Yellow Coal-tit found in Fisterra

4 11 2015

“You should do something with your Coal tits”

– Björn Malmhagen

The first flock of Coal tits we saw in Galicia was in the very first minute of birding, even before parking the car. It was in Punta Nariga, a typical Galician cape with its lighthouse and its endless gorse extensions. There are mainly 3 species breeding in this kind of habitat: Stonechat, Winter wren and Dunnock, so when we spotted a flock of Coal tits coming in from the sea, flying over us and hesitating about where to land, we all knew they were migrants.


Migrant Coal tit is not a strange concept for me: we had a pretty good season last autumn in Falsterbo, but it’s the kind of thing that here, in the Iberian Peninsula, can be hard to notice. We always have Coal tits (it’s common even in Barcelona streets), so, in a normal year, you really need to go to a place where only migrants are found. Indeed, a lighthouse.

The main purpose of the trip was to check some areas in the Costa da Morte and Fisterra regions that have proven to be good for rarities. The dates were perfect and the weather forecast seemed so in the beginning. No way, not in Galicia. After having seen this flock of tits, it got cloudy and rainy and the clouds didn’t went away until it got windy. However, with the wind they came more Coal tits, this time in the exciting Mar de Fora little forest, a Ouessant-like forest placed in the very western end of the Iberian Peninsula.

We had set up some nets targeting Siberia, but we ended up catching Coal tits. Not a bad thing, since they showed obvious differences with the ones we are used to and especially with the ones I’ve been handling in my last 2 autumns in Falsterbo (like the one in the bottom below).

coal tits

Falsterbo 075

The upperparts were greener, lacking any hint of bluish tones, and the inner median coverts showed an orangey tip creating a more saturated wing bar impression in comparison with the all-white wing bar present in NE Iberia Coal tits. The photo below shows colour variation in the upperparts of the Coal tits we caught.

hibernicus galicia

All in all, especially keeping in mind we were in Galicia and they were coming from the sea, we thought we were catching britannica Coal tits, but a proper look at the subject revealed the actual importance of a feature we had assumed it was typical of this subspecies: the yellow wash on cheeks and nape patch.

The extension of the yellow in the face was variable, with some birds showing a highly saturated yellow area in the lower cheeks contrasting with a pure white upper area and some others lacking any yellow. The most extreme bird showed almost completely yellow cheeks, somewhat reminding the Algerian leudoci.

hibernicus galicia2

After a quick chat with Stephen, who claimed had never ringed a bird like that in the UK, and after having checked the literature, we realised we had been catching some hibernicus, the funny Irish race. It sort of makes sense. If you are a Coal tit migrating south from Great Britain, the first piece of land you hit is the French coasts of Bretagne and Normandy. However, drawing a straight line south of Ireland, you reach Galicia.

Seemingly, a deeper bill it’s also typical hibernicus (what about britannica?). Here you are a comparison side by side of a bird caught in Galicia (left) and a bird from Falsterbo (right). Despite the slightly different position of the head, it’s possible to see a different bill shape, with the presumed hibernicus showing a more curved culmen which gives it a Great tit impression. In the other hand, Falsterbo’s presumed nominate shows the pointed bill I picture when I think about the bill of a Coal tit.


Dickinson and Milne 2008, on their paper about the authorship of this subspecies, reproduced the letter Ogilvie-Grant published in the Daily Mail in December 1910.

bull boc hibernicus

I wholly share Mr. Collingwood Ingram impression of a very distinct form, but I don’t agree with HBW when describing the movements as “In British Is moves short distances, with very few recoveries at more than 20 km (most less than half this distance)”. The birds we caught had travelled over 900 km presenting yet another evidence of how almost all bird species are potential migrants.


Dickinson, E., Milne, P.: The authorship of Parus ater hibernicus. Bull. B.O.C. 2008 128(4)

Gosler, A. & Clement, P. (2007). Coal Tit (Periparus ater). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona


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.



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”.



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.


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).



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


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…



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!


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.



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

Quality time

3 08 2014

 “We were right we were giving, and this is how we kept what we gave away.”

– Comes a time, Neil Young

It’s been already a month since all these events happened, but I’ve kept them in my mind since they are gonna be one of the best memories I’d preserve from 2014. After a busy spring  coming and going from Barcelona to elsewhere, it happened that Stephen suddenly came to visit us and I had not got the time to plan the trip properly. Neither had Marc and Martí, and hence we ended up in Vall d’Aran looking for some nice birds/butterflies/orchids but basically spending some quality time together. It was the first time that Marc, Martí, Stephen and me were at the same time in the same spot but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be the last one.

The first thing we did was to ring a Rock bunting. Stephen had fallen in love with the species in the very first time he came to Catalonia. Now he is not in a hurry to see everything, we can spend some time to actually look at the birds. As expected, when we caught it and realized it was a boring adult (3+, Euring 6, 2nd cycle, …) Stephen recognized it was not that nice and claimed for a 2nd year. After we had politely suggested him to go and screw himself, we left the area and finally faced the Pyrenees.

The first stop was at a very nice place Marc knew was plenty of Pyrenean brook salamander Calotriton asper. Nice to see them but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In case you wonder, it’s Stephen holding the newt in front of his brand new t-shirt he had bought in London airport.

calotriton asper

In Vall d’Aran we saw some Lammergeiers, a Cinereous vulture, Citril finches and quite a lot of orchids. Since Martí is been very into orchids lately, it was nice to learn from him. As I can’t be arsed to make the usual collage that usually ilustrates this kind of paragraphs, I will just post a photo of the one I liked the most: Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia.

cephalanthera longifolia

But the best was this Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni: the first record for Catalonia! More on that soon…


After some Black-bellied sandgrouses, whiterby Reed buntings and displaying Red-necked nightjars in Lleida steppes, we came back to Barcelona to target Pekin robin (currently Red-billed leiothrix or something like that). We failed despite there were several singing around. However, we caught a couple of Sardinian warblers and some baby Firecrest that made Stephen happy. So did the omelette and the Iberian ham we got for dinner.

We still had a day to fill up some lagoons: we still needed to see a male Roch thrush. We went to a place near Marc’s area where they used to breed. Nowadays they don’t, but it’s still an interesting Mediterranean bushland area good for Ortolan bunting, Western orphan warbler, Red-rumped swallow, blue rock thrush… We put up the nets and managed to catch a 2cy male Western Orphean, an Iberian subalpine wabler (currently inornata iberiae) and a Red-legged partridge. To finally see a male Rock thrush we had to go up to Turó de l’Home, the highest peak in Montseny mountains. Fortunately, we found one almost immediately and it ended up being the last bird of the trip.

sylvia hortensis

Almost one month later, and just before coming to Sweden, I came back to Vall d’Aran, this time with Laura. The air, the wildlife and the landscapes of this area is perfect for a reset in life. We didn’t look for anything in particular, our only purpose was to be there and forget about the stressful city, without cell phone signal, using electricity only for listening to music. We managed, and now I feel ready for the start of a new ringing season in Falsterbo.

Lycaena virgaureae

Just before winter

4 11 2013

“I read, much of the night, and go south in winter.”

– T. S. Eliot

Nobody knows what’s going on with the weather this year. After an extremely dry October, the Skanian winter finally started with the wind storm that hit the peninsula last week with winds up to 50 m/s. The conditions looked promising for seawatching, but the highlights from Båstad only included a Great northern diver and 2 Sooty shearwaters. These, together with a Pallid swift twitched late in the afternoon, made the Swedes happy, but I couldn’t avoid a bit of disappointment due to the lack of Little auks or Yellow-billed divers, my 2 target species for the day.

After this, we’ve not got a single day without wind and/or rain, what means almost no ringing. The long-term forecast for the next weeks looks awful, so who knows if the ringing this season is already over. However, there are still a lot of birds around, and some of them particularly interesting: the trumpeter call of Northern bullfinch is everywhere, as well as some intriguing Redpolls. We only need a calm day to find something good!

Just before this sudden change, we managed to see some good birds. The resting bird counts at Knösen produced some nice species such as Lappland bunting, 21 Bewick’s swans and some Taiga bean goose Anser fabalis fabalis.

Anser fabalis fabalis

Cygnus bewickii

The ringing was also very good, with hundreds of birds everyday and some interesting species suck as Twite and Great grey shrike. Just enough to realize how subtle is the moult limit in Twite and how a homeyeri should not look like.


This Twite had moulted only GC9. The difference can be noticed mainly in the tip of the feather: more buffish in the moulted feather and whiter in the retained juvenile. The centre of the feather is also blacker in GC9.

twite wing

The Great grey shrike we caught was just an excubitor, but, keeping in mind I had only handled meridionalis before, this bird was the closest I had ever been to one of these exciting eastern taxa. Enough for coming back home ready to read some literature and realize our bird got too much black in the secondaries and in the 2 outernmost (R5 and R6) tail feathers. Nice bird nonetheless!


excubitor tail

That’s it… We can only wait for the sun to bring us some nice birds and landscapes again:


Iberian-like chiffchaffs in Sweden

29 10 2013

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Everybody knows the chiffchaff world is a complete mess. Among all the fucked up chiffchaffs we’ve caught this autumn (including tristis, tristis-like, abietinus, abietinus-like, collybita and collybita-like), my favorites are still a couple of “green chiffchaff” we caught two weeks ago. Both of them showed what in my opinion are Iberian chiffchaff characters, although the only call I heard from one of them was perfectly normal for a Common. Of course I am not that mad to claim 2 Iberian chiffchaffs ringed the same day in autumn in southern Sweden, but, from an Iberian point of view, it’s interesting to know that these birds do exist and therefore we should be cautious when it comes to identify an Iberian chiffchaff in the field without vocalizations.

2 chiffchaffs

The birds showed pale upperparts, very clean, without any hint of grey nor brown and with some lemon-green tinges instead. The underparts were also very clean, with blurred yellow in the undertail coverts and yellow stripes in the breast. There was not a frontier between the cheeks and the throat, giving an open-face impression, what is meant to be a reliable key feature for Iberian. Furthermore, the eyebrow was greener above and in front of the eye, what creates a patchy impression, just as in an Iberian.

Structurally, they looked long, I wouldn’t say abietinus-shaped, but there was something on them that reminded me as such. However, the wing-lengths were 58 and 59 respectively, within collybita range and far from the >61 usual in the abietinus we are catching. Moreover, P2 equalled P7 in on of them, whereas the other showed the usual P2=7/8 for Common Chiffchaff. In the photo below it’s possible to compare the structure and coloration of a typical abietinus (left), a typical collybita (centre) and one of the two tricky birds caught (right).

3 chiffchaffs

Since a picture paints a thousand words, the photo below was taken in Spain in April 2009. It shows an Iberian chiffchaff (in the left) together with a collybita Common chiffchaff. If you compare this photo with the one taken in Sweden, you’d probably find some similarities.


However, there are some differences. The Iberian is brighter and more saturated green-yellow, especially in the scapulars and flight and tail feather edges. Also, the bill is longer and thinner, with a characteristic shape ended in a subtle hook, whereas the Swedish bird’s got a bolder bill that gives a more powerful impression. It’s worth to keep in mind that the Iberian chiffchaff of the photo above was caught after the pre-breeding moult. It’s worth or maybe it’s not, because, to be honest, I don’t know the effects of the pre-breeding in these bloody weird chiffchaffs. My hope is that they become greyer, but my feeling (based on photos of spring birds from Israel) is that they become greener. If so, field identification of Iberian chiffchaff based on plumage characters is sadly still in standby.

And, yeah, as I usually do after a dense talk about some socially unaccepted stuff, the prize for the keenest readers is always a nice photo of a nice species, caught last week in our garden: a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler:


“It’s blue! It’s blue!”

17 10 2013

“Blue are the streets and all the trees are too.”

– Blue, Eiffel 65

After a month without updating the blog, it’s time to actually do something, even it can only be a review of the last weeks. Many interesting things have happened during this period, maybe too many to have time enough to sit in front of the laptop late in the afternoon.

The actual autumn in Falsterbo had suddenly started during my flash visit to the Canary Islands, but some nice birds such as the Steppe eagle had kindly stayed around. Other highlights of the raptor migration included the biggest day ever for Honey buzzard and a nice juvenile female Montagu’s harrier that stayed in the area for a week. It’s a pity that this was the species from what I got better views… the rarest harrier here but again the commonest in the Iberian Peninsula.


We kept on catching some good birds, both at the Lighthouse and at Flommen. A couple of littoralis Rock pipits in the cages were very interesting for a Mediterranean birder, especially this nice 1st winter with quite a lot of white in the tail. With strong light conditions, you can probably get a pure white impression of R6.

Anthus petrosus 1blog

Anthus petrosus blog2

The tail of the adult (below) was more similar to what I had expected, but I still don’t know if it’s age related or just individual variation.

Anthus petrosus 2blog

In the meanwhile, the lighthouse produced a Nutcracker during standarised ringing and a Tengmalm’s owl during the night (the last thanks to Aron’s keen work!).

Nutcracker blog

aegolius blog

Extra ringing at the Station is also successful, with 2 Yellow-browed warblers and a Red-breasted flycatcher ringed so far. However, I think the best in that respect is still about to come.

inornatus blog Ficedula parva

What finally pushed me to update the blog is yesterday’s Red-flanked bluetail. It was still dark in the first net-round and Stephen and me where in net 3 extracting the usual robins and wrens when Stephen started shouting at me “it’s blue! it’s blue!”. After some days with hundreds of Blue tits, something blue in the net is not surprising. This time, however, the “blue thing” was more exciting and less painful fr our already damaged fingers. I ran towards Stephen and he was holding the bird (that was still in the net) in a way that I could only see the tail. It took me a few seconds to react, but yeah… it was a Bluetail.


I’ve never got the English meaning of the word “blue” to describe something boring. A chat with such an electric blue tail is just a discharge of adrenaline, especially when the blue is extensive to the inner GCs and 30% of the LCs. Seemingly, the post-juvenile moult can be that extensive and therefore at least some birds can be sexed in 1st winter plumage. An exciting item from a bird that was already exciting itself!

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


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…

loxia curvirostra barred ala

leucoptera wing

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