Although the last Black Kites, Honey Buzzards and Shot-toed Eagles were seen in northbound migration from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar just a couple of weeks ago; and flocks of returning Griffon Vultures are still on the move…Over the last week, the first significant kettles of White Storks and Black Kites are gathering in increasing numbers around Tarifa on their way South to overwinter in Africa!
The greatest wildlife show in Europe has begun!
The second half of July and August is an excellent period to admire the massive movement of Black Kites and White Storks in the Strait of Gibraltar. Join us in a day trip if you want to enjoy this experience!
As an extension to a Western Andalusia birding trip last May, we guided a 10-day tailor-made birding trip to Morocco. The fairly demanding list of targets required “the grand tour”, from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Sahara, including the steppes, the Atlantic coast and the High Atlas; in other words, the best Moroccan birding experience.
This way, on the 23rd of May we took the 09:00 a.m. ferry in Tarifa, arriving to Tangier one hour later and with our 4×4 waiting for us. We first visited the medina of Tangier and met our first target, the local population of House Bunting. Next we moved to the charming coastal village of Asilah where we had an excellent meal before reaching the Lower Loukos river. The marshes where dry and we struggled to find a single Brown-throated Martin beautifully perched in the reeds with Barn Swallows. This is a very early breeding species and the hundreds of birds we usually find here in our visits in March and April had already left the area. Next we embarked on a boat to explore the Merja Zerga Lagoon. Here, among Audouin´s and Slender-billed Gulls, Little, Sandwich and Caspian Terns we came through a striking Lesser Crested Tern. May is the most reliable period to find this scarce species, as they move to their breeding colony in Libya. Back in firm land we patiently waited until dusk to approach a farmland where the endangered Marsh Owl hunts at dusk. As we stepped out of the car, and despite the poor light, a perched owl showed memorably well. We need to stress that approaching the edges of the marshes where this endangered species nests must be avoided during the breeding period.
We started the second day visiting the always rewarding Sidi Boughaba Lagoon in Kenitra. The Maghreb Magpie was the first speciality we found. Large family groups of Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot filled the edges of the reedbed. We spent the afternoon in the forest of Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas observing Atlas Flycatchers but we struggled to get good views of the Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker. While looking for the later we came upon a nest of the so-called Maghreb Wood Owl, the NW African subspecies of the Tawny Owl, which some authors suggest as a separate species. The famous Dayet Aoua Lagoon had very little water, where numerous Black-necked Grebes attended their nests. Not far, we found the first Seebohm´s Wheatear of the trip and an eye-catching EuropeanRoller.
We started the third day with a walk in the broadleaf forest in search of more Atlas Flycatchers,which additionally produced Western Olivaceous Warbler, Hawfinch, African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit, Short-toed Treecreper and Long-legged Buzzard.After the mandatory stop to observe the Barbary Macaques in Azrou, we drove our 4×4 off the beaten track into the ancient Cedar forest and got great views of a female Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker. We had a tasty tajin for lunch and resumed our way South with strategic stops to observe Seebohm´s Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Chough, Lesser Kestrel, Ruddy Shelduck, Moussier´s Redstart and riggenbachi and ruficolor type Crested and Thekla Larks, respectively. We reached our hotel in Midelt by mid afternoon and had some rest before visiting the Zaida steppes. Despite the amplitude of the landscape a single Lesser Short-toed Lark and a distant falcon chasing a group of Cream-coloured Coursers were the only birds we found. Far from giving up, we kept our search and our effort was rewarded with lengthy views of two Dupont´s Larks!
Next morning we visited the same spot and we connected with these elusive larks again. Indeed, we realized it was an adult feeding its fledging! Fully satisfied we hit the road towards the desert. A Spiny-tailed Lizard was an additional highlight. Moroccan White Wagtail, Blue RockThrush, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Desert Lark, Black Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear were some of the species we enjoyed before going for a walk into the impressive palm grove at Ziz River, south of Errachidia. Both the quantity and diversity of birds sheltered in this oasis were astonishing, and included European Turtle and Laughing Dove, African Reed Warbler, Saharan Olivaceous Warbler, Nightingale, Moussier’s Redstart and Rufous Bush Robin. Once in Rissani we got excellent views of a pair of Lanners and a Red Fox, but missed the Pharaoh Eagle Owl… Soon after we reached the spectacular sand dunes of the Sahara in Merzouga. Here we had a warm welcome to our Hotel, a nice dinner and a well deserved night sleep.
Next morning, 27th of May, we admired the very first beams of light in the desert. Thanks to a well studied route we chained excellent views of an array of desert specialities, namely Desert Sparrow, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Warbler, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Fulvous Bablers and a superb Fennec! However, the biggest spectacle was yet to come as we approached a tiny water hole where hundreds of Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouses gathered for drinking. Next, we visited the isolated farm of Moubarak, a man of the desert who had kindly located an Egyptian Nightjar for us!
Fully satisfied we returned to the hotel to avoid the high temperatures of the central part of the day. Late in the afternoon we returned to the Rissani area and, yes! this time we got excellent views of a Pharaoh Eagle Owl. What a stunner!
Adult female Spotted Sandgrouse offering unbeatable views. Er Chebbi, 27th May 2017.
Next morning we headed west and rather easily located two highly sought after species: Streaked ScrubWarbler and Maghreb Weathear! We then had a relaxed visit to an ancient Kasbah in the exotic Ouarzazate and the impressive Todra Gorges before reaching Boumalne Dades by mid afternoon. Here we found another Pharaoh Eagle Owl and a waterhole with numerous Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Lark, Desert Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch and Thick-billed Lark.
Early next morning we revisited the water hole and found over 20 Black-bellied Sandgrouses, our last species to get the poker of sandgrouses! We then continued towards the Atlantic coast with two successful detours to observe Barbary Falcon and a family group of Maghreb Wheatears. Next morning we visited Tamri National Park. Here we photographed several Southern Grey Shrikes of the algeriensis subspecies, notably paler than the elegans type we had seen in the desert. A group of over 20 Cream-colored Coursers in a sandy slope was a nice surprise and we had a fascinating encounter with the global threatened Northern Bald Ibis, the most iconic species in the region. We then crossed the extensive Argan forest and visited a local cooperative of women including argan oil, honey and hamlou tasting.
Once in Essaouira we stopped at the river mouth where Eleonora´s Falcons of different color morphs were numerous. Despite the gale, we got close-up views of two falcons having a bath and very much enjoyed photographing them. We then checked in to a charming ryad and had an excellent dinner in the tranquil medina of Essaouira.
On the 31st of May, our last day of birding, we visited Oukaimeden in the High Atlas searching for mountain species. Ascending the mountain road we came through Barbary Falcon, Rock Bunting, Seebohm´s Wheatear, Chough, Alpine Chough and we heard several Quails. We passed Oukaimeden and kept driving and hiking on the breathtaking Tizi-n´Ouadi (2950 m). As soon as we reached the mountain pass we got excellent views of several Shore Larks, Mousier´s Redstart, Black Redstart and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. Equally noticeable were the views of the snow-capped Jebel Toubkal (4167m), the summit of North Africa. Suddenly, two African Crimson-winged Finches showed up. We still wanted to get better views of this moroccan highlight but a menacing storm pushed us back to the car. On our way to Marrakech we made a last stop and got close views of an obliging Tristram´s Warbler, the last target of the trip!
We celebrated the end of a very successful tour with a visit to the mythic Jemaa El-Fna Square and an excellent dinner in Marrakech, including a toast for the nemesis of the trip, the Barbary Partridge!!
Since last summer Birding The Strait has been working on a project for the Nature Agency, at the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark. The project consists on providing video material of the migration of birds in the Strait, which now takes part of the exhibition at a new visitor center in Skagen.
This new visitor center is located at Skagen Grey Lighthouse, which is Denmark’s second-tallest at 46 meters and was built in 1858. The exhibition offers visitors a virtual journey offering a high quality digital contents and the latest bird migration news, following the birds on their migratory routes through Europe.
The center was inaugurated last May and we were invited to the opening. Yeray had the opportunity to experience the exhibition in person, which begins with a spectacular combination of screens creating an immersive experience, perfectly summing up the crossing of birds from Africa to Denmark, flying through Andalusia and all of Western Europe. The expectations for the new bird center are great, with estimations of about 50.000 visitors per year from all over the world.
The opening took place at the same time of the Skagen Bird Festival, which counted with the presence of some of the most prominent European ornithologists, such as Lars Svensson and Dick Forsman, who gave two excellent lectures about their work. The festival was very well attended, as Skagen is one the best migration hotspot in the country, and May is the best time to enjoy it.
In the video below you can see a selection of the images from the Strait of Gibraltar that have been provided to the Skagen project so far. This is an ongoing project and we are working to further capture the essence of bird migration in the region.
We want to thank the Nature Agency, and particularly Mr Jacob Funder, who is primarily responsible for our involvement in this great project, for the opportunity to show the world the natural wonders of Tarifa, Cádiz and the Strait of Gibraltar!
We are backing a conservation project to save the Montagu’s Harrier in La Janda, in the Strait of Gibraltar. As some of you know, the numbers of Montagu’s Harriers in the region have plummeted dramatically, mainly due to change in agricultural practices and habitat destruction.
Our friends from the association Tumbabuey are working hard to preserve the population of Harriers and make it grow in the long term, with combined actions that include sustainable farming that favor the species.
If you want to contribute to this good cause it’s really easy, just follow this link to go to the crowdfunding website. There are nice rewards for those who contribute, but most importantly, you will be a fundamental part of this project!
We encourage all our friends to participate and help these magnificent raptors!
In Birding The Strait we feel an special attraction for the landscapes and wildlife of the Canarian Archipielago. Indeed, this is one of our preferred destinations when not birding in Tarifa.
In early April we have been pleased to design and guide a tailor made birding trip combining Tenerife (3 days) and Fuerteventura (4 days) with an evident target: observing and photographing the local endemics and specialities. We have beautifully meet all our targets, including some bonus in the form of 5 striking Red-billed Tropicbirds off Fuerteventura!
This is a selection of our best shots:
In perfect timing with this tour, the April 2017 issue of British Birds published a paper on the identification of the Buzzards in the Canary Islands on which we have contributed as co-aouthors and photographers.
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.