Black and white feelings

18 09 2013

“Nothing is black-and-white, except for winning and losing, and maybe that’s why people gravitate to that so much.”

– Steve Nash

Back in Sweden after a week in Lanzarote, it’s time to evaluate the trip and see how to improve it in the next years. Even we have not seen any megas, the pelagic has been a success: very nice views of a Fea’s petrel Pterodroma feae and loads of the commoner stuff: the 3 species of storm-petrel which are always the main target of the trip (White-faced Pelagodroma marina, Band-rumped Ocenaodroma castro and Wilson’s Oceanites oceanicus), some nice migrants (Long-tailed skua Stercorarius longicadus, Sabine’s gull Xema sabini, Red phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius, etc…), some cetaceans (Bryde’s whale, Sperm whale, and 3 species of dolphin: Stripped, Atlantic spotted and Common) and some unexpected sightings such as several quails, 1 nightingale, 1 reed warbler and 1 Common Kestrel migrating 70mn offshore.

Coturnix coturnix

The 2 sailing boats departed from La Graciosa on Friday night and arrived to La Concepción Bank at 10 in the morning. After some Cory’s shearwaters, Bulwer’s petrels and an adult Sabine’s gull, the first bird we saw was a stunning Fea’s petrel. The bird came together with a Band-rumped storm-petrel, flew over the chum for a couple of times (beating the wings just once!) and went away as it had come: nobody had seen it coming, it just suddenly appeared.

Pterodroma feae3

The shape of the bill was perfect for a Fea’s/Desertas, with the nail starting in the bases of the narines and an overall deep impression. Even it doesn’t look so pot-bellied in the photos, in the field the bird didn’t look like a Zino’s. Aggg Zino’s… one of the most longly-awaited species in Spanish waters!

Pterodroma feae2

The challenge was, once again, between Fea’s and Desertas. Moult timing should be diagnostic if we know the age of the bird, but this was not the case. However, some body feathers where retained, what may rule out a juvenile bird. Keeping in mind Fea’s is a winter breeder and Desertas a summer breeder, the fresh primaries should point to Fea’s. This species should be coming back from the other side of the Atlantic together with Grant’s storm-petrel and both should show a similar state of primary’ wear.

Pterodroma feae

Talking about Grant’s, we saw all sort of birds: extremely fresh (summer breeder juveniles?), quite fresh (winter breeder adults?), worn and actively moulting (summer breeder adults?) and a bird with intermediate primary wear and growing secondaries (f*** knows).

moulting secondaries

juvenile castro

White-faced storm-petrels were more straightforward. All the birds we saw were adults except for one recently fledged juvenile. It still showed the white edges in the primaries and secondaries and an ever more naive expression. Is impossible to get tired of seeing them. Both Fea’s petrel and White-faced storm-petrel were a lifer for all the crew in the boat I was leading, but the reaction was much more exaggerated after the White-faced tick. Definitely, one of the most impressive birds in the world.

juvenile pelagodroma

Pelagodroma + madeira


In land, very good views of Houbara bustard, Stone-curlew, Laughing dove, Plain swift and of course Lanzarote landscape.


Stone curlew

Even there’s been no megas this year in Lanzarote Pelagics, the species list is still impressive and Fea’s petrel has been seen in 2 out of 3 pelagics trips this year. Gadfly petrels were one of our main challenges and it seems we are starting to get the way of attracting them. Let’s see what happens in 2014, but I think this has only started.


Ringing the unringable

11 09 2013

Cervine [ˈsɜːvaɪn]: adj

1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Zoology) resembling or relating to a deer”

I write this post while flying to Barcelona, an almost needed stopover before my final destination, the Canary Islands, where I will be leading a pelagic trip again.

The last week of ringing has been really quite, with an average of 20 birds per day. However, an implement in our methods for trying to catch Red-throated pipit gave us 3 1st winter birds in 3 days in a row. These numbers are good enough, especially since it equals the total number of birds ever caught in Falsterbo.

Anthus cervinus 2

The implement was the use of Ottenby’ cages combined with the nets and of course the speaker. The success came when surrounding the speaker with cages: birds just walked in while getting closer to the singing and calling Red-throated pipit. The nets were there and probably helped to channel the birds, but the glory must be for the cages.  Another advantage is that we’ve been able to use this method even in windy days. In a context of strong easterlies (7-8 m/s, not enough for cancelling the ringing), the standarised nets were empty and the cages kept us awake during the unpleasant mornings.

The birds themselves were, as expected, extremely nice. The first one showed this diagnostic pattern in the undertail coverts:

I love diagnostic features

Even Svensson 1998 says that this feature is present in 80% of the birds, just the first one out of the three did show it. Of course, our sample is ridiculously small (yet); let’s see what are my thoughts in a few weeks.

Another interesting thing to look at is obviously the stripes in the back. My expectations were something close to Pechora pipit but, however, they turned out to be more similar to Meadow pipit. The first bird didn’t show any white in the back, but some ochre stripes paler in the centres. The main difference with a Meadow in this character was surprisingly the width of the black stripes, much larger and contrasted. The rump in this bird was also plainer than in a typical Red-throated. The other 2 birds showed what probably is a more typical pattern, a zebra-like back but with ochre surrounding the white stripes. The rump was, at the same time heavily streaked.


The tertials showed white in both webs, but limited to the tip of the feather in the inner web. The second bird had moulted T2 and T3 and bizarrely the white in the inner web was not as obvious in the moulted feathers. As this is a key feature for Red-throated pipit identification, the age of the bird or at least the moult state of the tertials should be assessed before assigning the bird to one species or another.


Interestingly, the last bird showed a quite long primary projection, measuring 6mm (noticeable in the photo above). It was in the top end of the range given by Svensson 1998, but still far from Pechora pipit measurements.

The head and the breast gave a delicate impression. The stripes of the crown were more contrasted than in other Anthus species and the eyebrow and the ear coverts were joined behind the eye, giving a blurred impression. One could imagine the red occupying that area in a few months. The bill is really thin and pointed, with the yellow in the under mandible quite extensive.

Head profile

The first bird showed some red concentrated in the lower part of the throat, probably pointing to a male, whereas none of the other two birds presented this coloration. Seemingly, 1st winter birds without any hint of red can be sexed as females but birds with just a little bit of red (such as our first bird) should be let unsexed. It would be very interesting to know where is the limit… my feeling is that most of the birds could be safely sexed.

red throat

Finally, the legs were bright pink, contrasting with the yellow of Tree and the duller pink of Meadow. The hind claw was just the same as in Meadow.


Both missions accomplished: to find out the best way of catching Red-throated pipit and to be able to examine some live 1st winter birds of a species rarely caught. Now it’s time to change the scenario and enjoy the skillful flight of my missed tubenoses.

Seawatching in Sweden

4 09 2013

“We’re in the half light,
None of us can tell
They hide the ocean in a shell.”

– Half Light, The Arcade Fire

After almost a week with a very poor catch in Flommen, the strong westerlies encouraged us to go seawatching. There were several different target species depending on who you ask. For Michael the prize was a Cory’s shearwater, but Marc and me were happier with the Black guillemots. Instead of going to a cape, Michael thought it was a better idea to go to Båstad harbor, where we could get a proper shelter for the rain and the wind and better views of the birds.

It turned out to be a very good decision and after a few hours of seawatching we had seen all 4 European species of skua, some Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Little gulls, Arctic terns, Black and Common guillemot, Black-throated and Red-throated diver and around 80 gannets. Some birds flying just over our heads!

Cephus grylle

minutus blog

rissa blog

Fulmarus glacialis

In the afternoon, and after a revitalizing meal at Linnea’s (what an impressive place where she lives!), we finally went to Kullaberg, a point a bit further south of Båstad. Our expectations were quite high.  If the bay was plenty of birds, there might had been thousands passing throw the point. Admittedly, the birders that had spent the morning in Kullaberg had seen less stuff than we did, but the afternoons, at least in Spain, are usually better for seawatching.

Even it was very nice to see such a beautiful place, the sad reality was that there was almost nothing migrating. I didn’t understand how was it possible! All the usually migrating seabirds couldn’t have suddenly appeared just a few km north and inside of a bay…


After looking at some maps of the area and weather diagrams for wind and pressure, everything made sense. Both Sunday and Monday, we got strong westerlies of about 15 m/s, but they lacked the northerly component.





All the birds we saw in the Bay had probably been pushed by the wind and had accumulated there due to its big entrance heading pure West. Despite their several attempts (most of them were flying south), the birds we saw were probably not actually migrating. Most of them were 1cy, weaker and less experienced, and these facts combined with the strong winds made it hard for them to exit the bay. As Michael pointed out, the risk of doubling counting in this place is high since probably the majority of the birds are just hanging around the bay. In the other hand, the Point of Kullaberg is heading NW and so does the bay north of the point. Moreover, the island of Kalvskärlid, placed in the NW point of this bay, makes the entrance smaller. Therefore, a subtle difference in wind components can be reflected in seabirds’ occurrence and a proper assessment of the weather before deciding for one place or another can be the key for a successful seawatching.


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