Big words

14 03 2013

“People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure.”

– David Attenborough

Surnia ulula blog

I don’t use to put a picture in the beginning of my posts, but that’s a special one. Today was the hawk owl day. All the other things were just to fill the rest of the time, what would ordinarily be big events, keeping in mind we were supposed to look also for bean goose, rough-legged buzzard and the beautiful landscape typical from the Swedish countryside. The day started with some ringing at the lighthouse. A flock of siskins, a blue tit and a treecreeper kept us entertained until the H hour of the D day, when Sophie finally took us to go to the hawk owl place. A bird had been seen for several weeks at Skrylle, a lovely (but crowded) place in central Skåne, and we got plenty of information from Ulrik, who had already seen that bird for 4 times. However, even we did a great effort, the bird did not appear. A marsh tit and some nuthatch were the best, apart from this ill-looking common buzzard.

Buteo buteo

We left the area having seen almost nothing and we must admit we were a bit disappointed. Anyway, we headed for Vombs Ängar, where many geese of different species were supposed to be. The first we saw as soon as we arrived was a trio of resident white storks, too lazy to migrate. Suddenly, a flock of bean geese appeared, but too faraway to enjoy them.  Some white-fronted geese did almost the same and, although the place looked nice for quite a lot of things, there was nothing but red kites. The day was being a crappy day since we had got poor views of the only interesting birds we had seen. After a quick recheck of the Swedish rare bird alert system, we headed towards Häckebergasjön, where another hawk owl had been reported 2 days ago. This bird had been seen only once and there was not pretty much information about it. However, it was our last chance to see this species so it was worth to try. Our luck changed in our way to this new place: we first spotted a rough-legged buzzard set in stick, and then there was a nice flock of geese just by the road. There were (of course) mainly greylag, but also at least 20 greater white-fronted and 5 bean geese. An adult red kite showing its broad black primary coverts was also welcomed.

Vombs Angar

Buteo lagopus

Anser albifrons

Milvus milvus

Finally, we reached Häckebergasjön (yeah, I’ve just copy/paste the name of the place…). The place looked just like a countryside may look, open areas surrounded by old forest: endangered high-quality landscapes. The hawk owl had been reported 900m from the road, so we started walking in that direction. Then, the track was divided into 2, so Stephen took the left one and Sophie and me took the right one. 10 minutes later, Stephen called us saying he had the owl. After some disorganized search, we finally spotted it again, sat on a stump, in the middle of a clearing, under the cloudy sky: I felt I had already dreamed about this image. We took our time to enjoy such a nice bird, aging it as a 2nd cal. year based upon its sharp tail feathers, with a white triangle in the tip. Each time the bird look at us, I got goosebumps.

place surnia ulula

Surnia ulula2

Surnia ulula3

To finish what suddenly turned into a very good day, we got this nice sunset from a still frozen North Sea.



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!

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…

I missed the Fall

11 11 2012

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”

– Albert Camus

One of the few things absent in the Canaries is the deciduous forest. There is a total lack of deciduous trees and the color of the forest is always green when seen from above. As I already told in the post Leaf’s life, there is a huge variation in the yellow-red gamma present in leafs already fallen to the ground and it’s in that stage when you can notice the changes in coloration.

Last Wednesday, as soon as I landed at el Prat airport, I already thought about visiting the Montseny mountains, where the only Atlantic forest close to Barcelona grow in the high north face. The beech trees must be red and the rosebushes plenty of thrushes. After too many months missing them, it would be also nice to see bullfinches, nuthatches, marsh tits and all these northern species. Moreover, Andrea and Helena encouraged me to go out on yesterday. They wanted to see passerines and I wanted to see a beautiful place (for the first time it wasn’t the opposite!) so El Montseny was a good option.

The first views we got when we arrived early in the morning where nice, but not the bests of the day. The first redwings and siskins were feeding on rosebushes fruits but there was not much activity since it was a bit windy. The next stop was entering the Santa Fe beech forest. Here the landscape was what I was looking for. The opened areas with thistles were plenty of chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches an among them at least 3 marsh tits.

Then, it was the time to go up the high mountain. El Turó de l’Home is the top of the Montseny and the closest place from Barcelona to find some species from the highs. A few minutes after parking the car, we saw a bird foraging on the road side which was a nice citril finch. There was a constant flux of cyclists that flushed it, but the bird came back each time. A female alpestris ring ouzel was sat in a rock, but only for a while.

The landscape from there allowed us to compare the different chorology between the north (beech forest) and the south face (oaks mixed with some conifers). In both cases simply stunning.

Almost in the top, we saw a flock of up to 6 alpine accentors. It’s nice to see such an approachable and localized species, always grateful and cooperative! 4 more citril finches also flew over.

In that moment, we had already been in a beech wood and in a high mountain opened area, so we didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, Robert Manzano was checking the beach at Malgrat de Mar and he found a nice 1st winter male snow bunting. I turned around and set off for Malgrat. When we arrived, Robert had not seen the bird for 10 minutes, but we managed to find it in the same area. It’s a local rarity but, above all, is a beautiful bird. Many thanks Robert!

Carried by the water

2 11 2012

“If you think it’s going to rain, it will”

– Clint Eastwood

In my last 2 days at El Hierro, I found my 2nd Spotted sandpiper of the week, but I felt I needed something new. I had seen only one of that (sometimes not) Spotted beauties before that fall but I still had a lot of Nearctic waders to see so I saw the 2nd individual as a lost chance to had found something different.

The news about Sandy coming from the States made me presage some arrivals so I stepped up my efforts checking the ponds. Beneharo, a friend of mine, had found a lesser yellowlegs in southern Tenerife but, when I came late in the afternoon, the bird was not there. Beneharo came the day after, early in the morning, and it was not there too. So… if I wanted to see something interesting, I would had to find it by myself. Anyway, the wind was the right one, it was rainy and foggy and maybe it has been that weather together with the dates what have been encouraging me to go out most of days.

Today, I had planned to check most of southern ponds and shores together with Jacobo and Sara. The day started with the typical stuff: Ringed plovers, whimbrels, turnstones… but 2 dunlins and a sanderling made me dream. The beach was plenty of things carried by the water. Sea-shells, algae and even quite a lot of that nice myctophid, probably Diaphus dumerilii (thank you Rupert!).

In Las Galletas harbor, I was able to take the best pictures in history of the shy Barolo’s shearwater (Pardela chica in Spanish). Must be the best name for a research vessel!
Moreover, the color of the rocks at el Médano beach was specially stunning with a clouded sky and a storm coming from the southwest. This picture (taken by Sara) demonstrates that fact.
When I reached the place where the yellowlegs was, I was sure there must be something. The first bird I’ve seen has been a redshank, for sure the same I had seen the last day I had been there, looking for the yellowlegs. However, today the redshank had its yellow-legged partner and a White-rumped sandpiper had joined the party. It’s hard to see two species of American wader together in that side of the Atlantic and that image made me think about Ponta Delgada, in the Azores. It must be something like this, mustn’t it?

Still 3 days to go…

Nothing to say

24 10 2012

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

– Ambrose Bierce

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