lunes, 4 de septiembre de 2017

Yellow Wagtail

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) juvenile

A visit to the saltpans in Fuencaliente this morning led to the discovery of the juvenile Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) shown here. The bird was foraging around the edges of the pools.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

The first distant impression was that this migrant passerine might be my second Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) for the site (see Oct 6 2015 post). but all the fieldmarks visible at close range point to Yellow Wagtail (M.flava): dark lores, yellow vent, shortish tail, and pale lower mandible.

Also overall warmer plumage tones, with hints of olive brown on the back, are diagnostic of M. flava...but I am reluctant to assign this juvenile bird to any particular race.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

The windy conditions on the day can be appreciated in the above photo.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

The Yellow Wagtail (M. flava) is an irregular migrant to La Palma, the only resident/nesting Motacilla species being the Grey Wagtail (M. cinerea).

The following common waders were also present at the saltpans this morning:

2 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 2 x Sanderling (C. alba), 2 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and 1 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos).

On the drive down, I had another sighting of the Black Kite (Milvus migrans), first spotted on August 15 (see previous blog post).

Elsewhere on the island, on Sep 2, I spotted a Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) at an elevation of about 2,200m asl, on the road to Roque de los Muchachos. The photographs I managed to take are unfortunately of poor quality.




miércoles, 16 de agosto de 2017

Early birds at Las Salinas, mid-August 2017

 Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

A visit to the saltpans (Las Salinas) in Fuencaliente on August 15 produced the first early birds of the 2017 post-breeding migration season.

Not counting the Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and the Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis), which are present all year round, the trip yielded seven different species altogether... but only seven birds in total, the kind of numbers to be expected on La Palma!

 Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

The complete list runs as follows: 1 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 1 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), 1 x Little Stint (Calidris minuta), 1 x Red Knot (Calidris canutus), 1 x Redshank (Tringa totanus), 1 x Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridiundus)... all observed at the saltpans themselves.

 Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

On the drive down to the site, the seventh species, a migrant raptor, was spotted through my car window. But by the time I managed to pull over, the bird was no longer in sight. My first impression from size and flight action was Black Kite (Milvus migrans).

 Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Fortunately, I had another chance to observe the raptor on my return journey, and was able to take the following photos, which actually led to a few doubts as to the bird's id.

This individual's plumage is so tattered that crucial field marks are difficult to see. The tail barely forms the characteristic wedge-shape. and it's hard to discern the pale primary bases forming characteristic lighter "panels" below the wings. Nevertheless, overall shape and flight action still point to Black Kite (Milvus migrans).

 Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

This is my first sighting of a kite on La Palma, and possibly only the second or third for the island. It is apparently much more regular on migration on the Eastern Canary Islands.


This is actually the 4th Black Kite record for La Palma. Of the previous 3 sightings, the first two date from the 1990s and the third from 2002 (Eduardo García-del-Rey, pers. comm.). 

So, this raptor is definitely not a regular visitor to the island...

lunes, 24 de abril de 2017

Seabirds and seawatching on La Palma


I am often asked by birders planning a visit to La Palma about the sea-watching potential of the island. La Palma is, after all, surrounded by a vast expanse of unpolluted ocean, so the question seems reasonable.

However, not all regions of the Earth’s oceans are equally rich in marine life, and the subtropical waters around La Palma are referred to as oligotrophic.

So seabird activity and species numbers are generally low. La Palma has no insular shelf or extensive shallow waters offshore, no reefs, no nearby seamounts, no upwelling or nutrient-rich currents, and no estuaries which could act as feeding grounds for coastal birds. The Atlantic plunges to depths of 3,000-4,000 metres within a short distance of the coast. The narrow beaches are made of inorganic volcanic sand and lack food for waders.

So not a very bright picture for sea and shorebird enthusiasts.  Precise details of the observable species and their status can be found in “Birds of the Atlantic Islands” by Tony Clarke or the “Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia” by Eduardo García-del-Rey. (The Avibase checklist should be handled with great care, by the way).

Here is a basic overview of what to expect:

There is only one species of breeding gull, the Yellow-legged (Larus michahellis), and small numbers of Lesser Black-backed (L. fuscus) can also be found. Very occasionally, migratory gulls turn up, such as the solitary Iceland Gull (L. glaucoides), seen by various observers on the island earlier this year.

There are large breeding colonies of Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) which are absent from the island between November and February-March. Small numbers of Little/BaroloShearwater (Puffinus baroli) and Manx Shearwater (P. puffinus), might be seen from the coast by patient observers.

The Gannet (Morus bassanus) is a fairly regular visiting bird, in extremely small numbers, and there have been about three sightings of Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) on La Palma in the last ten years, including this recent one seen just north of Santa Cruz de La Palma on April 13, and kindly reported by the visiting observers Simon Priestnall and Anthony Cooper, the author of the photograph:

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Photo: Anthony Cooper


Of course, the fact that hardly anyone is observing birds on the island means that many species are simply overlooked. I also have to admit that, personally, I do more inland birding than coastal. Nevertheless, it would be reasonable not to set your hopes too high, if sea-watching is a priority…

Possible locations to observe seabirds on La Palma include the harbours of Santa Cruz and Tazacorte, Punta Cumplida in Barlovento (northeast) and El Faro in Fuencaliente (south). The latter location has the advantage of an excellent bar-cafeteria, with a wind-sheltered upstairs terrace from where you can survey the ocean in comfort: remember, the birding is going to be very slow.

So, no raucous colonies of Guillemot (Uria aalge), Razorbill (Alca torda) or Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) - to mention three of the seabirds Northern European visitors might mistakenly expect to find on an Atlantic island - but La Palma does have a couple of offshore stacks where Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) breed annually. Below, are some recent photos taken at one of the tern colonies:



 Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

 Common Tern (Sterna hirundo):courtship feeding

 Common Tern (Sterna hirundo): courtship feeding

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

viernes, 7 de abril de 2017

Pallid Swifts - at last?

 Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

The widespread resident swift on most of the Canary Islands is the Plain Swift (Apus unicolor), although it is suspected that part of the population departs for Africa in winter. The islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and El Hierro additionally have breeding populations of Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus), which seem to be restricted to certain parts of those islands.

In the case of La Palma, any swift species seen on the island, other than the Plain Swift (A. unicolor), can be assumed to be a migrant, until further information is available.

 Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

Followers of this blog might recall my previous sightings of Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba) on the island...no identification problems with that bird!

However, I find many other swifts difficult. There are records of Common Swifts (Apus apus) for all the Canary Islands, including La Palma, but in most cases these passage migrants probably go unnoticed. To be honest, I have made little effort to find them.

Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus)

The Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) is a different story, and I have been on the lookout for this bird on La Palma in recent years: it is classed as a summer visitor to all the Canaries, and even breeds on some of the islands, as mentioned above. So why no evidence on La Palma?

Despite being a little early in the year for a "summer visitor", I am pretty convinced that the three images in this post show Pallid Swifts, or at least the discernible fieldmarks seem to point in that direction: white throat patch, contrast in colour between the outer primaries and the rest of the wing, larger size compared to Plain Swift and less fluttering flight-action, pale, scaly appearance of plumage, bulky body, etc.

Could this be the Pallid Swift - at last?

Second opinions would be most welcome.

1. Second opinions from two knowledgable Canary Island observers, who are both familiar with the breeding colony of Pallid Swifts on Tenerife, have informed me that, in their opinion, the above images do not show Pallid Swifts (A. pallidus), but possibly Common Swifts (A. apus). 

So, I will accept their verdict and keep searching!

2. I have even received a second opinion from a Swedish bird illustrator, who is considered an authority on swifts in Northern Europe. He also says my birds are not Pallid Swifts (A. pallidus), and actually thinks they could be Plain Swifts (A. unicolor).

miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017

Spring migrants 2017

 Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Early spring has witnessed the arrival of a number of interesting migrants. None of the species in the present post are "rarities", in fact some are almost annual visitors to the island, but finding them in your home patch is always gratifying.

In addition to the birds shown here, this morning I also discovered a solitary juvenile Garganey (Anas querquedula), at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), and there were small numbers of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and House Martins (Delichon urbica) in the same area.

 Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) featured here is the same bird detected on March 15.
Note the interesting breeding plumage of this male.

 Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

 Part of a flock of circa 20 x Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica)


 Black-crowned Night Heron (Nyticorax nycticorax)

Most migrant Ardeidae records on La Palma are also spring sightings. The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is one of the more regular visitors. I found two birds at an irrigation pond in Tazacorte this evening, March 22, but it was only possible to photograph one of them from the access point.

Below, the same bird in a more heavily-cropped image.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

miércoles, 15 de marzo de 2017

Mid-March observations

 A selection of waders in an irrigation pond in Las Martelas, 15/03/2017. From left to right: Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), Redshank (Tringa totanus), Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia).

After a relatively slack period on the island, this morning's session at the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas turned out to be very productive. I was joined on this occasion by a visiting British observer (A. S. Moore), who may have brought me luck with the Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)! We enjoyed good views of the bird for several minutes, and saw it foraging, in flight, perched on concrete walls, and even swimming in one of the deeper ponds.

 Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

During the ensuing couple of hours we also recorded, in addition to the Avocet: 3 x Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), 1 x Redshank (Tringa totanus), 1 x Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), 4 x Sand Martin (Riparia riparia), 2 x Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)...plus the usual small numbers of Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos).

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

The Avocet was undoubtedly the highlight of the morning. This species is a passage migrant to the Canaries, with records from all the main islands except La Gomera. However, today's sighting was my first on La Palma, despite several years of regular birding in the appropriate areas.

I got some accepable photos this morning with my Fuji bridge camera, but returned to Las Martelas in the afternoon, fully-equipped, to capture the images shown in the present post.

Other recent sightings of interest on La Palma include:

1 x Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) seen and photographed at Juan Adalid (Garafía) on February 27. This was not posted in "La Palma Birds" due to the very poor quality of the only image I managed to capture.

1 x Booted Eagle (Haliaetus pennatus), pale morph, flying above Breña Alta and Breña Baja, seen from near the Parador on March 14. No camera with me on the day.

1 x Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) first reported by visiting birder Jon Bellamy who saw the bird on the breakwaters in Los Cancajos (Breña Baja) on January 10. The bird was later spotted by various other observers in the same part of the island, including A. S. Moore a few days ago. So this gull has now been on La Palma for over one month.

There are various species of Hirundines around at present, in the usual small numbers.

miércoles, 1 de marzo de 2017

Adios SEO/Birdlife!

For several years I have been a member of SEO/Birdlife, regarded as the largest and oldest conservation organisation in Spain, and the country's nearest equivalent to the RSPB. The Spanish Rarities Committee, which deals with rare bird sightings throughout the country, is part of this veteran NGO.

Over the years, I have been dutifully paying my subscription fees, sending in my rare bird sightings and other records of interest, contributing photos for publication, and generally acting as "whistle-blower" on the island of La Palma, alerting the Canary Island Delegation on Tenerife of any significant environmental concerns on the island. Just doing the kind of stuff you would consider normal for an active member of any birding and conservation society. Others, like myself, have been gathering valuable census data, and doing various kinds of voluntary work for the organisation.

However, back in Madrid, the Board of Directors (Junta Directiva) has been up to some rather nasty tricks. To start with, in 2015 they allowed a self-confessed, passionate hunter to get himself elected vice--President of the organisation (Sr. Javier Hidalgo). It was only after the Board received letters of protest from outraged members that the person concerned agreed to resign his post. A short explanatory note was published on the SEO website, but was couched in such vague terms that no-one unfamiliar with the background details could possibly understand what the issue was. The whole matter was characterised by a total lack of transparency.

Another similar case involves a member of the SEO Committee who happens to be the owner of a large hunting estate in which hundreds of wild boar and thousands of partridges are systematically massacred every year. All within the cosy confines of a fenced-off, private estate. (Patricia Maldonado, Las Ensanchas).

Yet the organisation claims it sees no incompatibility between the practice of these deplorable economic activities and the right to be on the Committee of a conservation organisation. Just as, presumably, they saw no incompatibility in having their former king and keen elephant shooter, Juan Carlos, as president of the WWF; that is, until he too was forced to resign under public protest.

As SEO has explained in writing (but only after coming under pressure from many of its members), the organisation has never declared itself to be anti-hunting in principle. Fair enough. However, they are well aware of a substantial anti-hunting contingent among their present-day membership. So, why not use a bit of common sense, and avoid deliberately provoking a large percentage of your members by allowing the wrong people to represent the organisation? And what's wrong with restricting the eligible candidates for Committee posts to the kind of people best suited to the job...and then holding elections?

Unfortunately, this Old Boys' Club got my 2017 subscription before I had time to cancel my membership. They won't get next year's.

Adios SEO/Birdlife!