Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 5: 2014

As I already did in 2012 and 2013, here it is the 2014's Top 5.

I always find very hard to make a ranking, which could mean a sort of 'order of preferences'. With this year's top 5, with very heavy experiences for me, the numbers should only be considered as a way to list them. All of them are very special in their sort of way!

During this year I've seen all usual Palearctic Eagles. The first one was a Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) that was wintering in Catalonia. Then I've seen some Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the Pyrenees. During the spring and the start of summer, a couple of Bonelli's Eagles (Aquila fasciata) appeared close to my village, and I could see it preety well. In Israel we saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), some Lesser Spotted Eagles (Aquila pomarina) and some Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis) too. In summer, in Falsterbo, I saw 3 Lesser Spotted Eagles more. The last species appeared in S Spain, the very wanted Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti). Of course, Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) is common in Spain.
I also want to mention the nice numbers of Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) that I saw in spring migrating through my area, that made the 'eagle year' more consistent.

4Ringing in Catalonia
My second year as an 'A license' ringer has been very interesting. I guess I've ringed more than 2000 birds of 90 species with 'my rings', in many projects I've just started. The number of hours I've spent on it is, probably, countless. If I had to choose a handful of birds, I would say: the Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis), Coot (Fulica atra), 2 Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), 20 Common Quails (Coturnix coturnix), 6 Golden Orioles (Oriolus oriolus), 2 Western Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor), Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia), Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) 14 European Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus), 4 Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and more than 500 Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) during the autumn!

3Iberian Lynx
The most endangered felid in the world. We had the chance to see it, and really really well. Also, many Iberian Azure-winged Magpies (Cyanopica cooki), Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) and much more... One of my biggest dreams made real. (see post)

2- Arabian Warbler: Israel trip
Together with Martí and Marcel, we went to Israel in April. I find quite difficult to emphasise a moment, but maybe Arabian Warbler was one of the most exciting birds. We walked for hours in the middle of the desert, checking everything, until we found them, It was an amazing trip. We should repeat soon! #DoNotCrossTheBorder (see post)

Another season in Sweden, with the best ringing staff possible. Tack to everyone who made the experience so productive and extremely unforgettable, one more time!!!

Photo by Björn Malmhagen

I think 2015 will be even better than 2014. Believe my feelings. And I hope I can continue enjoying it with all of you that make my life as exciting!

Molt bon any nou!
Happy New Year!
Gott Nytt År!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Iberian specialities

The day starts in Andújar Natural Park, in South Spain. This area, covered by the usual Spanish Dehesa, is one of the very last places in the world when you can spot an Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Very early in the morning, when the fog still covers the landscape, first Robins (Erithacus rubecula), Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) start their activity. Soon, many Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and Rock Sparrows (Petronia petronia) move on too.

Many Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) are fishing while the fog starts to disappear. Then, in the distance, a funny call of a flock of Iberian Azure-winged Magpies (Cyanopica cooki). Just some minutes will pass until you'll see the first bird, usually followed by 20 more or so. And they behave just like a Babbler flock!

We got nice views, but we hadn't enough time to take
proper photos!
We decided to move up to the valley, to a place where is easy to a spot a Lynx from the distance. The trail crosses many Bull's pastures, that are also filled by an impressive density of Red Deers (Cervus elaphus) and Fallow Deers (Dama dama).

Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Red-legged Partridges (Alectoris rufa) are quite abundant in all the valley. They are the main food for Iberian Lynx, and the chances to see one are closely related to prey's densities. This winter seems to be bad for them, but still, we saw some around.

Actually, Rabbits and Partridges are the basis of many trofic chains. Spanish Imperial Eagles (Aquila adalberti) also depends on them.

Ok, the photo is just to remember to moment.

Spanish Imperial Eagles are not the only big raptors in the area. Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are also common, and two species of Vultures: Griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Black (Aegypius monachus). These last two species are almost equally common.

Look the interesting shape of the wings!
Griffon Vulture to the left, Black Vulture to the right. 

We spent the day checking every rock, every bush, but we only found 2 Mouflons (Ovis orientalis) as a different species. But sometimes what you need is just a bit of luck. We met two other guys that were looking for a Lynx, Juan Luis and Ferran. We met some times during the day, but it was in the afternoon when they just heard one male! We waited and, a few minutes later, we heard the meowing. And it was really close!
The trail, and the landscape.
Soon, one bush that was about 15 metres started to be shaken suddenly. The Lynx was inside. We could spot it and, surprisingly, it went out and started to walk towards us. It crossed the trail just in front of us, ignoring our presence...

We saw it for an hour more, walking, and resting too... Breathtaking...

And licking...

It was really really impressive to see, finally, a Lynx; and even more to do it in this way. Seemingly, we were extremely lucky! Now I undestand perfectly these traffic signs:
'Warning! iberian Lynx crossing the road!'
The Sun was starting to go down, giving really nice views of the valley...

But yes!, there's a way do have even a nicer day. We ended up looking a nice sky, with an Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) singing in the distance and, soon, a really unforgettable star-filled sky,


Friday, December 19, 2014

Ebre Delta, the fourth

Yes!, it's the fourth year in a row we keep the tradition alive: a birding weekend in the Ebre Delta the first week of December.

This year, the wind wanted to take the leading role, and difficult our aims. With occasionally more than 20 m/s, we 'fought' to finally see some nice wintering species in Catalonia, such as 7 Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra), at least 11 Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) and just 1 Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator).

Actually, mainly because of the wind, numbers in everything were quite low, specially in wildfowl. Maybe it was just an impression, given by the strong winds, the very high water levels and the hunting period that was already going on, but the actual feeling was that many birds are still 'on the way down'. Actually, we have had a warm autumn with really strong rainy days the last week of November.
The usual Coot (Fulica atra) wintering flock is always there...
We passed a lot of time checking Gull flocks, following the lasts tractors plowing the ricefields. The scene was really nice, despite being typical.

The commonest bird were Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), but among them, Yellow-legged (Larus michahellis) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) were also usual. It was nice to see, as well, up to 8 Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus), which is a scarce wintering species in Catalonia. The wintering population is estimated between 89 and 185 birds, and they are only in the Ebre Delta (Gargallo & Anton 2011).

Following Cramp et al. (1985) and Blasco-Zumeta & Heinze (online, click here), Whiskered Terns undergo a complete postjuvenile moult that starts on late summer, is suspended prior to migration and then completed in winter quarters. In the same time, adults have a complete postbreeding moult, that also have a suspension during migration period. Cramp et al. (1985) warn the complexity of the moult strategy in this species, saying Moult more variable than in any other Palearctic Sternidae. This 'chapter' of the post is based in my assumptions if any autor is quoted. All photos by Bernat Ferrer.


Looking to photos above, secondaries are probably the only feature that seem to be different. Seemingly, the black appeareance is just an ilumination effect, and is not an indication of retained feathers as I thought initially in the field. Anyway, both above birds and the one below look like what I would expect in adult winter plumages, but still having in mind the possibility of 1w with the moult already done. The bird below show another interesting thing: the bill colour. Many 'adult-type' birds had a reddish bill, diferent from the completely black ones in the presumed actual 1ws (see the last photo).

This last bird (below) is the only one that I would age safely. It had an obvious inner greater covert unmoulted with the typical juvenile scaled pattern, as well as some median coverts. I also wonder if the 3 outermost primaries are unmoulted, but i find it quite difficult to assess just with a picture. Also, in the tail, only the central pair seem to be replaced. Look also the complete dark bill, without red at all, as I was saying before.

If you know me, you may guess I really want to catch some and study them properly now...

Because of high water levels in almost all typical wader places, the usual flocks were scattered along ricefield areas. We managed to find some Dunlin (Calidris alpina) flocks, but the main part of waders was concentrated along Trabucador beach. There were about 2000 Dunlins, 300 Little Stints (Calidris minuta) and 30 Sanderlings (Calidris alba) in a same flock, and that was pretty nice! Unfortunately, I checked them many times, but no other species in between.

We enjoyed really nice landscapes...

But we finally decided to leave to inland Catalonia, far from the wind, and with the possibility to see some nice species too. Some Bearded Tits (Panurus biarmicus), Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra)... and this nice male Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura).
Photo by Bernat Ferrer
As I've been saying every time... Let's see if we can do it again next year!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

November species

As November is passing, many nice 'winter species' are appearing. This year was inicially good for Siskins (Spinus spinus) and Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), at least in my usual areas. I've also seen some Redwings (Turdus iliacus) in migration, but for the moment, not so many Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) neither Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris). Also, many Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria) have been seen in low but typical areas.
Typical Wallcreeper place, Tavertet.
This season in Falsterbo has been extremely good for Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), but for the moment they're not reaching Catalonia. Nontheless, we trapped one some days ago close to my area, where they're supposed to be scarce migrants.

Althouh I'm full of work to do during these days, I've managed to do some birding/ringing when I had a litlle bit of time.
It was really interesting the ringing morning we had in Pinedes d'Armengol, inland Catalonia. Jaume Tarín, who has been taking care of a really nice feeder on his house, explained me he has been studying 'his' Siskins for many years. We decided to go and ring some, and with one net and a half (some shelves were completely useless), we trapped 65 birds!! We'll try to keep on ringing them during this winter.

The best thing came last weekend, that I spend with some friends. The plan was really nice, go away to a house lost in the middle of the forest, without cell phone, with really nice food, great company and... some relax ringing. Well, yeah, for me is always relaxing, but tha plan was to set up just a few nets, catch some extremely usual birds and just enjoy them, Actually, last year we did the same, and we trapped this nice Jay (Garrulus glandarius). So, I was kind of feeling something good in the nets.

Adult Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), ringed last year
in the same place.
When we trapped the first Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) I was very happy. It's quite common here, but I'm not very used to ring one. It was something like the bird 60 of the morning, so the thing was going perfect.
Then, in the last netround, we got a pair!
Male (left) and female (right)
Ageing Firecrests is not very easy. Svensson (1992) only talks about the shape of the rectrices (the tip) as a ageing criteria. This characters should be always used with caution, beucause it can be quite difficult to assess in many birds.
Pointed tips like these should indicate first-year.
I specially use the shape, wear and colour of primary coverts and alula to age them. Also, I've seen some birds with moult limit in the greater coverts, with 3-5 GCs moulted (n=8).
This one had 5 GCs moulted, but I find quite hard to see
 the moult limit with photos.
Two more pictures; check primaty coverts shape. Photos by Bernat Ferrer.
First-year (EURING 3)
Adult (EURING 4)
At least the name is easier to understand...
The surprise came in the last net, when we spotted a really bright bird in the bottom shelf. Firstly (and from the distance...) I was convinced it was a very bright Robin (Erithacus rubecula), but then I realised... a Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)!
Two outer greater coverts unmoulted = EURING 3.
It's considered an scarce migrant, and with some very local winter places in my area. It was the first-in-hand for me, and a male... so, 'the cherry of the cake'! (I don't know if this expression exists in English or not, maybe in other words, but this is the translation from the Catalan "la cirera del pastís").
Photo by Bernat Ferrer
If the headline of the post is 'November species', and not 'November birds', is because I also found these nice amphibians. They also deserve a mention!
European Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) 
Natterjack (Bufo calamita)