An epic flight round the Atlas and into the desert

AW was at his roost 30km west of Malaga (and just 50m from the A357) at 8pm on Thursday evening but by 6am next morning he was off again, flying SSW at 22kph. This was probably a fishing trip because at 7am he was perched in trees next to the Rio Grande, 10km SW of his roost site. He was still there at 8am, suggesting he was probably eating a fish.

He set off again just before 9am and headed south, flying out to sea a few kilometres east of Marbella. Whereas most birds of prey head to Gibraltar where just a few kilometres of sea seperate Europe from Africa, Ospreys will readily make much longer sea crossings, and that’s exactly what AW chose to do. Over the course of the next three hours he flew 120 kilometres across the Mediterranean to Morocco, making landfall just north of the small town of Oued Laou. He flew low across the waves – the three GPS fixes for the crossing show him flying between 11 and 16 metres above the sea.

AW's flight across the Med, 2nd September

Having reached Africa, AW continued SSW and four hours later he was 125km further on flying SW at 19kph. He was still going an hour later, but by 8pm he was perched in an arable area, perhaps a ploughed field, 5km west of Meknes. He had flown 325km since 9am.

At 7am next morning he was perched in a plantation 4km to the south but by 8am he was migrating again, flying south west at 18kph at an altitude of just over 100m. He made good progress and by 3pm he had already flown 285km.

This is AW’s fifth autumn migration and his experience was obvious over the next few hours. As AW approached Marrakech the Atlas Mountains would have dominated the horizon. This vast mountain range rises to heights of more than 4000m and presents a very obvious barrier to migrating birds. Rather than flying through the mountains AW made a very definite change of direction, heading on a much more westerly course along the northern edge of the mountains. He flew 250km in five hours and by 8pm he was just 10km from the coast at Agadir having flown around the mountains. Click on the image below to see how AW avoided the high mountains. 

AW avoiding the Atlas, 3rd September

Having flown round the Atlas, AW wasn’t stopping there. At 9pm he was another 65km south, flying at 35kph. It would now have been dark, but that didn’t stop this master migrator. Based on the speed he was flying at 9pm he probably carried on migrating until around 2am, because by the time we received the next data point, at 7am this morning, he was another 190km further south! He had finally stopped in an area of desert and was resting on the ground  having flown an incredible 820 kilometres since 7am the previous day.

AW was perched 4km further south at 8am but an hour later he had resumed migration again, heading south west at 29kph. It is clear that now AW has reached the Sahara he will attempt to cross it as quickly as possible. It will be very interesting to see where he is when the next set of data comes in. I can’t wait!

AW’s flight through Morocco


One response to “An epic flight round the Atlas and into the desert”

  1. Lynda Berry

    You can’t wait !!!! How exciting is it to see these two males migrate. I really really hope one of them is somewhere where we might see them. Think I might send a letter to Father Christmas.