MALLORCA is a popular holiday destination thanks to its warm climate and rugged coastline. What many don’t realise is it is also a mecca for birdlife.

Situated 150 miles off the east coast of Spain, in the western Mediterranean; the island acts as a key stop for birds during their migration from Africa to Europe.

It also provides overwintering grounds for thousands of different species and has an impressive resident bird list.

I’ve been going there for three years now and have identified the best places to see birds. Top of my list is S’Albufera de Mallorca.

This beautiful reserve spans 16,468 hectares and is the largest wetland area in the Balearic Islands. Internationally protected, this complex of reed beds and lagoons is an avian oasis in an otherwise arid island.

On my most recent visit, I got a special permit which allowed me to enter the park before dawn. I woke up early and cycled into the heart of the reserve as the stars still twinkled overhead.

I wasn’t expecting Mallorca to be so cold! It was mid-February and the temperature was a shivering 3°C with a frost on the ground.

I quickly took refuge in one of many wooden hides dotted around the reserve. I opened the shutters to see the sunrise, its orange glow reflected in the lagoon, was framed before me.

The mountains remained black in stark contrast and hundreds of birds were silhouetted in the water. I recognised most from their calls; the soft plinking of teal and the unmistakable ‘pee-wit’ call of a lapwing.

As the sun began to peek over the mountains, a rather optimistic cormorant tried to dry out its feathers; splaying its wings like a crucifix.

Close by a group of dainty black-winged stilts stood on one leg in the shallows, gradually rousing themselves for the day.

One by one they started preening and feeding. Nearby were equally graceful avocets.

I couldn’t believe I had this stunningly tranquil place all to myself.

Then, quite suddenly, the peace was shattered by the raucous call of a bird I didn’t recognise.

Two chicken-sized coots with huge over-sized feet came marching across the shallows.

These were western swamphens.

Every so often they would stop and begin pulling up reed stems with their powerful bills and grasping them with their feet to peck off the tender shoots.

I expect these birds were responsible for keeping the shallows free from reeds. Shortly afterwards a third swamphen appeared. After much posturing and calling, there was a frenzied clash and the interloper was swiftly evicted. Peace was restored. But it didn’t last for long.

A marsh harrier appeared. It flew over the water and reed beds trying to spot any unwary prey. The birds quickly scattered. The teal and shovelers were the first birds in the air. They were followed by the waders: avocets, stilts, and lapwings.

Each species flew away in formations of their own kind. It was an impressive sight as all the birds took this swift evasive action.

That is apart from the swamphens. They continued feeding; barely looking up. It would take more than a harrier to fluster them.

Then I spotted a snipe close to the hide. It was frozen motionless, waiting for the danger to pass.

I thought I had now seen the best of the sunrise so I went to another hide where the sun was behind me. I opened the shutters and was greeted by an equally impressive sight: this time of shovelers, egrets, herons, cormorants and plovers.

Suddenly I saw a flash of blue. A kingfisher landed on a twig at the water’s edge. Its eyes peered down at the water momentarily and then it plunged in. A split second later it was back on its perch. It had missed its catch.

But in no time at all it had relocated its prey and dived again. This time it was on target and returned with a fish, striking it on the branch before swallowing it whole, head first. I watched it fishing for nearly an hour as it tried out different perches around the lagoon.

I spent the rest of the day in this hide just sitting, watching and listening. There were moments of calm tranquillity and moments of high drama as the marsh harriers passed overhead.

The sheer numbers of birds and range of species was awe-inspiring: there were cranes in the distance, ospreys flying overhead, booted eagles riding the thermals and even peregrines bombing by.

Mallorca truly is a land of magical wildlife surprises.