sábado, 19 de diciembre de 2015

Little Bittern

 Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

Well-camouflaged and motionless, the Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is not easy to discern amid the tangle of dry branches, but its reflection is visible in the lower righthand half of the image. This female bird was found in a partially empty irrigation pond in Tazacorte this morning, December 19.

 Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) in typical "Bittern" alarm posture

The bird kept low for some time until it was finally disturbed by the erratic movements of a pair of Moorhens which had become aware of my presence.

I particularly like the shot above: the subtle greyish tones give it an almost impressionistic quality: surprisingly ethereal for the inside of a concrete pond...

 Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

This is only my second sighting of Little Bittern on La Palma. The previous record dates from the end of March 2012,  and was also of a female, found in exactly the same half-empty pond in Tazacorte. The species is classed as a "passage migrant to the Canary Islands (all islands) and an occasional summer breeder (Tenerife)". [Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia, Eduardo García-del Rey, Lynx Edicions 2011].

sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2015

Miscellaneous sightings, Late October - Early November 2015

 Juvenile Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea). Photo: Antonio Camacho Lorenzo

There have been a number of interesting migrants on the island in recent weeks, including the birds featured in the present post...

On Nov 3, at one of the irrigation ponds in Los Barros, a residential zone located above the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, a local observer (Antonio Camacho Lorenzo) discovered the juvenile Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) shown above. This species is a passage migrant to the Canaries (all islands except El Hierro), but is recorded irregularly on La Palma, usually in spring rather than autumn.

 Pale morph Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus). Photo: Oivind Egeland

The Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) is becoming a regular visitor to the island, with solitary birds being recorded almost every year. The pale morph individual shown above was photographed near Santa Cruz de La Palma by Oivind Egeland on Oct 28. I saw what was probably the same bird yesterday, Nov 6, in the same part of the island.

My thanks to both observers for sending me the details of their sightings.

 Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

It has been a poor autumn for migratory waders so far, but there have been up to nine ducks of various species in the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane). The highlight of recent weeks has undoubtedly been the Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) featured in two previous posts, which was the second record of this American vagrant for La Palma, with only 20-odd records for the Canaries as a whole.

The other Anatidae discovered in the same area include the female Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) shown above, and an eclipse male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), plus the following two species:.

 Common Teal (Anas crecca)

Common Teal (Anas crecca), 5 females/juveniles.

Garganey (Anas querquedula)

Garganey (Anas quequedula), 2 individuals.

At the tidal pools near the airport, there are presently about 3 Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and one or two Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos). The results of my trip to the Laguna de Barlovento reservoir were described in the previous post.

Surprisingly, no wintering Coots (Fulica atra) have turned up on the island this autumn.

viernes, 6 de noviembre de 2015

Juvenile Spoonbill

Yes, you recognised it: we're back at my "favourite" bird-watching location on La Palma, the Laguna de Barlovento reservoir, this time with some water in it. See the Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) in the bottom right-hand corner? That gives an idea of how close you get to whatever birds turn up at this difficult location. I have cropped the second image slightly, but the bird still looks like a mouse on an airport runway. Fortunately the Spoonbill is large, white, and hard to miss...

Not so with the second species of the day, two female Wigeon (Anas penelope) seen foraging near the water's edge. Both birds had very grey heads and necks; possibly American Wigeon (Anas americana)? Even with my scope, it was impossible to say with certainty. The photos I managed to get are not really worth posting.

Juvenile Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia). Photo: Oivind Egeland

Different bird? On October 26 the juvenile spoonbill shown above was photographed at the tidal pools near the airport. It could possibly be the same bird observed at the Laguna de Barlovento reservoir yesterday (Nov 5). Thanks for the picture, Oivind.

martes, 27 de octubre de 2015

Blue-winged Teal 2

 Three brown ducks, from left to right: Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) and Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

The female Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), first seen on Oct 24, was found at a different irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) this morning, accompanied by an eclipse male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) and a female Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca). The conditions for photography at this new location were better than on the previous occasion.

 Female Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

The suspicion that the previously-mentioned Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) might in fact be a Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) has naturally crossed my mind. The females of both species can apparently be separated in the field but so far, I have been unable to appreciate the subtle differentiating features.

Circumstantial evidence includes the fact that both the Blue-winged Teal and the other possible American species appeared on the island roughly at the same time, and seem to have formed a partnership bond over the last few days, foraging, roosting and moving from pond to pond together. Another persuasive argument in favour of Anas carolinensis is the fact that Eurasian Teals (A. crecca) tend to reach La Palma in small flocks, rather than as solitary birds.

Further observations are required.

domingo, 25 de octubre de 2015

Blue-winged Teal

 Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), female.

The Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) is the second most recorded American duck on the Canaries, with a total of 21 records approved by early 2012. It is a very long-distance migrant which breeds in Northern USA and winters from Central to South America ("Rare Birds of the Canary Islands", E. García-del-Rey and F. J. García Vargas).  The present individual was first glimpsed in flight on Oct 24, just after it had been flushed from an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) by a passing dog-walker.

 Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) with Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

I returned to the area this afternoon (Oct 25) and found the bird in the same irrigation pond, together with 1 x Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), 1 x Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), and 1 x Greenshank (Tringa nebularia). The pond is surrounded by a wire mesh fence, through which the "washed out" photographs shown here were taken; it will be difficult to improve on the quality of the images at this location.

This is my second female  Blue-winged Teal on La Palma, the previous sighting dating from Nov 2011.

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

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

martes, 6 de octubre de 2015

Yellow or Citrine(?) Wagtail

First winter Wagtail, seen at the saltpans in Fuencaliente

A tricky one. This first winter Wagtail was found at the saltpans in Fuencaliente on Sep 12. My first impression (and hope!) was that this bird could be a Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola). The two broad white wingbars are very contrasting, there appears to be a pale border around the cheeks, and there is no hint of yellow anywhere in the plumage, not even near the vent.

The upperparts are entirely grey, with no hint of olive tones; the lores are pale rather than dark.

But (and this is a big one), the lower mandible of the bird's bill is pale: in Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola), the bill should be all dark. (Martin Garner's blog "Birding Frontiers" does mention the existence of Citrine Wagtails with pale-based bills, however).

The overall shape of the bird, which has a shortish tail (not long enough for Citrine), plus its observed "run-picking" feeding technique point towards Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), rather than Citrine (M. citreola). So, I'm staying with that verdict.

Not quite sure how to interpret the blotches on the bird's breast, visible in the above image.

Second opinions are always welcome: any comments helping to confirm this bird's identity will be greatly appreciated.

So far (Oct 25), all expert opinion received has favoured Citrine (M. citreola), rather than Yellow Wagtail (M. flava).

miércoles, 2 de septiembre de 2015

Post-breeding migration 2015

 Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

The first evidence of the 2015 post-breeding migration has already appeared on the island in the form of various Palearctic shorebirds. At the saltpans in Fuencaliente this morning, I discovered 2 x Red Knot (Calidris canutus), 2 x Sanderling (C. alba), 1 x Dunlin (C. alpina) and 1 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)...plus about 10 x Turnstones (Arenaria interpres).

Of the bunch, the two Red Knot (C. canutus) were of greatest interest. The species is classed as a passage migrant to all the Canary Islands (except La Gomera), but is not recorded every year on La Palma. According to my own notes, Red Knots tend to reach the island in late August-early September, ahead of most other waders.

All the shorebirds observed at the saltpans this morning were foraging intensely in the main pool which was in the process of being emptied. One of the Red Knots is shown above "jumping" from one patch of algae to the next, as the water-level descends.

 The two Red Knots (Calidris canutus) shown together

Neither of the two Knots displays a creamy-buff or peach tinge on the breast, yet the leg colour, and the neat upperparts and wing coverts (with pale fringes and dark sub-marginal lines) seem to indicate juvenile birds.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

Elsewhere on the island, a visit to the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) yesterday evening produced one Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), and two Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus), but there was only one Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) at the airport pools this morning.

martes, 19 de mayo de 2015

Estonian Dunlin at the Fuencaliente saltpans

Lat. 28º 27´N/ long. 17º 50´W.The lighthouse (El Faro) in Fuencaliente, a few hundred metres from the saltpans on the southern tip of La Palma. 
The breeding grounds of the banded Dunlin (Calidris alpina), seen at the saltpans  in March 2015, are approximately 4,600 kilometres from here.

Lat. 58º 37´N/long. 23º 03´E. Breeding grounds of the Dunlin (Calidris alpina), in the meadows of Muhu Island, Western Estonia. The bird was banded in this area on 4 May 2011. Image courtesy of Hannes Pehlak.

Regular readers of "La Palma Birds" may recall that in a mid-March post I mentioned that a number of British birders had been on La Palma in March this year, and at least two of them had observed a banded Dunlin (Calidris alpina) at the saltpans in Fuencaliente.

The subject of this solitary Dunlin has recently resurfaced in a thread on BirdForum, and I have been sent the following links to an Estonian website (in English), giving precise details of where and when the bird was ringed.

It seems that another visiting ornithologist (Eric Thomassen) visited the saltpans on March 8, took some photographs of the bird, and contacted the ringing station. This is the most distant re-sighting of any Estonian Dunlin on record, and one of the most distant from the whole Baltic area.

The breeding pair at the nest site. The banded male seen on La Palma is behind the un-banded female. Image courtesy of Hannes Pehlak who found the bird on its nest on 21 April 2015, near the original ringing site.

This long-distance migrant is now safely back on its breeding grounds on the Baltic coast, after having covered a straight-line distance of around 4,600 kilometres to/from its stopover site on La Palma. It may well have wintered even further south. The following website posts tell the whole amazing story, and include photographs of the bird taken at the saltpans:



My thanks to Hannes Pehlak for permission to use the above photographs.

viernes, 17 de abril de 2015

April migrants 2

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in summer plumage

This is the second time this April that the the Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) has appeared in "La Palma Birds". In the previous April Migrants 1 post, two individuals were shown in flight, one of them an adult, the other an immature. There are now at least two adult birds at various irrigation ponds in Tazacorte, whereas the immature bird seems to have disappeared from the area.

I found the adult above quietly perched in a well-illuminated Rumex lunaria bush, and the resulting images reveal the attractive greenish tones of the bird's plumage, and also show the conspicuous breeding plumes sprouting from the back of its head.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Above, is a shot of the second of the two adult birds, with less of the surroundings cropped out. As the water level in the pond has dropped significantly, a recently-occupied Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) nest can be seen stranded above the perched heron. There are presently 4 Moorhen chicks in the pond and the parent birds have constructed another refuge closer to the water surface.

As mentioned in April Migrants 1, the Black-crowned Night Heron is regarded as a regular passage migrant to the Canaries, and has successfully bred on Tenerife in recent years. These cute little herons certainly make obliging subjects for photography...

Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)

Another fairly regular passage migrant to the Canaries, with records from all islands, is the unmistakable Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba). There were two birds foraging over irrigation ponds in Tazacorte yesterday evening (April 16), with a flock of Plain Swifts (Apus unicolor) and about 12 Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) nearby.

According to the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (E. García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions), this species occurs "in a wide array of habitats during passage in Macaronesia, and is sometimes associated with hirundines".

Alpine Swifts breed in mountains from Southern Europe to the Himalaya, and, like Common Swifts (Apus apus), are strongly migratory. They apparently wander widely while on migration... widely enough, in fact, to reach banana-growing areas on La Palma.

Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba)

April has been a productive month - by island standards - for migratory birds so far.

jueves, 9 de abril de 2015

Willow Warbler

 Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

The persistent calling gave away the presence of this Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus),  as it flitted among the Rumex lunaria bushes surrounding irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane). The soft, disyllabic sound stood out against the background twittering of resident species...for this warbler is a migrant to the Canaries.

The only photos I managed to get are of poor quality, but allow many of the differences between the Willow Warbler and the locally-abundant Canary Islands Chiffchaff (P. canariensis) to be appreciated; the former species has an overall longer shape, generally brighter plumage, paler bill and legs, a more conspicuous supercilium, and whiter underparts. Unfortunately, the longer primary projection of trochilus cannot be appreciated in these images.

According to the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (E. García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions), the Willow Warbler is a P1 migrant, with a "high" probability of being observed during migratory periods, and with records from all the Canary Islands. The present bird is one of a handful of sightings of the species on La Palma, but how many migrant Willow Warblers are overlooked every year?.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

martes, 7 de abril de 2015

April migrants 1

 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) + Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

It doesn't get much busier than this on La Palma! At various irrigation ponds in Las Martelas this evening I found the following migrants: 2 x Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), 1 x Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola),  1 x  Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), 1 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 3 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), and 2 x Greenshank (Tringa nebularia). None of these waders is considered a rarity, although the Wood Sandpiper is rated as a P3, a species with a relatively "low" probability of being observed during migratory periods. (See checklist in Fieldguide to the Birds of Macaronesia mentioned in previous post).

 Redshank (Tringa totanus) + Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

The next bird is a much less frequent visitor to the island. My last sighting of a Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) on La Palma was back in September 2011, when a 1st year bird was observed flying over irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane). The present adult was discovered in the same area this evening.

 Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

According to Rare Birds of the Canary Islands (E. García-del-Rey and F. J. García Vargas, Lynx Edicions), and without counting the present sighting, there have only been 16 records of this species to date on the Canaries: La Palma, n=1; El Hierro, n=2; La Gomera, n=1; Tenerife, n=5; Fuerteventura, n=3; Lanzarote, n=4. Most previous records were in spring and summer, but three were in autumn and one in winter.

The Gull-billed Tern is long-distance migrant which breeds in Europe to China, and also in the Americas; it winters in Africa and South America.

 Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

Moving from the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas to those in Tazacorte, I began by accidentally flushing the hyper-alert Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) first discovered on March 31. In the same area, two Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) were flying around searching for a secluded pond at which to land.

 Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) imm.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) adult and immature

sábado, 4 de abril de 2015

Purple Heron

 Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)

The Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) is a passage migrant to the Canaries, with records from all islands except El Hierro. It is classed as a P2 migrant in the checklist of the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (Eduardo García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions), meaning that the estimate of probability of observing this species during migratory periods is "medium", in a grading system where P1 indicates "high", and P3 "low" probability.

From my own experience on La Palma, I would tend more towards a P3 rating ("low probability"), since this is only my third sighting of Ardea purpurea on the island, the first being back in April 2011, the second in April 2014. On the first occasion two birds were seen at irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), and photographs of one of the herons appeared in the April 20 blog post. The 2014 record was at an irrigation pond in Tazacorte.

The present individual was first encountered at an irrigation pond in Tazacorte on March 31, when the second and third photos in the present post were taken.

After checking the area again on April 1 and 3, the Purple Heron was eventually relocated this evening, April 4. On this occasion, various images of the bird in flight were captured, including the one above.

Also present on the island at the moment is a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), which I accidentally flushed on April 3. The Night Heron and the Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) are also classed as P2 migrants to the Canaries in the above-mentioned field guide, but in contrast to the Purple Heron, I have recorded around 8 of the former species and 14 of the latter on La Palma in the same period (2009-2015). Almost all sightings have been in the period April-July.