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Islas Columbretes (1 day)

Group leaders: Iben Hove Sørensen & Cristian Jensen

15 bird species recorded

Trip report written by Iben Hove Sørensen

Saturday July 29th 2006

The islands of Columbretes are tiny, of volcanic origin, and situated roughly 60 kilometres off the Spanish coast in the northwestern part of the Mediterranean Sea. The main island is surrounded by dark, rugged islets sticking out of the sea like huge black teeth. Standing on the islands you see only water in all directions, and birds flying above the Mediterranean in this area are able to detect nothing but these tiny islands as suitable resting sites. During migration the islands are full of tired passerines and opportunistic shrikes, falcons, and gulls. Just a few species are breeding in Columbretes; all of which are well-adapted to life on an isolated land mass. The u-shaped lagoon in the old crater holds clear, blue water and funny-looking fish. Corals are growing down the sides of the islands to a depth of around 35 meters, and the waters are regularly visited by both sharks and moonfish. The Columbretes are as beautiful from above the water as they are below, and the islands attract divers, birdwatchers, and 'regular' tourists alike.

Although July is off-season for the migrating passerines, it is still a good time to visit the islands. The breeding Eleonora's Falcon has just arrived, and other species are still around with their offspring. We gathered a group of birders for a boat trip to the islands last weekend, and despite a bit of seasickness the trip turned out a great success. The presence of 35 birders on the same little boat ensured constant surveillance of the sea, and it also convinced the captain to slow down and let us throw out sardines - although feeding shearwaters seemed to be the weirdest thing he had ever heard of! We left from the harbour in Peñiscola at 8 am and settled down for the three hours of sailing towards the islands. The sea was a bit rough, and the sofas downstairs were full of people trying to sleep or waiting for their seasick tablets to work. A few Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters were spotted in the distance, and great numbers of European Storm Petrels were also seen along with a single Great Skua crossing the sea.

The first glimpse of the islands immediately invoked thoughts of pirates. The rough cliffsides and the incredibly beautiful lagoon gave an almost magical impression, and it was with great expectations that we approached our destination. We were not disappointed. Eleonora's Falcons were circling the cliffs, and Shag, Audouin's Gull, and Yellow-legged Gull were perched on the lava formations. We all took turns visiting the main island (with a guide, as the islands are strictly protected) where close encounters with the falcons and the endemic lizard Podarcis atrata were almost inevitable. In the meantime the rest of the group were left to swim, snorkle, or have lunch, and everybody looked bright and ready for the return fare after the good long break at the islands.

We took off at full speed, and after leaving the sea reserve surrounding the Columbretes we started to throw out bits of bread and sardines to attract the seabirds. For a while nothing happened, and we were beginning to fear a general siesta at sea. A couple of gulls passed without showing any interest in our delicacies, and a shearwater took off in the opposite direction as the boat was approaching. However, after a while the first Cory's Shearwater picked up a fish, and the boat slowed down to less than half speed. Everyone was cheering and hoping for more birds, and soon after a group of no less than 30 shearwaters were following the boat at very close range. Along the way they were joined by European Storm Petrel, Audouin's Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black Tern, Common Tern, and Sandwich Tern. All of the birds were very close, and the photographers on board got amazing opportunities for close-ups. The Cory's Shearwaters followed us for almost two hours, and it was absolutely amazing to see these wonderful creatures so near.

After ten hours at sea, the boat entered the harbour again, and we all left happy and satisfied. The species list of the trip ended at a total of only 15 species, but many of them were exceptionally close, and several would never have been encountered in such numbers closer to the coast. So all in all a great experience.

Thanks to all the participants - particularly to Jaume Soler for throwing out so many sardines :)

Bird list

  • Cory's Shearwater - Calonectris diomedea
  • Balearic Shearwater - Puffinus mauretanicus
  • European Storm Petrel - Hydrobates pelagicus
  • Shag - Phalacrocorax aristotelis (ssp. desmarestii)
  • Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea
  • Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
  • Eleonora's Falcon - Falco eleonorae
  • Great Skua - Stercorarius skua
  • Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus
  • Audouin's Gull - Larus audouinii
  • Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull - Larus fuscus
  • Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
  • Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
  • Black Tern - Chlidonias niger


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