For our passion and love of raptors

Many of the readers of Raptor Politics sadly see so many negative articles regarding the persecution of raptors. But is there hope out there which may at last change the minds of land owners and tourist boards in our own country? The special word is tourism. Many of you will have read the article on Mull written by my son Ewan published on this web site just before Christmas, [ now worth £5 million a year] and you may remember the article on finance created from the Galloway Red Kite project, now valued at £21 million in 7 years. So what else can be brought out into the open.

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Kettle of migrating White Storks over the Nile

Bird tourism is not new but specifically aiming for Birds of Prey has its key tours such as the mass migration through the Straits of Gibraltar which can have up to 18 species of raptor heading for Africa and back. Not to mention the vultures, including the Ruppell’s Vulture, an African species increasingly being seen in parts of Europe. Skies full of storks, cranes and spoonbills along with waders and passerines making the same crossing.

I have stood on the Rock of Gibraltar and experienced Honey Buzzards floating up under me catching the thermal of the Rock itself and then glide out into the Straits with Barbary Apes sat alongside me! I have seen the Montagu’s Harrier feeding on the La Janda, a habitat now brought back towards its former glory with EU money, helping many birds of prey before they make the journey across the Straits into North Africa. They are often joined by Booted, Bonelli’s and even Golden and Spanish Imperial Eagles as the hunting is so good down here. Lesser Kestrels and Hobby hunt the dragonflies while Marsh Harriers and Black Winged Kite look for mice in the rice fields. Our Osprey’s often use this narrow stretch of water to carry them onto Africa with some of these birds now wintering in Spain and Portugal.

August brings the hordes of bird watchers to Sweden to watch the migration out of Scandinavia. The best place to observe this spectacle is Falsterbo where in a single day 1000s of Birds of Prey can often be seen passing through. In recent years it has become the best place to see Pallid Harrier with a staggering 44 seen in 2011. Honey Buzzard, White tailed Eagle, Hobby, Sparrowhawk and Rough legged Buzzard can also be added to your list with some times 10,000s of finches and Buntings also passing.

Not given the same publicity is the Danish site of Skegen for the spring migration. This is the northern most point of Jutland with Sweden and Norway across the strait dividing the North Sea from the Baltic. I have seen endless Common buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Merlin crossing this strait in early spring with Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Golden eagle and Rough legged Buzzard later. Even over shooting raptors (species out of their normal range) such as Long legged Buzzard, Short toed Eagle, Lesser spotted Eagle and Pallid Harrier have been spotted at Skegen. Hundreds of divers including White billed and Great Northern Diver use this as a migration route with 1000s of passerines as well.

I have visited the Bosporus in Istanbul to watch raptors move out of Eastern Europe into the Middle East and visited Eilat to see the same birds travel back and forth along the mountains into Africa and back. Eilat has been a mega for many bird watcher over many years with the species found here even including the far eastern Crested Honey buzzard, the now much rarer Vereux’s/Black eagle and Eastern Imperial and Steppe Eagles not to forget the 100,000s of Lesser Spotted Eagles out of Eastern Europe.

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Raptor observation platform Smith Point Texas

I witnessed both Lanner and Barbery Falcon hunting passerines around the ringing station and the melanistic Marsh Harriers trying to catch Wheatears here also. I travelled up to En Gedi right next to the Dead Sea to watch the raptors over the mountains and see Rock Hyrax the food of the Golden Eagle here and not to mention Leopards this far north into Europe. I travelled south into an area returned back to Egypt (former Israel) into the Sinai Desert to see the Hume’s Tawny Owl and the raptors crossing the Strait of Suez onto Ras Mohammad which is the very southern point of Sinai.

Little did I know that I would finally be working in Egypt for the World Bank in 1997/98 having travelled down the Nile on cruises also watching out for migrating raptors. This took me to several more raptor hot spots like Suez itself and Ain Sukna. This was one of my great memories where I observed both Short toed Eagle and Honey Buzzard perched 3 feet above my head when I sheltered under a tarmisc scanning a pool just off the mountain. I had used card board to restrict the sun’s rays through the bush but could still spy the birds waiting to go down for a drink.

At this pool I have added Levant Sparrowhawk , Montagu’s Harrier, Sooty falcon and Hobby onto my list not to mention the many passerines like Red rumped Swallow, Alpine Swift, Citrine Wagtail, Hoopoe Lark and Roller.  A trip to Gabel Elba in the south of the country was an amazing adventure where I stayed in a 3 sided hut with cats running over me at night while a Peregrine Falcon was trapped to sell-on for falconry was kept in 4 star accommodation near by! I found the nest of Black Eagle and saw breeding Lapped faced Vultures not to mention Rosy patched Shrike and Arabian Warbler. I even managed a Lesser spotted Eagle from my office on the 15th floor of the World Trade Centre in August flying south along the Nile!

Crossing the Atlantic I have seen the ‘kettles’ of Broad winged hawks flying south over Texas from Smith’s Point. With them was Bald Eagle, White tailed Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Red tailed Hawk, Osprey, Sharp shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin and American Kestrel. A trip to Arizona added California Condor, real Harris’s Hawks!, Red shouldered Hawk, Short tailed Hawk, Gray hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Zone tailed Hawk and even a Goshawk in the Grand Canyon! The owls were great also, with Burrowing Owl, Western Screech Owl and Spotted Owl not to mention Great horned Owl and even a Barn owl!

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Trapped Red-tailed Hawk, Smith Point observation platform Texas 

My first Great Grey owl was a February trip to New England to look at a summer tour there to watch whales and also added Northern Harrier, Snowy owl and Barred Owl with an early turkey Vulture. The Caribbean was great for some rare owls and hawks with Cuba being amazing with Black Hawk, Snail Kite, Gundlach’s Hawk, Bare legged Owl, Stygian Owl and Cuban Pigmy Owl not to mention the smallest bird in the wild, Bee Hummingbird.

So Birds of prey are helping to add money to many tourist destination so what about the future? In 2012 I will be taking a group back down the Nile, looking at a possible tour of Vancouver island and joining Terry Pickford on his annual May trip to the Czech Republic to look for Eastern Imperial Eagle, Saker Falcon, Montagu’s Harrier, Red footed Falcon, Honey Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle and many more.

If you are interested in adding Birds of Prey to your holiday plans in the future why not get in touch and see if we can help you. You can send any enquiries via the confidential “Contact Us” form on this website.

John Miles

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