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





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.








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