Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The winter begins

Even the cold hasn't really arrived, late December it's the actual beginning of what we call winter. If I had to briefly define how the winter is around my area (central Catalunya), it would be something like:

- good numbers of Robins (Erithacus rubecula) and Dunnocks (Prunella modularis)
- quite good winter for Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) and for Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
- low numbers of finches (starting with Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs, but especially poor for Siskin Spinus spinus, Hawfinch Coccohtraustes coccothraustes, and of course Brambling Fringilla montifringilla)
- low numbers of thrushes too, especially Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos)

An special Dunnock, my own oldest recovery! Ringed in my
main constant effort ringing site (La Corbatera), the 28th
of December 2012! And back again, for the first session of
the fifth winter season there!!
These are just impressions that I got from the local birding in the area and several small projects in different localities, and also some information shared with friends. These 'characteristics' of the winter are the ones that make me focuse more or less in one thing or another. For instance, the Siskin feeder at Jaume Tarín's place has very low numbers this year, and we will make much less attempts to ring there. Indeed, after several sessions of more than a hundred Siskins caught, this year it seems that only from 5 to 10 birds are around the area.

Most of seasonal trends I get every year come from the constant ringing and birding in my main local patch, l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila. During this year, some interesting new species have been caught in the ringing station, two of them during this autumn: Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

Ather local project that I have been working with for the last years is the Reed Bunting roosting project. As I said, this year seems to be one of the best winters since I start in 2013, with around 100 birds roosting in the biggest site, and about 70 between the other two roosting sites in the area. With the migrants during October and November, I have ringed more than 300 individuals and recovered a good set of birds from previous years, 3 foreign recoveries (1 Finnish and 2 French), and an interesting amount of individuals caught in different places during the same or different winters.

 Right at half of the season, it is already noticeable the relative high proportion of males caught, but still females are more abundant. Also, it seems that during this season I have trapped more 'unusual sized' birds, with some rather small males and big females. For instance, this small male (pictures below) was only 77mm on wing length!

Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) have appeared too in places where they are usually very rare and almost only as migrants, and in quite good numbers in the traditional wintering areas. It was very nice to trap this first-winter (EURING 3) in the Reed Bunting roosting site!

The Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) project is still on, and with the collaboration from the Montserrat Mountain Natural Park and the Catalan Ornithological Institute (ICO), this year I have started with colour rings.

Also, two birds from December 2015 have been found again in the trapping area, which are the first recoveries in the project.

Talking about nice species, it was nice to trap these two Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) on a short trip to the Pyrenees.

 It was very interesting to note the high variability shown on the breast, that was one of the main things that I planned to check. Indeed, according to Campos et al. 2010, breast colouration would not be enough to separate both subspecies that are meant to occur in Iberia (C.c.cinclus -'black-breasted'- and C.c.aquaticus -'red-breasted'-). Both subspecies seem to overlap in most of areas except for Southern Spain, and although Catalunya (Eastern Pyrenees) was not sampled, I expect results to be quite similar to the ones for Central and Western Pyrenees. Also, breast colouration has proved to change with the age, and related to melanin levels. Actually, the bird on the left was aged as an adult (EURING 4) -see below for ageing-, and the one in the right as a first-year (EURING 3). Could they just be variation within aquaticus? At least the first-year seems quite too much reddish-brown for nominate cinclus...

Ageing is quite easy, and quite useful even in the field. Juveniles have a partial postjuvenile moult involving body and some wing-coverts, but usually being not very extensive (only a few GCs involved). Adults have a complete postjuvenile moult, thus, moulting all feathers. First-winter birds have quite distinct white spots on the juvenile greater coverts and tertials, while adults shows no white or a faint line along the edge on the tip. Note also the primary coverts shape and pattern.

First-year (EURING 3).

Adult (EURING 4)

During early December, we went to the Ebre Delta for some days to keep up the tradition. This year it was only Joan and me who went, hope we can still go next year!

The amount of birds there is always amazing! Like this flock of Glossy
(Plegadis falcinellus).
Among many interesting other birds, it was interesting the amount of Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) around the Delta. It's a regular wintering species in Catalunya, especially in the Ebre Delta, but this year seems to be quite good with several individuals around. Also, several other birds have been reported in other places (see below; map from

Most of the individuals I could see properly turned out to be first-winters
(EURING 3), but not this one. At least some secondaries are of older generations,
and it seems as it has two fronts of primaries moulted. The iris is pale and the
throat has rather long brown stripes. Without judging the age of those retained
feathers, I would leave it as a 3+cy (EURING 6).
This combination of swallows was also quite nice to see, up to 5 Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and 3 Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) in a +50 Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) flock.

Some birds were especially interesting to see carefully, like this first-winter (EURING 3) Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), quite similar to any Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus). Notice the bill length, clearer rump, very pale legs, rather clean flanks when reaching the belly and general sandy colour, not as greenish-tinged as petrosus (although the colour in the picture is not very easy to appreciate due to light effects). It showed also clean white tips on outer rectrices.

Or this adult (probably 4cy) Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) in a ricefield, when looking for some colour-rings to read.

We indeed found some interesting colour-rings, in a flock of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) that were feeding in the same area. Apart from some individuals from Germany, 2 others were ringed as a chicks in Catalunya (Flix Nature Reserve). It was a surprise when, once uploaded the information in the Catalan Colour-rings webpage, the last sighting of one of them was mine, from 2011! I saw it breeding in Flix Nature Reserve, so it is quite likely someone has been seen it afterwards since then. It is important to send this kind of information, and to pay attention to ringed birds!

If last year we had a wintering Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus), this year Òscar Pérez found this very nice first-winter Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus) wintering close to La Tancada, being second record for Catalunya (first in 2015!), and first ever in the Ebre Delta. As the cristatus, it is quite a difficult bird to see, showing usually for short times and remaining hidden in dense bushes.

Talking about interesting wintering stuff, I should mention the White-winged/Siberian Scoter (Melanitta (deglandi) stejnegeri) that was found in Alicante. What an incredible finding!! Together with very nice company we went for a trip to see it, and it gave great views. A truly ashtonishing bird, even more when you think on the place were it was, completely alone in a sunny beach in the western Mediterranean.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Autumn migration in the Western Mediterranean

Since I came back from Falsterbo I've been ringing in several places, mainly in my local ringing stations, a ringing weekend in Cap de Creus Natural Park in behalf of CCOW (Cap de Creus October Weekend) and a week in Illa de l'Aire (Menorca) joining on the autumn ringing season organized by SOM (Menorca Ornithological Society).

If I had to underline two impressions from the beginning of October in my area, I would say about the rather abundance of transaharan migrants on 'late' dates (not really late, but rather late in those numbers), since for instance Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) were present almost anywhere I went (with water nearby)! Also, I had some very good days of migrating Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola), at least significantly better than last 5 years. Quite a good start back to Catalunya!
First year (EURING 3) female Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
First year (EURING 3) Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus
During the CCOW, we set up some nets in Jóncols valley, a dense scrubland, with the biggest bushes and scattered trees following a stream (that carried quite a lot of water due to recent rains!). We were ringing in several locations in the Cap de Creus Natural Park, reaching a total number of 1079 birds ringed. Our team was composed by Roger Jutglà, Xevi Rifà, Bet Font, Helena Rifà, Clara Teixidor and me.

The most common species in this area, as migrating birds, are Robins (Erithacus rubecula) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla). Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) are also quite abundant, but apparently not in big numbers as in other places in the Mediterranean coast. Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) are also very common, but most of them might be local birds, since it's very common breeding in this kind of habitat, and most of them had quite extensive moults, including several primaries and/or secondaries. And as it happened in Menorca too, some finches with very extensive moults, like this Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) below.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), the most commonly ringed
species together with Robins.
First year (EURING 3) male Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia
with extensive postjuvenile moult.
First year (EURING 3) Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) with
several inner primaries moulted, leaving the three outermost.
This Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) was also a nice surprise, probably local too, but we only detected a few individuals around.

What it was not local for sure, and actually wuite a surprise too, was this first-year female Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) caught while following the stream that runs through the ringing area.

As special, we caught a Blackcap from Belgium and this Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus). In total, at least 5 YBW were detected in the Natural Park through the weekend, and more than 50 have been recorded in Catalunya during this autumn...

YBW in the scrubland... Not the place where you would look for them
thinking about suitable habitats, but they can be everywhere!!
Then I moved to Illa de l'Aire, a bit south of Menorca, in the Balearic Islands. The Menorcan Ornithological Society (SOM) runs the standardised autumn ringing season for third year in a row. It's already my fourth time in the island, and first time in autumn. Thank you very much to all who make it possible year by year one more time!!! JJ, Karmele, Romain and me were the ringing team in the Island, with Santi coming for a visit a couple of days. We had a great time!, and a lot of interesting birds...!
A welcoming Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

As in Cap de Creus, but especially more here, Robins (Erithacus rubecula) are the commonest migrants in the island. Indeed, this year turned out to be a very good season; already at Falsterbo when I was there and in ringing campaings in Catalunya and in the Balearics too.

The season it's been good also for Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) and Dunnocks (Prunella modularis), although the latter is caught and seen in few numbers in the island. And sadly, a few Dunnocks were the closest I could get to a Siberian Accentor...

Other Thruses were also seen or caught, like some Redwings (Turdus iliacus) on migration, a Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) ringed, which was the first ringed in the island during autumn, and quite a lot of migrating Blackbirds (Turdus merula), with days with more than 20 individuals around the island.

The plumage variation in Blackbirds, especially in females, was quite surprising, being these two examples
 two extremes of the observed variation, from very brown with rusty and 'song-thrush-spotted' underparts
(left) to rather dark and uniform plumage (right). Both were first-year (EURING 3) females. Where could they be from?
It has not been the best year for Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla), but still are rather common migrants on this dates. Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) have been quite rare this season, I haven't seen any actually...
Best birds were a Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) and another Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus), both rarities but regularly caught in the island; especially curruca, which is caught almost anually in both spring and autumn seasons.
Once the campaign was finished and I was back to my area in central Catalunya, good numbers of both Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) and Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) were passing.

Visiting almost daily my local patch, it was a nice surprise to find a flock of 10 Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus) one day in the evening, that for sure arrived that same day. Minutes after I had a net up to target them, since they are rather scarce in the area and ringing them has provided a lot of interesting recaps between areas, and a rather high rate of foreign recoveries. Indeed, we caught quickly 9 out of 10 Penduline Tits around, since the last one was bouncing on the net but always sneaky enough to scape. This had already happened to my one with an Italian Penduline Tit in the same place, so we extracted the others and left that one alone. In the next round it was caught, and it was actually carrying a French ring!!

Being a first-year (EURING 3) it had to be ringed this same year. The recovery information has been quick (thank you Raül for the quick information flux), and the bird was ringed 13 days before, 435 km away, in Les Iles, Chateauneuf-sur-isere (check map below). It's already the third recap I get in my place from birds from this area between SE France and NW Italy!

Map created using Google Maps
And, as so many Yellow-browed Warblers were being seen everywhere, I was especially motivated to find one in my area. After quite disappointing hours searching in several days and several places, I could hear and see one at the same spot where I saw the last in the area, two years ago
Many sightings in Catalunya have occured in public parks,
like this one in Navarcles village.
It's amazing the amount of YBW seen every autumn for the last years in W
and S Europe, something has to happen...