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  • Thomas Grohmann

Migration of the Raptors - Bird migration at the Strait of Gibraltar and other birding spots

Aktualisiert: 2. Apr. 2022

In 2020, a sub-project of our photo project Wild Atlantic Coast was to be dedicated to the spectacular spring and autumn bird migration at the Strait of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain. But the pandemic outbreak of the Corona virus unfortunately forced us to break off prematurely in mid-March. Nevertheless, we were able to observe and photograph the impressive migration of a number of raptors from Morocco across the strait until the day of leaving in Andalusia - two days of which even included mass overflights of Black Kites and Short-toed Eagles. Later in the year, there were also opportunities to admire the migrated birds at their breeding and resting places in various places in Germany.

We travelled from the Alqueva reservoir in the Portuguese-Spanish border region to Andalusia and made a stopover in the charming El Rocío. With its exposed location on the edge of the Donana National Park, the equestrian town spread a very special atmosphere during these spring days.

More evening and morning impressions around the Charco de la Boca, the periodically flooded wetland (marisma) near El Rocío can be found here.

When wind and weather conditions allow, the skies above the Strait of Gibraltar - the strait that separates the African and European continents by only 15 km and connects the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Oceans - can get quite busy in the truest sense of the word. An estimated 30 million migratory birds in total, half a million of which are raptors, pass through this bottleneck every season from February to May and August to November on their way to and from their respective wintering grounds in Africa.

Since flapping their wings is an extraordinary effort for the raptors, they try to save as much of this energy as possible by gliding. Over the sea, the air does not heat up enough for sufficient thermals and so the animals spiral upwards on the land surface of the African or European coastal mountains with warm, rising air to then begin the relatively short journey across the strait in a straight-line glide. Due to the glide and the lack of thermals, the animals lose altitude and reach their destination continent at a very low altitude or only just above sea level. As a result, the arrival of the birds can be observed at eye level during the spring migration on the Spanish side between Algeciras and Tarifa. Against the backdrop of the Moroccan coastal mountains, the cargo ships passing through the strait and the wild foreground of the Spanish coast, very attractive and exciting pictures can be taken.

If unsuitable weather conditions on one side or the other of the strait cause birds to gather for the flyover, there can be veritable mass overflights in the following days.

In addition to bird migration, the southern tip of Spain sets a comparatively rich table for photographers due to its still diverse flora and fauna. We have compiled a few highlights as well as further shots of the raptors here.

The same applies to the Rock of Gibraltar, which we have already visited under incipient pandemic restrictions.

We have uploaded more photos of the "Rock" on this page.

Another wetland in southern Spain is not to be missed: Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, located in the province of Malaga. The saline lake is known for its rich fauna and is home to the largest breeding colony of pink flamingos in Spain. Our impressions can be found here.

The link to the next "Birding Hotspot" is best made via the Osprey: During our stay in the Westhavelland Nature and Star Park, at Lake Klietz and along the river Löcknitz, we were able to observe several pairs of this species, whose arrival on the European mainland we had the pleasure of witnessing as early as March.

More photographic highlights can be found at this link.

The stopover of the cranes in the National Park Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft before their departure towards the south formed the photographic-ornithological finale of the year. We present this year's photo impressions here. A photo report from 2017 can be found in our travel blog here.

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