Saturday, May 27, 2017

Summits of the spring!

This spring at my local patch has been one of the best ever. We had record numbers (nothing too special, but very nice in a local scale!!) of pretty much everything. I already had a post on local birding this year, but it definetely deserves another!
While the Sandwich Tern was the highlight of the other post, this Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) was also a really rare bird inland!
Not as rare but very interesting was the arrival of 3 Coots (Fulica atra), a species that used to breed in the area commontly, but that dissapeared quickly some years ago (more info: here). After they dissapeared, the species turned out to be an irregular migrant, so to have 3 together is quite promising. Indeed, a 4rth individual has arrived recently and it seems that, at least, a couple has been formed and they might breed... again! :)
To continue with Rallidae, two different Little Crakes (Porzana porzana), female and male, were also spotted during several days at the place. Certaintly a very scarce migrant inland!! They stayed for several days and offered great views!
Close pictures sometimes reveal interesting information, such as the age
in this case. Second-year Little Crakes show very worn and more rounded
primary tips when the wing is closed, so this individual could be aged as
an adult (EURING 6) on that.
See also how the plimaries are rather 'square-shaped', whilst in 2cy they are
much more rounded and the outermost ones even pointed.
These pictures are much worse, from a different male seen this spring at
Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park. Despite the bad quality, notice
the much more worn primaries, rounded shape and even pointed outer
ones, which suggests a second-year (EURING 5).

Jordi Comellas took this excellent picture of the female we had in l'Aiguamoll
de la Bòbila
. It shows perfectly the primary projection, worn and with rounded
tips, which points to second-year (EURING 5).
Right at the other side of the hide, Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) were carefully working on the future generation...
Migration kept offering very good days, with 2 Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus), Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris), Ortolan Buntings (Emberiza hortulana) and several hundreds Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) on the fields.
May-migrants such as Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) arrived in time, and some individuals of each species were caught for ringing.
Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin).
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata).
Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos) also peak during the beggining of May, and up to 3 individuals were caught for ringing (first wader species ever caught at the station!).
Second-year (EURING 5). Notice the pale and worn primaries,
secondaries (except for the innermost, which are clearly moulted)
and primary coverts.
Another second-year (EURING 5). See comments above. Here
the contrast in the inner secondaries is more obvious.
Adult (EURING 6). Notice the fresher plumage overall, and
especially on the wing feathers. There's no moult limit on the
secondaries. White markings pattern on the secondaries is more
conspicuous, and primary coverts also show wider pale tips.
As every year, a little ringing project with Quails (Coturnix coturnix) was done in the area. They are so beautiful birds!!
But the best migrant was, for sure, 2 different Western Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis). Always a very nice bird to catch on migration!!
Second-year (EURING 5) female. Notice the 4 primaries
moulted in winter in the left wing (P2-P5), 3 on the right
wing (P2-P4, although the latter is broken). According to the
literature*, this winter moult extension has only been recorded
on Eastern Orphean Warblers (S.crassirostris), so it will be
interesting to check more individuals. Also notice the outer
greater coverts replaced in winter.
*Shirihai, Gargallo & Helbig (2001). Sylvia Warblers, Helm, London.
A more typical second-year (EURING 5) female, with much
less extensive prenupcial moult.
Local birds are also nice though. This spring I caught some Woodpigeons (Columba palumbus). If you are interested, I already had posted some notes here.
Adult (EURING 6) according to the unmoulted secondaries. At
least 2 generations visible, being the older adult-type. This
individual is already starting a new complete moult!
Second-year (EURING 5), with much distinctive unmoulted
secondaries, that are indeed juvenile type (narrower).
The upper primary coverts also revealed juvenile
 feathers, brown and with the typical pale edge.
With a side-view of the whole bird, secondaries are visibly paler.
a nice Magpie (Pica pica):

Plumage traits, with the extensive white on the outer primaries, almost reaching the tip, and the bright colouration in the whole wing and tail, with few wear on the flight feathers, indicates an adult (EURING 6). Interestingly, it had part of the mouth (inside) pinkish, which I had always related to juveniles. It seems that they could keep this colouration for at least some time...
Hoopoe (Upupa epops) family was caught too, and they offered the chance to analyse some different ages and sexes:
First-year (EURING 3)
Adult (EURING 6) female - "the mother"
Second-year (EURING 5) male - "the father"
After last year's reedbed restoration work in the area, in order to get a younger reedbed more suitable for Warblers, I've been particularly waiting for some Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) to arrive. The reedbed was burnt intentionally so the reedbed could come up again, but after last year's drought only one Great Reed Warbler was seen in the area, for very few days. 

Foto de XpeiDrone / Ajuntament de Santpedor
Finally this individual (picture above) showed up, and it turned out to have a ring already!, which highlights the interest of ringing in constant effort ringing sites, and how this data can be used for conservation purposes (indeed, the restoration plan came out of the ringing data, that showed a decreasing tendency of Great Reed Warblers in the area and how they had 'abandoned' the old reedbed that we decided to restore). Thanks to that, we know that it's a breeding female from 2015, that raised up 4 chicks. Let's hope she is able to do it again this year, hopefully in the new reedbed! 

The most unexpected sighting this spring, though, was not in my area. While visiting the Llobregat Delta during an excursion with the Vertebrates subject I'm taking at University, we were very surprised to find a Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)! And if that wasn't enough, it turned out to be ringed with 2 yellow colour-rings, one in each tibia. Thanks to the keen work by Antonio Gutierrez, we soon discovered it has been ringed in Finland as a chick in 2005 (!). From 2007 on it has been coming back to the Finnish territories to breed (where very few pairs are left!), and it has actually been sighted several times in Sweden (both in spring and autumn migration), and once in the Netherlands. This new observation of this individual suggests very strongly that he is (yeah, it's a male) wintering somewhere in W Africa. Thanks to Veli-Matti, the ringer, for proving all the information so quick, and congratulations for your excellent job!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spring migration in the Western Mediterranean (II)

Back to Catalunya after some days studying bird migration in Menorca, I spent some days ringing in northern Catalunya, at Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park. The vast reedbeds, marshes and surrounding trees create a very suitable stopover site for many bird species, and just before Pyrenees (Albera mountains, precisely) crossing. Littoral wetlands are very important places for breeding, wintering and migrating birds, and they are occupied by thousands of birds. It it extremely important to preserve this areas in the near future, and so it is important to study properly the birds to know what can we do for them and how.

I spent some days ringing on the spring ringing season that takes place in El Barracot (check here the totals). I had a bit of unpredictable weather, but thanks to that a good amount of birds were caught, and with an interesting diversity. Swallows were by far the commonest trapped bird, mainly Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), but I also had the chance to get some Sand Martins (Riparia riparia), few House Martins (Delichon urbicum) and 2 Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica).

There was one very special day, cloudy and with shower storms coming from now and then, that forced some hundreds of Barn Swallows to stop around the area. During the afternoon, they started landing anywhere it looked more or less suitable... even on horse's shit.

That night, ca.200 individuals where caught in the nets (without any tape!), which ended up in quite a lot of work for being me alone and because they had been caught spread in a lot of different nets. Fortunately, Albert Burgas and Yeray appeared and provided so much help - thank you very much!!
After having them all ringed and processed, it was amazing to discover a small flock roosting besides the ringer's house, just roosting under the roof in a small porch, but even more to see the ones in the Barn Swallow nest!!!

I had quite good diversity combination of species, mostly transaharan migrants, with Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) being one of the commonest.

Adult (EURING 6), male
Second-year (EURING 5), male
Second-year (EURING 5), female
Other migrants followed in rather good numbers, such as Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and Whitethroat (Sylvia communis).

Little Bitterns (Icobrychus minutus) were a nice bonus, both male and female respectively.

It was very interesting to study as well some local breeding Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava). All the ones I could examine, including this one, seemed to be rather perfect cinereocapilla. Only the tiny white remainings of a supercilium in this individual could remember something of iberian, that is also breeding in the region and that can hybridize with cinereocapilla.

Motivated by last year's success, I got encourage to give another try for Acrocephalus Warblers at Empordà county. Indeed, we succeded again! (thanks Aïda, Oriol, Albert and people from the Natural Park that provided the ringing permits)

And indeed, we could manage to get another species-mix picture. From left to right: Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola), Sedge Warbler (A.schoenobaenus), Moustached Warbler (A.melanopogon) & Reed Warbler (A.scirpaceus). Great Reed Warbler (A.arundinaceus) had been caught right before...!

While many species are still migrating, others are already investing their energies on breeding. Places like the Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park are very important for bird conservation, and thus they are very important to maintain in proper conditions. This Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus), already incubating, might be taking a breath for the Natural Park's maintenance in the future.