In the southern reaches of the Iberian Peninsular we are able to witness firsthand the incredible spectacle that is bird migration. Enormous populations of birds from the northern reaches of Europe become concentrated during the late summer and autumn as they approach the short sea crossing over the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa.
Larger birds, such as Eagles, migrate during the daytime when they are able to take advantage of rising thermals and up-draughts, whilst many small birds migrate at night and take their direction from the position of the setting sun. As well as seeing the sun go down, small birds also seem to see the plane of polarized light caused by it, which calibrates their compass. Travelling at night also provides other benefits. Predators are avoided and the danger of dehydration, due to flying for long periods in warm, sunlit skies, is also reduced. An added benefit to night migration is also apparent when the air structure is cool and smooth and conducive to sustained, stable flight.
Flight gives birds the power to fly in any direction for as long as they have the energy to keep going. They have lightweight, hollow bones, navigation systems that simply defy belief, and an ingenious heat-conserving design that concentrates all blood circulation beneath layers of warm, waterproof plumage leaving them fit to face life in extreme climates.
Bird migration occurs in each natural region of the world, each country, each county and even each parish, where birds will come and go with the seasons. Many make vast journeys to reach their wintering grounds.
Bird migration evolved as a way for birds to exploit resources that are seasonally abundant and, equally important, to go elsewhere when the resources become scarce or harsh weather arrives. Many species can tolerate cold temperatures if food is plentiful, but if food is not available they must migrate. I guess the secrets of bird migration will remain as curious as any of life's other unsolved mysteries. Sadly, some never complete their journeys, but I always look forward to the spring and the return of those who have survived.
For all the complexities of migration I consider myself lucky to live in 'The Magic Corridor' that is for many birds the main flyway for autumn and spring passage between Europe and Africa.
Some viewing areas to watch both spring (March/May) and autumn (August/October) migration:
Tarifa area: Strategic observatories can be found both east and west of Tarifa and these are Algarrobo, Cabrito, Cazalla, Santuario, La Peña, Puerto de Bolonia and Puerto de Facinas.
Serrania de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema: Puerto de las Palomas, Sierra de Libar, Acinipo, Casares
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