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What does Bird Migration mean to you?

Niki Williamson of The Inglorious Bustards explores why the Straits of Gibraltar are the centre of the world for raptor migration.

The marking of the seasons?  A quick dash to the nearest headland to catch a glimpse of a wayward migrant? Thoughtful musings about origins and destinations unknown? Or just simply the wonder of it all?

For us, it means all of those things but, importantly, it’s about a promise for the future, a promise of return…

At only 14 km wide, the Straits of Gibraltar are the narrowest stretch of water between Europe and Africa, and twice a year over 250,000 migrating raptors choose this point to cross between continents.  The birds gather in huge numbers, making use of the thermals that rise off the rocky coastlines to give them the lift they need to traverse the short, but a potentially deadly stretch of sea.

This breath-taking migratory spectacle is beyond compare.  To witness mind-blowing numbers of migratory birds swirling just metres above your head is a truly uplifting event that cannot be matched.  Imagine looking up and seeing 20,000+ Honey Buzzards, Black Kites, White Storks, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, with supporting groups of Black Storks, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, and European Bee-eaters.  No matter how many times you see it, it never loses its magic.  It’s not surprising that this raptor migration in Gibraltar experience has the power to reduce many folks to tears!

Raptor Migration Fascination

For myself and Simon here at the Inglorious Bustards, experiencing this powerful event has led to a life-long fascination with avian migration.  It’s no accident that we have chosen our base to be here at Huerta Grande Eco-lodge.  Our location between Gibraltar and Tarifa puts us right at the epicentre of birding in the Straits and, from a migrating raptor’s point of view, we must surely also be at the centre of the world!

We love not only to marvel at the birds passing but also to follow them on their migratory journey, and explore the whole range of fascinating and varied terrains they traverse each year.

More than that though, we love to share our adventures with you.  As well as our home-from-home in southern Spain, we take pride in bringing you the best of birding and migration spectacles along the whole East Atlantic flyway journey, through Europe, and North Africa, right down to the steamy wintering grounds of many of our nomads, south of the Sahara.  Our birding tours in Andalucía have nothing to do with racing around ticking birds and everything to do with enjoying landscapes, habitats, and cultures and having a good laugh – at a relaxed pace.

With our background in conservation work, however, we also know that the promise of return is a fragile one.  The journey itself is a challenging one fraught with natural dangers.  To these are added ever-increasing man-made perils.  Land-use changes, modern agricultural practices, legal and illegal hunting, and climate change are all taking an unprecedented toll on struggling populations.

That’s why we’ve pledged to work with conservation projects here in Spain and across the flyway, acting to address these issues, and making sure the promise of return will continue to be fulfilled.

The migratory cycle never really ends.  As I write this in February things are hotting up, with the first groups of Black Kites and White Storks making their journey north and fulfilling their promise once more.  The spectacle will soon be at full strength again! Next will come Vultures, then Eagles and Bee-eaters, then Honey Buzzards.  And as soon as the northerly passage has ended for some, the journey south has begun again for others.

Add to this the almost continuous east-west movement of seabirds, cetaceans, and a sparkling array of resident passerines, raptors, and wetland birds, and you have an ideal birding destination filled with year-round avian attractions.  Once you’ve seen all this and fallen in love with The Straits as we did, we think you’ll also find yourself fulfilling a promise to return…

Inglorious Bustards offer birding and wildlife tours in Andalucía, Spain with a difference including chilled-out birding adventures fused with relaxation, fun, local culture, and delicious food including bird migration watching.

Niki Williamson
Inglorious Bustards

Originally Published: 15th Feb 2018
Updated: 8th November 2020

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