Vocalisations vs. Appearence in a tricky Leaf warbler

29 04 2015

“If it has more than three chords, it’s Jazz”

– Lou Reed

It was a boring spring. Despite the good numbers of Pallid harrier and Great snipe registered mainly in the Northeastern Catalan coast, the best I had seen in Barcelona area was a “Mediterranean” spotted flycatcher Muscicapa s. balearica/tyrrhenica. Sadly, the bird went away without me being able to take a photo of the underwing.

belearica

Yesterday felt just like another random day: some Willow warblers, some Pied flycatchers, a sudden Redstart… nothing too exciting until I got a text from Manolo saying he had found a Yellow-browed warbler in Montjuïc mountain, right in the middle of Barcelona. The bird seemed to be ringed in one of the record shots Lucy managed to take, so we decided to come back late in the afternoon to try to take better photos. Things went actually interesting when Manolo pointed out that he had not heard it a single time giving the typical Yellow-browed call but some Hume’s-like sounds instead. The bird was not cooperative and they had only got poor views and breif vocalisations, but he already got the feeling of a grey bird.

After having seen some Yellow-broweds this spring in the Canary Islands (like the one below), I was aware of how grey they can get when worn, so we both knew we had to focus on sound recordings in order to clarify the identification of the bird.

yellow browed

There were quite a lot of birds in the area, including some nice migrants for  the patch, such as Turtle dove and Golden oriole, but after a couple of hours without relocating the bird, we were sitting in the grass, just chilling, waiting for the other to say we should leave. Suddenly, the bird called behind us, almost in the same tree Manolo had found it in the morning. This time, the call sounded just like a Hume’s leaf warbler! After some search that produced some new birds (at least 2 Western Bonelli’s warblers, either they were not there or it’s incredible how many birds do we miss despite intensive search), we located the bird and managed to take decent photos.

inor_humei1

inor_humei2

Apart from what looks like an extensively black bill, the rest of the bird looked like what I’d expect from a Yellow-browed by this time of the year: pure white wing bar in the GCs, green tones in scapulars and mantle, well-defined facial marks and a still visible 2nd wing bar in the MCs. However, we both agreed we had heard a Hume’s.

To get a sound recording suddenly turned out to be critical, so we just followed the bird with my cell phone pointing towards it, until it eventually happened. Again, as in the previous 3 times we had heard it, the call was not that of a Yellow-browed and reminded more of a Hume’s. This time, however, we had a recording for a later analyse.

sonogram inor_humei2

As can be seen in the comparison with Hume’s and Yellow-browed (taken from Xeno-canto), it definetely looks (sounds) like Hume’s. After having checked almost all the recordings in this website, I’ve not been able to find a single Yellow-browed with a decrecent end. In the other hand, and despite the high variability described for this species, all the Hume’s end with this downward inflection. To summarize the variation, the standard Yellow-browed call looks, in sonograms, like a V; the standard Hume’s looks like an upside-down W, with the angle of the first V more acute.

So, as Manolo said, “why it’s never easy?” It’s true, we never find a Pelican, we usually have to deal with shy uniform warblers and when they are a nice and barred species, there’s a conflict between call and appearence. Since our experience with Hume’s leaf warbler is low (none in my case!), comments on the bird are more than welcome. In the meanwhile, we’ll wait for the pelican.

PS: Many many thanks to Manolo for cheering up the spring 🙂





Enjoying bird counts

4 11 2014

“I’m not counting any chickens.”

– Jeff Bridges

It’s not easy to enjoy birding when you have to count >4000 wigeons and >5000 barnacle geese under bad weather conditions, but when the weather is nice and the birds seem to cooperate, our weekly resting bird count becomes a very nice birding time around Knösen. After the whole season having seen almost nothing up there, the good vibrations started a couple of weeks ago, with a Gyr falcon flying over the meadows with a prey on its claws. Sadly, despite we saw the bird landing in the western meadows, it was impossible to relocate. However, notable numbers of White-fronted goose and Bewick’s swans were present, together with scattered Brent goose and Rough-legged buzzards.

albifrons

bernicla

The week after, when it was time to count again, our expectations were much higher than usual. Encouraged by the previous week birds and the good visible migration early in the morning, we departed ready to actually enjoy the birding. When I think about “the attraction law”, I remove the magic component some people keenly adds and turn it into something empirical: when you are in a good mood, you find more interesting birds. This was probably what happened that day  from the beginning. Probably due to this excitement, our first stop was to check a flock of Jackdaws (yes, Jackdaws). Instead of our desired Daurian, we saw an interesting bird with a strikingly white a broad white collar and a light grey nape.

russian jackdaw2

 

My only contact with soemmerringii was in Turkey, already some years ago, and, to be honest, I don’t remember how did the underparts look like. However, it’s quite easy to find photos of Russian (here) or Turkish (here) birds with such pale and mottled underparts and after a quick check of photos of birds breeding in the Iberian Peninsula showing pale and mottled underparts strongly contrasting with the black wings (here and here), I don’t think this feature (described, for instance, in Offerein’s Dutch Birding paper) is as useful as it seemed. The collar, in the other hand, strikes me as being missing in the spermologus I’m used to, but of course present to some extent in nominate monedula. If we, therefore, are left with collar size and shape to tell them apart, what’s the minimum size for a nominate to become spermologus? What’s the maximum size to become soemmerringii?

russian jackdaw

As usual in this kind of widespread taxa, while trying to dig into the subject, we end up hitting a wall in the shape of an east-west gradient and the conclusion usually is that only the extremes can be safely identified. However, when facing  a bird that is obviously not local, we can still try to guess the origine, looking for photos that allow us to draw the boundaries of the its kind’s range. After a [too] exhaustive search in the web, my conclusion is that this bird came from Western Russia, what Offerein calls “western soemmerringii“. Swedish breeding birds don’t show the broad white collar and Turkish soemmerringii seem to be darker in the underparts. I’ve not been able to find a photo of a Romanian bird (meant to be integrade) that striking, despite the variation covered in Chris Gibbins post. Interestingly, the bird was in a flock with two nominate monedula that are probably in the extreme of the species, not usual in Falsterbo breeding birds neither.

intermediates

Since these taxa are meant to be migratory, what are the wintering grounds? According to Giroud, they are wintering in notable numbers in France and there are evidences of them wintering also in Italy, so they must be overlooked in the Iberian Peninsula. Definetely something to look at!

After an interesting bird (the kind of stuff that makes you read what’s been published as soon as you arrive home), it was nice to see something a bit more cracking. This was an adult Red-breasted goose among thousands of Barnacles. The bird was still present yesterday, when we managed to get even better views.

ruficollis2

The species is surprisingly criptic among Barnacles, especially in dark ligth conditions, but still one of the most beautiful wildfowl of our region.

ruficollis

 

The icing on the cake was the counting from the tip of Knösen. A flock of 70 scaups, more than 100 goldeneyes and dozens of Bewick’s swans together with thousands of wigeons. The sound of the birds without any wind at all, rather than the picture, was unforgettable.

 





Goldcrest + Siberian bonanza

14 10 2014

“Even in Siberia there is happiness.”

– Anton Chekhov

Huge numbers of birds are right now migrating over Falsterbo, some of them landing in both our garden and the Lighthouse garden for the delight of the ringers and the impressive number of birders around. Despite the cloudy days, everytime we look up, there’s flocks of geese, cranes, wood pigeons or common buzzards facing south or going back north in case bad wheather conditions makes the Öresund strait look like an impassable barrier.

cranes

pigeons

But not only the big birds are on the move. Passerine’ migration is also at its peak and so hundreds of thousands of finches, tits, larks and thrushes are filling the sky with an incessant flight call concert. Good training for our ears, since among the Common crossbills one can already spot some Parrot and among the Reed buntings, some Lapland buntings are also passing through. The ringing is being great, almost too much! Last saturday we ringed 2531 birds. Now that I’m writting it, it sounds just like a number, but all those birds went with a ring after having been aged and sexed. Most of them (1853) were goldcrests. We are having a very good goldcrest season, already the 6th best ever and there’s thousands everywhere in the Peninsula. These wickey beauties are foraging in trees, bushes and even on the ground. While ringing our goldcrest number 1100 (around) of the day, Kaj asked me “can you imagine how many spiders are eaten in these days in the Lighthouse garden?” I’m tempted to answer “all of them”.

regulus

regulus2

But let’s start talking about the good stuff, but let’s leave the best for the end. The list of scarcities we’ve caught these days it’s quite nice. It was mainly the Swedish gang who got excited by the Firecrests, but it’s impossible not to be aware that they actually are nice birds. This adult male represented the record bird for an autumn season at the Lighthouse garden.

firecrest

Both the Swedish and the foreigners enjoyed an adult male Ring ouzel, the first of the nominate race I handle and the second to be ringed this season (two busy with goldcrests to enjoy the first one on Saturday).

torquatus

torquatus2

And it was mainly the SW ringers celebrating this kind of late adult female Red-breasted flycatcher, also a season record bird.

parva

And coming from Siberia straight to Flommen reedbed, a couple of Yellow-browed warblers that cheered us up in the last days of another hard-work Flommen season. What looked promising in the beginning with plenty of both Marsh and Reed warblers, ended up being a season with more than one thousand birds below the average. We should be worried about the current status of Reed warbler…

inornatus2

inornatus

Goldcrests are called kingbirds in several languages (for instance, Kungsfågel in Swedish, Reietó [little king] in Catalan) so with them it came the king of the kings: a 1stW Pallas’s Leaf warbler!

proregulus

And last but not least, the actual crackerjack of the season (so far): this 1stW Radde’s warbler. It was the third to be caught in Falsterbo and a lifer for me. When Carro came into the ringing hut with a Phyllos on her hands and ask me to look at the bird I had expected just a chiffchaff (since she knows I like them…) but then I saw a bird with strikingly huge legs and head, apart from everything else. I should had checked first the smile on her face.

raddes

 

It’s only 14th of October… a lot more to come!





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.

Isurus oxyrhinchus2

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.

pelagodroma2

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…

melanotos2

melanotos3

 

Lanzarote 163

houbara

 

 

 

 





Israel’s top 5

12 05 2014

“Walls gone over the sea, but not for me.”

The Canals of our city,  Beirut

Although it does seem it was a year ago, it was this April when we went to Israel. First time for all three of us. I’m sure birders from all around the world remember their first time in this strange country full of birds… and so do I. Of course I do, it was less than a month ago, but what a month! A new round in the Canaries looking for Barolo shearwaters (this time especially successful) has buried some of my memories, but, since it was my original purpose to avoid a full trip report and limit myself to highlight the best moments, those which have survived the filter of the time deserve to be in my Israel’s top 5 that follows.

merops

– First impression at Nizzana: After several springs/winters considering going to Israel, the urge to step on its sandy south was quite extreme. Unfortunately, we landed at Tel Aviv airport late at night so an inevitable night drive to Nizzana was needed before start birding. To be honest, there was not that much in the small pine tree forest together with the fenced village of Nizzana. The first 10 minutes of sunlight brought some Turkish calls back to my head: Graceful prinia, Chukar, Balkan warbler. Nothing exceptional until we stopped to watch a 2cy Pallid harrier and 2 MacQueen’s bustards suddenly flew over us. The mixture of success and excitement puts these first hours in the country in the top 5.

Clamydotis macqueenii

– Seawatching at North Beach: As always, Stephen found the right words to describe the situation: “such a strange place for birding… surrounded by both western-like topless Israeli girls and Muslims covered with a kerchief”. I would add the barbet wire fence that constitutes the Jordan border and the line of armed ships that constitutes the offshore continuation of this border. However, I felt bizarrely comfortable there. Maybe due to the White-eyed gulls usually sat on the buoys or maybe due to the White-cheeked terns appearing and disappearing among the flocks of Common. Even it’s not one of the most-likely next first for Spain that comes to my head, it was especially interesting to get prolonged views of 2 1st summers. Finally, an unexpected Striated heron foraging in the Jordan fish farms was the icing on the cake.

sterna repressa

larus leucopthalmus

– Black bush robin: While walking back to the car after having twitched the Black bush robin at Dote Palms (Eilat), Martí summarized the experience: we went to Israel and we saw it. Even it’s still a very rare bird in the WP, the increasing number of sightings in the last years turns it into a target species and leaves you with a bad taste in case you fail to see one during a spring trip. According to a helpful guy from the IBRC, there were 2 during our stay: a nice one at Hazeva and a shy one at Dote Palms. For the sake of seeing 2, we decided to try both, almost immediately going to the shy one and leaving the nicer for the day after. The shy one turned out to be one of the nicest birds of the trip. We got very good views and I got some doubts about Israeli sense of shyness. By the way, we failed to locate the nice one at Hazeva.

Cercotrichas podobe3

– Arabian warbler family group: The well-known Sheizaf Nature Reserve was the spot we got to look for this currently endangered species. For whatever reason, I felt attracted by this dull Sylvia and it secretly was one of my most desired species. However, after 3 hours walking through the wadi under a burning sun I was close to give up. One of the worst things about going to Israel in mid-April instead of mid-March (when everybody does) is not the lack of some species such as Asian desert warbler but the hot temperatures from 8.30 in the morning on. However, the first contact with a large Sylvia shaking the tail well paid the effort. After the first joy, we realized there was more than one, a family group actually, so we sit down to enjoy the show. The video below is not edited just because I like it this way.

– Syrian serin and Mount Hermon. We went to the worldwide famous Hula Valley but, although probably good for birds, the place turn out to be awful for birding. We denied to rent a boogie and hire a guide to get close to a big lake and so we ended up with no more places to visit. The small fishponds north of the reserves were empty of birds and all the tracks were forbidden. A Little crake on a small pool (my only this spring, embarrassing…) was the best so we ran towards Mount Hermon without looking back. Since every cloud has a silver lining, our fail at Hula Valley meant more time to spend at Mount Hermon. We camped in the way up to the top, but a strong wind during the night pushed us down. If I had been asked at 3 AM, I would had said the day after was going to be another epic fail. However, early in the morning the wind had dropped almost completely and the birding was more than pleasant. After a first stop that produced some nice migrants such as Masked shrikes, Eastern Orphean and Balkan warblers (plus Syrian woodpecker), we carried on up to the top. Just by the road, we spotted a black and white wheatear that I first thought was a late Finch’s. The bird turned out to be a black and white Black-eared wheatear, but while looking for it some Syrian serins flew over us and some Cretzschmar’s buntings started to sing. We thought we were gonna see more of them, but those ended up to be the only.

Emberiza caesia WP

serinus syriacus

That’s it. I would like to say thank you to Martí and Marc for a wonderful trip and sorry to Lichstenstein sandgrouse, Tristam’s grackle, Hooded wheatear, Long-billed pipit, Little green bee-eater, Eastern imperial eagle and the rest of jävla najs species that, for whatever reason, my top 5 misses. Oh, and to Sinai rosefinch: “We’ll be back”.





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.

EH_2014.02.20_GalaSerrano 783

EH_2014.02.22_NereaGarcia 992

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.

EH_2014.02.19_ULL_  (403)

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.

EH_2014.02.21_MarcelGil 539

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…

rabijunco present

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.

rabijunco2

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!





Unusual challenge

14 12 2013

“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.”

– Cormac McCarthy

Living in the Mediterranean coast, one of my most-envied identification debates is the geese debate, and especially the Bean goose issue. Greylag goose is a scarce winter visitor, restricted to Aiguamolls de l’Empordà and Ebro Delta (where you only get poor views due to big distances), and the rest of the species are a local or even a national rarity. At the moment, there are 2 Greater white-fronted and a Bean goose at Aiguamolls de l’Empordà (NE Catalonia), so it’s a good chance to see more than the usual Greylag (or even worse: Domestic!) geese.

After a look at the diver show at Sant Pere Pescador beach (very good views of both Red-throated an Black-throated divers plus a nice couple Velvet scoters), we went straight to El Cortalet, where the geese spend the time feeding on young reed or aquatic megaphytes. The White-fronted attracted our attention first, but, since they’re just 2 nominal first winters, we focused on the Bean goose for the rest of the day.

gwfg

The previous pictures showed a probable Tundra Bean goose, what would be the first for Catalonia, with a short and stout bill and much smaller (including shorter but stronger neck) than the accompanying Greylag. However, the impression we got in the field was quite different. The bill looked longer, concave and not bulbous at all. The head profile was more swan-like, without any obvious bulge in the front. The orange, despite being quite restricted, looked more extensive than in the previous photos. Even I’m not very experienced with this taxa, I had never seen a rossicus like that.

head

The structure, however, was not still that of a Taiga. The neck looked short and blunt and it was a small goose in overall. When I looked at this second photo, I saw just a Tundra, maybe with a slightly longer bill than usual. Even the head shape looks right!

foto 2

A proper documentation work was needed and I ended up reading the Birding Frontiers discussion about a bird that did appear in California a few years ago. You can find one of the 3 parts (follow the links under the post to find the others) here. The bird is worryingly similar to the bird at Aiguamolls, despite the American bird has a paler head and a broader bill, maybe more bulbous than our goose. The neck looks thinner, but I would like to see the Aiguamolls bird in flight or in warning position to judge this feature.

foto1

Anyway, the debate of the BF post was (even more worryingly) between Eastern taxa serirrostris/middendorffii. What are the chances of one of those occurring in NE Iberia? I guess less than a strange rossicus/fabalis. Or maybe not.

Comments on this bird are more than welcome.








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