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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The pendulum theory

17 05 2013

“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”

– Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Many things have happened in the last 10 days. The notable changes in the weather had come with notable changes in the quantity and quality of the captures in what can be considered an inversely proportional relationship. In the first days, we were catching many birds. Everyday was a good one in terms of numbers, with some new arrivals too, but the most exciting species were wood warbler, thrush nightingale, lesser redpoll (first for the season!) and red-backed shrike. Apart from quantifying the impressive migration of barnacle geese (up to 50.000 birds counted from Nabben in a few hours), the rest of the day consisted mainly in ringing willow warblers and enjoy the good weather.

Luscinia luscinia

Carduelis cabaret

Phylloscopus sibilatrix

Lanius collurio

As expected, somebody turned off the migrants tap and the number of birds ringed started to decrease. Probably “somebody” means Arvid, whose presence blocked the flux of birds for a few days. Suddenly, we realized the pendulum was already in the other side and there were no birds at all. However, we managed to catch some house martins and to rescue some amphibians stuck in the pit of the lighthouse garden. A common toad, a green toad and a smooth newt (this one a lifer for me!) were, without any kind of doubts, the best of that day.

Bufo viridis

Triturus vulgaris

Bufo bufo

Arvid left but, while literally crossing the door, he kept on predicting something good for the next days. The weather forecast indicated strong winds and hot temperatures from the southeast and this time it was right. These last days of ringing are among the strangest days of ringing I’ve ever seen. We’ve been catching around 10 birds per day, but surprisingly (or not) 3 red-breasted flycatchers, including a very nice adult male that started to sing after being released. There were at least 5 different birds around the garden, together with some (the first) common rosefinches. If anybody knows the explanation of this high proportion of red-breasted flycatchers, I would be more than happy to pay attention. It’s worth-saying that, until now, we’ve caught 4 pied flycatchers and 3 red-breasted. Nothing else to say.

Ficedula parva

Carpodacus erythrinus

The hot temperatures have also brought some dragonflies. The downy emerald Cordulia aenea was a lifer for me, but the four-spotted chaser Libeulla quadrimaculata is also common species up there and scarce in the Iberian Peninsula, where it’s restricted to the high Pyrenees.

Libellula quadrimaculata

Cordulia aenea

The influence of the easterlies is obvious but the pendulum is only in the middle. We need the wind to drop and see if the inverse proportion between total number of captures and exciting species finally disappears. If so, it would be amazing. Sunday is the day.





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.





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.





The firsts dragonflies

27 03 2012

“Boredom is nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers.”

– Eric Fromm

A brief post from a brief birding time. I saw the first Emperor a week ago, but today there were several at Tejina, together with some Scarlet dragonflies. It doesn’t seem a good year for dragonflies in the Canaries. Most of the ponds are dry, reedbeds are brown and it’s still cold. However, it’s possible to enjoy even the commonest species.

Talking about birds, a part from a little bittern that only offered poor views, nothing new has reached the island since my last visit. Turtle doves are already singing, and maybe that’s the best we can look at.








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