Q. What do @urbanbirder , 20,000+ Honey Buzzards, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, White Storks, Black Kites, and the Inglorious Bustards have in common?

A. We all chose to pass through Tarifa’s Cazalla raptor watchpoint on the same day!

Several days of strong easterly crosswinds (known locally as the Levante or ‘sunrise wind’) had stopped the migrating raptors in their tracks. Now, the gentle Poniente or ‘sunset wind’ prevailed, with a slight southerly direction giving the birds the lift they needed to cross the Straits of Gibraltar, and the sun beat down on the rocks creating spiralling thermals. Conditions for migration were perfect and we knew the birds would be eager to follow their strong instincts to journey south.

We started the day at El Algorrobo at 9.30am watching Zitting Cisticolas flit between the carob trees and waiting patiently with a dozen or so other birders from across the world as the anticipation built. 

We are guiding David, the BBC’s Urban Birder, around the Spanish and Moroccan sides of the strait this week and we had promised him a spectacle beyond compare, so the pressure was on! 

As we sat in our special raptor watching chairs chatting to the staff and volunteers of Migres about the season so far, a lone Montagu’s Harrier flew low along the valley, and suddenly it had begun.

Next came Short-toed and Booted eagles, first one, then four then several at a time, circling low over the watchpoint to give spectacularly detailed views of their beautiful plumage. As a steady trickle of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and Common, Pallid and Alpine swifts gave way to a gathering flow of Honey Buzzards, Simon narrowed his eyes, sniffed the air, looked west and said “It’s time for Cazalla…”

After an essential ice-cream stop at El Mirador cafe, we squeezed our way into the rammed car park at Cazalla and took our places for the show.

The spectacle that followed has to be seen to be believed as the sky turned black with spiralling kettles of raptors and storks of every kind, and magnificent Short-toed Eagles narrowly avoided mid-air collisions with formidable Egyptian Vultures.

Judging the weather and wind to choose the perfect observation spot takes local knowledge and ornithological skill, something Simon has in buckets! The air positively crackled with excitement and aerial skill as the enthralled folk of the international birding community who had also chosen this spot watched a sizeable chunk of the Western Palearctic raptor population gather in massive numbers, spiral higher and higher and then, gaining confidence in one another, jet out into the haze over the strait.

Alejandro from Migres was counting so fast we thought his clicker thumb might fall off!

 It was a mind-blowing experience, in fact so emotional that Niki wept openly in front of raptor guru Dick Forsman! When asked “What do you make of that, David?!”, Mr Lindo simply replied “Leave me here. Just leave me here!”

Needless to say we didn’t! We want to share a lot more common time with these raptors and in coming days we will be journeying with them again in Morocco! Stay tuned…

Published by Simon Tonkin

'Here at the Inglorious Bustards, experiencing the powerful event of bird migration has led to a life-long fascination with avian migration and #FlywayBirding. It’s no accident that we have chosen our base to be here in the Straits of Gibraltar. Our location between Gibraltar and Tarifa puts us right at the epicentre of birding in the Straits and, from a migrating raptor’s point of view, we must surely also be at the centre of the world! We love not only to marvel at the birds passing but also to follow them on their migratory journey, and explore the whole range of fascinating and varied terrains they traverse each year. More than that though, we love to share our adventures with you!'

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