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  •  

    As the Strait of Gibraltar is the narrowest crossing point for birds migrating to and from Europe and Africa, the Rock offers unrivalled bird watching opportunities. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded, many of which are migratory. Gibraltar, at the head of the Strait, is a prominent headland, which accumulates migrants during the passage periods. The vegetation on the Rock, unique in southern Iberia, provides a temporary home for many species of migratory birds that stop to rest and feed before continuing migration for their crossing over the desert and sea. In spring they return to replenish before continuing their journeys to Western Europe, journeys that may take them as far as Greenland or Russia. The bird watching high season extends from February to June, and from July to October, although interesting species can be seen throughout the year. For example, Gibraltar also has its permanent residents such as the Barbary Partridge, which was only to be found originally in North Africa, and nowhere else in Mainland Europe.

    Full details of the bird passage through Gibraltar can be found on the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society website: www.gonhs.org

     

    February - March

    February to March is good for Cory Shearwater, Black Kite and Short-toed Eagle.

     

    March – April

    During late March to April there is a good variety of passage raptors including Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Osprey.

     

    April – May

    Are excellent for migrating passerines and large falls occur in the Strait area after bad weather.

     

    July – August

    July and August are probably the best sea-watching months. There are large numbers of Balearic and Cory’s Shearwaters offshore and there is a large westward movement of thousands of Audouins’s Gulls which pass close to the shore. Other seabirds are likely at this time.  July to August is also the peak of the southward migration of the White Stork, Black Kite and Swift.

     

    August – October

    The last week of August and the first ten days of September are the best for large numbers of raptors on migration, especially Honey Buzzard, Egyptian Vulture and Montagu’s Harrier. Black Storks and Short-toed and Booted Eagles follow at the end of September and in early October. The main passerine activity in autumn is in late September to mid-November when large falls occur after bad weather. Finch migration during October and early November is spectacular.

    Birds move through the area of the Strait throughout the year, making is difficult to divide the year by seasons. The bulk of migration takes place from March to May and from August to October but not all species conform to this pattern. White storks, for example, pass south across The Strait in large numbers during late July and early August, and return northward from the end of October.  Any time of year can be rewarding for the visitor.

     

    ALL YEAR

    Interesting species which can be found throughout the year include:

    Balearic Shearwater,  Spoonbill,  Greater Flamingo,  Marbled and White-headed Ducks, Red Kite, Griffon and Black  Vultures, Goshawk,  Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Barbary Partridge, Purple Gallinule, Crested Coot,  Little and Great Buzzards,  Avocet,  Stone-curlew, Kentish  Plover, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse,  Eagle Owl,  Dupont’s and Thekla Larks, Crag Martin,  Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, Black Wheater,  Blue Rock Thrush, Cetti’s Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, Crested Tit,  Short-toed Treecreeper,  Great Grey Shrike,  Azure-winged Magpie,  Chough,  Spotless Starling, Spanish and Rock Sparrows, Serin and Hawfinch.

     

    APRIL - SEPTEMBER

    Those wanting to observe the greatest variety of species should visit during mid-April to mid-June.  At this time birds are still migrating north and most of the summer visitors have arrived to breed.  Among the interesting summer visitors are:

    Little Bittern, Night Squacco and Purple Herons, Black and White Storks,  Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier,  Booted Eagle,  Lesser Kestrel, Black-winged  Stilt,  Collared Pratincole, Slender-billed Gull,  Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns,  Great Spotted Cuckoo,  Scops Owl,  Red-necked Nightjar, Pallid,  Alpine and White-rumped Swifts, Bee-eater,  Roller,  Hoopoe,  Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks,  Red-rumped Swallow, Tawny Pipit, Rufous Bush Robin,  Black-eared Wheatear,   Rock Thrush,  Savi’s  Great Reed, Olivaceaous, Melodious,  Spectacled, Subalpine, Orphean and Bonelli’s Warblers,  Woodchat Shrike, Trumpeter Finch and Ortolan Bunting.

     

    NOVEMBER - FEBRUARY

    The winter period, which may be considered to start in November and end in February, is also an interesting time as winter visitors from the North arrive and the residents species are still around.  It is a good time to observe waterfowl, waders and some passerines, in large numbers and some raptors such as Red Kite and Hen Harrier are  most abundant at this time.  The winter is a suitable time for a short visit as the weather is usually mild  except in the mountains.  Interesting wintering species are:  Greylag Goose,  Red-crested Pochard, Crane,  Black-tailed Godwit,  Mediterranean Gull,  Alpine Accentor and Penduline Tit.

     

    THE MIGRATION OF BIRDS

    During the height of the last glacial advance 18000 years ago, the Iberian Peninsula and the Balkans become refuges for birds which could not survive the rigours of the climate further north.  During this period much of Iberia was covered in deciduous and coniferous forests of a similar type to those nowadays found in central and northern Europe.  With the retreat of the glaciers and the return to more temperate environments all over Europe, many species of birds began to re-colonise these areas.  Birds from Iberia advanced over much of Western Europe and those from the Balkans moved into Eastern Europe.  In winter, as the climate deteriorated, these birds would return to their southern homes.  The migratory patterns of many birds were thus established with West European birds migrating south-west in autumn and East European birds flying southeast.  Other  factors have modified this basic pattern in the case of a number of species of birds but the trend still holds true for a large number of species of land birds.


    Tropical Africa is the major wintering zone for thousands of millions of European migratory birds.  Many of these birds are reluctant to fly over the sea on migration and the Mediterranean Sea presents itself as a formidable barrier.  For this reason vast numbers of West European birds congregate to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in autumn and return across in the spring. Gibraltar, at the head of the Strait, is a prominent headland which accumulates migrants during the passage periods.  The vegetation of the Rock, unique in southern Iberia, is temporary home for many species of migratory birds which stop there to rest and feed before continuing the migration.


    Gibraltar’s proximity to the sea and to another major hurdle in the migration, the Sahara Desert, makes it an essential landfall.  In autumn migrants from the north feed on the Rock and deposit large layers of fat which may double their body weights.  This fat is used during the migratory flight over the sea and desert (during which the birds do not feed) to provide energy and water.  In spring the migrants have finished the desert crossing and stop at Gibraltar to replenish reserves of fat before continuing towards Western Europe.  This journey may take them as far as Greenland or Russia.


    Gibraltar is the winter home for other migratory birds from Western Europe which find food and protection on the Rock.  Ringing research has shown that many individuals return to winter on the Rock in successive winters having performed many journeys north and south in the intervening periods.  In the case of the Crag Martin, a species of swallow which only weighs around 22 Grams, individuals have returned to winter on the Rock for seven years.


    The Rock of Gibraltar is therefore a stop-over for migrating birds of many species and a winter quarter for others.  These species are protected in their breeding areas.  Transit points and winter quarters must also offer protection if international conservation is to have any real meaning. All birds in Gibraltar are protected by law which means that they cannot be hunted.  It is equally important that the habitats which they utilise for feeding and shelter are protected from urban development and therefore destruction.  The loss of vegetation from the Rock or the progressive fragmentation of vegetated areas on the Upper Rock would reduce the sizes of the birds populations living there, whether as residents or in transit, to unacceptable levels.  The protection of the Rock’s habitats is a commitment which goes beyond Gibraltar, it is an international commitment which forms part of a global strategy for the protection of birds with more than one home.





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