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!

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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!

#Birdfair Rocked!

With potentially record attendance figures and legions of new faces in evidence, this year’s Birdfair felt more like the start of a movement than the continuation of an event.

We were told on Sunday by one of the events’ army of lovely volunteers that the combined visitor total for Friday and Saturday was up by 2000 on previous years. With the usual attendance at around 20,000 that’s an increase of 10% in just the first two days! (Anyone heard the final figures yet..?)


So who are these new disciples flocking to ‘Birders’ Glastonbury’? It seems to us there’s been a seismic shift in the past year or two in the mass appeal of birding. As well as the legendary folk who’ve been making the pilgrimage for many years, there’s a new following in town. And far from being the influx of shallow hipsters that the mainstream media had us all expecting, these are genuine bird-curious nature-lovers who are looking for a new place to connect.

Of the folk we chatted to on our stand, many were old friends and personal heroes of ours.  But many were new to birding and Birdfair.  Nowadays folk are as likely to be sporting jeans and a hoodie as the fabled twitcher’s jerkin, as likely to be female as male, and are representative of diverse age groups, nationalities, and cultures.  With this sort of inclusivity of attendance on the rise, Birdfair is becoming ever more deserving of its title of the ‘Birders’ Glastonbury’.

People were loving our relaxed, but professional approach to birding and wildlife tours and #FlywayBirding, our approachability, and the way we and others like us offer a non-patronising way to learn, to reach whatever level of expertise is desired, or just to appreciate the beauty of a wildlife spectacle like migration.  No doubt the free Sangria on our stand also helped!

Although many people stay the full weekend, and no doubt celebrate together in the evenings (the long-standing ‘Birds and Beers’ event being a prime example), we loved the feeling of an emerging of what Niki dubbed the ‘Birdfair Fringe’. Our friends Amity and Mark of Morning Bride rocked an intimate folk gig at the Crown in Uppingham, and the Champions of the Flyway event grew ever bigger, with wine, music and uplifting project updates from previous years’ beneficiaries.

The birders we know are lovely folk – what a great feeling that there seem to be more and more of them!

More people connecting with the message from organisations and individuals like Mark Avery, Chris Packham, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and rspb, this year focussed heavily on ending wildlife crime and the murder of Hen Harriers and other raptors our uplands – which should be managed for the many, not the few.

More people becoming aware of the struggles our wildlife faces against invasive non-native species, like the breeding colonies of endemic birds on Pacific islands, decimated by rats, whose future generations will benefit from this year’s Birdfair dosh. It’ll be a while before we know the full total that was raised this year, but last year it was £350,000, up from the previous year’s £320,000, up from £270,000 the year before that, so it won’t be negligible!

More people engaging with causes like Champions of the Flyway, committed to ending the illegal hunting of birds across so many flyways (this year’s cause will see funds go to a collaborative project between Bosnia and Croatia– that’s the kind of cross-border amazingness we’re talking about!).

And yes, we can’t lie about it – for us, it means more friends!! YES!!

Please be our #FlywayBirding friend! Join our mailing list here!

 

 

#Birdfair to #Birdfair – a year of migration!

The ebb and flow of migration along the East Atlantic Flyway never really stops – here’s how in the past year The Inglorious Bustards have been gathering a perspective from the Straits of Gibraltar on the journeys of some familiar – and less familiar – species

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Short-toed Eagle

Birdfair 2016 marked the beginning of our journey last year – a beautiful summer weekend to bid a fond hasta luego to friends before heading off to our home at Huerta Grande Eco-lodge in the Straits of Gibraltar on our next tour-leading adventure.  We weren’t the only ones choosing to head south, and our movements coincided with the steadily mounting autumn migration.

All through August, September and October, our UK-bred Turtle Doves, Barn Swallows, Cuckoos, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Marsh Harriers to name but a few were streaming south, travelling mostly by cover of darkness, all following the bustling East Atlantic flyway to wintering grounds in Africa.

At only 14 km wide, the Strait of Gibraltar is the narrowest stretch of water between Europe and Africa.  As well as many millions of Northern European passerines, 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 potentially deadly – stretch of sea. 

This breath-taking migratory spectacle is beyond compare.  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 Vultures and European Bee-eaters.  No matter how many times we see it, it never loses its magic.  It’s not surprising that this experience has the power to reduce many folk to tears! 

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This phenomenon continues well into November as thousands of Griffon Vultures join the throng.  At this time, we also enjoyed exploring the more mountainous inland areas of Malaga province, where delights such as Alpine Accentor, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow were starting to move down to more agreeable altitudes for the winter, making them much easier to find.  We also got to enjoy the odd migratory overshoot, in the form of Fieldfares and Redwings enjoying expat life and a wealth of fruits and berries on the nearby farmland.

December and January were fine months to explore the area’s wetland habitats.  The flooded farmland fields were at their absolute best, hosting a wetland spectacle to rival Coto Doñana.   Many thousands of Common Cranes congregated, while we enjoyed huge flocks of Northern Lapwings, Skylarks and more, enjoying some winter sun before their return to the UK.  While we were still without a heart-warming pint of Adnams, wintering Common Chiffchaffs, Robins, Song Thrushes and Blackcaps provided us with a much-needed taste of UK life.

February is when it all kicks off again. One day conditions will suddenly be right, and huge columns of Black Kites will be visible surging from the northern coast of Morocco as if someone has popped a bottle of champagne.  Seemingly within minutes they’re here – and if we’re not working, we like to sit on the clifftops and raise a glass of vino tinto to their welcome arrival!

Perhaps surprisingly, at this coldest dampest part of the British year, swallows and martins have already started their passage north by now – the earliest we had were on Christmas Day!

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This year for us, February also brought everyone’s favourite waif and stray, Jonny Rankin, and his crew, who stayed with us for the first legs of his epic Dovestep 3 walking extravaganza, before eventually marching on cross the entirety of Spain on foot (some 700 miles) and raise another £7000 for the RSPB’s Operation Turtle Dove.

Throughout March and April the migratory return journey was in full rush hour.  What a joy to see the promise of return fulfilled by familiar species such as Barn Swallows, House Martins, Ospreys, Nightingales, Common Redstarts– and the odd flavissima Yellow Wagtail – pouring through on their way back to the UK!  We also got to enjoy the arrival of such stunners as Collared Pratincoles, Stone Curlews, Melodious Warblers, Tawny Pipits, Woodchat Shrikes and Black-eared Wheatears.

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In May and June we enjoyed the later movement of UK birds like Common Swift, Pied Flycatcher and the deeply anticipated Turtle Dove, all merged in with a fantastic passage of almost the entire European population of Honey Buzzards.  It was also the peak of the breeding season – a perfect time to observe local resident species.  This is one of the very few areas in Europe where you can find all five of the European swifts – Common, Pallid, White-rumped, Little and Alpine.  It’s also a fine place to get outstanding views of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis.  A successful reintroduction programme of this weird and wonderful avian creature means that the Straits now holds possibly the most viable – but certainly the most viewable – population in the world.

With its intense heat,  early July is probably the only real lull in activity, so we spend the brief time doing some office work (with air-conditioning if possible!), forging ahead with new partnerships we are building to ensure that we, and the people we bring here, are able to give something back to conservation in the Straits.  We’re working with organisations like Fundacion Migres, who have been monitoring the migration for 25 years and are the source of much of the available data on it.

Come mid-July and August, however, and flocks of White Storks and Black Kites are once more overhead, already Africa bound!  Beautiful as they are, we are Blighty-bound to catch up with old friends and new at the Birdfair. Will we see you there? We are in Marquee 1, Stand 28 – Come and chat to us and we can tell you in person how, no matter which of the 365 days you choose, every day is a good day in the Straits! 

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Next year we’d love to share some of these experiences with you! Check out our tours page and come and see us at Birdfair, Marquee 1, Stand 28 to find out more about migration experiences, vulture spectacles, swift weekenders and more!

 

Fill up your Swift page!

Common. Pallid. Alpine. Little. White-rumped. This time next year, your list of European breeding swifts could be complete!  During our exciting new Swift Weekender tour, we endeavour to bring you together with all five species of that most aerially superb genus, the Swift, all over the course of a weekend of fantastic and varied birding!


Because of its strategic position at the gateway of two continents, our home in Andalusia is a unique blend of European and African, with our beloved Apus species passing through on their way to and from breeding grounds, and the more typically African amongst them choosing the Iberian peninsula as one of their very localised breeding sites in Europe. It’s one of the very few places in Europe you can see them all!
This southernmost Spanish province is the most biodiverse region not only in Spain but the whole of Europe. So, set our swift-spotting against a background of superb resident species in intertidal, wetland, farmland, woodland and urban habitats, accompanied with fantastic tapas, passionate discussions, and welcoming people, and you’re looking at a weekend to remember!

From our delightful weekend base at Huerta Grande eco-resort, fast becoming known as the centre of birding in the Straits of Gibraltar, while searching the skies for Pallid, Alpine and Common Swifts, we’ll also explore our rich local surroundings in the Los Alcornacales natural park. As well as some cracking 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 the early days of autumn migration, as passerines collect amongst the trees to gather strength for their southwards crossing of the Straits.

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We’ll also go out on the town in picturesque Tarifa, where we can encounter Common Bulbuls (another unusual European tick), urban Little Owls and breeding Lesser Kestrels. We’ll enjoy a stroll along the harbour front where, simply by looking up we’ll be able to see Pallid Swifts galore and pick out Common Swifts on passage crossing over this historic town.

Around teeming local farmland and wetland sites, we’ll look out for a veritable takeaway menu of delights, including many hundreds of White Stork and Glossy Ibis, Collared Pratincole, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Kite, Short-toed, Booted, Spanish Imperial and Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Kite, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Spanish Sparrow, Tawny Pipit, and Calandra, Crested and Short-toed Lark.  A successful reintroduction programme of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis took place here in 2008, and we should be able to see these engaging and quirky birds at their nesting colony or grazing on surrounding farmland.

You won’t mind missing the sport this weekend for a visit to a tiny breeding colony of White-rumped Swift. Several pairs of this typically African breeding species have found and occupied a collection of old Red-rumped Swallow nests nearby, making this area one of only a handful of European sites for this fabulous little bird. As well as unintrusively visiting the nest site we will enjoy them feeding over nearby open water, mixed in with many Common and Pallid Swifts, several species of swallow and martin, and hopefully also enjoy views of locally breeding Western Osprey.

Little Swift is another typically African species, better known in the souks and medinas of Marrakech. But again, for this tiny Apus the Straits have proved no barrier, and we will be able to make a Sunday afternoon saunter to the local seaside near Cadiz to enjoy their aerial antics.

Cadiz Bay is also home to some exceptional coastal marshes and sensitively-managed salt pans. We’ll explore the creeks and lagoons of this very special area, with its ever-changing selection of wetland birds. At this time of year the southerly migration has already begun for many waders, and we can hope to see Sanderling, Red Knot, Dunlin, Little Stint, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwit passing through, amongst the breeding Collared Pratincoles, Common Ringed and Kentish Plover.  There are also many seabirds such as Sandwich, Little and Caspian Terns, Slender-billed Gull and the once extremely rare Audouin’s Gull. We should also get views of Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Western Osprey.

A relaxed Sunday dinner Spanish-style enjoying chef Juan Carlos’s traditional Andalusian fare, and a glass or two of local sherry should sooth all thoughts of the coming week, and instead of heading to work on Monday morning, you’ll be enjoying our local Monarch and Two-tailed Pasha butterflies, Copper Demoiselles and Four-spotted Emeralds before flying out over the spectacular Rock of Gibraltar.

Fancy getting set for the weekend with us? Check out our tour here, and sign up for our e-newsletter so you can always keep up-to-date with new tours!  And please, come and chat to us at Birdfair, Marquee 1, Stand 28.  Be swift!

 

 

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.

No load of old Pony!!

Airport arrivals are actually quite joyful places to be – as soon as family, friends and partners arrive it’s a happy occasion.

I was really happy to see my old friend Simon of Wader World – we go back a long way and some of my most informative birding years were spent getting up to all manner of birding based capers together.

You’d think we would ask how each other were or ask how you’ve been upon meeting right?…..the actual first thing Simon said was “you have the same bins as me!”

It wasn’t long before we picked up where we left off and with a few drinks we had a long and enjoyable catch up.

Next day we had a mission and we were on it! (Although a little blurry!) First we hit the freshly wetted fields at La Janda encountering great views of fly-by Collared Pratincoles, Black Kites and a young Black-winged Kite.

A young Collared Pratincole this one just metres from our car at Barbate

We logged several species both here and at other sites including a smart adult female Montagu’s Harrier having a ruck with a Short-toed Eagle.

This time of year we couldn’t help ourselves and indulged in a bit of Swift appreciation as we watched motoring White-rumped Swift with joy and added our fourth Apus species to the trip list.

The next days we explored the area of the Alcornacales cork oak forest and farmlands which offered some great opportunities to get close to both adult and juvenile Black-eared Wheatear, Spotted Flycatchers, Western Bonelli’s Warblers and Bonelli’s Eagles.

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We also took our chance to visit the Guzman Fort in Tarifa where the antics of recently fledged Lesser Kestrels can be watched at point blank range with young birds still being fed by the parents and juveniles perching literally right next to us, we greatly enjoyed this special little falcons first flights.

Shall I stay or shall I go? A pair of juvenile Kestrels eye up the new world

The real searching was for Rüppell’s Vulture throughout the valleys and crags of the Straits. This is no easy task but we know they are about. We had some really special up close views of Griffon Vulture throughout the week and we both agreed that seeing them is beyond tireless.  In fact so tireless when I looked at my watch it was 10.30 in the evening as we obsessively observed roosting and nesting Griffon Vultures.

The  real highlight however was a dead goat that was bringing in the Vultures and this provided us with some truly special moments, with this magical and at times wrongly maligned species hissing and squabbling over the remains as the clean up squad was in full hoover mode!

Did we see a Rüppell’s ???? …….well …can you spot it?

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There’s something for everyone with the Inglorious Bustards and we know you will have fun whether you want to go easy and raptor watch from the pool or go full throttle birding, scrambling up rocks looking at Vultures – we pride ourselves on having the best team for whatever you need and however you want or need to do it.

Contact us and chat to us or check out our tours page, we are really happy to help to fulfil your dream and look forward to welcoming old and new friends.

Star-studded Birding in Morocco; Finding the Cream of the Coursers

Avian ‘A’-listers abound in north western Morocco, and we were on a mission to meet – and hopefully pap – them with wildlife photographer and artist Tony Mills.

Having bathed with dreamy Eleonora’s Falcons in Essaouira, our ‘Choc & Pode’ tour took us north along the coast road to the heath and farmland around Safi. This stretch of road is a veritable Hollywood Boulevard of natural delights and we made frequent stops to enjoy it!

Coast road to Safi

Moussier’s Redstarts, too busy with the breeding season to be bothered by us, were seemingly everywhere, as were glamorous Black-eared Wheatears.  Barbary Ground Squirrels provided the comedy action while Agama Lizards, Black Redstarts, Woodchat and algeriensis Southern Grey Shrikes, Crested Larks and a Desert Wheatear all featured in the star-studded cast.

We’d been to the market early that morning and bagged some really excellent local produce.  We enjoyed our picnic lunch of fresh flatbreads, tomato, red onion and black olive salad and High Atlas cherries in wonder at how these fruits and veg bear so little resemblance to the sad excuses for flavour we put up with in the UK!

Mobile picnic table!

 

Our musings were cut short by an absolutely stunning Black-eared Wheatear, almost entirely black-and-white with barely any peach. Only feet away from Tony’s lens, this bird hung around and made sure of grabbing its share of the limelight!

We soon arrived at our accommodation at Kohelian Oriental Lodge Farm – a tranquil leafy oasis in the arid coastal heath. Built on a spring, this verdant retreat has a therapeutic soundtrack of purring Turtle Doves and is a haven for weary travellers and wildlife alike.

We would happily have missed dinner to carry on birding the wonderful hotel gardens, had it not been so exceptional!  Once the chef and her helpers had had their own Ramadan breakfast, we were served with superb modern Moroccan food, featuring delights such as white cabbage with mint and yoghurt, courgette with tomato and garlic, lightly spiced chicken and carrot tagine with flatbread, and crispy crepe with caramelised orange and honey, dusted with cocoa powder and a dollop of vanilla ice cream – heaven!

Birding in the surrounding heath and farmland areas was a superb section of the tour, and  gained us audiences with Collared Pratincoles galore, Thekla, Crested, Lesser and Greater Short-toed Larks, Little Owls, and tribes of Stone Curlews running about like they owned the place.

I… am… stone…

But our tongues rolled out like red carpets when we came across our star bird, Cream-Coloured Courser!  A group of these gorgeous, quirky waders were feeding on the arid heaths with their families, happy to pose for atmospheric photos in their desert hangout.

Fwoar!

Would you enjoy hanging out with avian celebs in their rural retreat? Our unique ‘Choc & Pode’ tour, featuring Eleonora’s Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser and much more is running again in 2018. Come join us!

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

Star-studded Birding in Morocco; Up Close With Eleonora’s Falcons

The House Buntings flitting around our feet were helping to build our excitement as we eagerly awaited wildlife photographer Tony Mills at Marrakech airport.

For the next week we’d be taking Tony – a glutton for punishment now on his third trip with us – on a whirlwind tour of north-western Morocco, Inshallah, studded with star species for him to photograph.

We spotted our friend’s characteristic saunter and multitude of photographic equipment immediately and after customary hugs, whisked him away out of the heat of Marrakech to the decidedly more chilled-out coastal town of Essaouira. Here, amongst other fabulous local wildlife, we hoped to bring him up close and personal with the gorgeous Eleonora’s Falcon.

Rebuilt during the days of the French Protectorate in the 1800s, Essaouira is a sleepy, arty town where Moroccan medina charm meets Brittany coastal resort.

After a scenic drive there across vast cinnamon-coloured plains, we checked into  Palazzo Desdemona – a tastefully renovated riad on the edge of the old town, its modern decor adding a sophisticated twist on the traditional.

That afternoon, among the fresh catches and lively bartering of the thriving fish market, we were able to get superb close views of Yellow-legged Gulls of all age classes, screaming excitedly and fighting over bits of discarded fish. Also hanging around this gritty, bustling place were Little Terns, handsome summer-plumage Ruddy Turnstones, Little Egrets, and Grey and Common Ringed Plovers.

And, like fans at a stadium gig, we also had our first distant views of the star of the show for this leg of the trip – Eleanora’s Falcons, 1300 of which breed on the Île de Mogador just offshore.

Dinner was delicious traditional soups and tagines and epic slabs of chocolate cake in one of our favourite boutique restaurants in the old town, ‘Chaabi Chic’. What can we say, here at Inglorious Bustards we’re suckers for a clever name (!) and we think this one sums up the town perfectly!

Our next day’s birding was focused around a dramatic canyon a few kilometres inland from Essaouira. When they’re not hunting and brutally butchering migrant passerines, this riverine habitat is where the local eleonorae glitterati like to hang out by the pool and have a drink.

Sure enough we almost immediately had fantastic views of this dreamy ‘A’-list Falcon right over our heads, and we were graced by the presence of several individuals of both colour morphs throughout the morning.

And to top it off the supporting cast featured many other avian mega-stars, including Moussier’s Redstart, Barbary Partridge, Rock Bunting, Common Bulbul, Masked Wagtail and African Chaffinch.

The city of Essaouira comes to an abrupt halt at its eastern edge with a four-mile long stretch of Victorian-style park railings. On one side, a residential area peppered with corner shops, carts full of melons, boisterous children and mechanics’ workshops. On the other a vast forest in the sand, peppered with tamarisks, olive trees and amber-coloured pools, where we spent our afternoon birding.  Here we rubbed  shoulders with Gull-billed Tern, Black-winged Stilt, Night Heron, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, Brown-throated Martin and Ferruginous Duck to name but a few.

We celebrated with a well-earned Casablanca beer and a touch of sandy exfoliation at the breezy the seafront of the aptly nicknamed ‘Windy City’.

But although Tony was really pleased with the superb views of Eleonora’s Falcon in flight, us Inglorious Bustards are perfectionists when it comes to birding in Morocco, and we wanted to get him some even better shots.

Returned the following morning at 6.30am, our persistence was rewarded with the magical sight of ten or more of these exceptionally elegant falcons bedecking a tree like chocolatey decorations, and taking it in turns to bathe in the river.

It doesn’t get much up close and personal than that!  We observed and happily papped away at these avian ‘A’ listers enjoying their baths. We retreated before a restraining order could be issued, and set off on our next step along Morocco’s Hollywood Boulevard of birding…

Would you go weak at the knees for a dreamy Falcon?! Our unique ‘Choc & Pode’ tour, featuring Eleonora’s Falcon and much more is running again in 2018. Come join us!

Very Important Puffinus

Unless there’s a moth trap or a night out with the Next Generation Birders involved, there’s normally only one 5 o’clock in our day! But this morning we had a great reason to haul ourselves out before daybreak.

Team Balearic!

We were to spend it helping out our friends at Fundacion Migres surveying Balearic Shearwaters as they migrate through The Straits.

Alighting from the bus in Tarifa at 6am, we entered a surreal crossed reality, where revellers celebrating last night’s Festivale de San Juan were literally just leaving the nightclubs, high heels and kebabs in hands!

Across town, dock workers were getting breakfast and heading to their jobs, as were the town’s resident Pallid Swifts, which we enjoyed watching over our coffee and tostada as we waited for day to break.

Sunrise over Tarifa harbour

The nightclubs might have been heaving last night, but thanks to Alejandro Onrubia from Migres we had VIP passes of our own today – to Tarifa Island, an ex-military base now inhabited by around 4000 pairs of Yellow-legged Gulls, and the location of Punta de Maroquis, the shortest distance between mainland Europe and Africa.

Here we settled down to stunning views across the Straits, and a morning of sea-watching, to help fulfil the monitoring of Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwaters, Puffinus mauretanicus, that Ali and his team have completed for the last 14 years, working with the Spanish Environment Ministry.

Where the Med and the Atlantic meet

Fundacion Migres have monitored the passage of these birds using the same protocol every year, meaning it provides a reliable index estimate of the current population.  We know they are doing badly, mainly due to deaths as part of fishing ‘by-catch’ and predation of chicks by rats and feral cats on their island homes. Thanks to this work we are able to see how badly.  In 2007, when the global population was estimated at 24,000, this method recorded 16,000 migrating through the Straits.  Last year, only 12,000 were recorded.  This year, with migration season nearly over, the numbers are around 11,000 recorded so far.  The monitoring is vital to increase pressure for conservation solutions and funding to be found to these problems.

At peak migration, the team can be counting up to 1,500 Balearics a day, mixed in with thousands of Cory’s Shearwaters.  Today at the end of the season we clocked a leisurely one hundred, giving us time to enjoy some of the delights of birding in the Straits, including views of Audouins Gulls, Lesser Crested and Little Terns as well as a pod of Striped Dolphins, and distant but tantalising glimpses of Orca fin and a whale fluke!

Not too fussed about the endemic pink stuff it seems

Close by, there were plenty of amusing begging antics from the Yellow-legged Gull youngsters, unsurprisingly oblivious to the pretty pink endemic Limonium emarginatum adorning their hangout, exclusive to the Tarifa coastline.

But most importantly, we got to contribute in some small way to Balearic Shearwater conservation, and hopefully to helping Ali retain his seawatching sanity!

Thanks Ali for having us along! The next nightclub trip is on us!

You too can support Migres – watch this space for future volunteering opportunities.  Or maybe you fancy experiencing the spectacular migrations and cetaceans of the Straits first hand on tour..? Join us!