Bird Migration Videos in the Strait of Gibraltar – Part I

Short-toed Eagle crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, by Javi Elorriaga
Short-toed Eagle crossing the Strait of Gibraltar

Today we release in our Youtube channel the first of a series of bird migration videos in the Strait of Gibraltar. We have filmed these videos over the last three years around Tarifa. This is part of a collaboration project with the Nature Agency at the Ministry of Environment of Denmark . These videos make part of the exhibition on bird migration at the Skagen Grey Lighthouse information center (Denmark).

The Strait: a major migration bottleneck

The Strait of Gibraltar is the most important bottleneck in the flyway of the Short-toed Eagle between Europe and Africa. This video shows striking images of eagles in active migration across the Strait. The footage stresses the vital challenge that sea-crossing represents for soaring migrants (enable subtitles).

During 2019 we will upload new videos of this series to our Youtube channel, Stay tuned!

The Empire of the Eagle and Águila de Bonelli: Book review

Review of Empire of the Eagle and Águila de Bonelli
Review of Empire of the Eagle and Águila de Bonelli

There’s no denying, at Birding The Strait we are passionate about Eagles. We love seeking for them, photographing them and simply observing them in the wild. We are also wildlife photography and bird books enthusiasts. Indeed, this is one of our main sources of expenditure! So, we were excited to see two new books coming out last month: ‘The Empire of the Eagle’ by Mike Unwin and David Tippling, and ‘Águila de Bonelli (Bonelli’s Eagle)’ by Tony Peral.

Both have a special meaning for us. We contributed with a few pictures for the book ‘The Empire of the Eagle’ and we were looking forward to seeing them on print. On the other hand, ‘Águila de Bonelli’ has been created, edited and published by a friend of us, the photographer and naturalist, Tony Peral.

Review of ‘Águila de Bonelli’

Packaging of 'Águila de Bonelli' by Tony Peral
Packaging of ‘Águila de Bonelli’ by Tony Peral

You know you are in front of a special book the moment the package with ‘Águila de Bonelli’ is being delivered. The amazing packaging with a Bonelli’s Eagle printed on the box and the wax seal, is really unique and classy. Some would compare the experience to the one you get when purchasing a limited edition vinyl. From the moment you untie the strings and open the box, you are on a trip to the land of the Bonelli’s Eagles.

Cover of 'Águila de Bonelli' by Tony Peral
Cover of ‘Águila de Bonelli’ by Tony Peral

The cover shows an adult female in flight. She is missing one of her tail feathers, which does nothing but improve the visual impact of the photography. It’s truly a statement of intents. The author, Tony Peral, provides further insight on the magnitude of his work stating in the introduction that he stopped counting the hours spent in his hide after 3000!

Good and authoritative texts

The book begins with six concise and well written chapters by Jose María Gil Sánchez and consists on an updated review of the biology and conservation of the species. English-speakers, don’t get distracted by the title, this book has been translated into English. However, the photographies, which are the most important part of the book are universal.

A festival of Bonelli’s eagles’ photos

From there, as the prestigious Markus Varesvuo says in the prologue, comes a true festival of almost 100 photos, all of them of superb quality. The first, a double-page image, shows a subadult Bonelli’s Eagle right in the moment she is catching a Red-legged Partridge. Next page, an adult folds its wings to dive directing its gaze on you!

Every single photo on 'Águila de Bonelli' is fantastic
Every single photo on ‘Águila de Bonelli’ is fantastic

Not a single photo in the book is a filler, none is redundant, and none seems to be done in a known set or hide. Moreover, some photos in this book show scenes of Bonelli’s eagles very rarely seen before. This is one of those books that, if a child happens to find, it is very likely that he will want to be a wildlife photographer.

Many pictures in the book depict the aerial maneuvers and interactions of the Bonelli's eagles
Many pictures in the book depict the aerial maneuvers and interactions of the Bonelli’s eagles

We believe it’s important to note that the FSC certificate guarantees that all the materials used for the production of the book come from sustainable, eco-friendly sources. You can get your copy of ‘Águila de Bonelli’ following this link.

Review of ‘The Empire of the Eagle’

Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle chapter. This picture was taken in Belize by Yeray Seminario while doing field work on the Orange-breasted Falcon project
Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle chapter. This picture was taken in Belize by Yeray Seminario while doing field work with the Orange-breasted Falcon project

‘Empire of the Eagle’ is a compilation of texts and photographs of all the species of eagles in the worldby Mike Unwin, with selected photographies, curated by a renowned photographer: David Tipling .

This is a hardcover book with a clear emphasis on the photography side. Indeed, the introduction describes the book as “a photographic celebration of all the world’s eagles”. Sixty-eight species are treated throughout its 288 pages and distributed in five main sections: ‘Hunters of the Uplands’, ‘Predators of the Plains’, ‘Assasins of the Woodlands’, ‘Raptors of the Rainforest’ and ‘Wings over the Water’. Hence, unlike most of the books that treat groups of different species, the eagles are ordered by habitat, and not in taxonomic or alphabetic order.

Great summaries of  each raptor species

First, we find a brief Introduction section that deals with the personal attachment of the author to eagles. The authors also talk about the relevance of eagles in culture and history, its biology and conservation challenges.

The texts contain information about the natural history of each species, following a similar structure in all the cases. They include references to scientific research and anecdotic information, all written on an easy-reading, colloquial way. In any case, they are well documented, and deal with some very specific information. They occasionally include recent research results, adding to the overall value of the book. We can safely define the texts as brief summary introductions on each species.

An excellent compilation of eagle images

Western Banded Snake-Eagle by Yeray Seminario. This photography was taken from a boat in the Gambia River, Senegal
Western Banded Snake-Eagle by Yeray Seminario. This photography was taken from a boat on the Gambia River, Senegal

The quality of most images on the book is excellent. Also, the printing quality is what you would expect on a high-profile photography book. We noticed how some of the rarest species lack a spectacular image to depict the bird. There are probably not many photographies of some of these rare species out there! These pictures are an important testimony to how little we know about some eagle species in the world.

You can find a link to buy ‘The Empire of the Eagle’ here.

Which one we recommend?

We eagerly recommend both “Empire of the Eagle” and “Águila de Bonelli”. They are great books for anyone keen on wildlife. Specially, for those who are passionate about one of the most majestic groups of animals: the birds of prey. With christmas just around the corner, these remarkable books are a perfect gift!

Birding Northern Morocco: Trip Report

We recently finished a Birding Northern Morocco trip and just uploaded the trip report. You can find it here. It contains a full description of the itinerary, with pictures taken during the trip. It also has an annotated list of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects! On this post we mention some of the highlights of this trip.

Eleonora's Falcon seen during a Birding Northern Morocco trip - by Yeray Seminario
Juvenile Eleonora’s Falcon flying near the breeding colony during our Birding Northern Morocco trip

Birding Northern Morocco highlights

  • We found one of the targets, and in good numbers, almost right out of the plane. Seeing up to 11 African Royal Terns, a species recently split from the American Royal Tern, was certainly a highlight.
  • We got phenomenal views of one of the main targets of the trip: the Lanner Falcon. We had two adult Lanner Falcons at pleasure in our scopes, and also got great views of the birds in flight. That same morning we saw 2 Great Bustards from the last surviving population in Africa.
  • Seeing up to nine Marsh Owls at dusk near the Merja Zerga Lagoon was certainly one of the best moments of the tour.
  • The boat trip at Merja Zerga lagoon and the visit to a Eleonora’s Falcon colony provided excellent views and photography opportunities.
  • The Zaër Forest was productive after some work. We ended up seeing our three targets on site: Barbary Partridge, Double-spurred Francolin and Black-crowned Tchagra.
  • The visit to the old Roman city of Volubilis was a welcome addition to the trip.
  • A couple of Levaillant’s Woodpeckers provided some of the best experiences of the trip at Dayet Aoua.
  • We heard and saw the recently split Maghreb Wood Owl, closely related to the Tawny Owl. You can hear a recording of this bird here.
  • The Zaida Plains provided a welcome change of scenery. Here we found some desert specialties including one of our main targets: the Dupont’s Lark.

The most remarkable highlight of the Birding Northern Morocco trip was hitting all the targets while having a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. And let’s not forget the abundant and good food! This all made for a great trip to some of the most unexplored sites of Morocco.

You can find more information about birding in the region on these posts:

Contact us if you are interested on a Birding Trip to Morocco!

Glossy Ibis, the Andalusian Phoenix

A murmuration of starlings, a murder of crows, a confusion of chiffchaffs, a prayer of godwits, a committee of vultures…what about the Glossy Ibis?

Adult Glossy Ibis breeding in La Janda, the Strait of Gibraltar. Spring 2018. Yeray Seminario / Birding The Strait
Adult Glossy Ibis breeding in La Janda, the Strait of Gibraltar.

Glossy Ibis Galore

Once upon a recent time a Glossy Ibis in Andalusia was a celebrated finding.

The species declined to extinction as a breeding species in Spain during the 20th Century. Then, it was recorded sporadically during the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Thereafter observation became more frequent and 7 pairs nested in Doñana in 1996 (De Juana & Garcia 2015). Nowadays, the breeding population in Doñana does notably exceed 10.000 pairs. Moreover, the number of individuals gathering at communal roosts when the mud driving (aka fangueo) takes place is hard to believe!

Testimony to this is the following video recorded at dawn in early October 2018. Thousands of Glossy Ibises leave their night roost in the rice paddies at the margins of Guadalquivir River. Do you dare to give an estimate on the number of individuals?

Now consider that the above video shows less than 25% of the total birds seen leaving the roost! Might this be the biggest group ever recorded?

A Winner

The Glossy Ibis is a “winner species” that thrive in human altered landscapes (i.e. rice paddies; but see McKinney & Lockwood 1999). Indeed, its range expansion in the Old World and North America has few precedents in the avian world.

Blackish at the distance, only at close range the Glossy Ibis shows its real color. Javi Elorriaga / Birding The Strait
Blackish at the distance, only at close range the Glossy Ibis shows its real color.

In the Straif of Gibraltar, the species used to breed in the former Lagoon of La Janda in the XIX Century. Following its amazing and recent expansion,  a growing number of Glossy Ibises nest again in the area since 2012.

Take a look to the  the eBird data  for the most complete information on the current world distribution of the Glossy Ibis.

 

Pelagic Birding Cadiz, welcome aboard!

The Cory´s Shearwater is one of the most abundant seabirds off Cadiz - by Javi Elorriaga
The Cory’s Shearwater is one of the most abundant seabirds off Cádiz. August 2018.

Pelagic birding in Cadiz receives little attention. To a large extent this has been eclipsed by raptor migration and whalewatching. Only in recent years, local birders have started to organize especially dedicated pelagic birding trips in the Gulf of Cadiz. Remarkably, these have shown to be highly satisfactory and increasingly popular! For this reason, in Birding The Strait we feel it is the right time to include it on our list of top birding experiences and organize Pelagic Birding Cadiz Trips.

Why in the Gulf of Cádiz?

The Gulf of Cadiz is an important site for migrating and wintering seabirds. Nonetheless, a significant part of it has been included within Birdlife’s Marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (Marine IBA) inventory.

The Great Shearwater is a scarce species in the Gulf of Cádiz which very rarely approaches the coast. August 2018. By Javi Elorriaga.
The Great Shearwater is a scarce species in the Gulf of Cádiz which very rarely approaches the coast. August 2018.

The number of days with calm wind and flat sea in the Gulf is significantly larger than in the Strait of Gibralar, for instance. Moreover, marine traffic and sea currents are much more reduced here. Above all, the Gulf of Cadiz is the most important feeding area for seabirds in the region. This way, we can affirm that when it comes to pelagic birding The Gulf of Cadiz is the place.

Some of the most representative species include notable concentrations of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater, Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwater, Great, Arctic and Pomarine Skua, Northern Gannet, European Storm-Petrel, Common and Sandwich Tern, Audouin’s Gull, etc.

Great Skua in the Gulf of Cadiz. August 2018. By Alex Colorado.
Great Skua in the Gulf of Cadiz. August 2018.

However, the most sough-after seabirds are those that rarely approach the coast: Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Sabine’s Gull. Thanks to the recently increased pelagic birding efforts in Cadiz, the records of these “rare” species are rapidly growing.

The Sabine´s Gull is a rare and highly sought-after species in Southern Spain. Gulf of Cádiz, October 2014. By Javi Elorriaga.
The Sabine’s Gull is a rare and highly sought-after species in Southern Spain. Gulf of Cádiz, October 2012.

Certainly, there is still a lot to learn and discover in terms of pelagic birding in Cadiz and this is always a good moment to expect the unexpected!

Chumming, the dirty work

Chumming refers to the use of discarded fish parts to attract seabird and facilitate lengthy views. Much has been wrote on the best strategy for “chumming” in pelagic birding. It should be considered a science on its own, indeed!

The Wilson Storm Petrel is an scarce species in Cadiz, which is easily attracted using chum in summer months. Gulf of Cadiz, August 2018. By Javi Elorriaga.
The Wilson Storm Petrel is an scarce species in Cadiz, which is easily attracted using chum in summer months. Gulf of Cadiz, August 2018.

Back in 2012 and 2013 we guided several pelagic trips off Tarifa with SEO/Birdlife. The use of chumming proved effective to attract the otherwise highly overlooked Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. More recently, we have joined pelagic birding excursions in the Gulf of Cadiz. Here, different techniques of chumming have played the key role in attracting Shearwaters, Terns, Petrels, Gannets and Skuas.

Gannets are always impressive when observed at close range. Easy to see in Pelagic Birding Cadiz Trips. Gulf of Cádiz, August 2018. By Javi Elorriaga.
Gannets are always impressive when observed at close range. Gulf of Cádiz, August 2018.

Pelagic Birding Cadiz Trips: join us next October

October is an excellent time for pelagic birding in Cadiz. Many of the locally wintering species will have already reached the Gulf of Cadiz, while a big number of migrants will cross it on their way to their Atlantic wintering quarters.

Sooty Shearwater, a scarce species in the Gulf of Cadiz. August 2018. By Alex Colorado
Sooty Shearwater, a scarce species in the Gulf of Cadiz. August 2018.

A regular pelagic birding trip in the Gulf of Cadiz lasts approximately 5 hours for a round trip of 25 miles. We will be using a very comfortable boat with capacity for 12 people including the crew.

If you are interested in joining us in our Pelagic Birding Cadiz Trip next October, contact us and we will keep you updated with dates and further details.

… and don’t worry, we will be in charge of the chumming!