The Band-rumped puzzle

22 09 2014

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

 – Marcel Proust

The concept “cryptic species” is interesting and worrying at the same time. It’s quite scary to think we are overlooking some rare taxa among the common stuff. But… are all these cryptic species actually unidentifiable? Some papers have already dealt with the Band-rumped storm-petrel complex identification and there seems to be some features noticeable in the field, especially with good photos.

Since it’s one of the commonest species seen in all the Lanzarote Pelagics expeditions to La Concepción Bank and I’ve just led 3 of these expeditions together with Juan Sagardía, I took the chance to take a proper look at the subject and put some light on the contradictions existing between different authors, especially when it comes to distribution of winter and summer breeders and to both structural and coloration features. Of course there will be always some tricky birds, but I hope this post can be useful for people birding in the Macaronesia and for the brave ones joining us on next year’s expeditions.

bill shape grants

Grant’s storm-petrel (winter breeders) are just arriving to the Canary Islands after having spent the summer in the other side of the Atlantic. Both adult and 2cy birds might show fresh flight feathers since they’ve just moulted them during late spring, but, since 2cy are meant to moult earlier, their primaries should be worner than those of adults. Actually, we usually see two types of birds: some showing a higher level of contrast between primaries and secondaries and some others showing an evenly jet black flight feathers. Secondaries should be always somewhat newer than primaries since they are moulted later, but the difference in the wear between primaries and secondaries is sometimes too high to be explained by a natural moult timing. Moreover, we see some birds here in the Canaries that are actively moulting secondaries, what demonstrates they can suspend the moult after having moulted the primaries. The bird below is an example of a suspended moult, but surprisingly it’s between P5 and P6. If this bird is gonna finish the moult or not it’s still a mystery, but if it doesn’t, it could lead to a very strange looking bird on its next cycle. In conclusion, the contrast could be due to an earlier moult of primaries (that of a 2cy bird) or a suspension in the moult before pre-breeding migration. So, how can we age them? Worn primaries (never as worn as in a summer breeder by this time of the year) might be indicative of 2cy but a high contrast between secondaries and primaries might indicate just a suspension. A proper assessment of primary’ wear and shape is essential for an accurate aging.

suspension primaries

One of the still unanswered questions about Band-rumps is why we see that many worn birds (that should be summer breeders) in La Concepción Bank if they are meant to be much scarcer than the fresh winter breeders. I confess I was identifying all the worn birds as summer breeders, but nowadays I actually think some of the worn birds we see are just 2cy winter breeders with an earlier primary moult. However, when you think you’ve found the answer, some new questions do emerge: some of this “worn” winter breeders (like the bird below) do suspend the moult before starting with the secondaries, what makes no sense if primary moult takes place earlier. The primaries in the bird below are older than the secondaries, but they are still broad and black, definitely not as worn as they should be in a summer breeder. In my opinion, this individual could be an example of 2cy Grant’s, with a really thick bill and a plain upperwing impression supporting this id.

cf adult madeiran

More questions: Then, how does a summer breeder look like right now? Birds moulting primaries right now should be all summer-breeders and the age would depend on the number of the primaries moulted. As happens in Grant’s, 2cy birds moult earlier so they should be now really advanced in their moult, like the bird in the top below (only 3 old primaries, p7 growing). In the other hand, adults have just started or are about to with the primaries. The birds we’ve seen during this week in La Concepción Bank were moulting p1-p3 (bottom below). In addition, secondaries in these birds will be always newer than primaries (as happens also in Grant’s), but worner than in the winter breeders that have just moulted them. It’s worth to keep in mind that the secondaries in a summer breeder are right now several months old.

Lanzarote 2274

adult summerbreeder

Apart from moult timing, some authors describe a difference in the extension and coloration of the white rump band, being narrower and somewhat dirtier in summer breeders. The silvery band in the GCs is also meant to be less extensive and contrasted in Grant’s (winter breeder), not reaching neither the elbow nor inner secondaries. Structural differences include a thicker bill and an overall bigger size in Grant’s. The bird below shows a perfect combination of features for being safely identified as Grant’s: thick bill, broad clean white rump band, plainer impression of the upperwing, heavy structure and fresh flight feathers.

moult grants

This bird lacks the GCs that should be grown soon. The upperwing band looks therefore restricted to the inner secondaries. Note how bright and black flight feathers are, indicating a late bird in terms of moult.

growing GCs

Some birds show yet another contrast between body and head feathers. When this happens, the head is usually blacker than the belly. The reason could be either an earlier moult of belly feathers leading to a worner brown area or a late moult (not yet moulted) of belly feathers. What comes first? Head or body? Two facts make me think head is moulted earlier and hence birds showing a worn brown underparts still need to moult this area: some birds show a newer head than body and some birds are uniformly jet black, but I’ve never seen a bird in September with the head browner than the body. In my opinion, this means they moult the head first (if you see them by then the head is much blacker than the rest of the body) and then, not a lot of time later, the rest of the body (what gives them the jet black appearance). The bird below shows such a contrast. It would be interesting to catch it in order to check if it’s actively moulting body feathers or if it just suspended the moult after the head.

band rumped moulted head

Moreover, I have the feeling that birds with a contrasting blacker head are commoner in August, whereas wholly jet black birds are really abundant now in September. The bird below also shows a very nice combination of Grant’s features after a complete renewal of both body and flight feathers: note how nicely evenly black the whole plumage is. Thick bill and less-contrasted upperwing band also supports the identification of it as a winter breeder. However, note the mottled rump, in my opinion more usual in winter breeders than previously described.

jet black grants

jet black grants under

 

Yet another winter breeder bird showing even a more extensive dark marking in the rump, almost approaching Leach’s. This kind of rump it’s been reported also in Monteiro’s, as this bird in Richard Bonser’s blog.

stripe dividing rump

 

Another feature meant to be unusual in Grant’s and typical of summer breeders (especially Monteiro’s storm-petrel) is the forked tail. However, it seems to be quite common also among winter breeders. The bird below is a classic Grant’s in every respect but shows a surprisingly deep fork in the tail. This bird also shows a classic Grant’s plumage in terms of color and wear (note for instance the upperwing band not reaching the elbow) but a mottled rump and a forked tail.

frok tailed grants

And yet an even trickier bird: even deeper fork in the tail and much more extensive and contrasted upperwing bar. Although hard to judge because of the position, the bill also looks thinner… The whole plumage is completely new so the only option of it being a Monteiro’s would be a 1cy recently fledged. Sadly, chicks don’t fly until October and moreover, for such a young 1cy, I would expect the usual extremely new white tips in primaries and secondaries. Hence, I stand with a winter breeder showing Monteiro’s characters.

frok tailed grants2

Finally, [Caution: what follows it’s a complete mindtrapp!] this bird with a really deep fork in the tail, a thin bill and a worn plumage (just starting post-breeding moult by inner primaries). Everything fits with a Monteiro’s and I don’t think anybody can say it’s not for other reasons but the range and the abundance.

monteiros like

A deeper analyse of the subject would appear in the forthcoming Macaronesian Birds magazine. More news on that soon!





Lanzarote Pelagics ^3

18 09 2014

“- And what do you wish? +That what should be shall be”

- Frodo to Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

Just a quick review of what’s been an amazing week leading Lanzarote Pelagics trips to the Bank of la Concepción. First of all, many thanks to Dani L. Velasco and Juan Sagardía for giving me the chance to take part once again in these crazy but rewarding adventures.

This time, we’ve organized 3 2-day trips within 10 days. What we had expected to be exhausting, ended up being just encouraging. The prize came in the second trip in the shape of a ringed (??) Swinhoe’s storm-petrel.

monhoris castro2

monhoris ring

monhoris

monhoris castro

 

The highlights in the first trip included an adult Sabine’s gull, 2 White-faced storm-petrels, quite a lot of Bulwer’s and the usual dozens of both Wilson’s and Band-rumped. Suprisingly high numbers of European storm-petrels as well, usually kind of scarce out there.

sabines

 

Everything in the second trip was obscured by the Swinhoe’s, but, actually, we saw some other nice stuff. An adult together with a juvenile Roseate terns were the best, keeping in mind it’s still a national rarity, but one of the most unexpected highlights were at least 2 Mackerel sharks that came to eat the whole block of chum. A couple of Scopoli’s and some Great shearwaters were also nice to see.

Isurus oxyrhinchus2

And it was not until the third trip when we actually managed to get some White-faced feeding on the chum. All the birds we’ve seen during these 10 days turned out to be juveniles. It feels like it’s been an early breeding season for them.

pelagodroma2

pelagodroma

 

 

Here’s a tricky shearwater seen also in this third trip. It’s a Cory’s in my opinion, with a bluish-greyish tones in the head, deep bill and 2 spots in the 2 outermost underpimary coverts. However, it shows 2 tongues in P9 and P8 respectively. In P10 we trust!

calonectris borealis tongues

And what about cetaceans? I have to say I had never seen that many dolphins before. Adittedly they were all Atlantic spotted and Bottlenose, but still… Loads of them following the boat all day (and all night) long. Also some Bryde’s whale and a pot of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the north face of the Bank. Sadly, no Sperm whale this year… Let’s leave something for the future!

balaenoptera edeni

frontalis

tursiops

 

Finally, in our inland guidings, we had extremely good views of Houbara bustard, Lesser short-toed lark, Eleonora’s falcon, Barbary falcon, Trumpeter finch and the rest of Lanzarote specialties. A Pectoral sandpiper and a Glossy ibis were both Canary Island’s a tick for me. Here’s some photos of one of the Houbaras, a female Eleonora’s falcon and the Pectoral. Surprisingly streaked rear flanks and almost undertail coverts…

melanotos2

melanotos3

 

Lanzarote 163

houbara

 

 

 

 





Let’s talk about Godwits

19 08 2014

 “In practical life we are compelled to follow what is most probable ; in speculative thought we are compelled to follow truth.”

- Baruch Spinoza

WARNING! The following post is highly speculative. If you consider yourself a pure scientist, do not read it.

After several days with constant showers and strong westerlies (= no ringing), I’ve got plenty of time to read random papers. It’s actually a completely different activity than reading papers “at work”; if you are not interested in what you are reading, you just leave it and go for another one. What usually happens is that you start reading about migration and end up with evolutionary ecology. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

This week, however, it was the oposite for me. I came across a couple of papers about niche filling, diversification and stability (Stigall 2014 and Price et al 2014) and they were the starting signal of what led me to read about Bar-tailed godwit migration. Since the same weather that forces me to read also forces the godwits to stop in the Peninsula, when the rain gave a break I went to Nabben to enjoy big numbers of them in beautiful summer plumage. Sometimes theory plus field observations equals conclusions and, since here in my blog I’m allowed to be especulative, let’s theorize about Nabben’s Bar-tailed godwits.

lapponicas

The first flock I saw was peacefully feeding in the [for once in a lifetime] quiet golf course and what stroke me in the beginning was the overall size difference between the brighter summer-plumaged and the grey winter-plumaged individuals, the latter being bigger. Differences were especially noticeable in bill lenght and depth. As usual in waders, females have a longer and deeper bill and are duller in plumage, so in the photo below there is 1 female and 4 males.  The whole flock was made out of 12 males and 2 females. What’s the reason for such a biased sex-ratio? According to BWP (Cramp et al. 1983), there is not a big difference in parental care in Bar-tailed godwit, so both male and female stay with the youngsters until they fledge. Hence, there shouldn’t be a sex-related difference in departure dates. The reason might have something to do with their feeding ecology and subsequent sexual segregation. Several studies (e.g. Both et al. 2003, Catry et al. 2012) have pointed out a difference in foraging habitat due to larger food requirements in females (because of their bigger size) and they are the ones choosing the place. Seemingly, females usually forage along the rich waterline, whereas males have to get along with exposed mudflats and grassy meadows. A golf course is probably not the best place to find food so it’s not that surprising that that flock was mainly made out of males.

female plus for males

Let’s focus on males for a while. Their bill is more curved than that on females, and impression accentuated by its shorter lenght. Ferns & Siman 1994 studied feeding techniques and resources and related them to bill shape and found that curved bills were useful to get food from cavities and confined spaces. Makes sense! Males are feeding in poorer habitats and have a stronger need to actually look for food instead of just find it as females do in richer areas with their straighter bill. Moreover, there was a difference in bill shape even within males. I’ve tried to sort the different kinds of bill I saw in males in the crappily made collage below. In the top, bills that looked almost straight; in the middle, bills that looked straight but curved in the end; in the bottom, bills that looked wholly curved. I know, differences are subtle, but, quoting whatever famous documentarist “in nature, a milimiter makes the difference between life and death”. Don’t google it, I just made it up, but it sounds likely, doesn’t it?

bills

Anyway, guess what, I don’t know about the bird in the top left, but the bird in the top right showed the wornest primaries among the flock, especially the outer ones in what gave the impression of a moult limit. Moreover, and always among the males, it was the one with a duller plumage despite it didn’t show any winter body feather. So it’s my strong opinion that this bird is a 1st summmer: worner primaries (maybe fresh inner due to an earlier, before migration, moult) and duller plumage than adults. Check the difference in wear level in outer primaries in the photo below, also head and body plumage. The conclusion I temptatively get from this is that the bill gets more curved with age. It also makes sort of sense: females will be always dominant, pushing males towards a place where they need a curved bill. Lammarck would say young birds change the shape of the bill to make it fit with the habitat they are foraging in. Maybe… but a modern approach would probably say that only juveniles with curved bills reach the adult age. Good luck to our misfit friend!

primaries

Let’s now focused on putative adult males and their shinny bellies. Piersma & Jukema 1993 suggested that the brightness of the orange in summer-plumaged  Bar-tailed godwit was an honest signal in relation to migratory skills. Birds start with their pre-breeding (pre-alternate for the yanks) moult in winter quarters, they suspend it before departing and then congregate in places such as the Wadden Sea (north central Europe) to finish it. Despite moult only takes an extra 7% of energy, only the individuals in good physical condition (this is, more skillful in terms of feeding or flying performances) can afford it. The bird in the right of the photo below is obviously brighter than the other two, despite all three of them presumably belong to the same age and sex classes. I wonder if it has something to do with the mentioned study…

breast color

And now we are talking about migration, it’s worth saying that Bar-tailed godwit still holds the longest non-stop flight record: 11.500 km. from Alaska to New Zealand! Hedenström 2010 tries to answer at least some of the thousands of questions that emerge from this record, but ends up saying that not even the extremely especialized physiology of Bar-tailed godwits can explain such a success. Maybe some help from the weather? Let’s leave this questions for the next wave of rain…





Gull-watching in Sweden

12 08 2014

“They all should be called Larus larus – Guillermo Rodríguez Lázaro

Looking for gulls doesn’t sound like a good way to spend a day off after several days of hard ringing in Flommen reedbed but, since it had been a long time since my last serious gull-watching session, I really enjoyed yesterday’s trip to Shimrishamn and the east coast of Skåne. First of all, I should say thank you very much to Walter Wehtje for such a nice day off the peninsula.

We arrived to Simrishamn harbor quite late in the morning, but there were still some gulls to look at. There we found our first 2 juveniles Caspian gull, but one of them quickly hid away behind the breakwater and the other was boringly sitting among Great black-backeds and Herrings. Nice re-encountering with this fresh juvenile plumage, one of the rarest in Spain, where it seems restricted to early arrivals to the NW coast. Despite the black mask lacking in most of 1stW, it keeps its depressive appearence that makes me like them and feel sorry for them at the same time.

cachinnans juvenile1

After half an hour uselessly waiting for the bird to stand up and do something, we head south following Ulrik‘s suggestion, stopping to check each flock of gulls sitting on the shore. The next time we had success was around Brantevik harbor, where we found another juvenile Caspian plus a 1st summer bird. I didn’t know in which stage of moult would I find these 2cy now, but I had expected them to be done with their complete. However, this 1stS was still growing p9 and the number of unmoulted secondaries was surprisingly (or maybe not that much…) high. The tail was also being renewed.

cachinnans 1stS

While waiting for this bird to fly, I took a look at the Canada geese that were peacefully swimming around the rocks. Walter had already seen one putativa hybrid Greylag x Canada, but there was actually a whole clutch of them. The freaky family was made out of a presumed male Canada, a really confused presumed female Greylag and 5 odd-looking fledglings. Dear geese: please, stop doing that.

hybrid geese

Our next stop was at Skillinge. There was nothing in the harbor, but lots of gulls south of it and it turnt out to be the best place among the ones we checked. We spotted a couple more juvenile Caspian, one of them giving close views of its whiter head and genuine bill profile.

cachinnans juvenile2

It was then when Oscar Danielson suddenly appeared with a bag of trashy food, ready to re-join Ulrik after a brief but profitable incursion into civilization. They had been birding even further south and seen almost the same number if Caspian gulls we had seen. We saw together the stincky Ruddy shelduck that Emil and Erik had found something like a week ago and we came back to gull-watching since the most interesting stuff (this is, the less identifiable stuff) was still to come. After a couple more juvenile Caspian (between Oscar and Ulrik and us, we might ended up seing like 20 of them), I spotted an adult bright ‘yellow-legged’ gull sitting on a rock. It went for a short flight and landed nearby. Here in an out-of-focus photo just to compare leg colour.

yellow-legged

And here chasing an adult Herring showing its wing tip pattern. As can be seen, the mirror in p9 is quite big and it lacks the subterminal black band in p10. This pattern has been described for eastern Yellow-legged gulls (by Chris Gibbins, for instance: here).

yellow-legged3

However, in this last record shot, it’s posible to see the recently grown p5 with just an unsolid black subterminal band. This, together with the same mantle coloration as the Herrings around, makes me sceptic of it being a Yellow-legged gull, or at least a pure one. All in all, keeping in mind we are in Sweden and it was indeed in the Baltic were we saw this bird, I’d call it omissus or yellow-legged type Herring.

yellow-legged4

When we thought this was gonna be the most interesting bird of the day, Ulrik spotted a 2cy whatever that looked tricky. The overall dark coloration and the Caspish jizz made me think about Heuglin’s, but the bird was too advanced in primary moult and too delayed in body moult. Ulrik managed to take some flight photos where you can see a really dark underwing and completely dark new primaries. p9 and p10 are still juvenile, all GCs seem to be moulted and the white bar in MCs might be a whole line of feathers missing, so moult pattern fits with both Herring and intermedius Lesser black-backed. The coloration of the new feathers points to LBB but structure and especially bill shape (with such a pronounced gonys) points to nominate Herring. My conclusion: I don’t know.

IMG_6429

IMG_6432

So we left having seen plenty of interesting stuff, including these 2 youngsters. Don’t ask me what the hell are they doing in the photo. Don’t ask me about Oscar’s t-shirt or Ulrik’s cap neither. Those are even bigger misteries than some of the trickiest gull’s identity…

ulrik and oscar





Quality time

3 08 2014

 “We were right we were giving, and this is how we kept what we gave away.”

- Comes a time, Neil Young

It’s been already a month since all these events happened, but I’ve kept them in my mind since they are gonna be one of the best memories I’d preserve from 2014. After a busy spring  coming and going from Barcelona to elsewhere, it happened that Stephen suddenly came to visit us and I had not got the time to plan the trip properly. Neither had Marc and Martí, and hence we ended up in Vall d’Aran looking for some nice birds/butterflies/orchids but basically spending some quality time together. It was the first time that Marc, Martí, Stephen and me were at the same time in the same spot but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be the last one.

The first thing we did was to ring a Rock bunting. Stephen had fallen in love with the species in the very first time he came to Catalonia. Now he is not in a hurry to see everything, we can spend some time to actually look at the birds. As expected, when we caught it and realized it was a boring adult (3+, Euring 6, 2nd cycle, …) Stephen recognized it was not that nice and claimed for a 2nd year. After we had politely suggested him to go and screw himself, we left the area and finally faced the Pyrenees.

The first stop was at a very nice place Marc knew was plenty of Pyrenean brook salamander Calotriton asper. Nice to see them but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In case you wonder, it’s Stephen holding the newt in front of his brand new t-shirt he had bought in London airport.

calotriton asper

In Vall d’Aran we saw some Lammergeiers, a Cinereous vulture, Citril finches and quite a lot of orchids. Since Martí is been very into orchids lately, it was nice to learn from him. As I can’t be arsed to make the usual collage that usually ilustrates this kind of paragraphs, I will just post a photo of the one I liked the most: Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia.

cephalanthera longifolia

But the best was this Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni: the first record for Catalonia! More on that soon…

250

After some Black-bellied sandgrouses, whiterby Reed buntings and displaying Red-necked nightjars in Lleida steppes, we came back to Barcelona to target Pekin robin (currently Red-billed leiothrix or something like that). We failed despite there were several singing around. However, we caught a couple of Sardinian warblers and some baby Firecrest that made Stephen happy. So did the omelette and the Iberian ham we got for dinner.

We still had a day to fill up some lagoons: we still needed to see a male Roch thrush. We went to a place near Marc’s area where they used to breed. Nowadays they don’t, but it’s still an interesting Mediterranean bushland area good for Ortolan bunting, Western orphan warbler, Red-rumped swallow, blue rock thrush… We put up the nets and managed to catch a 2cy male Western Orphean, an Iberian subalpine wabler (currently inornata iberiae) and a Red-legged partridge. To finally see a male Rock thrush we had to go up to Turó de l’Home, the highest peak in Montseny mountains. Fortunately, we found one almost immediately and it ended up being the last bird of the trip.

sylvia hortensis

Almost one month later, and just before coming to Sweden, I came back to Vall d’Aran, this time with Laura. The air, the wildlife and the landscapes of this area is perfect for a reset in life. We didn’t look for anything in particular, our only purpose was to be there and forget about the stressful city, without cell phone signal, using electricity only for listening to music. We managed, and now I feel ready for the start of a new ringing season in Falsterbo.

Lycaena virgaureae





Oil them all

30 05 2014

“Truth will rise above falsehood as oil above water.”

- Miguel de Cervantes

Yesterday, the Spanish Ministry of the Environment decided to concede a positive environmental impact assessment to the oil prospecting promoted by Repsol in the Canary Islands. That’s great. It means, in case they find something, we won’t have to care about petroleum supplying for the next 10 years.

In the meanwhile, seismic prospecting can hurt cetacean’s hearing (their way to find food), kill adult fishes and avoid larvae development. Who cares? Dolphins will be still in the documentaries we fall asleep looking at and both scallops and hakes will be still in Christmas’ meals. If anybody sees a single disadvantage, feel free to comment this post. (Photo: http://www.scienceinseconds.com/blog/beaching-it)

whale-wide

That’s under the water. What would happen in the surface worst case scenario? An oil spill. The Canary Islands hold several UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves for both marine and island ecosystems. Even at El Hierro I feel like being at home, Lanzarote (especially the northeastern islets) is probably my favorite one. Montaña Clara. What a couple of words. As soon as you land there, you have to care not to walk over the White-faced storm-petrel colony, since you can raze the burrows down. Raise your head! There are several Eleonora’s falcons hunting on lost migrating passerines and the local couple of Osprey, the actual kings of the islet, can fly over you at any time. It gets late and the moon is still hidden. Seabirds start to come in: Bulwer’s petrels, Band-rumped, European and White-faced storm-petrels, thousands of Cory’s shearwaters (don’t forget to look for a Cape Verde, there are already 3 records at this place!) and, in case you are not entranced yet, a sudden male Barolo shearwater makes an appearance. Can you feel it?

El Hierro 516

Now remove this feeling. Remove it because everything it’s been polluted. Oh, how sad this is… is it? Everybody is enjoying the four miserable drops of petrol they painfully found and only the handful of researchers that used to go to this wonderful islet would missed it as it was. Things that  happen either under the water or in the far wild, far from our urban state of prosperity, those are the things people would never actually care about.

Benetton - duck on oil

Did you even know about the existence of this islet? Did you even know about what species do breed there? How threatened are they? Maybe you signed the popular petition at http://savecanarias.org/ (124100 up to date already did) but did you actually know what were you signing? Please read! The more we know, the less they can lie to us. If you don’t want to, you’d better leave them oil them all.

 

Useful references:

- Wiens et al 1996: Effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on Marine Bird Communities in Prince William Sound, Alaska. PDF.

- Varela et al. 2006: The effect of the ‘‘Prestige’’ oil spill on the plankton of the N–NW Spanish coast. PDF.

- Kharaka et al 2005: Environmental issues of petroleum exploration and production: Introduction. PDF.

- Engelhardt 1989: Environmental effects of petroleum exploration: A practical perspective. PDF.

- Gordon et al. 2004: A Review of the Effects of Seismic Survey on Marine Mammals. PDF.

- Alonso-Álvarez et al. 2007: Effects of acute exposure to heavy fuel oil from the Prestige spill on a seabird. PDF.





Israel’s top 5

12 05 2014

“Walls gone over the sea, but not for me.”

- The Canals of our city,  Beirut

Although it does seem it was a year ago, it was this April when we went to Israel. First time for all three of us. I’m sure birders from all around the world remember their first time in this strange country full of birds… and so do I. Of course I do, it was less than a month ago, but what a month! A new round in the Canaries looking for Barolo shearwaters (this time especially successful) has buried some of my memories, but, since it was my original purpose to avoid a full trip report and limit myself to highlight the best moments, those which have survived the filter of the time deserve to be in my Israel’s top 5 that follows.

merops

- First impression at Nizzana: After several springs/winters considering going to Israel, the urge to step on its sandy south was quite extreme. Unfortunately, we landed at Tel Aviv airport late at night so an inevitable night drive to Nizzana was needed before start birding. To be honest, there was not that much in the small pine tree forest together with the fenced village of Nizzana. The first 10 minutes of sunlight brought some Turkish calls back to my head: Graceful prinia, Chukar, Balkan warbler. Nothing exceptional until we stopped to watch a 2cy Pallid harrier and 2 MacQueen’s bustards suddenly flew over us. The mixture of success and excitement puts these first hours in the country in the top 5.

Clamydotis macqueenii

- Seawatching at North Beach: As always, Stephen found the right words to describe the situation: “such a strange place for birding… surrounded by both western-like topless Israeli girls and Muslims covered with a kerchief”. I would add the barbet wire fence that constitutes the Jordan border and the line of armed ships that constitutes the offshore continuation of this border. However, I felt bizarrely comfortable there. Maybe due to the White-eyed gulls usually sat on the buoys or maybe due to the White-cheeked terns appearing and disappearing among the flocks of Common. Even it’s not one of the most-likely next first for Spain that comes to my head, it was especially interesting to get prolonged views of 2 1st summers. Finally, an unexpected Striated heron foraging in the Jordan fish farms was the icing on the cake.

sterna repressa

larus leucopthalmus

- Black bush robin: While walking back to the car after having twitched the Black bush robin at Dote Palms (Eilat), Martí summarized the experience: we went to Israel and we saw it. Even it’s still a very rare bird in the WP, the increasing number of sightings in the last years turns it into a target species and leaves you with a bad taste in case you fail to see one during a spring trip. According to a helpful guy from the IBRC, there were 2 during our stay: a nice one at Hazeva and a shy one at Dote Palms. For the sake of seeing 2, we decided to try both, almost immediately going to the shy one and leaving the nicer for the day after. The shy one turned out to be one of the nicest birds of the trip. We got very good views and I got some doubts about Israeli sense of shyness. By the way, we failed to locate the nice one at Hazeva.

Cercotrichas podobe3

- Arabian warbler family group: The well-known Sheizaf Nature Reserve was the spot we got to look for this currently endangered species. For whatever reason, I felt attracted by this dull Sylvia and it secretly was one of my most desired species. However, after 3 hours walking through the wadi under a burning sun I was close to give up. One of the worst things about going to Israel in mid-April instead of mid-March (when everybody does) is not the lack of some species such as Asian desert warbler but the hot temperatures from 8.30 in the morning on. However, the first contact with a large Sylvia shaking the tail well paid the effort. After the first joy, we realized there was more than one, a family group actually, so we sit down to enjoy the show. The video below is not edited just because I like it this way.

- Syrian serin and Mount Hermon. We went to the worldwide famous Hula Valley but, although probably good for birds, the place turn out to be awful for birding. We denied to rent a boogie and hire a guide to get close to a big lake and so we ended up with no more places to visit. The small fishponds north of the reserves were empty of birds and all the tracks were forbidden. A Little crake on a small pool (my only this spring, embarrassing…) was the best so we ran towards Mount Hermon without looking back. Since every cloud has a silver lining, our fail at Hula Valley meant more time to spend at Mount Hermon. We camped in the way up to the top, but a strong wind during the night pushed us down. If I had been asked at 3 AM, I would had said the day after was going to be another epic fail. However, early in the morning the wind had dropped almost completely and the birding was more than pleasant. After a first stop that produced some nice migrants such as Masked shrikes, Eastern Orphean and Balkan warblers (plus Syrian woodpecker), we carried on up to the top. Just by the road, we spotted a black and white wheatear that I first thought was a late Finch’s. The bird turned out to be a black and white Black-eared wheatear, but while looking for it some Syrian serins flew over us and some Cretzschmar’s buntings started to sing. We thought we were gonna see more of them, but those ended up to be the only.

Emberiza caesia WP

serinus syriacus

That’s it. I would like to say thank you to Martí and Marc for a wonderful trip and sorry to Lichstenstein sandgrouse, Tristam’s grackle, Hooded wheatear, Long-billed pipit, Little green bee-eater, Eastern imperial eagle and the rest of jävla najs species that, for whatever reason, my top 5 misses. Oh, and to Sinai rosefinch: “We’ll be back”.








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