Monday, June 29, 2015

Pre-Pyrenean jewels

I know I'm writing every year (well, almost every half year) a nostalgic post about Cuberes, a place where I used to spend a few weeks in the summer when I was a child. The place is in the pre-pyrenees, between a big drylands extension and the actual Pyrenees.

As I might have posted before too, the combination of habitats is, at least for me, very exciting. You can find some species with a clear mediterranean influence to mature Mountain Pine (Pinus [mugo] uncinata) forests. Of course, the variety of bird species is even more exciting for a birder...

Imagine you're following a trail from the lowest part to the highest. Starting from belows, south sides of mountains are boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens), and N sides are usually dominated by Black Pines (Pinus nigra). It's relatevely easy to find Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) and Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia inornata) here, sometimes with some Citril Finches (Carduelis citrinella)Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) and Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius) are also present. There are also Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which provides food for many raptor species that breed in the Scots Pine forest.

Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata). EURING 3
The Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) forest is the most extensive habitat, with Coal Tit (Periparus ater) and Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus) being the commonest species. The highests parts it changes to an actual pyrenean Mountain Pine forest. There, you can find easily Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and Citril Finches (Carduelis citrinella), and sometimes an Eurasian Treecreeper (Cethia familiaris) (there are a lot of Short-toed Treecreepers Certhia brachydactyla too!!) or a Tengmalm's Owl (Aegolius funereus). Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) and Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla) are also mixed breeding here - it's like a potential place for interesting hybrids!

Second-year (EURING 5) male Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla),
starting the postbreeding moult.
Adult (EURING 6) male Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla)

Adult (EURING 6) female Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella)
Juvenile (EURING 3J) Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella)
Open areas and pastures are filled by Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe)Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio)Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella), as is typical in this kind of habitat in the Pyrenees. But... surprise! You get Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus)Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra)House Sparrows (Passer domesticus)Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia)Magpies (Pica pica) and Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) there too!
Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe). Above, an adult
male (EURING 6), showing a replaced inner secondary,
probably due to an accidental loss. Below, a juvenile.
Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia). This bird was surprisingly
bulky, sadly we couldn't trap more to check if the population
here is actually more corpulent than others.
Common Quails (Coturnix coturnix) are also common in
this habitat. That was a second-year (EURING 5) male, with
the typical 3 outer primaries retained.
As interesting species, we algo got this European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). This male (or at least some male) has been singing for many years close to a small river. I really wanted to trap it, since I was a child, and I finally managed!

It should be aged as EURING 4, because if any feather
 is retained, no further ageing is possible. At least sexing
is easy,the white spots on outer primaries are reliable
indicators of male.
Of course, the skies are very crowded. Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) are almost omnipresent, and Lammergeiers (Gypaetus barbatus) are quite common too (you can easily spot 6-8 birds in a single day, without effort). Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) are also around, and, since the reintroduction project it's been very succesful, is not that hard to find a Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus), and therefore, to see all four european vulture species flying together!

One of the most representative species of the area, but, is not a bird. Red Deers (Cervus elaphus) were introduced years ago for hunting, and a hunting reserve was created. I really like them, specially in autumn, but an excessive density (as it occurs here) is really really bad for the habitat. I could be talking about this problem for quite long, but I'll leave it for another day.

I've been three days looking for breeding birds, because we have started a new Breeding Bird Atlas in Catalonia, while the European Breeding Bird Atlas is also going on. I'll be back very very soon...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Less than one year after reaching 2000 ringed birds in my usual place, l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila, today we reached 3000. Since the start of the regular ringing in December 2012, we reached 1000 birds in October 2013 and 2000 in July 2014.

Ringing in June there is always interesting, but for the moment, this year is a bit boring. The most trapped species is the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), with an average of 40 birds each day.

It's very interesting to see the big numbers of House Sparrows ringed in the place (657 up to date), but the very little few retraps. Also, unless I really look for them, it seems very very hard to see a Sparrow carrying a ring. It's like they only come in summer with flocks of chicks, and then they just go away to somewhere else, but I'm all June and July trapping new flocks of chicks, and almost never I retrap any from the last week! We'll keep on ringing and taking data, waiting for an answer...

Greenfiches (Chloris chloris) show a similar case. We've ringed 113 individuals up to date, and we have to keep in mind the place is really small (4,5 ha), and that in winter, Greenfinches are scarce. I guess the place will attract many birds from the town, where its a usual breeder in parks and private gardens. But still, the very little few of retraps is interesting.

If anyone is taking my rings out, please, stop joking me! :P

83 species is also something to stand out. We have trapped a very nice combination of species!, I'll post a collage to summarise. The last species to be added was this Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli). I'll also post a list of all captures.

Many thanks to everybody who make this possible. The list of names would be very large, so I'll just say a special thanks to Escola la Serreta, a school that is making sure all their pupils learn to respect nature, and to Joan Manubens and Bernat Ferrer, that have been helping since the very beginning!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Red-footeds galore

2015 spring will be specially recorded for the Eastern species influxes we have got in Catalonia. If in April we got good numbers of Wood Warblers, May has been unforgettable for the numbers of Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus). The scenario is similar to the one with Wood Warblers: a scarce eastern transaharan migrant in Catalonia, with usually low numbers every spring, but with the chances of (massive) irruptions for whatever amount of variable things. As I did with sibilatrix, here I post the maps (generated with of vespertinus sightings in Catalonia each spring.

We can almost state that Red-footed Falcons have been seen everywhere in Catalonia where it was more or less a suitable place. At least inland, a very high percentage of harvested fields (specially those that were plowed), had some verpertinus hunting around.

Of course, the invasion has affected other places. In fact, it has involved the entire W Europe and NW Africa, even reaching the Canary Islands. As Marcel says is his excellent blog, 'What the hell is going on?'
I really don't know neither. Just two things come into my head when I try to undertand a little the causes of this. The first one is the invasion that took place last autumn in Poland (see here, and just be amazed for the video...). I haven't read about possible theories of that invasion last September, but the thing is many birds were in a western place than usual. Then, the second thing, is the wing. I've been checking as many websites I could to try to find out if in any place in the W Mediterranean was blowing a strong easterly wind to explain it. I couldn't find any obvious thing. But!, it seems that very strong SE winds were specially noticeable in NW Africa (Go-South Bull. (2015), 12, 39-45).
Anyway, then I want to explain the irruption of Icterine's Warbler (Hippolais icterina) we have also had... Look also the maps generateed with data from all ornitho databases in Europe (look for the note publicated on 21st May).

I started seeing some individuals around my usual places, and it was really nice to see them here. And... I even trapped one while ringing Kestrels!
Adult (EURING 6) female. Both wing and tail feathers are
adult type. No wing coverts are retained.
Some adult females have light orange underparts with a faint
dark streaking. This bird is the same in the second photo
above. Below, you can see a second-year female, with more
streaked underparts, and a uniform-orange adult female.
But the best came in a short afternoon visit to Ossó de Sió drylands. About 30 birds had been seen there, and I wanted to enjoy a biggest grup rather than my 5 birds at home, just to feel better the actual influx. I spot the first one, an adult male, from the main road. Trying to get closer, I saw a plowed field in the distance... and it was actually full of Red-footed Falcons.

It has just started, surely, one of the most productive afternoons in my life. A male Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) was singing behind the field, and giving very nice views. Also, some Stone-Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) were walking on the field, and many European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) were flying around, while Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra) were singing 'non-stop'.

In the distance there were some other vespertinus in dead trees, so we decided to go there to see exactly how many. There were about 40 birds in the first field, so we expected to see about 50 or so.
Soon, we saw another plowed field, again full of Red-footeds standing on the floor, hunting insects. There was another field in the other side of the track; obviously with more birds.

This was the routine all along the afternoon, were we ended up counting a minimum of 229 birds in less than 1 km!, were all the plowed fields were concentrated. Truly amazing!!