lunes, 26 de diciembre de 2011

Egret roost


Followers of this blog may recall that a census of overwintering Ardeidae was carried out on La Palma at the end of January 2011, and coordinated throughout the country by SEO/Birdlife (see: Annual Ardeidae Census - RESULTS, posted on 26 Jan 2011 for more details). The census method entailed localising communal heron and/or egret roosts and simply counting the number of birds flying in at dusk to spend the night there. 

The first of the two main roosts on La Palma was located along coastal cliffs between Puerto de Tazacorte and Tijarafe, on the west coast of the island, and the second in a banana plantation bordering an irrigation pond, in the Tazacorte municipality. At the two roosts, 51 and 52 Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta), plus 5 and 1 Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) were recorded respectively.

For the January 2012 census, an inspection of the coastal site is pending to see if it is still in use, but the plantation roost in Tazacorte now appears to have shifted to another group of irrigation basins about one kilometre away. On the evening of December 21, I counted 44 Little Egrets and 4 Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) at this newly-discovered location. The birds start flying in from about 18h onwards, with the peak of activity between 18:30 and 19:00. At this time of the year, from about 19:15 onwards, failing light makes further counting unreliable.

The short video posted above gives an idea of the lively atmosphere as the birds squabble for places on the flimsy, swaying branches of a Nicotiana glauca bush overhanging the pond... (Apologies for the rather poor quality of the film).

viernes, 16 de diciembre de 2011

Blue-winged Teal 2

 Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

On November 30, a female Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) was found at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas. The duck was observed and photographed on December 1 and 2, and then disappeared from the area...either to continue its migration, or simply to find itself a new pond in another part of the island.

After thorough searching, and repeated visits to the same location in Las Martelas, I was pretty convinced that the duck had left La Palma for good. However, on December 13, the individual shown in the present post turned up at the same spot, and the question immediately arose as to whether this was the the first bird which had returned, or a complete newcomer...

My first impression was that the new bird's plumage appeared to be more contrasting, with a more conspicuous dark stripe behind the eye, and a very obvious pale loral patch, clearly visible in all light conditions. 

 Female Blue-winged Teal together with Coot

In an attempt to settle the doubt, I have been comparing photographs, trying to judge the amount of blue and white on the upper wings, and to assess other relevant plumage details. As regards behaviour, the present bird seems equally at ease within the confines of its man-made pond, dabbling placidly across the surface at a respectful distance from the Coots (Fulica atra), preening itself both in and out of the water, and taking the occasional nap in the middle of the basin.

The following images highlight various aspects of the bird's plumage...

My final verdict, without conclusive photographic evidence to the contrary, is that this is the bird first observed on November 30 - but where it spent the 11 days between December 2 and December 13 remains a mystery...

viernes, 2 de diciembre de 2011

Blue-winged Teal

On Nov 30, during a visit to an irrigation pond in Las Martelas, I discovered this rather drab duck among the group of 10 Coots (Fulica atra) currently overwintering at the site...

By this time of the year, the first migratory flocks of Teal (Anas crecca) have usually arrived on the island, but this bird, although roughly the same size, was no Eurasian Teal: the unusually long tail, and uniform grey bill were conspicuous differences, but the overall drabness made identification difficult...a Garganey (Anas querquedula) perhaps?

No helpful speculum or wing-bars were visible as the duck placidly dabbled around the pond, but the thin eye-ring and pale loral patch were useful clues...

Finally, after a brief session of preening, a small, turquoise blue patch came into view on the bird's flanks: a female, or juvenile Blue-winged Teal!

 Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

 Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

Not the best pictures of this unexpected American visitor perhaps, but strong, gusty winds make photography difficult on the west side of the island at the moment.

The Blue-winged Teal is widespread in North America, from Alaska to Newfoundland, and in the centre of the United States. As with the European Garganey, it is more migratory than other Anatidae. Wintering grounds extend along the southern coasts, from California and North Carolina, throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and a large part of South America, where some individuals occasionally reach northern Chile and Argentina. The predominance of spring sightings in Europe, together with other evidence, suggests that many birds spend the winter in Africa, and only pass through Europe on migration, with their spring routes being more easterly than their autumnal ones (Eduardo de Juana, Aves Raras de España, Lynx, 2006).

Up to 2003, there had been 32 records of this species in Spain, 5 of them on the Canaries. It is interesting to note that, of the 5 Canary Island sightings, 4 were in winter (December-February). Consequently, de Juana postulates that "perhaps the islands are located only a short distance from the areas in Africa where most of the Blue-winged Teal visiting the Old World spend the winter".

More recent figures for this species are included in the SEO Rarities List of 2006: 35 records, 39 birds, nationwide.

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

miércoles, 16 de noviembre de 2011


 Identification of the "Mystery Bird" shown in the previous post was confirmed by the next three pictures received today. The barring on the pale breast is clearly visible, as are the tail bands. 

My thanks to the photographer Roger Ligter for permission to publish these excellent shots of a magnificent raptor.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

The Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is described in the Atlas de las aves nidificantes en el archipiélago canario (Ed. J. A. Lorenzo, Madrid, 2007) as follows:

"...widely distributed on La Palma in all types of forested areas, from the far north of the island to the vicinity of Fuencaliente in the south.  Although absent from drier zones, urban environments or farmland, it is often seen when hunting there..."

Despite being a widespread species , one rarely gets the chance to witness bathing scenes, such as those shown in the present post!

Readers of this blog are invited to send news of interesting sightings on the island of La Palma to the author at:

Mystery bird in El Paso

On Nov 9 I was sent these two photographs of a bird of prey, taken at a small water tank in a garden in El Paso:

The author of the pictures (Roger Ligter) requested help with  identification of the species. I was surprised by the amount of pink on the bird's plumage, and a better view of the breast would have been helpful. My final verdict, after seeking a second opinion from an experienced local birder, is that the mystery raptor is an adult Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus).

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2011

Lesser last!

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

The juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) shown in the present post was discovered at the saltpans in Fuencaliente (Las Salinas) this morning, foraging together with 2 Redshanks (Tringa totanus), 2 Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea) and a Little Stint (Calidris minuta) - plus the usual Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula) and Turnstones (Arenaria interpres).

Identification of this species at such close quarters poses few problems, and most of the relevant points can be appreciated in the present series of images: the fine, straight, dark-coloured bill; the long primary projection beyond the tertials and tail; the short supercillium mainly in front of the eye...and, of course, the unmistakable, mustard-yellow legs.

Eduardo de Juana (Aves Raras de España, Lynx, 2006) gives the following figures for sightings of this North American breeding species up to the year 2003: GB 216, France 34, mainland Portugal 11, Azores 14...with 49 records in Spain for the same period, of which 7 were in the Canaries.

More recent information gleaned from Canary Islands Birding News mentions 9 Canary Island records accepted by the Spanish Rarities Committee from the islands of La Palma (J.M. Castro, Las Martelas, 2003), Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, with a few more pending homologation. At national level, the same source quotes a figure of 54 birds.

The Spanish observations peak in autumn, coinciding with those of mainland Portugal and North Africa, and are noticeably later than those of other European countries, suggesting that these trans-Atlantic vagrants initially make landfalls further north, and then move progressively south.

Having already seen a number of the commoner Nearctic waders on La Palma, I had been looking forward to my first Yellowlegs, and this sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

The next two images are included merely to highlight a specific identification feature: the white rump, with no white V (pointed extension) running up the back, as in Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Redshank (T. totanus) and Marsh Sandpiper (T. stagnatilis)

jueves, 20 de octubre de 2011

Spoonbills, October 2011

Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia)

The above image shows two Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) found resting at the saltpans in Fuencaliente, presumably after a long migratory flight, on the morning of October 19. They have chosen one of the centrally-located pans, well away from the sign-posted path running round the perimeter of the complex, and strictly out of bounds to the general public. The same spot is also commonly used by Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) as a daytime refuge.

Described in Birds of the Atlantic Islands (Tony Clarke, Helm, 2006) as being "scarce in winter and on passage in the Canary Islands", several small groups of this species have nevertheless been recorded on Tenerife in the last few years. See avescanarias.blogspot, the blog of SEO/Birdlife on the Canaries for more details.

The same two birds in flight

As regards La Palma, 3 Spoonbills were discovered at the Fuencaliente saltpans (Las Salinas) in mid-October 2008, a single individual at a freshwater irrigation basin in Las Martelas in November 2008, and another solitary bird in the Tazacorte area in September 2009, photos and details of which have appeared in this blog.

Thanks to scientific ringing, it is now known that most of the Spoonbills visiting the Canaries come from Dutch breeding colonies, and have their winter quarters in the Arguin Bank, off the coast of Mauritania. Although some of these migratory birds simply pass through the Canaries on their outbound journey, others overwinter in the archipelago. Martin and Lorenzo (2001, Aves del Archipiélago Canario) present data on thirty-odd ringed birds, many originating from the Netherlands, including cases of some birds returning to the same Canary Island locality over a number of consecutive winters. Nevertheless, some birds of different origin have also been recorded, for example from France, although in much smaller numbers.

The two birds shown leaving the saltpans to continue their journey...

jueves, 13 de octubre de 2011

Common Migrants October 2011

 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Given the absence of rarer species on the island at present, here is a sample of the regular migrants which can be observed almost every year...

The solitary Redshank (Tringa totanus) shown above and below was discovered at the saltpans in Fuencaliente this morning. While at some European estuaries and marshes massive concentrations of this wader are a common sight, on the oceanic island of La Palma just one or two birds turn up occasionally.

The next species - also found at the saltpans - is migratory on the Canary Islands, where the only breeding Motacilla is the fairly widespread Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea).

 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

 Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

During recent visits to the saltpans, one or two Dunlins (Calidris alpina) have usually been present, such as the one shown above, photographed this morning. Also to be expected at the site at the moment are one or two Little Stint (Calidris minuta),  a couple of Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and the usual Turnstones (Arenaria interpres).

The following series of images shows a Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) enjoying a tasty snack on the edge of an irrigation basin in Las Martelas. The dragonfly in question appears to be a female or immature example of the very abundant Crocothemis erythraea, in which adult males are crimson red in colour.

Finally, while the bird on the right in the next image is a regular passage migrant, the species on the left is none other than the Nearctic-Holarctic Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis), first detected on September 25 at the saltpans (see previous post), and still present at the time of writing.

Left: Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis); right: Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)

domingo, 25 de septiembre de 2011

Buff-breasted Sandpiper September 2011

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

Discovered at the Fuencaliente saltpans (Las Salinas) this morning, this is my second Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) on La Palma, following my first sighting on Sep 29 2010 at the same location (see corresponding blog post).

The bird shown here was foraging restlessly around the edges of two adjacent pans, together with 4 Sanderlings (Calidris alba), a couple of Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and the usual small numbers of Turnstones (Arenaria interpres).

The characteristic buff tones are clearly visible in the above image

This species is held to be the second most frequent Nearctic wader recorded in Europe, after the Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos). Since 1960, it has been considered an annual visitor to Great Britain, where it ceased to be classified as a rarity from 1983 onwards. By the year 2003, 620 birds had been recorded there.

In Spain, the Rarities Committee had accepted 28 records of this species by 2003, making it the third most common American wader at national level, after the previously cited Pectoral Sandpiper and the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). The Spanish sightings came mainly from Galicia (11), Catalonia (5) and the Canaries (6), with another 6 from Portugal.

Since 2003, the number of observers has increased considerably, with the result that fewer migrant birds escape detection: as a matter of fact, in recent weeks, unusually high numbers of Buff-breasted Sandpipers have been reported from various locations around the country, including 2 on Lanzarote, 11 in the Ebro Delta, and 4 in Galicia.

Observations of Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Spain mainly correspond to the post-breeding migratory period, with almost all records occurring between the end of August and mid-October, and hardly any in spring. As is the case with other Nearctic waders, the Canary Island sightings tend to be somewhat later, suggesting that birds make a stopover in mainland Europe before reaching the islands.

Most of the information in this post comes from Aves Raras de España, E. de Juana, Lynx Edicions 2006.

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

martes, 20 de septiembre de 2011

Two Pectoral Sandpipers!

Two juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos)

Late on Monday evening (Sep 19), a second Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) was discovered in Las Martelas, having joined the individual featured in the previous post, and both were photographed this morning (Sep 20) in two neighbouring irrigation tanks.

The birds started foraging in close proximity to each other, in the rather grim, man-made habitat shown below:

The far from idyllic surroundings can be appreciated in the next image: food items gathered on the sheer concrete slopes of the basin were mostly insects, including dragonfly and their larvae. A couple of Common Sandpipers were also searching for food in the same manner:

Eventually, the two Pectorals moved across to the sunny side of the pond, where I managed to photograph one of them, before both flew off to another basin:

The two birds were soon re-located and the two remaining pictures, plus the one at the top of this post, were taken in much better light conditions:

Pectoral Sandpipers foraging on a floating layer of pondweed