All posts by yeray seminario

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!

See you at the Birdfair 2018 edition

British Birdfair 2018This weekend is the 30th edition of the BBF – Birdfair 2018 is here! The event will take place, as always, at Rutland Waters. This is the reference event for the international birding community and Birding The Strait will be present for the sixth consecutive year.

Find us at the Birdfair 2018

Are you looking for a birding guide in Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar? Come to say hello and meet Yeray at the Andalucia Wildlife Guides stand and Javi at the Andalusian Tourism Board stand. They are both at marquee 2.

We will be willing to inform you on the multiple wildlife experiences our region offers. These include: raptor migration in the Strait of Gibraltar, whalewatching for small groups off Tarifa, birding trips to northern Morocco, day visits to Doñana, the Griffon Vulture migration, etc.

A Short-toed Eagle on migration across the Strait of Gibraltar chased by a local Yellow-legged Gull
A Short-toed Eagle on migration across the Strait of Gibraltar chased by a local Yellow-legged Gull

Likewise, we will be pleased to show you the tailor-made birding tours we run throughout Spain and Morocco. Some of them in collaboration with the foremost international tour-operators.

Wildlife photography in Andalusia

We are keen wildlife photographers and the Birdfair will be an excellent place to share with you our experience. After years of working with DSLR cameras, we are now exploring the Micro 4/3 system for birds in flight and video. Raptors on migration, Iberian Orcas, Bald Ibises, Owls and Nightjars are some of our frequent targets.

Moreover, we will have at your disposal the new released wildlife photography book “Feathers amongst the towers”. This high quality book, in limited edition, shows the artistic work by our colleague Pako Zufiaur. He is, no doubt, the photographer who has spent longer ours capturing the bird migration in the strait of Gibraltar. He has a special dedication to a challenging subject: birds in flight!

Front cover of the new Photography book by Pako Zufiaur: Feathers Amongst The Towers
Front cover of the new Photography book by Pako Zufiaur: Feathers Amongst The Towers

La Janda, a birding hotspot

As active members of Laguna de La Janda Friends Association, we want to share with you the most updated information on this birding hotspot. In addition, this will be an excellent opportunity to get the latest information on the conservation efforts the association is doing towards the future recovery of the formerly largest lagoon of Spain.

We thank the Tarifa Townhall and the Tourism Boards of Cádiz and Andalucía for their continuous support to our work.

See you at the Birdfair 2018!

Broad-billed Sandpiper in Cadiz, Spain

On August 6, 2018, a Broad-billed Sandpiper was found in Salina Carboneros, Cadiz. The observer was Fernando Gross, a young birder of only 14 years old, who first found the bird resting within a small flock of dunlins and curlew sandpipers. To our knowledge this is the first record of a Broad-billed Sandpiper in Cadiz!

Broad-billed Sandpiper in Cadiz, Andalucia. This is the first record for the province!
Adult Broad-billed Sandpiper in Cadiz, Andalucia. This is the first record for the province!

Broad-billed Sandpiper status in the world

This wader breeds in the west taiga of Arctic Europe and Siberia, and overwinters from easternmost Africa through south Asia to Australasia. According to the IUCN, the Broad-billed Sadpiper is listed as Least Concern. However, its population is declining.

The main threats are habitat loss and environmental pollution. This is specially the case in China and South Korea, where you can find some important migrational staging areas of this species.

Broad-billed Sandpiper status in Spain

With some 50 previous records in Spain, the Broad-billed Sandpiper is considered a rare species by the  Spanish Committee of Rare birds (SEO/Birdlife). Most of the records happen to be on the eastern coast of Spain. Only a few sightings occur on the interior and western provinces. This makes this record all the more exciting for local and visiting birders. What a good start for the rarities season!

Below you can see a short video of the bird while feeding. We recorded these clips on August 7, 2018:

Do you want to go birding in the Bay of Cadiz? This is an excellent area for shorebirds and waterbirds. Contact us if you want to arrange a trip.

The African Raptors book is here!

This summer is bringing long-awaited books to the ornithological community. While we are still marveling with the Handbook of the Western Paleartic Birds, August brings “African Raptors” by Bill Clark and Rob Davies.

African Raptors Book Cover

African Raptors

Africa is the continent of Raptors and, therefore, this comprehensive work will certainly fill a gap in the specialized literature. The book features all the 106 African Raptors. It includes colour plates by Rob Davies and over 300 photographs. In Birding the Strait we are pleased to have contributed to this work with some of our pictures, including: Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Rüppell’s Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle and Lesser Kestrel.

African Raptors: species accounts with text and photographies
African Raptors: species accounts with text and photographies
African Raptors: illustration plates
African Raptors: illustration plates

The Old Times

Inevitably, all this reminds us of the visit by Bill Clark and his team to Tarifa back in 2001. Indeed, it was with him that we photographed our first Rüppell’s Vulture in the Strait of Gibraltar. At that time the published information on this African species was frustratingly scarce. This was especially true regarding immature plumages. For that reason, Bill’s first-hand information came as a real treasure.

Immature Rüppell's Vulture with Griffons in Tarifa, photographed with Bill Clark in October 2001
Immature Rüppell’s Vulture with Griffons in Tarifa, photographed with Bill Clark in October 2001

As raptor enthusiasts based in the Strait of Gibraltar we receive this work with big interest and high expectation. You can find more information about the book here. Thanks Bill!

The new Vortex Scope: Razor HD 27-60×85 in review

Over the last 3 years we have been intensively using the Vortex Razor HD field scopes in our Birding Tours in Spain, Morocco and beyond. On this post we reviewed our experience using the Razor HD 20-60×85 spotting scope. Last April, Vortex Optics kindly provided us with the New Vortex scope: the Razor HD 27-60×85 and here we give our first impressions.

New Design

New Vortex scope: the Razor HD 27-60 x 85 spotting scope
New Vortex scope: the Razor HD 27-60 x 85

At first glance, it becomes clear that this is a completely redesigned scope. While the external design of its predecesor was in line with the Kowa Prominar fieldscopes, the New Vortex shares common features with the benchmark Swarovsky ATS/X. The most eye-catching evolution is the single central focus dial. This leads to a cleaner design that takes up less space when carried within a backpack. As users, we found the transition from the previous double focus dial easy, and the new system efficient.

Rubber Armoured

Unlike its predecessor, the New Vortex is fully rubber-armoured. On our review to the previous model we pointed out that “the bare part of the body is rather prone to scratches”. We find, therefore, this new feature a clear hit.

Remarkably, the New Vortex includes a free view-through case made of neoprene. It provides an excellent protection to the body and lenses. This is a real highlight, since most brands offer carry cases as notably pricey not-included accessories.

New Eyepiece

The zoom eyepiece has a new design as well. Like other leading manufacturers, Vortex leaves behind the classic 20-60x standard. In turn, it offers a 27-60x magnification range. We believe this new concept leads to a better performance. Contrary to what it may seem, the new system provides a wider field of view (2.2-1.3 degrees according to the manufacturer). Indeed, this wide angle feature has been considered a strength on other tests.

The attachment of the eyepiece to the body is secured by a well-engineered lock ring.

Close Focus

Here comes a big surprise! As for the technical specifications, the minimun distance the New Vortex can focus to is 16.4 feet (5m). Measuring-tape in hand, we can affirm that subjects at 11.1 feet (3.4m) can be perfectly focused.

This remarkable feature opens a new world of possibilities to observe wildlife. This way, focusing the scope on a Dragonfly perched within 4 meters creates a macro effect that unveils otherwise not discernible details on the insect, for instance.

Optical Performance

We have tested the new Vortex scope while birding in varied environments and light conditions. Our first conclusion is that there are not perceptible chromatic aberrations. The scope creates a bright, sharp and vivid image that surpasses the standards set by the previous model.

Looking through this scope you inmediately get the very enjoyable feeling of “enhanced reality” that good optics provide.

Phonescoping

Digiscoping brings out the strengths and weaknesses of the spotting scopes. Moreover, digiscoped images enable a more objective analisys on the optical performance of any given scope.

As shown by the following videos, the smartphone technology in combination with the New Vortex spotting scope (AKA phonescoping) produces highly satisfactory results. It is important to note that both videos were filmed handheld and with a rather poor 720HD. We are looking forward a deeper test of the phonescoping performance by means of 4K and using an specific adapter, stay tunned!


Male Red-backed Shrike with prey in Northern Spain, June 2018. Smartphone video camera in 720HD and Vortex Razor HD 27-60x 85 at 27x. The system provides excellent light transmition and colour fidelity. Note the nice subtle pinkish tinge on the breast of the bird. There is not any evident image distorsion or halo.


Adult and nestling Northern Bald Ibis on the nest, Strait of Gibraltar, April 2018. Filmed while causing no disturbance to the bird and fullfilling the Spanish Nature Conservation Laws. Smartphone video camera in 720HD and new Vortex scope Razor HD 27-60x 85 at 27x. Notice the quality on both blacks and whites. Fine details on the bird’s eyes and plumage are visible.

Vortex VIP Warranty

The unparalleled VIP Warranty that Vortex offers has been a key element on the rapid popularization of this American brand. It remains in force and may certainly tip the balance when comparing scopes of different brands.

The New Vortex Scope: Conclusions

The new Vortex scope has a great design and modern conception offering an excellent optical performance. With this evolution, the Vortex Razor HD fieldscope consolidates itself high within the overall top 10 fieldscopes for birders in the market, which includes scopes than broadly double its price. We consider that the increased price of the new model is encompassed by its improved features. Nevertheless, it remains in the middle price range. We believe that nowadays it is hard to find a better option within its price range.