The Ocean is everything

8 06 2016

“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.”

– Ambrose Bierce

Some weeks ago, I was lucky, so extremely lucky, to came across 3 Blue whales Balaenoptera musculus off Sao Miguel, Azores. I’ve seen loads of both Fin and Bryde’s whales so I had expected the Blues to be the same but bigger. I was wrong, so terribly wrong. Their enormous size makes you feel insignificant but, at the same time, the peace and the slowness of their swimming makes you feel safe and comfortable. An encounter with these blue giants should therefore sum up the relationship between the oceans (and nature in general) and humans.

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It’s not been the case. Humans have killed whales for centuries and some whaling structures are still kept around the Azorean harbours, only as past times witnesses. Fortunately, the Azoreans switched whale hunting for whale watching some years ago and, although the whale watching business also have an obvious dark side, the situation is undeniably better nowadays. The same happens in other corners of the world, especially since the International Court of Justice finally banned the Japanese whale “research” in March 2014.

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Whales have traditionally attracted everybody’s attention but their prosecution is just one of the threads the ocean and its inhabitants face. I could now talk about my beloved tubenoses, the most endangered seabird species. But the ocean is everything. Having worked in the Canary Islands, one gets aware of how ocean-dependant most of in-land ecosystems are. The Azores aren’t an exception and some endemic taxa wholly depends on the oceanic environment. Azorean bullfinch Pyrrhula murina is the icing on the cake of a very charismatic Macaronesian habitat: the laurel forest.

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Its origin is none other than the ocean: The sun warms up the water-rich air over the water surface and hence it ascends along the steeply slopes while its temperature decreases. Eventually, it reaches a point where the temperature is that low that the water condensates forming clouds. Those clouds stop ascending when they hit a wall created by the constant hot high winds predominant in the region. At this point, the clouds are carried by the wind on its direction but, when they hit a mountain area such as those oceanic islands, they create a sea of clouds. Some plant species such as the Laurel take advantage of the situation by fixating this water suspended in the air. They effectively work as natural desalination plants originating this stunning landscape:

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So it’s not a coincidence that we saw both Blue whale and Azorean bullfinch within a 50 km. radius. Today, in the World Oceans Day, I want to point out the importance of the oceans not only for charismatic animals like whales but also for in-land high biodiversity areas and their endangered (sometimes endemic) species. To preserve one habitat while forgetting about the others would be just focusing on the palliative cares of a sick planet without actually understanding the nature of the disease.





Lanzarote Pelagics ^3

18 09 2014

“- And what do you wish? +That what should be shall be”

– Frodo to Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

Just a quick review of what’s been an amazing week leading Lanzarote Pelagics trips to the Bank of la Concepción. First of all, many thanks to Dani L. Velasco and Juan Sagardía for giving me the chance to take part once again in these crazy but rewarding adventures.

This time, we’ve organized 3 2-day trips within 10 days. What we had expected to be exhausting, ended up being just encouraging. The prize came in the second trip in the shape of a ringed (??) Swinhoe’s storm-petrel.

monhoris castro2

monhoris ring

monhoris

monhoris castro

 

The highlights in the first trip included an adult Sabine’s gull, 2 White-faced storm-petrels, quite a lot of Bulwer’s and the usual dozens of both Wilson’s and Band-rumped. Suprisingly high numbers of European storm-petrels as well, usually kind of scarce out there.

sabines

 

Everything in the second trip was obscured by the Swinhoe’s, but, actually, we saw some other nice stuff. An adult together with a juvenile Roseate terns were the best, keeping in mind it’s still a national rarity, but one of the most unexpected highlights were at least 2 Mackerel sharks that came to eat the whole block of chum. A couple of Scopoli’s and some Great shearwaters were also nice to see.

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And it was not until the third trip when we actually managed to get some White-faced feeding on the chum. All the birds we’ve seen during these 10 days turned out to be juveniles. It feels like it’s been an early breeding season for them.

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pelagodroma

 

 

Here’s a tricky shearwater seen also in this third trip. It’s a Cory’s in my opinion, with a bluish-greyish tones in the head, deep bill and 2 spots in the 2 outermost underpimary coverts. However, it shows 2 tongues in P9 and P8 respectively. In P10 we trust!

calonectris borealis tongues

And what about cetaceans? I have to say I had never seen that many dolphins before. Adittedly they were all Atlantic spotted and Bottlenose, but still… Loads of them following the boat all day (and all night) long. Also some Bryde’s whale and a pot of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the north face of the Bank. Sadly, no Sperm whale this year… Let’s leave something for the future!

balaenoptera edeni

frontalis

tursiops

 

Finally, in our inland guidings, we had extremely good views of Houbara bustard, Lesser short-toed lark, Eleonora’s falcon, Barbary falcon, Trumpeter finch and the rest of Lanzarote specialties. A Pectoral sandpiper and a Glossy ibis were both Canary Island’s a tick for me. Here’s some photos of one of the Houbaras, a female Eleonora’s falcon and the Pectoral. Surprisingly streaked rear flanks and almost undertail coverts…

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Lanzarote 163

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Jackpot

27 02 2014

“Time and again I tell myself
I’ll stay clean tonight
But the little green wheels are following me.
Oh no, not again,
I’m stuck with a valuable friend”

– Ashes to ashes, David Bowie

This is turning into an obsession… After the shearwater odissey, a pleasent cetacean survey at El Hierro. As always, beaked whales were the main target, but, to be honest, I’ve enjoyed much more the re-encounter with people. This time the crew was composed by Gala, Anya, Casandra, Néstor, Víctor and the fireproof Carol, Nerea, Agus, Crístel and Natacha. An unexpected visit by the Tonina’s team Efra and Manu was also welcomed. Especial mention goes to Cacho and his mother, who kindly supplied us with shit loads of extremely nice local food.

Is worth-saying this project is funded by the University of La Laguna and the Government of the Canary Islands. It’s not so easy to find such a long-term project with a continous and generous funding, so, from this little forum, many thanks also to them.

The survey itself was kind of strange, with several days of bad weather and the beaked whales even more elusive than usual. However, in the end we managed to take photos of a presumed immature male and a family group of Blainville’s beaked whale. The Cuvier’s were distant and elusive, with unpredictable emersions in terms of time and place.

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Dolphins of several species were also present in the Mar de las Calmas bay. Rough-toothed, Short-beacked Common, Bottlenose and Atlantic spotted were all hanging around, although not always in the same number. Brief and distant views of a presumed Bryde’s whale filled out the cetacean trip list.

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Thanks to the bad weather, we got 2 free days to visit the north of the island. In the mythical pond in Frontera, there was a 1W female Lesser scaup and a Common teal, among the noisy coots and the worth-checking Common sandpipers. The number of nominate White wagtails (not less than 10) was also noticeable, keeping in mind this island is in the very last end of the Macaronesia. The lasts galores have brought some Kittiwakes this far south. One adult came to follow our small non-fishing boat for a while.

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However, the very best in terms of sightings was a stunning Red-billed tropicbird. I spotted it from the land-station, while I was meant to be looking for beaked whales, but let’s pretend I saw it by chance…

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The bird passed W, just by Tacorón, and started looking for a place to stop in the Montaña Roja (Red mountain)’ cliff. It hoovered for a few seconds in front of a corbel, didn’t like it and went for a short flight just before coming back to check another corbel. Seemingly, none of the putative nesting places looked suitable for the tropicbird, so it decided to fly straight to La Restinga, where I lost it. When it was gone, I realized I had been more than 1 hour enjoying the bird and taking photos, although in my head it had not lasted more than 20 minutes.

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To end up, one of the best night hearings of Barolo shearwater: together with all the crew, at Orchilla lighthouse and after having eaten nice grilled local fishes. We heard at least a male and a female, hope nobody who was there will ever forget it!





This was unexpected

18 08 2013

“But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.”

– Marcel Proust

One of the best things about birding is that every new day is different from the previous one, mainly because of the migration phenomenon but also because of our point of view, because a different state of mind leads to different approaches to a very similar reality. After a month ringing reed warblers (i.e. Reed, Marsh and Sedge warblers), I felt I needed a day at the Lighthouse. This day was finally last Friday, preceded by another night of wader ringing. The night started with a very nice dusk at Nabben but the ringing itself was not so successful this time in terms of numbers. However, an impressive adult (male) Oystercatcher delighted us with its elegance.

Lighthouse at dusk

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Ringing at the Lighthouse was indeed very pleasant. 48 birds in total, with some nice species among such as Wood warbler and Red-backed shrike, hard to catch in our loved Flommen’ reedbed. However, the most unexpected catch was a Nathusius’s pipistrelle Pipistrellus nathusii that was found biting net 2. We struggled to take it out of the net but finally managed and proceed with the measurements. The overall color was paler than the Common pipistrelles I used to catch at Llobregat Delta and a slightly longer snout was also quite striking. the whole bat looked slightly bigger, probably due to the longer fur that is meant to have. The measurements fitted with the species: 53 cm. of body, 245 for the wingspan and 38 for the forearm. Despite what people usually says about bats, I still think they are beautiful…

Pipistrellus nathusii

Even I had been ringing for already 14 hours, the massive migration of crossbills pushed me to keep on going. Caroline was also encouraged, so we put up some nets south of the garden and, with the help of the speaker playing loud the crossbill-mix that Stephen had composed for the occasion, we managed to catch 1 Common crossbill. Several flocks landed just by the nets, but it was too windy and the pine trees too high. A Two-barred crossbill part of a flock of Common landed 2 m. from the net and what I saw like a lost chance became an encouragement for the day after.

Yesterday was a good day at Flommen (91 birds caught) but it was even better at Nabben. The migration counters managed to double both the Common and the Two-barred crossbill daily totals with 6580 and 51 respectively. We went straight to the Lighthouse and set the same net than the day before. It took a while for the crossbills to start landing but after a “fake” Two-barred we finally caught 2 “actual” Two-barred crossbills. One of them was still calling on its trumpeter style while I was taking it out of the net.

Loxia leucoptera

It showed some orange feathers in the breast, maybe pointing to a male.

leucoptera breast

The comparison between the 2 species was quite interesting. Apart from the fact that Two-barred is not as small as I had expected and the bill not as thin (just 1mm thinner than the Common!), a well-marked Common like the one we caught can cause some problems. Surprisingly, the bar in the median coverts seems to be the key. Half of the feather is white in Two-barred, but only the thin edge in Common. The tertials should be also useful, but I am slightly afraid of a Common with more white than that… A key feature that might work in the field is the wing tip: P2-P3 in Two-barred and P4 in Common. We may catch more in the next days so it will be interesting to study different ages. Yeah, I have to confess: a bright red male would be so cool…

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Surveying

22 04 2013

“I work very fast and steadily, and I don’t hardly ever noticed that I am working.”

– Werner Herzog

The breeding season has started and together with it, the survey on breeding birds. Three days walking and already half of the peninsula prospected. If I close my eyes, I still can hear the redshanks, the lapwings and the oystercatchers singing somewhere inside of my head. However, all the day hanging around means quite a lot of birds, some of them interesting. 2 jack snipes and some ring ouzels have been probably the most interesting things for Swedish birders, but I have enjoyed much more these displaying long-tailed ducks, very close to the harbor

Long-tailed duck

The velvet scoter was still present, this time even closer, what gave me the chance to assess the age and speculate about the sex. The pattern of the outermost secondary, with this funny spot in the middle of the feather, points to a 2nd cal. year, what means the sex is not as straightforward. The hint of yellow in the bill makes me think about a male, but a quick look at the internet gave no result for a male with such a dark bill. In the other hand, I didn’t manage to find females with some yellow in the bill… My theory is that it’s a poorly-colored male, probably in not very good conditions, what also could explain its behavior.

Melanitta fusca

Melanitta fusca3

A nice (am I allowed to tell it “nice”?) fox run all the outer shore of Knösen in less than 6 minutes. So impressive, keeping in mind it took me something like 15 minutes cycling. All the birds (and 5 hares) were flushed immediately, what gives an idea of how much dangerous this beautiful creatures are.

Vulpes vulpes

Also by the shore, some raptor migration, a pair of territorial red-breasted merganser (pray for me to find a nest) and quite a lot of arctic terns completed the set.

Mergus serrator

Circus aeruginosus

Sterna paradisaea

Pandion haliaetus

Tomorrow it’s time for Vellinge Ängar. This place seems to be stunning: one of the best preserved wasteland area in southern Sweden and a sort of spot of tundra as fur south. Probably, the last bastion of breeding dunlins have not arrived yet, but, as Stephen said, if there was a jack snipe in a golf course, who knows what could be in such a good place.








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