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Armchair Travel with Naturetrek
Armchair Travel with Naturetrek

Episode 2 · 2 years ago

The Epic Flyway Journey of Migratory Raptors, with Simon Tonkin

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

What is it like to live in the epicentre of bird migration? Tour Leader and ornithologist Simon Tonkin talks about the joys of living near the Strait of Gibraltar.

Welcome to another nature trek podcast, where we bring wildlife to you in your living room. In this episode, travel without restrictions the epic flyway journey of Migratory Raptors with tour leader Simon Tonkin. And I'm Sarah Frost, Nature Tres Marketing Manager, normally based in the nature trek head office, but this podcast is coming to you just down the road from my home recording studio in Alton. Now joining me today is Simon Tonkin. He's a nature trek to a leader from Plymouth. Growing up, these first birding haunts were rubbish tips, sewage outfalls and fish factories, but then he went on to fulfill a boyhood dream of working for the RSPB, where he worked for fifteen years, the majority of his time spent being working in farmland bird conservation. He's also lectured in Ornithology, Co launched Operation Turtle Dove and has worked as a conservation manager for conservation grade, working on groundbreaking projects in Spain, Portugal, but also in Central America, Morocco, Senegal and the Gambia. He now lives in the epicenter of migration at the streets of Gibraltar, working on a variety of conservation projects and tour leads throughout the year for Nature Trek and he's joining us now on the line from Gibraltar. Simon. Welcome, how are You, I Sarah? Hi, that's quite an introduction. Thank you. I quite like it when people introduce me about my old birding haunts being rubbish tips and sewage thanks. I was actually introduced once as having no discernible talents apart from hanging out at sewage outfalls and rubbish ships, so that was a great introduction. Thank you. Oh Blimey, no problem. And so, Sam, you're here today to talk to us about raptor migration. So of course you're situated in an ideal part of the world for this. So firstly, can you tell us a bit about where you live? Can you paid the picture for our listeners? Perhaps not at the moment, necessarily with a lockdown, but what it's normally like in the streets of Gibraltar? Absolutely, it's one of the most awe inspiring places to live. I love living here. I've had affinity with this place for a very, very long time and living here was a natural progression for me. We live in a village called fasciness, it's beautiful village in the in the mountains just by the coast in the Straits of Gibraltar, and this is a narrowest point between Europe and Africa. It's only fourteen kilometers wide. So it's a really good place where bird migration, but other migration as well, of other species and Taxa, focuses down into this narrow point with a narrow sea crossing. So it's a really, really good place to witness visible migration of birds but also CETACEANS, moths, butterflies, at whole GAM bit of different things. And the scenery here is beautiful, really friendly people like me, I'm very friendly, and it's just a...

...really great place to be. So is that the main factor, would you say about what makes that are is so great for my greatory, but as the fact that that channel is so narrow that it just makes it a very accessible pathway. Sure, because particularly the soaring birds, like the Raptors and stalks, they really hate the sea because soon as they drift out over the sea there's no thermals and they start losing altitude quite quickly. So what the birds are doing here is they're fermiling up using the mountains and the hillsides on the coast, getting as much high on the thermals as possible and then drifting out over the sea. And as soon as they go over the sea they start dropping. It's a real challenge for them. It sounds like it. Well, that's not that wide. It should be easy, but it's a real challenge for them, even the fourteen kilometers just to drift all the way. In perfect conditions they can saw up, thermal up and just drift all the way to the European coast or the African coast in the autumn. Normally. What happens, however, we we have either an easterly, the Levante, or the westerly with the Poni end the wind. So these guys are battling getting blown off course, so they're not crossing necessarily at the narrowest point because of getting pushed outwards either into the Atlantic or into the Mediterranean. And if they get pushed to far then they drown, they don't make it. But in what invariably happens a firm ALOP, drift out and then use the head wind so actually come into the headwind to just gain a little last lift to take them across the finishing line. It's it's something really to watch it to watch these birds making this crossing and the different species using different techniques to make that crossing. It is real edge of the seat staff. It's better than any netflix drama, that's for sure. So there's no doubt this is a vital pathway for an enormous number of species. You've mentioned raptism and we're now into spring. So what birds are passing through right now? Where are they coming from? Where have they been wintering? So the moment, well, from from my house here, from from lockdown, we're able to see some of that migration and at the moment we've been watching shorthaid eagles and booted eagles, both coming up from the Sahel region of Africa where they've spent the winter and they've crossed out from Morocco into Europe. They've made that fourteen kilometers and they're going up into into other parts of Spain as far as friends to breed. I think the species like those are really, really interesting. The booted Eagle, for instance, it spends two months of its life traveling every year and I know a lot of people listening to this will really enjoy traveling...

...and maybe right now be very envious so that booted Eagle may making that journey unhindered without boarders added to that. At the moment what real splashes of noise and color as well with the European beats coming. And when they come they come in big numbers. So many people have been on Naturetrek trips and seeing them. that their breeding sites and that's really cool, but to see literally flocks of hundreds of them crossing across the Straits of Gibraltar making this huge amount of noise as as phenomenal. It's really good. And they're coming now, just the first ones and the first swifts as well, so hopefully those swifts are be on their way to you too. Wow. Yeah, and the meeting to get some swiftness boxes up around my my house actually, so hopefully we'll have some very shortly. I was going to ask you what the favored weather conditions are for peak raptor passage, but you just answered that's the presumably the worst things that they could be encountering would be cold, Wet and little winds, or even to windy, and it's climate change affecting that at all. Have you noticed? Climate change is certainly shifting migratory pattern. So some birds are able to keep up with that. So milder winters mean that some birds are actually overwintering more and some birds aren't able to keep up with that. So honey buzzards, for instance, they they migrate up from from Africa by the time they reach the breeding grounds and missing the peak of their food resource as well. So that that's kind of because of that outer kilter with with the changing climate. The perfect conditions for crossing here would be really very little winds, but probably a little bit of a head wind. And we rarely get a normally wind here, but it's sometimes happens, certainly ray rarely in the spring. But if the birds are coming across from from Africa, as they are in the spring, then a head winds is really good because that just a gentle headwind will give them a little bit of lift. The worst thing is a crosswinds either. Still the west, but some birds, some speaking in particular, and amazed at how they still make that crossing, black kites in particular, and never I've never seen raptors like black kites. They are often the one that people overlook, but I never overlook black kites because they're so strong. I've seen them making the crossing in a force eight easterly wind. Totally unreal. That drive to get back to the breathing grounds is so strong. That's that's phenomenal. And did they use any specific landmarks to guide them from A to B? You rivers, towns, cities and things like that. I think certainly. The topography of the coast here is really distinctive. So we have on the Moroccan coast the JEB or Mooser, which is this big higher is actually one of thes of Hercules, the other one being Gibraltar, which is really close to us here, or Geb Old...

T. are so general, meaning mountain or hillside in Arabic. So those high, high mountains or hillsides of probably really important, particularly to soaring birds, because as soon as they get to the coast they're absolutely legulating, their panting, really exhausted, but what they want to do is just pop up on a nice firm or, and I always think there must be a real joy when they make that and there's a nice firm or waiting for them to just get up onto and they climb in seconds and there a while. They've been really close. There are mere dot in a few seconds, less than a minute, they can be really, really high, so that they're probably heading for those features. MMM, I remember reading about a satellite tagged honey buzzard, which was on its spring migration and it reached the northern tip of Egypt. This is a few years ago. Reach northern tip of Egypt and instead of crossing the Mediterranean right in front of it, it navigated east along the coastline, passing Israel, Lebanon and most of Turkey, and then it continued due north on the same bearing as it had done so to reach the North Africa. So was this pot look or was it use of landmarks? Where is? They're all behind it. Do you think that we might first think it's such as sensing your magnetic field or anything like that? So it's good question. I don't think we fully understand as yet. But one of the things that's really opening this world to us is the use of telemetry. We work with organization here called Fundacion Megredez. We work really closely with them. When we're not guiding, we're actually counting with them, monitoring the migration. But one of the things were also able to do is radio and satellite tagging and that's shown some of the things that we we supposed before have been completely obliterated. We changes in migratory route birds like short toad Eagles, for instance, the streets of Messina when for the Italian breeding short toad eagles is too wide for them, and we actually found this from really recently, only in the last few years, from telemetry work, that those birds go up through the land mass of Italy, turning going down three friends to make it here into the Straits of Gibraltar, because this is the place they can cross and they're quite a big long winged raptor, so that you know they're really struggle with powered flapping flight. So crossing the Straits of the scene into Africa's really difficult. But we've always assumed that's what all of them did. Well, these birds, these individuals, actually came up and did up for the land masks and and made a crossing here. So some of them have to come here. It's not easy for them to all, is it? And what are the main obso course, other than just at the distance of the sea which might affect their migrations, are the main challengers actually, just to...

...expand on obstacles, challenges and are the conservation solutions for these? Yeah, so the there are three main challenges to and this is probably true for all long distance migrants. Hunting can be a challenge. We don't have that issue here in the Straits, but the raptors and migratory birds are protected, but in other migratory bottomecks certainly hunting as a pressure. It's probably not the main driver of decline for most species. However, it's probably a contributory factor. But one of the big ones is land use, change around agriculture and the issues around agriculture on both their breeding grounds and on the wintering grounds, but also along the flyway as well. So these guys have refueling stops, important refueling stops that are being changed radically due to agriculture and other things like urbanization our forest station, as well as deforestation as well. It's a really important factors. So add all those things up, they're real big driver to two declines. So the solutions are more extensive agriculture, more traditional type agriculture, providing homes for wildlife, but also it to be joined up as well, not not isolated in country, and I think that's one of the things that we conservations often struggled with is working across border along flyways collaboratively, and that's what's really important to particularly long distance migrants. M and presumably these conservation projects are easier said than doing in terms of getting members of the public on board with it as well. Do you find it there's a resistance or is there a going loave of the bird species in Gibraltar, like there is in the UK? A lot of people are becoming more aware of their conservation over here. Is that reflected in Gibraltar or not? And in the Straits it's, I think, certainly here in in Spain and and Gibraltar as well. I think there's a growing I think there's always been an understanding of migration. Are Bea stood in the queue at the supermarket and some somebody will randomly turn to me and tell me, hey, it was a really good day of migration today, not knowing that I'm into watching birds, but, and I think that's really nice, people talk about it like the weather here. Wow, did you see all those stalks yesterday? That kind of thing. So I think there's already that understanding, that that appreciation and I think people are aware of the situations and the problems facing the species, but maybe not entirely. So. We look at it very we're we often look at conservation what's happening...

...in our own backyard, but not where those birds are going to or coming from, and I think that's more difficult and that's a that's a bigger pet picture that we need to paint and tell people to get an understanding so they hopefully that leads to funding of concert vital conservation working in countries don't have funds to deliver or don't have protected area, for instance, which were really blessed with here in Europe. HMM. And are there any initiatives to get those people? There's members of the public who are interested in actually engaging with the migration. For example, in the Tuni in Georgia where, of course, you can view the spectacular selthbound migration of Raptors, they encourage volunteers to count them. It is only involvement like that where you are. Yeah, so we have a brilliant organization, mentioned them, from Dacion, Megress, and together we monitor the migration, but people can volunteer to vrom view the migration counts each individual honey buzzard coming through one day I count at Elevenzero and, believe me, when you close your eyes at night or you see his honey buzzards, which is actually really nice. But yeah, people can volunteer for that, that program particularly in the author some which is when where the busiest here. And Yeah, you can be stationed at a watch point and one of the good things about that work is this is quite a windy area. The the coast here is quite windy. We get, as I said, the Levante, the easterly winds, or the Bonnienter, the westerly winds, and that means that we have lots of wind turbines, which a really good for renewable energy, but not so good for the soaring birds are crossing. But what we've been able to do with fundacior Migres is train ornothologists working for the wind farm companies, as well as megres themselves, to be able to switch those turbines off in peak migration periods. And that that means when when we spot birds coming through a wind farm area, we're actually able to switch the turbines off, allow them to pass and then switch them back on, and that process takes around two minutes, so to put this into some context. So, for the for the energy requirement for and Lysia, which is the biggest region in Spain, they produces around about eighteen percent of the required electricity these wind turbines. Now switching them off affects that output by less than one percent. That makes a huge, huge difference to Migratory Raptors. One of the things we know less about is the effects on that's another species is like that. But we certainly know that we're able to make a real change for migratory raptors coming through those areas and still have our renewable energy and that's...

...great to hear that. There's so much involvement that the the nimps of the public can can get involved with an engage with and I don't suppose there's any educational work with children in the region. Is that? I'm thinking of the work carried out by Birdlife Malta, for example, to Enger duose introduce the children to birds, even if their parents may be outshooting them. It's there anything like that out there where children can get involved in their actively encouraged to enjoy the local wildlife? Yeah, we have have a program of work with fantasy or migres going to local schools and the school's coming to the the center, the Migredos Center on the coast here, which we call the observatory, so people, children can see the migration firsthand and also experience some of the stories behind the migration, which is really important. One of the other things we have as well as we have. I should give a shout out to Bartlow as well. He's an eagle owl and he was shot, not here in the Straits, but he was shot in the wing and so he can no longer fly. But actually he's a really good educational tool which we use him. He has to earn his is food to inspire the children, but also he actually enables us to trap the Black Kites. So the black lights want to mob bartlow because they see him as a Predator that they come and then we're able to trap them and fit the telemetry to Bartlow as well. So his history is really sad. Is He should be in the wild and he should be enjoying the wild, but he's real good conservation tool for us from a scientific point of view, but also from that engagement point of view as well. Well done, Barcelow an unintended career in conservation. Good for him. So what you most looking forward to after the lockdown is over, whenever that may be? Well, hopefully spring migration is still very much in full flow here. Actually, it rarely ends migration here. It starts our spring migration starts in February and ends in June, as kind of still trickle into July as well, and then are autumn migration starts in July goes all the way through to December. So what I'm really looking forward to, because it whenever it does end and we're able to get out, is just being out on the coast and seeing those birds make that promise of return and returning to here, into Europe, and just the freedom of it all. It's just amazing, and the battles they go for as well. So I really really love seeing these soaring eagles crossing the Straits with B to swift coming as...

...well and getting out on the sea as well, seeing the CETACEANS here in the Straits of fabulous members of long thin pilot whales, bottanose dolphins, striped and common dolphins all resident here, as well as migratory sperm whales and other species as well. So, yeah, I'm really looking forward to that. Actually, good, you make it me very just quite a look, that's quite a lot of things to look forward to. You've got an awful lot to look forward to. And haven't we all haven't been all? Once this all ends and lockdown is lifted and we're able to resume traveling again, the world will still be there in the species will still be waiting for us to come back to and enjoy once more. So yes, we can't wait for that, and until then we can keep enjoying our arm share travel by listening to podcasts like this, reading whildlife books and perhaps watching reruns of David Adam programs. But, Simon, has been an absolute pleasure to speak to you. Thank you so much for joining us. You're welcome. Thank you for having me, and stay safe everybody as well. I hope to see soon out here to join Simon on an eighty tractor. You can see his upcoming trips on his profile page on our website, the link to which is displayed on your screen now. And to listen to more about podcast, just go to our podcast web page at www dot nature trek code at UK forward slash podcasts. Thanks for listening,.

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