jueves, 20 de diciembre de 2012


Common or Canary Islands Chiffchaff?

During a birding session at the saltpans in Fuencaliente, on the evening of December 19, I was surprised to spot the bird shown in the present post. The most ubiquitous and abundant passerine on La Palma is the endemic Canary Islands Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis). But what struck me about the individual shown here was its much greener, more contrasting plumage, its lack of buff tones on the flanks....and the fact that it was found at a location where I had never seen a single Chiffchaff previously, despite frequent visits to the site.

The bird was first observed foraging on the ground amid the sparse, coastal scrub on the inland side of the entrance path, and was shortly rediscovered on the stoney banks of the saltpans themselves, where all the pictures were taken. The only passerines which frequent this part of the island are the Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria), Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and the scarcer Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata). So here was a case of an unexpected species doing unexpected things in an unexpected area...

The photograph above enables the tertials and primaries to be appreciated: the length of the projection appears to correspond to a Chiffchaff. But are the greenish tones on the upperparts, and the patches of lemon-yellow on the flanks typical for a Canary Islands Chiffchaff?

I have been through all my fieldguides and checked photographs on the Internet. To add to the difficulty there is, of course, an Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus ibericus), and three subspecies of Common Chiffchaff have been recorded in Macaronesia, the nominate collybita (W and C Europe), abietinus (N and NE Europe) and tristis (Siberia).

If bill-length is diagnostic, when seen from the above angle, this specimen appears to conform to the proportions for the Common, rather than the Canary Islands Chiffchaff. Unfortunately, the bird emitted no calls or song to aid identification.

The last photo (above) shows the lemon-yellow tones around the vent and underparts of the tail.

Any comments regarding the identity of this specimen would be much appreciated. In the meantime, I plan to consult the ringers and other experienced passerine observers at rarebirdspain, and will post their verdict shortly.

martes, 11 de diciembre de 2012

Ring-necked Duck

First out of the water, at the top of the image, is a recently-discovered Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), which had been resting in one of the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), together with 12 Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula). Even in this action shot of the birds taking flight, the two species can be easily differentiated...

 Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) with 5 of a flock of 12 Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula)

"The Ring-necked Duck, a Neartic equivalent of our familiar Tufted Duck, is distributed in the breeding season throughout a large part of North America, from Alaska and British Colombia to Newfoundland and New England.  In the mid-1970s there was an estimated population of half a million, but numbers have greatly increased since then, as the bird's range has extended eastwards. The species winters along the coasts of the United States, mainly in Florida, and also in the West Indies, Mexico and Guatemala. Vagrants occasionally reach Venezuela and Trinidad, as well as Japan, Hawai and, of course, the Western Palearctic.

The first record in mainland Spain was a male seen in Gijón (Asturias) in 1978, and the first on the Canary Islands was a female found dead in San Sebastián de La Gomera in 1981. Since 1989-1990 the species has been observed regularly every winter, and so far there are 65 officially accepted records in Spain, 29 of which are from the Canaries. The vast majority of sightings occur between November and March. The species was removed from the British Rarities List in 1993, after 335 records had been logged." (Information adapted from Aves Raras en España, de Juana, E., Lynx 2006)

According to the same book, the last sighting of this species on La Palma was a female observed between February and March 2000, with a previous record from Santa Cruz in 1981, also a female.

Ringed-neck Duck (Aythya collaris) and Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) for comparison

In the above photo, the duck's large head with its distinctive shape, the pale eye ring, the whitish, sub-terminal band on the bill, and the short, pale horizontal line behind the eye can all be appreciated, together with other plumage details of what I take to  be a female.

This sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

viernes, 23 de noviembre de 2012

More migrants

 Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

An irregular winter visitor to the Canaries, with records from all islands (Field guide to the Birds of Macaronesia, García-del-Rey, E., Lynx 2011), a single Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) was discovered in an irrigation pond in Las Martelas on Nov 22; the following day, when the photos were taken, there were 4 birds at the same location. I had not seen the species on the island since Nov 2008, and this is the first time it features in lapalmabirds.

 Two of a group of four Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

 Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

The Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) has appeared several times in this blog, and is a regular winter visitor to all the Canary Islands. The group of 4 well-camouflaged birds shown above was discovered in a partly empty pond in Las Martelas on Nov 22.

 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

In recent years, as many as 12 White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) have been recorded in Las Martelas, and smaller groups at the saltpans in Fuencaliente. At the time of writing, there are about 5 birds at the first location, where the above photo was taken. The bird is perched on the edge of a dry irrigation tank, with an out-of-focus Kleinia nerifolia bush in the background.

 16 of a flock of 21 Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

Every autumn, flocks of Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) turn up at the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas: on one occasion I counted about 30 in one pond alone. At present, there are approximately 26 birds in the area, which can occasionally be seen in flight, as above.

This evening (Nov23), a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)  was chasing a flock. On Nov 12, a Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) actually seized one of the ducks in mid-air, about 10 metres above my head, and carried it to the ground about 50 metres from where I was standing. I managed to get the two shots below, before the hawk noted my presence and abandoned its prey. Surprisingly, the Teal seems to have survived the experience.

 Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) holding down a captured Teal.

Left: the Falcon abandons its prey and flies off with blood-stained talons; right: the Teal spreading its wings 

sábado, 10 de noviembre de 2012

Recent sightings

 Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Small groups of Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) have been recorded on La Palma in recent years, in the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas, located south of Los Llanos. At the beginning of this month I found only two birds, whereas this morning the number had risen to eight. The species is described in the literature as a regular winter visitor to the Canary Islands.

 Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

The Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) is classed as a scarce - or irregular - winter visitor to the Canaries, with records from all main islands. Since Nov 5, there have been five birds in one of the artificial ponds in Las Martelas.

 Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

 Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)

The above group of 5 juvenile Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) landed in the pond where the 8 Tufted Ducks are presently found. Small numbers of these gulls have been observed on the island since October this year, and they are regular winter visitors to the archipelago.

There are also about six Common Teal (Anas crecca) distributed around various ponds in Las Martelas, at the time of writing.

 Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)

The Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) was photographed at a pond in Las Martelas on Oct 16 and 17. This is my second sighting of the species on La Palma, the previous observation dating from September 2009.

Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus). Photo: A. Camacho Lorenzo

The last sighting in the present post was kindly sent to me by Antonio Camacho Lorenzo, who saw the above dark morph Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) in Los Barros (Los Llanos de Aridane) on Nov 6. This species is a regular but scarce passage migrant to the Canaries, with records from all islands except La Gomera. There were several birds on La Palma simultaneously between Feb and May 2007, with as many as 4 observed at the same time, mostly on the east side of the island.

viernes, 19 de octubre de 2012

Common Scoter

 Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra)

There was a short-lived storm on October 18, and while driving through the harbour of Santa Cruz de La Palma in the late afternoon, I spotted two ducks resting close to the pontoons in the marina. They could easily have been mistaken for abandoned mooring buoys. Unfortunately, I had neither binoculars nor a camera with me at the time, but was able to get close enough to identify the birds as Common Scoters (Melanitta nigra), probably immature females.

Using the camera of my mobile phone for the first time, I took a few pictures of very poor quality: all the images shown in the present post were taken with a Fuji HS10 this morning, Oct 19, when only one of the two birds could be located.

Referred to as the Black Scoter in the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (García-del-Rey, E., Lynx 2011), the species is classed as a vagrant to the Canary Islands, with records from Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote. Tony Clarke, in Birds of the Atlantic Islands (Helm, 2006), gives more details: "accidental visitor, but with only three recent records. On Lanzarote, two, Arrecife, Jan 1993, and one there, Jan 1994, and an exhausted immature, El Médano (Tenerife), 13 Dec 1998. Also recorded on Gran Canaria but not within the last 100 years".

Luckily, I got to Santa Cruz just as the last duck was making its way seawards. Before leaving the protected waters of the harbour, it made a short detour into the fishing-boat area, where I saw it dive a few times and pick crabs off the rocks. It then continued paddling south, parallel to the Bajamar beach, less than 50 metres off-shore.

A group of women bathers seemed disconcerted by its arrival...

... and were obviously relieved when the duck decided to ignore them.

For an interesting summary of documented appearances of the  Common Scoter in the Canary Islands (in Spanish), including details of recent records from Madeira, see the SEO/Birdlife blog here

This sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

sábado, 13 de octubre de 2012

White-rumped Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The solitary White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) featured in the present post was discovered at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) on the evening of Oct 12, foraging together with a Redshank (Tringa totanus), a Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) and a Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea).

I was able to get a few passable photos on that occasion, but all the images shown here were captured the following morning, Oct13, at the same pond. Of the accompanying waders, only the Curlew Sandpiper was still present.

What first attracted my attention to this Transatlantic vagrant was its elongated outline and long primary projection. The bill was the right shape and length for fuscicollis, but the appropriate brownish patch at the base of the lower mandible was not very evident. Identification was finally clinched (and Baird's Sandpiper discounted) when the bird obligingly did some wing-raising, thus providing a few glimpses of its upper tail coverts: the rump was very clearly white in colour, as can be appreciated in three of the present photos.

For comparison, the last four frames include the Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea):

White-rumped Sandpiper (left) and Curlew Sandpiper (right)

Curlew Sandpiper (left) and White-rumped Sandpiper (right)

The White-rumped Sandpiper has been recorded on all the Canary Islands, and this is my second on La Palma: the first was discovered at the saltpans in Fuencaliente on Oct 21 2010. (See Oct 22 2010 post).

Details of the present sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

miércoles, 10 de octubre de 2012

Early October 2012

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Although these images of a Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) have been drastically cropped, they are still quite effective, I think. They illustrate how well migratory birds are able to adapt to the far-from-ideal habitat in Las Martelas, an area of manmade ponds on the outskirts of Los Llanos de Aridane.

This species is a regular passage migrant to the island, and often turns up in small numbers at irrigation tanks like the one shown here. However, due to ongoing drought, very few of the ponds have the necessary layer of mud or soft sand in the bottom - in fact, many are completely dry at the moment.

Somehow, this solitary specimen manages to feed in the shallow pool of stagnant water in the bottom of an almost empty tank, where a Greenshank (Tringa totanus) and a Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) were also foraging.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

The Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) shown here is a Transatlantic vagrant with records from all the main Canary Islands except La Gomera (Fieldguide to the Birds of Macaronesia, García-del-Rey, E., Lynx 2011). This bird, first detected on the evening of Oct 9, is my eighth sighting of this species on La Palma.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

Several key identification features can be seen in the present images, including the abruptly ending neck streaks, which clearly contrast with the white underparts.

The leg colour and bill characteristics are also diagnostic. This sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

viernes, 21 de septiembre de 2012

Laguna de Barlovento revisited

 Close-up of the dramatic gash in the reservoir's sloping bank

Regular readers of this blog may recall a previous entry designed to provide visiting birders with information on the Laguna de Barlovento (see Feb 2012 post below). As described back in February this year, after a catastrophic breaching of its banks, an artificial wetland was rapidly developing in the bottom of this large reservoir, where a shallow pool of freshwater had been trapped and was providing habitat for small numbers of water birds, including Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Coot (Fulica atra), Shoveler (Anas clypeata) and Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca). Birding-wise, things were looking decidedly promising for this autumn...

However, as can be appreciated in the present series of images, reconstruction work is now underway, and the reservoir is completely empty! According to an official sign, the repair project is scheduled to finish on September 24 2012. Judging by the state of progress, this appears to be a rather optimistic estimate.

The Laguna itself is obviously useless for birding at the moment, but there's always the adjacent parkland with its confiding endemic La Palma Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs palmae). As is the case at several other popular picnic sites and outdoor restaurants where they congregate (Los Tilos, El Pilar, Pared Vieja etc.), some of these cute little birds can be surprisingly tame, and will perch on litter bins, tables...and even on the humans feeding them.

 The endemic La Palma Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs palmae)

Another shot of the same species, also taken at the Laguna de Barlovento picnic area this morning.

At the saltpans on the southern tip of the island (Fuencaliente), more building work is in progress. A restaurant is under construction, and expected to need another year to complete. Surprisingly, the noise and constant transit of heavy lorries around the complex do not seem to disturb the migratory waders currently present at the site: small numbers of Sanderling (Calidris alba), Dunlin (Calidris alpina), and a Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula). Try weekends or outside working hours (8am-6pm) if you appreciate quietness.

The freshwater ponds in the area known as Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) -  several of which are completely dry due to lack of rain - have produced one Redshank (Tringa totanus) and one Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), in addition to the usual small numbers of Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). The regular wintering Coots (Fulica atra) have not arrived yet.

The seawater pools near the airport have yielded pretty much the same species: one Redshank, a Dunlin, 2 or 3 Ringed Plover, and an occasional Common Sandpiper.... All in all, it has been a disappointing month so far.