Nothing to say

24 10 2012

“Photograph: A picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.”

– Ambrose Bierce


Yank session

23 10 2012

Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected.

– Oscar Wilde

El Hierro, once again. I am enjoying this island that has something magic. I need more time there to know exactly what’s the cause, but here things simply work. I spent most of my time working on cetaceans, as last May. The Canary Islands Government and the Universidad de la Laguna set a campaign focused in photo identification of the beaked whales (both Cuvier’s and Blainville’s) to study their biology and ecology. We have seen many Cuvier’s beaked whales those days, while Blainville’s seemed to had disappeared after the first 2 days of field work.

For me (and I guess for most of us), the best sighting was a female Cuvier’s beaked whale called ZcH15 (so-called Guapaaa onwards), accompanied by a calf. It’s interesting to say there is a few data on the biology of beaked whales around the world, so each observation revealing a social behavior is of special interest. Beaked whales are usually fur from the coast and moreover the calf seems to be surprisingly similar in size to adult female, maybe to start doing deep immersions the sooner the better. Those facts make hard to study them during enough time to put light on their breeding biology, but el Hierro, with its set of special things, can help to do so. Here the beaked whales are close to the shore and show a surprisingly high fidelity to this grounds, so animals can be followed in time by using the Photo ID methods.

Birds. Although I came here to study cetaceans (I promise!), it’s not possible for me to ignore birds, and even more if I am in the westernmost part of Spain during late October. The first days were quite discouraging in that aspect. I was able to move only around La Restinga point, the southern point of the island. It’s not well-oriented to house American species, but then I must remind you the first sentence of this post: here things work. The first interesting sighting was a laughing dove on 17th. It’s common in Fuerteventura, but rare at el Hierro. However, the it’s nothing compared to what happen on October 19th. I saw a cormorant entering from the sea, faraway from where I was. All the species of cormorant are a rarity here, so the sighting was already good just by knowing the genus.

On 21th, prospecting the sea from the same place, I saw a cormorant landing in a cliff. I didn’t see the cliff, but I saw the cormorant entering from the sea again in that direction. This time, I was able to appreciate the white breast, but nothing else.

The last episode of that romance was on yesterday. I was in the boat of La Laguna University with Sara and Agus going out of the harbor to start another day pursuing the beaked whales, when I saw a slim cormorant swimming inside of the harbor. When I saw its orange face, my restlessly started. Of course it was the same cormorant of the 2 days before and of course it was a Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus, the first sighting for Spain and a longly awaited species.

The bird went out of the water to take a sunbath in a rock. I managed to take some better pictures from our boat, confirming it was a 1st winter Double-crested. Both Sara and Agus are cetologist and they were not aware of what they had seen until they saw my smile of craziness.

It was the last day of work and today I’ve been able to bird the northern part of the island. After having checked the only pond (where 2 white-rumped sandpipers have been seen already this autumn), some little forest placed excitingly close to the shore (where I flushed 3 woodcocks) and the dry fields where I am sure some American birds may had landed sometime (although today there was nothing but canary serins and kestrels), I drove to the Verodal Beach, west of Frontera, where I found a nice 1st winter spotted sandpiper Actitis macularia. The bird was very approachable, if “approachable” means that it likes to come where you are sited.

I’m not used to be in a place with such a potential for American vagrants and I have a lot of species in mind, so I will try to profit the following days. Keep on reading me!

Finally, I want to thank Manolo García (a good friend and better birder) who kindly help me to make this post possible!

Land ho!

7 10 2012

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

– Eric Cantona

Not an easy work those days in Galicia waters. The galore that came from actually I don’t know were and the strong swell rocked the ship all night long, making sleeping almost impossible. The rain and the cold winds kept me awake during the day, but after dinner time, at nightfall, I dropped down dead. However, the sea was plenty of birds and I specially enjoyed the large numbers of Sabine’s gull. I’ve seen more than 3000, being a flock of up to 800 the maximum together. Most of the flocks were composed by around 100 birds, with a Long-tailed skua embedded in. The skua landed in the sea or took off when the gulls did so. When the gulls came to eat the fishes we were throwing away, the skua also came to steal it.
The great skuas were also abundant, but their targets were the lesser black-backed gulls and the gannets. In the first days, Arctic skua was the 2nd commonest skua species, but this tendency changed in the middle of the campaign: Pomarines got more and more abundant until finally reaching last year’ levels.
Long-tailed skua would always be the smartest species of the seas. Apart from the birds within the Sabine’s, there were many long-tailed skuas migrating. The 80% of them were already juveniles, I guess adults must be in Senegal nowadays. The birds in the extremes of plumage variation were my favorites, both all-dark and white-headed.
Tubenoses were scarcer than last year. Great shearwaters may be in the rear-end of the Bay of Biscay, were people is reporting thousands of them. My maximum was 122 following the ship, but most of days I saw no more than 30. In the other hand, I saw 2 strong migration days of Sooty shearwaters, with some Manx in between. Cory’s were present in the area, but it’s hard to say what were they doing… maybe that’s why I like the English word “foraging”. I managed to see a presumed Scopoli’s in a flock of up to 40 birds.
European storm-petrel was a common species this year. They were present in all the edge of the continental shelf, specially abundant in front of Finisterre headland, where I saw a flock of more than 400 birds. In the Rías Baixas area, there were lots of Wilson’s storm-petrels and a Band-rumped, one of the few sightings in the coast. Leach’s soon appeared, but in low numbers and scattering around, just as always.
The terns were more abundant than last year, but I had no success in my search for the roseate. Arctic was quite common some days, and there were still some unexpected adults. I caught an injured juvenile with a hole on its breast, caused probably by a skua or a large gull. I healed it and it finally flew southwards. Good luck for him!
In the afternoons, if it was not too windy, the common terns were sat in the cables of the ship. A nice image, but better with a roseate whithin… Anyway, that brought me the chance to read a PVC ring and to study 1st summer plumages, the commonest those days.
And of course the cetaceans… We had bad weather conditions and that always makes hard to find a fin in the middle of the scummy sea. The first days we were happy with the short-beaked common dolphins and their impressive jumps, but the only morning we had a respite, we saw 5 unidentified whales, 1 Minke whale, a group of Long-finned pilot whales and the always present common dolphins. That was our best whale-watching moment.
In a week, I will be working in the sea again, this time in the Canaries and this time with cetaceans. I’ve never got sick, I never get tired, I would never have enough.

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