On 16th September we travelled to Guadix for an overnight stay in a cave house. On the way we spotted Hoopoe, several Magpies and a single Beeeater. Next day we drove to Tarifa and saw a few White Storks on nests in Algerciras. Once settled in our bungalow at the Hotel Meson de Sancho, we sat out on our porch and added Blackbird, Robin, House Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff and Grey Wagtail to our list, all seen in the hotel gardens.
Day one of our Tarifa trip proper found us having breakfast at the Mirador cafe, looking across the sea towards the mountains of Africa. A nice Redstart showed itself near the car park as we left. Our first stop was at the information centre at Huerte Grande where we were given two maps and lots of useful advice by a very helpful lady. I would recommend an early visit here to anyone visiting the area (closed on Mondays), as the information on where to find the watchpoints is invaluable as the sites are not well signposted. From the information centre we took a drive along the track towards the sea but stopped after a little way as the track was rather rough and John didn’t want to risk his new tyres! We walked along a bit and found the trees and scrubby areas on both sides to be alive with birds, such as, Chaffinch, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Great Tit andWheatear. House Martins, Swallows and the odd Red rumped Swallow flew overhead and then we had our first view of migration in action when a single Black Kite flew over, soon to be joined by more of these birds, about 18 in total, a good start! Our next stop was at El Algarrobo watchpoint (km 100) which is reached by a quite tortuous road and the need to grapple with a rickety makeshift gate! At the watchpoint the birds just seemed to appear from over the hills in small groups and gradually drift over and off towards the coast. I asked the Migres monitor what birds we were seeing and he pointed out Honey Buzzards, Short toed Eagle, Booted Eagles, Egyptian Vultures, Sparrowhawk and a Montagues Harrier. While at this site we also saw Griffon Vultures which I think are part of a local colony, and a slightly unexpected Cattle Egret, although it was amongst some cattle! We have heard and seen a lot about migration on TV but it was great to see it actually in progress.
The next day started off a bit drizzly so we had a quick stop at the Cazalla watchpoint (Km 87) where the Migres men were in attendance and advised us that the wind was not in the best direction for the birds to migrate. The noticeboard there showed that on Monday over 700 White Storks had gone over and counts for some other birds were also in the hundreds. It was a clear case of ‘you should have been here yesterday!’ As we were leaving a Honey Buzzard flew low over the car park giving us a great view. Apparently these birds tend to push on regardless of bad weather conditions. We drove South to Bolonia to have a look at the big sand dune there and, yes, it is quite big! On the way we drove by a field where a Marsh Harrier was hunting. We had a walk around the Roman ruins which were quite interesting. While there we spotted a Sandwich Ternover the beach and a Black Kite flew over towards the sea but seemed to change it’s mind and headed back inland. Crested Larks, Stonechats, Sardinian Warblers and a Zitting Cisticola were all seen around the area.
From here we drove up the mountain road into the Sierra de la Plata where we happened upon a Blue Rock Thrush quite close by before it disappeared behind a rock, isn’t that always the way! We saw the ‘Moor’s Cave’ before setting off back down the mountain. On the way down we saw a Black Kite perched in a tree and another raptor flew overhead. While we were admiring the views a small group of Griffon Vultures appeared from behind a ridge and flew overhead and when we stopped to look at the view near the lighthouse, several Griffons did a fly past in front of us! We also watched a lone raptor set off across the straits to Africa, a fabulous sight. On our way back to the main road we saw a Southern Grey Shrike and a couple of Beeeaters on a wire. Back at the hotel we added a Blue Tit and a female Blackcap to our list.
On our last full day we drove North to the Punta Secreta area hoping to get good views of Gibraltor, but sadly it was mostly hidden under a large cloud. We had a walk along the cliffs where we saw Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Stonechats. On the beach and the rocks there were plenty of Yellow legged Gulls and a single Turnstone. We parked by the lighthouse for a while and a steady stream of raptors appeared including Booted Eagle and we think a Short toed Eagle although our raptor identification skills are not really up to the task! Griffon Vultures were also around and at least we know what they look like!
On Friday we left the hotel and went for a last look at the Cazalla watchpoint. The weather was better, although still windy, and the raptors just kept coming. A group of 4 or 5 Egyptian Vultures gave a good display, flying quite close by with one landing in a field below us. Booted Eagles were much in evidence and a Kestrel/Lesser Kestrel flew across in front of us. The birds seemed to either drift off down the valley on our left towards the coast, or they flew higher and over the hill to our right, towards Tarifa and Africa, presumably pleasing the group of birders who were assembled on the other side of the road! The number of birders was increasing along with the birds, perhaps they could forsee a good migration day.
A highlight for us was the arrival of a group of 5 or 6, maybe more, Black Storks flying close to one of the wind turbines before disappearing behind the hill, probably sensing it was too windy for them to fly over the straits and waiting for a better day. Eventually, we had to set off home, with another overnight stay at the Guadix cave house. We had really enjoyed our trip to Tarifa, the only issue being our poor raptor identification skills which is a bit frustrating when there seem to be raptors just about everywhere! I have sought advice from Malcolm Palmer in identifying some of the birds in my photos and he tells me that one of my blurry birds is a Black headed Tchagra which I have never even heard of but apparently they come from Morocco so could well be in the area, amazing!