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.

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Some nice photos

12 03 2015

“This is how the entire course of a life can be changed: by doing nothing.”

Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

It’s been a busy winter. It’s not that I’ve not had the time to post something on the blog, the problem is that there has been so much stuff going on that I’ve not been able to sum it up. It’s quite easy actually: Borolo’s sheawater things in the Canary Islands and twitching in Catalonia.

The project with the shearwaters is going well and the first two birds have been successfully tagged, both reporting data about their unknown foraging range. Since all the information about this is already in the project’ blog post, I’ll focus on some other experiences. First of all, while trying to mistnet shearwaters, we caught several Grant’s storm-petrels. This species is not formally described yet and… oh wait, Stephen already spoke about that too!

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Should I write about the twitching then? Much ink has been already spilled about the Brown shrike at Ebro Delta, the Isabelline shrike at Marjal d’Almenara, the Pygmy cormorant and the Ring-necked duck at exactly the same locality in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà and the local megas (almost first twitchable ever) Rock pipit and Purple sandpiper (both at Ebro Delta and surrounding areas).

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So, what’s left? 3 months without posting and you end up showing some lichen photos to add some freshness. Here they go, Lepraria sp. and Xanthoria sp.:

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Both photos were taken at Fuerteventura. The Eastern Islands are bright like I had never seen them before, both full of flowers that create a stunning carpet. Keeping in mind most of these plants are endemic, the ecological benefits of this year’s rain are invaluable. The photo shows the currently violet surroundings of El Golfo village, due to the flowered Echium lancerottense.

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Echium lancerottense B

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Fuerteventura shows a similar aspect, but what always impresses me the most are the sharp colors of the spurges Euphorbia canariensis. While Stephen was chasing some stonechats, I was taking photos of the scene.

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So this has ended up being a crappy post with no information and just some nice photos. Trust me, it’s not been that bad…





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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Little things

2 04 2014

“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”

– Andy Warhol

In my last lonely day of the second round of the Barolo shearwater survey, tired and already waiting for Genís to join me, I decided to spend the day enjoying Fuerteventura, its landscape and especially its little endemic: the Fuerteventura stonechat.

I reached Cofete, the wonderful tiny village in the north of the Jandía peninsula, and saw the same restaurant I had been 7 years ago. Although it’s a bit expensive (due to the place, don’t expect iranian caviar), after several days eating tins of tuna I thought I deserved some relax. I guess all trip guides/webs already say that, but, just in case, you should go there! Either with friends, with the couple or alone, but to be sit in the terrace looking at the landscape and enjoying the classical potatoes with spicy sauce (papas con mojo) is a good way to chase problems away, at least for a couple of hours.

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After an abundant meal, Southern people usually sleaps but, since I got no sofa nor bed, the car was a complete mess and it was raining hard, I decided to immediately go and look for the stonechats. 7 years ago I saw quite a lot of them almost everywhere, but this spring they seem to be restricted to the south of the island, or at least much more abundant there. A long-term evlutionary ecology survey such as that of Galapago’s ground finches would probably show strong fluctuations depending on rain and who knows what other variables. In the current year, I found 3 nests in 3 hours, all of them in the Canary Islands spurge Euphorbia canariensis area of the Jandía peninsula. It’s nice to see an endemic bird breeding under an endemic plant surrounded by such an unaltered area.

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Already focused on one of the couples, I started looking at the moult to age them. Illera & Atienza 2002 described the moult of this species as almost exactly the same than in European stonechat rubicola, that is, a partial post-juvenile that includes LCs, MCs and some to all GCs and a lack of pre-nuptial moult that leads to a worn body plumage in spring (in contrast with Siberian stonechat). However, both members of the couple I was looking at had moulted much more, and some feathers not even mentioned in the article, such as all 3 tertials in the case of the male and medium alula in the female. Although the article does say males moult much more than females in their PJ (to reach a bright adult-like appearence), it looks like this moult can be more extensive than previously expected.

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To determine the extension of the moult in the female (e.g. number of GCs moulted) is a bit trickier, although A2 looked obviously moulted in the field. I was not able to see the other wing in detail, so it could be just a replacement, but A2 is not a feather usually lost and replaced. All in all, among lots of questions, it would be interesting to assess how many males do moult tertials. Since PJ moult (especially in males) has an ecologycal/behavioral reason, it would be nice to see if 1stS males with moulted tertials have a higher breeding success.

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Finally, just a photo of another Fuerteventura specialty for those visiting the Canaries: Black-bellied sandgrouse. They were already in couples, flying over the steppes emitting their magic call that brings me to my childhood summers in the steppes of Soria…

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Holidays

26 07 2013

“You asked me to dance
Said music was great for dancing
I don’t really dance much
But this time I did”

– Last days of disco, Yo la tengo

After a busy spring season in the field, I took a month for being at home, enjoying the city and the life out of the bubble. However, I got the time to do some birding/ringing/butterflying. Two days of ringing at Castelltallat mountains, in central Catalonia, were so useful to remember about some Mediterranean species. The species set had changed quite a lot since the last time I had ringed there. Instead of the big numbers of both Rock and Cirl buntings that I used to catch, now I got some forest species such as Western Bonelli’s warbler an the less exciting Blackcap and Short-toed tree-creeper. The place has in fact changed quite a lot. The area was burnt in 1998 and since then several new plant species have colonized in a typical vegetal succession sequence. The firsts Strawberry trees Arbutus unedo had already given way to some oak species and the former bush-land area is nowadays an actual forest. Fortunately, some opened areas had survived and there is still a notable density of Ortolan bunting among other interesting Mediterranean species such as Western black-eared wheatear, Rock sparrow, Blue rock thrush and Western orphean warbler. The formerly scarce Golden oriole is nowadays one of the commonest species in what could probably be treated as the paradigm of the overall change.

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Another Mediterranean species that seems to be increasing is the Subalpine warbler. The area is now the perfect habitat for the Subalpines: low Quercus in dry areas. I have to say this is one of my favorite species and I’d never get tired of ringing them, especially given the fact that the aging is never straightforward. This time I looked at the tail and tried to assess the age of every feather. Here it is my attempt on 2 birds (one 2cy male and one 2cy female):

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Sylvia cantillans tail

The presence of juvenile feathers is quite obvious in both cases, but the number of generations and the kind of moult that every feather comes from is not obvious at all. However, in my opinion, it’s possible to see the sometimes invisible differences between the first and the second pre-nuptial moults. Here you can see one of the males in all its splendour. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Sylvia cantillans

Another interesting bird I caught was this Nightjar. It’s an adult with a suspended moult: the 3 innermost primaries, the biggest alula and some secondaries are retained in what constitutes a good example of how the presence of 2 generations of feathers (even if there is not a pre-nuptial moult) doesn’t necessarily mean the bird is a 2cy. The pattern of the retained feathers is the same than the moulted ones and the differences are only due to wear. The high frequency of this suspended moult in this species makes me wonder what “suspended moult” means. Maybe we should consider this as a partial moult that both juvenile and adult birds can do. The individuals that do an actual complete are, in fact, an exception!

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The diversity of butterflies around the place where I set the nets was notable. The final list included some scarce species such as Marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia and Sloe hairstreak Satyrium acaciae. However, some meadows had been cropped and there were not many flowers. It could had been even better, but some places where plenty of Pyramid orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis, one of the commonest orchids in Catalan mountains.

Satyrium acaciae

Euphydryas aurinia

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Finally, I thought a visit to the Pyrenees targeting the always special Ptarmigans would be a good training session for the cold Sweden. It was really cold high in the mountains, with a strong snowfall and a freezing wind. We managed to see a male Ptarmigan doing some display. Quite stunning! Sadly, there were not many butterflies due to cold temperatures.

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Now I am ready for another ringing season at Falsterbo. The “Foreign Team” (Stephen and me) and the Southern Gangsters (in alphabetical order: Emil, Oscar and Ulrik) will be ringing at Flommen reedbed until the end of September and then we will move to the lighthouse. The season looks promising: we are already 50 birds above the for-the-time average, we’ve already broken 1 day record (even it’s just the starling day record…) and we’ve already caught a rarity, this Savi’s warbler (yeah, another southern species…; © Stephen Menzie). I will sound like a twitcher, but I felt it was nice the species number 200 in my Swedish list was a rarity. Anyway, all of this in just 5 days of ringing; it looks promising but it’s still too early to take conclusions. Let’s see.

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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!





Vall d’Aran

26 07 2012

“AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.”

– Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

Again in the Pyrenees, but this time in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. The Vall d’Aran is the only north face of the Pyrenees we have and it’s easy to notice that just by looking at either the vegetation or the butterflies. In conclusion, we are talking about one of the best places to forget about city noises and feel happy just by looking around.

I wouldn’t like to repeat myself posting another set of butterfly pictures. The purpose of that post is to show the beauty of Vall d’Aran’ landscapes and let you feel as if you were there for a minute. To give some advice, I specially recommend the route from Honeria to the Liat mines. You start walking throw a wet forest of fir trees, one of the few places known in Catalonia where you can see the Middle spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. Then you leave the forest to enter in the alpine meadows, good for some localized butterflies such as Glandon blue Agriades glandon. Finally you reach the mines where you can enjoy an impressive landscape composed by stony slopes and the Liat pond in the bottom of the valley. Alpine accentores, Water pipits and Alpine choughs are breeding here, while Ring ouzels do breed in the last layer of trees (Mountain pines Pinus uncinata) but also feed in the alpine meadows, just as Citril finches do.

If you are looking for butterflies, it’s worth to make a stop in the middle heights, specially in an opened forest area. It’s not hard to find Large blue Maculinea arion and the always nice to see Apollo Parnassius apollo. If weather conditions are not suitable to the butterflies, you could enjoy some other images, like the water of the mist in the spider webs.

If you have energy enough when you come back to the refuge, there are some nice village around that deserves a visit. Sant Joan de Toran, el Pedret and Canejan are all little villages that have no more than 10 residents living in each one. The buildings are mainly wood-made but they resist the cold and the snow of the hard winter.








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