Enjoying bird counts

4 11 2014

“I’m not counting any chickens.”

– Jeff Bridges

It’s not easy to enjoy birding when you have to count >4000 wigeons and >5000 barnacle geese under bad weather conditions, but when the weather is nice and the birds seem to cooperate, our weekly resting bird count becomes a very nice birding time around Knösen. After the whole season having seen almost nothing up there, the good vibrations started a couple of weeks ago, with a Gyr falcon flying over the meadows with a prey on its claws. Sadly, despite we saw the bird landing in the western meadows, it was impossible to relocate. However, notable numbers of White-fronted goose and Bewick’s swans were present, together with scattered Brent goose and Rough-legged buzzards.

albifrons

bernicla

The week after, when it was time to count again, our expectations were much higher than usual. Encouraged by the previous week birds and the good visible migration early in the morning, we departed ready to actually enjoy the birding. When I think about “the attraction law”, I remove the magic component some people keenly adds and turn it into something empirical: when you are in a good mood, you find more interesting birds. This was probably what happened that day  from the beginning. Probably due to this excitement, our first stop was to check a flock of Jackdaws (yes, Jackdaws). Instead of our desired Daurian, we saw an interesting bird with a strikingly white a broad white collar and a light grey nape.

russian jackdaw2

 

My only contact with soemmerringii was in Turkey, already some years ago, and, to be honest, I don’t remember how did the underparts look like. However, it’s quite easy to find photos of Russian (here) or Turkish (here) birds with such pale and mottled underparts and after a quick check of photos of birds breeding in the Iberian Peninsula showing pale and mottled underparts strongly contrasting with the black wings (here and here), I don’t think this feature (described, for instance, in Offerein’s Dutch Birding paper) is as useful as it seemed. The collar, in the other hand, strikes me as being missing in the spermologus I’m used to, but of course present to some extent in nominate monedula. If we, therefore, are left with collar size and shape to tell them apart, what’s the minimum size for a nominate to become spermologus? What’s the maximum size to become soemmerringii?

russian jackdaw

As usual in this kind of widespread taxa, while trying to dig into the subject, we end up hitting a wall in the shape of an east-west gradient and the conclusion usually is that only the extremes can be safely identified. However, when facing  a bird that is obviously not local, we can still try to guess the origine, looking for photos that allow us to draw the boundaries of the its kind’s range. After a [too] exhaustive search in the web, my conclusion is that this bird came from Western Russia, what Offerein calls “western soemmerringii“. Swedish breeding birds don’t show the broad white collar and Turkish soemmerringii seem to be darker in the underparts. I’ve not been able to find a photo of a Romanian bird (meant to be integrade) that striking, despite the variation covered in Chris Gibbins post. Interestingly, the bird was in a flock with two nominate monedula that are probably in the extreme of the species, not usual in Falsterbo breeding birds neither.

intermediates

Since these taxa are meant to be migratory, what are the wintering grounds? According to Giroud, they are wintering in notable numbers in France and there are evidences of them wintering also in Italy, so they must be overlooked in the Iberian Peninsula. Definetely something to look at!

After an interesting bird (the kind of stuff that makes you read what’s been published as soon as you arrive home), it was nice to see something a bit more cracking. This was an adult Red-breasted goose among thousands of Barnacles. The bird was still present yesterday, when we managed to get even better views.

ruficollis2

The species is surprisingly criptic among Barnacles, especially in dark ligth conditions, but still one of the most beautiful wildfowl of our region.

ruficollis

 

The icing on the cake was the counting from the tip of Knösen. A flock of 70 scaups, more than 100 goldeneyes and dozens of Bewick’s swans together with thousands of wigeons. The sound of the birds without any wind at all, rather than the picture, was unforgettable.

 

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Unusual challenge

14 12 2013

“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.”

– Cormac McCarthy

Living in the Mediterranean coast, one of my most-envied identification debates is the geese debate, and especially the Bean goose issue. Greylag goose is a scarce winter visitor, restricted to Aiguamolls de l’Empordà and Ebro Delta (where you only get poor views due to big distances), and the rest of the species are a local or even a national rarity. At the moment, there are 2 Greater white-fronted and a Bean goose at Aiguamolls de l’Empordà (NE Catalonia), so it’s a good chance to see more than the usual Greylag (or even worse: Domestic!) geese.

After a look at the diver show at Sant Pere Pescador beach (very good views of both Red-throated an Black-throated divers plus a nice couple Velvet scoters), we went straight to El Cortalet, where the geese spend the time feeding on young reed or aquatic megaphytes. The White-fronted attracted our attention first, but, since they’re just 2 nominal first winters, we focused on the Bean goose for the rest of the day.

gwfg

The previous pictures showed a probable Tundra Bean goose, what would be the first for Catalonia, with a short and stout bill and much smaller (including shorter but stronger neck) than the accompanying Greylag. However, the impression we got in the field was quite different. The bill looked longer, concave and not bulbous at all. The head profile was more swan-like, without any obvious bulge in the front. The orange, despite being quite restricted, looked more extensive than in the previous photos. Even I’m not very experienced with this taxa, I had never seen a rossicus like that.

head

The structure, however, was not still that of a Taiga. The neck looked short and blunt and it was a small goose in overall. When I looked at this second photo, I saw just a Tundra, maybe with a slightly longer bill than usual. Even the head shape looks right!

foto 2

A proper documentation work was needed and I ended up reading the Birding Frontiers discussion about a bird that did appear in California a few years ago. You can find one of the 3 parts (follow the links under the post to find the others) here. The bird is worryingly similar to the bird at Aiguamolls, despite the American bird has a paler head and a broader bill, maybe more bulbous than our goose. The neck looks thinner, but I would like to see the Aiguamolls bird in flight or in warning position to judge this feature.

foto1

Anyway, the debate of the BF post was (even more worryingly) between Eastern taxa serirrostris/middendorffii. What are the chances of one of those occurring in NE Iberia? I guess less than a strange rossicus/fabalis. Or maybe not.

Comments on this bird are more than welcome.








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