viernes, 30 de septiembre de 2016

Little Stint at Las Salinas

 Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

I returned to the saltpans at Fuencaliente this morning in the hope of getting some better pictures of the Calidris sp. mentioned in my previous post. Fortune smiled. Conditions were much better on this occasion, and all the bird's previous consorts were still there: 3 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 3 x Sanderling (Calidris alba), 3 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and 1 x Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) an additional 3 x White Wagtail (Motacilla alba).

Within minutes I located the "peep" in question...

The bird was very obliging, providing clear views of its unwebbed toes. In some of the present images, the plumage looks slightly darker, due to the shade of the pool margins. The narrow scapular "V" on its back can be seen above.

Despite the overall "cold" colours, with hardly any rufous shades discernible,  the doubt as to the bird's id is now resolved: this is not a Semi-palmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) after all, but a Little Stint (Calidris minuta).

 Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

The last shot shows the bird in a better-lit position. The pale plumage tones can be fullly appreciated...and also its spindly, un-palmated toes.

miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2016

Calidris sp, minuta or pusilla?

Calidris sp 

This hard-to-identify Calidris species was found at the Salinas in Fuencaliente by a visiting birder a few days ago. I spent the best part of this morning attempting to photograph the bird's feet, trying to see some evidence of webbing and thereby clinch the id. However, there was a strong wind blowing, and several other jittery waders foraging nearby, making close approach difficult. So, the pictures shown here don't clarify things completely.

The doubt, of course, is between Little Stint (Calidris minuta) or a vagrant Semi-palmated Sandpiper (C. pusilla). 

For a juvenile Little Stint, the plumage is very pale: there are virtually no traces of rufous tones whatsoever, and the bird lacks a conspicuous double supercillium. But something like a thin, scapular "V" can be appreciated in the photo below. The bill is rather long for pusilla, in my opinion (although longer-billed specimens do apparently occur), and not straight enough. Also, the primary projection looks a bit long for pusilla.

I heard the bird call briefly on one occasion, and it sounded like a short series of high-pitched, staccato stits. As previously mentioned, it was very windy, and there were other waders around, so I can't be 100% certain.

Little Stint (Calidris minuta) or Semi-palmated Sandpiper (C. pusilla)?

On the basis of plumage and bill details, a number of experienced birders have suggested pusilla to me.  I am tending towards minuta, but am not entirely convinced, pending a decent picture of the bird's feet.

Any comments would be appreciated.

viernes, 16 de septiembre de 2016

Species status

The previous "Willow Warbler" post has given me the cue to write the following notes on species status, for the benefit of visiting birders to the island, especially those coming from European countries. If you note a touch of irritation, the reason will become clear towards the end...

As explained in the said post, the "humble" Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) is a migrant to La Palma, not a resident if you see one on the island, it's worth sending your sighting to the regional recorder, and/or congratulating yourself for having found something exceptional. All such records are later published in Ardeola, the bi-annual Spanish Birdlife journal, and they add to knowledge of species distribution.

In other words, it's important to be aware of the status of the various species you observe on the island, in order to put your sightings into context, and decide when it's worth reporting them. You will then be able to contribute useful data to SEO/Birdlife... if you wish to do so.

Reliable details on species status have been available for many years in a number of publications, including these two popular field guides in English:

"Birds of the Atlantic Islands" Tony Clarke, Helm Field Guide

"Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia" Eduardo García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions

The latter book is the more recent of the two, and is regularly cited in my blog posts, but both guides are recommendable.

To say that La Palma is "under-watched" is a gross understatement. It can be safely assumed that many vagrant birds turn up every year, only to go completely unnoticed by the island's inhabitants, let alone reported. There are also a number of resident species which are becoming increasingly scarce; some are presumed already extinct, others are on the brink of extinction. In the absence of active birdwatchers who report their sightings, it is simply impossible to assess the exact situation of the following:

Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia), Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), European Serin (Serinus serinus).

If you observe any of the above species on the island of La Palma, please report your sighting to the Regional Recorder, or send me an email and I'll pass on the information.  Also, any updates on the Hoopoe (Upupa epops), or the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) would be greatly appreciated. Photos are always useful as evidence, but not essential.

So why the irritation? Well, take a look at the Avibase checklist for La Palma, an increasingly popular online resource for travelling birders, described on its homepage as "the world bird data base": (You'll need to enter Spain, then the Canary Islands, then La Palma).

On the Avibase checklist, there is no clear definition of status; some of the birds on the list are not residents on La Palma at all, but a European birder could well be forgiven for assuming they are; the various species labelled Rare/Accidental include infrequent, but almost annual migrants lumped together with unique, "one-off" sightings for the whole of Spain; no distinction is drawn between abundant resident species, and extremely scarce or possibly extinct ones; and some species are listed which are found on some of the other Canary Islands, but not on La Palma, etc. etc.

Similarly, is it clear from the list that there are absolutely NO resident ducks or waders on the island, or are birders supposed to draw that conclusion themselves? Furthermore, the only Chiffchaff found here is the canariensis species, the only Blue Tit is the palmensis subspecies, and the only Chaffinch on the island is the palmae subspecies.

Admittedly, the creator of the checklist does apologize for any inaccuracies in the same, and makes a plea for help in correcting any errors. But come on, that's too easy! First, you uncritically lift data from the net, paste it into a list format, and then ask for volunteers to correct it for you. Wouldn't it have been better to check with an authoratitive source beforehand (ie. copy the information contained in a field guide), or at least send the list for revision to the Regional Recorder?

Quite frankly, the whole thing comes across as rather sloppy, and needs re-working from start to finish, IMHO. After consulting the said list, people have asked me where they can see Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on La Palma: the answer is, you can't...unless you happen to coincide with a migratory Osprey that passes through once every couple of years or so. You can similarly forget about the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) for similar reasons (although I am not aware of an accepted record for this species on La Palma in the last 10 years). On the other hand, what about the various species - waders especially -  that have been recorded on the island, but which are not included on the Avibase checklist?

So, the message to visiting birders is simply this: don't rely on the Avibase checklist, and consider getting yourselves a copy of one of the field guides mentioned above. Amongst other things, you'll save yourselves time and effort in the field trying to separate the nominate Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) from the Canary Islands Kinglet (Regulus teneriffae), which are both present on the Avibase checklist for La Palma, but unfortunately are not present on the island itself. On La Palma you only get the Goldcrest subspecies (Regulus regulus sub. ellenthalerae).

Having got all that off my chest, let me end by wishing visitors "happy birding" on the island...and keep your eyes open for migrants: the season has just started!

jueves, 15 de septiembre de 2016

Willow Warbler at Las Salinas

 Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Photographed at the saltpans in Fuencaliente this morning, this juvenile Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) came as a surprise...these are just not the sort of surroundings you expect to find this species in. The bird was foraging for small flies and other insects along the walls separating the ponds, a technique often used by the resident Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii).

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) foraging along the walls at Las Salinas

The Willow Warbler is a passage migrant to the Canaries (all islands and islets), and I recorded one on La Palma in April 2015 (see corresponding blog entry).  On that occasion, however, the bird was spotted in bushes at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), in what was seemingly more appropriate habitat.

Few migrant passerines turn up at the saltpans: exceptions in recent years have been Citirine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola), and a nominate/Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). But the location attracts waders, and the following common species have all been seen there in recent weeks: Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Redshank (Tringa totanus),  Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Little Stint (Calidris minuta), Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and Turnstone (Arenaria interpres).

Separation of this bird from the Chiffchaff is based on the following field marks: pale as opposed to dark legs, conspicuous supercillium and dark eye stripe, and a relatively long primary projection in comparison with P. collybita.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), showing relatively long primary projection.