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Visible migration over the Gibraltar Straits

Western Mediterranean and the Gibraltar Straits
18 March - 10 April 2011

An ROV pipeline inspection and intervention job took us close to the Balearics for a few days followed by a few weeks in the Gibraltar Straits. As usual the area produced plenty of birds and other sightings of interest - despite birding being limited to an hour or two around dawn most days. The most frustrating aspect of the trip was waiting for dawn after working the night shift (ended 06:00), at first I only had to wait an hour or so but after the clocks changed for summer time the wait was extended a further hour...

For other pages dealing with birding the Balearics and the Mediterranean see the following pages:

Birding the Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean
Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean

Map showing average location during the trip
Position was well to the west of Gibraltar itself

Second summer Audoin's Gull
Second summer Audoin's Gull, Gibraltar Straits, March 2011

Audoin's Gull featured heavily both close to the Balearics and in the Straits of Gibraltar. As usual they showed rather nocturnal behaviour and often cleared off just as dawn broke.

Audoins's Gull feeding at night
Nocturnal feeding Audoin's Gull, off Ibiza, March 2011

Plenty of seabirds were seen during this trip including a huge movement of Scopoli's Shearwater in late March. Small numbers of Balearic Shearwater were seen near Ibiza and also heading into the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar Straits. Northern Gannet, Great Skua, various species of gull and even a Puffin were also noted.  Once again the impression that Scopoli's Shearwater are seen in greater numbers closer to shore was reinforced.

Mediterranean Gulls were not seen after 01 April but were regular prior to this date both in the Mediterranean and in the Gibraltar Straits (mostly non-adult birds).

Balearic Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater, off Ibiza, March 2011

Scopoli's Shearwater
Scopoli's Shearwater, March 2011
Both Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwater were seen during a large movement on 25th March 2011.
For more pictures click on the image above

Bee-eaters migrating under gale force winds
Bee-eaters migrating under gale force winds, April 2011

Many bird of prey and passerines crossed the Gibraltar Straits under the most atrocious conditions - often during periods of gale force winds. Surprisingly few passed on "good" days - this may have been because they then managed to cross at the narrowest part rather than being forced westwards. One of the highlights of the trip - a migrating Roller - was one of the exceptions, passing on a calm and sunny morning.

Migrating Cattle Egret
Herons such as this Cattle Egret were an almost daily sight

Cattle Egret, Little Egret two flocks of Flamingos and a flock of three Spoonbills were among the larger wading birds seen.  The vast majority of passerines were not identified - conditions when these were passing were far from ideal. Hirundines, larks, pipits and finches were all seen in good numbers at times.

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier approacing the Spanish coast, March 2011

The following table gives a list of the species seen during the trip. Itinery was as follows:
16-18 March - Valencia harbour. No time spent birding
19-23 March - Mediterranean between Valencia and Ibiza
24 March  - 10 April. Straits of Gibraltar (SOG)

English Norwegian Scientific Numbers Comments
Cory's /Scopoli's Shearwater Gulnebblire Calonectris diomeda **** Huge numbers 24.04.11, most days in SOG. Usually closer to shore,. Most positively identified as Scopoli's but some Cory's too.
Balearic Sheawater Balearlire Puffinus mauritanicus * Few in Med, several SOG
Northern Gannet Havsule Sula bassana ** Over 25 on 24.03, smaller numbers daily in SOG
Great Cormorant Storskarv Phalacracorax carbo * Two east near Spain, SOG
Cattle Egret Kuhegre Bubulcus ibis * 1-3 regularly SOG
Little Egret Silkhegre Egretta garzetta * Valencia, 2 north SOG 06.04
Grey Heron Gråhegre Ardea cinera * Valencia
Eurasian Spoonbill Skjestork Platalea leucorodia * 3 N 28.03.2011
Flamingo Flamingo Phoenicopterus  ** 30 N on 02.04.2011, 20 migrating 09.04.2011
Eurasian Marsh Harrier Sivhauk Circus aeruginosus ** Up to 12 per day, usually during strong easterlies
Montagu's Harrier Enghauk Circus pygagus * 1+ seen several times, inlcuding a femaile on 08.04
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Spurvehauk Accipiter nisus * One on 25.03, 1 on 08.04.2011
Lesser Kestrel Rødfalk Falco naumanni ** One took a small passerine at sea west of Ibiza
Common Kestrel Tårnfalk Falco tinnunculus * Common migrant in SOG
Ringed Plover Sandlo Charadrius hiaticula * Two birds together, SOG, 06.04
Great Skua Storjo Stercorarius skua * Several SOG, up to three per day
Mediterranean Gull Svartehavsmåke Larus melanocephalus ** Valencia, small numbers SOG but none after 01.04.2011
Little Gull Dvergmåke Larus minutus * Valencia
Black-headed Gull Hettemåke Larus ridebudus * Valencia, small numbers SOG
Lesser Black-backed Gull Sildemåke Larus fuscus ** SOG
Yellow-legged Gull Gulbeingråmåke Larus cachinnans ** Common
Audoin's Gull Middelhavsmåke Larus audouinii ** Common, often more at night
Gull-billed Tern Sandterne Gelocheldon nilotica * At least 1, SOG, 06.04
Sandwich Tern Splitterne Sterna sandvicensis * Valencia
Atlantic Puffin Lunde Fratercula arctica * Two NW 26.03, SOG
European Turtle Dove Turteldue Streptopelia turtur * One 08.04.2011
Common Swift Tårnseiler Apus aapus ** Common migrant
European Bee-eater Bieter Merops apiaster ** 90+ 01.04, single 03.04, SOG
European Roller Blåkrake Coracias garrulus * One flying around vessel 28.03
Sand Martin Sandsvale Riparia riparia * Small numbers SOG
Barn Swallow Låvesvale Hirundo rustica *** Common migrant, ringed bird landed in Med
House Martin Taksvale Delichon urbica ** Small numbers SOG
Yellow Wagtail Gulerle Motacilla flava * Single SOG, 03.04.11
White / Pied Wagtail Linerle Motacilla alba ** Small numbers SOG and Med
European Robin Rødstrupe Erithacus rubecula * Small numbers SOG and Med
Song Thrush Måltrost Turdus philomelus * SOG One or two 10.04.2011
Common Chiffchaff Gransanger Phylloscopus collybita * One singing onboard, Med
Common Starling Stær Sturnus vulgaris * Valencia
House Sparrow Gråspurv Passer domesticus * OFFSHORE SOG (must have been blown here!)
European Greenfinch Grønnfink Carduelis chloris * Small numbers SOG, probably a lot commoner
European Goldfinch Stillits Carduelis carduelis ** GOG: Small flocks migrating

Montagu's Harrier
Montagu's Harrier being blasted past the vessel in high winds

Migrant Roller
Migrating Roller, one of the highlights of the trip, 28 March 2011


Yellow-legged Gull
Yellow-legged Gull, Gibraltar Straits, April 2011

Greater Flamingo Marsh Harrier
Flocks of migrating Flamingos were seen on two occasions Marsh Harrier crossing the Straits in gale force winds

 Spoonbills migrating over the Gibraltar Straits
Migrating Spoonbills, Gibraltar Straits, March 2011

Windmills greet raptors along the Spanish coast
Plenty of windmills to greet migrant raptors after crossing the Gibraltar Straits....

Swallow Sunfish
Ringed Swallow resting onboard, off Ibiza,
March 2011
Sunfish, Mediterranean, March 2011


Ocean Sunfish on the surface, between Spain and Ibiza
Sunfish were also seen at depths of >100m in the Gibraltar Straits

Other Sightings:
There was plenty of marine life in the area. The highlights were a shark and sunfish (twice). Howeverm, there were all kinds of fish seen including Moray Eel, Conger eel and many, many more - many of which remain unidentified. Several species of moth and butterfly made the sea crossing during periods of calmer weather.

Migrant Cricket / Grasshopper onboard, Gibraltar Straits, April 2011

Hawk Moth
Hawk moths such as this one turned up twice, several during a "fall" containing several moth species and an "invasion" of 25

Sunrise over Ibiza
Sunrise over Ibiza

This shark inpsected the vessel briefly

Migrant moth
Another migrant moth

Links to birding Gibraltar Straits:
The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society - Link here

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