Coming from the past

30 03 2012

“For the majority of us, the past is a regret, the future an experiment”

– Mark Twain

Even the migration is stopped, I am still in a biodiversity paradise and it’s not worth to forget about that. The islands contitute huge evolution laboratories and the forces acting in the species ways are more noticeable in that ecosystems. Probably one of the first things Darwin observed as soon as he reached the Galapagos was the swimming iguanas. Reptiles have been always considered one of the oldest forms of vertebrate life and it’s possible to be aware of that just by looking at them. The colonization of an island depends mainly on 3 factors: the distance from another land mass, the age and the size of the island.

The Canaries are an heterodoxous group of islands. Not all of them emanated from the sea at the same time and the habitats are also extremely different between each other. That fact culminates in a complex phylogenetic tree of the genus Gallotia, endemic from the Canaries, already described by some works such as Thorpe 1994. The genus is represented by 2 species in Tenerife, althought one of them is very scarce and restricted to the northwestern corner. The other, Gallotia galloti, is present in most of the areas and you can get good views of it if you wait for a moment near a wall or even near an Opuntia plenty of fruits. Its diet is extremely variable and it can goes from insects to fruits. The size of the head and specially the size of the jaws is correlated with the diet and it shows a high sexual dimorphism very useful when sexing some individuals with a female-like colouration.

Yesterday, while waiting for a Barbary falcon couple in a typical cliff surrounded by tabaiba bushland, lots of lizzards were sunbathing and I felt it was time to look at them finally. The males are impressive, althought some of them are not as brightful as others are. Note the extremely prominent pterygoid muscle, in contrast with females.

Females are more approachable. One of them was moulting its skin. It does so part by part, not like snakes do. The head profile is slimer and jaws are not as powerful as in males.

Finally, the falcons appeared and I returned to my birding routine…


The firsts dragonflies

27 03 2012

“Boredom is nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers.”

– Eric Fromm

A brief post from a brief birding time. I saw the first Emperor a week ago, but today there were several at Tejina, together with some Scarlet dragonflies. It doesn’t seem a good year for dragonflies in the Canaries. Most of the ponds are dry, reedbeds are brown and it’s still cold. However, it’s possible to enjoy even the commonest species.

Talking about birds, a part from a little bittern that only offered poor views, nothing new has reached the island since my last visit. Turtle doves are already singing, and maybe that’s the best we can look at.

Hard day in the office

26 03 2012

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”

– T. S. Eliot

The migration is stopped. As soon as I admitted that fact, I concluded the only chance I had to find something interesting was going south. There had been a claim of a Desert warbler last week at el Médano and it seemed a good idea to look for that kind of birds through the hundreds of kilometres of tabaibal-cardonal. My idea was to go to el Médano by guagua (bus) and check the Amarilla Golf and Las Galletas grabel in the way to el Fraile, covering the southernmost part of the island. I had 2 days to do so, and I had worked out I would have to camp near the golf.

The day started awfully. The beach at el Médano was crowded and it seems everybody in Tenerife has either a dog or an hyperactive couple of sons. The best I could do was to seawatch, but after an hour of doing so and seeing nothing but Cory’s, I came back to re-check “la mareta”, a pseudo-natural lagoon in the inner part of the beach. There was a nice curlew sandpiper that was not present the first time and, since I don’t need so much, I suddenly got excited.

Then, a big walk until the Amarilla Golf seeing nothing but southern great grey shrikes, Berthelot’s pipits and spectacled warblers. A bit of seawatch from Los Abrigos produced a pomarine skua and lots of Cory’s again. A couple of them were doing display later in the afternoon, just a few meters from the shore. Nice to hear them once more! The only interesting bird, apart from the seabirds, was a wheatear and a willow warbler, if they can be considered interesting birds…

Today morning, more of the same. Another wheatear at the golf and nothing else… My hope resided on Las Galletas grabel and it fulfilled the expectations actually. There were 2 little and 4 greater ringed plovers, 1 wood and 1 common sandpiper, but the best was a tawny pipit. It was nice to campare the size with the incredibly common Berthelot’s pipit and notice it’s the double!

In the harbour and the pond near el Fraile, nothing but yellow-legged and lesser black-backed gulls, some coots and a greenshank. I am already waiting for the next wave of migrants.

My new headache

21 03 2012

“Recently separated as a local species rather than subspecies of Chiffchaff. Breeds on W Canary Islands in forest and copses with rich undergrowth. Resident.”

– Lars Svensson, Collins Bird Guide 2n Edition

As soon as I landed here, I felt safe from chiffchaff subspecies. I thought I would not be worried about abietinus, tristis, fulvescens and the rest of nonexistent taxons never more.  There are quite a lot willow warblers, iberian and common chiffchaffs those days and it can be hard to identify all the warblers since there is a huge variation in Canary Islands chiffchaff. This species is a potential pitfall for most of chiffchaff species, since most of them are surprisingly similar to Greenish warbler and others can recall Dusky, Willow, Iberian and of course Common. It is a sedentary species and extremely scarce in the eastern islands so the possibility of vagrancy outside the Canary Islands is unlikely, but birders coming there must be aware of what they will found.

There is not enough literature and the figure in the Collins Bird Guide 2nd edition only represents a low percentage of the individuals, so maybe a compilation of pictures of Canary Islands chiffchaff can exemplify the variation.

To start, let’s see what in my opinion is supposed to be a typical canariensis. From my point of view, the most distinctive thing is the structure. The bill is extremely long and a bit curved while primary projection is short. The general colouration is darker than common chiffchaffs and uses to show either brown or olive tinges in the mantle. Supercilium is well defined specially in front of the eye. That character can remind Iberian chiffchaff but note it’s always the same width, there is not an obvious widening between the bill and the eye, which creates a “patch” impression in Iberian. Lores are dark and there is also a dark stripe behind the eye, both contrasting with the paler rufous-tinged cheeks. The throat is even paler and there is a quite obvious frontier between cheeks and throat, almost always absent in Iberian.

The sides of the breast show traces of grey but the rest of the underparts are pale. Upperparts look uniform and concolorous with the tail.

Some other Canary Islands chiffchaff have a wider eyebrow. That fact can remind Iberian again, but note the closed-face appearence, mainly due to warm cheeks like those from Siberian chiffchaff. Upperparts have always something brown, darker than a common and fur from the lemon/green typical in an Iberian. Primaries look brown almost always. This is not because they are worn. The next picture shows a fresh individual and note it lacks the green edges characteristic of common chiffchaff subspecies.

An individual showing extremely yellow underparts. In that cases, the contrast between the brown upperparts and the yellow underparts is even more noticeable. This combination of colours is not present in the rest of european phylloscopus

And then, an individual with almost no green. It is completely brown/grey. The eyebrow is extremely large and it can create a dusky warbler or even an Acrocephalus impresion. Note the dark legs and the pale underparts. The primary projection is extremely short.

In flight, that species shows a contrast between tail and rump and the rest of the upperparts, the first being paler.

I’m sure there are still some other forms of Canary Islands chiffchaff that I have not seen yet and it would be interesting to keep on looking at them to see the evolution of the plumage as it gets worn.

It does exist!

18 03 2012

“Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths. “

– Muhammad Ali

Migration is my religion since the day I saw my firsts ruffs at Llobregat Delta, when I was 10. That sentence can sound so nerd, but when I wish something, it uses to be related with that phenomenon. Spring and fall are my favourites seasons, while bushes surrounding a partially wet area is my favourite landscape.

The day started with some local birds. I saw my firsts laurel pigeons in display flight, these birds are simply stunning! In the same slope, an insularum common buzzard patroled the area just before 2 Bolle’s pigeon flushed into the denseness. In this moment, we had already seen large amounts of swifts entering from the see but maybe the turning point of the day was when a couple of tourist ask us about taking a picture of themselves. While Beneharo was taking the picture, an alpine swift passed throw, mixed in an heterogeneous flock of swifts and swallows. They were mainly plain swifts, but we managed to find (apart from the alpine) some common and pallid.

After having checked some ponds without any kind of luck, we reached the famous Charca de Erjos where lots of swallows were feeding on flies and mosquitos. There was at least 2 red-rumped swallow, a sand martin and the rest of commoner species. Reedbeds and bushes were plenty of chiffchaffs, mainly willow warbler but also some common and an iberian.

We realized it had to be lunch time since we were extremely hungry. We ate nice local meal while thousands of swifts kept on passing throw. It was charm and birds seemed to be so quiet, so we spend the following hours at the pine forest crown, looking for blue finches. There was only a nice male, maybe because the area was crowded.

Later on, already in the north of the island, the only migrating waterbird was a spotted crake, although the ponds were plenty of willow warblers. We decided to focus on that and went to a rubbish dump. It was strange for me to go to a rubbish dump to look for passerines instead of gulls. There was no gulls actually and lots of willow warlers were feeding on flies as Beneharo had predicted. Local birds were also present, especially spectacled warblers and Berthelot’s pipits. Maybe the most interesting birds were a sedge warbler and at least 2 iberian chiffchaffs. That species seems to be commoner than I had expected.

Our last stop was to see a female blue-winged teal present in the area for a long time. In the same place, there were at least 4 more sedge warblers and 5 tree pipits, one of them with a tick behind the eye. I still don’t know where are the yellow wagtails, the whitethroats, the shrikes… Too many species remaining to stay at home…

March day at Llobregat Del… sorry, at Tejina ponds

15 03 2012

“Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)

This is what I wanna be

Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)

Why the hell it means so much to me”

                                         – KT Tunstall

As soon as I reached the first pond at Tejina, I flushed a green warbler (of course a green warbler and not a Green warbler). “Oh, a willow warbler, nice”. It hid in the reedbeds for a while, just before starting to sing as a typical Iberian chiffchaff. I was taking the “security pictures” before approaching the bird when my camera alerted me to the low battery. That’s the best I could take.

A few minutes later, I found the next pond in the perfect water level to house a crake. The first bird I saw there was a handsome male bluethroat showing a perfect breeding plumage. That was the first time I remembered my 2nd battery pack that I had let at home. The second bird I saw was a spotted crake, feeding on water plants, 3 metres far from the reedbeds. This time, instead of only imagine the battery on my bedside table, I pull my hair out and started to take pictures with my mobile phone. For those who have not a BlackBerry and want to get one, you must know the camera is completely unuseful. Not only for phonescoping, it’s not possible to take a decent picture with such a shit. I’m doubting about posting yesterday pictures… no, definetely I would not.

Today, when the sun was near to appear, I was already at the pond. After 2 hours seeing the crake and taking pictures, I still miss the bluethroat. It doesn’t care, I only have to find another one.

Other interesting birds from today and yesterday at Tejina were a male subalpine warbler, a massive arrival of willow warblers, swallows and swifts (mainly plain swift, with some common and a pallid between them), the purple heron that is still around and 3 different snipes. More tomorrow.

Going south, of course

13 03 2012

“I like to walk southwards, it’s like go down”Barbol, The Lord of the Rings

My first expedition to the south of the island has been quite profitable. The migration was noticeable almost everywhere. In our first stop at Las Galletas harbour, we saw a little stint and 3 little ringed plovers in the gravel, while my first common tern of the year was in the harbour, just in the other side of the road. The fields that surround that area are plenty of koenigi Southern great grey shrike and they are already showing some breeding activity. 

The next pond we checked was close to Armeñime. It was extremely nice to relocate the drake green-winged teal seen a month ago but not relococated the last week. There were also a drake gadwall and a strange common sandpiper that deserves a full entry. In the vegetation around the pond, at least 4 willow warblers among the typical canariensis crowd. A house martin flew over.

The last pond we saw is called “Charca del Pinque”. There was a Black-tailed godwit, some little ringed plovers and a snipe showing a dark underwing that probably belongs to faeroensis.

A nice sunset (that’s a nice one!) to sign off the show, while hearing some great spotted woodpeckers and a blue finch flew over…

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