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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Falsterbo Vice

7 04 2013

“In order to know virtue, we must acquaint ourselves with vice. Only then can we know the true measure of a man.”

– Marquis de Sade

We woke up today with the smell of Danish butter cookies. The western winds were quite strong, but the main advantage of this was the huge migration of ducks, swans and geese. After some quiet days, the migration showed its teeth today again with thousands of birds heading north in a stunning way. It was the turn for the swans, the scoters and the barnacle geese. These species seem to have replaced the eiders and the long-tailed ducks in the top positions of the migration counts… they are welcome! A special mention goes to a flock of 62 Bewick’s swan. I spotted the flock faraway from the shore and they seemed to be in a hurry. However, when they reached more or less my position, they turned right, getting closer to the coast, flying over me and finally heading NE. In these good days, it’s hard to stop seawatching in the end of the morning. I am totally addicted to migration but I don’t want to give up.

Cygnus bewickii3

Cygnus bewickii

Cygnus bewickii2

Each day, new species are arriving, little by little, as everything this spring. Yesterday I saw my first red-throated diver, today my firsts spotted redshank and marsh harrier. And what about passerines? Apart from the daylight migrants such as skylark, meadow pipit, reed bunting and white wagtail, there’s almost nothing. A single robin caught this morning after 5h of ringing and this is it. The first willow warbler is supposed to be here in 10 days, but we have not yet caught the first chiffchaff. Do you fancy betting?

Yesterday the sea was quiet, but encouraged by the interesting bewickii/columbianus intergrade that Stephen found the day before yesterday at Knosen (see a picture and a discussion on his blog), we cycled again to the northernmost point just to check that the swans were too faraway and the haze made the identification impossible. Nonetheless, loads of cranes were flying over, with a total account of 524 individuals. A single tundra bean goose also followed their steps.

Grus grus

Anser fabalis rossicus

The day before had not been such a good day for migration but for sedimentation. This female velvet scoter showed well near the harbor. It seemed it liked to swim against the waves. Its body seems to be designed for such purpose! Velvet scoters have always been one of my totemic species and now I can enjoy them everyday. This time there was a female in the harbor, but who knows if tomorrow there would be a male…

wave velvet scoter blog





Spring ins Licht

4 04 2013

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

– Carl Sagan

It has finally arrived! I have to admit I had already lost my hope and thought this winter would last forever. Admittedly, the forecast showed more snow showers coming from Poland but, even though, it’s sunny outside while I am writing these lines. Not only the weather is better; in the last days we’ve enjoyed some new arrivals, with a huge swan, geese and seaduck migration on the day before yesterday and flocks of tits entering from the sea both yesterday and today. Precisely, the spring in the lighthouse garden took off yesterday at 8.30 AM, when 25 unringed great tits were hanging in the same mistnet. We only had ringed 3 birds in the previous 4 hours, so that may be a new arrival.

Somateria mollissima2

But let’s start from the beginning. The day before yesterday was a really nice day. Thousands of birds were heading north, including eiders, long-tailed ducks, velvet and common scoters, goosanders, red-breasted mergansers, greylag, barnacle and bean geese, mute and whooper swans. The mistnets were quite, so we enjoyed just to be sit by the lighthouse garden, with our scopes aiming to Denmark.

Branta leucopsis

Anser anser

Cygnus cygnus2

Cygnus cygnus

Somateria mollissima

Yesterday, encouraged by the noticeable migration of great tits, Helena and me checked the northern point of Knosen. More than 300 whooper swans were congregated, with at least 5 Bewick’s among them. A flock of around 80 pied avocets suddenly appeared and my first curlew of the season was also patrolling the marsh. The last northerly spot of forest was plenty of great tits and a siskin, but nothing else for the moment. However, it was nice to see the first butterflies: quite a lot of small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae were flying over the same meadows in which meadow pipits were already displaying.

Aglais urticae

The first arrival of meadow pipits was only 3 or 4 days ago and now they are already displaying. I hope this would be a symptom of how fast things change.





Yes, it’s cold

8 03 2013

“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”

– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I am already in Sweden, where I will be for the next 3 months, working for the Falsterbo Fågelstation. My work will consists mainly in surveying breeding birds in the Skanör Peninsula but I will also help (and learn from!) ringing and bird counting. I arrived on yesterday evening and met Stephen Menzie, who kindly took me at the bus stop. After having seen the house, talk a bit about birds and dinner (in the end!) I went to sleep with the feeling that today would be an amazing day.

Faro2

Already in the morning, the windy conditions has not allowed us to ring, but anyway we’ve visited the lighthouse to meet the Fågelstation staff and also to bird around. The first view of the Baltic Sea confirmed what I’ve always heard: it’s a paradise for diving ducks. It was plenty of eiders, large flocks of common scoters passing throw, some red-breasted mergansers, goldeneyes and 3 velvet scoters also flying eastwards. In a lagoon just in the middle of the Flommen Golf Course, there were 2 whooper swans among quite a lot tufted ducks. Looking at this image, 2 thoughts came to my mind: one is that I had not seen a whooper swan for 3 years and the other is that you don’t realize what a common bird is the tufted duck until you cross the Pyrenees. When we were leaving the area, a crane flew over.

Cygnus cygnus

Grus grus

Back at home, it was already lunch time even it was still 12:00. This cultural difference has always caused me a sort of “stomach jet lag” that I hope to recover from soon. The good new was that I had still all the afternoon to go out. However, I don’t know many places and it was still windy, so I preferred to repeat more or less the same itinerary from this morning, but focusing on different species. The dunes along the Flommen coast looked great for either shore larks or snow buntings but I did not manage to see any. A nice (nice for me) adult great black-backed gull surrounded by quite a lot of both herring and common gulls were enough for the first day. The whooper swans were not in the same place than did in the morning, but 2 oystercatchers were feeding on the nearby shore. Stephen told me they are just migrants up there, what means migration has already started.

Larus marinus

Haematopus ostralegus





This is not a goodbye

20 02 2013
“When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.”
 – William Butler Yeats
El Hierro must be one of the best places to feel the sea as a part of you. Hence, these 2 weeks has been the best way to say goodbye to the sea, since I will be working with ground birds at Falsterbo for the next 3 months. We have had a taste of all: African heat haze, northern cold winds, rain, burning sun, fogg and of course the Canary Island’s typical trade winds. Fortunately, we managed to take profit of almost all the conditions we were coming across.
The first days were quite normal. The beaked whales (once again the target of the survey) seemed to be scarce, but the Mar de las Calmas bay was plenty of Spotted, Bottlenose, Common and Rough-toothed dolphins. Birds were also present since there is a Barbary falcon nest close to the land-based observation point and the local ospreys were also prospecting the area. The sea was infected of both pyrosomids and Portuguese Man o’war, as seems usual in the Canaries during early spring. We took the first underwater images.Image
After 3 days of normal work, a northern front was near to force us to suspend the campaign. We already had made our package when a last look at the forecast encouraged us to rest in el Hierro. Even it was impossible to go out the sea during the 2 following days, we profited to see the island once again. The idea was to show to the volunteers working on the survey almost all the local bird species and this would represent for me the chance to check if there was something new in the pond at Frontera. We first saw some Bolle’s pigeon in the high part of the forest, together with Tenerife goldcrest, Tenerife blue tit and the rest of common endemics. In the end, we reach the pond. A lesser scaup had been sighted there in late December but I didn’t expect to see it. The first bird I saw apart from some yellow-legged gulls was a new female ring-necked duck, but the female lesser scaup suddenly appeared. A quite typical image in the Macaronesia: two nearctic ducks together in the same pond.
Image
Image
Later on, already in the east coast of the island, we found a dead deep water fish of a still unknown species. Any comments on the identification will be welcome! Anyway, the landscapes from both here and El Verodal beach were stunning. I won’t never forget that dusk with Borja, Efrain, Manu, Nino, Crístel and Agus (even she had a cold) at the Orchilla lighthouse.
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The following days were more normal. The bay was still plenty of dolphins, specially Rough-toothed Steno bredanensis. These smart animals were swimming simultaneously, in its unmistakable way. Most of the groups contained calves that were particularly actives, jumping and flapping the surface with the tail. In one of the groups, we notice there was a dead calf that appeared and disappeared intermittently. Finally, we saw what was presumably the mother of the calf taking the lifeless body an putting it downwards in an attempt to avoid gull’s attacks. The calf seemed to be dead since more or less 1 day ago, so the tenacity of the mother was remarkable.
ImageImageImageImage
Most of days, the Atlantic spotted dolphins overfill the bay. These animals are extremely social. They either come and jump below the prow or play with the bubbles of the engine. Together with them, a huge group of Short-finned pilot whales appeared just for one day but enough to get very good views. Perfect to try some aquatic pictures!
ImageImageImage
In the time being, the land-based station was surrounded by Boettger’s lizards Gallotia caesaris and Canary Island’ ravens, both doing some display. This stunning panoramic landscape (thank you Efrain) shows the place we were working at. Wonderful when weather conditions do respect.
31894_10200343011355366_309246238_nImageImage
And what about beaked whales? They insisted in their scarcity, but finally we managed to take good pictures of a group of 3 Cuvier’s beaked whales. It’s the first time I am able to notice its red eye in the middle of its friendly face. One of the animals passed diving just below the prow and both Borja and me enjoyed an unforgettable image of the whale wagging its tail impulsing the huge body into the depth. The same day we saw an impressive Bryde’s whale that was near to wet us with its blow.
ImageImage
Now it’s time to face Falsterbo. Probably I will miss the Canary Islands sometime, but I am sure I will come back sooner than expected. Meanwhile, I will remember them by reading my book.




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 cetavist.blogspot.com.

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!





Land ho!

7 10 2012

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

– Eric Cantona

Not an easy work those days in Galicia waters. The galore that came from actually I don’t know were and the strong swell rocked the ship all night long, making sleeping almost impossible. The rain and the cold winds kept me awake during the day, but after dinner time, at nightfall, I dropped down dead. However, the sea was plenty of birds and I specially enjoyed the large numbers of Sabine’s gull. I’ve seen more than 3000, being a flock of up to 800 the maximum together. Most of the flocks were composed by around 100 birds, with a Long-tailed skua embedded in. The skua landed in the sea or took off when the gulls did so. When the gulls came to eat the fishes we were throwing away, the skua also came to steal it.
The great skuas were also abundant, but their targets were the lesser black-backed gulls and the gannets. In the first days, Arctic skua was the 2nd commonest skua species, but this tendency changed in the middle of the campaign: Pomarines got more and more abundant until finally reaching last year’ levels.
Long-tailed skua would always be the smartest species of the seas. Apart from the birds within the Sabine’s, there were many long-tailed skuas migrating. The 80% of them were already juveniles, I guess adults must be in Senegal nowadays. The birds in the extremes of plumage variation were my favorites, both all-dark and white-headed.
Tubenoses were scarcer than last year. Great shearwaters may be in the rear-end of the Bay of Biscay, were people is reporting thousands of them. My maximum was 122 following the ship, but most of days I saw no more than 30. In the other hand, I saw 2 strong migration days of Sooty shearwaters, with some Manx in between. Cory’s were present in the area, but it’s hard to say what were they doing… maybe that’s why I like the English word “foraging”. I managed to see a presumed Scopoli’s in a flock of up to 40 birds.
European storm-petrel was a common species this year. They were present in all the edge of the continental shelf, specially abundant in front of Finisterre headland, where I saw a flock of more than 400 birds. In the Rías Baixas area, there were lots of Wilson’s storm-petrels and a Band-rumped, one of the few sightings in the coast. Leach’s soon appeared, but in low numbers and scattering around, just as always.
The terns were more abundant than last year, but I had no success in my search for the roseate. Arctic was quite common some days, and there were still some unexpected adults. I caught an injured juvenile with a hole on its breast, caused probably by a skua or a large gull. I healed it and it finally flew southwards. Good luck for him!
In the afternoons, if it was not too windy, the common terns were sat in the cables of the ship. A nice image, but better with a roseate whithin… Anyway, that brought me the chance to read a PVC ring and to study 1st summer plumages, the commonest those days.
And of course the cetaceans… We had bad weather conditions and that always makes hard to find a fin in the middle of the scummy sea. The first days we were happy with the short-beaked common dolphins and their impressive jumps, but the only morning we had a respite, we saw 5 unidentified whales, 1 Minke whale, a group of Long-finned pilot whales and the always present common dolphins. That was our best whale-watching moment.
In a week, I will be working in the sea again, this time in the Canaries and this time with cetaceans. I’ve never got sick, I never get tired, I would never have enough.







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