Pyrenean stars

12 06 2015

“I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward”

– David Livingstone

Probably the best way to escape Barcelona’s crazy hot temperatures is going to the Pyrenees and, among all the nice Pyrenean areas, the best is probably Val d’Aran, the only Catalan region in the north face of the cordillera. Apart from exclusive species (not only birds) restricted to this area, to be in the north face has of course advantages and disadvantages: in one hand, the weather: it’s fresh and nice and you don’t sweat as in Barcelona’s underground. In the other hand, the weather: it can start raining at any time and the fog can turn up surprisingly quick.

IMG_6550

During the last three days, Martí and I have got both feelings, but all in all we’ve managed to have a good time. Maybe for the first time, we had 2 main targets: the first visit to our UTM square for the new Catalan Breeding Bird Atlas and a new search for the Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni, a new butterfly for Catalonia we found last year.

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We started with the UTM. As usual in early summer, the track was still full of snow, so we had to walk all the way up to Liat Mines. Snowfields, showers and a hole in my boots made it hard, but an unexpected prize awaited in the top. Almost the first bird we saw in our square, however, was a nice adult Lammergeier flying over.

gypaetus

Apart from that, the area was packed with Water pipits and Northern wheatears, but nothing else. We had just sit and were taking a breathe when a lizard showed up nearby. We had found a still unidentified dead lizard some metres away and we knew we were in the exact location where Aran rock lizard occurs. Therefore, we were already paying attention to the rocks. And yeah, there it was. To be honest, we didn’t know how to identify it. Martí was sure it didn’t look like anything we regularly see. I agreed, but, despite I was not updated in terms of lizard taxonomy, I knew there had been several changes, with some new species described.

iberolacerta aranica1

This species is restricted to the Mauberme massif, right in the Spanish and French borders. It was not until 1993 that it was formally described, together with its close relative Aurelio rock lizard, which inhabits similar habitats 100km east.

iberolacerta aranica2

After such an unexpected lifer, we came down to Bagergue to take the car and spend the afternoon looking for butterflies. Sadly, it was cloudy and raining at any time so we ended up having nothing to do. After a couple of cups of coffee (each) that brought us back to life, we decided to visit the area where a Brown bear is usually seen. It spends the early summer there, and goes into the beech forest when it gets too hot. In the area, we came across Marc Gálvez, nice chat while waiting for the Bear. However, time went on and the sun suddenly showed up. Martí and I were already considering to actually look for some butterflies in our way to have a proper dinner in a bar when I spotted the Bear sat on a rock, apparently sleeping.

ursus4

After a while, it woke up and started feeding on plants, branches and all sort of vegetables. I’ve been asked if I was not scared while looking at the bear. The ones who have seen one know this is just a very stupid question.

ursus1

The same meadow from which we were looking at the bear was full of orchids, mainly pink morph Elder-flowered orchid Orchis sambucina. While looking at their refined dessign, I saw an ant whatching out for a spider. I’m new in the “macro world”, but it looks like I’ll spend some hours sat on the ground in a nearby future… No clue about the name of the ant or the spider [yet]

dactylorhiza majalis

It was sunny in the morning so, after a walk through the last 1×1 UTM square we had to check, we finally looked for butterflies. Despite the usual high diversity in most of flowered Val d’Aran meadows, we didn’t manage to find the hairstreak. However, we found a surprisingly high density of both Sooty Lycaena tityrus and Purple-edged Lycaena hippothoe coppers instead.

lycaena hippothoe

And a Sombre goldenring Cordulegaster bidentata was hunting in the edge of the meadow. Another nice life of a dragonfly only found in the high Pyrenees.

cordulegaster bidentata

Time to come back home, to the hot and sweaty Barcelona, but it’s only a month until we’ll be back in Val d’Aran to the second round of the breeding bird survey. What a nice excuse for another 3 days in paradise.

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Quality time

3 08 2014

 “We were right we were giving, and this is how we kept what we gave away.”

– Comes a time, Neil Young

It’s been already a month since all these events happened, but I’ve kept them in my mind since they are gonna be one of the best memories I’d preserve from 2014. After a busy spring  coming and going from Barcelona to elsewhere, it happened that Stephen suddenly came to visit us and I had not got the time to plan the trip properly. Neither had Marc and Martí, and hence we ended up in Vall d’Aran looking for some nice birds/butterflies/orchids but basically spending some quality time together. It was the first time that Marc, Martí, Stephen and me were at the same time in the same spot but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be the last one.

The first thing we did was to ring a Rock bunting. Stephen had fallen in love with the species in the very first time he came to Catalonia. Now he is not in a hurry to see everything, we can spend some time to actually look at the birds. As expected, when we caught it and realized it was a boring adult (3+, Euring 6, 2nd cycle, …) Stephen recognized it was not that nice and claimed for a 2nd year. After we had politely suggested him to go and screw himself, we left the area and finally faced the Pyrenees.

The first stop was at a very nice place Marc knew was plenty of Pyrenean brook salamander Calotriton asper. Nice to see them but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In case you wonder, it’s Stephen holding the newt in front of his brand new t-shirt he had bought in London airport.

calotriton asper

In Vall d’Aran we saw some Lammergeiers, a Cinereous vulture, Citril finches and quite a lot of orchids. Since Martí is been very into orchids lately, it was nice to learn from him. As I can’t be arsed to make the usual collage that usually ilustrates this kind of paragraphs, I will just post a photo of the one I liked the most: Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia.

cephalanthera longifolia

But the best was this Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni: the first record for Catalonia! More on that soon…

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After some Black-bellied sandgrouses, whiterby Reed buntings and displaying Red-necked nightjars in Lleida steppes, we came back to Barcelona to target Pekin robin (currently Red-billed leiothrix or something like that). We failed despite there were several singing around. However, we caught a couple of Sardinian warblers and some baby Firecrest that made Stephen happy. So did the omelette and the Iberian ham we got for dinner.

We still had a day to fill up some lagoons: we still needed to see a male Roch thrush. We went to a place near Marc’s area where they used to breed. Nowadays they don’t, but it’s still an interesting Mediterranean bushland area good for Ortolan bunting, Western orphan warbler, Red-rumped swallow, blue rock thrush… We put up the nets and managed to catch a 2cy male Western Orphean, an Iberian subalpine wabler (currently inornata iberiae) and a Red-legged partridge. To finally see a male Rock thrush we had to go up to Turó de l’Home, the highest peak in Montseny mountains. Fortunately, we found one almost immediately and it ended up being the last bird of the trip.

sylvia hortensis

Almost one month later, and just before coming to Sweden, I came back to Vall d’Aran, this time with Laura. The air, the wildlife and the landscapes of this area is perfect for a reset in life. We didn’t look for anything in particular, our only purpose was to be there and forget about the stressful city, without cell phone signal, using electricity only for listening to music. We managed, and now I feel ready for the start of a new ringing season in Falsterbo.

Lycaena virgaureae





Holidays

26 07 2013

“You asked me to dance
Said music was great for dancing
I don’t really dance much
But this time I did”

– Last days of disco, Yo la tengo

After a busy spring season in the field, I took a month for being at home, enjoying the city and the life out of the bubble. However, I got the time to do some birding/ringing/butterflying. Two days of ringing at Castelltallat mountains, in central Catalonia, were so useful to remember about some Mediterranean species. The species set had changed quite a lot since the last time I had ringed there. Instead of the big numbers of both Rock and Cirl buntings that I used to catch, now I got some forest species such as Western Bonelli’s warbler an the less exciting Blackcap and Short-toed tree-creeper. The place has in fact changed quite a lot. The area was burnt in 1998 and since then several new plant species have colonized in a typical vegetal succession sequence. The firsts Strawberry trees Arbutus unedo had already given way to some oak species and the former bush-land area is nowadays an actual forest. Fortunately, some opened areas had survived and there is still a notable density of Ortolan bunting among other interesting Mediterranean species such as Western black-eared wheatear, Rock sparrow, Blue rock thrush and Western orphean warbler. The formerly scarce Golden oriole is nowadays one of the commonest species in what could probably be treated as the paradigm of the overall change.

bonellii

Another Mediterranean species that seems to be increasing is the Subalpine warbler. The area is now the perfect habitat for the Subalpines: low Quercus in dry areas. I have to say this is one of my favorite species and I’d never get tired of ringing them, especially given the fact that the aging is never straightforward. This time I looked at the tail and tried to assess the age of every feather. Here it is my attempt on 2 birds (one 2cy male and one 2cy female):

Sylvia cantillans tail2

Sylvia cantillans tail

The presence of juvenile feathers is quite obvious in both cases, but the number of generations and the kind of moult that every feather comes from is not obvious at all. However, in my opinion, it’s possible to see the sometimes invisible differences between the first and the second pre-nuptial moults. Here you can see one of the males in all its splendour. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Sylvia cantillans

Another interesting bird I caught was this Nightjar. It’s an adult with a suspended moult: the 3 innermost primaries, the biggest alula and some secondaries are retained in what constitutes a good example of how the presence of 2 generations of feathers (even if there is not a pre-nuptial moult) doesn’t necessarily mean the bird is a 2cy. The pattern of the retained feathers is the same than the moulted ones and the differences are only due to wear. The high frequency of this suspended moult in this species makes me wonder what “suspended moult” means. Maybe we should consider this as a partial moult that both juvenile and adult birds can do. The individuals that do an actual complete are, in fact, an exception!

nightjar wing

The diversity of butterflies around the place where I set the nets was notable. The final list included some scarce species such as Marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia and Sloe hairstreak Satyrium acaciae. However, some meadows had been cropped and there were not many flowers. It could had been even better, but some places where plenty of Pyramid orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis, one of the commonest orchids in Catalan mountains.

Satyrium acaciae

Euphydryas aurinia

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Finally, I thought a visit to the Pyrenees targeting the always special Ptarmigans would be a good training session for the cold Sweden. It was really cold high in the mountains, with a strong snowfall and a freezing wind. We managed to see a male Ptarmigan doing some display. Quite stunning! Sadly, there were not many butterflies due to cold temperatures.

Lagopus muta

Lagopus muta2

Lagopus muta3

Now I am ready for another ringing season at Falsterbo. The “Foreign Team” (Stephen and me) and the Southern Gangsters (in alphabetical order: Emil, Oscar and Ulrik) will be ringing at Flommen reedbed until the end of September and then we will move to the lighthouse. The season looks promising: we are already 50 birds above the for-the-time average, we’ve already broken 1 day record (even it’s just the starling day record…) and we’ve already caught a rarity, this Savi’s warbler (yeah, another southern species…; © Stephen Menzie). I will sound like a twitcher, but I felt it was nice the species number 200 in my Swedish list was a rarity. Anyway, all of this in just 5 days of ringing; it looks promising but it’s still too early to take conclusions. Let’s see.

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Spring ins Licht

4 04 2013

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

– Carl Sagan

It has finally arrived! I have to admit I had already lost my hope and thought this winter would last forever. Admittedly, the forecast showed more snow showers coming from Poland but, even though, it’s sunny outside while I am writing these lines. Not only the weather is better; in the last days we’ve enjoyed some new arrivals, with a huge swan, geese and seaduck migration on the day before yesterday and flocks of tits entering from the sea both yesterday and today. Precisely, the spring in the lighthouse garden took off yesterday at 8.30 AM, when 25 unringed great tits were hanging in the same mistnet. We only had ringed 3 birds in the previous 4 hours, so that may be a new arrival.

Somateria mollissima2

But let’s start from the beginning. The day before yesterday was a really nice day. Thousands of birds were heading north, including eiders, long-tailed ducks, velvet and common scoters, goosanders, red-breasted mergansers, greylag, barnacle and bean geese, mute and whooper swans. The mistnets were quite, so we enjoyed just to be sit by the lighthouse garden, with our scopes aiming to Denmark.

Branta leucopsis

Anser anser

Cygnus cygnus2

Cygnus cygnus

Somateria mollissima

Yesterday, encouraged by the noticeable migration of great tits, Helena and me checked the northern point of Knosen. More than 300 whooper swans were congregated, with at least 5 Bewick’s among them. A flock of around 80 pied avocets suddenly appeared and my first curlew of the season was also patrolling the marsh. The last northerly spot of forest was plenty of great tits and a siskin, but nothing else for the moment. However, it was nice to see the first butterflies: quite a lot of small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae were flying over the same meadows in which meadow pipits were already displaying.

Aglais urticae

The first arrival of meadow pipits was only 3 or 4 days ago and now they are already displaying. I hope this would be a symptom of how fast things change.





We are the Hoopoes

4 08 2012

“I think it’s really important for me not to forget where I came from”

Anna Kournikova

Most of people in Spain has a village. It’s not the village where you live but where you, your parents or even your granparents were born. In any of those cases, you feel that village yours and it’s always a pleasure to come back, see your old friends and enjoy the fact nature is closer there.

Aguaviva de la Vega is my village. It is placed in southern Soria, central Spain, 200km north of Madrid and just in the edge of the Spanish central plateaux. People from here are so-called “The Hoopoes” and even I like that surname, I’ve never understood where does it come from.

There is not a predominant landscape, what means the biodiversity is high. There are stony calcarium slopes with disperse bushes or encinas, dense oak tree forests, extensive mill fields with some plain scrubland areas in between and a nice Populus river forest together with the village.

Talking about birds, more than 90 species do breed. To make you aware of the diversity it’s worth to say a Golden eagle nest can be found close to the village in one of the pintoresque cliffs, while is also possible to hear the Dupont’s lark singing in the scrublands south of the village during the quiet March nights. Both species can be detected from the same point. Walking across the steppeland, is always nice to notice the presence of some Black-bellied sandgrouse, even this species is getting alarmly scarcer. The same is occuring to the Little bustard, which inhabits the mill fields taking profit also of the surrounding steppes. Greater short-toed lark, Tawny pipit and Spectacled warbler are commoner. It must be also said that all of these places are good to look for the mythic Eurasian dotterel from the end of August to the end of September.

The cliffs where the Golden eagle breeds have also good densities of Rufous-tailed rock thrush. They are so close to the village that it’s not difficult to see some individuals foraging in the roofs of the houses. Eagle owl, Rock martin, Rock Sparrow and Red-billed chough are also present, while Peregrine falcon and Egyptian vulture are extinct as breedind species, even it’s posible to see some migrating individuals of the last.

Below the cliffs, there are quite a lot stony slopes with disperse bushes that house Western orphean warbler and both Rock and Ortolan bunting. That’s maybe the most valuous habitat of the village.

The oak trees are not so diverse, but, apart from the high densities of Western Bonelli’s warbler, there are some interesting raptors such as Short-toed and Booted eagles. There are at least 1 pair of the first and 3 pairs of the last inside the limits of the village. The sources of water inside of the oak forest are good for migrants, specially in the post-nuptial migration. Lots of Common redstars, Iberian Chiffchaffs and Pied flycatchers can be found there.

Finally, the river forest just by the village houses an impressive density of Golden oriole, Scops owl, Turtle dove and a huge etcetera.

Mammals are always present in the walks. The most conspicous is the Roe deer, while Pine marten and Iberian hare are commoner at night than expected during the day. The most interesting species is the Mediterranean water shrew, present in the channels surrounding the wet limit of the village.

Just to say something about butterflies, Agrodiaetus fabressei and Plebicula nivescens are both extremely localized species, restricted to the dry and calcarium slopes of central Spain. Both can be found coming to drink close to the village during the central hours of the hot august days.

I will be there for the next month (except for a weekend in Lanzarote). I will try to keep my naturalistic activity and try to look to these ecosystems with the same eyes than in the Canaries.





Vall d’Aran

26 07 2012

“AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.”

– Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

Again in the Pyrenees, but this time in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. The Vall d’Aran is the only north face of the Pyrenees we have and it’s easy to notice that just by looking at either the vegetation or the butterflies. In conclusion, we are talking about one of the best places to forget about city noises and feel happy just by looking around.

I wouldn’t like to repeat myself posting another set of butterfly pictures. The purpose of that post is to show the beauty of Vall d’Aran’ landscapes and let you feel as if you were there for a minute. To give some advice, I specially recommend the route from Honeria to the Liat mines. You start walking throw a wet forest of fir trees, one of the few places known in Catalonia where you can see the Middle spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. Then you leave the forest to enter in the alpine meadows, good for some localized butterflies such as Glandon blue Agriades glandon. Finally you reach the mines where you can enjoy an impressive landscape composed by stony slopes and the Liat pond in the bottom of the valley. Alpine accentores, Water pipits and Alpine choughs are breeding here, while Ring ouzels do breed in the last layer of trees (Mountain pines Pinus uncinata) but also feed in the alpine meadows, just as Citril finches do.

If you are looking for butterflies, it’s worth to make a stop in the middle heights, specially in an opened forest area. It’s not hard to find Large blue Maculinea arion and the always nice to see Apollo Parnassius apollo. If weather conditions are not suitable to the butterflies, you could enjoy some other images, like the water of the mist in the spider webs.

If you have energy enough when you come back to the refuge, there are some nice village around that deserves a visit. Sant Joan de Toran, el Pedret and Canejan are all little villages that have no more than 10 residents living in each one. The buildings are mainly wood-made but they resist the cold and the snow of the hard winter.





Altitude, butterflies

17 07 2012

“Literature and butterflies are the sweetest passions known to man.”

– Vladimir Nabokob; see image here

Migration is probably my favorite natural phenomenon and, in that aspect, Barcelona is a better place to live than Tenerife. Even though, I must admit that after 6 months living in a city surrounded by well-conserved habitats and stunning landspaces, only a week after leaving it my eyes are already missing that kind of images. Ebro Delta is too hot those days, so the solution was on the Pyrenes.

I had already talked about a weekend in the Pyrenees with Martí something like a month ago, when Tenerife was suffering the efects of a Saharian hot wave and I thought about the green and fresh top of the Catalan mountains. Birds there are not so diverse, and you know what you are going to see as soon as you decide to go there, but in the other hand the diversity of plants and butterflies is the highest of Catalonia. The main purpose of our weekend in the Pyrenees was to enjoy learning about butterflies, seeing as many species as possible in a superb environment.

We first prospected a flowered field surrounded by oak trees. It was partially clouded and it seemed there were not butterflies, but as soon as the sun started to heat up they suddenly appeared. We identified more than 30 species in the same field, but I must underline Map butterfly Araschnia levana, Sooty copper Lycaena tityrus and Purple emperor Apatura ilia, all of them lifers for me. We had some problems with the always hard to recognize Fritillaries, but we managed to identify Spotted Melitaea didyma, Heath Melitaea athalia, False heath Melithaea diamina, Knapweed Melitaea phoebe and Meadow Melitaea parthenoides. Of course some individuals were discouraging impossible…

When we arrived to Fontalba (near Queralbs), the fog was at the same time depressing and impressive. We were not able to see anything so we took some pictures and set up the tent while hearing (not seeing) some Citril finches Carduelis citrinella.

The day after started foggy again but the wheather forecast indicated it would get better soon. We descended the valley looking for a warmer area, were butterflies would be already active. The meadows surrounding the stream, in the bottom of the valley, seemed perfect but it was still cold. After a couple of hours of quite intensive search, we found some interesting species such as Large ringlet Erebia euryale and Shepherd’s fritillary Boloria pales. Also some nice flowers like the Moorland spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata below.

When the fog vanished, we go up crossing the slope composed by a mixture of Rhododendron and Juniperus communis nana. Again, we noticed some nice species such as Spanish brassy ringlet Erebia hispania and Marbled skipper Carcharodus lavatherae. A brownish (probably a juvenile) Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus flushed into a pine. The landscape from there was stunning and we confirmed the Norther weathear Oenanthe oenanthe success in its breeding season.

In the way back, already in the lowlands, we detected some Scarce coppers Lycaena virgaureae and Dark green fritillaries Argynnis aglaja while a male Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio was calling from a nearby bush.

I want to finish this post with something like “In conclusion”, but there’s no conclusion. It has been an extremely nice weekend, with lots of things learned and all of them in a great company, but I know I will need another one soon.








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