Birding The Strait at the International Wildlife Event of the Year #Birdfair 2017

Birding The Strait ha sido beneficiaria del Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional cuyo objetivo es conseguir un tejido empresarial más competitivo  y gracias al que ha participado en el British Birdfair / Feria de las aves del Reino Unido para fomentar la internacionalización de la empresa y promocionar el turismo ornitológico en el estrecho de Gibraltar. Esta acción ha tenido lugar en Agosto de 2017. Para ello ha contado con el apoyo del Plan Internacional de Promoción de la Cámara de Comercio del Campo de Gibraltar.

There is an unmissable event this weekend (18, 19 & 20 August) for the international birding community. The 29th edition of the British #Birdfair  will be held at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, UK. In 2017, under the motto “Saving Paradise in the Pacific”, the Birdfair will be raising funds for vital work to save endangered species from extinction, including the Rapa Fruit Dove and the Polynesian Storm-Petrel.

Birding the Strait will take part as an exhibitor for the 5th consecutive year. This time in addition to the Stand of Andalucia Tourism Board (Marquee 2 – Stands 8, 9 & 10) we will be present at the Andalucia Wildlife Guides stand (Marquee 1 – Stand 30) as well.

Remarkably, on Thursday 17 the Andalucia Tourism Board will be sponsoring the welcome reception at the Restaurant Marquee including a welcome speech by Tim Appleton.

Spain and particularly Andalucia are among the top European destination for international birders and nature lovers. For this reason, we are proud to witness the increased quantitative and qualitative presence in the Birdfair of Spanish professionals in the nature tourism sector.

The Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin is one of the most celebrated species in our birding trips in Andalucia and Morocco.

Birding The Strait wants to invite all of you to meet our tour leaders Javi Elorriaga and Yeray Seminario to exchange firsthand experiences on the birding and wildlife photography possibilities that our most frequented destinations offer: Tarifa, the Strait of Gibraltar, Doñana National Park, Andalusia, The Canary Islands, Morocco, the Atlantic Sahara and much more!

The Birdfair will be the perfect setting to present the 2017-2018 Birding The Strait brouchure .

Moreover, we will be offering a 15% discount on every day trip and half day trip of birding in Tarifa and the Strait of Gibraltar booked for the period October 2017 – February 2018.

If you are considering to purchase a new scope while visiting the fair, we do eagerly recommend you to test the new (2016) Razor HD 27-60 x 85 Spotting Scope at NewPro stand (Marquee 1 – Stand 1 & 2).

Other events you shouldn´t miss are:

See you at the Birdfair!


Mid-August marks the BIG Migration days in the Strait of Gibraltar

Booted Eagle near Tarifa
Booted Eagle near Tarifa

Today has been a BIG day in the Strait of Gibraltar, with several thousands White Storks in huge flocks as well as an impressive numbers of Black Kites flying overhead. Also, some other raptors have been abundant: Booted Eagle, Short-toed Snake-Eagles and Montagu’s Harriers, specially.

Black Kites were counted in the thousands
Black Kites were counted in the thousands
Short-toed Snake-Eagle near Tarifa
Short-toed Snake-Eagle near Tarifa

A beautiful day in the middle of August in Tarifa, for those who think that there’s more than sun and beach in the summer! If September is the most popular time for migration because of the diversity of species, August is definitely the winner when it comes to numbers and spectacular flocks!

Private tour in July: Caminito del Rey, Tangier and Orcas

Pod of Orcas with the coast of Tarifa in the background
Pod of Orcas with the coast of Tarifa in the background

July might not be considered the best time to go birding in the Strait of Gibraltar, but our recent private tour showed the potential of this region during the summer months. The tour was designed to include the famous hike of “Caminito del Rey” as well as the main birding hotspots in the provinces in Malaga and Cadiz, in southern Spain. We also had a taste of Morocco, with a visit to the vibrant city of Tangier, which ended up being one of the highlights of the trip, and a successful boat trip dedicated to the searching of Orcas off Tarifa.

Day 1: We started visiting the Guadalhorce Nature Reserve, one of the best birding spots in Malaga, and where we could see some of the specialties, including White-headed Duck. Also, a rare species for the area showed up, a single Marbled Teal was seen. From the beach, we set the scope and scanned the ocean, finding four Common Scoters, which are rare in July in southern Spain.

Male White-headed Duck
Male White-headed Duck

Day 2: “Caminito del Rey” is a walkway along the steep walls of a narrow gorge, “Desfiladero de Los Gaitanes”, in the province of Malaga. It was known as the “world’s most dangerous walkway” and after serious renovations and added safety measures was opened in 2015, becoming a phenomenal activity in the midst of a protected nature reserve. As we had time before our scheduled walk in el Caminito, we headed to a nearby location that holds an impressive colony of Western Olivaceous Warbler (aka Isabelline Warbler) and added some birds to the list. In addition to the aforementioned Western Olivaceous Warblers, which were very abundant, we saw other species, such as Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher.

Western Olivaceous Warbler, these skulking birds can be tricky to see well!
Western Olivaceous Warbler, these skulking birds can be tricky to see well!

Around noon we started the hike at El Caminito del Rey. The fantastic views along the gorge are certainly impressive and a delight to enthusiast photographers. It also allowed us close views of some cliff-nesting specialists, like the Alpine Swift and the Eurasian Crag Martin. We were very lucky to see an adult Bonelli’s Eagle,  as well as a Short-toed Snake-Eagle with a snake in its beak. The Eurasian Griffons are plentiful in the area, and we got to see a Common Kingfisher catching a fish down below the walkway. We enjoyed the walk and had a picnic next to a nice freshwater pond and crossed the impressive last bridge, after which we got to add Iberian Chiffchaff and Eurasian Nuthatch to our list. Our next destination was the charming town of Ronda, where we had a nice walk, saw the impressive Tajo de Ronda and added Red-billed Chough.

View of the gorge at Caminito del Rey
View of the gorge at Caminito del Rey

Day 3: we headed to Llanos de Libar, a spectacular trail among karst where we could see some good birds, including Blue Rock-Thrush, Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and Rock Petronia. A water spring was the best place to have our picnic lunch, while we observed good numbers of Western Subalpine Warblers, Cirl Buntings and Rock Buntings going down to drink. A bit higher, good numbers of European Bee-eaters and  Woodchat Shrikes could be seen too. We then drove towards the province of Cadiz, with a strategic stop at “Valle de Ojén”, a restricted access area with gorgeous Cork Oaks and Algerian Firs, where we could see Firecrest. Nearby, on an open field, a few Lesser Kestrels were feeding.

Adult European Bee-eater
Adult European Bee-eater

Day 4: we started visiting an open area near Tarifa where we got to see Little Owl, Calandra Lark and Tawny Pipit before going to “La Janda”. This is one of the most popular birding hotspots in Spain, as it holds impressive numbers of raptors most of the year. Our main target here was the Spanish Imperial Eagle, which we got only a few minutes after we started looking in the right place. We drove next to a huge Cattle Egret and Glossy Ibis colony and started looking for the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. We got to see a small flock of six birds foraging near La Janda, while on our way we got to see the Iberian subspecies of the Eurasian Green Woodpecker (ssp. sharpei), which is a good candidate for a future split. We headed to Tarifa for a whalewatching trip. As a dense bank of fog started to surround us when we were in the middle of our way, we had to go back to port and postpone it. However, we got to see Balearic Shearwater, Scopoli’s Shearwater and Northern Gannet as well as Bottlenose Dolphins, so the trip was, in part, a success!

Little Owl near Tarifa
Little Owl near Tarifa

Day 5: we explored the east part of the Natural Park of Doñana, which it can be very productive birding wise. The first thing we did was to look for the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin among vineyards, which took us about two minutes as one male was singing. Shortly afterwards we were by the Guadalquivir River, the only great navigable river in Spain, where a good concentration of birds was taking place: dozens of Gull-billed Terns and Slender-billed Gulls, Squacco Herons, Purple Herons and Glossy Ibis, among others. A bit further, a few Lesser Short-toed Larks were feeding in plain sight, and could be enjoyed with the scope. We also counted up to 30 Marbled Teal, hundreds of Little Egrets, European Spoonbills, Black-tailed Godwits and Whiskered Terns, while two Red Kites flew above us. Shortly afterwards we were photographing White-headed Ducks (up to 28) within a short distance, before we drove to the only known colony of Little Swift in Europe. We certainly saw good numbers of these swifts feeding their young.

Gull-billed Tern near the Guadalquivir
Gull-billed Tern near the Guadalquivir

Day 6: we were going to spend the day in the renowned city of Tangier, in northern Morocco, just an hour away from the Spanish coast in a fast ferry, and definitely worth a visit, both for the cultural experience and some of the birds we can find even within the limits of the city. But before that, we did see another African species in the town of Tarifa, a Common Bulbul, one of the two survivors of a recent colonization attempt into Spain. Surely enough, we would see the bulbul in Tangier, but it was nice to add it to our Spanish list. Once in Tangier, and before entering the walls of the Medina (old part of the city), we explored a bit of the northwestern coast, finding 9 African Royal Terns (a good number of the species this far north), along with Audouin’s Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a young Peregrine Falcon. The immersion in the Medina was one of the highlights of the trip according to the participants. We walked many of the narrow, photogenic streets, and interacted with vendors while getting our first views of the House Bunting. We had a traditional Moroccan meal, which was excellent and visited one of the most popular sites to chill, Café Al Hafa, where celebrities like Jimmy Hendrix and the Beatles visited during their stay in Tangier. A short excursion to the outskirts of the city produced a single African Blue Tit, after which we were prepared to take our ferry back to Tarifa, where we had a fabulous dinner in the most popular restaurant in town.

Day 7: Our last day in Tarifa started with a walk in Los Lances Nature Reserve, where we added Curlew Sandpiper. Then, we headed to the Canal of La Janda, where we saw a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo, good numbers of Spanish Sparrows, and a beautiful Montagu’s Harrier, among hundreds of other birds. A short excursion for a picnic lunch to the mountains provided the best view of Great Spotted Woodpecker we had during the trip and superb views of the ancient Roman City of Baelo Claudia. We still had our last chance with the whalewatching trip and try to see Orcas, our main target. This time the skies were clear and were lucky to find an active pod of Orcas! They were playing, tail slapping and spyhopping! A phenomenal spectacle, with the addition of a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, which are considered to be rare in these waters, and that surely were following the orcas in order to get some Bluefin Tuna leftovers. This was the best possible way to end our tour!

Orca breaching in the Strait of Gibraltar
Orca breaching in the Strait of Gibraltar
This is being a good year for Wilson's Storm-Petrels in the Strait of Gibraltar
This is being a good year for Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in the Strait of Gibraltar

The feedback from the participants and our own experience tell us that this was a great tour, and that a combination of birding, whalewatching, culture and history can make for a fantastic vacation trip during the summer months. If you want to escape from the masses and make a similar trip, don’t hesitate to contact us!

The greatest wildlife show in Europe has begun!

White Stork Migration in Tarifa
White Stork Migration in Tarifa

Although the last Black Kites, Honey Buzzards and Shot-toed Eagles were seen in northbound migration from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar just a couple of weeks ago; and flocks of returning Griffon Vultures are still on the move…Over the last week, the first significant kettles of White Storks and Black Kites are gathering in increasing numbers around Tarifa on their way South to overwinter in Africa!

The greatest wildlife show in Europe has begun!

The second half of July and August is an excellent period to admire the massive movement of Black Kites and White Storks in the Strait of Gibraltar. Join us in a day trip if you want to enjoy this experience!

Birding in Morocco, Tailor-made Grand Tour in May

The Ziz Palm Grove is a real scenic highlight in Morocco and walking within the Oasis a first class birding experience. 26th May 2017.

As an extension to a Western Andalusia birding trip last May, we guided a 10-day tailor-made birding trip to Morocco. The fairly demanding list of targets required “the grand tour”, from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Sahara, including the steppes, the Atlantic coast and the High Atlas; in other words, the best Moroccan birding experience.

This way, on the 23rd of May we took the 09:00 a.m. ferry in Tarifa, arriving to Tangier one hour later and with our 4×4 waiting for us. We first visited the medina of Tangier and met our first target, the local population of House Bunting. Next we moved to the charming coastal village of Asilah where we had an excellent meal before reaching the Lower Loukos river. The marshes where dry and we struggled to find a single Brown-throated Martin beautifully perched in the reeds with Barn Swallows. This is a very early breeding species and the hundreds of birds we usually find here in our visits in March and April had already left the area. Next we embarked on a boat to explore the Merja Zerga Lagoon. Here, among Audouin´s and Slender-billed Gulls, Little, Sandwich and Caspian Terns we came through a striking Lesser Crested Tern. May is the most reliable period to find this scarce species, as they move to their breeding colony in Libya. Back in firm land we patiently waited until dusk to approach a farmland where the endangered Marsh Owl hunts at dusk. As we stepped out of the car, and despite the poor light, a perched owl showed memorably well. We need to stress that approaching the edges of the marshes where this endangered species nests must be avoided during the breeding period.

Lesser Crested Tern in summer plumage at Merja Zerga. 23rd May 2017.

We started the second day visiting the always rewarding Sidi Boughaba Lagoon in Kenitra. The Maghreb Magpie was the first speciality we found. Large family groups of Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot filled the edges of the reedbed. We spent the afternoon in the forest of Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas observing Atlas Flycatchers  but we struggled to get good views of the Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker. While looking for the later we came upon a nest of the so-called Maghreb Wood Owl, the NW African subspecies of the Tawny Owl, which some authors suggest as a separate species. The famous Dayet Aoua Lagoon had very little water, where numerous Black-necked Grebes attended their nests. Not far, we found the first Seebohm´s Wheatear of the trip and an eye-catching European Roller.

Atlas Flycatcher showing the characteristic extensive white patch in the forehead. Ifrane National Park, 24th May 2017.
Maghreb Wood Owl (Strix aluco mauritanica), the NW African counterpart of the Eurasian Tawny Owl, showing the characteristic barred body. Ifrane National Park, 24th May 2017.

We started the third day with a walk in the broadleaf forest in search of more Atlas Flycatchers, which additionally produced Western Olivaceous Warbler, Hawfinch, African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit, Short-toed Treecreper and Long-legged Buzzard. After the mandatory stop to observe the Barbary Macaques in Azrou, we drove our 4×4 off the beaten track into the ancient Cedar forest and got great views of a female Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker. We had a tasty tajin for lunch and resumed our way South with strategic stops to observe Seebohm´s Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Chough, Lesser Kestrel, Ruddy Shelduck, Moussier´s Redstart and riggenbachi and ruficolor type Crested and Thekla Larks, respectively. We reached our hotel in Midelt by mid afternoon and had some rest before visiting the Zaida steppes. Despite the amplitude of the landscape a single Lesser Short-toed Lark and a distant falcon chasing a group of Cream-coloured Coursers were the only birds we found. Far from giving up, we kept our search and our effort was rewarded with lengthy views of two Dupont´s Larks!

Baby Barbary Macaque nursing in the Cedar forest of Ifrane National Park. 25th May 2017
Record shot of an adult Dupont´s Lark carrying food to feed its fledgling. No doubt one of the most elusive species in Morocco. Zaida Plains, 25th May 2017.

Next morning we visited the same spot and we connected with these elusive larks again. Indeed, we realized it was an adult feeding its fledging! Fully satisfied we hit the road towards the desert. A Spiny-tailed Lizard was an additional highlight. Moroccan White Wagtail, Blue Rock Thrush, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Desert Lark, Black Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear were some of the species we enjoyed before going for a walk into the impressive palm grove at Ziz River, south of Errachidia. Both the quantity and diversity of birds sheltered in this oasis were astonishing, and included European Turtle and Laughing Dove, African Reed Warbler, Saharan Olivaceous Warbler, Nightingale, Moussier’s Redstart and Rufous Bush Robin. Once in Rissani we got excellent views of a pair of Lanners and a Red Fox, but missed the Pharaoh Eagle Owl… Soon after we reached the spectacular sand dunes of the Sahara in Merzouga. Here we had a warm welcome to our Hotel, a nice dinner and a well deserved night sleep.

Our charming hotel in Merzouga with the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in the background.

Next morning, 27th of May, we admired the very first beams of light in the desert. Thanks to a well studied route we chained excellent views of an array of desert specialities, namely Desert Sparrow, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Warbler, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Fulvous Bablers and a superb Fennec! However, the biggest spectacle was yet to come as we approached a tiny water hole where hundreds of Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouses gathered for drinking. Next, we visited the isolated farm of Moubarak, a man of the desert who had kindly located an Egyptian Nightjar for us!

Fully satisfied we returned to the hotel to avoid the high temperatures of the central part of the day. Late in the afternoon we returned to the Rissani area and, yes! this time we got excellent views of a Pharaoh Eagle Owl. What a stunner!

Fennec, the soul of the desert. Erg Chebbi, 27th May 2017.
A group of Crowned Sandgrouses at a waterhole close to Merzouga, Erg Chebbi. Over 400 individuals visited this site for drinking and bathing after sunrise providing an unforgettable sight. 27th May 2017.

Adult female Spotted Sandgrouse offering unbeatable views. Er Chebbi, 27th May 2017.

Egyptian Nightjar in Merzouga. 27th May 2017.

Next morning we headed west and rather easily located two highly sought after species: Streaked Scrub Warbler and Maghreb Weathear! We then had a relaxed visit to an ancient Kasbah in the exotic Ouarzazate and the impressive Todra Gorges before reaching Boumalne Dades by mid afternoon. Here we found another Pharaoh Eagle Owl and a waterhole with numerous Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Lark, Desert Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch and Thick-billed Lark.

Streaked Scrub Warbler. West of Rissani. This is a restless species that rarely leaves its shelter in the low vegetation. 28th May 2017.
Pharaoh Eagle Owl at Boumalne Dades, the second individual we found during the trip. 28th May 2017.

Early next morning we revisited the water hole and found over 20 Black-bellied Sandgrouses, our last species to get the poker of sandgrouses! We then continued towards the Atlantic coast with two successful detours to observe Barbary Falcon and a family group of Maghreb Wheatears. Next morning we visited Tamri National Park. Here we photographed several Southern Grey Shrikes of the algeriensis subspecies, notably paler than the elegans type we had seen in the desert. A group of over 20 Cream-colored Coursers in a sandy slope was a nice surprise and we had a fascinating encounter with the global threatened Northern Bald Ibis, the most iconic species in the region. We then crossed the extensive Argan forest and visited a local cooperative of women including argan oil, honey and hamlou tasting.

A recently fledged Maghreb Wheatear, a rarely photographed age class and often a tricky species to be found in Morocco. Ouarzazate 28th May 2017.

Once in Essaouira we stopped at the river mouth where Eleonora´s Falcons of different color morphs were numerous. Despite the gale, we got close-up views of two falcons having a bath and very much enjoyed photographing them. We then checked in to a charming ryad and had an excellent dinner in the tranquil medina of Essaouira.

Eleonora´s Falcon in Essaouira. 30th May 2017. Mogador and other islets of the Esaouira Archipielago hold an impressive falcon colony, which in 2016 reached a record number of 1217 nests!

On the 31st of May, our last day of birding, we visited Oukaimeden in the High Atlas searching for mountain species. Ascending the mountain road we came through Barbary Falcon, Rock Bunting, Seebohm´s Wheatear, Chough, Alpine Chough and we heard several Quails. We passed Oukaimeden and kept driving and hiking on the breathtaking Tizi-n´Ouadi (2950 m). As soon as we reached the mountain pass we got excellent views of several Shore Larks, Mousier´s Redstart, Black Redstart and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush. Equally noticeable were the views of the snow-capped Jebel Toubkal (4167m), the summit of North Africa. Suddenly, two African Crimson-winged Finches showed up. We still wanted to get better views of this moroccan highlight but a menacing storm pushed us back to the car. On our way to Marrakech we made a last stop and got close views of an obliging Tristram´s Warbler, the last target of the trip!

Seebohm´s Wheatear in the High Atlas. 31st March 2017.

We celebrated the end of a very successful tour with a visit to the mythic Jemaa El-Fna Square and an excellent dinner in Marrakech, including a toast for the nemesis of the trip, the Barbary Partridge!!

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!