Tarifa Field Trip – David Roe

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Tarifa – 11th to 16th September

Fourteen members of the club travelled to Tarifa to observe the autumn migration over the Straits of Gibraltar. Six members arrived on Monday 11th and six more arrived on Wednesday 13th. Greta and Paul were so keen to get there that they arrived two days early! By the time the other six members in the first group had arrived, they’d already seen 150 White Storks and about 75 Alpine Swifts on Sunday 10th, plus a lot of Griffon Vultures at Sierra de la Plata on Monday morning.

Our rooms at the Hotel Mesón de Sancho were excellent, with balconies overlooking an area of shrubs and trees, plus a view of the Jebel Musa mountain on the other side of the Straits in Morocco. Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were easily seen in the nearby trees.

We split the birdwatching into two groups. The first group of eight had two full days of birding on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th. The second group of six members had their two days on Thursday 14th and Friday 15th. We hired an excellent guide, Peter Warham, who lives in western Andalucía and has been leading birding tours for 15 years.

After breakfast on Tuesday morning, the first group headed for the Cazalla observation point. There we saw Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and a solitary Black Stork.

We next dropped down past the CIMA (Centro Internacional de Migración de Aves) and up quite a rough track to a small hill overlooking the Straits. I’ve no idea if it has an official name, but it was very popular with other birders. More raptors headed south over us and we also saw what were probably Striped Dolphins and Long-Finned Pilot Whales in the Straits, albeit a long distance away.

Before stopping for a late tapas lunch at La Codorniz, we parked at Playa de los Lances and walked down the track to the observatory. There we saw many waders, including Ringed and Kentish Plover, Common, Green and Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Whimbrel. Yellow-legged Gulls and Sandwich Terns were also seen.

After a siesta back at the hotel, we headed off to La Janda. We soon saw a flock of about 40 White Storks, with a few Spoonbills amongst them. Grey Heron and Glossy Ibis were in the paddy fields and we then came across an enormous flock of Spanish Sparrows, possibly as many as 2,500. A male and female Pheasant were seen in a field next to an irrigation channel, where we also saw a Kingfisher. We drove back to the hotel in the gathering darkness and had a late meal, tired but satisfied after a very good first day.

On Tuesday morning, we drove up to the observation point at El Cabrito. This is one of the points where the official counting of migration numbers is carried out by Spanish ornithologists. Griffon and Egyptian Vultures soon appeared, plus a Black Vulture. Honey Buzzards, Swifts and Pallid Swifts were also seen.

After El Cabrito, we moved on to the same small hill and to Playa de los Lances, which we’d visited on Tuesday.

Lunch and a siesta were followed by a late afternoon/early evening trip to the woodland at Huerta Grande. There we saw Hawfinch, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Crested Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Bee-eater.

We returned to the hotel to meet up with the six members of the second group, who had arrived that day. Drinks in the bar were followed by dinner for the fourteen of us, plus Peter and his wife, Norma.

The following morning, I and the other members of the first group left for home, leaving the remaining six in the highly capable hands of Peter. He has since told me that several Sparrowhawks and a group of six soaring Black Storks were seen in the morning, plus great views of around 15 Egyptian Vultures. In the evening at La Janda, four male Marsh Harriers, an immature Montagu’s Harrier, a Black-winged Kite, Turtle Doves and another Pheasant were the highlights.

On Friday 15th, an immature Short-toed Eagle was perched on a rock at El Bujeo, offering excellent views. Peter said that perfect migration conditions added a single Osprey, Rüppell’s Vulture, Montagu’s and Marsh Harrier, plus Honey Buzzards and Black Kites in large numbers. A Cirl Bunting was also included in the highlights of the day.

Short-toed Eagle by Tony Bonacci©

Other birds seen during the course of the four days of birding were Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Black Kite, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Red-legged Partridge, Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Sand Martin, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Magpie, Jackdaw, Chough, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Linnet, Greenfinch, Corn Bunting and (possibly) a Bonelli’s Eagle.

Many thanks go to David Roe, Tony Bonacci, Alain Lager, Peter Warham and Joanne Partida for the excellent photos.