Saturday, 31 March 2012

Migration: The Last week in March

The last ten days have been pretty tough for migrants arriving in North Africa for their crossing to Europe. Not only had many endured severe wet and cold all the way up the Atlantic coast of Morocco, but were halted, unable to cross The Strait, due to severe gales from a very persistent Levante or easterly wind originating in the Mediterranean. At last, the weather changed and all hell broke loose with thousands of birds pouring across into Spain.

Masses of Booted Eagles came flapping across at the weekend (30th)

Short-toed too arrived here in their hundreds

Making for the Alcornocales forest, a great natural park and home to hundreds of nesting raptors

On the western side of Cadiz province many birds were blown way off course and made landfall near Cadiz. Here a male Montagu's Harrier heads north, keeping along the course of the Guadalquivir river

Vulture activity on the sierras continues with Vultures at a quicker pace as newly hatched Griffon Vultures need to be fed.

Our Egyptian Vultures are back on their nest sites and are sitting on eggs. These are the most southern Egyptian Vulture nesting areas on the mainland of Europe

Woodchat Shrike, is a wonderfully handsome little bird and are always lovely to see returning to breed in this area

The wet weather comes rolling in across The Strait from Morocco and the SW Atlantic Ocean. This shot was taken from Playa de Los Lances near Tarifa

Greater Flamingoes can be seen in massive numbers in Cadiz province. There have been reports of a pair of Lesser Flamingoes across the river on the edge of the Coto Doñana but it's easier to see the Lessers at the lake above Antiquera called Fuente de Piedra in Malaga province. The debate goes on about whether or not they are true vagrants from Africa or if they are escapees from Zoos or private collections. The Sacred Ibis that used to be seen around Cadiz province haven't been seen for a while now.

'Flamingo Reflections'

A Common Shelduck zips past

Squacco Heron looking very spruce in their breeding plumage

Glossy Ibis

and another...Juvenile birds can suffer from colour loss in their feathers when in the sun further south. A lots of them winter in Africa and come back looking a bit bleached. Soon these feathers will moult out and their true sheen will be seen

Greenshanks (centre) with Common Coot and Common Redshank

Waders arriving ahead of the rain, Dunlin, Little Stint Common Snipe and Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits all came in with a sprinkling of rarer waders

Black-winged Stilt, common but nonetheless beautiful birds

More waders...

Spotted Redshank

Kentish Plover

Common Sandpipers

Curlew Sandpipers with some Dunlin

Black-tailed Godwit

Wood Sandpiper

Temminck's Stint

Purple Heron

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Migration: Woodchat Shrikes, Wheatears and Montagu's Harriers

One of my own personal sights of spring, is that of the first sightings of Montagu's Harrier's return to Europe. The birds often return in pairs and the males waste no time in displaying, claiming territory and mating, suggesting that prenuptial bonding has taken place en route or even in their wintering grounds.

Spring migration starts in ernest during March each year on The Strait of Gibraltar. The numbers of different species making the annual crossing back to Europe from their wintering ground in Africa steadily picks up pace and becomes a visible sight with the sheer concentration of numbers.

Montagu's Harriers have a very light and almost bouncing, easy flight. Their slim wings carry them in a seemingly effortless way searching for prey, low along field margins and rough ground

I was waiting for this lovely Black-winged Kite to turn around and face the camera when I just caught a glimpse of something interesting come into view. I instinctively shot off a few frames and managed (just) to get a lovely male Black-eared Wheatear passing through the field of view. I particularly like this shot because it shows that there's such a lot happening during the spring migration and basically anything can happen and quite a lot of early migrants and vagrants do turn up. Last weekend a Moussiere's Redstart male was seen at Punta Camorro, Tarifa. I looked for it a few days later but it was nowhere to be seen. I still haven't seen a Moussier's Redstart in Spain, or a Common Bulbul for that matter and both are just across the other side of The Strait.

Common Linnets can be seen in their thousands at present and along with Goldfinches and Serins provide food for many migrating or wintering raptors including harriers, kestrels and Black winged Kites

Adding a real splash of colour along the canal banks, reed-beds and wetlands is the Purple Swamphen

Black Storks at first light are always special to see. Having roosted in the open during the night, they'll continue their journey northwards

Most of the Great Spotted Cuckoos have moved through our area having completed their 'egging' in the nests of Common Magpies who's numbers have been increasing over the years in this part of Cadiz province. I suspect that more opportunities to parasitize the nests of Common and Azure-winged Magpies occur where the populations of both magpies are greater in the west and the north. This flight photo of a Great Spotted Cuckoo taken last week shows how long their tails are - despite the moult!

A story unfolded this week about this particular Osprey that I photographed recently at the Presa de Barbate. The bird had been ringed and also had a plastic colour identification ring on it's left leg. A report was sent off and a reply with details came back quickly from Dr Daniel Schmidt from NABU, the German equivalent of the RSPB. The bird is six years old and was ringed in the Brandenburg area in NE Germany on the 5th July 2006

This is another Osprey seen on migration along the banks of the Río Guadalquivir

We have had a lot of Swift migration with Common Swifts, Pallid, Alpine (above) and Little Swifts

Here little Swifts can be seen fairly regularly along the coast on The Strait and in the Chipiona areas to the Guadalquivir mouth at the town of Sanlucar

A short-toed Eagle hunts along one of the open valleys

Griffon Vultures often find a dead animal on the vast open areas of the Barbate Marismas and the Military Zone close to the coast. Looking behind the bird is the Río Barbate and in the distance our house. Not a bad area to live in and it's surprising what flies over our garden and our guest house Hoopoe cottage

Within the Marismas Tawny Pipits are beginning to arrive and begin their breeding season

Common Cuckoos are always great to see, especially as numbers seem to be falling in some countries

Northern Wheatears are now an every day sighting especially on the newly ploughed fields where they flit across feeding as they press ever northwards. These birds are one of the true long distance migrants and some have a very long way to go before they reach their breeding sites in the north

Looking for it's parents, a newly fledged Common Stonechat waits for food

Siskins aren't an abundant bird that I'd normally see on migration, but they do winter in some southern European areas and in north and west of Africa. This particular little finch was seen at La Linea, opposite Gibraltar suggesting that he'd just arrived back from across The Strait


Woodchat Shrikes have also been increasing in numbers over the past few days

Flocks of Calandra Larks can be seen around La Janda and across country where there are large open spaces

This Calandra was nesting on the edge of the Barabte Marismas last year

More splashes of colour this week from our stunning Iberian race of Yellow Wagtails. This male had difficulty with the wind this week and despite the strong Levante, we've seen hundreds pouring into the county from Morocco

Great Egrets are more numerous each year and I'll need to see if I can find a nest site this year

Taken this week during the high winds were a couple of shots of migrating Hoopoes that land exhausted and catch breath after a marathon crossing from Africa. They start off way up The Strait opposite Gibraltar and end up in Barbate, crabbing all the way down The Strait before they can finally make landfall

Exotic looking birds and quite a unique species

Preparing the rice-fields for planting. This is some of the dust that's been irritating my tired eyes the last week or so...

Greenfiches by the canal at La Janda

Neighbours of the Northern Bald Ibis, a pair of Jackdaws warm up in the morning sun

Red-legged Partridge spring plumage is just wonderful

And finally. I was really chuffed to see that Birdwatch has written this review in 'Best of the Blogs'. Thanks Birdwatch!