Snakes on a plain

Snake encounters have been increasing on Mallorca – and not just on the plain (the flatter central area known in the local language as the pla). Local media reports have revealed that people in 14 municipalities on Mallorca had found unusually large snakes…mostly in urban areas.

One friend posted a picture on Facebook of a snake she’d found in her garden in an area of Santa Ponsa. To someone who doesn’t know much about snakes (that’ll be me, then), it looked like something that had escaped from a zoo or exotic pet shop – in other words, rather large and bearing distinctive markings. My friend didn’t seem too happy to be sharing her urban garden with this creature. She was lucky: other people have been startled by finding these snakes in their store rooms, garages, basements, and water tanks.

The Horseshoe Whip Snake

While at the vet’s yesterday buying more kidney-diet food for our cat Minstral, we were talking to one of the veterinary nurses about snakes and she told us that Horseshoe Whip Snakes (not native to the island) are increasingly being found on Mallorca – having come onto the island in trees imported from the peninsula.  They seem to be breeding very successfully.

Because of the very hot weather we’ve been having, these snakes have been seeking out cool places, such as garages, store rooms, cellars etc. Only last week, someone found a Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) allegedly measuring two-and-a-half metres in length – although I’ve read that they usually grow to up to a maximum of 1.5 metres.

Coincidentally, it was in Capdepera, back in May, that we saw a few snakes amongst the attractions at the annual medieval market in the northeast Mallorca hilltop town. I’ve no idea what type of snakes were being wrapped around bystanders’ necks but, then, I didn’t get close enough to find out (thank goodness for long lenses).

Man with snake

It’s a wrap!

A little girl discovers that snakes don’t feel slimy.

Snakes at our finca

Our own encounters with snakes at the finca have been few. My first was while weeding in a damp and shady area of our finca that we call Marie’s Garden (after the former owner, who created it). As I moved close to one of the large rocks dotted around here, a snake suddenly darted out from its shelter and slithered away at great speed. It happened so quickly that I didn’t note too many details about its appearance, except that it wasn’t particularly large. It did make me jump though…

Not long afterwards, on another part of our land, I found part of a snake’s skin that had been shed; something I’d never seen before. Rural life has introduced me to many new experiences. Sadly, most of our snake sightings have been roadkill; not everyone is as careful as we are to avoid hitting wildlife that ventures onto the roads.

What to do if you find a Horseshoe Whip Snake

These snakes are not considered dangerous to people. The authorities recommend that you report any findings to COFIB by phoning 971 144 107 and presumably they’ll come and remove them.

©Jan Edwards 2017

Helping stricken wildlife on Mallorca

Some interesting emails have arrived as a result of writing this blog. I have written before about the production company for UK reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, which contacted me to ask if I could ‘arrange’ for a “typical  Mallorcan farmer and a goat” to be available to them while filming on Mallorca. Er, no, sorry.

Pigeon in peril

This weekend I had an enquiry I was happier to tackle. Sue – a British holidaymaker – was staying in Palma Nova, a resort in the southwest of Mallorca, and had encountered a pigeon in trouble. It seemed to have string tightly tied around its foot, which was swollen as a result. Sue had fed the stricken bird by hand but wanted to get help for it. But how?

Photo courtesy of all-free-download.com

Sue spent some time searching the Internet and found my blog about life in rural Mallorca. At some time after midnight, she sent me an email explaining the problem and asking about bird sanctuaries. When I found the email next morning, I realized that I didn’t have an answer.

Thankfully, a quick ‘shout out’ on social media gave me details, which I was able to pass on to Sue. I hope the story had a happy ending…

So… if you find a wildlife creature on Mallorca that needs help, contact the following organization (which is part of the Balearic Government’s department for the environment, agriculture, and fishing):

COFIB – Consorcio para la Recuperación de la Fauna de les Illes Balears – Tel (+34) 971 144 107

Must go; just seen an email arrive from a production company planning to film on Mallorca for an American TV programme … let’s hope no goats are involved.

NOTE:

I’m grateful to those who responded to my plea on social media and, particularly, to Vicki McLeod – who responded almost instantly. Vicki is a brilliant professional photographer on Mallorca and can be reached through Phoenix Media Mallorca.

Text  Jan Edwards ©2017

Tortoise alert in rural Mallorca

Signs of spring are springing up all over Mallorca and, in our neck of the woods, these include sightings of Mediterranean tortoises. We’ve seen quite a few in the past couple of weeks, either plodding across the lane or negotiating their way across our lumpy land.

Mediterranean tortoise, Mallorca

The spring o’clock alarm has raised this one.

These are dangerous times for the sleepy adults that have recently emerged bleary-eyed (I assume) from their winter hibernation. Life can be even more hazardous for the newly born tortoises as they are almost impossible to spot in the undergrowth.

Yesterday our part-time neighbours- and very dear friends – from Yorkshire told us they’d found three baby tortoises in their garden – each no more than the size of a British 50-pence coin. Sadly it’s all too easy not to spot these cute little creatures as they amble around the land; our neighbours fortunately saw their ‘foundlings’ before they came to any harm.

As a follow-up to my last post, if you’re planning to light a bonfire on Mallorca, please check the pile before setting it alight. In fact, if you’re lighting a bonfire anywhere this spring, it’s worth raking gently through the heap first: the heart of a large pile of vegetation makes a cosy winter refuge for hibernating creatures of all types.

©Jan Edwards 2017

Hazards for cats in rural Mallorca

No hunting signThe official shooting season has finished on Mallorca for the time being. The silencing of the guns means our concerns for the safety of our cat clan are lessened. The seven outdoor cats that have  adopted us over the past few years spend quite a few of the daylight hours fairly close to our home – and we can often catch a glimpse of one or more of them snuggled beneath a shrub somewhere in our valley. But their natural prowling instincts kick in after dark and in the winter it is often still dark when the first gunshots are heard.

We’ve often wondered about the hunters’ ability to see what they are trying to aim at during these dark mornings and on those days when fog lingers. And these are the times we worry most about the cats. Thankfully, for the time being, the guns are now silent.

Poorly pusscats

But, of course, there are plenty of other hazards for cats in the countryside – both domestic and feral. One of these is the risk of parasites. The damned things are everywhere and, for this reason, the responsible thing for cat owners to do is take protective measures, which can be in the form of tablets or pipettes. According to our vet, the risk of becoming infested is increased where more than five cats live in close commune.

Now we don’t ‘own’ seven of our cats, but we have taken responsibility for their welfare – since they have made our land their home. We went down the pipette option, as anyone who has ever tried to give even a friendly domestic moggy will understand how difficult it would be to pop a pill down the throat of a semi-feral feline. We do, after all, have plenty of use for our fingers . . .

Precautions may not always work

But even pipettes may not offer 100% protection. Last week two of our cats, little Pip and shy Chico, both fell ill. Chico hadn’t been for food for four days but we had spotted him sitting at the end of the field. We’d taken food down to tempt him but he wouldn’t come near us, disappearing over the stone wall into the next field as we approached.

Chico - back to health and enjoying his family again. He's the one facing the camera.

Chico – back to health and enjoying his family again. He’s the one facing the camera.

Meanwhile Pip also went off her food. Hey, you may say, cats do that from time to time. But not Pip. She’s the first at the door waiting for us to bring out the cat bowls with their food and the one that likes to ‘tidy away’ any food left by the others. She was also rather subdued – another unusual sign – so we took her to the vet’s on Monday; it was the first of a few visits for her last week.

On Friday morning we found Chico sitting in our dining window recess. He seemed so listless that we immediately took him to the vet’s, where he was found to have a low temperature – a dangerous thing for a cat.

"No, I don't take pills, thank you!" But Pip is back in fine form.

“No, I don’t take pills, thank you!” But Pip is back in fine form.

Long story short, after some seven visits in four days to our local vet’s last week, various tests and treatments, and saying adios to several hundred euros, Pip and Chico are now back to good health and eating well again. The cause of all the problems was a type of parasite. So you can never be too sure . . .

Coincidentally, a Katzenworld blog post on the subject of parasites popped into my mailbox last week and as it could be of interest to cat owners anywhere, I’m sharing the link with you here:

http://katzenworld.co.uk/2016/02/06/tips-advice-parasites-your-cat-is-susceptible-to/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer heat in spring on Mallorca

Boats in Porto Cristo at sunset.

Porto Cristo sunset on May 11, 2015.

Spring on rural Mallorca this year has rapidly become summer. We’re reminded that it’s actually still only spring by the singing of the nightingales in the valley throughout the night. Spain – including the Balearic Islands – is experiencing temperatures more common in July and, on the Spanish mainland, it’s set to sizzle up to 40 degrees Celsius by Thursday – when temperatures will be around 15 degrees higher than average for the time of year. Phew.

Although holidaymakers may be loving the hotter-than-average May temperatures, the early heat has had a detrimental effect on our house-and-garden maintenance schedule. It’s too hot to paint the shutters, or do some repairs involving cementing.

Fortunately, between our last visitors and the next ones – my dad and his younger brother, arriving on Thursday – The Boss had time to bushwhack the field. The wild flowers this year were superb, so we left them in all their glory until the heat zapped the last bit of life from them. Then it was time for The Boss to don his safety gear, fire up his bushwhacker, and get to work.

While clearing the field of the long wild grasses he’d cut down, The Boss found a nest of partridge eggs. The parents had not chosen a good location – on the ground at the base of an almond tree – and had subsequently abandoned the nest, which contained 15 cold eggs.

Abandoned ground nest of partridge eggs.

No countryside for young partridges: a nest of abandoned eggs.

We guessed the partridge parents-to-be were probably last year’s young, with little idea about choosing a great place to raise their kids. Although it was sad to see the eggs left behind, it was probably as well, given that we have seven cats that spend a lot of time in that field!

Perhaps Mr and Mrs Partridge knew what they were doing after all . . .

Of birds and beasts in Mallorca’s spring

Living in rural Mallorca and no longer having to commute into a city for work has given us more time and appreciation for the nature that surrounds us. We’re more aware of seasonal changes – and have become just a teeny bit obsessed about noting the ‘firsts’ of each season.

It’s been a good week for ‘firsts’. We went for a walk on Sunday and retraced some of our earlier steps on the Via Verde (or Via Verda as it’s known locally). This ‘green way’ is one of Spain’s network of eco-paths – conversions of disused railway line routes – and connects Manacor with the small town of Artà, in the northeast of Mallorca.

These feet were made for walking

The path opened without a great deal of fanfare in October 2014 and we began 2015 by resolving to walk the full length of some 29 km – in stages – during January. A spell of bad weather meant we didn’t finish until mid-February. But, hey ho, we did it.

Spring wildflowers on Via Verde, Mallorca

Wildflowers in abundance on the Via Verde, near Son Carrio.

Poppies on the Via Verde

Poppies on the Via Verde

The path looked very different on Sunday, with so much greenery around and swathes of wildflowers lining the route. Our latest walk gave us some ornithological sightings that were our ‘firsts’ of the season: a swallow (yes, this early) and a bee-eater.

In the past couple of days we have also seen our first tortoise of the spring, ambling through the undergrowth in an untamed part (one of many) of our land. It was Pip – the newest addition to our family of adopted felines – who discovered the creature, alerted by the rustling sounds from the foliage it was navigating its way through. A tortoise was clearly ‘the very first’ for this relentlessly inquisitive little cat, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it!

Tortie kitten in window

Inquisitive Pip seems to have heard something interesting . . .

Mediterranean tortoise, Mallorca

An early outing for this Mediterranean tortoise

The sighting was good news. Our area is a natural habitat for the Mediterranean tortoise and we’re always pleased to see them surviving. No doubt there will be coin-sized babies soon, which means we have to tread carefully when we’re out on the land.

A cyclist’s surprise

First-time visitors are always surprised to see tortoises roaming freely around. Last autumn we heard a shout from the other side of our gates and opened them to find an English Lycra-clad cyclist with a concerned expression on his face.

“Have you lost a pet tortoise?” he asked, in a broad Mancunian accent, pointing back up the lane. “Only I’ve just seen one up there.”

We explained that the creature he’d seen was a wild Mediterranean tortoise and that sightings were quite common; he beamed in surprise. It reminded us – for the zillionth time – how much we enjoy living  in the Mallorcan countryside, in the midst of nature.

Our next seasonal ‘first’? Who knows? But you can be sure we’ll be as thrilled as we are every season . . .

Read more about the ‘Via Verde’ here in my article recently published in abcMallorca magazine’s spring edition, and online:

http://www.abc-mallorca.com/via-verde/

Manacor’s chicken roundabout

Chickens. I think I’ve previously mentioned my hankering to have a few at our finca in rural Mallorca. I’ve had a thing about chickens since I was a young teenager and we had a family holiday in North Wales, staying in a cottage on a farm. Every time I went outside, chickens would appear all around my feet, and then follow me as I explored the farm. I’ve even chosen a few names for my ‘gals’. . .

In theory, we live in a great place to keep chickens. Our land includes a large open field, where I can imagine these feathered lovelies roaming happily around, pecking at the ground. All we would need would be a safe warm home for them at night. We have no foxes on Mallorca, but we occasionally see polecats – and friends of ours had their flock devastated by one of these. So it would need to be a very secure home.

Besides the sound of contented clucking chickens, and their company when you’re outside, there’d be the benefit of a regular supply of free-range eggs. We’d probably have more than we need (I’m not keen on eating eggs and wouldn’t want The Boss to become egg-bound), but the excess would make useful thank-you gifts for those neighbours who sometimes give us some of their garden produce.

Sense beats sentiment

Alas, it’s not to be. The Boss (who is far more practical than I am) has on several occasions pointed out why keeping chickens wouldn’t be such a good idea. And he’s right on all counts – particularly the one that says free-roaming chickens and our seven feral ‘adoptee’ cats all on one finca could get messy.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

So, I’ve been getting my chicken fix elsewhere. On the busy ring road (the Ferrocarril) in Manacor, there’s a roundabout (Plaza de Madrid) with shrubs in the middle that’s become home to a flock of chickens. They’ve been there for ages – probably more than a year; we usually see them several times a week, and are always on the look-out for the latest flurry of fluffy chicks. These chickens rarely seem to stray away from their roundabout and the traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

"How's our Facebook page doing?"

“How’s our Facebook page doing?”

Manacor’s famous feathered friends

We have often thought they were rather vulnerable in town, with only the shelter of some bushes to protect them. What about passing cats and canines? Sadly, on Saturday, their lack of protection was evident. We spotted four bodies and a lot of scattered feathers on the grass; the rest of the flock had survived whatever had attacked them, but it must have been a terrifying incident for them all.

I imagine we’re not the only ones who were upset to see what had happened: the citizens of Manacor have really taken their feathered neighbours to heart, and people regularly throw food onto the roundabout for them. These clucky birds even have their own Facebook page – Ses Galines de sa rotonda. When I looked just now, 2,876 people had liked it (an increase of more than 30 since I checked last Thursday). And I bet you can guess who one of them was . . .