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Armchair Travel with Naturetrek
Armchair Travel with Naturetrek

Episode 2 · 1 year 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 thenature trek head office, but this podcast is coming to you just down theroad 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, butthen 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 workingin farmland bird conservation. He's also lectured in Ornithology, Co launched Operation TurtleDove and has worked as a conservation manager for conservation grade, working on groundbreakingprojects in Spain, Portugal, but also in Central America, Morocco, Senegaland the Gambia. He now lives in the epicenter of migration at the streetsof Gibraltar, working on a variety of conservation projects and tour leads throughout theyear for Nature Trek and he's joining us now on the line from Gibraltar.Simon. Welcome, how are You, I Sarah? Hi, that's quitean introduction. Thank you. I quite like it when people introduce me aboutmy old birding haunts being rubbish tips and sewage thanks. I was actually introducedonce as having no discernible talents apart from hanging out at sewage outfalls and rubbishships, so that was a great introduction. Thank you. Oh Blimey, noproblem. And so, Sam, you're here today to talk to usabout raptor migration. So of course you're situated in an ideal part of theworld for this. So firstly, can you tell us a bit about whereyou live? Can you paid the picture for our listeners? Perhaps not atthe moment, necessarily with a lockdown, but what it's normally like in thestreets of Gibraltar? Absolutely, it's one of the most awe inspiring places tolive. I love living here. I've had affinity with this place for avery, 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 themountains just by the coast in the Straits of Gibraltar, and this is anarrowest point between Europe and Africa. It's only fourteen kilometers wide. So it'sa really good place where bird migration, but other migration as well, ofother species and Taxa, focuses down into this narrow point with a narrow seacrossing. So it's a really, really good place to witness visible migration ofbirds but also CETACEANS, moths, butterflies, at whole GAM bit of different things. And the scenery here is beautiful, really friendly people like me, I'mvery friendly, and it's just a...

...really great place to be. Sois that the main factor, would you say about what makes that are isso great for my greatory, but as the fact that that channel is sonarrow that it just makes it a very accessible pathway. Sure, because particularlythe soaring birds, like the Raptors and stalks, they really hate the seabecause soon as they drift out over the sea there's no thermals and they startlosing altitude quite quickly. So what the birds are doing here is they're fermilingup using the mountains and the hillsides on the coast, getting as much highon the thermals as possible and then drifting out over the sea. And assoon as they go over the sea they start dropping. It's a real challengefor them. It sounds like it. Well, that's not that wide.It should be easy, but it's a real challenge for them, even thefourteen 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 orthe African coast in the autumn. Normally. What happens, however, we wehave either an easterly, the Levante, or the westerly with the Poni endthe wind. So these guys are battling getting blown off course, sothey're not crossing necessarily at the narrowest point because of getting pushed outwards either intothe Atlantic or into the Mediterranean. And if they get pushed to far thenthey drown, they don't make it. But in what invariably happens a firmALOP, drift out and then use the head wind so actually come into theheadwind 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 crossingand the different species using different techniques to make that crossing. It is realedge of the seat staff. It's better than any netflix drama, that's forsure. So there's no doubt this is a vital pathway for an enormous numberof species. You've mentioned raptism and we're now into spring. So what birdsare passing through right now? Where are they coming from? Where have theybeen wintering? So the moment, well, from from my house here, fromfrom lockdown, we're able to see some of that migration and at themoment we've been watching shorthaid eagles and booted eagles, both coming up from theSahel region of Africa where they've spent the winter and they've crossed out from Moroccointo Europe. They've made that fourteen kilometers and they're going up into into otherparts of Spain as far as friends to breed. I think the species likethose are really, really interesting. The booted Eagle, for instance, itspends two months of its life traveling every year and I know a lot ofpeople listening to this will really enjoy traveling...

...and maybe right now be very enviousso 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 Europeanbeats coming. And when they come they come in big numbers. So manypeople have been on Naturetrek trips and seeing them. that their breeding sites andthat's really cool, but to see literally flocks of hundreds of them crossing acrossthe Straits of Gibraltar making this huge amount of noise as as phenomenal. It'sreally good. And they're coming now, just the first ones and the firstswifts as well, so hopefully those swifts are be on their way to youtoo. Wow. Yeah, and the meeting to get some swiftness boxes uparound my my house actually, so hopefully we'll have some very shortly. Iwas 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 beencountering 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 iscertainly shifting migratory pattern. So some birds are able to keep up withthat. So milder winters mean that some birds are actually overwintering more and somebirds 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 breedinggrounds and missing the peak of their food resource as well. So that that'skind of because of that outer kilter with with the changing climate. The perfectconditions for crossing here would be really very little winds, but probably a littlebit 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 thebirds 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 givethem a little bit of lift. The worst thing is a crosswinds either.Still the west, but some birds, some speaking in particular, and amazedat how they still make that crossing, black kites in particular, and neverI've never seen raptors like black kites. They are often the one that peopleoverlook, but I never overlook black kites because they're so strong. I've seenthem making the crossing in a force eight easterly wind. Totally unreal. Thatdrive 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 onthe Moroccan coast the JEB or Mooser, which is this big higher is actuallyone of thes of Hercules, the other one being Gibraltar, which is reallyclose to us here, or Geb Old...

T. are so general, meaningmountain or hillside in Arabic. So those high, high mountains or hillsides ofprobably really important, particularly to soaring birds, because as soon as they get tothe coast they're absolutely legulating, their panting, really exhausted, but whatthey want to do is just pop up on a nice firm or, andI always think there must be a real joy when they make that and there'sa nice firm or waiting for them to just get up onto and they climbin seconds and there a while. They've been really close. There are meredot 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 springmigration and it reached the northern tip of Egypt. This is a few yearsago. Reach northern tip of Egypt and instead of crossing the Mediterranean right infront of it, it navigated east along the coastline, passing Israel, Lebanonand most of Turkey, and then it continued due north on the same bearingas it had done so to reach the North Africa. So was this potlook 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 magneticfield or anything like that? So it's good question. I don't think wefully understand as yet. But one of the things that's really opening this worldto us is the use of telemetry. We work with organization here called FundacionMegredez. We work really closely with them. When we're not guiding, we're actuallycounting with them, monitoring the migration. But one of the things were alsoable to do is radio and satellite tagging and that's shown some of thethings that we we supposed before have been completely obliterated. We changes in migratoryroute birds like short toad Eagles, for instance, the streets of Messina whenfor the Italian breeding short toad eagles is too wide for them, and weactually found this from really recently, only in the last few years, fromtelemetry 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 wingedraptor, so that you know they're really struggle with powered flapping flight. Socrossing the Straits of the scene into Africa's really difficult. But we've always assumedthat's what all of them did. Well, these birds, these individuals, actuallycame up and did up for the land masks and and made a crossinghere. So some of them have to come here. It's not easy forthem 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 arethe conservation solutions for these? Yeah, so the there are three main challengesto and this is probably true for all long distance migrants. Hunting can bea challenge. We don't have that issue here in the Straits, but theraptors and migratory birds are protected, but in other migratory bottomecks certainly hunting asa 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 island use, change around agriculture and the issues around agriculture on both their breedinggrounds 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 radicallydue to agriculture and other things like urbanization our forest station, as well asdeforestation as well. It's a really important factors. So add all those thingsup, they're real big driver to two declines. So the solutions are moreextensive agriculture, more traditional type agriculture, providing homes for wildlife, but alsoit to be joined up as well, not not isolated in country, andI think that's one of the things that we conservations often struggled with is workingacross border along flyways collaboratively, and that's what's really important to particularly long distancemigrants. M and presumably these conservation projects are easier said than doing in termsof getting members of the public on board with it as well. Do youfind it there's a resistance or is there a going loave of the bird speciesin Gibraltar, like there is in the UK? A lot of people arebecoming 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 inSpain and and Gibraltar as well. I think there's a growing I think there'salways been an understanding of migration. Are Bea stood in the queue at thesupermarket 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 intowatching birds, but, and I think that's really nice, people talk aboutit like the weather here. Wow, did you see all those stalks yesterday? That kind of thing. So I think there's already that understanding, thatthat appreciation and I think people are aware of the situations and the problems facingthe species, but maybe not entirely. So. We look at it verywe're we often look at conservation what's happening...

...in our own backyard, but notwhere those birds are going to or coming from, and I think that's moredifficult and that's a that's a bigger pet picture that we need to paint andtell people to get an understanding so they hopefully that leads to funding of concertvital 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 publicwho are interested in actually engaging with the migration. For example, in theTuni in Georgia where, of course, you can view the spectacular selthbound migrationof Raptors, they encourage volunteers to count them. It is only involvement likethat where you are. Yeah, so we have a brilliant organization, mentionedthem, from Dacion, Megress, and together we monitor the migration, butpeople can volunteer to vrom view the migration counts each individual honey buzzard coming throughone day I count at Elevenzero and, believe me, when you close youreyes at night or you see his honey buzzards, which is actually really nice. But yeah, people can volunteer for that, that program particularly in theauthor some which is when where the busiest here. And Yeah, you canbe stationed at a watch point and one of the good things about that workis 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 lotsof wind turbines, which a really good for renewable energy, but not sogood for the soaring birds are crossing. But what we've been able to dowith fundacior Migres is train ornothologists working for the wind farm companies, as wellas megres themselves, to be able to switch those turbines off in peak migrationperiods. And that that means when when we spot birds coming through a windfarm area, we're actually able to switch the turbines off, allow them topass 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 energyrequirement for and Lysia, which is the biggest region in Spain, theyproduces around about eighteen percent of the required electricity these wind turbines. Now switchingthem 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 aboutis the effects on that's another species is like that. But we certainly knowthat we're able to make a real change for migratory raptors coming through those areasand still have our renewable energy and that's...

...great to hear that. There's somuch involvement that the the nimps of the public can can get involved with anengage 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 theirparents may be outshooting them. It's there anything like that out there where childrencan 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 schoolsand 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 themigration firsthand and also experience some of the stories behind the migration, which isreally 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 eagleowl and he was shot, not here in the Straits, but he wasshot in the wing and so he can no longer fly. But actually he'sa really good educational tool which we use him. He has to earn hisis food to inspire the children, but also he actually enables us to trapthe Black Kites. So the black lights want to mob bartlow because they seehim as a Predator that they come and then we're able to trap them andfit 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, Barcelowan unintended career in conservation. Good for him. So what you most lookingforward to after the lockdown is over, whenever that may be? Well,hopefully spring migration is still very much in full flow here. Actually, itrarely ends migration here. It starts our spring migration starts in February and endsin June, as kind of still trickle into July as well, and thenare autumn migration starts in July goes all the way through to December. Sowhat I'm really looking forward to, because it whenever it does end and we'reable to get out, is just being out on the coast and seeing thosebirds make that promise of return and returning to here, into Europe, andjust the freedom of it all. It's just amazing, and the battles theygo for as well. So I really really love seeing these soaring eagles crossingthe Straits with B to swift coming as...

...well and getting out on the seaas well, seeing the CETACEANS here in the Straits of fabulous members of longthin 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 itme very just quite a look, that's quite a lot of things to lookforward to. You've got an awful lot to look forward to. And haven'twe all haven't been all? Once this all ends and lockdown is lifted andwe're able to resume traveling again, the world will still be there in thespecies 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 cankeep enjoying our arm share travel by listening to podcasts like this, reading whildlifebooks and perhaps watching reruns of David Adam programs. But, Simon, hasbeen 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 everybodyas well. I hope to see soon out here to join Simon on aneighty tractor. You can see his upcoming trips on his profile page on ourwebsite, the link to which is displayed on your screen now. And tolisten to more about podcast, just go to our podcast web page at wwwdot nature trek code at UK forward slash podcasts. Thanks for listening,.

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