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English Field Notes

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.

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English Field Notes

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!

Categories
English Field Notes

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!

Categories
English Field Notes

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.

Categories
English Field Notes

African Raptors, by Bill Clark and Rob Davis: book preview

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!

Categories
English Field Notes

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.

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English Field Notes

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!

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English Field Notes

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.

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English Field Notes

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.

Categories
English Field Notes

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!

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