This is not a goodbye

20 02 2013
“When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.”
 – William Butler Yeats
El Hierro must be one of the best places to feel the sea as a part of you. Hence, these 2 weeks has been the best way to say goodbye to the sea, since I will be working with ground birds at Falsterbo for the next 3 months. We have had a taste of all: African heat haze, northern cold winds, rain, burning sun, fogg and of course the Canary Island’s typical trade winds. Fortunately, we managed to take profit of almost all the conditions we were coming across.
The first days were quite normal. The beaked whales (once again the target of the survey) seemed to be scarce, but the Mar de las Calmas bay was plenty of Spotted, Bottlenose, Common and Rough-toothed dolphins. Birds were also present since there is a Barbary falcon nest close to the land-based observation point and the local ospreys were also prospecting the area. The sea was infected of both pyrosomids and Portuguese Man o’war, as seems usual in the Canaries during early spring. We took the first underwater images.Image
After 3 days of normal work, a northern front was near to force us to suspend the campaign. We already had made our package when a last look at the forecast encouraged us to rest in el Hierro. Even it was impossible to go out the sea during the 2 following days, we profited to see the island once again. The idea was to show to the volunteers working on the survey almost all the local bird species and this would represent for me the chance to check if there was something new in the pond at Frontera. We first saw some Bolle’s pigeon in the high part of the forest, together with Tenerife goldcrest, Tenerife blue tit and the rest of common endemics. In the end, we reach the pond. A lesser scaup had been sighted there in late December but I didn’t expect to see it. The first bird I saw apart from some yellow-legged gulls was a new female ring-necked duck, but the female lesser scaup suddenly appeared. A quite typical image in the Macaronesia: two nearctic ducks together in the same pond.
Later on, already in the east coast of the island, we found a dead deep water fish of a still unknown species. Any comments on the identification will be welcome! Anyway, the landscapes from both here and El Verodal beach were stunning. I won’t never forget that dusk with Borja, Efrain, Manu, Nino, Crístel and Agus (even she had a cold) at the Orchilla lighthouse.
The following days were more normal. The bay was still plenty of dolphins, specially Rough-toothed Steno bredanensis. These smart animals were swimming simultaneously, in its unmistakable way. Most of the groups contained calves that were particularly actives, jumping and flapping the surface with the tail. In one of the groups, we notice there was a dead calf that appeared and disappeared intermittently. Finally, we saw what was presumably the mother of the calf taking the lifeless body an putting it downwards in an attempt to avoid gull’s attacks. The calf seemed to be dead since more or less 1 day ago, so the tenacity of the mother was remarkable.
Most of days, the Atlantic spotted dolphins overfill the bay. These animals are extremely social. They either come and jump below the prow or play with the bubbles of the engine. Together with them, a huge group of Short-finned pilot whales appeared just for one day but enough to get very good views. Perfect to try some aquatic pictures!
In the time being, the land-based station was surrounded by Boettger’s lizards Gallotia caesaris and Canary Island’ ravens, both doing some display. This stunning panoramic landscape (thank you Efrain) shows the place we were working at. Wonderful when weather conditions do respect.
And what about beaked whales? They insisted in their scarcity, but finally we managed to take good pictures of a group of 3 Cuvier’s beaked whales. It’s the first time I am able to notice its red eye in the middle of its friendly face. One of the animals passed diving just below the prow and both Borja and me enjoyed an unforgettable image of the whale wagging its tail impulsing the huge body into the depth. The same day we saw an impressive Bryde’s whale that was near to wet us with its blow.
Now it’s time to face Falsterbo. Probably I will miss the Canary Islands sometime, but I am sure I will come back sooner than expected. Meanwhile, I will remember them by reading my book.

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!

Carried by the water

2 11 2012

“If you think it’s going to rain, it will”

– Clint Eastwood

In my last 2 days at El Hierro, I found my 2nd Spotted sandpiper of the week, but I felt I needed something new. I had seen only one of that (sometimes not) Spotted beauties before that fall but I still had a lot of Nearctic waders to see so I saw the 2nd individual as a lost chance to had found something different.

The news about Sandy coming from the States made me presage some arrivals so I stepped up my efforts checking the ponds. Beneharo, a friend of mine, had found a lesser yellowlegs in southern Tenerife but, when I came late in the afternoon, the bird was not there. Beneharo came the day after, early in the morning, and it was not there too. So… if I wanted to see something interesting, I would had to find it by myself. Anyway, the wind was the right one, it was rainy and foggy and maybe it has been that weather together with the dates what have been encouraging me to go out most of days.

Today, I had planned to check most of southern ponds and shores together with Jacobo and Sara. The day started with the typical stuff: Ringed plovers, whimbrels, turnstones… but 2 dunlins and a sanderling made me dream. The beach was plenty of things carried by the water. Sea-shells, algae and even quite a lot of that nice myctophid, probably Diaphus dumerilii (thank you Rupert!).

In Las Galletas harbor, I was able to take the best pictures in history of the shy Barolo’s shearwater (Pardela chica in Spanish). Must be the best name for a research vessel!
Moreover, the color of the rocks at el Médano beach was specially stunning with a clouded sky and a storm coming from the southwest. This picture (taken by Sara) demonstrates that fact.
When I reached the place where the yellowlegs was, I was sure there must be something. The first bird I’ve seen has been a redshank, for sure the same I had seen the last day I had been there, looking for the yellowlegs. However, today the redshank had its yellow-legged partner and a White-rumped sandpiper had joined the party. It’s hard to see two species of American wader together in that side of the Atlantic and that image made me think about Ponta Delgada, in the Azores. It must be something like this, mustn’t it?

Still 3 days to go…

Nothing to say

24 10 2012

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

– Ambrose Bierce


18 09 2012

“To step out into the dark
Now I’m ready”

– Ready to start, The Arcade Fire

Tomorrow is the day! I take off at 18:45, landing at Vigo airport at 9:30. The whole day feeling nervous, anxious… The Cornide de Saavedra, an old but warm research vessel, will be my home in the next 17 days. Wake up early in the morning, take a coffee and go out to the deck. The first image of each day being a flock of great shearwaters, some pomarine skuas, terns, gulls, gannets, storm-petrels. I couldn’t be happier.

I would like to share some of the highlights of last year’ campaigns since I didn’t have the blog yet. I prospected the Mediterranean coast, the Atlantic coast, the Cantabric coast, the Gulf of Cádiz, Moroccan coast and of course the Canaries, seeing most of Iberian seabirds and meeting unforgettable people. I will be out in the sea for a few time this year, so I will try to take profit of each minute.

The history started in July 2011, at Castelló harbour. That campaign finished in Málaga, so I saw the Mediterranean species. Audouin’s gull was one of the commonest gull species. It was interesting to see some juveniles in Cabo de Gata area… maybe a breeding evidence? The Scopoli’s shearwaters were brightful, with some unexpected Cory’s in between.
Other highlights included an adult Long-tailed skua, an Eleonora’s falcon and lots of Mediterranean storm-petrels.

The next campaign was in september at Banco de Galicia, a mountain placed 120 miles off Galicia. This is a well-known good area for Band-rumped storm-petrels and I saw more than two hundreds of them among some Leach’s and Wilson’s. The fresh plumage shown by all the individuals pointed to the winter population, foraging in the area in their way back to breeding grounds. There I saw as well my first Fea’s/Desertas petrel, some White-faced storm-petrels, Long-tailed skuas, Sabine’s gull, an offshore Short-eared owl and the rest of commoner migrants. The last day, 3 hours before entering Celeiro harbour, a nice adult Roseate tern did culminate my work.

Without time to digest that sightings, I found myself again aboard, this time off Vigo and surrounding the Galician coast, heading north. The first days were promising: another roseate tern, Wilson’s storm-petrel… but when we passed Finisterre, it got even better! 2 South polar skuas and a Barolo’s shearwater… what else?

My next step was the Gulf of Cádiz. I didn’t know what to expect there… Mediterranean species, Atlantic species? The result was a nice mixture of both. I saw a Wilson’s storm-petrel and some Leach’s, but also 3 Yelkouan shearwaters and many Scopoli’s. My last 2 Sabine’s gull of the year and at least 5 great shearwaters, noting compared with the large amounts of them I had seen in the Bay of Biscay but good numbers keeping in mind they are still rarities in Andalucia.

An then… going south to the Canaries. The voyage was quite boring. Leach’s, band-rumped and white-faced storm-petrels near Banco de Dacia and la Concepción and a Green turtle off Casablanca were the best. In the Canaries, the story did not change too much, but cetaceans are always present in that waters and the sighting of 3 Killer whales in the Bocayna strait did compensate my efforts. A week after, in 2 consecutive days, a Fea’s/Desertas petrel each day were the only bird in 18 hours of census. I was lucky to take some pictures, maybe the first ones good enough for species identification in Spanish waters.

I don’t have target birds for this year, I just will be patient.

Canary Islands, Pelagics

29 08 2012

I am the lizzard king, I can do whatever I want”

– Jim Morrison

The weekend of August 18th and 19th was the first time for me for many things. It was the first time I had entered Lanzarote, since the others I was not able to spend more than a night at this wonderful island. Moreover, it was the first time I’ve leaded a trip for a birding enterprise: the already famous Lanzarote Pelagics. Finally, it was the first time I had seen a Black-bellied stormpetrel, only the 3rd sighting for the Western Palearctic.

The weekend started on friday morning, when I was told to go birding with some nice guys from Switzerland. Our main purpose was to find something rare, but there was not migration and then we decided to see the local species, which are even more impressive than a rarity. We saw plenty of Cream-colored courser and Houbara bustard at Llanos de Famara, an excellent place to look for them. Later on, in a water point together with a farm, hundreds of Berthelot’s pipit, Lesser short-toed larks and Trumpeter finches were drinking and bathing. Also 5 Houbaras inside of the farm! You can see almost all the birds of the island in 5 minutes in that place… it would be good for a Big Day.

The pelagic trip started on saturday. We take off from Orzola harbour and went to Banco de la Concepción, where many tubenoses are suposed to be foraging. During the way to the Banco, we already saw lots of Bulwer’s petrels and Cory’s shearwater. Cetaceans were also present: a Bryde’s whale early in the morning and some groups of both Atlantic spotted and Stripped dolphins did suddenly appear.

Already in the Banco, we stopped our boat and put the chum on the water. Just a minute after, a Wilson’s storm-petrel was feeding on it and both Madeiran and white-faced storm-petrels did come soon. Bulwer’s petrels seemed to be shyer and just flew over the chum. Everyone was able to take beautyful pictures of that 4 pelagic species and then we moved to another point: the exact place where 2 south polar skuas were seen last year.

When we arrived to the waypoint, we saw a skua but it was a Long-tailed skua in an interesting 1st summer plumage. When we were taking pictures of the skua, something magic happened. A Black-bellied storm-petrel suddenly appeared and, instead of flying away, it foraged close to the boat for 20 minutes. Nice to see Richard Bonser making a lifer for his WP list, an image maybe even rarer than the storm-petrel!

The rest of the day was not so profitable. We managed to see some interesting cetaceans such as sperm whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale and quite a lot Bryde’s whale. Of course also some dolphins: a group of lovely Bottlenosed dolphins showing their acrobatic skills and another group of Bottlenosed and Risso’s dolphins feeding together with hundreds of Cory’s shearwaters in a classic sea-ecology image.

Sunday was a hard day. Everyone was more tired and all of us had seen the Black-bellied storm-petrel the day before, so people’s birding activity experienced a strong decrease. However, some of us kept on searching and managed to see an adult Roseate tern, unfortunately too distant to enjoy it. Adults of both Sabine’s gull and Long-tailed skua came to hello us for a while and then kept on his way south.

The trip finished with a nice dinner at a traditional place in Orzola. Couldn’t avoid to feel sad.

A Song to say Goodbye

7 07 2012

“Und die Vögel singen nicht mehr…”

– Ohne dicht, Rammstein

I am already in Barcelona again and I have in mind a post about this city (she deserves it) but I must talk about my last day in Tenerife, out in the field.

Natacha told me about a route from Los Silos to Monte del Agua, probably in my favorite place of the island (as I said before) and I could not imagine a better way to say goodbye to Tenerife. The route starts in a low bushland area and goes up entering the heart of the laurel forest. In the first part of the ascent, you pass beside some old typical Canary Islands constructions, surrounded by fruit trees and water courses. Some of that old houses are deserted and you feel obliged to think about the possibility of living there.

A few meters above, you cross an underground gallery built in the past times to transport water throw the mountains. When you exit the tunnel, everything is green, you heard the pigeon’s wings clapping in the trees and then you realize you are already in the laurel forest. Just when we leaved the gallery, we saw that Epaulet skimmer Orthetrum chrysostigma resting on the ground.

The whole trip was very nice. We were all the morning trying to identify as many plant species as possible. Sometimes we managed to do so, but some others were a bit more exasperating. Just as the butterfly Gonepteryx cleobule! I’ve been 5 months in Tenerife and it has been impossible to take a miserable picture of it. Some of them flew over us while consulting our plant field guide, one was even almost sat on a flower for a while, but it never stopped flying actually. Just another reason to come back.

One of the most stunning stages of the trip was the path surrounded by Isoplexis canariensis, a flower called “rooster-crest” by local people. This plant is pollinated by birds and therefore its whole structure is designed to attract birds and impregnate them with the pollen. The anthers are placed in the upper part of the flower, a part that birds can’t avoid to touch with the nape when sucking the nectar. Moreover, the color is in the orange wavelenght, like most of ornithophil plants.

It was also nice to see the Canaries madrone Arbutus canariensis without the bark, showing a stunning pinkish red trunk. There were many of them in what probably is their best area, as it is for many other localized plant species. The landscape was incredible and we decided to have lunch. Thank you Natacha for the sandwich and specially Esther for the honey!

In the way back, we saw some deserted houses again. As usually, walls were plenty of Tenerife lizards Gallotia galloti and we had to share the prickly pears we had collected since they seemed to be hungry.

Later on, already close to Los Silos, some dragonflies such as Red-veined dropwing Trithemis arteriosa fulfilled my thirst just enough to forget about wildlife for the rest of the day and enjoy a music festival at Buenavista del Norte. Esther defined the day as “perfect” and I couldn’t agree more.

%d bloggers like this: