Mothing at the gateway to Africa! A chat with moth-er extraordinaire @dgcountryside

At the gateway between Europe and Africa, there is biodiversity galore!  Avian migration is the most visible and celebrated, and we spend a lot of our time looking up.  But to never look down would be to miss out on so much, including some of the best moth-trapping opportunities in Europe.  That´s why, with the help of acclaimed international moth expert Dave Grundy, we´ll be running a trip in May 2019 to look more closely at the gorgeous local nocturnal Lepidoptera under our very noses!

We caught up with Dave to ask him about all things moth-y, and more!

So Dave, what drew you to the Straits? Why would you recommend it to British moth-ers?

The Straits is just an amazing place!  There are so many moths and a higher diversity all year round, and it’s all in brilliant scenery with great hospitality from local Andalusian people!

I first started coming here simply to extend the mothing season.  I was fed up of opening traps in the cold to find none, or maybe one moth huddled in the corner of the trap, so I headed south, to look forward to opening a trap and finding 60 species in it!

I got hooked, really – it is a real biodiversity hotspot at the crossroads of two continents, the far south of Spain in Europe and the far north of Morocco in Africa. The geology is diverse due to the collision of two continents in geological time and this leads to a diversity of fauna and flora and of course this includes a very rich fauna of moths.

The mothing sites are great and from a totally different biogeographic area – trapping Mediterranean olive scrub and cork oak forest in an area where new moth species are likely to be discovered! What’s not to get excited about?

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Trapping in the campo © Dave Grundy

We know you´re often to be found trapping at Europe´s most southerly point at Fundacion Migrés coastal HQ.  And also enjoying a pizza at top veggie restaurant Tarifa Ecocenter!  Any other favourite hangouts in the area?

I love to stay at Huerta Grande up in the hills above Tarifa.  From there you can step into both the coastal Natural Park of the Straits with its olive scrub and coastal habitats and inland to Los Alcornocales Natural Park, which is on inland hills cloaked in humid cork oak woodland.

There´s birds to enjoy too, for those that like that sort of thing!  The Straits is probably most famous for its twice-yearly raptor migration event during which 250,000 soaring birds pour across the sea.  Plus there´s loads of nice resident birds in local coastal, wetland and woodland habitats.  You get things like Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper just hanging around the log cabins at Huerta Grande!

We remember coming to inspect a trap with you and you showed us our first Giant Peacock Moth.  Europe´s biggest moth!  It was mega!  What are some of the other cool species you’ve trapped in Andalusía?

There´s so many! Goldwing, Passenger, Alchymist, Latin, Pale Shoulder, Striped Hawk, Lydd Beauty, Four-spotted, Eutelia adulatrix, Porter’s Rustic and Speckled Footman to name just a few.

 

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Latin © Dave Grundy

 

I don´t really have a favourite but I do like Lemonia philopalus, a lot! Why? – is more difficult to say – big and furry and stripy with amazing wing and antennae patterns. And also crazily it needs heavy rain to come out – and this is because it pupates in the soil and needs the soil softened by rain to emerge!

For the newcomer, how does mothing with a local expert help?

Mothing in Spain is difficult, if not impossible for non-local people who don´t at least have mothing friends here.  You need a moth-trapping licence, which is expensive and really difficult to fill in – in Spanish, of course!

Best to hook up with somebody who has all the kit and permissions, so you don´t have to worry about it.  I have the all the paperwork and licences you need for trapping.  I have the permissions off local landowners to trap in the area. I bring lots of traps here from Britain in my van – so when people come mothing with me they have access to five or more moth traps every night to see what is inside – and no need to bring your own trap! If you fly out here, you would be lucky to squeeze one trap into your suitcase.

Over the ten years I´ve been coming here I´ve been lucky enough to make some great friends in the local mothing community – a group I´m working hard to build!  I´ve got lots of gen now on where the good sites are for moths.  It´s been fascinating building up experience trapping in olive groves, or cork oak forests or sand dunes by the sea. There are so many special moths to see! I feel I can now say I know the moths of the area as well as anyone. Which is handy for people on the trip, as the main moth books are in Spanish, and many of the moths we´ll see only have a scientific name!

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Hoyosia codeti © Dave Grundy

What’s the Spanish word for moth?

The fancy way of saying it is mariposa nocturna which of course translates as “night butterfly”.  However I´m trying to bring the word polilla into popular use.  It´s a Spanish word for moth, but it actually has negative connotations – it´s usually used to describe the kind of critters that munch their way through your clothes!  It makes people laugh when you describe yourself as a moth-studier by using the word polillero, which is why I like it!

Are you excited about running our 2019 Mothing the Straits trip? What does it have in store for the group?

Of course I am!  I´ve run loads of successful field courses before, but an actual moth-ing holiday?!  As far as I know it´s a first!

Every night we´ll have one or more traps within walking distance of the log cabins at Huerta Grande, plus we will head out into nearby habitats each night to set up another five traps. Each night we will do this in very different habitats within a few miles of our base.

Then we come back for a lovely three course meal of typical local food with plenty of wine and beer!

Then every morning we will head back out to check the traps and this will probably take us the whole morning including photographing the most exciting moths.  After that there´s time for picnic lunch, siesta, local exploration, whatever you like, before we set off again in the evening!

The trip actually also coincides with the area´s massive raptor migration.  Tens of thousands of Honey Buzzards will be crossing the Straits daily, alongside other raptors like Short-toed and Booted Eagles.  I know some of the people that have already booked on my trip are also extending their stay a bit to watch migrating raptors and do some excellent local birding with you two!

Thanks Dave! Sounds amazing! So tell us, where can people find out more about this ground-breaking moth-trapping holiday?

There´s full details on the website tour page, and you can have a look at my profile there too!  There´s not many places left though, so don´t hang about!

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Dave awaits!

Flyway Promise

The Inglorious Bustards have a challenge!  As conservationists, we are only too aware of the environmental impact of the activities associated with our business.  We want to share with you the joy of watching wildlife all along the East Atlantic flyway, but in doing so we inevitably encourage consumption of the planet´s resources. Our challenge as a responsible ecotourism operator is to ensure that our activities can be channelled into a positive outcome for the environment.  We want to make sure that, when you travel with us, you´ll be benefitting, not exploiting the wildlife we see together.  On our trips, “eco-tourism” is a promise, not an oxymoron.

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Migrating White Storks © Inglorious Bustards

We call this concept #FlywayBirding.  We have turned traditional so-called “eco-tourism” on its head, putting conservation action and education at the very heart of what we do, not just as a guilt-assuaging afterthought to our trips.  We´ve thought hard about how to bring a completely fresh approach to delivering wildlife holidays from a sustainable standpoint, making only a positive impact on our surroundings.  And we’ve worked extremely hard to build some fantastic partnerships to help us!

Here is how we’re doing it – our #FlywayPromise to you.

We encourage sustainable land use.

Our work over decades for the RSPB, attempting to reverse the fortunes of UK, European and African farmland wildlife, has made us recognise the power of food choice and how it can affect the plight of declining species.

Latest findings presented at the IPCC in October 2018 were striking and conclusive.  While everyone talks about electricity generation and fossil fuel consumption, it is an oft-ignored fact that by far the best way of having a positive impact on our planet is to change what we eatCurrently 85% of the world´s farmed land produces just 18% of our calories.  Loss of wildlife areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.  This is the legacy of meat and dairy production, which has enormous environmental costs in terms of habitat loss, air and water pollution and carbon release.

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Declines in the European Turtle Dove can be directly linked to intensive agriculture © Inglorious Bustards

 In order to keep global temperature rise below 2ºC by 2020, we as global citizens will need to eat around nine times less red meat, five times less poultry and five times more legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds. On our trips we are working towards these changes by offering a higher proportion and better quality of vegetarian options on our dinner menus than ever before.  We want to make the choice to eat ethically an irresistible one!  Don’t worry though, carnivores! Meat is of course available as normal throughout our tours, and you’ll never be denied the chance to try some of the delicious locally-produced meat dishes our destinations are famous for.

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We are also extremely proud to have teamed up with the Tarifa Ecocenter.  Operating under the slogan “The fork is the most powerful tool to change the planet.”, the Ecocenter is not just a superb vegetarian restaurant, it is a local hub for eco-consciousness.  Here you can partake in delicious, sustainably-sourced meals, made with produce from local wildlife-friendly farms.  The organic produce shop and meeting spaces are a sociable place designed to encourage the exchange of ideas.  We love working in partnership with them, along with their sister project, Molino de Guadalmesi – an organic farm, community centre, eatery and eco-lodge situated in a beautifully-restored water mill.  On selected tours, we visit the mill for dinner, offering our guests a thought-provoking experience around food choice and how positive change can help our wildlife and the wider environment – not to mention be extremely tasty!

Our picnics always contain seasonal local produce from small farmers.  In all of our destinations, we are lucky enough to find a wealth of small artisanal producers, many of whom are organic.  In 2019 we will source at least 50% of the fresh goods in our picnics from them.  Our aim is to increase this to 75+% by 2020.  Luckily, local extensively grazed goats´ and sheeps´ cheeses are invariably superb, and Andalusian organic tomatoes and peppers are quite simply world-beaters!  Our picnic fruit and vegetables for our Straits-based tours are now sourced wherever possible from the Tarifa Eco-centre, being grown locally on their farm.  In all of our trips to Africa, we source fresh from local markets and village traders.

We minimise packaging waste.

It seems that after many years of campaigning, the horror of the extent of our plastic consumption has finally entered the public consciousness, and changes might actually be made.  Our history of avoidance, reuse and recycling of plastic goes back many years, but when we are out cetacean-watching on the Straits enjoying copious marine life, we are certainly pleased to be part of the current wave!

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Of all the hazardous materials littering our seas today, plastic poses one of the greatest threats – Long-finned Pilot Whales © Inglorious Bustards

Thanks to our locally-produced food sourcing, the excess of packaging associated with supermarkets is immediately eliminated.  When we buy dry and other goods, we buy in bulk and manage their use carefully, thus reducing both food and packaging waste. Luckily Niki is from Yorkshire originally, so thrift comes naturally!

We ask our clients to bring their own water bottles which are filled from taps or potable mountain springs.  In countries outside the EU where tap water is not drinkable, we buy large containers and decant into personal bottles to reduce plastic waste.

We minimise our in-country transport emissions.

In Spain, we minimise the emissions associated with our in-country transport by use of modern, fuel-efficient vehicles.  Our minibus is a Renault Trafic, known as being one of the most economical vans on the market, returning an impressive mpg of 50, with further features such as Stop & Start, Cruise Control and ECO mode adding to its green credentials.

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Lovely Jane and The Bustard-bus !

Our focus on hosting trips along the glorious East Atlantic Flyway means that we are able to arrive at 90% of our tour destinations to meet you without boarding a flight ourselves.

We know our areas well, so we are also able to apply careful route-planning to minimise driving distances between sites.

What we can´t eliminate, we offset.   

Inglorious Bustards have pledged to offset unavoidable carbon emissions through World Land Trust’s (WLT) Carbon Balanced programme.

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Unlike some carbon-offsetting schemes, this is not simply a case of absolving guilt by shoving some trees in an ill-thought-out location!  WLT funds the purchase or lease of threatened land to create nature reserves, protecting both habitats and their wildlife.  By protecting and restoring threatened forest in key areas of conservation importance, CO₂ emissions are prevented and carbon storage enhanced.To make projects like this work, this fore-sighted organisation includes, rather than excludes local communities.  It funds partner NGOs to employ local people as reserve rangers, sustainably managing some of the world’s most threatened habitats and the animals found within them.

We balance all the CO₂ emissions associated with our staff flights and all in-country travel and accommodation associated with our tours.  In 2018, we offset over 24 tonnes of CO₂, funds for which went directly to acquiring and preserving threatened forest habitat.  We are also encouraging you to offset your own holiday flights through WLT. Currently this can be done directly through their website, but in early 2019 we will be introducing an option to our booking form allowing you to offset as you book your trip!

We encourage respectful wildlife-watching.

For the prosperity of the species that we enjoy watching so much, and for our own ongoing enjoyment, it is imperative that we avoid disturbing the wildlife we are trying to see.

We never flush birds.  The reward of seeing a Red-necked Nightjar or a Tawny Owl at rest after patient and quiet searching from afar is so much greater than glimpsing one fly away after some idiot has just booted it out of the undergrowth!  For ground-nesters such as the Moroccan Marsh Owl, we now only offer trips outside the breeding season, and time our site visits to maximise the chance of finding the birds active rather than roosting.

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Red-necked Nightjar © Inglorious Bustards

We use fieldcraft to find passerines.  Usually with a little patience and listening, it is perfectly possible to find the bird you are looking for.  On the very rare occasions we choose to use a tape, we do so sensitively, always adhering to the guidelines published in the article “The Proper Use of Playback in Birding” by Sibley et al.

Where we work through other companies, for example for cetacean-watching boat trips or to look for Iberian Lynx, we only work with reputable firms who have non-intrusive wildlife-watching protocols in place.

We challenge the unethical.

While we as individuals have no problem with sustainable subsistence hunting within local communities, we personally find hunting for so-called ‘sport’ abhorrent, and unsustainable trophy hunting completely unacceptable.  The hunting industry seems to be out of control, able to damage ecosystems and illegally kill native wildlife with impunity.  Of the thirty optics companies that were examined in the 2018 Ethical Consumer report entitled “Shooting Wildlife II”, 83% were found to specifically market to hunters as well as birders.  And a disappointing 13 of these actively glamorise trophy hunting in their promotional material, including targets like lions and bears.

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Inglorious Bustard – Bubacarr in The Gambia using his super Viking Binoculars!

Viking-logos-2014_1 copyThat´s why we´re proud to be ambassadors for Viking Optical – a British-based company which is one of only a handful of companies that produce high quality optics solely for the wildlife-watching market.  They too have nature at their heart and support a variety of conservation projects including being RSPB Species Champions for two critically endangered birds and long-time sponsors of the Birdfair.  We love the personal contact, trust and compassion involved in working with them.  They really put their optics where their mouth is, enabling us to loan binoculars to volunteers monitoring the raptor migration across the Straits of Gibraltar, to bird-watching newcomers, and to budding young Gambian ornithologists.

Phew! Now that we´ve minimised our own impact on the environment as much as we can, it´s time to add positive actions!

We support local conservation projects.

All across the East Atlantic Flyway, there are passionate individuals and local NGOs running brilliant small-scale conservation initiatives, making immediate positive differences for their local wildlife.  As our company grows, so does our ability to contribute to their efforts.  Our portfolio of projects expands all the time, and you can read more on our website, but here´s a taster:

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The Migres Foundation is a private non-profit scientific and cultural foundation, focused on the preservation and enhancement of natural heritage in the Straits of Gibraltar.

Migres has run a long-term monitoring program of bird migration through the Strait of Gibraltar since 1997, making it the greatest sustained effort for monitoring migratory birds in Europe, and is immensely important in monitoring population change and migratory patterns in many avian species, including endangered species such as Egyptian Vultures and Balearic Shearwaters.

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Inglorious Bustard and Migres front-man Alejandro monitors the passage of soaring Birds © Inglorious Bustards

The body of scientific research generated by Migres on interactions between soaring birds and wind turbines has global importance.

They also perform research and awareness programs, carry out advanced ornithological training activities and environmental education, organise conferences, and encourage activities promoting sustainable local development and nature tourism in general.

We work closely with Migres in assisting with monitoring, fundraising and promotional activities using our wealth of experience gained whilst working for the RSPB.

Marisma-21-logoMarisma 21 is an organisation devoted to the restoration of the salt marshes in the Bay of Cadiz, on the south western coast of Spain. The salt marsh is an important ecological area and Marisma 21’s objectives are the recovery and holistic revitalisation of the salt pans using artisanal salt production methods. This not only ensures the maintenance of the macro-flora in the salt pans, an important food source for migratory wading birds, but enhances the local environment for aquatic salt-loving species.

The sympathetic management and hand-harvesting of the pans not only generates multiple benefits for wildlife, it also brings employment to the area in the form of salt production work and nature tourism.

On selected tours, we offer you the opportunity to dine on site at the salt pans, watching breeding Little Terns and Kentish Plovers while eating delicious freshly-cooked tortillitas de camarrones, and shrimps fished from the salt pans just moments before!  You´ll have the opportunity to support their work by taking home some souvenir salt, an incredibly tasty product you´ll also get to sample at our picnics!

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Sustainable, traditional management of the salt pans for the environment, nature and people © Inglorious Bustards

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Based at Kotu Creek, near Brufut, The Gambia Birdwatchers Association was established in 2007.  It provides a headquarters for the area´s bird guides, trains the next generation of ornithologists, and carries out excellent project-based conservation work, including utilising local volunteers in the restoration of mangrove swamp habitat.  In The Gambia, many important forests are community-owned, and GBA are instrumental in setting up community reserves, training bird guides in the villages and enabling them to benefit from the preservation of forest habitat through well-thought-out ecotourism.

Inglorious Bustards work closely with GBA, giving project advice and consultation.  From 2019, we will be donating 10% of our profits from all our Gambia trips to supporting their high quality, objective-led work.

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The Gambia Birdwatchers Association discussing their conservation priorities and work © Inglorious Bustards

So there it is, our #FlywayPromise.  We hope you like it! We are constantly striving to find new ways to use our passion for #FlywayBirding to make the planet a better place.  Our hope is not to be different, but that others will rise to this challenge too.

Welcome to #FlywayBirding!

It’s always a joy to observe birds in any location, but what if there was a way to experience their whole journey? We’re currently bucking the avian trend and heading north to Birdfair where, as well as enjoying a fab weekend with friends old and new, we’ll be introducing folk to the concept of Flyway Birding

It´s not that long since we largely believed that Barn Swallows hibernated underwater.  Rumours of ´lumps of torpid swallows´ being ´found beneath the ice´ still persisted in rural communities as late as 1867, over thirty years after Darwin had embarked on his world-changing voyages of discovery aboard The Beagle.

Wallcreeper © Inglorious Bustards

Happily for the inquisitive, this great era of discovery opened the world up to ‘travelling naturalists’ – the earliest nature bloggers if you like – exploring the natural world, sharing observations of migration and opening the minds of the folk waiting excitedly at home.  The discoveries continue – thanks initially to bird-ringing and more recently to affordable radio- and satellite-tracking technologies, our understanding of migratory birds´ journeys grows all the time.

With this understanding, the concept of saving species across flyways has now gained traction in the conservation world.  After all, there´s no point fixing things for a wandering bird in its breeding grounds alone without giving it a helping hand across its entire migratory range.  Programmes like the RSPB´s Birds Without Borders recognise the complex nature of the threats faced by a bird whose life cycle involves traversing half the globe.

Fun and birding in the Pyrenees © Inglorious Bustards

Take that most iconic of British summertime birds, the Turtle Dove.  A drastic reduction in UK breeding success is at the root of their decline and must be remedied by more Nature-friendly management of our farmland.  But while their productivity in the UK is so desperately low, we must also find ways to help Turtle Doves meet the challenges they face elsewhere in the world, such as illegal and legal hunting, the ever-widening and unstable Sahara, and threats to their wintering habitats, also from intensive farming.

These are the kind of projects we at the Inglorious Bustards camp spent a great deal of time, passion and energy working on during our time at the RSPB.  We´ve been lucky enough to travel with the birds and gain a deep connection to their journey, seeing the similarities and differences between the habitats, landscapes and cultures they pass through.

Migrating White Storks © Inglorious Bustards

Now we´ve taken a sideways step, conservation is still very much in our hearts and we want to make sure it continues to be central to everything we do.  We want to use our passion to open people´s minds to the immeasureable wonder of migration.

And so, one day while sipping a cold beer overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar, watching literally thousands of raptors pour south over our heads to Africa we got to thinking… What if, through our trips, we could take you on a migratory bird´s journey?  We could show you all the outstanding birds and wildlife of the East Atlantic Flyway!

We could also show you the beauty of the immense journey, sweeping past cream teas outside stone chapels in twee country lanes, over white-washed villages amidst olive groves on sunbathed hillsides, through minarets and mint teahouses, down to the simple dwellings and explosive foliage of the Gambian forests.

#FlywayBirding breakfast © Inglorious Bustards

We could show you the fun of experiencing other cultures through supporting local businesses, conservation NGOs and ecotourism endeavours, having a laugh with the locals and bringing you closer to the country you´re in.

And we could show you the challenges facing these birds and alert you to the work of our Flyway Family partners across the globe – groups like the Dovestep collective, raising money for Operation Turtle Dove who work hard to persuade farmers to leave space for Nature, Fundacion Migres doing extraordinary monitoring and scientific work to mitigate for the windfarms in the Straits of Gibraltar, Tarifa Ecocenter spreading the message of sustainable farming through amazing food and Champions of the Flyway combatting illegal hunting everywhere.

Egyptian Plover © Inglorious Bustards

It sounded like a plan!  The concept of #FlywayBirding was born!

That´s what it means to us, but what will it mean to you..?

Well, in a nutshell, #FlywayBirding is…

…thrilling at the sight of local specialities like Wallcreepers in the Pyrenees, Rufous Bushchats in Andalusia, Moussiers Redstarts in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, Moroccan Marsh Owls on the shores of the Merja Zerga lagoon and Egyptian Plovers on the verdant riverbanks of The Gambia, while becoming aware of the constant ebb and flow of Swallows, Swifts, Wagtails and Warblers, all familiar but strangely out of context.

…kicking off your flipflops in a carefully-selected reclining deckchair and supping an ice-cold beer as literally thousands of Honey Buzzards, Black Kites, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and White Storks pour overhead.

…helping save the planet over a delicious locally-sourced meal!  Whether it´s exceptional fresh fruit, veg, cheeses and hams in Spain, mouth-watering tagines in Morocco or a spicy domoda in the Gambia…

…greeting thousands of Turtle Doves on a sultry day in The Gambia and learning how to ensure their journey back home is a safe one.

…thrilling at clouds of Pallid and Little Swifts screaming around the minarets of a mosque and noting the Common Swifts, probably on their way back to a city near you.

…appreciating that the sweep of subtle differences across the flyway – the brightness of an African Blue Tit, the astounding array of Yellow Wagtail races, the Iberian birds with closer relatives in Africa than in Europe – are the intricate stepping stones to whole new species.

…enjoying the laughs and banter we have with the people we meet, sharing our enthusiasm for nature and adventures across cultures and landscapes.

…relaxing, enjoying and marvelling at the wildlife around you, satisfied in the knowledge that your trip is contributing to its future existence.

Upriver in  The Gambia © Inglorious Bustards

Imagine the delight in discovering that, far from being somewhere in a frozen torpid lump, our Barn Swallows were awake and well and whizzing through the skies of some foreign land!  Here at the Inglorious Bustards, we´re all about the delight of discovery!  Now you know what it is, won´t you join us for some #FlywayBirding..?

Want to hear more? We’ll be at BirdFair in Rutland this weekend. We’d love to see you at Stand 28, Marquee 1, or at our talk in Hobby Lecture Theatre at 9.30am, Friday. Come say Hi!

This blog was first published by our good friends Blue Sky Wildlife on 23/07/2018

A right ol’ Wensum do!

Recently we hosted a group from Wensum Valley Bird Society from Norfolk, UK at the end of April. We delighted in Birding on Two Continents with them and as with all our trips we became the best of friends in travel and adventure! If you have a group, bird / wildlife club or simply a group of friends and want an adventure that suits your budget and exceeds your expectations, simply contact us for further information.

Here are some of the trip highlights in the fabulous team’s own words!..

Sue Gale

The weather was being very contrary at the start of our trip, and we left the UK in the middle of a heatwave. We were hosted by Inglorious Bustards at the lovely Huerta Grande lodge, where Nightingales and Firecrests made their presence known immediately. Our first full day in Spain found us on top of the Sierra de la Plata, near Bolonia, in a howling gale and temperatures more suited to the English winter. Fortunately it didn’t actually rain, and in fact it didn’t stop us from seeing some exciting birds. We were all thrilled to see Woodchat Shrikes on the way up the mountain, and these lovely birds became frequent sightings throughout the week. On parking at the top we were greeted by a Blue Rock Thrush, and a pair of Griffon Vultures on the cliff.

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Egyptian Vulture © Inglorious Bustards

Lesser Kestrels were nesting on the top. As the Vultures and Kestrels swirled around us, enjoying the strong wind, the really exciting birds were seen. A pair of Egyptian Vultures! What is more they are really beautiful, pale birds, something I never expected to say of a Vulture. They are clearly nesting here, to the delight of Simon, and most of us got pictures of them. Chicks of the Griffon Vultures were too seen and photographed. A Booted Eagle and two Short-toed Eagles also put in an appearance. 

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Collared Pratincole © Inglorious Bustards

A coffee stop at Bolonia was not only enlivened by my first Zitting Cisticola, but also by a cavalcade of around 40 motorbikes, their approach heralded by much hooting and honking! The highlight of our stop at Barbate, a wetland area, had to be the beautiful Collared Pratincoles, which nest there in numbers. Other birds did try to upstage them though. The first I hardly dare mention. It was a Red-necked Nightjar, for which we owe thanks to Alan, who unwittingly flushed it. Sadly he didn’t see the bird himself, and he was remorselessly teased about it for the rest of the week. The other was a Little Bustard, which was heard calling nearby. Another favourite bird that we were to see more of was the Iberian Yellow Wagtail, a bright and beautiful grey-headed sub-species. Add in the Corn Buntings, Crag Martins, Cirl Buntings and Kentish Plovers, among others, and you will see that we had a great first day. 

Mary Walker

7.30a.m saw us queueing for the 8 a.m ferry from Algeciras to Morocco. It hadn’t been a very smooth crossing, however the African sunshine was welcoming us. Once waved through it was only 20 mins to Oued Marsa, a truck stop high on a splendid viz-mig spot for a second breakfast. What we really yearned for were big mugs of builders tea, sadly not on offer, but Moroccan mint and orange blossom tea made for the perfect alternative. 

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African Chaffinch © Inglorious Bustards

What happened next was a once in a lifetime birding moment, something every birder dreams about. First out of the fog came hundreds of BLACK KITES, interspersed with WHITE & BLACK STORKS, HONEY BUZZARDS, MONTAGU’S HARRIERS, SPARROWHAWKS, BOOTED EAGLES (both morphs), SHORT-TOED EAGLES, KESTRELS & BEE EATERS, all kettling and trying to gain height for their crossing. We watched a female HONEY BUZZARD set off, lose confidence, turn around and head back, and then set off again, disappearing into the horizon, well on her way into Europe. 

A cry of “SPOTTED FLY over here” turned our eyes to the ground. Soon all our group were shouting “REDSTART”, WILLOW WARBLER”, “GARDEN WARBLER”, “WOODCHAT SHRIKE”, “IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF” in unison. The most unusual find was a pair of BLACK-CROWNED TCHAGRA. 

Our host Simon said that the best migration here was with an Easterly. How right he was. In a brief 30 minute stop we reckoned we saw 28 species that had been grounded by the Levante wind. The skies were dripping migrants. It seemed to be the case of name the bird and it will be there somewhere. I have never seen anything like it in my life. A truly memorable birding moment. 

Reluctantly we climbed back into our vehicles for the two hour drive to Merga Zerja wetlands, a tidal lagoon located on the Atlantic coast. Once the home of Slender-billed Curlew, last seen there in 1995, its threatened wildlife is under pressure from ever increasing agricultural expansion. 

More mint tea was consumed at a restaurant overlooking the lagoon as we waited for our boats, and we marvelled at the aerial antics of CASPIAN and SANDWICH TERNS, AUDOUIN’S and YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS were dotted on the Lagoon shore. GLOSSY IBIS flew past in formation. 

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Audouin’s Gull © Inglorious Bustards

We picked our way through the lagoon-side fish market, the fisherman seemingly preferred to sell direct from their boats, rather than the tailor made brick building. Plenty of waders were on the lagoon shores. Umpteen WHIMBREL, splendid GREY PLOVERS, DUNLIN, CURLEW, and OYSTERCATCHERS. GREATER FLAMINGOES glinted in the distance. RED-RUMPED and BARN SWALLOWS, COMMON & PALLID SWIFTS danced above our heads. 

Back on land we pulled into a small wood at the edge of the Lagoon, lazily scanning for NORTHERN LAPWINGS and MARSH HARRIERS as we devoured our picnic lunch.

However the day was not over yet. Simon had a “special bird” he hoped we would see at dusk. The secret location was alongside a fruit farm, producing strawberries, blackberries and potatoes for M & S and Waitrose. Quietly and in single file we followed Simon down the edge of a furrowed field, glimpsing ZITTING CISTICOLAS and SERIN on our way. Our target was the vulnerable MOROCCAN MARSH OWL, more and more of its habitat being claimed by the fruit farmers. Preparing for a long wait, we were startled when suddenly there it was, rising out of the reeds in front of us.

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Moroccan Marsh Owl © Inglorious Bustards

By sheer chance and good luck I was actually looking in the right direction, camera in hand. click, click, click. Not brilliant photos, but a brilliant momento. Satisfied, we turned around and headed back towards the vans. Liz and I stopped for a few minutes to admire a LITTLE OWL scowling out of his dead tree at us. We didn’t realise two male and a female MONTAGU’S HARRIERS were displaying behind us, and a COMMON QUAIL was lurking…….

……We had had the best possible day.

David Gibbon 

Our first full day in Morocco, at Larache a town on the Atlantic coast.  After a good night’s sleep in our hotel, breakfast was taken in a restaurant across the road. Freshly squeezed orange juice, flat bread, pancakes, honey, fried eggs, cheese and more olives. Hot drinks of milky coffee and sweet mint tea, both served in glasses. 

Simon had advised us to bring cameras and binoculars across the newly refurbished plaza, Place de la Liberation, to the old arches opposite, and there in the corners were Little Swifts nests, these had been there for decades with Swifts repairing and building on to them.  Swifts were busy feeding chicks and took little notice of us. 

Checking out of the hotel and back in the minibuses we drove along the run-down beach and seafront area to the Loukkos river and along to the marshes. A couple of stops revealed Little and Cattle Egrets, Turtle Doves, Bee-eaters, Greater Flamingos, Savi’s Warblers in full song at the top on reeds, Red-crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Stilts, Cetti’s Warblers, Brown-throated Martins, Red-knobbed Coots, Great White Egrets, Zitting Cisticolas, a single Purple Swamphen, an elusive Great Reed Warbler, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kites and the list went on! 

By early afternoon we had arrived at the little bustling town of Bni Arouss.  Several old white Mercedes taxis, heavily-laden donkeys, butchers shops with lamb carcasses hung in the open air and busy barbers shops. Having found a local to mind the minibuses our guides soon organised lunch. The eatery had sawdust on the floor, a home-made BBQ outside and inside about enough space to sit us and space for the cook to prepare our food.  Flat breads, two types of spiced beans, grilled sardines, strips of beef and lamb mint balls, chips, water and mint tea, all very tasty. 

Back on the road to the Bouhachem Forest a forest of Pine trees, Cork oaks and Wild Olive trees. Our first stop was for a troupe of Barbary Macaques to look at us, this made a change and the dominant male never took his eyes off us. As we walked, stopping here and there, Booted Eagle, Ravens, Long-legged Buzzards, a Short-toed Treecreeper, African Blue Tits, Atlas Pied Flycatchers, Firecrests, Desert Grey Shrikes, Griffon Vultures but best of all with excellent views  four Levaillant’s Green Woodpeckers, three seen well the fourth heard. 

Cath Robinson

As [a] member of the wonderfully enjoyable WVBS trip to Spain and Morocco … I thought I would share some of my highlights of the trip.

Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker…Picus vaillantii………………………tick 

Northern Morocco was quite a surprise in terms of its vegetation and lushness. The Bouhachem forest in the Rif mountains of North Morocco is wonderful mixed woodland: the ubiquitous Cork Oak, but also cedar, pine, fir and cypress. It seems relatively unspoilt and has recently been assigned status as a “parc-naturel” so hopefully there will be some form of protection against the ongoing spread of developed land creep and technology. 

So there we were, on a lonely forest road sitting in the van watching a troupe of Barbary Macaques entertaining themselves. (This population was the originator of the macaques in Gibraltar). But as entertaining as these were as soon as David and Simon, the guide, saw a Woodpecker fly into a tree in their midst, there was an eruption of bodies out of the van to try to spy it. Before too long Simon had it in his scope and we were treated to great views of a Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, its beautiful green back straight in front of us against the trunk of a pine tree. While we were congratulating ourselves on our luck to see this we heard another calling off stage right and shortly after heard drumming fairly close by. With luck I was able to spot this one in another tree drumming against some dead wood on part of the trunk. 

After everyone had a chance to see this we then saw another Levaillant’s Woodpecker buzzing it and then them both flying off stage left across the road. So we got great views of two, calling and drumming and a good barney to boot. 

Nightingale….Luscinia megarhynchos…….tick 

Not so unusual to see a Nightingale but what did seem to me unusual was that we heard Nightingales practically everywhere we went, loud and long, day and night, protected areas and not. There is just so much good habitat: wasteland and scrub. So the Nightingale does not seem to be at risk (yet) in its heartland areas. But it made me think about how little land is available to them in the UK now and how hard it will be to maintain them at the edge of their range. Maybe Mr Gove will solve it all with his new environmental policy…….But it really was a treat to hear them singing so much and I did eventually get great views of one singing near our dining area at Huerta Grande our base camp in Spain. 

Crested Tit …. Lophophanes cristatus….tick Firecrest….Regulus ignicapilla….tick
Both on the same tree whilst I was having breakfast at Huerta Grande. How nice was that! 

Thekla Lark……Galerida theklae…………………tick 

We were at a likely-looking site of grazing and common land with patches of scrub and Iberian Broom. I was idly looking at a Crested Lark and asked the guide what the bird next to it was. He easily identified this as a juvenile Stonechat but suggested I look more closely at the Crested Lark, its distinct breast streaking and its more upright stance. While I was trying to take in this upright posture, the Lark started lowering its breast to the dusty ground and going round in circles. Was it dust bathing? After several circles Liz suddenly shouted “there’s a snake” and a Horseshoe Whip snake at least a metre long weaved its way past the bird and on across the grass into the undergrowth. Did this explain the bird’s strange behaviour? Who knows.

Liz Gibson

My highlights of the trip in no particular order: 

  • A lovely friendly bunch of people to spend time with 
  • Waking to the wonderful song of Nightingales 
  • Standing by a truck stop watching hundreds of raptors debating whether to brave the Levante wind and cross the Straits 
  • Weird, wonderful and rare birds: Egyptian Vulture, Northern Bald Ibis, Moroccan Marsh Owl, Levaillant’s Woodpecker.
  • Cartwheel sized flatbreads, fried fish and copious beans 
  • Little Swifts’ feathery nests in the Larache plaza 
  • Moussier’s Redstart, Moussier’s Redstart, Moussier’s Redstart !!
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Moussier’s Redstart © Inglorious Bustards
  •  Glorious mountain flowers 
  •  Eating chewy snails from a market stall in the blue city
    of Chefchaouen 
  •  Scarce Swallowtail butterfly – and a Common too 
  • White Storks sharing their nests with sparrows and
    starlings – imagine Edward Lear’s Old Man With A
    Beard! 
  • Friendly cetaceans 
  • An enormous Common Toad on my doorstep! 
  •  Lesser Kestrels oblivious to tourists visiting the Castle
    in Tarifa 
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Male Lesser Kestrel – Tarifa © Inglorious Bustards

Thanks to the Inglorious Bustards.

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“Friendly cetaceans” in the form of Long-finned Pilot Whales © Inglorious Bustards

Alan Hughes

At the risk of introducing a more melancholy note I would like to mention some of the conservation concerns that I have been pondering since we got back:

Slender-billed Curlew – Shortly after crossing the Straits of Gibraltar we drove to a river estuary where we took two small fishing boats out onto the river. Apart from being a very pleasant excursion, this site has a very sad birding significance as the last known recorded site of the Slender-billed Curlew, now believed to be extinct. Hassan, our local guide, is credited with being one of the last observers to record the bird. There is a local café, beloved of visiting birders, in which the bird log records scores of annual sightings some years ago, then dozens, then a few, and finally none…..We saw lots of Whimbrel, a few Common Curlew, but no Slender-billed. This is a species that has become extinct in our lifetime. Ouch…. 

Nightingales – The wonderful gardens around our accommodation in Huerta Grande in Spain, and the hotel near Chefchaouen in Morocco, rang to the glorious song of many male Nightingales. They kept us awake at night, and woke us up in the mornings – and never have I been so pleased to suffer insomnia! This bird seems to thrive in less intensively farmed and developed areas in Europe, where the locals are less inclined to be so tidy. There are probably greater numbers of insects, and less Deer browsing the understorey. Whatever the cause, we are about to lose this fabulous bird from the UK where numbers may have declined by as much as 90%. Surely, something must be done to halt then reverse this decline. 

Moroccan Marsh Owl – Simon, our leader, took us to an area bordering a river estuary. We drove down farm tracks past fields and greenhouses where fruit and vegetables were being farmed intensively, almost entirely for the British market. One multinational farming company was responsible for draining and then eating up much of the land in this area to grow strawberries for our supermarkets. We were met on the edge of the cultivated area by Hassan and another local who knew exactly where to find a Marsh Owl and what a fantastic bird this is, but now very rare, and if the farming company continue to swallow up the limited marshland habitat, the last few birds will be forced out of this area.

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Moroccan Marsh Owl © Inglorious Bustards

Northern Bald Ibis –  These birds have been reintroduced into Spain and had chosen a nest site in some cliffs just above a relatively busy road. An Eagle Owl had wiped out all but one of the chicks last year, so the owl had been captured and relocated out of harm’s way. I asked Simon if there was any risk from egg collectors stealing, as these birds are so rare (this is currently their only European nest site). No, he said, as the local villagers are very proud of “their” Bald Ibis colony, and anyone threatening it would be likely to be dealt with quite harshly! This colony is small, but with care, will continue to prosper and hopefully grow in numbers. 

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Northern Bald Ibis © Inglorious Bustards

Janet and I cannot thank Simon and Niki from Inglorious Bustards enough for hosting such a brilliant week. And we are very grateful to our six colleagues from the club that were such good company throughout. I would love to visit the area again, and, who knows, maybe a Red-necked Nightjar will appear….!? 

A Moroccan mini-adventure!

Just a short ferry trip away from Tarifa, Northern Morocco offers superb birding opportunities, putting a trip to North Africa´s teeming wetlands, ancient forests and towering mountains within easy reach of a Spanish wildlife holiday.

This we were keen to demonstrate to our good friends Iain and Janet so, as the sun rose on our ferry, speeding across the narrow stretch of water that separates Europe and Africa, we stood up on deck and watched Tangiers looming rapidly towards us!

 

The team!
Sunrise over The Straits

 

Pretty much the first bird of the trip was a House Bunting, singing merrily away from a harbour front window, letting us know we had definitely arrived in Africa!

A short drive through expansive Moroccan countryside and we were soon sharing a mint tea with Hassan, our local guide during our boat trip out onto the famous Merja Zerga lagoon.

Out on the lagoon, it was gull paradise! Among the many Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, there were numerous smart-looking Audouin´s and Slender-Billed Gulls, as well as a couple of Mediterranean Gulls and a lone second-year Common Gull, an unusual bird for the area.

We had hit the tide perfectly, high enough to explore the whole lagoon but low enough that there was plenty of exposed mud, hooching with waders! Birding from a sandbank in the middle of the lagoon, we could see huge flocks of thousands of them swirling over the flats including Common, Grey and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Redshank, and Greenshank, while on the mud we could see Eurasian Curlews,

Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingos, a handful of Red Knot, and a handsome Western Osprey perched up on a wooden pole.

 

The town of Moulay Boussalem

 

 

Birding the superb mudflats of the Merja Zerga

 

After a picnic lunch, Hassan took us to a site where local graziers had been seeing Moroccan Marsh Owl activity. He told us other recent visiting birders hadn’t managed to see the bird, but after a while of searching and waiting, there they were! Not one, but two gorgeous individuals emerged from a field of short grass and flew overhead, giving us superb views of their beautifully-patterned primary feathers. One then settled on top of a pile of grass cuttings and sat looking into our very souls for what seemed like an age!

 

Never get into a staring contest with a Moroccan Marsh Owl!

 

Elated, we returned to our hotel in Larache, encountered a group of thirty migrating Black Kites on the journey. After a bit of time to relax and explore, we headed out to celebrate our fabulous day at our favourite restaurant, specialising in fresh locally-caught seafood.

Next morning, we headed to nearby Loukkos wetlands, today shrouded rather atmospherically in mist. As it lifted it revealed a wealth of avian life – an enormous gull roost, containing yesterday’s Common Gull suddenly dispersed, leaving behind many Glossy Ibis, Black-Winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Common Snipe and Red-crested Pochard, among the Eurasian Spoonbills and Greater Flamingos.

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Loukkos wetlands

Thirty Black Kites suddenly erupted out of their roost in nearby trees, and we wondered if they were the same birds we had seen yesterday, following us on our journey.

Soon it was time to travel on, up through the mystical Cork Oak forests of Bouhachem. Here we hoped to find one of our main target birds. Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker was to be a lifer for Janet – no pressure then!

We spent some time searching the sunlit glades where Eurasian Nuthatches, Short-toed Treecreepers, Firecrests and African Blue Tits and Chaffinches foraged. And sure enough, not long after a distant call was heard, a flutter of wings announced the arrival of our woodpecker, which proceeded to perch on a tree trunk and eyeball Janet, as if to say “tickable enough for ya?!”

 

Birding Bouhachem

 

Then our whirlwind adventure took us up into the mountain town of Chefchouen. After seeking out a beer to celebrate our woodpecker, we enjoyed working up our appetite for tagine by wandering the town’s famous blue streets.

 

Celebrating our Levaillant´s Green Woodpecker!
Chefchouen

 

A morning jaunt up into the craggy landscape of the Talassamtane National Park brought us mountain birds galore! A strong supporting cast of Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Buntings got our attention in time for an appearance by the stunning star, a gorgeous male Moussier’s Redstart! Fit!

But by mid-afternoon we were already on our way back to Spain, enjoying dozens of Cory’s Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and a surprise appearance by a Sperm Whale on the short trip!

Sitting outside a bar in Tarifa that evening, sipping a cold beer while we reflected on our mini-adventure, we looked up to see a stream of thirty Black Kites, in off the sea from Africa, streaming over our heads. We´d love to think these were the same birds again, engaged in their own mini-adventure between two continents!

Join us this Autumn! There’s still a limited number of places on our Birding Two Continents mega-adventure in October!  Contact us for more info or download our free brochure here!

Mega migration fest!

We’ve made no secret of the fact that here at the Inglorious Bustards we are self confessed migration junkies! We are in total amazement of the constant flow of migration here in the Straits and that is why we chose to base ourselves here! We have shared some magnificent experiences this last year collaborating with Migres in conducting counts or witnessing mega migration events with visiting migration lovers like you!
We are very proud to support and contribute in a small way to the ongoing work of Fundación Migres.
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Seabird monitoring in collaboration with Migres
Here is an amazing update on the autumn migration in 2017 from Migres migration guru and our good friend Alejandro Onrubia (with his kind permission):
 
“Since 5th of July to 5th of December, expert ornithologists from Migres Foundation helped by 50 collaborators, have counted every day migratory birds passing the Straits of Gibraltar.
 
During this period, 390,100 soaring birds, including 127,000 Storks and 262,000 Raptors belonging to 33 different species were registered flying south from the watchpoints of Cazalla and Algarrobo, located on the Spanish side of the Straits of Gibraltar.
 
The commonest species were Black Kite (133,000 individuals), White Stork (124,000), Honey Buzzard (71,000), Booted Eagle (29,000) and Short-toed Eagle (18,000), with also good numbers of some endangered species as Black Stork (3,700) and Egyptian Vulture (2,300). Among non-soaring bird species some tens of herons, spoobills, and more than 315,000 small birds (passerines and allies) of 61 species have been recorded, including 23,000 European Bee-eaters, 35,000 Swifts (4 species), 1,000 Larks (5 species), 46,000 swallows and martins (5 species), 5,000 Pipits and Wagtails (8 species), 188,000 Finches (10 species), 2,500 Starlings (2 species) and 13,000 Sparrows (4 species). Likewise, 237,000 seabirds of 36 species have been recorded, including 215,000 Cory’s Shearwaters, 7,300 Balearic Shearwaters, 7,400 Gannets, 4.800 Gulls and Terns (10 species), 300 Skuas (3 species), 1.500 Razorbills and Puffins, and 700 wildfowl (8 species)”
 
WOW! Thank you to Migres for their continued excellent work and we hope in our own small way we helped!
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Happy times with great people doing great work – Migres and the Inglorious Bustards together on a mega day for Honey Buzzard passage! …..Our eyes hurt!
 
If you’d like to find out more about the excellent work of Migres and support their efforts or take part in their upcoming conference then please take a look here!
Booking a tour with us will give you the chance to directly contribute to their work and also witness the very best of this migration fest!

What a year!

Sitting atop the cliffs outside of Tarifa today, we happily wiled away the final daylight hours of 2017 pretty much as we began, gazing out over the narrow stretch of water that separates Europe from Africa, at the epicentre of the East Atlantic Flyway!

We were there in the hope of grabbing an extra couple of species to add to our Spanish year list, but between waves of Balearic Shearwaters and Northern Gannets, we also grabbed the time to reflect on a truly brilliant birding year!

Here, in no particular order, are our highlights! Were you there..? If not, why not?!

  1. Migration, migration, migration!
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Short-toed Eagle © Inglorious Bustards

As a destination to see the sky dark with many thousands of soaring birds, The Straits of Gibraltar is hard to beat!  The movement never really stops, but twice a year we get to enjoy this spectacle at its peak, and share it with you!  Here‘s how we got on this year! And if that whets your appetite, we still have a couple of places left for our Spring migration tour

2.  Wallcreepers, Lammergeiers and more in the Pyrenees.

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Wallcreeper © Inglorious Bustards

A fabulous trip, exploring the wintery Spanish Pyrenees for some truly breath-taking mountain birding and a whole bunch of laughs!  This tour will feature as part of our new Brassic Birding range, for adventurous birders on a budget – watch this space and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date!

3.  Birding on Two Continents!

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Moussier’s Redstart © Inglorious Bustards

With only 14km between us and Africa, it’d be rude not to go now and again!  This Spring we showed some lovely folk the best of migration from both sides of the Straits, as well as superb resident species like Northern Bald Ibis, Moussier’s Redstart and Moroccan Marsh Owl.  Read our adventures here, and check out the dates and itinerary for 2018 here!

4.  Field Trip fun

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We love catering for large field trip groups, because the conservationists of the future deserve a field trip somewhere both fascinating and sunny!  This year was no exception and we had a great time with the excellent students of Bangor Uni and the University of South Wales.  If you are looking for a well-organised good value trip for a large group, please contact us!

5.  Vulture extravaganza

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Rüppell’s Vulture © Inglorious Bustards

Our group was treated to fabulous scenery, top notch cuisine by an award-winning chef, and star birds like Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor, against a backdrop of thousands of migrating Griffon Vultures – just wow! More here! And check out the plan for next year’s trip here!

6.  Birdfair

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Conservation hero and giver of geat hugs, Mark Avery stopped by

Always lovely to catch up with friends old and new at the UK’s annual ‘Birder’s Glastonbury’! Here‘s how we got on!

7.  Dovestep 3

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We were proud to host Turtle Dove conservation warrior and legend Jonny Rankin and his crew in The Straits in February, as he embarked on his third epic journey, walking across Spain – more here

8.  Eleonoras Falcons, Cream-coloured Coursers and more in Northern Morocco

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Eleonora’s Falcon © Inglorious Bustards

Taking wildlife photography artist Tony Mills around Essaouira and Oualidia in search of some star Moroccan species was a great adventure, full of wildlife, culture and food!  Read about our adventure here, and check out the tour itinerary for next June!

9.  The Gambia

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Egyptian Plover © Inglorious Bustards

Another of our favourite places on Earth, this year we got to travel the whole length of the Gambia river, bringing our clients up close and personal with such delights as Egyptian Plover, Bearded Barbet, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Carmine Bee-eater and a rainbow of other species!  Have a look at our exploits here, and remember there’s still chance to join us in February and avoid those winter blues!

To all our friends old and new, we’d like to wish you a very happy new year, and we hope to see you in person at the centre of the world in 2018!

 

You wait all morning then 9,000 turn up at once!

Rush hour for the East Atlantic Flyway started late yesterday, but Blimey, was it a busy one!

It was a dank start, with cloudy raptor-less skies that were more like England than southern Spain! Indeed, as we looked over to the Rock of Gibraltar, it was actually raining in the UK!

We were volunteering again today, helping Fundacion Migres with their long-running migration monitoring programme.

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A European Honey Buzzard descends through the cloud layer © Inglorious Bustards

The sullen morning gave us chance to appreciate another aspect of migration – the wild olive scrub around El Algorrobo watchpoint was hosting loads of migrant passerines like Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatchers, Golden Orioles and many Phylloscopus warblers, resting on their way south.  The morning rush hour saw dozens of Hirundines, Common, Pallid and Alpine Swift racing through.

But it was 11.45am that the climatic traffic lights turned green for raptors! The sky was suddenly full of Honey Buzzards, kettling in their hundreds and barging south along the now congested flyway.

 

Male European Honey Buzzard © Wader World
Honey Buzzards descend from the grey! © Inglorious Bustards

The chirpiest of the travelers were the European Bee-eaters. So many passed over, quipping like kids on a school bus, and some buzzed right over and around our group, prompting so many ‘Ooooh’s and ‘Aaaah’s that we almost forgot to count them!

 

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European Bee-eaters quipping noisily straight passed us, I forgot to take a photo until they were on their way! © Inglorious Bustards

But it was the last couple hours of the count that really blew our minds! Late arrivals finally getting past bad weather in the Pyrenees were racing over in their hundreds, seemingly experiencing flyway rage, desperate to reach Africa before sundown. At around 3pm, after a busy but relaxed days counting, our group was suddenly silent except for whirring clickers and the barking of things like “10 Milanos Negros!”, “234 Abejeiros!”, “Aguila Calzada! Aguila Calzada!”

All in all we counted 9,081 birds commuting to Africa in just one day, at just one watch point, a mere fraction of the 250,000+ raptors and 400,000 Swifts that will pass through here this season.

Fundacion Migres have been carrying out this exceptional monitoring programme since 1997, making it one of the greatest sustained efforts in Europe. Today we were privileged to count alongside Alejandro, Migres’s Flyway Veteran.  He has been with the programme since the beginning, and now leads it.

They are keen for volunteers to help with the counts – people like Alberto – a professional musician and birder from Madrid who was with us yesterday.  He will be with Migres for the minimum placement of 1 week, during which he can stay at their accommodation at the Centro Internacional de Migracion de Aves near Tarifa and receive full training.

Fancy gazing at a bit of mega migration? Don’t worry, this was only the beginning! Find out about volunteering with Fundacion Migres here. Or come see #FlywayBirding in action with us next Spring or Autumn!

Raptors before the eyes

It’s a disconcerting feeling when you shut your eyes and you can still see hundreds of raptor silhouettes passing in front of them!

We’ve spent the day volunteering with Fundacion Migres as part of their long-standing migration monitoring programne – we reckon this must be a common side effect!

Marina, Martina and the Inglorious Bustards

With very little wind, but heavy low cloud to start with, it’s been a strange day for movement. Early doors saw dozens of hundreds of assorted raptors forming in large lazy kettles and rolling up and down the coast.
Simon spies on Gibraltar

It gave us a while to find our feet in terms of monitoring protocol, and to find even deeper admiration for Migres staff Marina and Martina, their quick eyes, organised approach and the intense, almost telepathic communication between them!
Enthusiastic and skilled teachers, they were chatty and friendly yet never missing a bird.

As the day wore on, many Short-toed Eagles continued to mooch around the valleys, giving stunning views, sunlit from the south against a black sky.

Egyptian Vultures, Sparrowhawks, quipping Bee-eaters and some dapper Montagu’s Harriers provided further highlights.

Black Kites and Booted Eagles were passing over us in droves but today, The Honey Buzzard was king – they streamed over all day in groups of 30 or more, and by 3.30 we were receiving reports from Morocco that they were arriving at the the iconic rock monolith of the Jebel Musa.

The pace was constant but relaxed – we even found time to have bit of fun with an Egyptian Mantis determined to learn the salient ID features of a Honey Buzzard!

Fundacion Migres have been carrying out this exceptional monitoring programme since 1997, making it one of the greatest sustained efforts in Europe.  It has generated much important research and conservation protocols for migrating soaring birds and the challenges they face.

We were happy to help (at least we hope we were helpful!) and to add our numbers to today’s count, which we’ll hopefully hear the results of soon! Sure we’ll see most of them again when we close our eyes to sleep!

Fancy gazing at a bit of mega-migration?! Migres welcome seasonal volunteers, who can stay at their Centro Internacional de Migracion de Aves near Tarifa. Or come see #FlywayBirding in action with us next Spring or Autumn!

Star-studded Birding in Morocco; Can We Pap a Pode..?

Birding in north-western Morocco has been bringing us a wealth of avian ‘A’-listers, and now we were headed for the beautiful little gem of Oualidia in search of the ultimate reclusive star bird, the Andalusian Hemipode.

Thought extinct, the small population that breeds here was rediscovered in the 2000s. On the neighbouring farmland, in 2007, a living Andalusian Hemipode was photographed for the first time in the Western Palearctic.

We’d brought our good friend, wildlife photographer and artist Tony Mills, within close reach of such glamorous species as Eleonora’s Falcon and Cream-coloured Courser and now we were up for this final star-stalking challenge.

Hemipode’s eye view!

 

Here at Inglorious Bustards we take the welfare and future of the wildlife we love extremely seriously, so it goes without saying we would only see this species if it could be done without causing them undue disturbance in the breeding season.

So our strategy was to focus our attention on the ‘Pode’s breeding grounds in the area’s pumpkin fields, keeping a watchful eye and listening out for the characteristic ‘Moooooo! at dawn and dusk, but taking time to enjoy all the stunning wildlife the area has to offer.

The pretty little resort of Oualidia spreads around a languid crescent-shaped lagoon fringed with golden sands and protected from the Atlantic surf by a rocky breakwater.

Rolling fields stretch right down to the coast to meet marshes, reedbeds, saltpans, sandy beaches and rocky outcrops, so there’s lots to explore.

Beach birding, Oualidia

 

We had a wondrous boat trip out onto the lagoon, with local skipper Hassan, taking in a wealth of gulls waders and terns, including Audouin’s Gulls, Little Terns, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone.

Skipper Hassan

Hassan is also a formidable chef, and, mooring up on a sandbank, he cooked us up a delicious BBQ lunch of fresh local sardines and Moroccan salad, while we enjoyed watching fishing Little Terns and maroccanus Great Cormorants.

Well fed, we drifted back towards the town’s beach, and literally as we passed the royal palace, what should be waiting to greet us but a splendid Royal Tern, looking every bit the aristocrat?! These regal visitors to the area breed in West Africa and only turn up occasionally so we felt very privileged!

Between ‘Pode patrols we also visited the salt pans, rich in waders. Black-winged Stilts promenaded their chicks among Kentish Plovers, and Dunlin and Sanderling were all glammed up in summer plumage.

The fields around the beach brought enviable pickings for any photographer, enabling us to get within feet of gleaming Audouin’s Gulls and dapper Collared Pratincoles.

And as for the reclusive star? Excitingly, among a handful of Common Quails we encountered in the pumpkin fields, we had glimpses of Small Buttonquail, the pale underwing, contrasted wing coverts and strange, jerky flight giving the identity away.  And the pic? In the words of Sean O’Connell, rugged wildlife photographer in the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it…” ‘Nuff said.

Would you enjoy searching for a reclusive avian stars? Our unique ‘Choc & Pode’ tour, featuring Eleonora’s Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, Andalusian Hemipode and much more is running again in 2018. Come join us!

And don’t forget to check out Tony’s wonderful artwork here.