Trip Report: Strait of Gibraltar (Spain), August 28 - September 13, 1998

Ken Tucker, Dorset, UK;

I have recently returned from a two week spell of voluntary work with Programa Migres counting migrant storks and raptors over the Strait of Gibraltar. The work was concentrated along the Spanish coast between Algeciras and Bolonia. On my return I provided a trip report to E.J. Garcia and he has encouraged me to forward the trip report to EBN...

I arrived with Migres on Fri 28th August and met the other volunteers involved for the same period (1 other Englishman, 2 Romanians, 1 Swiss, 2 Poles, 1 Lithuanian and about 10 Spaniards). The whole thing was well organised with much liasing between watch points using walkie-talkies. A few birds may be counted twice but with such a broad front of migrating birds and conditions often discouraging a straight crossing this is inevitable. The walkie-talkies ensure that all of the major flocks and movements are tracked and recorded efficiently with little duplication.

The major species were Honey Buzzard and Black Kite with thousands per day. Also passing most watch-points each day were Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and Montagu's Harrier (up to 30 or so individuals of each with larger numbers coming through towards the end of the period of my stay). White Storks were still coming through in flocks up to about 250 and Black Storks were just starting with less than a handful of birds on any one day. Other less common but regular species were Red Kite, Osprey, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Lesser Kestrel with usually one or two each day for all watch-points combined. Griffon Vultures were constantly present in the area but not yet crossing.

On the rare side were;

The Rueppell's Vultures were interesting to say the least (and even more unexpected). We had been told that last year there had been two immatures, and this year there had been one around. Towards the end of my two weeks one bird was seen by another group at the Algorrobo watch-point (near Algeciras) when there was local carrion. The next day I had a fly-by of (I presumed at the time) the same bird at Cazalla (above Tarifa). The following day at Algorrobo the carrion was really busy with 60 or more griffons and we identified one Rueppell's repeatedly flying through and occasionally landing (but not actually seen on the ground). Views were very close. The bird had moult 'nicks' at the primary/secondary junctions, this being much more obvious in the left wing.

The following (my last) day I was posted to the Santuario Valley (near a carrion point but no recent carrion) and was astounded to see two Rueppell's on four occasions through the day. One appeared to have perfect wings and the other an obvious missing secondary and moult nick in the right wing thus confirming three different birds. The birds were easy to identify once learnt. I saw many dark Griffons which initially raised suspicion but on seeing the real thing the differences were obvious. How many there are in Andalucia and where they are coming from is anybody's guess.

The Lesser-spotted Eagle was also something of a surprise (2nd for Spain?). It was not a healthy bird with its tail and most primaries missing. Despite this it was able to get around, being seen over a wide area often at great height for at least 7 days until I left. The identity of the bird was at first contentious, when distant and due to its lack of tail etc. the bird appeared quite massive. However, once it was seen properly by the majority of birders in the area and in the company of black kites, its true size could be seen to be quite small and other features convinced everybody.

As for other birds, very few were seen whilst counting. Most sites held Sardinian, Cetti's and Fan-tailed Warblers, Stonechats, Thekla Lark, Cattle Egrets... Also seen from time to time were Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoes, Red-rumped Swallows, Alpine Swifts, Black-eared Wheatears. One site held Rufous Bush Chat, and most sites produced records of White-rumped Swift at some point (I saw two individuals).

At the end of my time with Migres I went to Gibraltar for a day. The Jews Gate observatory was closed, and I saw very little other than Blue Rock Thrush and many Two-tailed Pasha Butterflies. I took the cable car to the top and descended via Mediterranean Steps (over-grown and a little treacherous in places). I then walked to Europa Point and back via Jacobs Ladder, desperately trying for Barbary Partridge - I think I was just unlucky. If I could have stayed until dusk I may have been more fortunate.

The next day I joined a tour to Tangier - a rather sanitised tourist view, but an easy introduction. Despite looking I found no Little Swifts or other hoped-for species. Next time I will stay longer. Two Little Swifts were seen this year north of the Strait at a cave where swifts roost somewhere near Bolonia (presumably the same place as 1996). Also, one was seen at Algorrobo on the day I was on Gib'!

Finally on my last two days I visited Ronda (one more White-rumped Swift from the train, Southern Grey Shrikes also from the train and Peregrine, 80+ Chough, Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martins in the gorge but no Rock Sparrows, despite looking) and La Laguna de Fuente de Piedra (a real highlight of the whole trip with thousands of Flamingos still present, many Black-necked Grebes, one late Collared Pratincole, several Black-winged Stilts, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Short-toed and Crested Larks, Tawny Pipit and at least five of the always delightful Purple Gallinule). I flew home from Malaga on 13th August.

The List

  1. Black-necked Grebe - Podiceps nigricollis
  2. Cory's Shearwater - Calonectris diomedea
  3. Balearic Shearwater - Puffinus mauretanicus
  4. Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
  5. Northern Shag - Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  6. Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
  7. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
  8. Black Stork - Ciconia nigra
  9. White Stork - Ciconia ciconia
  10. Greater Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber
  11. Common Shelduck - Tadorna tadorna
  12. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
  13. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata
  14. Honey Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
  15. Black-shouldered Kite - Elanus caeruleus
  16. Black Kite - Milvus migrans
  17. Red Kite - Milvus milvus
  18. Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus
  19. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus
  20. Ruppell's Griffon Vulture - Gyps ruppellii
  21. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus
  22. Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
  23. Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
  24. Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
  25. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
  26. Lesser Spotted Eagle - Aquila pomarina
  27. Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus
  28. Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
  29. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
  30. Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
  31. Eleonora's Falcon - Falco eleonorae
  32. Peregrine - Falco peregrinus
  33. Red-legged Partridge - Alectoris rufa
  34. Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
  35. Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio porphyrio
  36. Coot - Fulica atra
  37. Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus
  38. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus
  39. Collared Pratincole - Glareola pratincola
  40. Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius
  41. Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus
  42. Dunlin - Calidris alpina
  43. Ruff - Philomachus pugnax
  44. Common Sandpiper - Tringa hypoleucos
  45. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
  46. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
  47. Western Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
  48. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
  49. Rock Dove - Columba livia
  50. Stock Dove - Columba oenas
  51. Woodpigeon - Columba palumbus
  52. Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
  53. Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur
  54. Little Owl - Athene noctua
  55. Common Swift - Apus apus
  56. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
  57. Alpine Swift - Apus melba
  58. White-rumped Swift - Apus caffer
  59. European Bee-eater - Merops apiaster
  60. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
  61. Green Woodpecker - Picus viridis
  62. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopos major
  63. Short-toed Lark - Calandrella brachydactyla
  64. Crested Lark - Galerida cristata
  65. Thekla Lark - Galerida theklae
  66. Skylark - Alauda arvensis
  67. Sand Martin - Riparia riparia
  68. Crag Martin - Hirundo rupestris
  69. Swallow - Hirundo rustica
  70. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica
  71. House Martin - Delichon urbica
  72. Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris
  73. Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla flava
  74. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea
  75. Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes
  76. Rufous Bushchat - Cercotrichas galactotes
  77. European Robin - Erithacus rubecula
  78. Whinchat - Saxicola rubetra
  79. Stonechat - Saxicola torquata
  80. Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe
  81. Black-eared Wheatear - Oenanthe hispanica
  82. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
  83. Blackbird - Turdus merula
  84. Song Thrush - Turdus philomelos
  85. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti
  86. Fan-tailed Warbler - Cisticola juncidis
  87. Melodious Warbler - Hippolais polyglotta
  88. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
  89. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
  90. Wood Warbler - Phylloscopus sibilatrix
  91. Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita
  92. Firecrest - Regulus ignicapillus
  93. Spotted Flycatcher - Muscicapa striata
  94. Pied Flycatcher - Ficedula hypoleuca
  95. Crested Tit - Parus cristatus
  96. Coal Tit - Parus ater
  97. Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus
  98. Great Tit - Parus major
  99. Short-toed Treecreeper - Certhia brachydactyla
  100. Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus
  101. Southern Grey Shrike - Lanius meridionalis
  102. Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator
  103. European Jay - Garrulus glandarius
  104. Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
  105. Spotless Starling - Sturnus unicolor
  106. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
  107. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
  108. European Serin - Serinus serinus
  109. Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
  110. Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis
  111. Linnet - Carduelis cannabina
  112. Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes
  113. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; September 30, 1998