Sunday, July 31, 2011

Raptor Migration in late July

We saw the last Black Kites Milvus migrans migrating north in mid-June. Now they're back, heading south for Africa with this year's youngsters!

For a few days now small groups of Black Kites have been crossing the Strait of Gibraltar as they head for the tropical African savannas

But yesterday evening, around 6pm we saw a big "rush" of birds over the Rock of Gibraltar. My friend Mario Mosquera estimated 1500 birds in the flock, a taste of things to come. With westerly winds these birds drift over Gibraltar from where they gain height to start the crossing. If the wind is too strong some turn back, often having already started over the sea, and try the next day.

Most of yesterday's birds were juveniles, birds that have been born this spring. You can tell them by the pale, rufous, plumage and the fresh wing and tail feathers. Breeding among the Iberian birds is timed to coincide with the spring abundance of food. The Iberian adult Black Kites arrive in February and early March. It is these birds, and their young, that are now leaving to avoid the summer drought. Their arrival in sub-Saharan Africa will coincide with the onset of the summer rains there.

Not everything is leaving after breeding. Eleonora's Falcons Falco eleonorae are just arriving in the area from their wintering grounds on the island of Madagascar. These rare and elegant falcons breed in remote islets and unfrequented coastal sites across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of North Africa. They arrive late for a reason. Their young will hatch in September and will be fed on the millions of small migrating birds that will then be heading for Africa. It is a wonderful example of a perfectly tuned specialised strategy. It's not easy to find these birds on migration so it was a treat to see this female (above and below) yesterday at Europa Point.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Forest animals of Cazorla

The mountains of Cazorla (above) in south-east Spain are a reservoir of trees, insects and forest animals. It is here that the Guadalquivir River (below) starts its long journey towards the distant Atlantic Ocean.

Spanish Red Deer Cervus elaphus hispanicus (above) and Fallow Deer Dama dama (below) thrive in these forests

 Red Squirrels Sciurus vulgaris have a southern European stronghold here as do many forest birds (below). The degree of sub-specific differentiation testifies to the isolated nature of the Iberian Peninsula, a refugium, during glacial times

Iberian Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs balearica

Iberian Nuthatch Sitta europaea hispaniensis

Iberian Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus irbii

Iberian Crested Tit Parus cristatus weigoldi

Iberian Coal Tit Parus ater vieirae, now in body moult

Iberian Jay Garrulus glandarius fasciatus

Iberian Crossbill Loxia curvirostra balearica

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More migration towards the Atlantic

Audouin's Gulls Ichthyaetus audounii are not the only gulls now leaving the Mediterranean  for the rich waters of the Atlantic (post of 10th July). The attractive Mediterranean Gulls Icthyaetus melanocephalus are also on the move.

Many of the birds coming past are adults, with very worn plumage after breeding and already in head moult

Juveniles, noticeably browner and greyer than the adults, follow the adults on migration (above) though often adults also travel without youngsters (below)

Immature birds are also moving. Above is a first summer bird already going into second winter plumage. Below is a second summer bird, looking almost like an adult but with black outer primaries

Also moving out of the Mediterranean are Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, and they travel in larger groups, of adults and juveniles.

All this activity does not go unnoticed. Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus fly close to the sea (see post of 12th July), ever watchful of an opportunity to take one of these small gulls...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cattle Egrets of all shapes and sizes

In our blog of 24th April, Stewart had visited a breeding colony of Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis that was starting up. Now he returned to find thousands of birds in a colony in full swing, from incubating birds, to small juveniles, and others recently fledged.

Incubating adult. Going for a second brood or retrying after a first failure?

cute juveniles

feeling the heat - it regularly gets above 40 degrees celsius here!

adult on lookout duties

part of the colony

recently fledged hooligans

adult on guard

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peregrines - the New Generation

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus brookei at Europa Point, Gibraltar - 10th July

It was back on the 22nd February that we got this shot of the adult peregrines mating. We've been following their progress and three weeks ago three youngsters fledged...

The juveniles are largely independent now and are terrorising the neighbourhood! Juveniles of other species that nested on the same cliffs better beware! Here a juvenile peregrine as a go at a young Yellow-legged Gull Larus micahellis which doesn't appreciate the gesture...

...but they have to watch out as mummy doesn't take kindly to their approaches.

This afternnon they had a go at a young, and noisy, Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, that managed to get away minus a few tail feathers. The lower peregrine had its crop full so she must have been helping her sister get a snack.

They are rapidly becoming experts at their job

equally at home mover the sea as over land

we'll keep an eye on them in the coming weeks but, for now, they're doing very well, even if their neighbours don't share the sentiment!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We're back !

After a short break, we're back with the Natur-al-Andalus blog and we hope to provide you with the latest information of what's going on. Gerry and Stewart Finlayson previously contributed to this blog. Now they join us - the complete Finlayson Nature Photography team - so expect even more than before! We will be busy this summer - as usual! In August we'll be excavating at the Neanderthal cave site at Gorham's Cave so watch out for news soon. For now, we start with what's going on right now. The migration of the rare Audouin's Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii is under way...

These birds were very rare before the early 1980s but they have recovered substantially since then although they remain vulnerable as they only breed in a few scattered colonies in the Mediterranean, mostly in Iberia

They are amazingly elegant and beautiful birds and they are now migrating in numbers past Europa Point, Gibraltar, on their way out to spend the non-breeding season in the rich waters of the Atlantic off West Africa

This afternoon, in 3.5 hours of observation, we counted 120 going past Europa Point. Most were adults and their plumage was not as tatty as it usually is at this time of the year. We don't expect so many adults this early and it may be that they've had a bad breeding season and are leaving early. The relatively good condition of the plumage seems to bear this out.

Adult passing Europa Point lighthouse

These birds travel singly, in pairs or loose flocks

Today's blog has been a brief prelude of what is to come. Keep visiting us for more!