19 Sept 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

11 Jun 2013

A Visit to Gigrin Farm in Wales

Red Kite

It seems at present the main excuse to go over to Britain is birthday parties and last weekend was no exception. We headed over to a 50th birthday party in Wales. Arriving late on the friday night we then woke up to an incredibly bright and sunny saturday morning in the Welsh borders. Our hosts have a twenty acre farm with about 5 acres of which is deciduous woodland. So my first thing to do was take a walk round the farm. There were Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff singing everywhere with the occasional Blackcap. In the woods there was the chip chip of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and its very noisy young calling from a nest. I saw my first Grass Snake in the wild just lying in the sun on one of the paths running through the woods.
Grass Snake
Walking round the fields I came across a beautiful male Redstart which was too far to photograph properly. I mentioned the bird to other people who were camping in the fields and they told me both the male and female had been feeding young nearby. It was an idyllic day and a great party with pig roast in the garden. I sat most of the day drinking Tawny Owl Perry from the local cider mill

watching House Martin coming to their nests.

The following morning we said our good byes, we were sad to hear that our friends were selling the house: so if you want a small holding in Wales the details are here , and headed on an hour and a half drive to Rhyader in central Wales where Gigrin Farm is situated. Gigrin Farm is The Red Kite Feeding and Rehabilitation Centre.
Gigrin Farm

Gigrin Farm

It became a feeding centre about twenty years ago when the Kites used to roost at Gigrin in the winter. At first there were about twelve kites that used it whereas in the very cold winter spell a couple of years ago as many as 600 birds came to the site.
Track to the Hides at Gigrin Farm

Just before you get to Rhyader you turn up a track past a small hotel to the farm itself on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below. They feed the birds at 2pm in the winter and 3pm in the summer. We arrived about an hour early and bought tickets to one of the photography hides. At this point there were quite a few Red Kites in the air and in trees around the feeding site. We made our way down the track above to the hides.
The Hides at Gigrin Farm

The photographer hides are open and are elevated and you look out on to the feeding area.
Feeding Ground Gigrin Farm

As we are sitting waiting in the open hide a female Redstart lands on the corner of the hide less than three feet from me.
Female Redstart

Redstart with grub

She then flies up to her nest in the corner of the hide.
Redstart at Nest at Gigrin Farm Hide

Amazing to be so close.

At 3pm a tractor comes into the feeding area and the farmer forks the meat out of the link box onto the site. By this time there are 100- 200 Red Kites in the air along with a few buzzards.
Red Kite

Red Kite

Red Kite and Buzzard


The Kites swoop down and grab the meat whereas the Buzzards just land and gorge themselves. The noise is amazing. It is an extraordinary sight. There is even a leucistic kite amongst them.
Leucistic Red Kite

Forty minutes later and it is all over with most birds having disappeared and only a few remaining. But what an afternoon.
Red Kite diving