Not yet in Sweden, I promise

24 02 2013

“I grow up in Chicago, and there was always snow. In Los Angeles there never was, so we would always import snow!”

– David Hasselhoff

I woke up yesterday morning with the sound of the snow heavily falling outdoors and for a moment I thought I was already in Sweden. My mother suddenly appeared to take me back to reality and then I realized I may be still in Barcelona. So… What to do? This badly-timed cold front is too late for an influx of northern wildfowl, so the only effect it may have may be a noticeable sedimentation of early spring migrants.

Finally, I decided to visit the Llobregat Delta, a good place for both migrants and wildfowl. The firsts views of the landscape were pretty unusual, with the plain surrounded by white mountains. It was cold, but there was no wind, so the conditions were almost perfect to do some birding.


There were quite a lot crag martins flying over the Cal Tet lagoon and, among them, my first house martin. A pied wagtail had been sighted a few hours before, but I didn’t manage to find it. Moreover, it was plenty of wildfowl: more than 80 red-crested pochards, 300 shovelers, gadwalls, some shelducks, hundreds of teals, mediterranean, black-headed, yellow-legged and an Audouin’s gull… but the best was this female ferruginous duck, a bird always nice to see.


A greater spotted cuckoo (also my first this year) flushed at Cal Nani marshes did demonstrate that spring is already in the air. The bird showed well, sat on a fence for a while and later moved to the top of a blackberry bush.


We don’t have much time left till the arrival of the bulk of swallows, willow warblers and subalpine warblers, but let’s see where do I am when this happens.


Audouin’s in action

12 01 2013

“Action expresses priorities.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Another warm afternoon in Barcelona, still waiting for the cold front promised for tomorrow. If I have to wait, I prefer to do it birding instead of studying (sorry mum!) but Barcelona area doesn’t offer many options nowadays. There are some ferruginous ducks and a great northern diver at Llobregat Delta, but the reserve has an strict timetable, so you have to plan your visit. The surrounding area has also some interest, but there you usually get distant views of the birds and today I woke up with close views of nice birds in mind.

I finally chase Diagonal Mar Park. I have a love-hate relationship with that place since there I’ve learned a lot of things about gulls but in the other hand I’ve never seen anything really interesting. Actually, it’s a urban park in the middle of Barcelona, so you can’t expect to find a Thayer’s gull, no matter how many interesting articles had you read. However, today there were 6 different species of gull (the typical Yellow-legged, Lesser black-backed, Black-headed and Mediterranean plus a nice adult Audouin’s and a 2nd winter Common, a scarce wintering species here).

The first I look at was if there were some ringed black-headed gulls. There were 2, NB13 and NB83, both of them local birds ringed by ICO in the nearby zoological park.


Then, I took some pictures of the Common gull. I already saw that bird in the park 10 days ago and Xavi had seen it even before (28.XII) at Besòs river. Apparently, there are 2 individuals wintering in Barcelona area this year: a 1st winter at Llobregat River (Raúl Bastida on 30.XII and 5.I) and this 2nd winter between Besòs River and Diagonal Mar Park.


The adult Audouin’s gull was quite active going from one place to another. It finally landed in the water and started to do Audouin’s gull’ things. The bird detected there was something similar to food in the bottom of the lake:


Then, it jumped to see “the thing” from above:


Put its body into an hydrodynamical shape:


And leap into the water:


It seemed to be fighting with something for a while:


But it finally emerged with a crappy branch:


The branch tasted quite different from the sardines the gull is used to, so it putted carefully back into the water:


And, just like me, stay doing nothing:


Never keep calm

7 01 2013

“Caress the detail, the divine detail.”

– Vladimir Nabokob

I am fed up with this stupid old slogan which is suspiciously popular those tumultuous days. Keep thinking instead of keep calm, and you would see how things get progressively better. This is not the best season for a birder in Catalonia but I try to alternate my self-pity with an incessant birding activity. If there’s nothing in the field, there are always some articles to read and sometimes it’s possible to check in the field the information read in the paper. I had read the post on Stephen Menzie’s blog the day after I went to Montserrat mountain, so I already had in mind the idea of looking at the age of the alpine accentores that I expected to see up in Sant Jeroni.

Prunella collaris 2

Prunella collaris 5

Prunella collaris

Prunella collaris 3

There were at least 6 of them feeding on crumbs around tourists, very approachable as always, what permits a good examintion of the plumage. Both Stephen and an article published in the Revista de Anillamiento (Spanish ringing journal) (Fernández Gil et al. 2007)  looked at the pattern of both the primary and the greater coverts to determine the age. The white in the tip has a different shape and color depending on the age, whereas the center of the feather is black in adults and greyish-brown in 1st winters. There’s no need to catch the birds since they are even too close to take a picture!
Ad 1st W

To judge a ringing day, there is an equilibrium between the number of captures and the free time you get bored. Too many birds means you don’t have time enough to study them properly but too few means you are mentally sleeping all the day long. The winter here is actually boring, but that brings me the chance to study birds in detail.

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

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

Ringing in Vietn… Ebro Delta

19 11 2012

“How many senses are needed to obtain a sense of species?”

– Anthony McGeehan, Siberian Chiffchaffs – In from the cold. Birding World 289.

The Montseny mountains were beautiful, but their effect in me has not held out more than 5 days. After all the week working in front of the computer, I still missed the fall. Fortunately, I had to ring all the weekend at Ebro Delta, maybe the best place within a 3h radius to enjoy diversity and migration.

The weather forecast predicted rain, always exciting when you are ringing, so I expected something good. However, as soon as I reached the Canal Vell Biological Station, the guy who had been ringing the previous days alerted me about the coot shooting planned in the lagoon for the day after. Bad news.

Andrea S. & Andrea G. (aka The Andreas) would came with me but Andrea S. arrived late at night, so we had to pick her up at the train station. Thanks to that, we were able to see thousands of crabs recklessly crossing the road, but specially a stunning short-eared owl ripping a mouse.

The day after, the Biological Station seemed the fucking Vietnam, with more than 200 guys armed to the teeth and shooting coots on the quiet. In the middle of that mess, we caught a few birds, most of them chiffchaffs. Among them, a nice Siberian-like with the whole set of features, including the call. All-dark bill and legs, no yellow in the upper-parts, complete white/cream eye-ring, warm cheeks, green primary edges, short wing… Interesting to see, but I would had been happier with an obvious and well-defined yellow-browed warbler.

Yesterday it was another hard day in the field, with scattered-showers all day long and a few birds in the mist-nets. The lagoon was almost empty of birds. After the hunt, some of them had gone and some of them were dead. Incredibly, today lots of coots had already come back, together with teals and wigeons. The sun appeared again and the birds started to fall into the nets. My time at Ebro Delta expired at 12AM, but I have had time enough to catch another Siberian-like with a wing length even shorter. It didn’t stop calling when I was aging it; it’s worth to underline that fact since most of putative “whatever” I had catch like to go away quietly. In opposite of the previous bird, that one had not the bill completely black. The rest of the characters matched well. Nice days, but more to come…

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