lunes, 23 de octubre de 2017

Red-throated Pipit

 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) 1w

Among the resident Bethelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii) observed at the saltpans this morning was a first winter Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus).

 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)

While hardly the most spectacular of birds, this little creature nevertheless deserves credit for somehow making it to La Palma after a long, hazardous journey from northernmost Europe. The Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) is a passage migrant to the Canaries with records from all main islands except El Hierro. It winters in Africa.

 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)

Followers of this blog may recall previous entries featuring Anthus cervinus. In fact,  over the years, I have seen several Red-throated Pipits on La Palma, but always at the freshwater irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), where many of the semi-abandoned ponds contain a layer of sand or mud providing suitable habitat for this cryptic, ground-forager.

Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)

On the present occasion, photography was made difficult by the bird's erratic movements along the rough stone walls of the salt complex, and the impossibility of getting closer to my subject.

In addition to the Red-throated Pipit, there were 2 x White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and the usual small numbers of common waders.

The White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis), featured in my previous post, was still present.

viernes, 20 de octubre de 2017

White-rumped Sandpiper

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) is a long-distance migrant which breeds in NE Alaska and N Canada east to S Baffin Island. It winters in SE South America from CE Brazil to Tierra del Fuego. With a total of around 40 records, this species is the second most-detected Nearctic vagrant to the Canary Islands (after the Pectoral Sandpiper, Calidris melanotos).

The bulk of records have been between September and November, peaking in October. A spectacular influx (by Canary Island standards) was recorded in October 2005, when more than 50 birds were found on almost all of the islands (nine birds together on La Palma). [Rare Birds of the Canary Islands, Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas, Lynx Edicions, June 2013].

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The present bird was found at the saltpans at Las Salinas (Fuencaliente) this morning, Oct 20.
It was foraging by frenetically picking insects from the water surface, hardly stopping to rest.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

In the above image, the white upper tail coverts can just be seen between the bird's slightly parted wings, Also, note the overall elongated body shape and very long primary projection, with wing tips reaching beyond the tail.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The pale brown lower mandible is also clearly visible in the present series of photos.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

This is my 7th record/9th individual of White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) on La Palma, my last one dating back to October 2014.

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The present sighting will be forwarded to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

lunes, 16 de octubre de 2017


 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

A visit to the saltpans at Las Salinas (Fuencaliente) this morning yielded the juvenile Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) featured in the present post.

The bird was found foraging in one of the shallow pools, but retired to roost later in the morning in the nearest thing it could find to a "secluded corner". However, people and a few vehicles were passing within 30 metres of the resting migrant. The dog belonging to the complex was also out and about...

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

This species is a fairly regular visitor to La Palma during autumnal (post-breeding) migration. I have seen small flocks at the same location in previous years, and there have been sightings of single birds at the airport pools, the Laguna de Barlovento reservoir, and at some of the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

Identification of banded birds has shown that most of the Spoonbills recorded on the Canary Islands come from the Netherlands.

 Eurasian Spoonbil (Platalea leucorodia)

Although the present species is no "rarity", sightings of Spoonbill always provide a welcome change to the usual waders at the saltpans. This morning, they included 5 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 2 x Sanderling (Calidris alba), 2 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), 1 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and 1 x Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea).

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

At the irrigation ponds in the area known as Las Martelas (just outside the town of Los Llanos de Aridane), there were the usual small numbers of Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), plus 6 x Coot (Fulica atra) and 1 x Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca).

I have not seen the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes, see previous post) since October 10.

sábado, 7 de octubre de 2017

Lesser Yellowlegs

 Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

After a prolonged "slack" period on La Palma, with only common waders to observe,  I found a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) this morning. This is only my second sighting of this Nearctic wader on La Palma, the previous record dating from October 2011.

 Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Note the long primary projection, and wing tips extending well beyond the tail. Other useful identification features visible in the present images include the pale supercillium restricted to the front of the eye, and the thin, mainly dark bill.

 Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

The Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is a long-distance migrant which breeds in Alaska and Northern Canada, and winters in Florida and Central and South America. It is classed as a "rarity" on this side of the Atlantic.

However, it is one of the more frequent Nearctic waders recorded in the Western Palearctic, with several records from the Canaries (all main islands except La Gomera and El Hierro), mostly between September and November.

According to data in "Rare Birds of the Canary Islands" (Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas, Lynx Edicions 2013) the present sighting would be the 4th for La Palma, and about the 15th for the Canaries as a whole (although there have probably been a few more records since the book was published in 2013).

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

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

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.

You might also like to try your luck from Los Cancajos, a resort on the east coast where many foreign visitors stay.

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 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) 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!

viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017

Early 2017 summary

 Group of 5 Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and one of two Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

Despite the lack of "La Palma Birds" blog posts in recent weeks, let me first assure my readers that I am still actively birding on La Palma. The problem is, I just haven't discovered anything of interest lately!

A small group of Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula) has been wintering in an irrigation pond in Tazacorte, and were last seen on February 9. In the same pond, there are also two Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope), and two Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra).

In Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), only common waders have been observed so far this year. The first exception was the solitary Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) shown below, discovered on Feb 9.

 Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Note the worn plumage on the bird's back.

At the airport pools, nothing special to report either: 2 x Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), 3 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and an occasional Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).

At the saltpans in Fuencaliente (Las Salinas): 2 x Little Stint (Calidris minuta), 2 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), 1 x Sanderling (Calidris alba).

Otherwise, the usual small numbers of Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), and Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), plus one or two White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) are around also.

The big news in mid-January was actually the first Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) for La Palma, discovered by visiting birders near the stream,  in the heart of the Caldera de Taburiente National Park.

I have also just been contacted in connection with a probable Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) seen at Los Cancajos beach resort in Breña Baja.