Tuesday 21 February 2012

Brief trip to Gibraltar - one or two highlights

Lynne wanted to get away for half term so she booked us on a short break to 'the Rock'. It was pretty cold. Colder than Lynne was expecting! It wasn't a birdwatching holiday as such, . .  but where can you not see birds? Took my zoom lens as it's more portable.

There weren't a lot of birds about. On the first day we went to the Southern tip of Gibraltar, called Europa Point. There were a few gannets fishing as well as the ubiquitous yellow-legged gulls. There were a fair number of black redstarts, but no raptors at all!
At Europa point. A very windy place.
On day 2 we went round the museum, which was quite interesting. There is a large-scale model of the Rock, about 10 metres long. The real Rock is quite high at over 400 metres so the uplift for migrating birds must be fantastic. In the botanical gardens I watched the chiffchaffs on the flowers as well as the black redstarts. Lynne saw a hoopoe but I was too slow.
In the Botanical Gardens.
In the Botanical Gardens.

Black redstart - male
We went on a tour of the Rock with two women from the UK. They were great fun. Here's Lynne and one of them with the driver, Joe.

Lynne, Joe and Bev
St Michaels cave was spectacular for it's amazing Stactites and stalagmites. They even hold concerts sometimes in the large chamber.
St Michael's cave
The concert hall in St Michael's cave.
The Great Siege tunnels were also good. There were good views towards Spain.
North towards Spain from the siege tunnels.
Lynne in the siege tunnels.
At a fountain in the gardens birds came to drink at the end of the day when it was getting dark. One of them looked like a starling I had never seen! Dark plain plumage. No spots at all. It had to be a spotless starling, a lifer! I took a picture and I've put it below despite the damage it will do to my photographic reputation! It was near sunset, inside a dark garden and handheld. Not the best recipe for a good picture. Well, it is just recognisable as a male spotless starling I think.

Spotless starling
Lynne and I wandered on. I heard an unfamiliar call behind me. When I looked, a sardinian warbler was moving through the trees and quickly went out of sight before I could photograph it. Dohhh!

We went to the nearby Rock hotel and had a glass of Cava while enjoying the free WiFi to check our emails (that's sad isn't it?). We met another guy who was a bird photographer. He had the same camera and lens as I did. He had some photos of the sardinian warbler. Nice. He told me the best place to see them.
The Rock hotel where we often went for afternoon tea . . .

. . . . or a glass of cava!
Next day we went up the cable car and the weather was very clear. Still very cold mind you. I took some flight shots of the yellow-legged gulls wheeling overhead.
The Barbary monkeys spent a lot of time looking for fleas!

View from the top.

Another from the top. Our hotel is the large building near the
tree line, above the date stamp.

Looking North towards Spain along the ridge of the Rock.

Not sure where the sentry was.

Yellow-legged gull - underside
Yellow-legged gull - upper wings
We decided to stroll down to the half-way station and pick up the cable car on the way down. We had nearly arrived when two young women told us of an interesting line of caterpillars on the road. They showed us and we were astonished to find a perfect line of pine processional caterpillars, one following the other in close formation. There were 87 caterpillars in a row! It's actually a moth which attacks pine trees so it's not that welcome.

Pine processional moth caterpillar - there were 87!!
Pine processional moth caterpillar
We suddenly realised that we only had a few minutes to the last cable car down. We ran and ran and just got to it in time! Phew!

Once down, I went to look for the Sardinian warblers and I found one just where the chap had said. Managed to get some shots without disturbing it.

Sardinian warbler

Sardinian warbler -drinking the nectar.
On the last day I went looking for the spotless starlings but no luck. In a cemetery just before sunset, a couple of pipistrelle bats were flying around for insects. The sun had already gone down, so I had to increase the ISO to 6400 for these shots. The bats flew very quickly and erratically. Autofocus was out of the question. I focused on a tree at what I thought was the same distance the bats would be. I took a couple of hundred shots. From all of those, a few were recognisable. This is one of them.
Pipistrelle bat.

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