The outings

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society organise monthly outings for it's members within Gibraltar and further afield into Andalucía, visiting a variety of locations covering diverse habitats and offering the opportunity to see the wildlife of this beautiful area. The venues for the outings are chosen and timed to coincide with the season's happenings: see Cranes in their wintering grounds, Orchids in the spring, wading birds in the Doñana wetlands, butterflies and Ibex in the Sierras, come Autumn mushrooming in the Alcornocales and enjoy the spectacular sights of thousands of migrating raptors right on your doorstep.

For dates, contacts and how to join us, see the gonhs website

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Outing to Cape Trafalgar

I have it on very good authority that this was an eventful and somewhat challenging outing  for the 20+ members that joined it. But our members are a hardy and determined bunch, and having made the effort to get up early and looking forward to a day out, our intrepid explorers were not about to be defeated by a mere levanter gale and a sandstorm! They soldiered on through it all, carefully shielding precious equipment, braving the elements to record the event and bring it to those of us that were not there. Thanks guys, we really appreciate your pains and outstanding efforts on our behalf and I'm sure this will definitely go down in the annals of Outings History as one of the most memorable.

Here are the two reports, a botanical one from Leslie and a bird sightings one from Jill, both very informative and delivered with very engaging humour. (I'm really sorry (honestly) to have to admit that they both me laugh out loud as I pictured some of the scenes.)

Report & photographs by Leslie Linares

The programmed outing to Cape Trafalgar went ahead as scheduled on Saturday 16th April. Twenty people turned up for the trip, consisting of GONHS members, family and friends. The leader was Leslie Linares who is the Head of the Botanical Section of GONHS.

The group set off from the frontier at around 8.10am, and made the obligatory coffee stop at the Pavo Real in Pelayo, before heading towards Trafalgar. There was some confusion at the traffic interchange at Vejer, resulting in some cars heading straight for Trafalgar via Caños de Meca, whilst others missed the turning and reached Trafalgar via Vejer and Barbate! This meant the first group had to wait for at least half an hour for the whole group to get together.

At Trafalgar, a series of wooden posts have been erected along the roadsides, preventing the parking of cars. Cars now have to park inside a private parking area belonging to a café-restaurant, and have to pay €4 per car. To compensate, they issue you with a ticket entitling you to two free drinks!

The aim of the outing was to look at the plants that grow on the sand dunes, and on the headland where the lighthouse is situated, and to observe any birds in the area, especially seabirds. To get to the headland the group had to walk along the road which links the mainland to the lighthouse. This proved to be a most unpleasant experience, as the strong levanter wind, lifted the sand and blew it across the road, striking man and beast with considerable force! We were sandblasted! There was sand in the hair, ears, pockets, bags, etc. It was quite an experience!

Some of the very windswept group - at least it was sunny

Once we got to the lighthouse outcrop, we were protected from the flying sand, and we had the opportunity of studying the flora of the area in some detail. A number of species were already flowering, but a few were still to do so. Leslie explained how the plants that grew in coastal areas such as this, had to be adapted to survive the very harsh conditions found here. Plants are exposed to strong wind, sea spray, direct strong sunlight, and sandy soil which drains precious water. Adaptation occurs through various mechanisms, all aimed at reducing water loss by transpiration from the surfaces of the leaves. 
Achillea maritima, Euphorbia paralias and Medicago marina
Some plants such as the Sea Daffodil Pancratium maritimum and Sea Holly Eryngium maritimum have a waxy coating on their leaves. Others such as the Sea Medick Medicago marina, the Sand Birds-foot Trefoil Lotus creticus, and the Cottonweed Achillea maritima have their leaves covered in silvery hairs. Plants such as the Sea Knotgrass Polygonum maritimum and Marram Grass Ammophila arenaria curl their leaves to protect the stomata which lie on the underside of the leaves. Some plants have leaves that are set overlapping each other, and held close to the plant stem. An example of this is the Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, while others such as the Shore Campion Silene littorea are covered with sticky glandular hairs which trap sand grains which provide the plant with a protective coating. 

The effect of most of these adaptations is that many of these plants have a grey-green aspect to them, and when looking across the vegetation of the area, this is quite apparent.

Below is a photographic list of some other interesting plants found on the outcrop:
The striking blue-flowered Shrubby Pimpernel- Anagallis monelli

The aromatic white daisy, Sea Chamomile- Anthemis Maritima
The pink-flowered Sea Thrift- Armeria pungens, which has sharp-pointed leaves
The large, purple Knapweed-Centaurea sphaerocephala

The prickly-hairy purple Coastal Bugloss- Echium gaditanum
The yellow-flowered Rockrose- Halimium commutatum, with Rosemary-like leaves
Another yellow-flowered Rockrose- Halimium halmifolium, with grey leaves

Juniperus oxycedrus

Two species of Juniper, Juniperus oxycedrus with prickly leaves and Juniperus phoenicea which resembles a Cypress

Juniperus oxyedrus macrocarpa, with prickly leaves
The striking and parasitic Orobanche densiflora

The delicate pink Shore Campion-Silene littoria with Lotus creticus

We walked along the boardwalk that skirts the lighthouse compound, and ended up sheltering from the wind behind a small fortified tower. There we spent some time looking out for seabirds (see following report from Jill Yeoman for bird list).

After some time at this spot it was decided to return to the cars. We took the same route back, battling once again against the stinging sand! If it hadn’t been so windy, we would have walked along the top of the mound, and seen the community of plants and shrubs that cover that quite densely vegetated area. But it wasn’t to be – perhaps next time!

Back at the cars, some members of the group decided to head back to Gibraltar or go elsewhere, but thirteen of us decided to have lunch at a restaurant called El Mero, about one kilometre down the road. 


Here we had some excellent food including boquerones, calamares, clams, a lovely salad which included nuts, goat’s cheese and honey, and chupa-chups which were filo-pastry packets on a stick (like lollypops), containing goat’s cheese and coated with an orange sauce. A great end to the day!

Leslie Linares

Report by Jill Yeoman :

Cape Trafalgar! What can I say - strong easterly wind?! 23 of us, including my mum & dad, met at the coffee stop then enjoyed the beautiful journey, passing  the lovely sandy beaches of Tarifa, the wind farms and flat lands of La Janda. Birds we saw  on our journey included:

Black Kites,1 Ibis Species (could have been bald as recently released) or maybe Glossy, Swallows, Stone chats, Green Finch, Cattle egrets, White storks, Cuckoo
Common Kestrel, Mallard & Jackdaws at nesting spot outside Vejer de la Frontera

After making a few wrong turns we followed signs to Canos de Meca, came over a hill and saw the beautiful view of the Cape Trafalgar lighthouse and beaches in front of us. We parked up, noting House Sparrows, and prepared to walk towards the lighthouse feeling warm and protected by the umbrella palms at the back of the beach, but once we were out of their protection the wind whipped a layer of skin off of our exposed flesh, forcing the 15 &16 year old granddaughters accompanying two of our members to quickly swap their short shorts for long leggings! With the wind at our backs we ploughed on (at one stage my dad asked where the flowers were, I pointed out the courageous little plants being battered and blasted by sand ) along here just above the sound of wind and crashing waves we heard Thekla Larks calling, then at the lagoon we saw some hardy Sanderlings, a Kentish Plover, a Bartailed Godwit, Yellow- legged gulls
and House Martins.

We watched a line of horse riders cantering along the beach and then through a shallow lagoon, scattering the few birds for a while but they soon returned. Here I left my mum, sitting on the chair I’d carried along, trying to get some shelter behind a small tuft of marram grass on a sand dune. We climbed up the hill towards the light house where Leslie was pointing out more hardy plants - here I left my dad trying to shelter behind the slope and walked on up to the top.

As you reach the lighthouse you get the beautiful view of the Strait  of Gibraltar, all turquoise blue turning to darker navy, against sparking rocks and golden sands that (almost) made the walk worthwhile. In the shelter of the lighthouse we were able to picnic and watch more birds:
Swallows coming off the sea, a small flock of Goldfinch
a Great Skua, Gannets, Balearic & Cory’s Shearwaters
3 Sandwich Terns sheltering in the bay beyond and more Yellow-legged gulls.

We bravely turned and headed into the eastery wind; once down on the beach road ( not being able to see my mum and dad anywhere, and realizing how strong and vicious the wind was head on, I suddenly had visions of finding them like two babes in the wood huddled together and turning into a sand dune!) It was truly awful and really hard going trying to protect eyes, face, binoculars and cameras.

By this time the group had split as some had abandoned the sand blast early on and left, others were not staying to eat, but 13 of us joined together for lunch. We thoroughly enjoyed a lovely selection of fishy tapas, goat's cheese honey and walnut salads, goat 's cheese and filo balls, pork in garlic, the most delicious bocarrones, calamares and almejas in a white wine, gambas & jamon sauce. It was great to relax and enjoy the food and most of all the calm and tranquil atmosphere.



Thursday, April 14, 2011


Just a quick reminder that the next outing is this coming Saturday (16th), it is to Cape Trafalgar and will be led by Leslie Linares. Our last outing to this part of the wild and dramatically beautiful Atlantic coast was in 2008. The trip was very well supported and the whole day was hugely enjoyable; for those who did not make it, or anyone that may be undecided about this one here are a few of the photos I took on that occasion to whet your appetite:-

Cape Trafalgar is a headland on the Atlantic coast, northwest of the Strait of Gibraltar.The name is of Arabic origin, with the modern pronunciation being a corruption of 'Tarf al-Gharb', meaning Western Cape or Cape of the West. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought off these shores in 1805. 

There is a lighthouse here that was built in 1850: it stands 34 metres tall, is 51 metres above sea level and its light can be seen for 22miles. A watchtower was built in the 9th century and its ruins remain close to the lighthouse. 

The Trafalgar Tombolo was declared a Natural Monument in 2001. This protective measure has the purpose of saving unique enclaves remarkable for their ecological landscape, scientific and cultural qualities. The area of the Natural Monument is 24,19 hectares. It has also been proposed as a Place of Community Interest and is part of the Natura 2000 network, the creation of which was regulated by the European Directive Habitats (Directive 92/43/CEC). This area is called Punta de Trafalgar and has an area of 183,31 hectares and is home to a variety of vegetal species and communities.

Just a few  of the members that enjoyed the 2008 outing 
The main attraction of the cape is its flora and of course its vast sandy beaches and surf that attract water sports enthusiasts.  

This is an easy site to walk, being mostly fairly level and the walking pace is likely to be leisurely with plenty of time to stop to admire views. If you are interested in learning something about the surprisingly diverse flora and the specialized plants that are found here, stay close to Leslie for fascinating insights into how they are adapted to survive here.

The dunes support a surprisingly abundant and diverse flora

We were very lucky to have had some very close encounters with a number of  Black Kites on their migration from Africa as they flew in very low over the sea.

Following the morning's walking and exploration, we headed for a local restaurant where we were served a very enjoyable lunch, enhanced as always on our outings, by pleasant company and interesting chat.  

Looking down onto the harbour at Barbate
An encounter with a Spiny-toed Lizard 
Refreshed,we then headed to a woodland area above the town of Barbate to complete our outing with a walk through a quite different habitat.

Unable to make this outing myself, I am very envious of those that do, but hope you have an enjoyable day.