A 7-day wildlife tour to the Straits of Gibraltar which are just 14 km wide and provide migrant birds with an ideal crossing point of the Mediterranean. Soaring birds are able to make use of the thermals which form over the Rock of Gibraltar and the Moroccan peak of Jebel Musa to gain height to help them on a treacherous part of their journey.
We begin with your flight to Gibraltar, from where we meet you and transfer to our delightful eco-resort in tranquil woodland near Tarifa, the centre of birding in the Straits. Our base at Huerta Grande is ideal for watching the migration as it is located between two natural parks in the hills above the Straits of Gibraltar, amongst lush Cork Oak forest. We should witness many hundreds of migratory birds making the crossing to their wintering grounds in Africa, including Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzards, Black Kites and both Black and White Storks.
We will take a boat excursion, weather permitting, into the Straits to witness the seabird passage and cetaceans. We will be on the lookout for Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters and European Storm-petrel among other species, plus the three species of resident dolphin (Common, Bottlenose and Striped) and the resident pods of Long-finned Pilot Whale. Once back on dry land, we will have a go at some urban birding around the old town of Tarifa where we can encounter Common Bulbul and breeding Lesser Kestrels. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the old town square where, simply by looking up you will be able to see migrating raptors and storks crossing over this historic town.
We’ll spend the morning at Los Lances nature reserve, a small area of intertidal habitat on Tarifa beach. On the short walk across low intensity farmland, we may see Crested Lark, Tawny Pipit, Short-toed Lark, Yellow Wagtails and Corn Bunting.Â A boardwalk takes us out to a hide, from where we can look across the lagoons to see birds including Common Ringed and Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Little Stint. Theres a decent chance of visiting Western Osprey here too, and seabirds can include Sandwich and Caspian Terns, and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull.
Migratory movement is completely dependent on wind strength and direction. Depending on whether birds are crossing or gathering inland waiting for their moment, this afternoon will be spent at one of several local raptor watchpoints, making the absolute most of whatever the conditions bring us.
Today, alongside more raptor-watching at sites with stunning views across the Straits to North Africa, we will make a visit to nearby Barbate salt pans. This area offers a fantastic selection of waders which change every day, as well as some real stars like Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Western Osprey.
Also close by is the town of Vejer de la Frontera, where a successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis took place in 2008. From thirty pairs, the birds now number around 78 pairs, and we should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds at their nesting colony or grazing on surrounding farmland.
Today we will visit the farmland and wetlands of La Janda. The huge area of low intensity farmland was once a vast wetland on a par with Doñana in terms of its ecological importance. It has long since been drained for agriculture, but amongst the rice fields and managed pools and ditches, some real wetland gems remain, hinting at its former natural glory. Amongst many hundreds of White Stork and Glossy Ibis, here we should see many waders, wildfowl and raptors, such as Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Kite as well as a chance of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Bonelli’s Eagle whilst the farmland areas should yield Spanish Sparrow, Calandra Lark and perhaps Red-necked Nightjar.
Our last full day in Spain taking time to explore our rich local surroundings in the Los Alcornacales natural park. This is the biggest cork oak forest in Europe and especially unique in the way that it gathers moisture coming in off the ocean to create a warm Mediterranean cloud forest. As well as some adorable local avian specialities in the form of Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Hawfinch and Short-toed Treecreeper, almost anything can turn up here during autumn migration, as passerines collect amongst the trees to gather strength for their southwards crossing of the Straits.
There are also a host of interesting rare plants to see here, such as the quasi-endemic carnivorous plant Drosophyllum lusitanicum, which occurs only here and in some areas of Portugal.
We will also have a look at the high rocky cliffs of Sierra de la Plata here, amongst the eerie screeching of the resident Griffon Vulture colony, mountain specialities such as Blue Rock Thrush, Crag Martin, and Rock Bunting are all likely to be encountered.
We should again find ourselves in the midst of the Autumn raptor migration and will take our final chance to sit back and relax with a picnic and a glass of wine at a raptor watchpoint as the spectacular birds drift overhead.
Today sadly our trip comes to an end, and it is time to make our own migratory journey back to the UK.
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