Monday, March 30, 2015

I'ts March!

In case you didn't know... :P

March is always a great month because of the first arrivals of many migrant species. Some, as Swallows and many waders, already appear on late February, but March is always better for them.

This situation, the beggining of migration, always produce me some sort of ecstasy that will persist until June. Migration is ON. You may know what I mean if you're birder too. That feeling that almost anything can be flying over you at any time...

I started the month in the Ebro Delta, with Josep, Marina and Xavi, looking for the Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) that has wintered there. A very nice bird that we wanted to see... you'll find more information about the finding and everything here.

To be honest, the 'twitch' was nice, but the rest of the day, starting to feel this migration sensations I was talking about, was so much better. We ended up the day in the northen part of the Delta, seeing how almost a hundred Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) were taking off and going away, migrating along the coast...

Firsts Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola) of the year too

Also, the beach was full of Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita), and hundreds of White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) were around too...

Back to my area, inland, migration seems to not be as nice. Anyway, I've seen some nice species here too! The first one, this Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) appeared in one of the typical places for them. It's quite a scarce but anual species here.

In the same place, days later, 13 Garganeys (Anas querquedula) spent one day to rest. It's a scarce migrant in this part of Catalonia, so more than 10 birds is always a very nice event!

Ringing in my local patch, I trap the biggest numbers of Serins (Serinus serinus) and Great Tits (Parus major) during this month, because of they are actively displaying.

Serin (Serimus serinus). Second-year (EURING 5) male
Great Tit (Parus major), with some sort of melanistic aberration
That day. the first Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) of the season, an adult male as it 'should' be, appeared. It's a quite confident bird, and it already has been one week here...

 It was impossible to get that Redstart, but at least I trapped another one. You'll see the other was an adult, and this one was a second-year.

With 7 old GCs
I got my first Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) for the season, too!

As I was saying, while I was taking photos of the Redstart the first day, the thing I probably like the most about migration is the unpredictability. So, suddenly, a flock of 93 Cranes (Grus grus) -quite scarce here, too- were flying over me. Followed by my first Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata)...

Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus) is probably the commonest raptor in my area during this month. I don't live in a very nice place for raptors, so 30 Circaetus in one morning was the best number I got so far.
Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) are also ery common these days,
with flocks of hundreds almost everywhere
Better things were still waiting to come. 2 Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) stopped in the same place were we saw the querquedulas days ago. This is an actual rarity in this area, being only the fourth record ever (1 bird in 1978, 2 together in 1979, 1 in 2013).

As last year, I started a 'weekend ringing campaign' in l'Aiguamoll de la Sala. where I trapped some nice birds.
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) was one of the first birds I got in the first day:

Numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) were a bit low, but I trapped two very nice birds. Actually, I had never (!) handled any of both species, so...

This Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) is an adult. There's no moult limit in the wing, and GC's pattern, with the buffish outer fringes, and the reduced spot on the tip are also good for adult.

The white in underwing was surprisingly bright!
It reflects sunlight a lot!
If somebody had told me I would trap my first Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) in a reedbed, I think I wouldn't believe it, A small flock (about 20 birds), together with Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), came into the pool to drink some water. They were flying so low, almost touching the upper part of the nets... and this one finally was trapped in!

In Catalan we say la primavera la sang altera, which is something like "spring alters the blood". As I was saying before with the Serins and Great Tits, this male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) was also quite agitated, and decided to jump into one of the nets!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Siskins in a feeder

I sometimes think about the great help that, almost always, bird feeders give to many species. Some months ago I met Jaume Tarín, who has a very nice feeder in his 'countryside' home.

Photo by Jaume Tarín
The star species of the feeder is, without any doubt, the Siskin (Spinus spinus). Jaume has been taking care of them (of the feeder) for many years, and also he has been taking very interesting data from them. We decided to start to ring in his place, and the results have been so promising.
All photos by Jaume Tarín
First of all, a quick overview of the species in Catalonia.
All data from
As you can notice in the graphs, Siskins are basically winter species in Catalonia. There's a small breeding population on the Pyrenees and Pre-pyrenees mountains, but the main part of the birs we see during the year are winterers or migrants. As is been pointed by many authors, with data basically from ringing recoveries, Siskins can change, a lot, the wintering places, but some of them keep some fidelity. It would be very interesting to see how many of the amount we've ringed are back next year, and if anyone is trapped in any other place.

The thing is, will be the next year good for Siskins? We actually don't know, and I think it's quite unpredictable. Just to point what I experienced two years ago, in 2013's autumn: it was almost a record season for Siskins in Falsterbo, with 2560 birds ringed (4rth best year ever) and 97197 birds counted in active migration (2nd best ever). I expected nice numbers overwintering in Catalonia, but it turned to be one of the worst winters in last years. Seemingly, food abundance is one of the main factors that push them, or not, to migrate, among as surely more factors.

During this winter, which I would label as 'normal' in terms of numbers of birds, Jaume has detected the biggest numbers ever in his garden. I've pretty sure the great work (keeping always some food on there) has had something to do with it.

Together with Lídia, Òscar and Marta, we did 3 ringing sessions, with more than 200 Siskins ringed. I think they're very promising numbers, and we'll be continuing the project in the next winters for sure!

Ageing can be quite straighforward, because in many first-winters (EURING 3 / 5) there's a quite obvious moult limit in the greater coverts.
Second-year (EURING 5) male, with 9 GCs and CC moulted
Second-year (EURING 5) female, with 6 GCs moulted
But as other Fringillidae species, some individuals can undergo very extensive postjuvenile moults. Jenni & Winkler (1994) quote about 87% of birds with an 'easy recognisable moult limit in greater coverts'. Some of these 13% have all GCs moulted, and usually tertials, and inner secondaries. many birds has been found too with excentrical primary moult and some other stuff, but for the moment I haven't found any.
Second-year (EURING 5) female, with all GCs moulted
Adult (EURING 6) male
Sexing is even easier. And as males are brighter, they usually have more distinghishable moult limits.

See you next winter! Photo by Jaume Tarín

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gulls in BCN city

Some years ago, thanks to the ICO (Catalan Institute of Ornithology) and Barcelona's Zoo, Raül Aymí started a project about colour-marking Gulls. The main target of the campaign are Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), but Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) are usually trapped too.
Blue PVC for Black-headed Gulls
Green PVC for Yellow-legged Gulls
Barcelona's Zoo is located inside a big urban park, called La Ciutadella, and is actually a nice place to see some birds.

In fact, it holds probably the biggest colony of Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) in Catalonia!, and Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are common breeders too. Actually, they are sometimes trapped, and they're tagged with yellow PVCs.

Back to the Gulls, I've been helping Raül some times during this winter and last one.

Lately, gulls are getting used to the trap and it's hard to catch them, specially ridibundus. That's why, after we 'only' caught three nice adult Grey Herons along two mornings of trapping,

  we moved to Maremagnum, a tourist place inside Barcelona's harbour. It's probably the most important place for wintering Black-headed Gulls, that, as you can imagine, are all day eating what people gives them. So we take advantage of it, and we caught three by hand...

We spend the rest of the afternoon reading PVC rings, all of them from the Zoo's project this time. Nonetheless, we also photographed two metal rings, that turned to be birds from Czech Republic!

The ringing project, although without very big numbers of birds ringed, has already produced many interesting records all along Europe. Also, some foreign birds has been detected in the area due to the efforts in reading ring numbers.

Life history of Blue NC11, just one of the many birds that
has been reported all along Europe during the breeding season,
and coming back every winter.
As with any other ringing project, please contact to us if you can read any code!!