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.

Year in Review: Highlights of 2016

2016 has been a great year for Birding The Strait. Here we review some of our best moments of birding and the milestones in our work as bird guides in Tarifa, Andalusia and Morocco. We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to all the many great people we have had the chance to meet in these twelve months!

We started our birding year in the best possible way: a morning visit to La Janda where 2018 Cranes offered a great show. We made a special effort to document the unprecedented winter presence of several presumed hybrid Spotted Eagles. The resulting information was published by the British website Birdguides.

One of the pressumed hybrid Lesser x Greatter Spotted Eagles overwintering in La Janda in 2016. Juvenile.

In early February we participated in the World Wetlands Day with “Laguna de La Janda Friends Association” giving a lecture on the interest of La Janda for the local development of ecotourism. The achievement of a legal figure of protection in conformity with the natural values of La Janda, along with the restoration of lost natural areas, is one of the most ambitious purposes for Birding The Strait and we fully support this association, of which we are active members.

A few days later we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa for the first time in 2016. We where invited by Dakhla Attitude Hotel to a Fam-Trip in one of the hottest birding spots within the Western Palearctic: the Bay of Dakhla and the Aousserd region in the Atlantic Sahara. We had nine unforgettable days of scouting, birding and wildlife photography filled with highlights, which we summarized in this trip report.

The Cricket Warbler is a restless and small bird restricted to the Sahel and Western Sahara regions
Cricket Longtail at Oued Jenna, Aousserd region. No doubt, one of the highlights in our scouting trip to Dakhla and the Atlantic Sahara.

During the spring, we ran five birding tours to Morocco, three of them in combination with Andalusia, totalling over 30 days of birding in the neighbouring country. We visited the foremost birding sites in the Atlantic Coast, the Riff Mountains, the high Atlas, and the Sahara Desert. Among the many highlights we will never forget the courtship display of a male Great Bustard in one of the, sadly, very last leks for this species in Africa, a shelf-found Pharaoh Eagle Owl and a pod of 10 Orcas in Cap Rhir, to name only a few!

We enjoyed this obliging Pharaoh Eagle Owl in two consecutive tours to Morocco.

In April we were awarded with a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor thanks to the great reviews we got from our clients in 2015. This same month, we celebrated the release of eBird España, the regional eBird portal in Spain. This is a project on which Birding The Strait has been deeply committed from the very beginning. Indeed, as part of our responsible business policy, we systematically upload to eBird all the ornithological information generated during our day trips and tours in Spain, Morocco and beyond. Moreover, we are reviewers of eBird in Andalusia. We believe this is an excellent way to keep an agile database of our records and at the same time contribute to research and conservation projects resulting from eBird’s big data. In June, Steve Kelling from Team eBird/Cornell Lab of Ornithology paid a visit to Tarifa, and we also participated in the first meeting of eBird España in Pamplona, Navarra.

Birding The Strait eBird España

Another conservation initiative we are particularly satisfied to have contributed to, is the successful crowdfunding for Montagu´s Harriers in La Janda coordinated by Tumbabuey Ornithological Group. In Birding The Strait, we want to thank our clients, whose trust in our guiding services enabled us to donate in this campaign.

During summer we ran several private boat trips off Tarifa for small groups to photograph pods of Orcas that concentrate in the Strait to predate on migratory Bluefin Tuna. This provided memorable moments like the observation of 20 different individuals in a single excursion.

A male Orca and the dune of Bolonia (Tarifa) in the background, as seen during one of our private boat trips off Tarifa in 2016.

In august we took part in the British Bird Fair for the fourth consecutive year. This time we attended the stand of Andalusia with 14KM association in behalf of the Tourism Board of Tarifa to promote our region as a world-class birding destination.

The favorable weather in September made unleashed one of the best raptor migration seasons we remember in Tarifa. We had a fantastic seven-day raptor migration tour in the Strait of Gibraltar as local guides for a Swedish group led by Gigi Sahlstrand / Avifauna and the world authority on raptors identification: Dick Forsman.

Immature Short-toed Eagle in active migration across the Strait of Gibraltar, Cazalla bird observatory in Tarifa is in the background.

In October Dutch Birding published the paper (in English) “Identification of Rüppell´s vulture and White-backed Vulture and vagrancy in the WP”. This is an extensive work Javi co-authored with our colleague Guillermo Rodríguez, including 14 pages and over 55 colour plates, many of which have been obtained by Birding The Strait during our birding day trips in the Gibraltar area.

A very collaborative Rüppell´s Griffon as seen during one of our birding day trips in Tarifa in 2016.

In late autumn and winter we ran private birding tours combing the Strait of Gibraltar and Doñana National Park, where we where lucky enough to get a very close encounter with an adult Iberian Lynx, and a one-on-one wildlife photography course in Tarifa. Finding the second Steppe Eagle for Spain during one of our birding day trips in La Janda, made what we should consider our bird of the year.

This second for Spain Steppe Eagle in La Janda made our bird of the year 2016.

In December, we mostly rested, enjoyed some holiday travel and intensively birded our local patches in Cádiz where we added not one but two striking Hume´s Leaf  Warblers to our lists. This was also the time to finalize the arrangements for a very promising 2017. This included signing three new collaboration agreements of which we are very excited about, but this is something we will explain in detail in our 2017 review…

According to our eBird statistics, in 2016 Birding The Strait has recorded 302.706 birds of 374 species (and 4 hybrids) from Northern Spain to Southern Morocco. Beating this figure will be a real challenge in 2017, and we want to do it with you!