From Tarifa to Skagen, a collaboration to show the wonders of bird migration in Europe

Skagen Bird Center
The new Skagen Bird Center

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.

The beautiful Bluethroat is one of the many migrants that can be observed in Skagen during spring migration

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!

Save the Montagu’s Harriers of La Janda

Montagu's Harrier in La Janda, Strait of Gibraltar
Montagu’s Harrier in La Janda, 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!

Beyond the Strait: Canarian endemics birding trip 2017!

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:

Houbara Bustard (ssp. fuerteventurae) in the astonishing planes of Tindaya , Fuerteventura.
The Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is now considered a full species and has been splitted from the Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch (F. polatzeki). These are, no doubt, among the most striking Canarian endemics.
The dark brown chest is the most distinctive character in the Canarian endemic subspecies of the Greatter spotted woodpecker (ssp. Canariensis)
The taxonomic rank of the Canarian falcons is under debate and many individuals should be considered intergrades between Barbary and Peregrine. The male in the picture, photographed in Fuerteventura, showed all the correct characters of a Barbary Falcon.
The Fuerteventura Stonechat shows a marked preference for the rocky slopes of the “Barrancos” and, amazingly, is not present in the neighbouring Lanzarote.
Photographing Common Ravens is often tricky, except when you meet the inquisitive canariensis subspecies.
Even if not endemic, the Trumpeter Finch is always a joy for the observers and photographers.
At times elusive, a displaying pair of Laurel Pigeons in Tenerife was a real highlight in the trip.
Adult “Fuerteventura” Buzzard showing obvious resemblance to the Atlas Long-legged Buzzards in Morocco and notably different to average individuals of the insulaum subespecies in Tenerife. Indeed, Buzzards of the local population in Fuerteventura have often been misidentified as Long-legged.

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.

Rodríguez, G., Ramírez, J. & Elorriaga, J. 2017. Phenotypic characteristics of Common Buzzards on Fuerteventura. British Birds Vol.110: 222-232.

For more information on our tailor made trips to the Canary Islands and beyond please check our website and drop us an email!

Amazing numbers of Black Kites!

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.

Black Kites roosting and regaining strength after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to resume their northbound migration .This Cork Oak leans sideways due to the effect of locally prevailing easterly winds
Massive number of Black Kites roosting in a Cork Oak

Birding The Strait in 2017 FIO International Birdfair

Birding The Strait has been present at 2017 FIO International Birdfair in Extremadura. We attended the stand of Andalusia on behalf of the Tarifa Council, participated in a professional workshop with international touroperators and gave a lecture titled “The migration of the Iberian Griffon Vultures to Africa, an overlooked wonder”.

Javi during the lecture

Indeed, the  Griffon Vulture Migration is one of the most genuine experiences we offer and vulture study has constituted an important part of our carriers as field ornithologists in the Strait of Gibraltar and beyond.

During the lecture we reviewed what is known and what remains unknown on this still poorly studied phenomenon and highlighted the spectacularity of immense flocks of griffons crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

One of the pictures included in the lecture, showing the massive concentration of Griffon Vultures in Tarifa during their autumn migration to Africa accros the Strait of Gibraltar.

It was a real honour to share the stage with our good friend Fernando Barrios, pioneer ornithologist and wildlife photographer in the Strait of Gibraltar and author of the reference work “Nomads of the Strait of Gibraltar“. He gave an authoritative lecture on the White-rumped Swift based on the research he conducted in the Strait of Gibraltar during the last decades of the previous century, when this African species colonized the European continent.

An immature Griffon Vulture on migration from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. The lighthouse of Europa Point in Gibraltar is on the Background.

During the rest of this fabulous weekend we took the opportunity to do some birding in the always amazing Monfragüe National Park and the Plains of Caceres around Trujillo, where we easily found the local specialities, including Cinereous Vulture, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Back in Tarifa, the first groups of Griffon Vultures crossing the Strait back from Africa have already been recorded along with thousands of Black Kites, growing numbers of Short-toed Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork.

Black Kites approaching a night roost in the Strait of Gibraltar.

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.