Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eastern species bestial influx

Last week, a big squall apeared in the Western Mediterranean and was completely blocked between Catalonia and Italy, affecting big extensions of the sea. The trough caused abundant rains and winds coming from east... Is there any good thing in order to see eastern migrants? Probably not.

This special meteorological situation has caused an unprecedented eastern species influx, mostly in Catalonia. Hundreds of Wood Warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), dozens of Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) and White-winged Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus), some Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus), a few Icterines Warblers (Hippolais icterina)... and more than 13 Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus), +14 Collared Flycatchers (Ficedula albicollis) and 3 Black-headed Wagtails (Motacilla flava feldegg)!! (see here for more information)

Let's see something about my last 5 magic days...

I was just 10 minutes from home, in l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila, when everything started for me. I was talking with my father when an strange Circus passed close to me. Quickly, I reacted and I throw away my phone... It was probably a Pallid Harrier. Suddenly, the bird dissapeared. I tried to relocate it, and some time later, I saw it posing for me in a close field. It was a 2cy male, and yeah, a macrourus. I rested absolutely astonished for hours. It was the last Friday, 26th April.

Saturday was a very rainy day, but not for this less interesting. It was just contrary to this... In the afternoon I was again in l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila when another Pallid Harrier appeared. An adult male this time, a dreamed bird for me. I was enjoying him for some minutes and dissapeared. 'He'll probably go away tomorrow morning', I thought. Later, my first Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) this year (also a scarce bird in inland Catalonia), and some Montagu's Harriers (Circus pygargus), Black Kites (Milvus migrans) and Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) migrating.

In Sunday, magic time continued occurring. I get my first car (last week I obtained the driving licence), and I was looking for more eastern birds. I saw lots of passerines migrating, emphasising 14 Wood Warblers in some places where there weren't seen before, a Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina) (both scarce birds in inland Catalonia), a Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) (very scarce in my area), an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), lots of Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola), Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus), some Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus)...
Icterine's very bad photo...

Male and female Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus). Do you know which is each one?
Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)
On Monday afternoon, I saw a single Wood Warbler in my local patch and I relocate the adult male Pallid Harrier! The best bird of the day, but, was a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) migrating, that decided to stop close to me. A Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) was the perfect bird to close the day (also a very rare bird in my area!).

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Today, I saw another Wood Warbler in l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila and I saw the male Pallid Harrier twice. Last days I have been looking for some Collared Flycatcher but they will be still hiden...
The best thing, that encourages me even more for the next days, is the observation of the third Pallid Harrier in my area: a 2cy photographed by Jordi Comellas this morning.

Let's see what migration has prepared for me tomorrow. Whatever could be possible!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

More ringing notes

Let's see some things about Scops Owls (Otus scops) in spring...

- Juveniles make a partial postjuvenile moult that involves body and median and lesser coverts, leaving unmoulted all primaries, secondaries, tertials and rectrices. Then, in spring, 2cy birds show remiges quite worn, discoloured. Central rectrices are also a good criteria, because they are still juvenile-type and is quite different than the adult-type.
- Adults make a complete postnuptial moult, started in breeding areas in later summer, suspended and finished in wintering quarters. In spring, they show fresh plumage and adult-type rectrices.

Sometimes, judge the wear of remiges could be difficult, specially if you are not used to ring Scops. You should search for good light and try to observe properly all feathers. At least for me, shape and pattern of wing and tail feathers is the best criteria. Specially easy to see in rectrices and secondaries, adult-type feathers have squared and not pointed tips, and white bars on the external part of remiges if also more squared. Black lines going around white bars in rectrices are bigger in adults.

Sorry for the differents lights... but check tips of secondaries. In the first photo, tips are pointed and all remiges are quite discolored (2cy bird, EURING 5). In the second one, feathers are freash and secondaries show rounded-squared tips (EURING 6).
In the first photo you can see the typical juvenile-type rectrices, with an irregular white bars and a very narrow black line. Tips are pointed and shows some wear. (2cy bird, EURING 5). In the photo below, tips are more rounded and black line is a little bit bigger. White bars are well-marked. (EURING 6)

SEXING is another thing that also could be interesting. No plumage differences are discovered, but it seems that the P8 (ascendantly) measure could be quite reliable: birds with P8 > 124 mm could be sexed as females.


It's Woodpigeon's time!!
I think they are really fun birds from a ringer's point of view. Woodpigeons make one of these 'complete postjuvenile moults' that is hardly never finished. So, not a really 'complete moult'!  As other pigeons, they do a 'slow' mould, that go on during some months. Then, is easy to catch a bird moulting primaries, in any month.

1st winter birds usually leave unmoulted some secundaries and maybe some other feathers. Juvenile feathers have a ochre border line on the tip, and this feature can be very useful in spring for 2cy birds. They should have some juveniles secondaries and usually some coverts too.

3cy birds in spring are  also recognisable but more difficult. In his second 'complete moult', they could leave unmoulted some secondaries again or do an authentic complete moult. So, in spring, a bird showing 3 generations in secondaries, one of them very worn (probable still juvenile feathers), should be 3cy (EURING 7).  You must also remind that they make strange moults, and can leave unmoulted a primary until the 3rd year, etc.

My bird was quite interesting. It showed 2 generations on secondaries, any retained juvenile covert, active moult in primaries and no old rectrices.

I aged it as a 3+cy (EURING 6). With only two secondaries generations, and no obviously juvenile feathers, the bird could be an older bird that simply left unmoulted some secondaries. Or maybe an authentic 3cy that replaced his juvenile feathers... In this cases, we should look for the minimum age possible, in order to not remove possibilities.

If you are interested, you should visit these links:
- Some Stephen Menzie's notes: here, here and here.
- David Norman's page
- Javier Blasco's excellent work, in PDF.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ringing some surprises!

I passed last weekend ringing in my local patch, l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila, where I usually ring birds. During last week I saw only a few migrants, it isn't a spectacular spring (for the moment...), but I decided to try...

Saturday morning started with the first Scops Owl (Otus scops) trapped there. Last night I was playing some calls in order to try to atrract this male, that was singing there for some days.

The first Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) of the season, a male that arrived in 11th April, was ringed too. For the moment, he is non-stop singing although he is absolutely alone; it seems that the rest of local arundinaceus will be still coming...

I catch some local breeding birds, like some Greenfinches (Carduelis chloris), Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) and Cetti's Warblers (Cettia cetti). Migrant birds were basically Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) (always very fatted) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla). Nice surprise in the last round in midday, when I trapped this Hoopoe (Upupa epops).

Let's see some things about Hoopoe's aging:
- Adults make a complete postbreeding moult, usually started in breeding areas, suspended and finished in wintering quarters.
- Juveniles make a partial postjuvenile moult, including body feathers and maybe tertials and rectrices.

So, in spring, 2cy (EURING 5) and adults (EURING 6) can be recognisable. 2cy show some abrasion in primaries and external secundaries. Usually, tertials and ¿2-3 innermost secundaries? are fresh. Tip of P9 is another criteria: more pointed in juveniles and almost square-ended in adults. Tail is another good thing: more abraded in 2cy birds and with different kinds of white patches. I reccomend read Javier Blasco's work for more information and better photos.
Moult limit in secondaries.
In this case, tail was not a great criteria.
At least, the two retained rectrices showed
enough wear to be considered also juvenile feathers.
Thus, the bird was a 2cy (EURING 5).

The afternoon was quite windy and I caught 2 Reed Warblers more and a White Wagtail (Motacilla alba).
Clearly not a yarrellii...! 
The best part was a good Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flock, as usually with a few Sand Martins (Riparia riparia), that decided to sleed on the reedbed. I managed to trapped some of them using my mobile phone playing Barn Swallow's song. In total, 28 birds were catched in a single net.

Sunday's morning started also as well as Saturday's. Another and absolutely unexpected Scops Owl was waiting on the nets...

But the biggest surpise was later, when a Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) was captured in one of the nets. I had never ringed this species, so I was really happy ;).

The last round in midday also produced another nice capture: a Magpie (Pica pica) was trapped in the same net where in Saturday I caught the Hoopoe. Good!

Sunday's afternoon was so quite, with a couple Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) as the most interesting birds. When I started to see some Swallows looking for a place where to roost, I turn on my phone to attract them. In total, 10 Barn Swallows were trapped. It seems that this ringings in the swallows' roosting can be quite interesting if I have time to do it during some days... I really wish capture a foreign swallow ;)
May be this Swallow affected by 'progressive greying'?
A future post will include more information about Scops Owl's and Woodpigeon's aging... I don't have enough time to include these things in this post... and it needs time and good explanations.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Return II: the Stick-Nightingale

Last year, on 26th May, I was in l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila and I saw, as usually, some Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) around. I remember a very nice male singing very close to me that I decided to see properly using the scope. I was very very surprised when I saw a stick apparently stuck in its chest!!
The bird looked well... but I couldn't know exactly how the stick could had arrived there!

Nature always keeps secrets and surprises for who is interested in. My big surprise yesterday morning, while I was ringing in the same place of the observation, was a Nightingale with a stick on its chest trapped in one of the nets. Yes, it was surely the same bird... still alive with the stick!, that is covered by the skin at the base. It seemed it was not a big trouble for the bird, so I decided to leave it there, ready for more travelling!

I wonder if the stick could come from some african bush... first sighting in Europe? :P


I arrived in Catalonia 12 days ago and I'm still a little bit 'out'. I enjoyed a lot 18 days in Morocco, where we could see more than 180 bird species, including 36 bird lifers for me, and lots of reptiles, amfibians, mammals and insects too. Ringing in Yasmina lake was really enjoyable and I learn a lot of some uncommon species for me. We caught some Saharan Olivaceus Warblers (Hippolais pallida reiseri), Western Olivaceus Warblers (Hippolais opaca) and Iberian Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus ibericus) every day, and some 'surprises' were a Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), Seebohm's Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmi) (first bird ringed in Yasmina), a Rufous Bush Chat (Cercotrichas galactotes), a Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus) and 2 White-crowned Black Wheatears (Oenanthe leucopyga). I'll make a trip report, hope I can get it soon!
Adult male Seebohm's Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmi), one of
the best birds ringing in Yasmina lake
We 'failed' 3 nice species during the birding time around the country: Marsh Owl (Asio capensis), Levaillant's Woodpecker (Picus vaillantii) and Double-spurred Francolin (Pternistis bicalcaratus), as it was raining when we had to find them. This species, plus the Atlas Flycatcher (Ficedula speculigera) that was too early to see it, will have to wait for the next time, that surely it'll be very soon.

North Africa was full of migrant birds everywhere, and when I arrived they were just arriving in Catalonia. This year, presarahan birds started to move north very soon, and transaharan birds were also migrating earlier than other years. The next two days after my arrival where really good: cloudy wheather, soft wind that stopped during the night... and I could continue enjoying migration in my local patch. So I toke the opportunity to do some ringing there, and I trapped 3 Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), a Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), a Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) and the 'progressive greying' Blackbird (Turdus merula) (as the most interesting birds).
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
Male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
The following days where also good for migrants, with some Alpine Swifts (Apus melba), Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and Common Swifts (Apus apus) strong passages. Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) were also migrating in good numbers and also I found a very scarce bird (surely a 1st observation) in my area: Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla). The bird remained two days in a field, where I also found a Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris). It seemed to be a really good return, but the best hadn't already arrived.

Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and Little
(Egretta garzetta) in l'Aiguamoll de la Bòbila,
both are migrating birds.
Last Tuesday, I went to Barcelona in order to visit some museums. It was an excursion organized by the high school, but I always find a moment to look for birds. When we were waiting in the MNAC entrance, I heard an exciting call. It was an Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus), very confident and active, that I could enjoy a lot. It's a regular rarity in Catalonia, with some citations every spring specially in Barcelona and  Ebre Delta's area.

Could anything be better?
Yep, of course. Yesterday I came back again in Barcelona and I went to the breakwater situated close to the port. It's a really good place for seawatching, and we're in really good dates. The sea was very calmed, and I quickly found some Tunes (Thunnus thynnus), that attracted 4 Little Gulls (Larus minutus), some Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) and 2 Little Terns (Sternula albifrons), probably firsts for the season in Catalonia. Also, I saw 2 Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) and a Mediterranean Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) passing north, and a Skua (Stercorarius skua), 3 Arctic Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) and 3 Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) passing south. Both Balearic and Mediterranean Shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus and yelkouan) were fairly common. I will try to spend more days there during these days... I really love migration.