Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Tarifa and the Autumn Migration

Just a few of the Griffon Vultures

 Monday 7 September

Early Sunday morning saw me with Steve and Elena Powell as we drove down to Tarifa on the Southern coast of Andalucia in Cadiz province to check out both the autumn raptor migration and migration in general as our smaller birds start to make their way to Africa for the winter and some of our wintering birds make their way south from the northernmost parts of Europe and beyond.  Whilst it was a bright sunny day the wind might best be described as gale force at least so it was with some trepidation as we approached Algerciras and our first stop at the Algarrobo viewing point.  We had already seen a Buzzard and a number of White Storks standing on nests in nearby San Roque area so were more than pleased to note the number of birders already at Algarrobo and loads of circling Griffon Vultures.

Griffon Vultures Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus

A very good hour was spent at the mirador and the Griffon Vulture, often very low overhead as they were held up by the strong wind, totalled well into the hundreds.  Every now and again both Booted and Short-toed Eagles would be seen, mainly the former, whilst very high in the sky scores of Honey Buzzards were just getting on with the journey across the Strait to Africa.  Also moving across in good numbers were many Bee-eaters and nearer the ground regular sightings of Barn Swallow and the occasional Common Swift.  Also, by way of variety, there was the occasional passing of a Black Kite.

The hour passed very quickly and we took our leave to move on to the western end of the escarpment and spend another hour at the Cazalla mirador above Tarifa.  here we were more exposed but the birds, mainly Black Kites were able to use the surrounding gullies and valleys to find some shelter.  No sooner had we seen our first Egyptian Vulture in the valley below and they then seemed to be everywhere.  It was as if some hidden message had been sent forth that neither Griffon nor Egyptian Vulture should meet!  We did have a Common Kestrel and a hovering Short-toed Eagle but this site was almost exclusively centred on Black Kites and Egyptian Vulures, both adult and juveniles of the latter.

Egyptian Vulture Alimoche Comun Neophron percnopterus

Time to move on and see if was any less windy at sea level as we made our way down the narrow lane through the ex-army base to the shore.   A stop half-way down to appreciate the passing Booted Eagles and Black Kites before taking a right and driving along the narrow rock-strewn track almost all the way back to Tarifa itself.  here the most common raptor would appear to be Booted Eagles albeit still the occasional Black Kite to be seen.  

Juvenile Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennatus

We were also now in "fence country" so plenty of Stonechats to record along with Crested Larks and a good supply of Woodchat Shrikes.  A very pleasant sighting was that of a a couple of Black-eared Wheatears and even brief sightings of both Willow Warbler and Whitethroat.  We even managed a first Northern Wheatear for the day.

Black-eared Wheatear Collalba Rubia Oenanthe hispanica
The tide was well out and very blustery but, nevertheless, we did pay a short visit to the sea-side hide at Los Lances even if it felt, at times, as if the whole structure would collapse around us.  The small amount of nearby water produced a number of Ringed Plover and a single Whimbrel.  Also seen were many Sanderling, a couple of Dunlin and both Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Noting the Spotless Starlings as we departed we then made our way across to La Janda.  Here the wind was still very strong and, as a result, there were very few small birds to be seen as they took shelter.  Yes, Crested Larks and a few Goldfinch but then a whole tree full, and more, of a huge gathering on both House and Spanish Sparrows; what a noise they were able to generate!  Before reaching the end of the straight to cross the bridge up towards the "smelly farm" we quickly added Little and Cattle Egret along with Heron.  A Greenfinch tallied long enough to be seen by all and io the distance the first of the Marsh Harriers quickly followed by a "Ringtail" as the Montagu's Harrier quartered the neighbouring field.

Little Egret Garceta Comun Egretta garzetta

Crossing the bridge we immediately stopped mid-stream to watch the large Otter swimming to our left.  What a wonderful sight!  Then it was down through the avenue as the Wood Pigeons took to the skies and nearing the end we also recorded Red-rumped Swallows.  But, even better, we stopped to watch the pair of Black-shouldered Kites and no sooner had we moved on than we found a third individual - but neither Red-legged Partridge nor Pheasant.  Then it was on past the smelly farm itself and its resident population of Jackdaws. but not before finding a Cetti's Warbler as we crossed the river.

Woodchat Shrike Alcaudon Comun Lanius senator

A Mallard was seen in the river as we took the left turn at the end of the road towards Benalup.  Even more to the point, the flooded edge to a rice field on our right held upwards of 250 Glossy Ibis.  As we studied and photographed the birds we very became aware of the neighbouring smaller birds, especially Ringed Plovers and juvenile Grey Wagtails along with a very handsome Yellow Wagtail of the flavissima sub-species and most likely on its way south from Britain.

A few of the 250+ Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus

But, searching with bins and scopes we also found both Green and Common Sandpiper along with Greenshank and a solitary Ruff.  Finally, more Stonechats and Woodchat Shrikes along with a handful of House Martins as we made our way to our final top of the day at the Barbate marshes.

Ruff Combatiente Philomachus pugnax

Not the best of time to arrive with the water at almost full tide and the bids all very distant.  But, in addition to the many Flamingos present we also added Black-headed Gulls along with more Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus many more Stonechats and Woodchat Shrikes. A single Redshank was feeding on the nearest shore and the "usual" island produced a single Stone Curlew.  Four Turtle Doves were a lovely addition and then the sight of an Osprey flying directly towards us only to pull up, dive and regain the air with a large fish in its tallons.  No sooner ready to to move off and the parent was joined by a youngster, obviously as yet, not that proficient in catching its own supper!

Flamingos Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus

The far end of the track finally produced our first Black-winged Stilts of the day along with a pair of Spoonbill and a single Great White EgretSanderlings and Ringed Plovers were foraging the edges and a couple of Willow Warblers were feeding in the nearby Tamarisks.  So ended our first day as we made our way to our overnight accommodation in Barbate with a final total of 61 species and the promise of less wind in the morning.

Today, Monday, proved the weather forecasters absolutely correct with clear blue skies, very hot temperatures and a not a breath of wind.  What to do?  First a return visit to the Barbate marshes as the tide would now be a full three hours beyond its height and the chance of more small birds on display.  We were not to be disappointed.  First stop the beach just before crossing the long bridge out of the town.  The tide was on its way out reveling a lone Common Sandpiper and a couple of Black-headed Gulls whilst behind us we had a couple of Zitting Cisticola in the Tamerisk along with both House Sparrows and nearby Spotless Starlings.  Lots of feeding Barn Swallows  and as we arrive at the waters on the far side of the road we stopped to take note of what could be seen over the new fish ponds, etc.

Rock and Collared Doves as we arrived at a parking area in front of the beach just before the bridge.  The sandy island in front held a good mixed flock of Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls and nearer to us many Sanderling and Ringed Plover.  A single Whimbrel caught our eye and working the rocks a couple of Turnstone.  Out at sea a couple of Gannets were busy feeding.

So on to the fishponds at the marshes and plenty of water.  Lots of Flamingos in the distance and nearer to us Sanderling and Ringed Plover.  On the rough ground around us a couple of Crested Larks and a handful of Short-toed Larks.  The island immediately in front of us held a small number of Audouin's Gulls and a single Redshank.  No sooner had we noted our first Woodchat Shrikes in the nearby trees than we saw a large flock of Glossy Ibis pass over the back of the water along with a single Cormorant flying in the opposite direction.

Audouin's Gulls Gaviota de Audouin Larus audouinii

Scoping the distant birds both Avocet and Spoonbill were identified along with a good number of Herons.  Before moving on along the track we had also added Little Egret and a couple of Greenshank.  In the nearby trees we found a couple of Turtle Doves, Willow Warblers and a male Sardinian Warbler.  And no sooner had I found a Spotted Flycatcher than Elena found the resting Little Owl which remained for many minutes to enable photographs to be taken.

Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua

Distant Marsh Harriers and an Osprey as we worked our way along the track and many more Stonechats, Woodchat Shrikes, Willow Warblers and Crested Larks.  The far end produced a Spotted Redshank and Steve's "walkabout" in the small spinney produced both Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.  On our way back Elena managed to track down the single Stone Curlew and we also found a couple of Mallard and a departing Hoopoe.  Just before reaching the man road more Willow Warblers and another couple of Zitting Cisticola.

Willow Warbler Mosquitero Musical Phylloscopus trochilus

With no breeze at all and the sun high in the sky it was now becoming very hot indeed and quite uncomfortable so the decision was made to take a brief look at the track leading down to La Janda from the main road and then make an early start home.  Unlike yesterday, lots of small birds as we slowly drove down to the canal  Not just Stonechats and Crested Larks but numerous Willow Warblers. A Northern Wheatear was recorded and away to our right a large kettle of White Storks looking for a suitable thermal.  A Buzzard appeared close by to our left and in the distance another Marsh Harrier.  Further away in front of us at least two score of Griffon Vultures above the mountains.Then it was eastwards and as we passed the Tarifa area we had many Black Kite sightings along with a pair of Raven and even a Blackbird crossed the road in front of us.

Record shot of Stone Curlew Alcaravan Comun Burhinus oedicnemus

Birds seen:

Mallard, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Heron, Glossy Ibis, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone Curlew, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruff, Whimbrel, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch.

Greenshank Archibebe Claro Tringa nebularia

Check out the accompanying website at http://www.birdingaxarquia.weebly.com for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information

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