2006 – Strait Talk – Volume 5
The weather since my return from Morocco has been rather inclement. A light easterly wind which at this time of year means a great deal of rain. Because of this there is no ringing so I have been accompanying Stanley on Gull Patrol.
Stanley helps run the raptor rehabilitation centre here and has an impressive collection of captive and wild raptors which he breeds for reintroduction projects or nurses back to health ready for release back into the wild.
Part of his job is keeping the gulls away from the airport runway and from the residential areas of town. They are a real nuisance and everyone hates them. Big, noisy, messy, dirty things that breed on peoples balconies and roofs. It’s not their fault, they are just in the wrong environment. Anyway, we make their life difficult by flying Harris Hawks.
Stanley has two such hawks. Very impressive creatures they are too. What we do is literally “cruise” the town in Stanley’s Landrover with the Harris hawks perched on the head restraints in the back. When we get to the appointed area, we just open the windows, the hawks fly out and absolute mayhem ensues. The gulls fly up in huge clouds squawking and diving the hawks, but they have none of it. The idea is to just make the gulls life intolerable by continual disturbance, but these hawks are so agile and aggressive, they play with the gulls first and then with one strike, kill and down one instantly. We calmly walk over, collect the gull and the hawk, place them both in the car and move on to another venue. It’s all over in a matter of minutes.
Places I have flown Harris Hawk: Gib airport, Safeway’s car park, the town centre, sports centres, tennis clubs, schools and residential areas. If we are seen people actually applaud and shout things like only the Spanish can “well done, that one shat on my car this morning!” Isn’t it funny though, we try the same with the pigeons and there is uproar of a very different kind.
Time moves on and the weather has improved. We now have strong Westerly winds which should be good for raptors but there is low cloud and showers in the straits which stops them from crossing. A few brave Short Toed Eagles, Black Kites and Lesser Kestrels have braved the elements, but they are few and far between. There has been very little signs of any migration so far, but today I caught the first Scops Owl and there are Blackcaps on the move but very few Chiffchaffs. The evening brought the first House Martins, Pallid Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows along with a few hundred Swallows. Guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer. The lack of movement has delayed the BBC’s visit so it’s off on Gull patrol again.
The Westerly winds have continued, and how. Today started with a relatively light South Westerly wind and clear bright skies which allowed me to open a few nets. Ringing produced a reasonable number of Blackcaps but no real evidence of any other movement. The wind increased from mid morning into a real gale. This encouraged the first real movement of raptors with good numbers of Short Toed Eagles and Black Kites plus Black Stork, 2 Buzzard, a Red Kite, an Egyptian Vulture and a very early Booted Eagle.
Now the wind is in the North West and blowing an absolute hooley! It has brought the rain and is expected to continue all through the night and tomorrow. The temperature tonight is expected to fall to 6’C with a wind chill factor of –2’C. I have battened everything down, opened a bottle of wine and hoping all will be alright. There is an air of excitement around as it might even snow, something that does not happen here very often.
P.S. It didn’t snow but what a really wild night!
The forecast for the next few days is to continue with strong South Westerly winds. This is not good news for ringing as the nets are too exposed but fine for raptors and migrating moths. There is a moth expert, John Clifton from the UK and staying a few days. He comes up to the Obs in the evenings and we set traps and drink copious amounts of beer. We do exactly the same at 0730 in the morning when he reappears to inspect the catch. He says it helps control his excitement. I could really get into this “mothing”
The South Westerly wind has continued and brought with it glorious weather. Bright, sunny and really hot. Its amazing how burnt people can get in such a short period of time. It has also encouraged the birds to move. Large number of raptors are now crossing in these favourable conditions. We have counted up to 5000 Black Kites, 1000 Short Toed Eagles and good numbers of Black and White Storks, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures and Marsh Harriers plus Hen harrier and Lanner Falcon.
A visiting ringer arrived today which marks the end of my lone vigil here. I will now have company all the time I am in Gib until I return home in June. For me this reminds me that the season is really about to start and also that I will be spending most of it in Morocco. I am already preparing for my next visit and leave in a couple of days leaving Gib behind in the hands of these “strangers”. I am looking forward to returning to Smir but just hope that it is warmer than last time.