Last Saturday 12th of June we run a new excursion for pelagic birding in Tarifa. This time, our main target was to observe and photograph shearwaters off the Strait of Gibraltar. At 7:30 AM we set sail from the port of Tarifa with very calm sea. Just 10 minutes later we came across a large raft of Cory’s Shearwater. A few Balearic Shearwaters were present too. To the delight of the group, the presence of both species was constant for the next hour and a half.
Most of the shearwaters were gathering in compact rafts, some totalling over a hundred birds. Others foraged around us in search of food. Some landed so close to our boat that it was difficult to photograph them!
The call of the Shearwaters
To enhance the experience, we switched off the engine and remained silent close to the birds. This way, we could perfectly hear the characteristic call of the Cory’s Shearwater.
It should be noted that shearwaters, like most tubenoses, are silent offshore. Only for a few weeks a year, in the breeding period, can they be heard. In addition, this usually happens at night and in the vicinity of their burrows. For this reason, we knew we were enjoying an unusual and privileged experience.
From Chafarinas and Alboran
According to current knowledge, most of the shearwaters that feed in the Strait belong to the breeding colonies of Chafarinas. However, birds from all the colonies in the Alboran Sea visit the region. In the weeks prior to laying, the females carry out the pre-laying exodus. I doing so, they visit rich regions to feed and gain weight to face the breeding period. In fact, we were roughly in the date on which the egg laying takes place, often synchronized with the new moon.
Sooty Shearwater and Bottlenose Dolphins
Suddenly, an unexpected Sooty Shearwater appeared from nowhere. It was perfectly visible with the naked eye. Luckily, it made two passes before disappearing into the Mediterranean.
This is a species that we regularly find, in very low numbers, in our pelagic excursions off the Gulf of Cádiz. In turn, records in the Strait and, especially, in the Mediterranean are notably rare.
Shortly after, a group of Bottlenose Dolphins approached our boat. We had a great time watching them jump and fish alongside the shearwaters.
Highly satisfied with the show so far, we decided to move further south. We explored the central area of the strait, halfway between Europe and Africa. As expected, the presence of shearwaters here decreased considerably. However, we were lucky to find a group of about ten Pilot Whales. They were peacefully resting on the surface. Again, we stopped the engine to enjoy the scene. No doubt, listening to the breathing of cetaceans is a relaxing and wonderful experience. For greater satisfaction, an inquisitive pilot whales came directly to observe us, standing less than a meter from our boat!
The first Wilson’s of the season
Around the same time a Wilson’s Storm Petrel showed up! The Wilson is one of the most sought-after species in our pelagic birding trips in Tarifa and the Gulf of Cadiz. In addition, it is a species for which we have predilection since we saw it feeding with orcas in the Strait back in 2011.
Balearic and Mediterranean? Shearwaters
On the way back to Tarifa, we found a good concentration of Cory’s Shearwaters again. In addition, we came across several groups of Balearic Shearwater in active migration towards the Atlantic.
At 11:40 AM we returned to the port of Tarifa. Highly satisfied, we celebrated the experience by having a drink and toasting the next excursion.
Next Pelagic excursion in Tarifa and the Gulf of Cadiz
In addition to pelagic birding in Tarifa, this summer we have 5 scheduled boat trips in the Gulf of Cadiz. In this link to our website, you can find more information. Do not hesitate to contact us if you need any further details.
See you on board!