Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update from Spain #2

Hi all,
Here's another update on our student exchange program in Spain, written by Micah.

Hello again from the southernmost province of Spain! After three great months our time here counting raptors has come to end. We said our goodbyes to the observatories at Cazalla and Algorrobo on Sunday, October 9th. The passage of birds had slowed noticeably over the weeks leading up to this with less than 100 birds counted at each site on our final day. However, we had a nice showing the previous Friday in which we counted an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle, two Bonelli’s Eagles, a Lesser Spotted Eagle, Rüppel’s Vulture, a Long-legged Buzzard, a pair of Peregrines, and the season’s first Hen Harriers (a new lifer for me!!).

Short-toed and Booted eagles over Cazalla

Some of these species, specifically the Rüppel’s Vulture and Long-legged Buzzard, are African species whose presence has thought to have been increasing in the past years. However, it is also possible that these species were always present in small numbers and went relatively undetected until formal monitoring programs such as those implemented by Migres have gone into effect. To see more of what we counted this during the raptor migration this season you can visit the Migres website at Here are the overall numbers for the season for this season:

Black Kite—141,696

Black Stork—3,058

Bonelli’s Eagle—20

Booted Eagle—40,253

Cinereous Vulture—1

Common Buzzard—89

Common Kestrel—14

Egyptian Vulture—2,772

Eleonora’s Falcon—5

Golden Eagle—2


Griffon Vulture—303


Honey Buzzard—64,288

Hen Harrier—1

Lanner Flacon—4

Lesser Kestrel—302

Lesser Spotted Eagle—8

Long-legged Buzzard—16

Marsh Harrier—293

Montague’s Harrier—615


Peregrine Falcon—23

Red Kite—20

Ruppel’s Vulture—9

Short-toed Eagle—27,842

Spanish Imperial Eagle—4

Sparrow Hawk—2,317

White Stork—100,055

TOTAL –384,458!!!

In total, we counted 29 different species of nearly 400,000 birds! Some of the counts for birds from the sites were omitted from this data to avoid double counting. For example, we counted nearly the same number of storks at two sites, but only use data from one of these sites.

Melanistic Montague's Harrier at Cazalla

While the raptor migration has tapered off for the majority of birds, the migration of Griffon Vultures in the Strait has just begun! Each year thousands of juvenile Griffon Vultures disperse from their breeding colonies to make a temporary move to North Africa. The postnuptial autumn movements of these birds show concentrated peaks at the end of October and early November with roughly 80% of the migratory population crossing the Strait within a period of a few days. Many of these birds then spend the next several years in Africa until they reach maturity and return to their natal breeding colonies.

a Griffon Vulture with White Storks

In addition to the Griffon Vulture migration, the marine birds are also on the move. Every year there is a spectacular passage of Cory’s Shearwaters (>150,000!!!) departing the Mediterranean on their way to winter feeding grounds in the northern Atlantic. The Strait is also an important migratory pathway for many Balearic Shearwaters, Gannets, Mediterranean and Audouin’s Gulls, and Lesser Crested Terns. Our watch site is posted on the southern most point in the European continent on the Island of Tarifa.

View to Morocco from Tarifa

This small Island more recently served as a military training post until 2005 (and for thousands of years prior a watch site for invading Moors from Morocco). Now the island has been designated as a natural area and is generally closed to the public.

Sanderlings on Tarifa



Sea watching has been an exciting and new adventure for me. To think that many of these birds lead completely pelagic lives only coming ashore to breed is truly amazing. They impart a feeling of truly pristine nature, a wildness that your average passerine can never dream of…In addition they have also proved quite the challenge. Most of the birds are sited far off shore with distinguishing characteristics like…hmmmmm, black and white plumage? Oh yea, everything appears black and white against the distant backdrop of ocean and sky. So, out with the old field markings and in with flight style or jizz as the sea watchers call it.

Yellow-legged Gulls

Today is also Martina’s last day in the hostel. Tomorrow she leaves for Barcelona and then back to Argentina. We wish her the best and thank her for all her help and companionship she provided these past months!

A final note to students who wish to collaborate with Migres in the future, Martina and I agree that this has truly been an outstanding experience. Speaking for myself, this has been perhaps the premier field experience of my life. While my Spanish is far from perfect I have made great strides towards learning another language to which I was nearly naïve to before this trip. With that said, I believe that anyone considering this would benefit greatly from a few formal lessons before arriving. In addition, you will make your life a lot easier if you spend some time watching migrating raptors before coming. While the species are different, an eagle still looks like and eagle from a distance, as does a harrier, hawk, or falcon. So get up to Lucky Peak all ready and start volunteering!! For those interested in learning more, We would be happy to share more of my experiences with you and can be contacted at and Thanks again to Boise State and the IBO for making this possible. In particular, Martina and I both send our thanks to Greg Kaltenecker and Dr. Bechard for their work in arranging this travel award. Hope you all can visit this outstanding migration site sometime in your life. It is one of a kind!

Happy Briding,

Micah and Martina

Mission: to contribute to the conservation of western migratory landbirds through cooperative research and public education