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”.





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








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