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.

Back to the cradle

9 07 2012

“Sleep, oh sleep, my dearest boy./I will cradle you. I will guard you”

– Henrik Ibsen

Visiting Llobregat Delta always brings me a lot of good memories. The field where I saw a marsh sandpiper last year, the fields where I found a Rose-colored starling, the reeds where I ringed an Icterine warbler, an Iberian chiffchaff, another Iberian chiffchaff, some Moustached… The day of the 7 White-winged terns, the day of the Cream-colored courser, followed by the day of the Broad-billed sandpiper. All of that, concentrated in the Prat de Llobregat area, what means memories can be multiplied by 2 if we take the whole Delta.

Back in Barcelona, to visit the Llobregat was one of the first things I had to do. There was a Blue-winged teal but I didn’t care actually… I wanted just to be there and see what the Delta could offer to me. July is not the best season to enjoy migration but only by seeing the local species, I remembered what “diversity” means. Since I’ve returned to the continent and seen even the most common species, I realized how hard it must be to colonize an archipelago such as the Canaries.

Both dragonflies and butterflies are at their maximum, and I was able to see the rare (the UICN declared it “Vulnerable”) Mediterranean skipper Gegenes nostradamus. It’s neither beautiful nor colorful, but it’s enigmatic and hard to see… that’s enough.

I didn’t have too much time to look for dragonflies, but I saw 7 species at a glance. Blue-tailed damselflies Ischnura elegans were mating while keeping an eye on the Black-tailed skimmers Orthetrum cancellatum. I looked at that during only 10 minutes, but I saw at least 5 catches of damselflies by the powerful skimmers. The Violet dropwings Trithemis annulata seemed to be quieter, maybe enjoying the show played by others’ frenetic life.

And what about birds? I didn’t see the teal. I saw a nice female in April while I’ve not seen a Black-winged stilt since long time ago. However, the best was a singing male Savi’s warbler Locustella luscinioides at Calaixos de Depuració de Ca l’Arana, an irregular breeder at Llobregat Delta. I don’t know if we are already in the dispersive period, but the habitat is suitable for the species and the bird was singing.

Water points

2 07 2012

“I’ve been able to get an excitement back in the water”

– Michael Phelps

Canary Islands laurel forest is the only rainforest in the world that has a dry season during summer, just like a Mediterranean forest. It’s maybe that mixture of Mediterranean and tropical elements what makes this ecosystem so special. During that hard season, the forest doesn’t depends on the rain but on the capacity the laurels have to fix the water resting on the fog. This water, however, is available only for vegetation, while animals must look for some other sources of water. In the pine forest, the situation is even more dramatic. Both animals and plants have to adapt their physiology to the drought. Plants develop some resistance structures and animals take profit of their mobility to go wherever the water is.

The shyer species become more approachable when drinking (because they are obliged to do so) and you can get good views of them if you know where the water is.  Last week, I found a watering hole where pigeons come to drink and I thought it would be a good idea to be a whole morning hidden in a nearby bush, waiting for them. Moreover, the young and promising birder Marc Illa visited the island looking for endemics, so there we went.

Unfortunately, the African hot wave had went out the day before. Even though the day was cooler and pigeons didn’t seem to be thirsty, we got some nice views of Bolle’s pigeon sat in the nearby eucalyptus trees. A sparrowhawk was flying around all the morning long and pigeons didn’t rest on the tree for so much time, but enough to enjoy them.

The afternoon before, we had went to the pine forest to see the Blue chaffinch. When waiting for it near a water point, two Great-spotted woodpeckers came to drink for a while. They were an adult and a juvenile and it was nice to notice the dark-marking specially in juvenile’s underparts, typical of the canariensis subspecies. I had been talking about that with Beneharo, considering the possibility these black feathers are due to Canary Islands Pine tree Pinus canariensis bark, which always seems to be burnt. Close views demonstrate it’s not an acquired coloration but the real pattern of the feathers. The adult was cleaner, and therefore it must be a huge variability in that feature, God knows if it’s age-related. 

Butterflies are at their maximum right now and, even this year there are not many flowers because of the drought, it’s possible to enjoy some endemics such as Canary blue Cyclyrus webbianus. The edges of the Pine forest is the best place to find it.

And of course, two pictures of our target bird, just to say I will miss it a lot.

The last afternoon Marc was here, we enjoyed Laurel pigeons in what is probably my favorite place of the island. They feed on avocado trees and flew as always in a stunning way. The white in the tail is noticeable from a big distance, maybe it’s pigeon’s attempt to say “I am still here”.

In the water point close to the track, there was a large amount of Stripeless tree frogs Hyla meridionalis. The variation in color was evident, going from the brown to the green. I had seen some blue individuals near Barcelona, so that’s maybe the most variable frog species of our region.

Finally, we unsuccessfully tried to see a Barolo’s shearwater from Garachico. There was nothing but Cory’s but the place was perfect to take a nice farewell group photo.

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