And a happy new yeeeeeear!

13 04 2013

“Everybody’s talking ’bout the stormy weather
And what’s a man do to but work out whether it’s true?”

– Teenage riot, Sonic Youth

Here it comes! The good point (sometimes not as good) about the time is that it goes on. After a month complaining with reason about the weather, the spring has finally arrived to Falsterbo. Actually, the weather is still fur from being good, but now we have rain instead of snow and fog instead of wind. The result of this mixture is a huge arrival of migrants. Yesterday, we took over the record of chaffinches caught in a day and set the unbeatable figure in 288 birds. The total number of captures was 501, with 100 dunnocks and some new arrivals such as an adult male black redstar and 2 redwings. But the real spectacle was in the grass around the feeder, thousands of chaffinches were landing, feeding for a while and heading north afterwards. Loads of bramblings and some reed buntings complete the scene. We caught some of those as well, like this beautiful male blambling.

Fringilla montifringilla

Large flocks of thrushes were also flying over, and so did today as well. I would pay quite a lot of money to know how many birds have overflight the Lighthouse garden between yesterday and today. This morning was not exactly more of the same. The total number of captures was 385, but with “only” 98 chaffinches. The rest were mainly night migrants, specially robins and thrushes, but also goldcrests and chiffchaffs. These adorable little ones are particularly hard to be aged. The chiffchaffs we are catching these days have done a very restricted moult, quite different from that of the warmer chiffchaffs from southern Europe. I wonder if this post-juvenile can be confusingly overlapped with the pre-nuptial, what would kick up a fuss. An then we have the goldcrests, the smallest bird of Europe and probably the one among passerine species that has had a worst winter. However, they seemed to be warming up quickly, singing even from the bottom of the collecting bags while waiting for being ringed. The age is never straightforward, even when there is a moult limit in the greater coverts, in case they can be considered “greater”. An easy way of spotting the two generation of feathers seems to be the shape of the white in the tip of the GCs. Note the step-shaped white in the inner adult feathers, contrasting with the soft-edged white in the retained 2 outermost. Note also the difference in the wear, specially around the shafts.

regreg euring5 gcs

If you have paid attention to this only-for-ringers subject, you deserve a picture of the whole bird.

regreg all

Late in the afternoon, I went out for a walk heading east, following the shore while checking bushes, meadows and pine trees. There were thousands of goldcrests, thrushes, robins… the same stuff than in the lighthouse garden. Apart from a nice flock of 19 wood larks (some of them have been also passing throw both today and yesterday), the best was the first common tern of the season, followed by the first little tern. While seeing the terns, a grey wagtail flew over. 3 firsts for the season in a row! The time went on, now unfortunately, and the light was already scarce, so I came back home to pray for another bad weather good day.

wood lark



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.


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

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.

Hard day in the office

26 03 2012

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”

– T. S. Eliot

The migration is stopped. As soon as I admitted that fact, I concluded the only chance I had to find something interesting was going south. There had been a claim of a Desert warbler last week at el Médano and it seemed a good idea to look for that kind of birds through the hundreds of kilometres of tabaibal-cardonal. My idea was to go to el Médano by guagua (bus) and check the Amarilla Golf and Las Galletas grabel in the way to el Fraile, covering the southernmost part of the island. I had 2 days to do so, and I had worked out I would have to camp near the golf.

The day started awfully. The beach at el Médano was crowded and it seems everybody in Tenerife has either a dog or an hyperactive couple of sons. The best I could do was to seawatch, but after an hour of doing so and seeing nothing but Cory’s, I came back to re-check “la mareta”, a pseudo-natural lagoon in the inner part of the beach. There was a nice curlew sandpiper that was not present the first time and, since I don’t need so much, I suddenly got excited.

Then, a big walk until the Amarilla Golf seeing nothing but southern great grey shrikes, Berthelot’s pipits and spectacled warblers. A bit of seawatch from Los Abrigos produced a pomarine skua and lots of Cory’s again. A couple of them were doing display later in the afternoon, just a few meters from the shore. Nice to hear them once more! The only interesting bird, apart from the seabirds, was a wheatear and a willow warbler, if they can be considered interesting birds…

Today morning, more of the same. Another wheatear at the golf and nothing else… My hope resided on Las Galletas grabel and it fulfilled the expectations actually. There were 2 little and 4 greater ringed plovers, 1 wood and 1 common sandpiper, but the best was a tawny pipit. It was nice to campare the size with the incredibly common Berthelot’s pipit and notice it’s the double!

In the harbour and the pond near el Fraile, nothing but yellow-legged and lesser black-backed gulls, some coots and a greenshank. I am already waiting for the next wave of migrants.

The change

11 03 2012

Nice day at the ponds. A bit of seawatching at Punta del Hidalgo to take off: an adult Audouin’s gull (rare in the Canaries), about 100 Cory’s seharwaters and 1 gannet. Plenty of turnstones feeding in the rocks together with some common sandpipers and 3 whimbrels. I still miss a Barolo’s…

Later in the afternoon, during the typical tour-of-the-ponds at Tejina, I felt maybe the most noticeable change since I’m there, of course due to migration.

In the first pond, sleapy herons and egrets started to congregate around, while night herons were waking up. I had not seen catle egrets yet, and the roost was plenty of them. Where do they pass the day? The only surprise here apart from the catle egrets was a purple heron that flew over, in that case closer to us. It landed around another pond, but it was not here when we went there. Instead of the heron, there were my firsts little ringed plovers of the year. In the last pond, the 3 wintering spoonbills, one of them ringed in Germany, a greenshank and 3 coots. The last day there was only one.


Encouraged by that new arrivals, we went to Valle Molina. The pond is almost dry and looks good for waders. There was a dunlin, a ringed plover (both my first), 3 little ringed plovers and the typical flock of grey herons. It’s nice to see all that birds from the car…

Two seawatching points

28 02 2012

Everytime I’ve been living in the same place for more than a month, I’ve needed a place to seawatch. When I choose the Canary Islands, I thought this would not be a problem, since this is an island and the sea is everywhere. However, not all the capes or breakwaters are the same. 

Looking at the shape of Tenerife island and bearing in mind birds are going northwards in this season, the southern coast must be better than the northern one, but the Kittiwakes I saw the first day at Punta del Hidalgo made me think that maybe birds are passing all around. I was not convinced at all, so I went to Playa de las Teresitas on saturday and did an hour of seawatching that produced what follows:

  • Gannet: 28
  • Cory’s shearwater: 12
  • Manx shearwater: 2
  • Leach’s storm petrel: 1
  • Sandwich tern: 2
  • Bar-tailed godwit: 23 (in one flock)

In comparison, one hour at Punta del Hidalgo on yesterday morning:

  • Cory’s shearwater: 79
  • Manx shearwater: 1

So it seems Punta del Hidalgo is a good place for birds breeding here, but not to see spring  migration. Having checked that, I still don’t know which of them would be better for a Barolo’s shearwater…

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