The Ocean is everything

8 06 2016

“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.”

– Ambrose Bierce

Some weeks ago, I was lucky, so extremely lucky, to came across 3 Blue whales Balaenoptera musculus off Sao Miguel, Azores. I’ve seen loads of both Fin and Bryde’s whales so I had expected the Blues to be the same but bigger. I was wrong, so terribly wrong. Their enormous size makes you feel insignificant but, at the same time, the peace and the slowness of their swimming makes you feel safe and comfortable. An encounter with these blue giants should therefore sum up the relationship between the oceans (and nature in general) and humans.

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It’s not been the case. Humans have killed whales for centuries and some whaling structures are still kept around the Azorean harbours, only as past times witnesses. Fortunately, the Azoreans switched whale hunting for whale watching some years ago and, although the whale watching business also have an obvious dark side, the situation is undeniably better nowadays. The same happens in other corners of the world, especially since the International Court of Justice finally banned the Japanese whale “research” in March 2014.

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Whales have traditionally attracted everybody’s attention but their prosecution is just one of the threads the ocean and its inhabitants face. I could now talk about my beloved tubenoses, the most endangered seabird species. But the ocean is everything. Having worked in the Canary Islands, one gets aware of how ocean-dependant most of in-land ecosystems are. The Azores aren’t an exception and some endemic taxa wholly depends on the oceanic environment. Azorean bullfinch Pyrrhula murina is the icing on the cake of a very charismatic Macaronesian habitat: the laurel forest.

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Its origin is none other than the ocean: The sun warms up the water-rich air over the water surface and hence it ascends along the steeply slopes while its temperature decreases. Eventually, it reaches a point where the temperature is that low that the water condensates forming clouds. Those clouds stop ascending when they hit a wall created by the constant hot high winds predominant in the region. At this point, the clouds are carried by the wind on its direction but, when they hit a mountain area such as those oceanic islands, they create a sea of clouds. Some plant species such as the Laurel take advantage of the situation by fixating this water suspended in the air. They effectively work as natural desalination plants originating this stunning landscape:

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So it’s not a coincidence that we saw both Blue whale and Azorean bullfinch within a 50 km. radius. Today, in the World Oceans Day, I want to point out the importance of the oceans not only for charismatic animals like whales but also for in-land high biodiversity areas and their endangered (sometimes endemic) species. To preserve one habitat while forgetting about the others would be just focusing on the palliative cares of a sick planet without actually understanding the nature of the disease.





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.

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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…

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Lanzarote 163

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Falsterbo – Kiruna – Andøya

18 11 2013

“I am a big Lady Gaga fan”

– Aron Anderson

End of the season in Falsterbo, time to come back to Barcelona, the city that can be considered my wintering range. In the last weeks, some people has asked me what do I think about Sweden. Well… bearing in mind that, apart from 2 seawatching days in Båstad and another one-day trip in March to Vombs Angar, Skryllegården and Hackebergasjon (in central Skåne), I’ve been the whole 8 months in the Falsterbo Peninsula, so it was impossible for me to give an opinion about Sweden. Hence, when Aron suggested that I should join him on his way to Kiruna (Norrland) my answer was yes.

The plan in the beginning consisted in renting a car in Malmö and driving all the way to Kiruna, stopping at some places to do some birding targeting the northern species that I’ve missed in Falsterbo. However, after realizing how expensive was to rent a car if you are not Swedish, the trip ended up in a 6-hour train from Malmö to Stockholm + a 14-hour train to Kiruna. Then, we were gonna burrow a car and carry on north, up to Andenes in the Norwegian island of Andøya. This guy down here is Aron in the train, and he is extremely happy for either going back home or the big burger he’s just eaten:

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As soon as we arrived to Kiruna, I realized it was something completely different. I wouldn’t say the real Sweden, but admittedly the image of Sweden that we have in the south of Europe. Snow, forest and frozen lakes. Also some nice birds, mainly visiting feeders, like this Siberian tit.

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cinctus2

Without more time for birding the area, we departed to Norway and we didn’t stop until we spotted a Northern Hawk owl sitting in the top of a tree, some kilometers before Abisko National Park. Even this is probably the only species of “northern owl” that I had seen before (bizarrely together with Snowy owl), still an stunning bird.

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Surnia2

A walk in the National Park didn’t produce anything but a flock of Willow tits, nice landscapes and a warming cup of coffee in Aron’s former work place.

It was already dark night when we crossed the border, a step obviously accompanied by Aron’s classic quote “welcome to Norway, fucker”. The weather forecast made me forget about Northern Lights: it was meant to be raining/snowing all day long the day after. Maybe even more worryingly, the birding was going to be hard. Of course, when you’ve been ringing for one month in a row, need a day off and there’s rain forecasted, it’s always wrong. In the other hand, when you only have 2 days for exploring such an amazing place like Andøya, the forecast is right and the birding hard.

However, we managed to see some good birds: there were several Little auks around Andenes harbor, Greater scaup, Black guillemot, Red-throated diver… but no sign of neither King eider nor Yellow-billed diver. We decided to check as many harbors as possible, so we started with Bleick, a small village in the west coast of the island. No northern specialties again, but hundreds of Purple sandpipers feeding in the seaweed.

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Since the west coast didn’t look so promising, we decided to cross to the east. The central part of the island is just stunning. Pure tundra surrounded by high snowed mountains. The rain was annoying, but this landscape must be seen in a cloudy day. The icing on the cake was an adult female Gyr falcon sitting in a mossy rock. I would never forget this image!

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The day finished with the feeling that there were loads of birds in the island, but the weather and the lack of information had led us to miss the good stuff. The forecast for the day after was promising: really strong westerly winds and cloudy, but no rain. The whole Lofoten archipelago was in orange alert due to the winds, but, as usual when this happens, we were happy.

Andøy

The first thing we did early in the morning was to check Andenes harbor again. As soon as we arrived, we realized it was a completely different story to the day before. There were at least 40 Glaucous gulls of all ages, big flocks of Long-tailed ducks, a similar number of Little auks than the day before and a female King eider among some Commons.

hyperboreus

Seawatching in the west coast was almost impossible due to the strong winds and the lack of sheltered places. Hence we crossed again to the east coast, where the sea was completely flat and the birds easier to spot. From the tiny Myre’ harbor, apart from a surprisingly high number of Slavonian grebes, the highlight of the day was a flock of 8 King eiders (sadly all females again) and a stunning landscape.

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Time to head back to Kiruna, under a strong snow shower and already thinking about coming back to Andøya. The island offers very good birding possibilities. The lack of information (almost no reports at all in November) and the bad weather conditions forced us to invest one day in exploring the island looking for the best places. Of course, the already limited number of light hours doesn’t help neither. However, the number of birds (mainly sea-ducks, auks, gulls and divers) is impressive and with good weather conditions it’s probably possible to see most of arctic specialties. The landscape, as in the rest of the Vesterålen archipelago, is impressive, in my opinion especially in winter time.





Seawatching in Sweden

4 09 2013

“We’re in the half light,
None of us can tell
They hide the ocean in a shell.”

– Half Light, The Arcade Fire

After almost a week with a very poor catch in Flommen, the strong westerlies encouraged us to go seawatching. There were several different target species depending on who you ask. For Michael the prize was a Cory’s shearwater, but Marc and me were happier with the Black guillemots. Instead of going to a cape, Michael thought it was a better idea to go to Båstad harbor, where we could get a proper shelter for the rain and the wind and better views of the birds.

It turned out to be a very good decision and after a few hours of seawatching we had seen all 4 European species of skua, some Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Little gulls, Arctic terns, Black and Common guillemot, Black-throated and Red-throated diver and around 80 gannets. Some birds flying just over our heads!

Cephus grylle

minutus blog

rissa blog

Fulmarus glacialis

In the afternoon, and after a revitalizing meal at Linnea’s (what an impressive place where she lives!), we finally went to Kullaberg, a point a bit further south of Båstad. Our expectations were quite high.  If the bay was plenty of birds, there might had been thousands passing throw the point. Admittedly, the birders that had spent the morning in Kullaberg had seen less stuff than we did, but the afternoons, at least in Spain, are usually better for seawatching.

Even it was very nice to see such a beautiful place, the sad reality was that there was almost nothing migrating. I didn’t understand how was it possible! All the usually migrating seabirds couldn’t have suddenly appeared just a few km north and inside of a bay…

Kullaberg

After looking at some maps of the area and weather diagrams for wind and pressure, everything made sense. Both Sunday and Monday, we got strong westerlies of about 15 m/s, but they lacked the northerly component.

Sunday:

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Monday:

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All the birds we saw in the Bay had probably been pushed by the wind and had accumulated there due to its big entrance heading pure West. Despite their several attempts (most of them were flying south), the birds we saw were probably not actually migrating. Most of them were 1cy, weaker and less experienced, and these facts combined with the strong winds made it hard for them to exit the bay. As Michael pointed out, the risk of doubling counting in this place is high since probably the majority of the birds are just hanging around the bay. In the other hand, the Point of Kullaberg is heading NW and so does the bay north of the point. Moreover, the island of Kalvskärlid, placed in the NW point of this bay, makes the entrance smaller. Therefore, a subtle difference in wind components can be reflected in seabirds’ occurrence and a proper assessment of the weather before deciding for one place or another can be the key for a successful seawatching.

Bastad





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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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








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