt pans at Salinas de Llevante, Tucan Marsh, and the Albufereta Marsh are all good places to see both species, but for me, the best views I have had of both species is from the hides at the Albufera, where they can feed to their hearts content in the soft mud, and not be put off by people in the hides watching them.
The Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) is a small plover, and the genus name Charadrius is a Latin word for a yellowish bird mentioned in the 4th century Vulgate. It comes from Ancient Greek ‘kharadrios, a bird found in river valleys (kharandra, ravine). The specific ‘dubius’ is Latin for ‘doubtful’, where Sonnerat writing in 1776, thought they may have been a variant of the common Ringed Plover.
The voice is a loud ‘kiu’ flight call and also a ‘kree-u-kree-u’ call. Dry open habitats, gravel beds, estuaries, lake shores and similar man-made sites all form its habitat. The nest will be a simple scrape in the ground near water, sometimes with a lining of small stones, where four glossy, buff or stone coloured eggs are laid, with many brown spots and streaks. These eggs are superbly camouflaged amongst the pebbles. Food consists of Spiders, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.
Sexes are similar, and the adult has dull-brown upperparts and is pure white underneath, with a strongly patterned head. The bright yellow eye ring stands out well against the black cheeks, and is undoubtably the best identification feature for this species, along with the dark bill (light in the Ringed Plover).
The bill is all black and the legs a dull orange-brown. Another great identification feature for this species in when they are in flight, as at any time they lack the wing bars which are diagnostic for the plovers. Juveniles will look like a faded version of the adult with indistinct head and chest markings. They are slightly smaller than the Ringed Plover, weighing 33 – 48g, with a wingspan of 42 – 48cm and a length of 14 – 15cm. They have a great distraction at the nest site if a predator approaches. They move slowly, dragging their wings as if injured, or may pretend to feed in order to lead attention away from the nest.
The Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) sees the specific name ‘haiticula’ being from Latin, and has a similar meaning to the Greek term, coming from ‘hiatus’ (cleft), and ‘dweller’ (to dwell). A more active feeder, often seen running along the shore line or across the open mud, where they dart around to catch little creatures they see moving. If disturbed, they will fly for a short distance and glide momentarily before landing, then run briefly with raised wings before stopping.
The voice is a quiet ‘tooip’ whistle and a louder alarm ‘te-lee-a-te-lee-a’ call. The length is 18 – 20cm, with a wingspan of 48 – 57cm and a weight of 54 – 74g, so overall a little larger than the Little Ringed. This resident species nests on the ground as well, where a shallow scrape is formed, also near to water, and lined with small pebbles and shells. 3 – 4 glossy or dull, pale-buff eggs are laid with black spots and blotches, and are also superbly camouflaged. Worms, Molluscs, Shrimps, larvae and invertebrates form its more varied diet.
A small but stocky wader, they are a mostly plain colour but have striking facial markings. The adults’ upperparts are a grey-brown and the underparts a pure white. In summer, the legs and the base of the bill are yellow (dark in the Little Ringed), but in the winter, the legs are darker and the bill is all dark with a yellowish base to the lower mandible. The head is marked with black cheeks and a black line over the brow.
There is a black chest ring. Sexes are almost identical although some females have less distinct black markings than the male. The juveniles resemble the adults, but have a scalloped appearance on the upperparts due to pale feather edges. In flight, the striking white wing bars show well in both adults and juveniles.
I have enjoyed many a time either sat in one of the hides, or along the edge of the seashore, and watched Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers busily feeding away, dodging the slightly larger waders such as Dunlin and Turnstone, and moving amongst the ball shaped Neptune Grass that washes up daily onto the beach, where they are seeking out tiny insects.
I have enjoyed their antics as they fly around in small groups during the breeding season, where although they share the same habitats, they are also trying to secure a small territory for themselves as well. When you see these three species together, it is a good opportunity to learn the subtle differences in their plumages. Enjoy.
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