Handbook of the Western Palearctic Birds: Unboxing!

The Handbook of the Western Palearctic Birds by Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson is here! This is a milestone in global ornithology and Western Palearctic birding.

Handbook of the Western Palearctic Birds: Unboxing
Handbook of the Western Palearctic Birds: Unboxed!

We just received the two volumes in the office and are quite excited. For this reason, we have made a new video with the unboxing of the most awaited bird book ever! It is now available in the most specialized bookstores. We got ours from Oryx.

Going over the images of this book reminded us of  the days we spent with Hadoram Shirihai in the field, when he was photographing target birds in Andalusia for this project. We will surely spend a good time this summer reading and studying the texts and images! You can find more information about these long-awaited books here.

Spring in Spain: Birding and History Tour

The Iberian Chiffchaff is one of the must-see species on every birding tour to Spain
The Iberian Chiffchaff is one of the must-see species on every birding tour to Spain – They are hard to ID with certainty unless heard singing, like this individual did right in front of us

Last April and May we were fortunate to run a tailor-made trip throughout Spain. We covered emblematic areas, such as Sierra de Gredos, Monfragüe and Doñana National Park, among others. This was, admittedly, a beautiful and fun trip, specially because the scenery looked spectacular after the copious rains in March and April.

We designed this tour for the spring season and customized it upon a few requirements from the participants. Spring is probably the best season to visit Spain, and we focused in all the specialties of the region that would be breeding at the time.

We also included, upon requirement, the visit to some historical sites such as La Alhambra and the Roman ruins of Mérida.

Some of the highlights of this trip in Spain:

The scenery on most of the trip was fantastic. The copious rains before the trip and the good weather through most of our itinerary made for an unforgettable journey.  There were blooming flowers everywhere!

  • Monfragüe NP and the plains around Trujillo were very productive. It provided us with good views of the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Also, some distant views, but with excellent behavior, of displaying male Great Bustard and Little Bustard.
  • Getting to see an Iberian Lynx, one of the most critically endangered cats in the world was certainly another highlight. We had a Bearded Vulture observation the day after.
  • Fuente de Piedra was particularly good. There was a record number of Greater Flamingos breeding this year and we even got to see a few Lesser Flamingos!
  • The Doñana wetlands were teeming with life. There were good numbers of shorebirds and waterfowl, and had close views of key species like Marbled Teal and White-headed Duck.
  • We had brilliant local guides during our cultural visits to Merida, Cordoba and Granada. This added significant value to the tour and the whole experience.
  • Last, but not least, we ended on a high note in the Strait of Gibraltar. We got to see some raptor migration, including European Honey-Buzzards and Eurasian Griffons crossing from Africa; and saw great birds like Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Common Quail.

For those interested in knowing more about the itinerary we followed, detailed description of the tour and a full list of species, we have uploaded the Trip Report here. Let us know if you would be interested in a similar trip in the future!

On the Griffon that swam across the Strait of Gibraltar

Immature Griffon reaching the European continent from Africa after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar - by Yeray Seminario
Immature Griffon reaching the European continent from Africa after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar

Under suboptimal weather conditions, like strong crosswind and rain showers, the narrow sea crossing that separates Africa from Europe at the Strait of Gibraltar may present a major obstacle to migrating raptors. This is particularly true for the Eurasian Griffon, the largest soaring migrant in the area. In fact, the mere 14.5 Km that separate both continents is at times an insurmountable barrier, causing an undetermined number of vultures to fall into the sea every spring.

Instinct of survival

Once in the water, Griffons show an impressive instinct of survival and use their large wings as paddles in a desperate attempt to reach the shore. Except in the rare occasions when fallen Griffons are rescued by passing vessels, their fate is normally fatal. This is a highly dramatic scene and a brutal example on the forces of natural selection that we observe every spring in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Immature Griffon in active migration across the Strait of Gibraltar, with Europa Point (Gibraltar) in the background - by Javi Elorriaga
Immature Griffon in active migration across the Strait of Gibraltar, with Europa Point (Gibraltar) in the background.

But! Last 1st of May we witnessed the absolutely exceptional and unbelievable case shown in the following video:

With moderate westerly winds a group of 36 Griffons undertook the sea-crossing of the Strait. The crossing started on top of the Djebel Mousaa in Morocco, and headed to Punta Carnero in Spain. As they approached the European shore, we saw the kettle soaring in a thermal updraft over the Ocean. This is a rather infrequent event as thermal updrafts do rarely occur over water bodies. Nonetheless, the thermal seemed to suddenly dissipate and vultures did rapidly lose height. In a strenuous active flight, most individuals managed to safely reach the continent. Two vultures, however, did not have the strength to go on and hit the water!

Attack of the gulls

Their efforts to stay afloat an reach the shore “swimming” were hampered by the ruthless attack of Yellow-legged Gulls. This had us on tenterhooks for over 15 minutes. We finally saw one of them drowning while, to our surprise, one of them skilfully reached a rocky islet near the shore! After some 45 good minutes spreading its wings to the sun in a cormorant fashion, and boosted by a timely gust of wind, the vulture took off again and completed the intercontinental flight. This caused cheers and applause from all present observers!

Indeed, because of this kind of observations we will never have enough of raptor migration in the Strait of Gibraltar! Contact us if you want to arrange a trip to experience the Griffon Vulture migration.

The Honey Buzzard Big Day

Adult female Honey Buzzard in active spring migration across the Strait of Gibraltar - by Yeray Seminario
Adult female Honey Buzzard in active spring migration across the Strait of Gibraltar.

In early May the Honey Buzzard play the leading role in the raptor migration in the Strait of Gibraltar. This is, no doubt, among the most celebrated and awaited periods for international birders and nature enthusiast visiting Tarifa. Thousands of this otherwise rather secretive and forest-dwelling raptors will cross the ocean between Africa and Europe in massive streams. Crosswind direction, westerlies vs easterlies, will determine the flyway, which may range from the Rock of Gibraltar to Sierra de La Plata and beyond.

Adult Honey Buzzard crossing the ocen in a misty day in Tarifa - by Javi Elorriaga
Adult Honey Buzzard crossing the ocen in a misty day in Tarifa.

The Honey Buzzard peak migration

The first big groups of migrant Honey Buzzards where observed last 2nd of May in the Eastern side of the Strait. Tomorrow, 5th of May, we expect a BIG DAY in the Tarifa area prompted by a shift in the wind direction. Indeed, the bulk of the Western European breeding population of Honey Buzzards will cross the Strait within the ongoing fortnight. The strength and determination while on active migration of these apparently delicate raptors is admirable. The spectacle is greatly enhanced by the striking diversity in their plumage colour. Indeed Honey Buzzards shows the most striking colour polymorphism among European raptors (with all due respect from Common Buzzard). This way, some individuals show a paler-than-an-Osprey plumage, while others look completely black.

Dark morph adult male Honey buzzard in actibe migration at low height in the Strait of Gibraltar - by Javi Elorriaga
Dark morph adult male Honey buzzard in actibe migration at low height in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Remarkably, only adults will cross the Strait during spring and juveniles (born in 2017) will extend their stance south of the Sahara until next spring.

Do not miss this animation, based on satellite tracking from the University of Amsterdam showing the 3D migration route of Dutch Honey Buzzard to Africa and back across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Pale adult male Honey Buzzard with notably worn primaries in active spring migration in the Strait of Gibraltar - by Yeray Seminario
Pale adult male Honey Buzzard with notably worn primaries in active spring migration in the Strait of Gibraltar.

As every year, Birding The Stait will be in the frontline to admire this natural wonder. We cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Global Big DayContact us if you want to arrange a birding trip during the spring migration season. Be part of this phenomenal natural spectacle.

Spring has begun! 6 birding hotspots to check out in Tarifa

Spring has just begun! On this post we will tell you about 6 great birding hotspots when visiting Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar in this great season. To give you an idea of what’s possible we list some suggestions about what to do in a day, and what you should expect to see.

Adult Purple Heron at La Janda, one of the best birding hotspots in Tarifa
Adult Purple Heron at La Janda.

6 Birding Hotspots in Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar

1. Tarifa

An early start in Tarifa, where we are based, can be rewarded with the prominent song of the Common Bulbul, a common species in Africa that, however, can only be found in one location in Europe: Tarifa. Nearby, we’d probably hear the sharp calls of the Lesser Kestrels too. At a walking distance, a short session of seawatching from the pier can provide good views of migrant seabirds, like Northern Gannet, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) and the first Balearic Shearwaters coming out of the Mediterranean after their breeding season.

Western Yellow Wagtail, from subspecies iberiae, also known as Spanish Wagtail
Western Yellow Wagtail, from subspecies iberiae, also known as Spanish Wagtail

2. Los Lances

As you drive out of Tarifa, it might be a good idea to make a stop in Los Lances. This small nature reserve can be very productive, particularly in the morning. Mediterranean and Audouin’s Gulls are regular at this time of the year, same as Kentish Plovers. The migration of passerines can be visible here, with the first Western Yellow Wagtails and Greater Short-toed Larks showing up, while the last Meadow and Water Pipits abandon these latitudes in order to breed further north.

The Rock Bunting is an uncommon but regular species at Sierra de la Plata
The Rock Bunting is an uncommon but regular species at Sierra de la Plata

3. Sierra de la Plata

A visit to the lower limestone ridges around Tarifa, like Sierra de la Plata can be very good. Some species you should expect, and already singing in their breeding plumage, can be: Cirl and Rock Buntings, Iberian Green Woodpecker and the gorgeous Blue Rock Thrush. On top of that, the Eurasian Griffons will already be on their nests, some of the hatchlings already out of their shells. Surely, we will be looking for the first Black-eared Wheatears of the year, as well as the passing Northern Wheatears.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk as its arrival to the European Continent
Eurasian Sparrowhawk as its arrival to the European Continent

4. Punta Carnero

Depending on the winds, we will be sure to be well positioned in order to witness the raptor migration. This event that takes place, roughly, from March to May. Even though many raptors have already passed by the beginning of Spring, there are still thousands still waiting for their opportunity on African soil: Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles, Black Kites, Sparrowhawks, Egyptian Vultures as well as good numbers of White and Black Storks. One of the best hotspots to see these birds crossing the Strait would be Punta Carnero, not far from the city of Algeciras.

Northern Bald Ibis starting their breeding season at the colony
Northern Bald Ibis starting their breeding season at the colony

5. Barbate

After having lunch at one of the numerous excellent restaurants that serve homemade food in the area, we can visit the Northern Bald Ibis colony, a must-see species for every birder, and certainly a highlight for anyone traveling to the province of Cadiz. You can combine this with a short drive to the Barbate Marshes. This is one of the best birding hotspots, both for shorebirds and migrant passerines.

Corn Bunting: a common song in the fields of La Janda
Corn Bunting: a common song in the fields of La Janda

6. La Janda

An excursion to the southernmost region of Spain can not be complete without a drive through La Janda. This well-known birding hotspot is excellent throughout the year, but even more splendorous during the spring months. Hundreds of Garganeys, which can be seen flying along the shoreline, mark the beginning of the season. If the weather has been wet enough and some of the seasonal lagoons and rice paddies are flooded. Good numbers of these gorgeous dabbling ducks can be seen in La Janda.

Along with the ducks, Purple Herons start to arrive, and Hoopoes are easier to find while feeding along the tracks. Raptors are always abundant here. Among all of them the Spanish Imperial Eagle stands out, on average almost as large as a Golden Eagle.

All of this is possible in a day without needing to drive very long distances. While you enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Strait, you can experience the marvels of migration firsthand. With the possibility of including other bird-rich locations or adapt the itinerary for wildlife photographers, the combinations are endless! If you want us to arrange a private excursion for you to see  some of these sites and find some of the most sought after species of birds, contact us and let us know what your preferences are. You will find out, the Strait of Gibraltar never disappoints!

MIGBird Tarifa 2018, welcome to migratory birds!

MIGBird Tarifa 2018 “Welcome to migratory birds” starts tomorrow, March 19th, at the Cazalla Bird Observatory! Birding The Strait will be opening the event with the first presentation at 10:00.

Tarifa Town Hall, in collaboration with local companies and NGOs, has arranged an extensive program of activities. These include excursions, educational activities for children, photo exhibitions and a bird race!

During the event, next Sunday 25th we will be offering a free guided visit to the Isla de Las Palomas, a restricted area of El Estrecho Natural Park in the southernmost tip of the continent and an excellent site for seawacthing!MigBird Tarifa 2018