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 . . .

August in rural Mallorca

Someone’s turned up the thermostat. As I write this, at 5pm, it’s 35 degrees Celsius outdoors (I just popped outside to check the thermometer, which is located permanently in the shade – and popped back in very quickly). It’s very quiet out there. In fact, it’s very quiet in rural Mallorca for most of August. During the day, it’s too hot to do much more than head for the beach or stay indoors with the cooling hum of the air conditioner. (We do a lot of the latter, particularly at weekends, when space on the sands is at a premium.)

Having a luxurious thick fur coat, our Birman cat Minstral seems to appreciate the air conditioning. I’m not sure he’d survive without it, unless he had a radical haircut. And I wouldn’t want to be the person to administer that! Our outdoor cats – the adoptees – stay close to the house, but hidden from the sun. If we have to go out in the car, we usually have to wait for one or two cats to drag themselves away from the shade underneath it. Beamer – probably the most intelligent member of our outdoor feline family – likes to curl up on the cool concrete floor in the dependencia, where our logs are stored for the winter. But they never venture far from the water sources we keep topped up, so they can drink when necessary.

We all become a bit livelier in the evenings, when it’s usually blissful to be outside, on one of the terraces. After dinner we often sit until bedtime, chatting, watching the cats, and marvelling at the geckoes on the wall. The latter look like dinosaurs in miniature and have stalking abilities that put our cat collection to shame. It’s fascinating to watch these lively lizards going into slo-mo as they approach an unsuspecting insect (dinner) that’s been attracted to the wall by the outside light.

And that’s what sometimes passes for entertainment on a hot August night in rural Mallorca!

Checking out the evening's menu

Checking out the evening’s menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know it’s spring on Mallorca when . . .

Getting figgy with it

Getting figgy with it

. . . the first of the fig leaves emerge on the trees. Don’t they look like little green butterflies resting for a while?

. . . your shoulders and back ache from all the weeding you thought wouldn’t be necessary after having laid a special membrane to stop weeds growing.

. . . you have to be careful not to tread on a tortoise when walking in the undergrowth.

. . . your arms look and feel like pincushions after trimming all the agaves and sword-like plants.

. . . the birds start checking out nesting sites in the old almond tree in the field (the one the cats like to climb).

. . . the warm sunshine that bathed the island in the final weeks of winter is replaced by grey skies, cool temperatures and drizzle!

 

 

 

Mediterranean menace preparing to march

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

If you go down to the woods today, it’s not a teddy bears’ picnic you’re like to find, but the nest of the processionary caterpillar – at least, if the woods are mainly pine trees. These are the habitat of this crawling Mediterranean menace and these strange almost candyfloss-like nests are where they plot their manoeuvres. At around this time of year, they’re preparing to leave the nest to pupate in the soil and when they do, watch out!

We first saw these on the appropriately named Pine Walk in Puerto Pollensa. We hadn’t a clue what they were then (it was our first spring on the island) but watched in fascination as these hairy striped beasties marched across our path, nose-to-tail (do caterpillars have noses?), like a well-disciplined army corps.

Processionary caterpillars Mallorca

On the march on Puerto Pollensa’s Pine Walk

Keep your pets away

They look like the sort of thing that a small boy would want to collect and keep in a shoebox under his bed. But processionary caterpillars are definitely to be avoided, as their hairs are irritant to humans and potentially dangerous to dogs and other animals. And you don’t even need to come into physical contact with a caterpillar: when under threat, they shed hairs which can be unknowingly ingested.

If you have a dog that has come into contact with these wee beasties, be sure to get it to the vet’s as quickly as possible.

For the time being, dog or no dog, we’ll be giving pine trees a wide berth . . . and joining the teddy bears’ picnic on the beach instead.

©Jan Edwards 2014

The guns fall silent

No hunting sign

Apart from the almond blossom, one of the best things about February on Mallorca is that the hunting season has finished. For a few months now we have a reprieve from the shots that have been our early morning alarm call for a few months. The rabbit and thrush population quite like it too . . .

Here’s lead in your Lycra

There’s a large old finca not far from us that was once dubbed ‘the shooting lodge’. Its owners used to allow hunters to shoot on their land; taxis full of macho gun-toting chaps from Palma would arrive at weekends. Their shots would echo around the valley and sometimes it felt like living in the Wild West. Let loose in the countryside, these urban hunters were seemingly unaware of the restrictions regarding shooting close to other properties and highways. On occasions, we even heard lead shot peppering the roof of our little house; once, a passing cyclist got a little lead in his Lycra . . .

Now that ‘the shooting lodge’ has been refurbished and is used as a weekend home, the Palma hunters no longer visit. The shooting we hear is largely that of our Mallorcan farming neighbours, who continue the tradition of hunting for the cooking pot.

But some of the outsiders who still come are not as careful about their targets. There have been cats shot in our valley – whether intentionally or because these men (I’ve not seen a single woman hunting around here) shoot as soon as they see something moving, I don’t know. When I hear the first shots on one of the days when hunting is allowed, I pray that all our outdoor cats will be safe.

The return of Nibbles

Around seven weeks ago one of our cats disappeared. Nibbles has always been an affectionate cat but also inclined to go off for a day or two. We thought he’d return as usual – with an enormous appetite for food and a cuddle. But the days rolled by, and turned into weeks. The Boss and I told ourselves that he had simply decided to move on; we couldn’t bear to consider that anything bad might have befallen him.

On Saturday evening we had a jaw-dropping surprise: Nibbles was waiting outside the door for dinner, along with his siblings. He was welcomed back by the other cats like the prodigal son returning with a Euromillions lottery win. They weren’t the only ones pleased to have him home.

Home sweet home for Nibbles - reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

Home sweet home for Nibbles – reclining on our old stone oven outdoors

With the hunting season over, outdoor cats are now safe from this particular hazard. Just the others to worry about now . . .

Come into my parlour? said the spider to the fly

Living in rural Mallorca we see plenty of wildlife around the place, so I have become used to sharing space with a variety of creatures, including woodlice, millipedes, mosquitoes, geckos, ants (which have been a particular nuisance this year), and even locusts.

Surprisingly though we don’t see many spiders – despite the obvious presence of extensive and sometimes intricate webs suspended in or between plants in our Mediterranean garden. So we were fascinated to see this one, enjoying the early morning sunshine.

A resident - thankfully, only in the garden

A resident – thankfully, only in the garden

It’s a beautiful specimen, but I wouldn’t want it in my parlour . . .

 

 

Wildfire – the most feared hazard of rural life

Living in rural Mallorca is wonderful, but country life has its hazards. And the most terrifying of these is wildfire. During the island’s long hot summers these fires occur far more often than they should, causing serious environmental damage and endangering the lives of firefighters as well as the people, animals, and property in their path. Last year there were more than 80 such fires on Mallorca – some started deliberately.

Airborne aid

A few years ago we had first-hand experience of the frightening unpredictability of fire, when a blaze ripped through our valley. A neighbour (a local, who must have known about the illegality of bonfires in the summer) had been burning some garden rubbish, and believed the fire was extinguished when he left it. However, the fire had travelled through the roots of wild olive and re-ignited, spreading quickly onto our land.

It was a very dramatic day, with a helicopter scooping up water from neighbouring swimming pools and water tanks to dowse the erratic flames (fortunately not too close to the house). We were extremely grateful – and in awe of – the airborne and ground firefighters who extinguished the blaze.

But the fire in our valley was but a spark compared to the one that’s devastated almost 2,000 hectares of forested mountain terrain on Mallorca – the worst wildfire here for some two decades. The fire broke out last Friday at around lunchtime (the result of human carelessness) and, only today, has it been reported as being finally under control.

Help from the mainland

It affected three municipalities in the southwest of the island – Andratx, Estellencs, and Calvia – and more than 700 people had to evacuate their homes because they were at risk. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from the Spanish mainland to assist the teams here, along with members of the military emergency unit, UME. Seaside holidaymakers – not in any danger from the blaze – watched in amazement from beaches in some of the southwest resorts, as firefighting planes and helicopters scooped water from the Mediterranean in front of them.

Thousands of amateur photos must have been captured and emailed by holidaymakers, but here’s one of a number taken over the past few days by Warwick Upton, a respected professional photographer on Mallorca.  www.warwickupton-photography.co.uk

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

And for a chilling account of how it feels to be so close to a raging wildfire, here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend and fellow blogger/journalist Vicki McLeod.

http://familymattersmallorca.com/2013/07/29/our-nit-de-foc/