Amazing numbers of Black Kites!

During the spring migration we get large concentrations of Black Kites, the most abundant migratory raptor in Western Europe, in the Strait of Gibraltar.

This short video from early March, shows impressive numbers of these raptors passing by before continuing their journey to their breeding grounds.

During migration, whenever easterly gales blow in the Strait, hundreds of raptors interrupt their journey and seek shelter on the sloping hillsides of Los Alcornocales Natural Park,  gathering in large communal roosts which do not occur elsewhere in Europe. Preserving this forest and securing the tranquility of the roosts is of paramount importance.

Black Kites roosting and regaining strength after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to resume their northbound migration .This Cork Oak leans sideways due to the effect of locally prevailing easterly winds
Massive number of Black Kites roosting in a Cork Oak

 

 

Birding The Strait in 2017 FIO International Birdfair

Birding The Strait has been present at 2017 FIO International Birdfair in Extremadura. We attended the stand of Andalusia on behalf of the Tarifa Council, participated in a professional workshop with international touroperators and gave a lecture titled “The migration of the Iberian Griffon Vultures to Africa, an overlooked wonder”.

Javi during the lecture

Indeed, the  Griffon Vulture Migration is one of the most genuine experiences we offer and vulture study has constituted an important part of our carriers as field ornithologists in the Strait of Gibraltar and beyond.

During the lecture we reviewed what is known and what remains unknown on this still poorly studied phenomenon and highlighted the spectacularity of immense flocks of griffons crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

One of the pictures included in the lecture, showing the massive concentration of Griffon Vultures in Tarifa during their autumn migration to Africa accros the Strait of Gibraltar.

It was a real honour to share the stage with our good friend Fernando Barrios, pioneer ornithologist and wildlife photographer in the Strait of Gibraltar and author of the reference work “Nomads of the Strait of Gibraltar“. He gave an authoritative lecture on the White-rumped Swift based on the research he conducted in the Strait of Gibraltar during the last decades of the previous century, when this African species colonized the European continent.

An immature Griffon Vulture on migration from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. The lighthouse of Europa Point in Gibraltar is on the Background.

During the rest of this fabulous weekend we took the opportunity to do some birding in the always amazing Monfragüe National Park and the Plains of Caceres around Trujillo, where we easily found the local specialities, including Cinereous Vulture, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Back in Tarifa, the first groups of Griffon Vultures crossing the Strait back from Africa have already been recorded along with thousands of Black Kites, growing numbers of Short-toed Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork.

Black Kites approaching a night roost in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Two very special wintering Ospreys

Adult Osprey overwintering at the Barbate Marshes in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Last 14th of January, the second edition of the Osprey Day was held in Andalusia. This event is promoted and coordinated by Amigos del Águila Pescadora (Friends of the Osprey), and comprises the Wintering Ospreys Count in Andalusia. Remarkably, over 100 observers and 15 entities participated, and Birding The Strait was pleased to be one of them for the second consecutive year.

As shown in the following figure, a total of 160 individuals (137 in 2016) were recorded, showing a marked western distribution. Indeed, nearly 50% of the individuals were found within Cádiz province. Among them, 20 Ospreys have chosen the reservoirs, rivers and the coastline of the Strait of Gibraltar as wintering quarters this year.

Among the later, two individual Ospreys deserve special attention. One of them is an adult Corsican female which we have been delighted to observe and photograph in our region over the last four winters. This bird was fitted with a green colour ring white code CAT and a GPS device in the Mediterranean island by Flavio Monti. This link to Movebanks shows the spectacular migration of CAT over the sea from her breeding site in Corsica to the Strait of Gibraltar in the autumn 2013 and back in the spring 2014 (following a route south of the Balearic Islands).

CAT adult female Corsican Osprey overwintering in the Strait of Gibraltar in winter 2013-14 (top left), 2014-15 (top right), 2015-16 (bottom left) and 2016-17 (botton right).

Coincidentally, CAT has been sharing part of his wintering ground in the Strait of Gibraltr with Beatrice, a very special Osprey that Roy Dennis fitted with a satellite tracking device in 2008 in Scotland. In autumn 2011 Roy Dennis and a team from the BBC Autumnwatch visited the Strait aiming to film Beatrice. Javi, that time working for Fundación Migres, was pleased to be their guide and took them to the river section where the Scottish Osprey was most regularly seen. Sadly, in March 2016 Beatrice died in Northern Spain because she could not catch fish in the swollen rivers caused by a long period of heavy rain. Beatrice has left a huge legacy on which we will write in a future blog post. Likewise, the Osprey migration across the Strait of Gibraltar and the successfully reintroduced breeding population will be future subjects on the Birding The Strait blog. Stay tuned!

CAT carrying fish and showing its GPS device in the Strait of Gibraltar, Winter 2017.

Photographing large Eagles in Andalusia

“Autumn” (July-October) and “Spring” (February-May) are the periods when massive numbers of raptors cross Andalusia on migration to and back from Africa. However, Winter time, when migrant raptors are South of the Sahara, is probably the best momment to enjoy the largest, non migratory and iconic eagles of Spain, namely Golden, Bonelli´s and Spanish Imperial Eagle.

A significant number of juvenile and immature eagles from all over the Iberian Peninsula disperse South and reach Andalusia. Here, they concentrate in regions where food sources are abundant. This is the case of the Bonellí´s Eagle. Indeed, up to 15 (!) different individuals have been recorded simultaneously in La Janda, the Strait of Gibraltar, in previous weeks.

Immature (secong plumage) Bonelli´s Eagle at sunset in La Janda. January 2013.

Adult eagles, released now from the chick rearing duties, get engaged in a new breeding season. This way, in January eagles become notaby showy while performing spectacular aerial courtship displays around their territories. This often leads to aggressive interactions, specially when an intruder enters an active breeding territory.

The following video shows the reaction of a pair of adult Spanish Imperial Eagles when they detect the presence of an immature Golden Eagle within their home range (set it to HD).

Furthermore, over the last winters, an unprecented presence of Lesser and Greatter Spotted Eagles has been recorded in La Janda region. If this were not enough, hybrids between both species have been observed as well, and an adult Steppe Eagle is overwintering in the same area!

A rare first adult Lesser Spotted Eagle, or perhaps a backcross with Greater Spotted Eagle, overwintering in La Janda. January 2017.

Beyond La Janda, we have been recently testing different photography hides in Sierra Morena, Central Andalusia. This has been a very successful experience full of great observations and pictures!  Photographing large Eagles from hides is a perfect addition to our wildlife photography trips and courses in the Strait of Gibraltar.

The following pictures show part of our work . The comfort and reliability of these hides are unquestionable. Feel free to contact Birding The Strait if you want to enjoy this ultimate wildlife photography experience in Andalusia.

Immature Golden Eagle (third plumage) approaching its perch. January 2017
Immature female Golden Eagle feeding on a Rabbit. January 2017.
Adult female Bonelli´s Eagle showing the characteristic white patch on its back. January 2017.

Egyptian Mongoose in full HD

Egyptian Mongoose

It has been traditionally and widely accepted that the Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs during historical times. They were employed to eliminate rodents and reptiles, as in the case of the Genet. However, more recent and sophisticated studies refute this idea, supporting a scenario of sweepstake dispersal from Africa during Late Pleistocene sea-level fluctuations. This way, Egyptian mongoose, unlike Genet, would have naturally colonized the Iberian Peninsula across the Strait of Gibraltar more than 100.000 years ago.

In rural areas of southern Spain some people still confuse the inline mongoose family groups with mysterious and deadly poisonous hairy snakes, often regarded “Alicante”.

Last weekend we had a lot of fun filming a pack of them at the end of a much rewarding Spanish Imperial and Golden Eagle photography session in Sierra Morena.

Griffon Sessions in Tarifa

December marks the end of the Eurasian Griffon migration to Africa in the Strait of Gibraltar. The last flocks of juveniles will sea-cross in days of favourable weather, namely moderate wind with northern component and pristine visibility of the African coastline. In turn, those which after repeated attempts for weeks haven’t succeeded will give up and overwinter in Spain, mostly in the south. Now that approximately 5000 juvenile griffons from 2016 are in Africa, it is the time for adults to begin a new breeding season. In January Griffons are fully engaged in their courtship displays performing spectacular aerobatics, tandem flights, showing of talons, etc. Cadiz province in Andalusia holds over 100 breeding colonies totalling around 2000 breeding pairs, which constitutes one of the main strongholds for the species in Spain and Europe.

Adult Eurasian Griffon close-up.

Throughout the region, there are a number of sites, including public observatories, where patient observers can stay to admire and photograph these masters of the soaring flight, with no disturbance to vulture’s daily lives. This is something we particularly enjoy doing and these pictures give an idea about our first vulture session of the year in Tarifa.

Adult Griffon and the Waxing Gibbous last 7th of Jannuary in single exposure.

This juvenile Rüppell´s Griffon was a bonus to the sesión. Thanks to the pictures we could determine it is the same individual we photographed in a nearby region during a day trip last December.

Long-staying Rüppell´s Griffon in Tarifa a rare age-class among these African vagrants in Europe.