Thursday, July 17, 2014

High up, again

Last year, with some of my closest friends, we started a tradition: climb a mountain in one day before the usual holiday farewell.

This has been the second year, and because of all of us are really busy, just Joan and me have climbed high up. We were a bit excited preparing the route, so we decided to push the boundaries: 'we'll climb 7 peaks', all of them between 2700 and 2800 metres.
The route, in yellow. Click to enlarge the map!
The place chosen is on the Eastern Catalan Pyrenees, close to Setcases, a small and bucolic mountain village. We parked the car around 9 o'clock in the morning, were we saw the first flock of Citril Finches (Carduelis citrinella). The first part of the journey was a really hard ascent. Some singing Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta) and familiar Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) groups made the incline easier... Nonetheless, all the area was really crowded... probably because it was Sunday, many people on holiday, and the place is fantastic to go by car until 2000 metres.
Photo by Joan
With less than one hour we reached the first peak, one that I don't know the precise name. I'll ever call it: "The Ptarmigan peak", because we found many fresh excrements and some feathers. There're lots of ''''alpinists'''' around, so the chances to see one were really low. We tried, looking in some hidden places between rocks, but we didn't had success. Still, the views were fantastic.

We recover some energy looking the first Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica), and we climbed the second peak: Pic de la Dona [2704m]
Then, we continued walking to the next mountain peak: Puig d'Ombriaga [2639m].

Bastiments [2881m] was the fourth and the highest peak to climb. The mountain in completely surrounded by amounts of rocks, a presumably good place for Ptarmigans. But there was still too many people to expect anything. At least, an Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) flew besides us, and some already migrating Common Swifts (Apus apus) were flying by.

Our way between the mountains was following the border with France. We have had a really sunny and nice day, but suddenly many clouds and fog appreared in the Catalan side.
We climbed the Pic de Fresers [2834 m] next, and then, the 'Hell Peak' (Pic de l'Infern) [2869 m].

Pic de Fresers
Pic de l'Infern
There was a big group of Pyrenean Chamois close to that lakes, we counted, at least, 66 individuals. Later, we would see 10 more while walking, and a group of 71 on the other side of a valley. I'm not used to see more than 130 Chamois in one day!
Photo by Joan
The last peak was the 'Cow Peak' (Pic de la Vaca) [2820 m], and then we started to come back.
On the way down, we crossed many meadows filled by Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota) and some Black Redstards (Phoenicurus ochruros) and other usual mountain stuff. Lots of really nice flowers too... I could be taking photos of them for months!

Which would be the 2015's target(s)?

Monday, July 7, 2014

High up

In the last month I've been 3 times in the north-western part of Catalonia, La Vall d'Aran. It's a small region located in the atlantic part (the northern one) of the Pyrenees, so it's a bit different than the rest of the Catalan Pyrenees.

There I've been looking for breeding birds for the incoming European Breeding Bird Atlas 2014-2017.
During the first visit in early June there was still a lot of snow around, and many species were just singing and mating.

Water Pipit's (Anthus spinoletta) nest
The amount of snow is always an relevant point for 'high' mountain breeders. In this part of the Pyrenees, this quantity of snow in June / July is the usual. Some years (like what happened last year), there are some 'late' snowfalls that delay the breeding season. With species like Water Pipits, you can see large flocks of birds in lower areas, waiting for the melting in late May.

Last weekend I did the last visit, already full of fledgings of all species. As I said, the breeding season has followed the usual timing. Only Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) had breed apparently faster than other species: I saw fledgings already in June; apart from Citril Finches (Carduelis citrinella) and Crosbills (Loxia curvirostra), that usually do an 'opportunist' breeding in lower areas in May, and then go up for the second hatching.

Already in July, there's still some snow...

I really love this places in summer, with all the mountain species singing. I found really special the Tree Pipit's (Anthis trivialis) song flight. The forest limit is also a good place for Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Siskin (Carduelis spinus), Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)...

Tree Pipit's habitat
A little bit high, trees (almost) dissapear and the landscape is dominated by low mountain bushes. This is the place for Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta), Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and if there are some rocks around, Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) and Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis).

I always found Alpine Marmots (Marmota marmota) really friendly. Can you see it?

Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) are nice as well...

Other nice species were:
Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) 
Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)
I'll end the post with three more landscape photos... this place is really amazing! I could be posting photos for hours.. :P

eth Santet
And the star-filled sky in the Pyrenees... is always unforgettable!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June strikes again!

Last year I posted about the June's 'turning point', that produced many interesting sightings and nice birds to ring.

This year, June has started really good, as 2013. We had pair of Little Bitterns (Ixobrychus minutus) flying around the reeds but I haven't seen them for a while. Maybe they're on the nest...
We've seen also many other nice species for the place, as Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus), Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus), the traditional June's Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)... and some other stuff.

Last Monday we finally managed to ring during the morning. After the experience last year, we expected lots of birds, and the main part of them would be House Sparrows (Passer domesticus). And actually this was the case, we trapped 127 birds during the morning, and 77 were House Sparrows. We decided to 'make an effort' and ring all of them, if it's true that they're disappearing in some places, we should study them as any other species. Fortunately, Lídia was there to help me to take it easy, and to provide her luck to ring nice birds!

So, although I know this will sound weird, we had a really exciting ringing morning!
During the first netround, we trapped this big chicken; friendly called Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus).

Last year I also trapped one in the same place. If you're interested in, I reccomend you to read it here.
The 2014's bird is perfect to complement the other post, because is a nice exemple of a 2cy (EURING 5).

The first thing I noticed was, as what happens with Turtle Doves, that some median primary coverts (usually hidden behind the alula feathers) had a ochre spot on the tip, thing that may indicate juvenile feathers. Actually, the biggest feather in the alula seemed retained (?), at least is more brownish and wider than the 2013's bird, and also have a white thin border.

Tertials, some scapulars and also many coverts looked more brownish and with a faint light border on the tip. There are two obvious generations on secondaries, with the juvenile ones clearly more pointed.

And primaries were quite worn and in active moult, but there wasn't any retained outer primary. All of them should be from the post-juvenile moult, and the new, growing ones, is the start of the first post-breeding moult.

Additionally, it had some tail feathers retained.

In the following netround, a really nice Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) was waiting for us. Really exciting bird!, but even more when we trapped another later on!!
Also last year I trapped one and I posted something about. It was nice to have two birds, but even more because they had different ages and sexes!

The first one was a 2cy (EURING 5) male, with blue and worn primary coverts, 'clean chestnut' in the inner wing and brighter colours.

The second was an adult (EURING 6) female. Look at the fresh and green-tinged primary coverts, with the same tone as in the alula. There's some green in all GC's and in scapulars.

We also caught a Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), and as I've been doing with all the other I've ringed, I'll keep wing photos and ageing comments for an incoming post!!

3 baby Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) were so nice to complement all this nice birds. I really love this wing pattern!

Talking about babies I cannot forget about the Magpie (Pica pica) that was together with one of the Bee-eaters. Look how the white in the outer primaries is quite far from the tip...

I could be writing names for hours, but I'll simplify everything in a list!

We are close to reach 2000 ringed birds in this place. Thanks to everybody who had helped me at some time! And special thanks to Lídia for this really nice day!

She already looks like an expert ringer, doesn't she?