Friday, 27 April 2018

The Messina Straits- Part 1

I've just arrived back in Ireland after 5 weeks in Southern Italy, where I was counting raptors migrating through the Messina Straits. And what a place! In total I saw nearly three-thousand raptors of 22 species, including hundreds of harriers, and dozens of the globally endangered and stunning Pallid Harrier, as well as many other fantastic species such as hundreds of bee-eaters and hordes of swallows and swifts. Over the next while I'll be posting a series of blogposts going into depth on some of the various bird families seen, but first, an overview of the project and the count.

So what on earth was an 18 year old Irish lad doing in Calabria? 
Now all birds are great, but there's something special about raptors. An undeniable draw, a certain powerful allure. As an Irish birder I often feel hard done by when it comes to experiencing these magnificent birds, we just don't have that many here. On a very good day one might see 10 individuals of 6-7 species of raptor in Ireland. There's just a sparsity of birds of prey in the country. In theory it's bad, in practice it can often be worse. Just before I left for Italy I went on a round trip from Galway to Achill, specifically with the intention of birding. A trip of nearly 5 hours and 270km... only one raptor seen at the end of the day! So naturally I was keen to get a raptor 'fix', and depositing myself in the middle of one of Europe's most important migratory raptor flyways, during peak spring migration, was just common sense!

I stayed in the region of Calabria (the toe of the boot) in a small ski-resort town called Gambarie, nestled on the edge of the impressive Aspromonte national park. The project I worked on is run by Ornis Italica under the guise of the 'Strait Observatory'. Observations consisted of 9-11 hour stints per day with at least two observers watching and counting every passing raptor from a hill-top with a fantastic view of Sicily, the Strait of Messina and the Aeolian Islands. For those so inclined all of the daily observations can be found on trektellen,

I met many great and like-minded people from all-over Europe while there, a testament to the draw of these birds, and indeed, the spectacle of migration.

Weather was more variable than anywhere I've been before. It started off mild in mid-March, with some productive days counting, before the temperature plummeted, with at least a foot of snow and freezing temperatures for the guts of a week. It slowly heated up going into April, and by the end of April it was quite warm indeed. 

Below I've included some shots of the watchpoint and environs. Keep an eye out for more blogposts in the coming weeks, there are some very nice pallid harrier shots coming...

The team on the 18th of March, minutes before an Eastern Imperial Eagle flew by

The Aspromonte Mountains

Sicily and the Aeolian Islands

The iconic Punta del Faro

Swift in a blizzard
This image perfectly sums up the second half of March...Summer birds in not so summery conditions

Marsh Harrier male with the Ski-slopes in Gambarie as a backdrop

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