How we love waking up to find the wind has dropped! Strong winds stop migrating raptors in their tracks, so when a stiller day follows a couple days of bad weather, we know it will be a good one for northward movement, as the birds take the opportunity to continue their journeys. This time it coincided with the second day of a tour with our group from Honeyguides, and we were looking forward to sharing the upcoming spectacle with them.
On days like this, it’s important to use local knowledge to anticipate where the birds will be crossing. A group of ten or so Alpine Swifts passing high over Huerta Grande first thing certainly boded well, so after breakfast we headed straight to Cazalla watchpoint, which looks down over Tarifa beach. Sure enough, after a brief period of enjoying the differences between the singing Thekla and Crested larks, we spotted a group of a dozen or so Black Kites drifting west over the town below us, and the game was on!
As the air warmed and the wind subtly changed direction, we spent a very exciting morning between Cazalla and El Trafico watchpoints, eventually heading east along the coast to the Guadalmesi area. Amongst the ever-arriving Hirundines, huge groups of Black Kites were crossing the sea in towering columns of 50+ birds at a time and arriving low all around us. It was a thrilling site and we counted over a thousand birds overall during the morning. Black Kites are the earliest raptors to make the journey north, but the tide of other species was also beginning. We were lucky enough to catch four Egyptian Vultures and four Short-toed Eagles arriving early, as well as Sparrowhawks, Lesser Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier.
After a celebratory ice cream at the Mirador del Estrecho, we headed off for some mountain birding at Sierra de la Plata, near Bolonia. Simon and Niki took the group along winding tracks through remote countryside covered in wizened wild olive trees and newly flowering Cistus scrub to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the village of Bolonia and Baelo Claudia roman ruins. These well-preserved ruins used to be a thriving town which became prosperous due to the local tuna fishing trade and the manufacture and export of ‘garum’, a predecessor to modern day fish sauce. As the Roman Empire was falling, a string of earthquakes hit the Iberian peninsula, from which the town never recovered. Today its distant crumbling columns alongside the white sands and azure sea of Tarifa bay provided a picturescue backdrop to a signature Inglorious Bustards picnic lunch, which the group enjoyed while watching soaring Griffon Vultures and hovering Common Kestrels. We also stumbled upon a stunning male Blue Rock Thrush, perched up right by the track, providing perfect opportunities for Rob and Dave to get some great photos.
Moving on up the track, we reached a stark rocky outcrop surrounded by swirling Crag Martins, which hosts a colony of resident Griffon Vultures. The group was blown away by the breath-taking close views and eerie ‘prehistoric’ screeching of these imposing birds as they came in to roost. While at the site, we really had chance to get to grips with the scratchy call and song of the many Sardinian Warblers in the low scrub, and a couple of individuals put on a great show for the photographers in the group. We also got scope views of two Iberian sharpei Green Woodpeckers flitting round the rocks, although perhaps not quite well enough to see the reduced black around the eye which distinguishes them from the Northern European sub-species.
Arriving home in plenty of time for dinner, we took the opportunity to make a short exploration of the grounds at Huerta Grande. Wending up through the Cork Oaks and Laurel bushes, we took some time to look out over an area of low intensity farmland which was home to the famous free range Iberian black pigs. Here we were surrounded by glittering late afternoon Serin song, and after a bit of trying had excellent views of a pair of Hawfinches perched in a wild olive tree.
Does this sound like an experience that would fly your kite?! Have a look at our selection of Straits-based tours, all of which are planned to feature magical encounters with migrating birds…