Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wings over Falsterbo!

Millions, literally, of migratory birds fly over the Falsterbo peninsula every autumn. Its geographic position fits in what could be defined as a migration 'bottleneck', that Scandinavian birds use to shorten the sea-crossing from the southernmost parts of Sweden to Denmark or Poland, crossing the Baltic Sea. For anyone with a little passion for birds, a good day at Falsterbo is a truly astonishing experience.

The video above is representative of some minutes on a rather 'normal' September day at Falsterbo. It was recorded this last 16th of September, and you may recognize several passerines calling while actively migrating.

At the very start of the season, by late July, Acrocephalus species are already on the move, especially Sedge Warblers (A.schoenobaenus) but also the first migrant Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). As soon as August starts more and more species finishes their moults (if they have any) and start their journeys south. As shown above, passerines migration reaches amazing numbers though August and September, when they are mainly Tree Pipits (Anthus trivialis), Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava), White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) and many other species. During September, Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) will start dominating and finches will take over too, Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos), Dunnocks (Prunella modularis), Goldcrests (Regulus regulus), Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and with hundreds and hundreds of Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla), Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and other species like Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) move on on daytime.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and Woodlark (Lululla arborea)
Irruptive species are every year, the biggest change. This year it was a very good season for Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), also some Two-barred (Loxia leucoptera) on the beggining of the season and very good numbers of Parrot (Loxia pytyopsittacus) during October!
Migrating Common Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra).
Raptors are also a big attraction to Falsterbo. Big numbers of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) can be seen during August, and then they are replaced by thousands of Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) during September and October. Red Kites (Milvus milvus) are common migrants too, such as Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus), but Hen (Circus cyaneus), Montagu's (Circus pygargus) and Pallid Harriers (Circus macrourus) also occur regularly through the season. Also worth mentioning the Black Kites (Milvus migrans), which are also uncommon but regular migrants over the peninsula. Eagles are always special, and usually, if any Eagle is wandering around southern Sweden it will eventually show up over the Falsterbo peninsula. Lesser Spotted Eagles (Aquila pomarina) are probably the more regular species, but Greater Spotted Eagles (Aquila clanga) also appear, and also eventual Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis). Not to mention the regular White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) or the Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), which both occur regularly, especially the latter.
Top left to bottom right: adult Red Kite, juvenile Black Kite, adult female Marsh Harrier, adult female Montagu's Harrier, juvenile White-tailed Eagle, subadult Lesser Spotted Eagle, adult Osprey and  juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard.
Packed with Common Buzzards...
and also Red Kites!
LSE in the distance, between Buzzards.
Variability within Honey Buzzards. Bottom right is a first-year, the
rest are all adults, sexes mixed.
The variation among Common Buzzards is also great!
'Scandinavian'/'white' Buzzards are regularly seen. They are
so beautiful!
In terms of numbers, it's really shocking the large amount of Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), that easily reach hundreds of individuals per day, and totals usually taking over 20.000 individuals each season. Falcons are less abundant, but also regular in good numbers, such as Hobbies (Falco subbuteo), Peregrines (Falco peregrinus), Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and Merlins (Falco columbarius).
Sparrowhawks are very common...
First-year Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
So common that they can pass even between your tripod legs!
Looking at the beaches, sandbars and pools close to the shore, good numbers of ducks and waders stop to feed and rest. At the beginning of the season, by late July and early August, hundreds of Terns (mainly Sandwich Sterna sandvicensis, Common Sterna hirundo, Arctic Sterna paradisaea) and waders, such as Red Knots (Calidris canutus), Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) and Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are seen in rather big numbers. Dunlins (Calidris alpina) are also very common, peaking during August, and several more species appear in big numbers.

Revlarna packed with birds: waders, gulls, terns and ducks.
First-year Sanderlings (Calidris alba).
Wildfowl is also very abundant, with hundreds of Northern Pintails (Anas acuta), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata), Common Teals (Anas crecca), Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and thousands of Eurasian Wigeons (Anas penelope) gathering during September and October. Swans also gather in big numbers, especially Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), but Whooper (Cygnus cygnus) and Bewick's (C.columbianus) also occur. Geese are also very very common, and leaving apart the big flocks of Greylag (Anser anser) and local Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), there is a lot of migration of Barnacle (Branta leucopsis), Brent (Branta bernicla), Greater White-fronted (Anser albifrons) and Bean Geese (Anser fabalis). Common Cranes (Grus grus) are also seen in hundreds on migration between the end of September and beginning of October. Seawatching provides also big numbers of Common and Velvet Scoter (Melanitta nigra & Melanitta fusca), thousands of Common Eider (Somateria mollisima), numerous Black-throated (Gavia arctica) and Red-throated Divers (Gavia stellata), and much more...
Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) resting
at Knösen.
Migrating Barnacles over the Flommen reedbeds. The species has increased
drastically in the last decades in Southern Sweden!
Migrating Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons).
Migrating Cranes (Grus grus).

... and several unexpected stuff, as these Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus)!

As you can imagine, this has been just a little glimpse of how amazing can be just to go to Falsterbo, sit down and enjoy bird migration. You can see pretty much anything migrating there... except maybe for actual seabirds, which sadly have decreased a lot around the area since the building of the bridge that connects Copenhague and Malmö. Nonetheless, in a nice, very strong westerly winds, it is worth going to some coastal places in the northern parts of Scania, where you might be lucky and enjoy big numbers of several seabird species, including sometimes very good views.

On my very last day this season we went seawatching around Torekov headland, and we saw this amazing Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) from Rammsjö!!!
Picture by Tim Micallef. Grazzi!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Flommen summary 2017

During the autumn of 2017, 3023 birds of 45 species have been ringed in the standardised ringing at the Flommen reedbeds, far below the reference number of 4258 birds (average 1980-2009).

Click here to check the seasonal total at Flommen for this year.

Contrary, for instance, to the previous year (2016), from the beginning of the season it was noticeable the low density and bad growth of the reedbed, probably due to the cold and late spring that affected most of Scandinavia. This had also an apparent effect on the breeding birds, translated into late breeding of the local species, such as Eurasian Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) with chicks fledging as far as late August, and also Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus) with fledglings during mid-August, also slightly later than usual. The bad breeding season had direct effects on the seasonal totals, with the Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) being a good example: only 4 individuals were ringed (average: 18), very likely as a consequence of the bad breeding season in Southern Sweden (Peter Öhrström com.pers.). But this effect is also seen in the numbers of Reed Warblers (A.scirpaceus) and Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), species in which the juvenile peak migration, which is usually very strong and produces a lot of captures, was very diluted in numbers and almost unnoticeable through the season.

During the first days of the season in late July and most of August, the weather has been quite unpredictable, with almost daily rain showers and several windy days that probably lowered slightly the amount of trapped birds through the season.

In order, the most common species this season have been Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) with 1061 individuals ringed, Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) with 750, Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) with 202, Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) with 180, Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) with 149 and Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) with 143.

As it is already a clear trend in the last years of the standardised ringing at Flommen, Reed Warblers keep a clear tendency below the average (seasonal total: 1061, average: 1940), as well as Willow Warblers (seasonal total: 149, average: 628). As it was mentioned above, the apparent bad breeding season for this species has clearly affected this season’s numbers, especially in the case of the Willow Warbler. Due to the late breeding season, the adult peak migration passage for the common Acrocephalus Warblers, Reed Warbler (A.scirpaceus) and Sedge Warbler (A.schoenobaenus), has also been slightly delayed. On these species, adults migrate first than the juveniles, and some years the peak passage of adults has apparently already passed by the time the season starts the 21st of July. That is especially the case of the Sedge Warbler, and this year’s late breeding is clearly reflected in the big amount of adults trapped in the beginning of the season. The seasonal total for the Sedge Warbler is 750 ringed individuals, above the average reference number of 588, probably due to the unusual amount of adults. On the other hand, the numbers of Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) were quite low this season, both for adults and first-years (seasonal total: 68, average: 92).

Juvenile (left) and adult (right) Reed Warblers.

The absence of Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) invasion this year is also affecting the seasonal total number at Flommen, since 4 birds were ringed when the average is 80. After the relatively calm August due to few juveniles (bad breeding season), September had very few good days in terms of amount of nocturnal migrants landing in the peninsula, and thus the numbers of the regular September species were generally lower than the average reference number. As examples: Robin (Erithacus rubecula) (seasonal total: 56, average: 75), Dunnock (Prunella modularis) (seasonal total: 25, average: 54) and Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) (seasonal total: 43, average: 40).

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning the good numbers for Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) (seasonal total: 180, average: 140), Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) (seasonal total: 143, average: 43) and White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) (seasonal total: 22, average: 12); three species which their numbers depend quite much on the formation of a roosting site in the study area, that was present this year daily during the beginning of the season.

Other typical migrants ringed at the Flommen reedbeds showed good numbers compared to the average 1980-2009, such as Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) (seasonal total: 33, average: 25), Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) (seasonal total: 37, average: 34), Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) (seasonal total: 11, average: 8), Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (seasonal total: 51, average: 51) and Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (seasonal total: 202, average: 212). The case with the Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) is interesting: the species has increased a lot the recent years and it is now far over the average (seasonal total: 98, average: 14).

Interesting local breeding birds such as Bearded Reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) bred again in the area (they were common breeding species in the past, but had disappeared for several years until they returned in 2015), and at least 2 pairs were detected. From the ringing data we obtained, both females in both pairs had a successful second clutch in August. In total, 13 juveniles were ringed through the season. Interestingly, at least two female Marsh Warblers (Acrocephalus palustris) were caught in the beginning of the season with broodpatches, and afterwards some fledglings confirmed the breeding of at least 2 pairs in the northern part of the reedbeds. Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus), as many other species as mentioned above, had also a delayed breeding season. 18 individuals were ringed at Flommen, 2 in the standardised ringing and 16 in extra ringing, using metal cages. During the last few seasons there has been an extra effort to ring local breeding Water Rails with quite good results, and although more work is needed, it is interesting to mention that we have no data corresponding to any returning individual (adult or juvenile) to the breeding sites.

Six foreign recoveries were caught during the season, two Sedge Warblers – one from Latvia and the other from France -, and 4 Reed Warblers – one from France, two from Belgium and 1 from Denmark. 27 individuals were caught from other ringing stations in Sweden: 11 Reed Warblers, 6 Sedge Warblers, 4 Barn Swallows, 4 Penduline Tits, 1 Sand Martin and 1 Reed Bunting.

Among the rare or scarcely captured species this season, there was the 6th Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides) ringed for the Bird Observatory (5th at Flommen), the first ever Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) to be ringed at Flommen (consequence of the increasing tendency of the species in Southern Sweden), a Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) (58th at Flommen since 1980), a Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) (51st at Flommen since 1980), a Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) (29th in standardised ringing at Flommen since 1980), 2 Common Grasshopper Warblers (Locustella naevia), 2 Jack Snipes (Lymnocryptes minimus) (12th and 13th in standardised ringing at Flommen) and 9 Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) (2 in the standardised ringing and 7 more in extra ringing in the area).

In extra ringing at the same place, 258 birds were ringed including the mentioned amounts of Water Rails (16) and Spotted Crakes (7), 1 Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), 2 Coots (Fulica atra), 9 Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), 2 Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollus), 12 Sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), 2 Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), 2 Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus), 2 Common Snipes (Gallinago gallinago), 2 Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus), 1 Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), 1 Skyark (Alauda arvensis), 25 Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and 9 Rock Pipits (Anthus petrosus).

The "Flommen combo"! Picture by Harald Ris.
Ringers that worked on the reedbed with me were, listed by arrival date: Timmy Micallef, Per Andell, Ingela Källén, Emil Lundahl, Alex Zackrisson, Tore Dahlberg and Harald Ris. And, of course, big TACK to the rest of the Falsterbo Bird Observatory crew for another great season!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lapland 2017

This summer I had an extraordinary opportunity to join some Finnish friends to a ringing trip around Lapland. I'm very very grateful to Roni, Jarkko, Petteri and Vilppu for such a nice experience!!!

Midnight Sun!
We travelled from the central part of Finland to the northern part, close to the borders of Norway and Sweden. On the way north, we stopped in several places, that complemented very very well the trip I had last year to Finland and Norway. And most importantly, we had a lot of nice birds!!

Visiting old-growth spruce forests was a very magical experience, especially when watching closely some of their nicest inhabitants, such as the Bluetails (Tarsiger cyanurus) or Three-toed Woodpeckers (Picoides tridactylus).

Orange-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) on its habitat.
2cy (EURING 5) male.
The same bird singing after ringing.
Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus).
Typical Three-toed markings.
Owls and Grouses vary in abundance within years due to population dynamics. For instance, it is well-known that the amount of prey available for owls (mainly rodents) influences to the breeding success and therefore to the abundance of several predator species. In my trip last year, we saw several Hawk Owls (Surnia ulula) since it was a very good year for the species, but not for other owls, and we saw no Black Grouses (Lyrurus tetrix) or even no Willow Grouses (Lagopus lagopus). This year the situation seemed a bit better for Grouses, but it was still not very good for Owls and especially bad for breeding Hawk Owls. Anyway, just in the beginning of the trip, we had a great observation of a Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) perched by the road that I will never forget...

Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), female, with several chicks around.
On the way to the north, we stopped at several places to enjoy some of the greatest treasures of  Finland...
Lanceolated Warbler (Locustella lanceolata).
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis).
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla), male.
Little Bunting on its breeding habitat: wet birch and young
 Scots pine mixed open forests.
The main target of the trip was to reach the hills in Lapland where Dotterels (Charadrius morinellus) breed. For some years they have been ringing adults and chicks in the breeding grounds. Thanks to the use of white plastic rings, it has been confirmed that they return to the breeding grounds regularly. And this year, in collaboration with other ringers from Finland and from Norway, we helped on deploying geolocators to breeding Dotterels.

Finding the Dotterels in the vast tundra is not so easy, but birds
like this one -colour-ringed- are showing they do return to the
same areas to breed.
And we could manage to get some.
What a pleasure to be able to join a team of truly expert
 ringers, working on such a iconic species on such a nice habitat!!
There are many nice breeding species up there. The large amount of insects, particularly mosquitos, is (apart from being a bit annoying...) a great food source for many birds. This year, though, the spring arrived quite late, with a very cold May when it snowed quite much everywhere. The breeding season up here is quite short; most of the species are migrants that come here, breed, and leave after to avoid the cold and tough times. So this year, with very late snow and cold spring, most of the species failed the apparently failed the beginning of the breeding or simply skipped it. That was very noticeable in the low densities of waders in good habitats, or the late clutches of several passerines. Still, we managed to see most of the nice species!
Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) warning the chicks
about our presence.
This Willow Grouse (Lagopus lagopus) was as surprised as us
when we caught it! 
Saana mountain, close to Kilpisjärvi.
In more rocky areas, Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) and Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) appear. We were lucky to see several individuals from both species, and also to get some!

Ptarmigan habitat...
Snow Bunting habitat.
We could ring this 2cy (EURING 5) male. GC10 (innermost)
was moulted on the postjuvenile moult, and it keeps the juvenile
'dirty' primary coverts and secondaries.
This adult (EURING 6) male shows clean white primary
coverts, as well as less worn flight feathers.
On the birch forests that grow on the sides of the tundra fjäll, there are several very nice bird species breeding.
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus torquatus).
'Red-spotted' Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica svecica).
Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus).
Suddenly, lakes may appear and they usually are packed with very interesting waders, such as breeding Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) and Temminck's Stints (Calidris temminckii).

Red-necked Phalarope, male.
Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii).
 We could ring this very nice Temminck's, one of the species that has been studied recently to reveal their amazing journeys from the breeding grounds in the tundra to the far south wintering sites. For more information about Temmick's migration I recommend this paper Lislevand & Hahn 2015.

In lower areas, extensive mires are the home of several other wader species, such as Wood Sandpipers (Tringa glareola)Ruffs (Calidris pugnax)Broad-billed Sandpipers (Calidris falcinellus)... It was amazing to see the latter species displaying in flight!

Siberian specialities such as the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) or Siberian Tit (Poecile cinctus) are found more commonly in old-growth Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) forests, that are usually quite well-covered by lichens.

Siberian Tit on its habitat.
Female and male Siberian Tits, sexed on broodpatch/cloaca
respectively. Males seem to have darker bib and lores, as well
as slightly more purple tinged head than females.

Closeby, we ringed a family of Dippers (Cinclus cinclus cinclus). I was expecting the adults to be completely black in the underparts, without this broad brownish-red 'belt'.

Between hiking journeys to reach Dotterel's breeding areas, we also had some time for the interesting ringing of some breeding Redpolls (Acanthis flammea) and also some Twites (Linaris flavirostris).

Redpoll (Acanthis flammea).
Twite (Linaria flavirostris).
Primary shape (and, used carefully, also primary wear) can be a
good ageing tip for both species. Here an example with Twites,
an adult (EURING 6) male on the left and a 2cy (EURING 5)
 female to the right. Notice the pinkish feathers on the rump that
enable the sexing as male on the left bird.
Having deployed some geolocators to some Dotterels and enjoyed most of the local breeding birds, we started our journey back to the south, having some more interesting stops on the way. If you are a foreigner you may love to see a Moose (Alces alces) this close to the road, but then you realise how big they are and how you prefer them to be away from the roads.

Among others, we had a brief stop to check Blyth's Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus dumetorum), which was very interesting for me! They really feel different from a Reed Warbler, especially in hand..

Other highlights were these two nice species!
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) chick.
Corncrake (Crex crex).
A really amazing trip that I will always thank my Finnish friends: Kiitoksia!!!