Friday, 14 October 2011

Algeciras 4th -7th October 2011

After checking into the hotel we headed off into the town of Algeciras for a look around. Not much in the way in the way of birdlife was seen but we did find a hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on flowers in a roadside flowerbed, the first sighting of the trip. Later that evening we wandered into town again for dinner and saw three of them feeding together in the same flower bed.

The best photo of a hummingbird hawkmoth I could get

After having a look around the town and enjoying an orange flavoured magnum (tasted like Jaffa cakes!) we headed back to the hotel where we crashed out by the poolside to catch some sun, it being around 2:30pm by this time. A kestrel was noisely calling and on looking up to see it I noticed a flock of around 10 large raptors soaring on the thermals. It was quite cloudy especially inland and with a brisk East wind so not ideal for the birds to fly over to Morocco but they were heading towards Gibraltar. Grabbing my binoculars I realised they were both dark and light phased booted eagles with a short toed eagle amongst them, being noticeably larger in size. They gained height before disappearing into the cloud but then more birds appeared from the West, all heading East towards Gibraltar. I sat and watched birds soaring overhead for about an hour and a half, some were quite low but most gradually gained height before disappearing into the clouds. Most were booted eagles but there was also the odd short toed eagle amongst them, the numbers were difficult to count but there was a good number of birds passing over. 

Amongst the trees and shrubs of the garden I watched pied flycatchers and redstarts feeding, one of the pied flycatchers had a deformed leg that stuck out at a right angle behind the bird but it didn't seem to affect its flycatching or perching. Also seen was a willow warbler, grey wagtail, blackbirds, robins (which were very shy and retiring) and a song thrush.

Moth wise I saw a crimson speckled and quite a few vestals and a red admiral flew by joined by a two tailed pasha butterfly, a new one for me but a very quick fly past view only, its flight was very fast and erratic and I originally thought it was another red admiral.

Crimson speckled- a few of these turned up in the South West in the heatwave the UK had while we were away!


The following day we headed off on the bus to Gibraltar which for me was one of the highlights of the trip and somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time. We walked over the border from Spain and across the airport runway and had a wander around the main shopping area. It was strange to see signs in English along with an M and S and Natwest bank but the cars still drove on the right on the roads. David needed the loo as usual so while he went off to find one I sat in Casemates Square watching the stream of eagles flying overhead as they gained height up the side of the rock. Again they were mostly booted eagles, some very low down, with a few short toed eagles amongst them and there was a steady stream over. I then noticed a darker bird and was delighted to see it was a juvenile Egyptian vulture, a new bird for me and a bit of a surprise. Later that afternoon while up on the rock I saw the same or another bird, the wind was quite brisk from the East and it was very cloudy with the top of the rock shrouded in misty cloud so not ideal weather conditions for the birds to make the crossing over the sea to Morocco. I have seen the Autumn migration of birds through the Bosphorous at Istanbul and it was very impressive with huge numbers of storks and raptors passing overhead when the bad weather broke, the numbers were huge but the views were not so good as most birds were quite high as they passed over so I was very pleased to have seen it happening in Gibraltar with such good views of the birds.
Entering Gibratlar
At lunchtime we headed off for a dolphin watching boat trip with Dolphin Adventure which was very good. 3 companies run trips from the marina and we headed out to an area where the Dolphin World boat was drifting around. I saw a striped dolphin leap out of the water as we sailed nearer to the boat and then a common dolphin broke across the waves briefly. We then spent a good hour watching the dolphins, it was very choppy on the water with the East wind but the boat would motor very fast across the water to create a wake which would then hit the waves caused by the wind and the dolphins seemed to enjoy leaping out of the water where the opposing waves met, giving us good views. The striped dolphins would also pass by the boat, leaping out of the water and tail splashing but the common dolphins would come in to the boat to ride on the bow wave. I had an excellent time and could have spent all day out on the water in the sunshine but we had to head back and just as we were about to enter the marina another pod of common and striped dolphins appeared past the boat which was a nice surprise. While out on the water more eagles flew overhead towards Gibraltar, surprisingly flying across the water of the Bay rather than following the shoreline.

Common dolphin bow riding

Striped Dolphin

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

After the trip we headed up to the top of the rock on the cable car, it was quite expensive, £19 (£9 for the return cable car and £10 for all the attractions even though we would not be able to actually visit them all in the time we had left). The cable car was great and on arrival at the top the Barbary apes were all sat there watching out for something to grab from the tourists. They were well fed and with lovely glossy fur. I love monkeys but I don't trust them especially after my mum was bitten on the leg by one in Mauritius so I kept a sensible distance from them although other people were touching them and picking them up. 
Barbary ape (or macaque)

Barbary Ape

From the top of the rock I saw a few more straggling eagles, a raven, a sparrowhawk, flocks of swallows, red rumped swallows, house martins and sand martins heading out towards Morocco, swifts screaming overhead, the Egyptian Vulture and I heard Sardinian warblers. A peregrine called in the mist but wasn't seen. Also seen was a painted lady butterfly, the only one of the trip, and another hummingbird hawkmoth and two tailed pasha butterfly.

The following day the wind had dropped and the cloud had gone and there were no eagles seen overhead which was a shame for me but probably good for the birds and their migration. We had a quiet day around the pool as it was our last day of the trip and that night we found a praying mantis flying around the garden having been attracted by the lights, a new insect for me.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

The 7th saw us heading back to Gibraltar to catch our plane home and as we sat in the airport cafe with a cup of coffee a yellow legged gull watched us in the hope for a scrap of food.

Yellow legged gull

And so back to Blighty and the cold and the rain and the cloud and the grey but it had been an excellent holiday with no mishaps, tiring but in a good way and we packed a lot in. I had some excellent wildlife to keep me happy and got a bit of a tan to boot!

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