Thursday 10 August 2017

Twelve raptors and Scores of Orcas

Wednesday 9 August

Up and out of the house before 6 collecting Derek Etherton, Micky Smith and Lindsay Pheasant before carrying on down to Tarifa where, after a short break for breakfast, we were able to spend a couple of hours at the Cazalla Viewpoint above the town to check out on the earlier departing raptors and other bird movements.  We had already passed a couple of large flocks of Black Kites as we moved along the coast and nearly all the White Stork nests were occupied by either one or both of the current residents.

Female Common Kestrel Cernicalo Vulgar Falco tinnunculus
As soon as we arrived, with a gentle breeze to keep away the rapidly increasing temperature, we became aware of the number of Common Kestrels feeding in the ate area.  On the wires below the and at the back of the site not only resting Kestrels but a couple of Rollers.  In the distance the first of the soaring Griffon Vultures and then time to meet the other birders present at the site including fellow ABS member and friends along with Alejandro Onrubia from the Migres Centre.  Even better when Alejandro decided to join us at the Andalucia Bird Society.

Very distant Roller Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus
In very close succession we had our first Booted Eagle followed by a Short-toed Eagle.  The latter spent much time quartering the area to the west and we were able to see the bird literally drop out of the sky and down onto the path below where it found its morning breakfast of a good-sized snake.  I suspect much was left as the bird left then returned after for another "snack" but did not carry away its prey.

Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennatus
A group of Honey Buzzards moved over towards the sea and at the top of the group a single Egyptian Vulture.  Similarly, the flock of Black Kites had a single White Stork moving above them but looking towards the sea we then saw the rest of the White Storks flock with as many as twenty making their way south.  Meanwhile, a good number of Swifts had arrived on the scene, mainly Common but also a few Pallids.  The easily recognised calling from not too high revealed the passing flock of Bee-eaters and then it was back to more Booted and Short-Toed Eagles.  Again, following the Booted Eagle we were pleased to record the Goshawk next to it and clearly showing the size difference.

High Goshawk Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pygargus
Lots of excitement as an immature Montagu's Harrier put in an appearance closely followed by a female Marsh Harrier.  A further surprise followed as we watched a female Lesser Kestrel feeding on he wing.  Then ,by way of a change from the raptors, a pair of Raven drifted by towards the coast.  Something a little different was seeing a Long-legged Buzzard in the distance which started the debate as to whether it was a pure bird or one of the hybrid Steppe Buzzards that occur in the area. In addition to a Stonechat, other smaller birds feeding close by included Crested Lark and Sardinian Warbler.

Short-toed Eagle Culebrera Europea Circaetus gallicus including a shot on the ground after fist attack on the snake
We then drove down to the town and parked the car.  Walking to the docks to check-in for our afternoon "Orca Cruise" we, not unnaturally, recorded Spotless Starling, Collared and Rock Doves along with Blackbird , House Martin and Barn Swallow.

After time for a drink and sandwiches with a few Yellow-legged Gulls on the sea walls, we made our way aboard ship for an almost four hour trip out into the Strait, passing an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull before recording both Balearic and Cory's Shearwater along with a Pomarine Skua before reaching the Orca's feeding grounds.  Talking to the crew it appeared that the Orcas fed mainly in the morning on the passing Red Tuna so that would have been the opportune time, had there been any spare capacity, to  look for seabirds as they fed upon the scraps.  And whilst we did not see any Tuna it was wierd to see a couple of Sun Fish at the side of the boat.

I beieve one of the large male Orcas Orcinus orca
So, no Wilson's Storm Petrel but a couple of (Common) Storm Petrels did pass the boat.  But out here it was all about the Orcas; there must have been score and more and it would appear that more than half of these were females and each seemed to be accompanied by its calf.  Were we seeing the same animals over and over again?  Difficult to say but the Orcas were close to the boat, often too close, to get decent photographs.

Feamle Orca Orcinus orca and calf
After returning to the port at Tarifa we had close views of Cory's Shearwaters and, following a short stop for a drink we started out on the long return journey with drop-off stops at Marbella, Benalmadena and Alhaurin de la Torre.  Eventually home after seventeen hours at just before eleven but what a wonderful day out with great friends and marvellous company.

Resting Cory's Shearwater Pardela Cenicienta Calonectris diomedea off the Tarifa coast
Birds seen:
Balearic Shearwater, Cory's Shearwater, Storm Petrel, White Stork, Honey Buzard, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Goshawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Pomarine Skua, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Roller, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Sardinian warbler, Raven, Spotless Starling.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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