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


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!

Nothing to say

24 10 2012

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

– Ambrose Bierce

Still some surprises

18 06 2012

“But can you fake it, for just one more show?”

– Smashing Pumkins, Bullet with Butterfly wings

I thought migration had already ended and I had decided to focus my field work on ringing local birds, but as soon as I reached Tejina’ ponds, a Little bittern flushed into the reedbed. There was nothing in the the ponds except for the yellow-legged little egret, the moorhens and the coots, but the Little bittern forced me to keep an eye into the bushes, the shores and the sky… waiting for a new arrival. A Purple heron flew over, together with a Grey one. Later on, I saw some Cattle egrets and Night herons that completed the collection of ardeids. Of course, I know that’s not true migration and probably both the Little bittern and the Purple heron are long-staying birds, but if they can be here for such a long season, a Least bittern or a Great blue heron could do so. I will try to think about that when going out, carrying a heavy equipment once more.

The ringing day was quite interesting. A part from the Canary Islands chiffchaff (that was the purpose of the day), I caught a nice Tenerife tit. Perfect chance to analyze the differences between this taxon and its European relative. First of all, note that it lacks the white in the tip of the greater coverts that creates a bar impression in European (and African) blue tit. Looking at the picture below, we can say it must be a 2nd cal. year. Note the contrast between the moulted GCs (all of them) and the juvenile primary coverts. However, I think this PCs are brighter than they would had been in a juvenile European.

The head pattern is obviously different, but I would like to underline the differences in structure, specially in the bill. Note the length and the shape. It’s longer and less convex, more triangular. This characters must be related with its diet. Like chiffchaffs and goldcrests, the tits feed on flowers such as Canarina canariensis or Navaea phoenicea. A longer and slender bill is quite useful when trying to suck in some delightful nectar. What never changes is its aggressiveness, I promise!

Saturday morning fever

15 05 2012

“Who is friendly to the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
Banished to ground in the midst of hootings (…)”

The Albatross, Ch. Baudelaire

The last saturday of my 5th year of University, at the end, the Professors decided to show us how the field work is. I can say the wait was justified since the work chosen by Professors was offshore cetacean research. It was nice to see the Short-finned pilot whales again, this time showing a more “natural behaviour”, not pressured by the tourist’ boats. A party of males, females and youngs were sailing, diving and finally resting in the surface to recover their lungs.

My main interest was to take pictures of a dolphin species I’ve seen many times but never managed to photograph: Atlantic spotted dolphin. This species is suposed to be the one that interacts more with boats, but maybe the ferry I’ve taken in many ocasions is too fast for them. This time, with the boat stopped and waiting for them, we enjoyed a female with a young swimming around us. I still want to see an adult male in that way or, even better, jumping… By the way, it’s enough for the moment.

Despite last week Bulwer’s petrels seemed to have reached the island in a huge influx, they are still scarce… and the same for Barolo’s shearwater, Band-rumped stormpetrel and the rest of seabirds except for the faithful Cory’s. I don’t know why but they are increasing in the western coast of Tenerife, maybe because there is a lot of food here at the moment. I did what a mediterranean birder must do: pay atention to the underwing pattern. All of them showed the typical black primaries expected for Cory’s and some had dark feathers even in the under-primary coverts or the axillaries. The dark edge of the forehand seemed also to be broader than in Scopoli’s. Moreover, when the birds rested in the water, the bill looked extremely thick.

We are suffering the efects of a Saharian heat wave that already lasts 5 days. It’s hard to go out birding but Moussier’s redstars must be somewhere, waiting for a brave birder…

My new headache

21 03 2012

“Recently separated as a local species rather than subspecies of Chiffchaff. Breeds on W Canary Islands in forest and copses with rich undergrowth. Resident.”

– Lars Svensson, Collins Bird Guide 2n Edition

As soon as I landed here, I felt safe from chiffchaff subspecies. I thought I would not be worried about abietinus, tristis, fulvescens and the rest of nonexistent taxons never more.  There are quite a lot willow warblers, iberian and common chiffchaffs those days and it can be hard to identify all the warblers since there is a huge variation in Canary Islands chiffchaff. This species is a potential pitfall for most of chiffchaff species, since most of them are surprisingly similar to Greenish warbler and others can recall Dusky, Willow, Iberian and of course Common. It is a sedentary species and extremely scarce in the eastern islands so the possibility of vagrancy outside the Canary Islands is unlikely, but birders coming there must be aware of what they will found.

There is not enough literature and the figure in the Collins Bird Guide 2nd edition only represents a low percentage of the individuals, so maybe a compilation of pictures of Canary Islands chiffchaff can exemplify the variation.

To start, let’s see what in my opinion is supposed to be a typical canariensis. From my point of view, the most distinctive thing is the structure. The bill is extremely long and a bit curved while primary projection is short. The general colouration is darker than common chiffchaffs and uses to show either brown or olive tinges in the mantle. Supercilium is well defined specially in front of the eye. That character can remind Iberian chiffchaff but note it’s always the same width, there is not an obvious widening between the bill and the eye, which creates a “patch” impression in Iberian. Lores are dark and there is also a dark stripe behind the eye, both contrasting with the paler rufous-tinged cheeks. The throat is even paler and there is a quite obvious frontier between cheeks and throat, almost always absent in Iberian.

The sides of the breast show traces of grey but the rest of the underparts are pale. Upperparts look uniform and concolorous with the tail.

Some other Canary Islands chiffchaff have a wider eyebrow. That fact can remind Iberian again, but note the closed-face appearence, mainly due to warm cheeks like those from Siberian chiffchaff. Upperparts have always something brown, darker than a common and fur from the lemon/green typical in an Iberian. Primaries look brown almost always. This is not because they are worn. The next picture shows a fresh individual and note it lacks the green edges characteristic of common chiffchaff subspecies.

An individual showing extremely yellow underparts. In that cases, the contrast between the brown upperparts and the yellow underparts is even more noticeable. This combination of colours is not present in the rest of european phylloscopus

And then, an individual with almost no green. It is completely brown/grey. The eyebrow is extremely large and it can create a dusky warbler or even an Acrocephalus impresion. Note the dark legs and the pale underparts. The primary projection is extremely short.

In flight, that species shows a contrast between tail and rump and the rest of the upperparts, the first being paler.

I’m sure there are still some other forms of Canary Islands chiffchaff that I have not seen yet and it would be interesting to keep on looking at them to see the evolution of the plumage as it gets worn.

March day at Llobregat Del… sorry, at Tejina ponds

15 03 2012

“Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)

This is what I wanna be

Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)

Why the hell it means so much to me”

                                         – KT Tunstall

As soon as I reached the first pond at Tejina, I flushed a green warbler (of course a green warbler and not a Green warbler). “Oh, a willow warbler, nice”. It hid in the reedbeds for a while, just before starting to sing as a typical Iberian chiffchaff. I was taking the “security pictures” before approaching the bird when my camera alerted me to the low battery. That’s the best I could take.

A few minutes later, I found the next pond in the perfect water level to house a crake. The first bird I saw there was a handsome male bluethroat showing a perfect breeding plumage. That was the first time I remembered my 2nd battery pack that I had let at home. The second bird I saw was a spotted crake, feeding on water plants, 3 metres far from the reedbeds. This time, instead of only imagine the battery on my bedside table, I pull my hair out and started to take pictures with my mobile phone. For those who have not a BlackBerry and want to get one, you must know the camera is completely unuseful. Not only for phonescoping, it’s not possible to take a decent picture with such a shit. I’m doubting about posting yesterday pictures… no, definetely I would not.

Today, when the sun was near to appear, I was already at the pond. After 2 hours seeing the crake and taking pictures, I still miss the bluethroat. It doesn’t care, I only have to find another one.

Other interesting birds from today and yesterday at Tejina were a male subalpine warbler, a massive arrival of willow warblers, swallows and swifts (mainly plain swift, with some common and a pallid between them), the purple heron that is still around and 3 different snipes. More tomorrow.

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