Friday, 26 February 2010

Early Bird Migration

A short-toed eagle drifts into a misty valley in Andalucia
Every day this week has seen a flow of early spring migrant birds crossing The Strait of Gibraltar.
Winds have been predominantly coming from the south-west aiding the larger birds such as storks and birds of prey across the narrow stretch of water that separates the two continents, and even though we still have a lot of rain showers pushing in from the Atlantic, this year's early migration has brought some great waves of birds, flapping low across the waves into SW Andalucia.

Blue skies have been a scarce sight lately but hundreds of Short-toed Eagles are passing each day despite gloomy weather

A typical weather front on The Strait of Gibraltar at the town of Tarifa. Low pressure again over an already saturated Cadiz province

A Black-winged Kite hunting in spring. Increased numbers of this lovely little raptor make it a fairly easy find in SW Spain

Black Kites were the most numerous birds of prey with hundreds passing us each day, giving those watching some wonderful close-up views

Typically, migrating birds of prey and storks gather together over land during both migration times. Here, a group of Black Kites wheel round in the sky near Barbate, checking each other out or perhaps even bonding. Short-toed Eagles also stick together when crossing stretches of water, giving encouragment to each other by their presence in greater numbers.

This very fresh looking Black Kite makes a low pass

Looking from Spain towards Africa at Bolonia beach during the end of February

Egyptian Vultures have been steadily declining in Europe each year. It's one of the species that seems to know every other Egyptian Vulture's nesting site. I suppose we have the southernmost nests on the European mainland and any Egyptian Vulture that arrives back around this time seems to know where the nest sites are and circle around them often landing close by to check them out. Then they are gone and different birds will come in an do the same thing until finally, and with luck of course, breeding pairs from last year return to their area. I don't know how they find these other nest sites but there is something very special about Egyptian Vultures. They are intelligent, resourceful with fantastic eyesight, spotting and taking roadkill and like other vultures will flap and glide over huge distances searching for food.
During last year's autumn migration I witnessed with a group I was leading at the time the most fantastic sight of over three-hundred migrating birds stacked or piled up down our way, unable to cross The Strait due to the strong easterly wind. More birds arrived every day over an eight day period adding to the numbers. What an incredible sight met us around one valley where birds were. Sitting around in trees in huge numbers, on the side of cliffs and valley slopes, wheeling aloft, landing, testing the air direction and wind strength before settling down again to wait, preening those very important flight feathers in preparation and all the time watching other raptors caught and condensed into a small area, playing exactly the same waiting game.

Habitat of the Egyptian Vulture

Lesser Kestrels too are an early migrant that return to traditional nest sites in towns and villages throughout the Mediterranean and a lot of southern European areas. They aren't a bird that undertake huge seasonal journey south and can often be found throughout winter in Andalucia.
This is a shot of two Lesser Kestrel, a male (R) and a female at the white village of Alcala de Los Gazules

Male Kestrel

A Hen Harrier adult male hunts over the fields.
Hen Harriers are earlier migrants than the sleeker and slimmer Montagu's Harrier. Hen Harriers are broader winged and somewhat bulkier in appearance with more business like faster flight during migration.
All of the harriers are incredibly agile and when hunting both the Hen and the Monty's hold their wings in a V-form low over the ground with Monty's having a much more buoyant flight.
Both of the males of the two species have very dark visible wingtips on the underside. The Hen Harrier is very light on the underside with a grey hood. Monty's have more streaking on the underwing and have one less primary feather - four instead of five with the Hen.

Osperys cover huge distances often over sea during migration, heading to equatorial W Africa from their breeding sites throughout Europe each year. They are often seen singly or sometimes in pairs during spring although young birds may 'team up' during the autumn passage. A specialist fish hunter, they can be seen stopping off at lakes, reservoirs, tidal bays and estuaries and along the coastline. Several years ago I watched an adult Osprey take a fish from a local angler who was just in the act of reeling in a large Dorada (Sea-Bass) he'd caught along the coast near El Palmar. The bird dived down catching the fish in it's talons and as quick as a flash snapped the line an flew off with 'his' catch leaving a bewlidered and angry man scratching his head.
A few years ago saw the return of breeding Ospreys to Andalucia, helped by a re-itroduction programme. Birds are now breeding again in Portugal and on the Spainish mainland, after an absence of sixty years caused predominantly by hunting. During the last century and birds of prey were shot and often landowners paid money for each one brought back dead to the estate offices. This practice has stopped and there is much more awareness amongst gun owners. Unfortunately the cowboy element will always try and shoot down anything that's flying past whether it's a Black Stork migrating near Madrid or a Hen Harrier over Sandringham. Some of the culprits down this way that have committed such offences have been heavily fined and there is much more press coverage to such events.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Finding some Blue Sky

During a few hours sunlight this week, I took myself up to Vejer de la Frontera to see how my Lesser Kestrels were getting on. I counted twenty-six birds and most of the males were out flying, displaying to the females. I took these shots of these special creatures that I never tire of watching.

Just when you come across a close encounter with a Black winged Kite, the light always seems to just not quite enough for better clarity. Still, the shot is not too bad and shows the bird having a good shake of its feathers.

Another clear spell and this flight shot of another Black winged Kite

A high soaring juvenile Bonelli's Eagle

A Booted Eagle comes in across The Strait of Gibraltar from Africa

This adult Black-crowned Night Heron looked really fed up with all the rain!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Cancel Building the Ark....No, Wait a Minute..!

Despite the saturated ground one of the early orchids comes into flower - Woodcock Ophrys Ophrys scolopax

Just one of the minor roads that was washed away with the recent rains

Patr of the main collector canal a tLa Janda

One of the weirs at Las Lomas

Looking down from Vejer to the Marisamas at Barbate

Another morning view of the Marismas

La Janda

Little Egrets take flight

Turning up to the Benalup side of La Janda

Juvenile Marsh Harrier

Male Marsh Harrier

Another chance to watch the Great Spotted Cuckoos feeding

A family of Common Cranes at La Janda

Looks like the US mid-west but in fact it's near Benalup-Casas Viejas

Great Egret

Barn Swallows mating last week

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Great Spotted Cuckoos

More Great Spotted Cuckoos arrived throughout Cadiz province in Andalucia this week with around twelve birds squabling, screaming - generally going completely cuckoo...

Clamator glandarius is the Great Spotted Cuckoo's official Latin name. Adults are (both sexes are alike) around 13.8–15.4 in (35–39 cm) in length, dusky brown, flight feathers grey-brown, tail tipped white, crown grey and face black, eye ring grey to red, bill black. Juveniles (quite smart looking really) have crown and face black, and flight feathers rufous.

Distribution of these exotic birds are through the Iberian peninsular, South France, Turkey and Cyprus, Iran and Iraq, Middle East to Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia. They also occur in North Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, and South Africa. All populations winter in Africa.

The birds habitat consists of semi-arid open woodland, scrubs, and cultivation but specifically in Europe in open areas of oak and pine forests, also olive and almond groves, normally below 6,600 ft (2,000 m).

Their behaviour (all joking aside, seems quite unbalanced - probably due to hormones kicking in once back in SW Andalucia!)

Their call really - no, I mean really loud with a harsh guttural voice: "kah, kah, kah…kak, kak…ko, ko, ko, ko," falling in pitch and increasing in tempo. (A bit like walking into a local 'venta'or bar and shouting your order to the waiter over the noise of a TV turned up full volume and loud communal chat from the clients with the thunder of the rain beating off the corrugated bar roof!)
These fantastic birds are fairly easy to see in pairs at the beginning of the breeding season if you time their migration arrival correctly. The male feeds caterpillars to the female.

Great spotted Cuckoos are mainly monogamous, although polygamous mating arrangements occur. Brood parasitic; the magpie is its main host in the Mediterranean, also crows are used, and starlings in Africa. There is no ejection of host eggs by nestlings. They lay a large number of eggs (maybe up to 25, 12 for sure), distributed over many nests of hosts. Over extensive regions there is only one egg type. Incubation 12–15 days, shorter than hosts. There may be more than one chick per magpie nest successfully fledging. It fledges as soon as 16 days, fed by foster parents for one to two more months. Young form social groups attended by magpies.

A nice pose between a gap in the wild olive trees or 'acebuche' as they are called in Spanish.
Here's a one minute film clip taken with my wee Lumix Panasonic 'family' camera from the Land Rover