What the hell is going on?

27 05 2015

“I’m an agent of chaos.”

– The Joker

We all have played the game consisting in trying to guess what will be the next “first-for” species to be seen in our countries and, most of the times, we all have failed. You have to wait quite long to see a longly-awaited species and, in the meanwhile, some other unexpected rarities are added to the country list.

These crazy sightings, like the French Kurdish wheatear, can be attributed just to freaky birds, while some others, like spring Collared flycatchers or Pallid harriers in the Iberian Mediterranean coast, come with strong easterlies, especially when the low pressures are placed over the Messina Strait. However, some of the most stunning influxes are hard to explain and we should probably look for answers at a worldwide scale.

This spring, the business is in the big numbers of Red-footed falcons and Icterine warblers almost all over the Iberian Peninsula, even inland, where these species are usually extremely rare. There are hundreds of them currently in Catalonia, where they are not rare but scarce (some years really scarce). This time, however, they don’t seem to follow the typical occurrence patterns. Easterly winds have not been that strong and the same species have appeared almost at the same time in both the Canary Islands and the NE Iberian coast. It seems therefore that they’ve chosen a more westerly route, probably crossing the Sahara through Mauritania and Morocco instead of the Nile valley.

El Hierro 1487

I’m sure this phenomenon has fulfilled several birder’s bar conversations but, since I’m surveying beaked whales at El Hierro (Canary Islands), I had to discuss the event with my friends through WhatsApp. Not a bad thing, since I re-read the conversation a couple of times while trying to find out what the hell is going on. Martí cleverly pointed out that both Icterine warbler and Red-footed falcon winter south of Zambia and both migrate N almost at the same time. Is it anything going on down there? And, if so, what could it be? An extremely tentative theory is an eastern galore in this southern wintering range. Keeping in mind the triangular shape of Africa, it could perfectly be that a difference of 50 km in a W-E axis in South Africa makes the difference between choosing the west of the Sahara route instead of the east.

El Hierro 1359

El Hierro 1053

I had 5 Red-footed falcons at El Hierro, maybe one of the westernmost localities they’ve reached, in what represents the second record for the island. There are dozens in the Eastern islands, together with the firsts Icterine warblers and Collared flycatchers ever found in the Canaries. Obviously not an anecdotal phenomenon, but a huge event that means something big has happened somewhere. It feels like two different phenomenon are implicated: “something” in the south of Africa that pushed them to the west and a hot haze in the Sahara that pushed them into the Atlantic Ocean.

El Hierro 1635

El Hierro 1633

Some of these birds are doing well here in the Canaries. They are busy preying on the African locusts that also came with the African haze. The grassy meadows are full of them and the falcons seem to spend the whole day catching them.

El Hierro 1020

However, some others died in Tenerife airport because they were hunting in the take-off lanes. Keeping in mind that probably several others just died in the middle of the ocean, the Red-footed falcon population could had suffered a strong decrease this spring. It would be interesting to research the causes of such a strange spring for this species and if it could be related to the western spread of some eastern species meant to be already happening.


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.


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!


26 04 2013

“If I hear the music, I’m gonna dance.”

– Det. Kima Greggs, The Wire

Spring migration is taking a breather, with an average of 25 birds caught in the last 3 or 4 days and an almost unnoticeable movement in the field. However, not everything is quiet. Breeding birds are already displaying, sometimes with such an amazing performances. Common redstarts are really busy singing and defending territory in our garden, where yesterday I got the nice surprise of a couple of wrynecks singing and showing well. They seemed to forget about millions of years of evolution trying to become invisible and, sat on a very exposed branch, sang as loud as they could.

Jynx torquilla

A few hours before, in the desertic (literally and non-literally talking) Skanörs revlar, the Red-breasted mergansers were twisting their necks to attract the only single female of the area. The sex ratio in this species is something like 7:1, with most of the schools those days composed by several males and only one or a few females. The competition is hard, and only the chosen few succeed in breeding.

Mergus serrator

Meadow pipits were also spreading their parachutes, calmly falling from the sky while compulsively singing. There are lots of them, but there are even more Skylarks. An idea for a bird race: how many species can you hear in a skylark song within 24h?

Anthus pratensis

In the way back home, I saw some shelducks already far from the water. I flushed a flock of them in the middle of a pine tree forest and those 4 were sat on a roof. Their place in the pools has been occupied by the coots, some of them with a strong sense of responsibility that lead them to have their nests already built.

Tadorna tadorna

Fulica atra

Most of birds look so self-confident while displaying, probably a part of their success depends on that. Even thought, predators are attentive to take profit of a risky brave male singing from the top of a tree. Game theory is what is actually driving the breeding success. It’s just the same in birding: it’s good to do your best in the field, but sometimes it’s worth to stay at home, avoiding being tired, waiting for a proper wave of migrants.


22 04 2013

“I work very fast and steadily, and I don’t hardly ever noticed that I am working.”

– Werner Herzog

The breeding season has started and together with it, the survey on breeding birds. Three days walking and already half of the peninsula prospected. If I close my eyes, I still can hear the redshanks, the lapwings and the oystercatchers singing somewhere inside of my head. However, all the day hanging around means quite a lot of birds, some of them interesting. 2 jack snipes and some ring ouzels have been probably the most interesting things for Swedish birders, but I have enjoyed much more these displaying long-tailed ducks, very close to the harbor

Long-tailed duck

The velvet scoter was still present, this time even closer, what gave me the chance to assess the age and speculate about the sex. The pattern of the outermost secondary, with this funny spot in the middle of the feather, points to a 2nd cal. year, what means the sex is not as straightforward. The hint of yellow in the bill makes me think about a male, but a quick look at the internet gave no result for a male with such a dark bill. In the other hand, I didn’t manage to find females with some yellow in the bill… My theory is that it’s a poorly-colored male, probably in not very good conditions, what also could explain its behavior.

Melanitta fusca

Melanitta fusca3

A nice (am I allowed to tell it “nice”?) fox run all the outer shore of Knösen in less than 6 minutes. So impressive, keeping in mind it took me something like 15 minutes cycling. All the birds (and 5 hares) were flushed immediately, what gives an idea of how much dangerous this beautiful creatures are.

Vulpes vulpes

Also by the shore, some raptor migration, a pair of territorial red-breasted merganser (pray for me to find a nest) and quite a lot of arctic terns completed the set.

Mergus serrator

Circus aeruginosus

Sterna paradisaea

Pandion haliaetus

Tomorrow it’s time for Vellinge Ängar. This place seems to be stunning: one of the best preserved wasteland area in southern Sweden and a sort of spot of tundra as fur south. Probably, the last bastion of breeding dunlins have not arrived yet, but, as Stephen said, if there was a jack snipe in a golf course, who knows what could be in such a good place.

Out of the blue

18 04 2013

“It’s a strange paradise, you’ll be waiting.”

– Irene, Beach House

What a strange spring… The peak of short-distance migrants has coincide with the first wave of trans-saharians and the sum of both puts up the number of captures. It seems everyday is a good day, no matter the weather, with new arrivals in both the nets and out in the field. Actually, the weather does matter, but scattered showers combined with persistent fog in the last few days led us to the current bonanza. The day before yesterday was one of those days when you feel the more time you are birding, the more species you’d find. A huge arrival of robins, willow warblers and the firsts captures of both pied flycatcher and common redstart early in the morning was a prelude of what was going on. Just after the ringing, I went north, checking the harbor, the little woods by the sea and finally reaching the northern point of Knösen.

The female velvet scoter was still present in the harbor, together with a nice red-necked grebe that offered very good views. Some eiders, goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers and that was it, but loads of robins and a few black redstarts were foraging around the picnic area. In the little pine forest north of the harbor, my firsts tree pipit and wryneck. Also at least 2 firecrest. I had been told that firecrest was a scarce species up there, but that day I managed to see more than 15. This nice female was in the lighthouse garden, where we’ve ringed 12 firecrest so far, just 2 below the season record.

Regulus ignicapilla

In the way to Knösen, I saw a female common stonechat, maybe the most interesting sighting of the day. This species is nowadays rare in Sweden, with only a few pairs breeding in a couple of places. A monitoring program which includes tagging with color-rings is carried here in Falsterbo and hopefully would have a positive effect in habitat management. Together with the stonechat, my firsts northern wheatears.

saxicola rubicola

Oenanthe oenanthe

After having checked some exciting forests without any news, I finally managed to see 3 ring ouzels, 2 of them together in the “moorhen’ place”, also known as Skanörs kyrka. My first common moorhen was honestly just a bonus. In the way back home, I stopped to check Flommen, were there are already hundreds of redshanks and pied avocets. Among them, a greenshank and 3 stunning nuptial spotted redshanks.

Today was a complete unknown. It was raining hard at 3.30 in the morning (yeah, just 15 minutes before wake up time) but the feeling of a bad day was in the air when putting up the mistnets. Nothing further from the truth! The robins kept the number of captures at a respectable levels until a rage of willow warblers shot it up. Some common redstarts and a wood warbler colored the morning, while the firsts 2 lesser whitethroats (adults, of course) were the most interesting species from a southwestern point of view.

Sylvia curruca

Thursday means resting bird counts, so I came back to Knösen. The wind has increased and therefore it was not so pleasant to cycle along the coast. However, the migrants were also present; specially willow warblers, but also northern wheatears, the first whinchat and a nice flock of 4 ring ouzels that showed much better this time. In the way back home, a male pied flycatcher made me think about a future collared. Just in a week!

Turdus torquatus

Ficedula hypoleuca

And a happy new yeeeeeear!

13 04 2013

“Everybody’s talking ’bout the stormy weather
And what’s a man do to but work out whether it’s true?”

– Teenage riot, Sonic Youth

Here it comes! The good point (sometimes not as good) about the time is that it goes on. After a month complaining with reason about the weather, the spring has finally arrived to Falsterbo. Actually, the weather is still fur from being good, but now we have rain instead of snow and fog instead of wind. The result of this mixture is a huge arrival of migrants. Yesterday, we took over the record of chaffinches caught in a day and set the unbeatable figure in 288 birds. The total number of captures was 501, with 100 dunnocks and some new arrivals such as an adult male black redstar and 2 redwings. But the real spectacle was in the grass around the feeder, thousands of chaffinches were landing, feeding for a while and heading north afterwards. Loads of bramblings and some reed buntings complete the scene. We caught some of those as well, like this beautiful male blambling.

Fringilla montifringilla

Large flocks of thrushes were also flying over, and so did today as well. I would pay quite a lot of money to know how many birds have overflight the Lighthouse garden between yesterday and today. This morning was not exactly more of the same. The total number of captures was 385, but with “only” 98 chaffinches. The rest were mainly night migrants, specially robins and thrushes, but also goldcrests and chiffchaffs. These adorable little ones are particularly hard to be aged. The chiffchaffs we are catching these days have done a very restricted moult, quite different from that of the warmer chiffchaffs from southern Europe. I wonder if this post-juvenile can be confusingly overlapped with the pre-nuptial, what would kick up a fuss. An then we have the goldcrests, the smallest bird of Europe and probably the one among passerine species that has had a worst winter. However, they seemed to be warming up quickly, singing even from the bottom of the collecting bags while waiting for being ringed. The age is never straightforward, even when there is a moult limit in the greater coverts, in case they can be considered “greater”. An easy way of spotting the two generation of feathers seems to be the shape of the white in the tip of the GCs. Note the step-shaped white in the inner adult feathers, contrasting with the soft-edged white in the retained 2 outermost. Note also the difference in the wear, specially around the shafts.

regreg euring5 gcs

If you have paid attention to this only-for-ringers subject, you deserve a picture of the whole bird.

regreg all

Late in the afternoon, I went out for a walk heading east, following the shore while checking bushes, meadows and pine trees. There were thousands of goldcrests, thrushes, robins… the same stuff than in the lighthouse garden. Apart from a nice flock of 19 wood larks (some of them have been also passing throw both today and yesterday), the best was the first common tern of the season, followed by the first little tern. While seeing the terns, a grey wagtail flew over. 3 firsts for the season in a row! The time went on, now unfortunately, and the light was already scarce, so I came back home to pray for another bad weather good day.

wood lark


Falsterbo Vice

7 04 2013

“In order to know virtue, we must acquaint ourselves with vice. Only then can we know the true measure of a man.”

– Marquis de Sade

We woke up today with the smell of Danish butter cookies. The western winds were quite strong, but the main advantage of this was the huge migration of ducks, swans and geese. After some quiet days, the migration showed its teeth today again with thousands of birds heading north in a stunning way. It was the turn for the swans, the scoters and the barnacle geese. These species seem to have replaced the eiders and the long-tailed ducks in the top positions of the migration counts… they are welcome! A special mention goes to a flock of 62 Bewick’s swan. I spotted the flock faraway from the shore and they seemed to be in a hurry. However, when they reached more or less my position, they turned right, getting closer to the coast, flying over me and finally heading NE. In these good days, it’s hard to stop seawatching in the end of the morning. I am totally addicted to migration but I don’t want to give up.

Cygnus bewickii3

Cygnus bewickii

Cygnus bewickii2

Each day, new species are arriving, little by little, as everything this spring. Yesterday I saw my first red-throated diver, today my firsts spotted redshank and marsh harrier. And what about passerines? Apart from the daylight migrants such as skylark, meadow pipit, reed bunting and white wagtail, there’s almost nothing. A single robin caught this morning after 5h of ringing and this is it. The first willow warbler is supposed to be here in 10 days, but we have not yet caught the first chiffchaff. Do you fancy betting?

Yesterday the sea was quiet, but encouraged by the interesting bewickii/columbianus intergrade that Stephen found the day before yesterday at Knosen (see a picture and a discussion on his blog), we cycled again to the northernmost point just to check that the swans were too faraway and the haze made the identification impossible. Nonetheless, loads of cranes were flying over, with a total account of 524 individuals. A single tundra bean goose also followed their steps.

Grus grus

Anser fabalis rossicus

The day before had not been such a good day for migration but for sedimentation. This female velvet scoter showed well near the harbor. It seemed it liked to swim against the waves. Its body seems to be designed for such purpose! Velvet scoters have always been one of my totemic species and now I can enjoy them everyday. This time there was a female in the harbor, but who knows if tomorrow there would be a male…

wave velvet scoter blog

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