19 Sep 2013

Birding in Tarifa

Juvenile Greater Flamingo Playa de Los Lances

I have just spent the week with my family a few miles outside Tarifa in Spain. Tarifa is the most southern part of Spain and is only 9 miles from Africa. Tarifa is predominantly known for it's kite surfing. It is also known as one of the best spots in Europe for it's raptor migration with up to half a million birds passing through each spring and autumn.

We stayed in a hotel called La Codorniz ( The Quail in Spanish) it was full of birders. There was the famed raptor expert Dick Forsman staying at the same time, sadly I didn't realise he was doing a two day raptor id workshop in Tarifa while I was there.

La Codorniz Hotel and Restaurant

On the first morning before any of the family had roused themselves I headed across the road and through the pine woods to the beach and then along the foreshore towards Playa de Los Lances Nature Reserve and the bird hide.
Paraje Natural

I saw seven lifers. In the woods Spotted Flycatcher were everywhere as were Short-toed Treecreeper.
Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

The most common birds were the Crested Lark and the Zitting Cisticola, a brilliant name for a bird, also known as the Fan-tailed Warbler.
Zitting Cisticola-Fan-tailed Warbler

Crested Lark

The small river that ran on to the beach had Little Egret's and a Grey Heron feeding and a Common Sandpiper flying along the river banks. Out on the sand there were a number of small waders Sanderling being the most common, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and a few Knot.

 There were also a few Ringed Plovers and another lifer for me Kentish Plover.
Kentish Plover

Opposite the hide there were a number of gulls on the beach. Some Audouins and Yellow-Legged Gulls as well as about thirty Sandwich Terns sitting on pilings along with a Kingfisher.
Audouin's Gull

Audouin's Gull

In the air there were distant Honey Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawk. I saw my first Red-rumped Swallow and in the beach hinterland there were Stonechats and Whinchats everywhere along with some Sardinian Warblers. What a fab warbler the Sardinian is sadly I didn't get any usable photos. There were also Yellow Wagtails flying over.

I got back to the hotel hot and filled with excitement with all the new species I had seen. In the afternoon we headed out to the beach at Bolonia
Beach at Bolonia

and while the boys and Penny sunbathed I walked in the woods mainly finding common birds such as Bluetit, Great Tit and Chaffinch. There were a few Hoopoe, Short-toed Treecreeper, Spotted Flycatchers and another lifer a young Woodchat Shrike.
Woodchat Strike


I also saw my first distant Short-toed Eagle. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable first days birding with roman ruins thrown in for a wee bit of culture.

The following morning I headed down the beach again and in the distance I saw a bird scything the water along the edge of the river and I put the bins up and saw a juvenile Greater Flamingo. I was on the beach side of the river and laid down on the sand and watched it work away for about twenty minutes. It then just walked towards me and then came out of the water within the minimum focussing distance of my lens and walked right past me out onto the beach. What an exhilarating experience.
Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo feeding

Greater Flamingo feeding

Greater Flamingo

The next morning I met up with Javier Elorriaga the owner of Tarifa Birding Tours and raptor expert. We headed up the road La Janda and a what a phenomenal place it is. It used to be a lake which was drained in the 60's and now has drainage channels criss crossing the area and there is rice cultivation which attracts birds in large numbers including raptors that prey on them. We turned off the N-340 onto a rough track and immediately there were Stonechats, Corn Buntings and Zitting Cisticola on the fences. As we went further down the track there were  White Storks in the fields
White Storks

 and juvenile Black-winged Stilts in the recently ploughed rice paddy.
Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt

As we travelled alongside one of the canals we got great sightings of Marsh Harrier and Montague's Harrier and could hear Cetti's Warblers in the reeds. Occasionally the harriers would flush small flocks of Glossy Ibis and on one occasion a youngster let us get quite close. A Squacco Heron also afforded us nice views.
Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis in flight Top bird is ringed

Squacco Heron

As we continued there were tons of Goldfinches and House Sparrows feeding alongside the roadway along with Greenfinches. In one bush there was a lone Turtle Dove.
Turtle Dove

We drove for many kilometres around La Janda coming across both Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel and at one stop we spied a Little Owl and flying on the other side of the road was a Short-toed Eagle.
Little Owl in La Janda

Short-toed Eagle

One of the thing that strikes you is the enormous wind farms in the area and you suspect it has to have a dire effect on the avifauna. They are presently trialling radar that will stop a turbine the moment a bird comes within striking distance. As well there are ecologists on site that can contact control centres to shut down turbines when a raptor or other bird approaches. It is a fairly horrifying when you see a column of a few hundred storks approaching them. It makes me suspect that the offshore wind farms won't afford the same protection to seabirds. Out of sight out of mind and little chance of proving quantity of bird kills.
Storks within 500 metres of a bank of wind turbines
Windfarm at La Janda

We left La Janda and headed for a raptor watching site near Algeciras over looking Gibraltar. We stopped off for a snack at a cafe half way between Tarifa and Algeciras at Mirador del Estrecho which is good for raptor watching and during lunch we saw Short-toed and Booted Eagle. It has a great view towards Africa over the Straits of Gibraltar.
View to Africa from Mirador del Estrecho

Above this watch site cum cafe is sited one of the first wind farms in Spain which is now antiquated and is up for replacement. i watched a Booted Eagle fly right through the centre of this wind farm and my heart was in my mouth the whole time until it had cleared it.
First Windfarm in Spain at Mirador del Estrecho

View from below Mirador del Estrecho looking west. Windfarm City

We got to the raptor watch site Observatorio Ornitològico at El Algarrobo where there were a number of Javier's colleagues that work for La Fundación Migres a NGO that counts raptors in the autumn and winter. We saw numbers of Griffon Vultures, Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite and Egyptian Vultures.
El Algarrobo Raptor watch site

Raptor Counters
Griffon Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
After an hour we headed back to the hotel via a little off-road detour where we saw my first Black-eared Wheatear.
Black-eared Wheatear

Javier Elorriago Tarifa Birding Tours
All in all I had a wonderful day and Javier was an excellent host and I would highly recommend him
to other birders visiting the area.

The following day didn't involve birding but a 35km mountain biking trip over some of the off road route that I had done with Javier the day previously with fairly horrible results. One son went over the handlebars, bruised and bloodied and  my wife came off as well with same result and I got sunstroke which knocked me out for the next couple of days.

On my final morning I had one of those wonderful birding experiences which are so often unexpected.
I went to an observatorio ornitològico at Punta Camorro just a kilometre down the coast from Tarifa towards Gibraltar there was a strong easterly wind blowing and  I was looking for birds out at sea and saw a glimpse of a wheatear nearby and was looking at it through my bins and when I stood up I was completely surrounded by raptors. There were around 30 Black Kites, 12 Booted Eagle and 11 Honey Buzzards within 200 metres of me. The Honey Buzzards just pushed on out over the Straits of Gibraltar  towards Africa and the Kites and Eagles headed slowly into the wind down the coast. Magical
Observatorio ornitològico
Honey Buzzard
Honey Buzzard
Booted Eagle

Black Kites heading down the coast


Dena said...

Fabulous account and photos Craig! I'm pleased you had such a great time! All those lifers on the first morning - bet the smile never left your face all day! Some great memories there for you. Hope the family enjoyed it enough for a repeat sometime!

Eduard Kooij said...

Photographing birds requires discipline to create an effective photograph that captures their beauty and nuances… when not in flight.You have capture really amazing photographs . I like it ..

Regards Eduard

Angad Achappa said...

Wonderful set of images here..looks like you had a great trip!! :)
The flamingo images are my favourite!

Angad Achappa