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.
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