Amazing flight across the Mediterranean

Wow. In our last update we reported that the juvenile honey buzzard had reached the Massif Central region of southern France, having got back on track after its initial flight east across the North Sea from Scotland to Denmark. We suspected it would continue on a south-westerly heading into Spain and then onwards towards the Strait of Gibraltar, where it would require only short sea crossing to North Africa. That’s exactly what an experienced adult would do, but previous satellite tracking studies have shown that the routes used by juveniles can be much more variable. And so it has proved in this case. The latest satellite tracking data shows the juvenile female has made an incredible 1001 km crossing of the Mediterranean from the south of France to Algeria.

In our previous update rain had halted her progress through France and she spent two days beside the Allier River near Clermont-Ferrand. The weather improved on afternoon of 27th and she resumed her journey south at 12:35, flying an impressive 254 km almost due south in just over four hours, to a wooded area 15 km west of Montpellier.

It seemed that the young honey buzzard was now keen to make up for lost time and she resumed her journey much earlier than usual, at 08:00 the next morning. Forty minutes later she reached the Mediterranean coast, but rather than follow the coastline south-west, as we expected her to do, a strong north-westerly wind of 27 km/h resulted in her heading out to sea.

The wind strengthened and turned more north-easterly as she headed south and, at 13:00, she was flying south over Menorca, having flown 393 km across the sea at a very fast average speed of 87 km/h, at altitudes of between 300 and 750 metres.

The young honey buzzard flew at speeds of up to 87 km/h as she set-off across the the Mediterranean from Montperllier

She did not make landfall in Menorca, and instead continued south-west with the wind now 43 km/h from the north-east. She flew 183 km south-west over the next 2.5 hours at an average speed of 73 km/h and a maximum altitude of 1068 metres.

The wind eventually dropped and turned to the east as the afternoon progressed, and this was reflected in the bird’s flight path. Rather than continuing south towards the Algeria coast, she drifted further and further to the west, flying parallel with the North African coast by evening, but still over 100 km out to sea.

By 20:30 her flight speed had dropped to 23 km/h and she was flying due west, having now flown 746 km across the Mediterranean in 12 hours of continuous flight.

As the wind dropped and turned more easterly the honey buzzard drifted further west, and may have landed on a boat for a short period during the night

She maintained the same westerly heading as darkness fell, and then almost certainly rested on a boat because she only flew 11 km in two hours between 00:32 and 02:33. By 06:32 she had flown 141 km in ten hours overnight.

As dawn broke she made a very definite turn to the south, and then south-east. Despite the fact she was now flying into a slight headwind, she maintained a definite course towards the Algerian coast, flying 115 km in just over six hours at altitudes of between 50 and 200 metres and eventually made landfall at 12:50. By the time reached the Algerian coast between Ouled Boughalem and Tenes, she had flown 1001 km over the sea in a little over 28 hours, a remarkable flight for a young bird on her first migration south.

She changed course at first light on 28th and eventually made landfall in Algeria
She flew 1001 km across the Mediterranean in just over 28 hours

Despite reaching land, the young honey buzzard showed no signs of letting up and she flew a further 160 km south-south-west, before roosting in mountains on the northern edge of the Sahara. She had covered 1180 km since leaving her roost site in France 35 hours earlier.

The honey buzzard flew 1180 km in 35 hours

Yesterday she remained in her roosting area all morning, and then, after an initial movement 10 km north, she flew 60 km south-west through the mountainous Saïda province of north-west Algeria, before roosting in one of the last remaining wooded areas on the north side of the Sahara.

After two very long sea crossings, the young honey buzzard now faces another daunting challenge – her first flight across the Sahara.

The young honey buzzard is now on the northern edge of the Sahara, after flying a further 60 km south-west yesterday
She has made two very long sea crossings, both strongly influenced by the wind, since leaving Scotland