lunes, 8 de octubre de 2018

Spoonbill at the saltpans

 Eurasian Spoonbil (Platalea leucorodia)

During the first week of October, I was unable to make it to the saltpans in Fuencaliente. However, a British birder (D.S.), who was staying at a conveniently-located hotel in the south of the island, very kindly kept me informed regarding the migratory birds present at the pans.

He recorded small numbers of several of the waders typically found at the site in autumn: Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula).

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

So, when I visited the saltpans last Saturday morning (Oct 6), I was expecting to find pretty much the same array of migratory shorebirds. To my surprise, however, a very conspicuous juvenile Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) was placidly foraging in one of the pools. And there wasn't a single wader in sight, strangely.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

The Spoonbill is a very irregular passage migrant which either turns up at the freshwater irrigation ponds in the west, near Los Llanos de Aridane, or else at the saltpans in the extreme south, in Fuencaliente. Usually the birds are juveniles, with many coming all the way from Holland, according to data from ringed specimens observed on La Palma, and elsewhere in the Canaries.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

I paid another visit to the saltpans this afternoon, Oct 8, and was surprised to find the Spoonbill still present. The last two photos are from today's trip.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

I also observed: 2 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 4 x Sanderling (Calidris alba), 1 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and 1 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos).

sábado, 22 de septiembre de 2018

Common or Spotted Sandpiper?

 1. Actitis sp., Las Salinas Sep 19

The bird shown in the present post has been observed at the saltpans in Fuencaliente over the last few days, and poses identification challenges.

The dilemma is obviously whether this Actitis species is a Common (hypoleucos), or a Spotted (macularius) Sandpiper.


The first feature which drew my attention to this visiting wader was the very short projection of the tail beyond the primaries: it looks too short for the typical Common Sandpiper (A. hypoleucos).


On the other hand, there do seem to be dark notches along the edges of the tertials, just discernible in some of the photos, which would indicate Common (hypoleucos), rather than Spotted (macularius).

Although the notches are faint, they seem to extend along the feather edges, rather than being confined to their tips.


The strikingly short tail projection beyond the folded wings can be appreciated in photo nº 4 above.


In the poor quality image nº 5 above, the wing stretching seems to reveal a white wing bar that does not reach the bird's body, diagnostic of Spotted Sandpiper (A. macularius).

 6. Actitis sp. Las Salinas, Sep 22

The overall plumage tones and compact build also seem to fit macularius, but the legs would perhaps need to be a darker shade of yellow (?).


Regarding the bill, I can see no sign of a pinkish lower mandible, as would be the case in macularius.

The pure white underparts lack spots, of course, but what about those tiny dark flecks towards the bird's rear end, just discernible in photo nº 7?


So far, I have not heard any vocalisations: one way of separating the two Actitis species is by their distinct calls.

It would also be useful to have some clear pictures of the bird in flight, for closer assessment of the upper wing bar. However, photographing this speedy sandpiper on the wing is tricky in its present surroundings.


For the moment, I am inclined to opt for Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), mainly because of the dark (albeit faint) notching on the tertial edges, the pale legs, and the lack of pink on the lower mandible.

But the short tail projection, the stocky body shape, and the upper wing bar (visible in the blurred nº 5 above) have left me with certain doubts.

Any comments or second opinions would be most welcome.

jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2018

Yellow Wagtail

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

A visit to the saltpans in Fuencaliente yesterday evening yielded this solitary Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). The bird was foraging for small insects along the dirt access track, where all of the present images were captured.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

Photography was made difficult by the fading light, and the gusty the fact that the bird was hyper-active and easily scared by passing vehicles and pedestrians.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

From the plumage tones, I am assuming that this is a male flavissima, or "British Yellow Wagtail", with yellow-green ear-coverts, crown and nape, and no hint of white in the supercilium.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima)

The species is a passage migrant to the Canary Islands, with some races considered vagrants (eg. ssp. feldeggi).

Elsewhere on the island, there has been little to report so far this migration season. The usual Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Sanderling (Calidris alba) and Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) have already arrived in small numbers.

Unfortunately, the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) are mostly dried-out and abandoned,  providing very little suitable habitat for stopover waders. Birding at the ponds has seen a downward trend in recent years, as more modern irrigation methods have led to the gradual abandonment of these small, freshwater reservoirs.

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2018

Kentish Plover

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

The first interesting bird of the 2018 (post-breeding) migration season, this Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) was discovered at the saltpans (Las Salinas) in Fuencaliente on August 15. I was unable to get any decent photos on that occasion, so I returned to the location on the evening of August 16, to capture all the images in the present post.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

The Kentish Plover breeds on La Graciosa, Lanzarote, Lobos, and Fuerteventura, where perhaps 95% of the Canary Island population of this species is concentrated.  It also nests in small numbers on Gran Canaria, but is in serious decline on Tenerife due to habitat loss and disturbance. Migrants have also been observed on the remaining islands, possibly on passage from northern Europe, or birds dispersing from breeding populations elsewhere in the Canaries.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Most of the key identification features of C. alexandrinus are visible in the photos shown here, but the bird warranted especially close inspection: in August 2003, a Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) was observed at the same spot, and was accepted as the first record for the Canary Islands and only the second for Spain as a whole.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

domingo, 8 de abril de 2018

White Stork

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

A routine inspection of a group of irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) this morning led to the discovery of a White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).

This species is considered a passage migrant to the Canaries (all islands), and the odd individual has overwintered on Tenerife.

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Solitary birds appear on La Palma fairly regularly, and there are unofficial reports of White Storks previously nesting in the church tower of San Andrés (San Andrés y Sauces) in the past. If true, the birds were lucky not to be driven away, which is what happened to a pair that attempted to nest on the roof of a private house in Breña Baja a few years ago.

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

In April 2007 I photographed 3 White Storks at a landfill site in Barranco Seco, between Santa Cruz and Puntallana. This ornithologically-valuable rubbish dump used to attract various migrants, including gulls and Black Kites (Milvus migrans), but the tip was officially closed a couple of years ago.

The present bird was found leisurely foraging in the bottom of the almost dried-out concrete pond shown here. After a while, it decided to take a nap, so I left it in peace.

All photos taken with my Fuji bridge camera.

lunes, 8 de enero de 2018

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): Part 2

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The two Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) appeared about half an hour earlier than usual this evening, Jan 8. The sun was still a few degrees above the horizon when I located the birds, and the better-lit photos are definitely my best so far. Camera settings are still ISO 1600, however, to freeze the birds' flight.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), this time against the light.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) plunge-diving into the bushes, as it hunts for prey.

2 x Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): both birds are captured in this bucolic scene.

domingo, 7 de enero de 2018

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): Part 1

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), showing black wing tips

I don't usually post such poor quality images on "La Palma Birds", but despite four attempts to photograph this migratory Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), the present shots are the best I have managed to get.

On the first two occasions (Jan 4 and 5), I saw only one individual, but on Jan 6, I was surprised to discover that there are actually two birds present on the island. I saw them briefly together again this evening, Jan 7.

Although this species is partly diurnal, the two visiting owls don't come out to hunt until about half an hour before nightfall, and it is hard to predict just where their erratic quartering will take them. So far, I have not been positioned in the right place for a good picture, and the light is already failing when the birds first appear.

All the shots posted here were taken at ISO 1600 (the maximum on my old Canon 40D), with a handheld 400mm lens. The fastest shutter speed at my widest aperture is obviously too slow to freeze this fast-moving subject in such poor light.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), showing boldly barred tail

It has been several years since I observed this migratory owl on La Palma, my last records being from 2006, 2007 and 2008, when two birds over-wintered. On all three occasions, the birds commenced foraging earlier, and seemed less shy when approaching people or the occasional passing vehicle. They also perched in more conspicuous, predictable spots, making them much easier to photograph.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The two birds currently on La Palma have chosen precisely the same area to hunt in as the previous visitors did, the Llano de Las Cuevas, in the high part of El Paso, roughly between the National Park Visitor Centre and the Virgen del Pino church. The fields in this part of the island are either used as pastures for grazing, or are planted with Tagasaste ("Tree Lucerne", Chamaecytisus palmensis/floridus, an indigenous forage crop).

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), with yellow eyes just discernible.

Hopefully, these two visiting Short-eared Owls will likewise decide to spend the winter on La Palma, and give me the chance to improve on the photos over the next few weeks.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)