Tribute to Llobregat Delta

4 04 2014

“And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

- Wish you were here, Pink Floyd

 

2 springs of absence, justified or not, but Llobregat Delta forgives me with a very nice migration day, concluded with an Iberian chiffchaff that was so kind as to call enough times to be recorded. Iberian chiffchaff is a local rarity, but regular enough to expect to find one with a bit of effort in the typical areas. Fortunately, one of those areas used to be my local patch, and the place where I learnt most of what I know. Thanks to Joan Castelló, I grew up as a ringer and thanks to Xavi Larruy I did so as a birder. The list of people who has already appeared in my blog is starting to be long and it was not fair that these 2 were not yet mentioned. Maybe this post, that tries to be a homage to Llobregat Delta, is a good chance to say thank you. Don’t expect neither great photos nor crazy rarities; this is gonna be how it used to be some years ago: chasing warblers through the bushes and waiting for either a crake or a Temminck’s stint to appear behind the rushes.

Yeah, it’s been an emotional morning, with several re-encountered feelings and birds. After two days of strong showers coming straight from Africa (yesterday’s rain was disgustingly sandy), the tamarinds and reedbeds along the road that follows La Vidala chanel were packed with Willow warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Redstarts and Robins, whereas the sky was full of Swallows, Martins and Swifts. Although the rain has increased the water level of the marshes, the number of waders was still notable, as well as the diversity of duck species.

A walk through the bushes produced some personal first for the year: Bonelli’s and Subalpine warbler, Nightingale and Common redstart. The Bonelli’s warbler is a surprisingly scarce species at Llobregat Delta, despite being extremely abundant in the nearby mountains. I decided to stay for a while to ensure the identification. Tertials looked white-edged at a glance, but GCs were just normal. The bird called (as Western) more often than migrant Bonelli’s usually do, so I carried on without looking back.

bonelli

 

Already inside La Bassa dels Pollancres observatory, two photographers argued at loud about whatever expensive camera, so most of birds were faraway. I ended up checking the swifts, since it was possible to spot some Pallid just by bare eye. There was one that glimpsed my atention. Although obviously Pallid, it got a less extensive white bib, a deeper fork in the tail and a darker background coloration, contrasting with the diagnostic pale panels in GCs.

pallidus

pallidus2

 

All in all, it reminded me to the illyricus I did see at Copenhagen museum. This subspecies is meant to breed in the Adriatic see, at least in the east coast. Maybe not so surprisingly, it stroke me as being the most distinctive subspecies among the 3 I examined at the museum, mainly due to the characters I also spotted in today’s bird. In the photo below, you can see 3 illyricus in the right and 2 brehmorum in the left. What can I say? I just don’t know…

apus pallidus

Anyway, since the two photographers carried on with their senseless argument, I decided to move to the other observatory. As usual there were more birds, and some interesting ones. The Black-tailed godwit in bright breeding plumage below attracted my atention. I’m not used to them and, honestly, for me all of them look bright enough for islandica. This one it’s not, but it’s still one of the most stunning waders of our region, isn’t it?

limosa limosa

When I first entered the hyde, one of the 2 Collared pratincoles present was sat just in front, but, after 10 minutes, it decided to fly in front of the airport tower. Everybody who’s been at Llobregat Delta knows what this is: instead of an airport surrounded by meadows and marshes, nowadays is a marshland area surrounded by an airport. Photos like the one below can be taken with several species, some of them endangered, such as Bittern or Audouin’s gull. However, birds do resist and this post wants to be an evidence of it.

glareola2

glareola

 

Time to go! My body claimed for more passerines, but first I had to take a look at the orchids, a Llobregat Delta’ must-see from February to June. Early April is time for both Dark bee Ophrys fusca and Sawfly Ophrys tenthredinifera orchids. Is a bit late for the former, so I focused on the Sawflies. It’s been already 3 years without seeing them in their climax. I wouldn’t say I’ve missed them, but yeah, it’s been nice to see them again.

ophrys tenthredinifera

What I’ve really missed during these years is Iberian chiffchaffs. Maybe because it was one of the first identification challenges I dove into or maybe just because I like chiffchaffs, but the truth is that every march and april I’m looking for one of them, no matter where I am. Today I was in the right place, but it was not until one of the last trees I checked that I found what’s been the bird of the day. Among hundreds of phyllos, I spotted a bright green-yellow chiffchaff, with brownish legs, difused cheeks and half-green/half-pale supercilium.

ibericus2

That’s usually it for finding a putative Iberian, but then you need it to call because you need to record it. Today’s bird was cooperative and I managed to record the call. I’ve not edited it since I know my Swedish readers (if they are keen enough to reach this far down) would love to hear the Serin as well.

Click here

20140404_ibericus_llobregat

In the end, 81 species in 5 hours of birding in a really small area close to Barcelona. Although I am going to Israel next friday, back to the Canaries in a month and back to Sweden in July, Llobregat Delta will always be the first place to check the sightings from.

 





Little things

2 04 2014

“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”

- Andy Warhol

In my last lonely day of the second round of the Barolo shearwater survey, tired and already waiting for Genís to join me, I decided to spend the day enjoying Fuerteventura, its landscape and especially its little endemic: the Fuerteventura stonechat.

I reached Cofete, the wonderful tiny village in the north of the Jandía peninsula, and saw the same restaurant I had been 7 years ago. Although it’s a bit expensive (due to the place, don’t expect iranian caviar), after several days eating tins of tuna I thought I deserved some relax. I guess all trip guides/webs already say that, but, just in case, you should go there! Either with friends, with the couple or alone, but to be sit in the terrace looking at the landscape and enjoying the classical potatoes with spicy sauce (papas con mojo) is a good way to chase problems away, at least for a couple of hours.

photo (2)

After an abundant meal, Southern people usually sleaps but, since I got no sofa nor bed, the car was a complete mess and it was raining hard, I decided to immediately go and look for the stonechats. 7 years ago I saw quite a lot of them almost everywhere, but this spring they seem to be restricted to the south of the island, or at least much more abundant there. A long-term evlutionary ecology survey such as that of Galapago’s ground finches would probably show strong fluctuations depending on rain and who knows what other variables. In the current year, I found 3 nests in 3 hours, all of them in the Canary Islands spurge Euphorbia canariensis area of the Jandía peninsula. It’s nice to see an endemic bird breeding under an endemic plant surrounded by such an unaltered area.

dacotiae2

Already focused on one of the couples, I started looking at the moult to age them. Illera & Atienza 2002 described the moult of this species as almost exactly the same than in European stonechat rubicola, that is, a partial post-juvenile that includes LCs, MCs and some to all GCs and a lack of pre-nuptial moult that leads to a worn body plumage in spring (in contrast with Siberian stonechat). However, both members of the couple I was looking at had moulted much more, and some feathers not even mentioned in the article, such as all 3 tertials in the case of the male and medium alula in the female. Although the article does say males moult much more than females in their PJ (to reach a bright adult-like appearence), it looks like this moult can be more extensive than previously expected.

dacotiae

To determine the extension of the moult in the female (e.g. number of GCs moulted) is a bit trickier, although A2 looked obviously moulted in the field. I was not able to see the other wing in detail, so it could be just a replacement, but A2 is not a feather usually lost and replaced. All in all, among lots of questions, it would be interesting to assess how many males do moult tertials. Since PJ moult (especially in males) has an ecologycal/behavioral reason, it would be nice to see if 1stS males with moulted tertials have a higher breeding success.

dacotiae3

Finally, just a photo of another Fuerteventura specialty for those visiting the Canaries: Black-bellied sandgrouse. They were already in couples, flying over the steppes emitting their magic call that brings me to my childhood summers in the steppes of Soria…

alchata





Jackpot

27 02 2014

“Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me.
Oh no, not again,
I’m stuck with a valuable friend”

- Ashes to ashes, David Bowie

This is turning into an obsession… After the shearwater odissey, a pleasent cetacean survey at El Hierro. As always, beaked whales were the main target, but, to be honest, I’ve enjoyed much more the re-encounter with people. This time the crew was composed by Gala, Anya, Casandra, Néstor, Víctor and the fireproof Carol, Nerea, Agus, Crístel and Natacha. An unexpected visit by the Tonina’s team Efra and Manu was also welcomed. Especial mention goes to Cacho and his mother, who kindly supplied us with shit loads of extremely nice local food.

Is worth-saying this project is funded by the University of La Laguna and the Government of the Canary Islands. It’s not so easy to find such a long-term project with a continous and generous funding, so, from this little forum, many thanks also to them.

The survey itself was kind of strange, with several days of bad weather and the beaked whales even more elusive than usual. However, in the end we managed to take photos of a presumed immature male and a family group of Blainville’s beaked whale. The Cuvier’s were distant and elusive, with unpredictable emersions in terms of time and place.

EH_2014.02.20_GalaSerrano 783

EH_2014.02.22_NereaGarcia 992

Dolphins of several species were also present in the Mar de las Calmas bay. Rough-toothed, Short-beacked Common, Bottlenose and Atlantic spotted were all hanging around, although not always in the same number. Brief and distant views of a presumed Bryde’s whale filled out the cetacean trip list.

EH_2014.02.19_ULL_  (403)

Thanks to the bad weather, we got 2 free days to visit the north of the island. In the mythical pond in Frontera, there was a 1W female Lesser scaup and a Common teal, among the noisy coots and the worth-checking Common sandpipers. The number of nominate White wagtails (not less than 10) was also noticeable, keeping in mind this island is in the very last end of the Macaronesia. The lasts galores have brought some Kittiwakes this far south. One adult came to follow our small non-fishing boat for a while.

EH_2014.02.21_MarcelGil 539

However, the very best in terms of sightings was a stunning Red-billed tropicbird. I spotted it from the land-station, while I was meant to be looking for beaked whales, but let’s pretend I saw it by chance…

rabijunco present

The bird passed W, just by Tacorón, and started looking for a place to stop in the Montaña Roja (Red mountain)’ cliff. It hoovered for a few seconds in front of a corbel, didn’t like it and went for a short flight just before coming back to check another corbel. Seemingly, none of the putative nesting places looked suitable for the tropicbird, so it decided to fly straight to La Restinga, where I lost it. When it was gone, I realized I had been more than 1 hour enjoying the bird and taking photos, although in my head it had not lasted more than 20 minutes.

rabijunco2

To end up, one of the best night hearings of Barolo shearwater: together with all the crew, at Orchilla lighthouse and after having eaten nice grilled local fishes. We heard at least a male and a female, hope nobody who was there will ever forget it!





Round 1. Fight!

25 02 2014

“If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize”

- Muhammad Ali

Maybe one of the most important things I’ve done in my life so far is what I’m currently doing: a project for Barolo shearwater conservation in the Canary Islands. Although I don’t fear being ambitious when it comes to preserve nature, the several tasks to do in order to execute it properly make the field work hard, very hard. It is divided in three rounds of work and we’ve just finished the first one. Most of days’ work has included census from vessel between islands, from-land census with a scope and night hears in the breeding colonies. Some of this work carried in isolated islets, some of them hard to reach and of course not comfortable to live in.

However, after only a couple of days resting at home, things look much better. The experience is invaluable from a personal point of view. To hear several Barolo shearwaters entering the colony inside of the volcano in Montaña Clara islet, late at night, after a hard and cold time sleeping on the rocks can be only described as magic and goes straight to the podium of my birding memories.

The adventure started at La Gomera. Although for me it will be always one of the greenest islands of the Canaries, the fact that the areas we were interested in were all in the dry south combined with the extensive burnt area right in the heart of Garajonay National Park gave me a different taste than in my previous visits. However, we enjoyed good views of some birds typical from the Macaronesian laurel forest such as this Tenerife goldcrest. This taxa is not recognized as a species nowadays and, risking sounding like a twitcher, I don’t understand why. Note the dark grey head, the yellow-creamy wing bar and the dirty flanks. Keeping in mind this population is 4000km from the nearest breeding ground of regulus and the Madeiran firecrest has species status, I just don’t get it. I know, the genetic distance is not big enough, but neither it is in swifts and eiders.

regulus

Anyway, it was time to move to Fuerteventura to carry on with the shearwaters. Bizarrely, we got rainy weather there, so again I got a different taste from this dry island than in my previous visits. Some of the Houbara bustards were already displaying with their high-speed version of Great bustards’ foam bath. Bad views of Cream-colored courser and a good study of a couple of Fuerteventura Common buzzards were the only stuff we got time for.

hubara712

hubara

These buzzards are indeed interesting. They are meant to be insularum like in the rest of the Archipelago, but the truth is they look more like Long-legged buzzards. Structure and tail band should be enough to rule out the north African cirtensis, but it’s hard to avoid thinking those birds don’t have any influence from this species. Judge by yourself:

buteo888

buteo879

The plan for the next two days was to go to Lobos islet. Not so much to say about this small islet… Apart from an impressive landscape and a (too) big colony of Yellow-legged gull, it’s not as good as it could be for seabirds. Nowadays it’s packed of mice but it’s worth saying the last cat died there because it was really old. We are not talking about a big island but about an islet, where monitoring and management should be a priority.

After an extra night in Fuerteventura double-checking some good places for shearwaters, we faced Lanzarote, an island that I’ve always seen in a hurry. The bad point about leading the trips to La Concepción Bank with Lanzarote Pelagics is that I’ve rarely have time for birding in the island itself. This time was not that different… we were still focused on seabirds, although this time not as far away from the shore. However, we enjoyed the Houbaras and especially the Cream-colored coursers with even better views than at Fuerteventura.

cursorius1297

hubara1384

The coursers were already mating. This couple hidden behind some vegetation… not so different from humans actually.

cursorius

A visit to Janubio saltpans was quite nice to see some waders and ducks. Nothing of interest apart from Black-tailed godwits and the always stunning Ruddy shelducks. Nice to see as well the flock of Black-necked grebes that is wintering there. We counted 21 birds, but the maximum has been 23.

tferruginea988

Finally, a quick check at Tías golf course. This place has given so many rarities that is worth checking just in case. However, the only remarkable birds present were a flock of White wagtails and some Trumpeter finches. Even they are always there, for a birder from the Peninsula is always nice to see them, especially with these good views.

bucanetes1528

And that’s it… Hard but enjoyable field work somehow. Now it’s time for another cetacean survey at this paradise called El Hierro, combined with more research on Barolo shearwaters.





Unusual challenge

14 12 2013

“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.”

- Cormac McCarthy

Living in the Mediterranean coast, one of my most-envied identification debates is the geese debate, and especially the Bean goose issue. Greylag goose is a scarce winter visitor, restricted to Aiguamolls de l’Empordà and Ebro Delta (where you only get poor views due to big distances), and the rest of the species are a local or even a national rarity. At the moment, there are 2 Greater white-fronted and a Bean goose at Aiguamolls de l’Empordà (NE Catalonia), so it’s a good chance to see more than the usual Greylag (or even worse: Domestic!) geese.

After a look at the diver show at Sant Pere Pescador beach (very good views of both Red-throated an Black-throated divers plus a nice couple Velvet scoters), we went straight to El Cortalet, where the geese spend the time feeding on young reed or aquatic megaphytes. The White-fronted attracted our attention first, but, since they’re just 2 nominal first winters, we focused on the Bean goose for the rest of the day.

gwfg

The previous pictures showed a probable Tundra Bean goose, what would be the first for Catalonia, with a short and stout bill and much smaller (including shorter but stronger neck) than the accompanying Greylag. However, the impression we got in the field was quite different. The bill looked longer, concave and not bulbous at all. The head profile was more swan-like, without any obvious bulge in the front. The orange, despite being quite restricted, looked more extensive than in the previous photos. Even I’m not very experienced with this taxa, I had never seen a rossicus like that.

head

The structure, however, was not still that of a Taiga. The neck looked short and blunt and it was a small goose in overall. When I looked at this second photo, I saw just a Tundra, maybe with a slightly longer bill than usual. Even the head shape looks right!

foto 2

A proper documentation work was needed and I ended up reading the Birding Frontiers discussion about a bird that did appear in California a few years ago. You can find one of the 3 parts (follow the links under the post to find the others) here. The bird is worryingly similar to the bird at Aiguamolls, despite the American bird has a paler head and a broader bill, maybe more bulbous than our goose. The neck looks thinner, but I would like to see the Aiguamolls bird in flight or in warning position to judge this feature.

foto1

Anyway, the debate of the BF post was (even more worryingly) between Eastern taxa serirrostris/middendorffii. What are the chances of one of those occurring in NE Iberia? I guess less than a strange rossicus/fabalis. Or maybe not.

Comments on this bird are more than welcome.





Falsterbo – Kiruna – Andøya

18 11 2013

“I am a big Lady Gaga fan”

- Aron Anderson

End of the season in Falsterbo, time to come back to Barcelona, the city that can be considered my wintering range. In the last weeks, some people has asked me what do I think about Sweden. Well… bearing in mind that, apart from 2 seawatching days in Båstad and another one-day trip in March to Vombs Angar, Skryllegården and Hackebergasjon (in central Skåne), I’ve been the whole 8 months in the Falsterbo Peninsula, so it was impossible for me to give an opinion about Sweden. Hence, when Aron suggested that I should join him on his way to Kiruna (Norrland) my answer was yes.

The plan in the beginning consisted in renting a car in Malmö and driving all the way to Kiruna, stopping at some places to do some birding targeting the northern species that I’ve missed in Falsterbo. However, after realizing how expensive was to rent a car if you are not Swedish, the trip ended up in a 6-hour train from Malmö to Stockholm + a 14-hour train to Kiruna. Then, we were gonna burrow a car and carry on north, up to Andenes in the Norwegian island of Andøya. This guy down here is Aron in the train, and he is extremely happy for either going back home or the big burger he’s just eaten:

photo

As soon as we arrived to Kiruna, I realized it was something completely different. I wouldn’t say the real Sweden, but admittedly the image of Sweden that we have in the south of Europe. Snow, forest and frozen lakes. Also some nice birds, mainly visiting feeders, like this Siberian tit.

cinctus

cinctus2

Without more time for birding the area, we departed to Norway and we didn’t stop until we spotted a Northern Hawk owl sitting in the top of a tree, some kilometers before Abisko National Park. Even this is probably the only species of “northern owl” that I had seen before (bizarrely together with Snowy owl), still an stunning bird.

surnia

Surnia2

A walk in the National Park didn’t produce anything but a flock of Willow tits, nice landscapes and a warming cup of coffee in Aron’s former work place.

It was already dark night when we crossed the border, a step obviously accompanied by Aron’s classic quote “welcome to Norway, fucker”. The weather forecast made me forget about Northern Lights: it was meant to be raining/snowing all day long the day after. Maybe even more worryingly, the birding was going to be hard. Of course, when you’ve been ringing for one month in a row, need a day off and there’s rain forecasted, it’s always wrong. In the other hand, when you only have 2 days for exploring such an amazing place like Andøya, the forecast is right and the birding hard.

However, we managed to see some good birds: there were several Little auks around Andenes harbor, Greater scaup, Black guillemot, Red-throated diver… but no sign of neither King eider nor Yellow-billed diver. We decided to check as many harbors as possible, so we started with Bleick, a small village in the west coast of the island. No northern specialties again, but hundreds of Purple sandpipers feeding in the seaweed.

maritima

maritima2

Since the west coast didn’t look so promising, we decided to cross to the east. The central part of the island is just stunning. Pure tundra surrounded by high snowed mountains. The rain was annoying, but this landscape must be seen in a cloudy day. The icing on the cake was an adult female Gyr falcon sitting in a mossy rock. I would never forget this image!

rusticolus

The day finished with the feeling that there were loads of birds in the island, but the weather and the lack of information had led us to miss the good stuff. The forecast for the day after was promising: really strong westerly winds and cloudy, but no rain. The whole Lofoten archipelago was in orange alert due to the winds, but, as usual when this happens, we were happy.

Andøy

The first thing we did early in the morning was to check Andenes harbor again. As soon as we arrived, we realized it was a completely different story to the day before. There were at least 40 Glaucous gulls of all ages, big flocks of Long-tailed ducks, a similar number of Little auks than the day before and a female King eider among some Commons.

hyperboreus

Seawatching in the west coast was almost impossible due to the strong winds and the lack of sheltered places. Hence we crossed again to the east coast, where the sea was completely flat and the birds easier to spot. From the tiny Myre’ harbor, apart from a surprisingly high number of Slavonian grebes, the highlight of the day was a flock of 8 King eiders (sadly all females again) and a stunning landscape.

andoy

Time to head back to Kiruna, under a strong snow shower and already thinking about coming back to Andøya. The island offers very good birding possibilities. The lack of information (almost no reports at all in November) and the bad weather conditions forced us to invest one day in exploring the island looking for the best places. Of course, the already limited number of light hours doesn’t help neither. However, the number of birds (mainly sea-ducks, auks, gulls and divers) is impressive and with good weather conditions it’s probably possible to see most of arctic specialties. The landscape, as in the rest of the Vesterålen archipelago, is impressive, in my opinion especially in winter time.





Just before winter

4 11 2013

“I read, much of the night, and go south in winter.”

- T. S. Eliot

Nobody knows what’s going on with the weather this year. After an extremely dry October, the Skanian winter finally started with the wind storm that hit the peninsula last week with winds up to 50 m/s. The conditions looked promising for seawatching, but the highlights from Båstad only included a Great northern diver and 2 Sooty shearwaters. These, together with a Pallid swift twitched late in the afternoon, made the Swedes happy, but I couldn’t avoid a bit of disappointment due to the lack of Little auks or Yellow-billed divers, my 2 target species for the day.

After this, we’ve not got a single day without wind and/or rain, what means almost no ringing. The long-term forecast for the next weeks looks awful, so who knows if the ringing this season is already over. However, there are still a lot of birds around, and some of them particularly interesting: the trumpeter call of Northern bullfinch is everywhere, as well as some intriguing Redpolls. We only need a calm day to find something good!

Just before this sudden change, we managed to see some good birds. The resting bird counts at Knösen produced some nice species such as Lappland bunting, 21 Bewick’s swans and some Taiga bean goose Anser fabalis fabalis.

Anser fabalis fabalis

Cygnus bewickii

The ringing was also very good, with hundreds of birds everyday and some interesting species suck as Twite and Great grey shrike. Just enough to realize how subtle is the moult limit in Twite and how a homeyeri should not look like.

twite

This Twite had moulted only GC9. The difference can be noticed mainly in the tip of the feather: more buffish in the moulted feather and whiter in the retained juvenile. The centre of the feather is also blacker in GC9.

twite wing

The Great grey shrike we caught was just an excubitor, but, keeping in mind I had only handled meridionalis before, this bird was the closest I had ever been to one of these exciting eastern taxa. Enough for coming back home ready to read some literature and realize our bird got too much black in the secondaries and in the 2 outernmost (R5 and R6) tail feathers. Nice bird nonetheless!

excubitor

excubitor tail

That’s it… We can only wait for the sun to bring us some nice birds and landscapes again:

brantas








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