Sunny again

29 12 2012

“Nicer than the bird up in the tree top
Cheaper than the chip inside my lap top
All the variations you could do with me
Nicer than the girl up in your mind you’re free”

– Risingsong, Massive Attack

After some looong days with a few birds (apart from the always nice blue rock thrushes  at Garraf mountains), I needed something very good to cheer myself up. There is almost nothing at Llobregat Delta and it’s always hard to find something interesting along Barcelona coast during these soft winters. Of course, we could always move to Ebro Delta or Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, where there is plenty of birds, but sometimes it’s worth to look at the mountains and not to forget the Pyrenees are one of the most diverse mountains in Europe. It takes only around one hour and a half to drive to some of the best places, where many localized and too often forgotten species are wintering.

Robert, Helena, Andrea, Martí and me, encouraged by the flock of snow finches supposed to be wintering in an approachable area, had decided (already 10 days ago) to visit some of the closest places in order to reconcile with these species. Our first stop has been at Montgrony Monastery, a must-visit spot if you are looking for a wintering wallcreeper. Firstly, we checked the cliffs above the park-site, but without success. The road goes to the other side of the valley, where you can get overall views of almost all the cliffs of the area. Therefore, the chances of finding a wallcreeper from there are higher than from the park-site, but the views are usually poorer. Even we managed to find a distant wallcreeper at a glance, we felt we deserved something better… Suddenly, the bird flew over our heads and landed in a nearby cliff so we were able to enjoy good views of this stunning bird. For sure, one of the jewels of the Pyrenees.

Tichodroma muraria

Tichodroma muraria4

We let the wallcreeper busy with its never-ending climbing activity and keep our way up to Coll de la Creueta, where the snow finches are supposed to be. A few minutes later, and still driving inside of the forest, Robert spotted a raptor that he had identified as a lammergeier. I must admit I got off the car expecting a goshawk, but the bird was indeed an adult lammergeier flying over a pine forest. This kind of surprises are always welcome!

Gypaetus barbatus

Already around Castellar de n’Hug, in the bocage area surrounding this nice village, lots of fieldfares fed on rose bushes, together with many bullfinches, some redwings and a hawfinch. Helena enjoyed a colorful nuthatch while Martí and me checked the thrushes in the hope that there was a black-throated thrush among them. Not this time, but the fieldfares were pretty enough.

Turdus pilaris

The day was a total success, but as soon as we reached Coll de la Creueta we realized the snow had gone and the finches may had gone with it. The area was plenty of noisy choughs and brightening yellowhammers. Some red-legged (red-legged?) partridges flew away, but nothing else.

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax

After having lunch while hearing to siskins and crossbills, the only we could do was to go down the valley and look for the rest-less black-bellied dippers. The taxonomy of that species in Catalonia probably deserves another look, but the individuals from the Pyrenees are more likely Black-bellied. Anyway, we got very good views of a dipper diving, swimming and doing quite a lot of different things in the Freser river, just in the middle of Ribes de Freser, a village famous because of its bottled water.

Cinclus cinclus3

Cinclus cinclus

Cinclus cinclus2

To sum up, a very good day, with good views of different birds and, as always, excellent company. It was a bit disappointing to leave the area without seeing the snow finches, but, on second thought, it’s a perfect excuse to come back.


Now we see more!

19 12 2012

“Learn: [with object] gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.”

– Oxford Dictionary

There are a few birders in Spain and therefore most of the rarities leave the area without being found. Comparing our numbers with those from Britain, where more than 300 yellow-browed warblers are found each year, is ridiculous. The best years, no more than 15 yellow-browed warblers are detected in Spain and I get nervous when I think how many may be wintering in the vast “dehesas” from Extremadura.

Passerines and gulls are for sure the most underrated rarities in terms of numbers and it seems this would stay the same. However, sometimes it’s possible to sense a small change, little by little, almost imperceptible. 2 weeks ago, Eduard Batista, who works as a teacher in a school just in the middle of Barcelona, noted a strange gull feeding on student’s sandwiches. Ha had assisted at an introductory course of birding imparted by the ICO (Catalan Institute of Ornithology) and the bird he was seeing coincided with a rare species he had been told about. He put the sighting with some poor shots in, asking if it could be a herring gull. The bird was an adult, but the photos were not good enough to be sure.

Today, I’ve been together with Eduard (who kindly ask the director about…) in his school, during the playground time, waiting for the gull. The bird soon appeared and we enjoyed it at a close range, confirming its identity. It’s only the third sighting for Barcelona and maybe the most unexpected. In fact, that story only demonstrates birds can be everywhere and the more we are, the more rarities would be found. While waiting for more birders, the only we can do is to increase our time in the field.

Larus argentatus Lestonnac3

Larus argentatus Lestonnac  Larus argentatus Lestonnac4

Interesting shearwater

17 12 2012

“I believe in a long, prolonged, derangement of the senses in order to obtain the unknown.”

– Jim Morrison

A new project has born in the Canary Islands! I am talking about Cetavist, a net of observers on board the ferries between islands. The project is carried by the University of la Laguna and its main purpose is to describe the distribution of both cetaceans and seabirds within the Canary Island archipelago. In the last years, there have been many changes in both the occurrence and abundance of some of the species such as Bryde’s whale and Barolo’s shearwater. To describe that processes, it’s important to be prospecting almost every week, so the project count with the help of volunteers. If anyone is planning a birding trip to the Canaries and wants to try the Barolo’s shearwater (nowadays the hardest bird of Spain!) from the ferries (the best ones are between Tenerife and La Gomera and between Tenerife and El Hierro), please contact me and you would obtain free tickets! The only thing you have to do in exchange is to count birds and cetaceans and take the position of each sighting. The datasheet is very simple… You can check the news about the project (in Spanish, for the moment) in the new blog

The coordinators of the project have been all the last week aboard, evaluating if it was possible to detect animals from the fast ferries of the Fred Olsen company. The results were the expected and we managed to see Bryde’s whale, Short-finned pilot whale, Short-beaked common dolphin, Bottlenose dolphin and Cuvier’s beaked whale. Birds where also present, although they were very scarce. We saw at least 4 Barolo’s shearwaters and 1 Leach’s storm-petrel.

However, the best sighing of the week was that interesting shearwater. It shows a Barolo’s-like structure, maybe a little bit more long-tailed and thick-billed. These features match both Audubon’s and Cape Verde Little shearwater, as well as the coloration. The dark leading edge in the underwing is larger than in Barolo’s, the face is black and the upperwing lacks the pale panel in the GCs.

puffinus sp4

puffinus sp3

puffinus sp2

puffinus sp.

puffinus sp6

puffinus sp5

All these features seem to rule out Barolo’s shearwater and point to the other 2 candidates, which would be both a first for Spain. Of course, comments are welcome!

Easy gulls

2 12 2012

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I’m human”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

I’ve been most of my life avoiding gulls. I’ve never been interested in neither their identification nor the color-ringed individuals of this group, mainly because, for me, they are just the same bird with different names and moreover the places where they forage are not the most beautiful places of the world. A harbor or a rubbish dump, not the best plan for a Sunday morning.

Of course, Sabine’s, Little, Slender-billed, Audouin’s and Kittiwake were not the same. They are either pelagic or localized in good places such as Ebro Delta. I see them in migration and they are scarce so they are always welcome.

However, I must admit in the last 3 years my interest in gulls has increased exponentially. I don’t know the reason… maybe all of us have the need to fulfill our knowledge gaps or maybe it’s just because now we have 2 new good places in Barcelona: the Diagonal Mar Park an the harbor. Of course, the harbor is not new, but now it is more accessible. Larus ridibundus

This week, the Diagonal Mar Park was quite interesting. The number of Mediterranean gulls was interestingly high (around 30) and there were also some color-ringed black-headed gulls. Lesser black-backed gulls were also present in good numbers, bringing the chance to find something more interesting which could had come with them. Not this time…melanoLarus melanocephalus4Larus melanocephalus2

Anyway, this H266 beauty had come from Hungary and had been already read by Quique Carballal (see his blog) in Arenys de Mar in early autumn. Let’s see how many time it remains here. H266H266

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