Great Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Birding Boat Trip in Cadiz

In English by Javi Elorriaga

On Tuesday 15th of September, we ran another Birding Boat Trip in Cadiz. It made our third pelagic so far this summer off the Gulf of Cádiz, Andalusia. Our previous pelagics this year took place on the 23rd of July and the 1st of September.

This time we departed at 9:00 am from the port of Chipiona. Here, as we were boarding the vessel, we got to see a few of the local Little Swifts. Sailing conditions and visibility were excellent: low wind, calm sea and very soft light during the first half of the morning.

Arctic Skua in the Gulf of Cadiz. Photo by Javi Elorriaga, Birding The Strait.
During this birding boat trip in Cadiz we saw three different Artic Skuas. We found all of them within the first miles of sailing, near the coast of Chipiona. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

A good start

Right after we left the port, we noticed a notable feeding activity of Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls. Among them, we soon found the first Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas and Balearic Shearwaters of the trip. This was, no doubt, a good start!

Balearic Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. Birding The Strait, September 2020.
We found the first groups of Balearic Shearwaters very close to the coast. The soft light allowed a detailed observation of the different plumages and colour pattens, which may range from rather pale to notably dark individuals. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Next, we continued sailing West into deeper Atlantic waters. Shortly after, the first Northern Gannet showed up. We also found the first raft of Balearic Shearwaters totalling around 20 individuals. We enjoyed great views at close range of this Critically Endangered species. It became evident that adult birds had undertaken a recent body moult in the Atlantic, away from their breeding grounds. We could not detect heavily abrased individuals, as it was the case in our birding boat trip in Cádiz in July. Balearic shearwaters breed between February and June. Next, they move into Atlantic waters, where they complete their moult off Spain, Portugal and the Bay of Biscay. After the moult the majority of them return to the Mediterranean Sea, although large numbers winter off the Spanish Atlantic coast.

Balearic Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. Birding the Strait.
The Gulf of Cadiz, along with the Gulf of Biscay, the West Coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the Atlantic Coast of Morocco, are key sites for this Critically Endangered species out of the breeding season. A raft of Balearic Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Balearic Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz. Birding The Strait.
The great views of the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater made one of the highlights in this birding boat trip in Cadiz. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Fishing Trawlers Ahoy!

As we were sailing on a working day, we encountered several fishing trawlers. Here, we asked our skipper to make a slight detour and approach a particular one that was followed by a large number of gulls. Among hundreds of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and fewer Yellow-legged Gulls we found a single Mediterranean Gull and up to 4 Audouin’s Gulls.

Adult Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage. We found this bird foraging around a fishing Trawler. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Adult Mediterranean Gull in winter plumage. We found this bird foraging around a fishing Trawler. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Immatures Audouin's gull around a fishing trawler in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Immatures Audouin’s gull around a fishing trawler in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.

It wasn’t until we got further offshore that we connected with the first groups of Cory’s Shearwaters. Here, they finally offered a great show, as numerous individuals flew past at very close range. Moreover, we could approach different groups fully engaged in their fishing activities. We could hear their voices, see them immersing their heads to locate fish, and being fiercely chased by Bonxies.

Cory’s Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
All our pelagic birding trips this year have provided excellent opportunities to observe and photograph Cory’s Shearwaters. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020. Birding The Strait.
Cory’s Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Cory’s Shearwaters in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020. Birding The Strait.
Cory’s Shearwaters fishing in the Gulf of Cadiz. September 2020.
Great Skua and Cory’s Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Great Skua fiercely kleptoparazitizing a Cory’s Shearwater. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Among the abundant Cory’s, this time we could not positively identify any Scopoli’s. In turn, we observed a single Manx Shearwater and no less than 7 Great Shearwaters. Remarkably, both are considered locally scarce or even rare.

Great Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020. Birding The Strait.
The Great Shearwater is scarce in Andalucian waters and existing records are mostly restricted to pelagic expeditions. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

For the delight of the group a juvenile Great Skua patrolled around our boat for a while, at times getting too close for pictures! At the same time numerous Atlantic Gannets and two different Great Shearwaters beautifully displayed for our cameras. We could even see a Great Shearwater diving and disappearing under water!

Great Skua in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
This juvenile Great Skua patrolled around our boat repeatedly for the delight of the group. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Great Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
In this boat trip we got unparalleled views of the scarce Great Shearwater. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Probably due to the abundance of food (fish) and the fishing trawlers, the two blocks of frozen chum we used did not attract any storm petrels as in previous occasions. It did bring us, however, a Great Shearwater, offering an excellent opportunity to get flight shots of this target species.

Great Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.
Juvenile Great Shearwater in the Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Gannet Galore

As expected, given the date, the presence of Northern Gannets was notably larger during this boat trip. These were mostly immature individuals, with very variable plumage patterns. The group chiefly enjoyed observing and photographing them around our boat.

Next, we include a selection of our best shots!

In general terms, the journey back to the port was not as rewarding. However, it produced a Pomarine Skua and the only Wilson’s Storm Petrel. Unfortunately, the latter took us much by surprise, at very close range, and not all in the group got to see it.

We reached the port of Chipiona around 15:30 after 36 nautic miles sailing off the Gulf of Cadiz.

Contributing to Citizen Science

All in all, this was another highly satisfying pelagic. We continued learning about the possibilities of pelagic trips off the Andalusian coast. Moreover, we collected interesting data on the abundance and distribution of pelagic seabirds in Andalusia. As usual, we systematically recorded all our sightings using the pelagic protocol provided by eBird. This is part of our commitment with citizen science.

This map shows part of our sailing track in the Gulf of Cadiz. We reached 18 nautical miles west of Chipiona. The Guadalquivir River Mouth and the dunes of Doñana National Park are visible. Gulf of Cadiz, September 2020.

Bird List

Great Skua: 17

Pomarine Skua: 1

Arctic Skua: 3

Mediterranean Gull: 2

Audouin’s Gull: 4

Yellow-legged Gull: 105

Lesser Black-backed Gull: 60

Yellow-legged / Lesser Black-backed: 1500

Black Tern: 7

Common Tern: 3

Sandwich Tern: 27

Wilson’s Storm Petrel: 1

Cory’s Shearwater: 180

Great Shearwater:7

Manx Shearwatwer:1

Balearic Shearwater: 57

Northern Gannet: 60

Next Boat Trip in Cadiz

We will definitively keep running more of these pelagic trips later this year and during 2021. Let us know if you are interested and we will sign you up on the waiting list for the next pelagic trip!

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