Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Siskins in a feeder

I sometimes think about the great help that, almost always, bird feeders give to many species. Some months ago I met Jaume Tarín, who has a very nice feeder in his 'countryside' home.

Photo by Jaume Tarín
The star species of the feeder is, without any doubt, the Siskin (Spinus spinus). Jaume has been taking care of them (of the feeder) for many years, and also he has been taking very interesting data from them. We decided to start to ring in his place, and the results have been so promising.
All photos by Jaume Tarín
First of all, a quick overview of the species in Catalonia.
All data from
As you can notice in the graphs, Siskins are basically winter species in Catalonia. There's a small breeding population on the Pyrenees and Pre-pyrenees mountains, but the main part of the birs we see during the year are winterers or migrants. As is been pointed by many authors, with data basically from ringing recoveries, Siskins can change, a lot, the wintering places, but some of them keep some fidelity. It would be very interesting to see how many of the amount we've ringed are back next year, and if anyone is trapped in any other place.

The thing is, will be the next year good for Siskins? We actually don't know, and I think it's quite unpredictable. Just to point what I experienced two years ago, in 2013's autumn: it was almost a record season for Siskins in Falsterbo, with 2560 birds ringed (4rth best year ever) and 97197 birds counted in active migration (2nd best ever). I expected nice numbers overwintering in Catalonia, but it turned to be one of the worst winters in last years. Seemingly, food abundance is one of the main factors that push them, or not, to migrate, among as surely more factors.

During this winter, which I would label as 'normal' in terms of numbers of birds, Jaume has detected the biggest numbers ever in his garden. I've pretty sure the great work (keeping always some food on there) has had something to do with it.

Together with Lídia, Òscar and Marta, we did 3 ringing sessions, with more than 200 Siskins ringed. I think they're very promising numbers, and we'll be continuing the project in the next winters for sure!

Ageing can be quite straighforward, because in many first-winters (EURING 3 / 5) there's a quite obvious moult limit in the greater coverts.
Second-year (EURING 5) male, with 9 GCs and CC moulted
Second-year (EURING 5) female, with 6 GCs moulted
But as other Fringillidae species, some individuals can undergo very extensive postjuvenile moults. Jenni & Winkler (1994) quote about 87% of birds with an 'easy recognisable moult limit in greater coverts'. Some of these 13% have all GCs moulted, and usually tertials, and inner secondaries. many birds has been found too with excentrical primary moult and some other stuff, but for the moment I haven't found any.
Second-year (EURING 5) female, with all GCs moulted
Adult (EURING 6) male
Sexing is even easier. And as males are brighter, they usually have more distinghishable moult limits.

See you next winter! Photo by Jaume Tarín

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gulls in BCN city

Some years ago, thanks to the ICO (Catalan Institute of Ornithology) and Barcelona's Zoo, Raül Aymí started a project about colour-marking Gulls. The main target of the campaign are Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), but Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) are usually trapped too.
Blue PVC for Black-headed Gulls
Green PVC for Yellow-legged Gulls
Barcelona's Zoo is located inside a big urban park, called La Ciutadella, and is actually a nice place to see some birds.

In fact, it holds probably the biggest colony of Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) in Catalonia!, and Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are common breeders too. Actually, they are sometimes trapped, and they're tagged with yellow PVCs.

Back to the Gulls, I've been helping Raül some times during this winter and last one.

Lately, gulls are getting used to the trap and it's hard to catch them, specially ridibundus. That's why, after we 'only' caught three nice adult Grey Herons along two mornings of trapping,

  we moved to Maremagnum, a tourist place inside Barcelona's harbour. It's probably the most important place for wintering Black-headed Gulls, that, as you can imagine, are all day eating what people gives them. So we take advantage of it, and we caught three by hand...

We spend the rest of the afternoon reading PVC rings, all of them from the Zoo's project this time. Nonetheless, we also photographed two metal rings, that turned to be birds from Czech Republic!

The ringing project, although without very big numbers of birds ringed, has already produced many interesting records all along Europe. Also, some foreign birds has been detected in the area due to the efforts in reading ring numbers.

Life history of Blue NC11, just one of the many birds that
has been reported all along Europe during the breeding season,
and coming back every winter.
As with any other ringing project, please contact to us if you can read any code!!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Morocco, february 2015

Togeher with Lídia, we travelled around Morocco for 10 days during this February. We spend some days ringing in Yasmina lake, you'll find it explained in this other post.

Back to the rest of the travel, I'll resume it in some main moments or areas.

February is probably not the best month for birding, but still, we had some very nice views of some of the target species. And in terms of migration, it can be quite nice too, specially with some nice presaharan species (like Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri) and some transaharan like Iberian Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus ibericus).

Fôret des Cedres (Ifrane - Azrou)
We passed half day in the magic Cedar forest, but the unexpected amount of snow in the whole area forced us to stay in the tarmac road almost all the time.

We first stopped in Ifrane, where we quickly found some African Blue Tits (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) around. In this area you can spot some species that are harder to see in other places, such as Coal Tit (Periparus ater), Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus), to say some examples.

Also, in terms of interesting subspecies, you can see some Crossbills (Loxia curviristra polygina)...

Anyway, the star species in the area are Levaillant's Woodpecker (Picus vaillanti), that we heard and saw close to Azrou, and the very curious Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvana).

Merzouga area (except Yasmina lake)
Between netrounds and some middays we got some time to explore other desert places around Yasmina.

There're some nice oueds to explore, giving always some interesting species.
Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri)
Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis elegans)
Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)
Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis)
Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegallus)
And even this unexpected rarity for Morocco:
Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)
 An overview of the typical habitat...

With, as usual, some migrants resting on the trees, like
this Hoopoe (Upupa epops).

Tagdilt track (Boumalne Dades)
This is one of the most popular places for birding in Morocco. The area is a very big plain area, with many many kilometres, covered with small vegetation.
In the back, you can see the High Atlas, with a lot of snow.
The place is good specially for Alaudidae and Sandgrouses. There are some pools that are specially good, but they were completely dry.
February is maybe a bit early for Crem-coloured Cursor (Cursorius cursor), but it should be easy to find some Larks around.

Temminck's Lark (Eremophila bilopha) was especially common. We saw about 40 birds, and some of them very close...

We found some Short-toed Larks (Alaudala rufescens) too, but no clues of Thick-billed Larks (Ramphocorys clotbey)...

Red-rumped Wheatear (Oenanthe moesta) was initially hard to see too, but we finally managed to see two nice males. Some Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) too, and this Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) carrying something for the nest (we guessed).

Back to Boumalne Dades village, it was really easy to see, very well, some House Buntings (Emberiza sahari).

If you visit the area, it's worth a visit to Dades Gorges. Apart from the chances to see African Rock Martin (Ptyonoprogne fuligula) and breeding Tristram's Warbler (Sylvia deserticola), the landscape is unique.

Atlantic coast (Agadir-Tamri)
The road between Agadir and Tamri that follows the coastline is really nice. There are some viewpoints where you can stop and take a look to the long beaches, usually full of Gulls.

The commonest species was Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus), followed in abundance by Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii).

Reaching Tamri coast, in the river mouth, we quickly saw this second-year Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

But soon, we forgot about the Osprey because of a big flock of big black birds...

And we got closer...

Bald Ibisses (Geronticus eremita)
We got very nice veiws...
Following the road northwards, we saw a couple of Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara) very good too:

Sidi Boughaba (Kenitra)
Sidi Boughaba is a big lake between the beach and Kenitra village. From the road that surround it you can see already some nice species such as Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata), but you can go inside the reserve and you'll get proper views.

There was quite a lot of White-headed Ducks (Oxyura leucocephala), more than 100 birds for sure.

The trees in the southern part had a big Great Cormorant's (Phalacrocorax carbo) roost. We checked them for ring, and we finally spotted a Swiss bird!

The place is quite good for birding actually. There were some Iberian Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus ibericus) around, Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) were very common too. In the lagoon, nice numbers of Shoveler (Anas clypeata), some Common Teals (Anas crecca), Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina), Common Pochards (Aythya ferina), Ferrugineous Ducks (Aythya nyroca), a nice male Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)...

We'll try to make a proper trip report of the trip. For the moment, we'll still keep many nice memories for us, but I'll end this post with our last sunset there, the 'We'll be back' moment of the trip.