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Tarifa, we saw Africa.

A week in Tarifa and some migration fundamentals.

Week of the 20th of February

We have arrived in Tarifa, aiming at the CIMA, the Centro International por la Migration de Aves, funded by the Fundacion Migres. The exhibition centre is at the closest point to Morocco, the southern point in Europe to the African continent, we’re so close, yet we’ll not go there just yet, we have a mission to do in Europe first. The migration in Spring comes from Africa to Europe, and we want to welcome the birds coming following them all the way up north back to the UK.

The exhibition centre is closed, it was meant to be open, but hey we’ve reached a crucial location in our agenda, where the migration takes an important turning point.

Great feeling, but we had an issue with Ario’s car, the inverter to charge his portable leisure battery didn’t work well, so we had to stop and buy another one. Inverters convert 12v electricity from your car (cigarette plugs) into AC power to charge laptops and also Ario’s leisure battery. If you don’t know much about electricity follow Will Prowse on YouTube, he creates great DIY solar electricity tutorials, here are some basics on electricity which helped us sort all our electrical needs out (so far).

After resolving this by midday, we moved to the Cazalla Observation station, one of the best to spot the migration. There we met Diego, who works for the local government in conservation and information dissemination about migration. He was so helpful to give us information on where to go to spot migratory birds.

A few basic information about bird migration in this area:

  • Every year in Tarifa around 40 million birds from over 350 species pass this 14km stretch of water between two continents, the Strait of Gibraltar. Its peculiarity is that thermal currents happen over this sea section, which doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Mediterranean Sea. Thermals are ascending hot air if you didn’t know. This is the simplest description of what thermals are I could find on the web.

  • Big raptors and some big land birds need thermals to fly, they glide as they don’t wing flap as much as other birds. Hence why the Strait is THE migration funnel between Africa and Europe for birds like Black Kite, Short-toed Eagles, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, White and Black Storks and many more. These migrate during the day between 11:00 and 16:00 and only on days when they can see the other continent. If it is too misty or cloudy, they stay until the path is clear. Fair enough!

  • Landbirds like Common and Iberian Chiffchaff, Nightingale, Warblers and so on instead don’t need the thermals, so they don’t care much about where to cross, even though a lot of them still prefer to cross the Strait, much easier than crossing the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s interesting these birds migrate at night, so it’s not possible to see them really, but you could hear their flight calls at night. There is a whole practice called Nocmig, which aims at recording night flight calls to see what migrates in your area, sometimes the findings are astonishing.

  • Waterbirds also don’t need thermals as they wing flap, and also they migrate at different times of the day depending on the species. But species groups like Shearwaters still use the Strait to move from continent to continent.

Unfortunately, we arrived a bit too early, the weather hasn't been great, it wasn't possible to see Spain from Morocco, making the passage not safe for the birds.

We have been in touch with a friend we met at the Scientific Exploration Society one and a half years ago, Belinda Braithwaite, director, filmmaker, and horseback explorer who does incredible expeditions, a fascinating one is taking a group of endangered camels from one location to another in Mongolia over 300 miles, nuts! Go and check out her company "Custom Projects" here.

She was so kind to invite us to stay at her house 15 minutes away from Tarifa called El Aguilon, pure paradise! She rents her cottages out, so if you need a beautiful, cosy, special place where to stay, we can’t recommend more Belinda’s cottages. This is El Aguilon website.

Two days to clean our vehicles, recharge our batteries, both our own and the vehicles and take a little rest.

By the end of our stay, we had to move back to El Rocio, we’re planning our SW Spatial Audio & Virtual Reality Experience for Doñana, and we can’t be more excited!

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