Thursday, 29 August 2013

Raptor Movement and La Janda News

Honey Buzzard

It's been another busy week here down on The Strait of Gibraltar. As the summer slowly comes to an end and autumn weather and shorter days signal birds to move slowly south, the skies above Cadiz province have all kinds of bird species flying over or stopping off to feed before crossing the narrow stretch of water that separates the two continents.

Honey Buzzards on migration

More and more Honey Buzzards have been crossing to Morocco this last week with some large flocks being watched over the last few mornings. The fickle winds that have been constantly swinging from pole to pole down on The Strait have taken the bolder and more business-like raptors like the honeys higher in the sky as they flap across the sea.
Zipping below the birds of prey, Common Swifts, House and Sand Martins, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows have been dodging the migrating Sparrowhawks.
The sound of Bee-eater flocks constant calling, migrating high in the blue sky is always something I love hearing and in the dusk of the evening birds have been flying low over the meadow at the rear of our property feeding on insects.
The other evening we had a Red-necked Nightjar come silently from the direction of our neighbour's garden, dip down low over our swimming pool to take a few moths and out over the other side of our garden.
A juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle is lit up against the bright afternoon sky over La Janda

Short-toed Eagles are plentiful at this time of year

With luck you can have some very close views of this lovely bird of prey

A Short-toed Eagle turns gracefully in the sky

This male Montagu's Harrier was passing through the rice-fields of La Janda this week

There were a lot of first year Monty's as well

...and some females too

Here's the commoner form of Booted Eagle and this is the easiest one to identify 

The darker or the intermediate forms can be tricky when in amongst other species on migration. Strong winds can cause the birds to pull in their wings a little to have less lift and more control. This changes the silhouette slightly and their structure and size can appear different. If you can get a head-on view you should be able to see the tell-tale 'headlights' or 'landing lights', those two white spots on the inner shoulders.
Another example of a darker Booted Eagle, this time backlit with wings fully extended on a calm day

The Bonelli's Eagle is a fine raptor to watch and like a lot of animals younger birds like this one are quite curious and come closer to check you out. If you're a photographer you can't help smiling as you are given such special views.

Fast and without mercy the Eurasian Sparrowhawk takes most of it's prey on the wing, following the flocks of smaller birds that flap alongside it all the way to Equatorial Africa where lots of different species winter. The Sparrowhawks stay there until spring and follow the birds all the way back to Europe picking off the weaker ones en route.

The beaks of the Bee-eaters have grown back to their normal length again after their busy tunnelling days during spring.

A typical evening scene at La Janda with White Storks and Eurasian Spoonbills feeding

Not forgetting the huge numbers of Glossy Ibis

...and a few Squacco Herons

 Purple Herons too
There are less and less sightings of Collared Pratincoles and just one first year bird was seen last week. More will arrive from the north of Spain or France and stop off to feed here in the south.

We had some Ruff (above) with Common Snipe and Wood Sandpipers feeding alongside the Green Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts.

A juvenile Black-winged Stilt at La Janda

More news next week as I head out east lead a tour to Lake Neusiedl in Austria at the border with Hungary

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Thermals and more...

Black Kites are the first raptor to migrate and cross The Strait of Gibraltar. The skies will continue to be filled with them slowly moving down towards Tarifa and if the wind is too strong for them to cross to Morocco there will be a huge build up as more and more arrive in the south

Breeding Birds and Migration:
I went down to La Janda early yesterday morning to check out this year's newly fledged Collared Pratincoles that are still feeding and sticking close together. Most of the adults have moved on and the youngsters have a good food source with hundreds of different flying insects. As they hone up on their flight and hunting skills, weather particularly wind strength and direction will dictate how long they stay around the rice fields before flying through Morocco. More pratincoles will arrive here from other areas and by the end of September most of these very special summer birds will have gone south to Africa

Bird Behaviour: 
This is an unusual photo flight shot of a first year Montagu's Harrier turning quickly hunting dragonflies during he month of August. These athletes can turn on a sixpence at incredible speed and pounce on any sustainable living thing to keep them alive. Survival is instinctive and these delicate raptors can sustain themselves on a minimum of seven or eight large grasshoppers or dragonflies per day. If a young unsuspecting smaller bird is caught then this will sustain the raptor for a little bit longer. 
Watching them learning to hunt and survive on their own is a fascinating and exhilarating experience here in La Janda.

Learning to Fly:
This is the best time to see newly fledged and older White Storks thermalling and learning about soaring and gliding. I have many photos of this fantastic spectacle over the last 12 years. 

I had a day off day the other day and as we are right on the edge of the Barbate Marismas they seem always to be over our swimming pool. These huge summer thermals, giant bubbles of hot air, build up as the sun rises higher in the sky and soaring birds like White Storks get higher and higher.

Rare Birds:
It's that time again when we can expect to see Rüppell's Vultures (below) heading north to Cadiz province to look for food with thousands of other scavenging Griffons and if we are really lucky we could spot a White-backed Vulture as well. 

Keep those birding eyes peeled.

Short-toed Eagle out looking for reptiles.
One of the evolutionary characteristics of the medium sized bird of prey is that it has specially adapted talons or 'toes' that can seize and encompass reptiles without any danger of them wriggling free.

Large or Algerian Psammodromus/Lagartija Colilarga (Psammodromus algirus). 
Adult male in summer. You can find them in mixed woodland in southern France, Spain, Portugal and W North Africa.


A Squacco Heron preening.
Purple Heron, Little Bittern and Glossy Ibis are feeding in the rice fields with thousands of Cattle and Little Egrets. Most of the Cattle Egrets will stay although like the other species mentioned here, some do cross and feed on the many estuaries and wetlands all down the Moroccan Atlantic coastline