Friday, 26 August 2011

Juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle

Before I continue packing my gear in preparation to head off very early tomorrow to Lake Neusiedl in Austria (again), I thought I'd share this beauty from the start of the southerly avian migration on The Strait of Gibraltar.

I had a great day out birding with two lovely novice birders from Genoa in Italy yesterday. After a 'Roller' of a morning morning punctuated with Booted and Short-toed Eagles as well as quite a few good views of Egyptian Vulture passage above Tarifa, we took a look at the rice-fields of La Janda where upon I noticed a pack of young Marsh Harriers mobbing something large on the edge one of the adjacent sunflower fields. Just as we approached we saw this magnificent juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle lift off the ground, still being pestered by the harriers and fly around our heads. What an incredible sight. Fortunately I managed to capture quite a few shots as it drifted off, putting up Purple and Squacco Herons, White Storks, Cattle and Little Egrets as well as some Glossy Ibis as it passed over the paddies. One of the rarest eagles in the World and alway an impressive sight to witness. The hairs on the back of my head stood up in salute!

No rings (bands), satellite or radio pack

I'm leading a tour to Lake Neusiedl for Limosa Holidays and The Travelling Naturalist and hopefully I can post some news from Austria and Hungary about the southerly migration in central-eastern Europe, some 3,000 kms away from The Strait and my home.
Happy Birding to one and all, Stephen

Thursday, 25 August 2011

European Roller (New Photos)

Roller catches spider...

Following on from yesterday's post, I returned to where the European Rollers were gathering to feed and rest before flying across The Strait of Gibraltar. Fortunately there were at least six birds still there and I managed to get some closer shots in better light than yesterday.


Juvenile on the wire

Some more hunting shots

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

It Seems Like an Early Migration...

It seems like the autumn bird migration season has started early this year. Here we find some people scanning Playa de Los Lances near Tarifa for Audouin's Gulls.... They could always book a local guide

Egyptian Vulture, adult

This is going to sound like a giant advert for Andalucian Guides; and so it should!

What an amazing birding day it was travelling down The Strait today. Short-toed Eagles sat on posts and Booted Eagles flew in the general direction we were heading, towards Tarifa. A Roller was the next lovely migrant we spotted, sitting on wires, catching breath before continuing southwards across to Africa.

A melanistic Montagu's Harrier from today (24th Aug 2011). A bit far off but identifiable

Black Kites peppered the skies, a juvenile male Peregrine Falcon was studied sitting on top of a pylon and a few Lesser and Common Kestrels were also seen en route to our first migration watchpoint at Punto Camorro close to Tarifa.
We met up with my friend Andres de La Cruz and his team of volunteers from Fundación Migres, an NGO working since 2004 on avian migration and other projects on The Strait of Gibraltar. The volunteers come every year to help with migration counts, mapping of species and other statistical data gathering based on physical observations during the autumn bird migration.

Standard first year juv Monty's

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus). Juvenile plumage from both under and upper wing. Typical head pattern, dark fingers and the trailing edge, also dark secondaries. See the ochre tinge with faint breast streaking. The iris colour suggests juvenile female...

European Roller - part of the insect chase sequence of shots below. The bird took the insect then flew off southwards with six other birds across The Strait. What could beat such a wonderful sight and behavioural study!

You might have to click this image to see it a bit clearer

European Rollers

Bee-eaters were the first sounds we heard above the rocky coastline and then we saw them, about 45 in all in one group passing high above our heads, flashing their colourful wings open and closed a few time and then out of sight heading for Morocco. This was set to continue for the next two hours with wave after wave of Bee-eaters, some very low some only heard as they passed our viewpoint. Sand Martins, Barn Swallows Common, Pallid and a few Alpine Swifts flew south-westwards as a pair of Montagu's Harriers and a lone Goshawk circled for ages before heading down the coast towards Gibraltar. Singles of Egyptian Vultures, some adults but a few juveniles also came flying in with local or visiting Griffon Vultures circling and moving past into the next undulating valley and disappearing then reappearing as time passed.

Red Kite

Marsh Harriers came, a lovely male then some juveniles. Two single Honey Buzzards passed over about half an hour apart and more Monty's flew by over our heads, a mixed bag of adults and juvs while the main raptor guard, of over one hundred Booted and fifty-plus Short-toed Eagles passed. This was of course interspersed with two very large 'kettles' of over three hundred White Storks in each group that came along the coast from Bolonia, then swung sharply out to sea, making a direct flight, flapping all the way to the Moroccan coastline on the other side, a mere 12 kms away. What a sight! A couple of Norther Wheatears and a Black-eared Wheatear passed and as a special treat, a single Atlas Long-legged Buzzard was seen working its way behind us for a short time then out of sight behind the skyline. This really was something very special for those who had never seen one before.

Booted Eagle

We left Andres and his team to re-trace our steps back down to Tarifa and to our delight found another six Rollers sitting around the first valley between Punto Camorro and the main N340 road. A few smaller passerines were there too with three juvenile Woodchat Shrikes, their first head moult showing a tinge of red that will be much more visible in the coming spring. 'They grow up so fast these days…' A single Melodious Warbler and Black Redstart were also watched nearby as a pair of local Stonechats shrugged from the fence as if to say 'Seen it all before'.

Short-toed Eagle

We had lunch after spotting yet another Roller. Suitable refreshed we went down to La Janda and picked up more Montagu's Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures, Common Kingfisher, Short-toed Larks, a single Squacco Heron, Grey Herons, White Storks, Glossy Ibis, Green Sandpiper, Little Grebe, Yellow Wagtails, Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark, Spanish Sparrows, Red-rumped Swallows, Goldfinches, Little and Cattle Egrets. Taking some tracks back to Facinas we spotted three melanistic Montagu's Harriers with another first year bird sporting their 'classic' plumage. More Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles and juvenile Marsh Harriers ended what was a perfect day's birding.

I went to the International Bird Fair at Rutland Water in the UK at the weekend and amongst other things I saw the big bird! I thought the kids would really love this in the garden but alas, it wasn't for sale...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Cracked Earth

Sand Martins have been passing through with huge numbers the last ten days. Jinky little devils, they are always a challenge to capture them in flight... I must do better!

Short-toed Eagle movement in August is normally on the increase, swelling the number of our own local birds who seem to take everything in their stride. We lost one local bird when it seems that it collided with electric cables that seem to span the countryside and add to the clutter of unnatural obstructions placed by our species to the detriment of our avian friends. Not every criticism should be launched against windmills. Man has been erecting towers, strings of power lines, crystal city buildings that block out the landscape on and across avian flyways for over one-hundred and fifty years and have caused casualties far more in numbers than the additional hazards of rotating turbines, which the 'green' investors say will help our ever increasing demand for electricity.

You cannot become weary, however tired you may feel watching these magnificent creatures hunt snakes and other reptiles along the Cadiz coast on their migratory preparation, building up fat reserves that they depend upon to clear huge desert areas to reach equatorial Africa

Booted Eagles too are becoming a daily sight over the Daly's garden!

Over at La Janda, the continuing learning process keeps the first year Montagu's Harriers sharp and alert with their new huntings skills. Like most birds food is one of the dominant and important motivators in discovering their world. Insects are a large part of this slim and most elegant of brids of prey. As the emerging dragonflies dry themselves and form their last stage for flight on the growing shoots of rice, they too become hunted and the Monty's will snatch the visible darters as they sit in the open. It's reconed that a Montagu's Harrier could survive on four or five large grasshoppers or crickets in one day. Naturally there is the opportunity to take young birds like Zitting Cisticolas, Goldfinches and Yellow Wagtails too.

Scouring the countryside below, the massive two-and-a-half meter winged Griffon Vultures use their outstanding vision looking for any dead mammal. This is the time to check all vulture flocks for the very rare Rüppell's Vulture that can be best seen around Autumn migration time

A Booted Eagle passes close by

Black Kites are the first raptor that makes a large group passage south. Usually starting in mid July, the pace quickens by August and towards the end of August thousands of birds pass through The Strait of Gibraltar. This week we had our famous Levante winds that blew hard for four days, making it impossibe for birds to cross over to Africa and as a result hundreds of birds were held up. Raptors could be seen all the way along the coast but more concentrated in the Tarifa area. The winds changed yesterday we had a mass exodus of birds crossing over to Morocco but looking up in the sky this morning we saw more and more Black Kites arrive, ever pushing southwards

Sitting pretty, a lovely Turtle Dove also makes it's way south, pausing to feed on the way

Over on the Guadalquivir River a first year Pied Avocet has to feed and let those primary and secondary feathers grow before it can fly south. Another week should see it in flight for the first time and like the other migrants will head south to Africa

I really don't know why the fish farms have drained one of the most imortant shallow lagoons on the Guadalquivir, Las Marismas del Bajo Guadalquivir After two wet winters and great breeding success for Marbled Teal, Mallard, Northern Shoveller, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocets, Purple Swamphens, Little Terns, and many other species, the place is bone dry.

Cracked earth and not a bird in sight. Perhaps they are going to deepen it. I don't really know, nobody at the local fish farm wanted to talk about it and said it's normal in summer. This certainly isn't the case and always has water if the channels are open. Someone had done this, it's not the effects of our hot summers...

Shocking and the destruction of habitat where rare species breed is against the law.

I walked up to this young Raven last week that was quite happily preening out old feathers on a wooden rail at the Algaida pond. I walked closer and closer towards the bird and took some photos at each five paces. I love Ravens and as a young boy in Scotland remember watching two young Ravens playing like young puppies do, lying on their sides in the short grass kicking one another playfully and happily!

Other young birds around are the Glossy Ibis. Many are feeding on large private estates on the Coto Doñana and in Cadiz province so their presence isn't as obvious as some years when the rice crop develops and supports more life or more food for them and the other wetland birds

Little Bitterns seemed to be more obvious last year on the Laguna de Medina as did other birds. This year has been a bit of a disaster for breeding wetland birds over there. The population of Carp has multiplied to such a degree that they are enormous and taking not only all the food but lots of young ducks, grebes, and other fish. They are top predator and their expansion will mean doom if and when the water levels drop and the laguna's oxygen runs out.

Common Sandpipers are not as common as Green Sandpipers at La Janda

Little Grebe at La Janda

Greylag Geese over on the Guadalquivir taking a drink during a very hot spell

Greater Flamingoes photos - Some shots showing what a beautiful and exotic looking species this really is. About five hundred young birds were ringed over at the Odiel marshed in Huelvea province a few weeks ago and I don't know how many at Fuente del Piedra at the same time in Malaga province

This made an interesting shot. Who is it and what's he doing on such a beautiful sunny morning...

I put the photo up on my Facebook page last week to see what comments I'd get. Here are the results!

Enjoy, Stephen

  • Beny Wilson Altamiranda Chasing Sarus Cranes away from the ricefield????
    07 August at 23:54 · · 1 person
  • Ellen ODonohue testing wind for windmills in the place you took me, La Janda???
    08 August at 00:26 · · 1 person
  • Ellen ODonohue while hoping to catch some flying bottles of sherry as the plant just exploded...
    08 August at 00:28 · · 1 person
  • David Smiff Andalucían moon-shot #2,301? Been watching too many Carlsberg adverts...
    08 August at 00:38 · · 1 person
  • Jan Zwaaneveld waiting for his space ship to pick him up
    08 August at 07:36 · · 2 people
  • Alfred Quah That could be Mr. Enviromental Clean...hehehe!!! Or he's waiting for his coconut!!! Wakakaka!!!!
    08 August at 07:53 · · 1 person
  • David Smiff Waiting for the north wind to take him across the Strait of Gibraltar with all the other migrants, the mean sod!
    08 August at 10:26 · · 1 person
  • Lutz Michalek He's proudly presenting the best and most secure condom, invented by him personally !!!
    08 August at 10:58 · · 1 person
  • Regine Oberle he´s trying to get chinese tv
    08 August at 11:16 · · 3 people
  • David Smiff Demonstrating the difference between a mushroom & a toadstool (very easy, actually: you can't inseminate with a mushroom :-D).
    08 August at 11:37 · · 1 person
  • Lesley McEwan Maybe he has under estimated the effects of acid rain?
    08 August at 16:52 · · 1 person
  • David Smiff Or is simply experimenting with the effects of acid?
    08 August at 17:26 · · 1 person
  • Philip Davison Mary Poppins 2011 - How times have changed
    08 August at 17:34 · · 5 people
  • David Smiff about at least a walnut for the MOST "funny" answers? :-D
    08 August at 18:55 ·
  • Donna Gray-Davis He is from Wonka World and is displaying his new presentation for an Orange Slice :D
    08 August at 20:43 ·
  • Stephen Daly Great Answers everyone, thanks for your contributions. I have to call it a dead-heat and everyone wins a virtual coconut!!
    Actually this was a scene last week, from the rice-growing area known as La Janda. Crop spraying aircraft need visible markers on the ground each time they turn and spray a second or third line or 'run'. The man in the photo has the unfortunate job acting as marker for the pilot. The umbrella does act as some protection as he gets drenched but more importantly for the crop spraying company, the bright orange circle should be seen by the pilot. 'Had a good day at work dear?'.
    If I can find another photo from years ago, I'll post it. This one is interesting as too, if only from a health and safety perspective...
    09 August at 08:31 · · 2 people
  • Lesley McEwan Suspect he has under estimated the effects of Asian Orange then!
    09 August at 14:44 ·
  • Roberto Ragno It's a bloody job!!!Lol,Poor man!!Robb
    09 August at 16:07 · · 1 person
  • Harshit Bhutani the rain is such a direction n he is calling someone aswell
    09 August at 16:34 ·