martes, 27 de noviembre de 2018

White-rumped Sandpiper, latest update.

The two White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) were still present at the saltpans (Las Salinas) in Fuencaliente this afternoon, Nov 27.

The Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) was also still at the site.

In addition to the above species: 2 x White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) and 1 x Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in winter plumage.

martes, 20 de noviembre de 2018

White-rumped Sandpiper, 2

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

I returned to the saltpans in Fuencaliente at about 11 this morning. The Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) was no longer to be seen, but the 2 x White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) were still present at the site.

This post shows more images of one of the two sandpipers. The second bird was foraging by itself, along the far side of one of the pools, and the two stayed away from each other during the hour I spent observing.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

As commented in my previous post, there is a striking amount of brown on the bird's bill. In my experience of this species to date, the brown had always been restricted to a small area at the base of the lower mandible.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The extremely long primary projection can be appreciated in the image above, and the white rump is also discernible. For size comparison, note the Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) top right.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

I will probably make another trip to the saltpans this week, in the hope of being able to photograph the two Nearctic waders together. An Atlantic depression is forecast to hit the island by tomorrow, with rain for the next three days. The bad weather could possibly influence the length of the birds' stopover.

In addition to the species featured in the last 3 posts, the following migrants can also be expected at the saltpans, at the time of writing:

1-2 x White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), 1 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), 1 x Little Stint (Calidris minuta), and 1 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos).

At the freshwater irrigation ponds near Los Llanos de Aridane, in addition to the usual small numbers of common waders, other migrants include ca. 15 x Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) and 5 x Common Coot (Fulica atra).

White-rumped Sandpiper, 1

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

As briefly mentioned in my previous post, two Nearctic waders were present at the saltpans yesterday afternoon (Nov 19), in addition to the Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna).

In recent years, the White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) has almost become a regular visitor to the island, with birds often arriving in pairs. According to the latest 2018 SOC (Sociedad Ornitológica Canaria) checklist, 12 of the 57 Canary Islands records have been on La Palma, either at the saltpans in Fuencaliente, or at the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane). The present sighting now brings the figure to 13, from a total of 58 records.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The bird shown in the first 3 images was easy to photograph and obligingly raised its wings at regular intervals to reveal its distinctive white rump.

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

The second bird, shown in the last image below, remained at a greater distance from the pool edges. The extent of pale brown on its bill is partly due to translucence caused by late-afternoon sunlight, but the impression is remarkable nevertheless. Its apparently warmer plumage tones can also be attributed to the effect of lighting.

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

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

lunes, 19 de noviembre de 2018

Common Shelduck

 Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

This morning, I was alerted by Eduardo García-del-Rey that a Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) had recently been reported on La Palma. The author of this interesting sighting is unknown to me, and the bird's precise location on the island was not given either.

 Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

The logical place to search was at the saltpans in Fuencaliente. Mainly, because the habitat is suitable, and there had been a previous sighting of 5 Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) way back in 2004, but also because it is a popular spot for visiting birders.

 Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

I arrived at the saltpans at about 5pm this afternoon, and found the Shelduck there, resting on one of the stone embankments in the middle of the complex. The bird was difficult to approach, and the light was from the wrong angle for satisfactory photos. I managed to take several of similar quality to the first picture above.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

I then moved to another position to observe some Nearctic waders (see forthcoming post), and was rather surprised to see a tourist with a camera moving around the saltpan complex, calmly entering the no-access areas and evidently about to flush the Shelduck. Sure enough, the bird took flight, but promptly landed in one of the pools, allowing me to capture the last three pictures in this post.

The Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) is a rare visitor to the Canary Islands, with only 13 records, mainly from Gran Canaria. All records are from October-January, but predominantly in November-December. (Note that there may have been a few more since this information was published in "Rare Birds of the Canary Islands" by Lynx Edicions in 2013).

Note: The latest SOC (Sociedad Ornitológica Canaria) checklist from 2017 gives 15 records altogether:

La Palma, n = 1; Tenerife, n = 1; Gran Canaria, n = 6; Fuerteventura, n = 3; Lanzarote, n = 4. 

There has apparently been a very recent record on Tenerife, so with the present one on La Palma (possibly the same bird as on Tenerife), the total number of records now stands at 17.

lunes, 8 de octubre de 2018

Spoonbill at the saltpans

 Eurasian Spoonbil (Platalea leucorodia)

During the first week of October, I was unable to make it to the saltpans in Fuencaliente. However, a British birder (D.S.), who was staying at a conveniently-located hotel in the south of the island, very kindly kept me informed regarding the migratory birds present at the pans.

He recorded small numbers of several of the waders typically found at the site in autumn: Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula).

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

So, when I visited the saltpans last Saturday morning (Oct 6), I was expecting to find pretty much the same array of migratory shorebirds. To my surprise, however, a very conspicuous juvenile Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) was placidly foraging in one of the pools. And there wasn't a single wader in sight, strangely.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

The Spoonbill is a very irregular passage migrant which either turns up at the freshwater irrigation ponds in the west, near Los Llanos de Aridane, or else at the saltpans in the extreme south, in Fuencaliente. Usually the birds are juveniles, with many coming all the way from Holland, according to data from ringed specimens observed on La Palma, and elsewhere in the Canaries.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

I paid another visit to the saltpans this afternoon, Oct 8, and was surprised to find the Spoonbill still present. The last two photos are from today's trip.

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

I also observed: 2 x Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 4 x Sanderling (Calidris alba), 1 x Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), and 1 x Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos).

sábado, 22 de septiembre de 2018

Common or Spotted Sandpiper?

 1. Actitis sp., Las Salinas Sep 19

The bird shown in the present post has been observed at the saltpans in Fuencaliente over the last few days, and poses identification challenges.

The dilemma is obviously whether this Actitis species is a Common (hypoleucos), or a Spotted (macularius) Sandpiper.


The first feature which drew my attention to this visiting wader was the very short projection of the tail beyond the primaries: it looks too short for the typical Common Sandpiper (A. hypoleucos).


On the other hand, there do seem to be dark notches along the edges of the tertials, just discernible in some of the photos, which would indicate Common (hypoleucos), rather than Spotted (macularius).

Although the notches are faint, they seem to extend along the feather edges, rather than being confined to their tips.


The strikingly short tail projection beyond the folded wings can be appreciated in photo nº 4 above.


In the poor quality image nº 5 above, the wing stretching seems to reveal a white wing bar that does not reach the bird's body, diagnostic of Spotted Sandpiper (A. macularius).

 6. Actitis sp. Las Salinas, Sep 22

The overall plumage tones and compact build also seem to fit macularius, but the legs would perhaps need to be a darker shade of yellow (?).


Regarding the bill, I can see no sign of a pinkish lower mandible, as would be the case in macularius.

The pure white underparts lack spots, of course, but what about those tiny dark flecks towards the bird's rear end, just discernible in photo nº 7?


So far, I have not heard any vocalisations: one way of separating the two Actitis species is by their distinct calls.

It would also be useful to have some clear pictures of the bird in flight, for closer assessment of the upper wing bar. However, photographing this speedy sandpiper on the wing is tricky in its present surroundings.


For the moment, I am inclined to opt for Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), mainly because of the dark (albeit faint) notching on the tertial edges, the pale legs, and the lack of pink on the lower mandible.

But the short tail projection, the stocky body shape, and the upper wing bar (visible in the blurred nº 5 above) have left me with certain doubts.

Any comments or second opinions would be most welcome.

jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2018

Yellow Wagtail

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

A visit to the saltpans in Fuencaliente yesterday evening yielded this solitary Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). The bird was foraging for small insects along the dirt access track, where all of the present images were captured.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

Photography was made difficult by the fading light, and the gusty the fact that the bird was hyper-active and easily scared by passing vehicles and pedestrians.

 Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

From the plumage tones, I am assuming that this is a male flavissima, or "British Yellow Wagtail", with yellow-green ear-coverts, crown and nape, and no hint of white in the supercilium.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima)

The species is a passage migrant to the Canary Islands, with some races considered vagrants (eg. ssp. feldeggi).

Elsewhere on the island, there has been little to report so far this migration season. The usual Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), Common Sandpipers (Actitis hypoleucos), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Sanderling (Calidris alba) and Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) have already arrived in small numbers.

Unfortunately, the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) are mostly dried-out and abandoned,  providing very little suitable habitat for stopover waders. Birding at the ponds has seen a downward trend in recent years, as more modern irrigation methods have led to the gradual abandonment of these small, freshwater reservoirs.

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2018

Kentish Plover

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

The first interesting bird of the 2018 (post-breeding) migration season, this Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) was discovered at the saltpans (Las Salinas) in Fuencaliente on August 15. I was unable to get any decent photos on that occasion, so I returned to the location on the evening of August 16, to capture all the images in the present post.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

The Kentish Plover breeds on La Graciosa, Lanzarote, Lobos, and Fuerteventura, where perhaps 95% of the Canary Island population of this species is concentrated.  It also nests in small numbers on Gran Canaria, but is in serious decline on Tenerife due to habitat loss and disturbance. Migrants have also been observed on the remaining islands, possibly on passage from northern Europe, or birds dispersing from breeding populations elsewhere in the Canaries.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Most of the key identification features of C. alexandrinus are visible in the photos shown here, but the bird warranted especially close inspection: in August 2003, a Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) was observed at the same spot, and was accepted as the first record for the Canary Islands and only the second for Spain as a whole.

 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

domingo, 8 de abril de 2018

White Stork

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

A routine inspection of a group of irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) this morning led to the discovery of a White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).

This species is considered a passage migrant to the Canaries (all islands), and the odd individual has overwintered on Tenerife.

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Solitary birds appear on La Palma fairly regularly, and there are unofficial reports of White Storks previously nesting in the church tower of San Andrés (San Andrés y Sauces) in the past. If true, the birds were lucky not to be driven away, which is what happened to a pair that attempted to nest on the roof of a private house in Breña Baja a few years ago.

 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

In April 2007 I photographed 3 White Storks at a landfill site in Barranco Seco, between Santa Cruz and Puntallana. This ornithologically-valuable rubbish dump used to attract various migrants, including gulls and Black Kites (Milvus migrans), but the tip was officially closed a couple of years ago.

The present bird was found leisurely foraging in the bottom of the almost dried-out concrete pond shown here. After a while, it decided to take a nap, so I left it in peace.

All photos taken with my Fuji bridge camera.

lunes, 8 de enero de 2018

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): Part 2

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The two Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) appeared about half an hour earlier than usual this evening, Jan 8. The sun was still a few degrees above the horizon when I located the birds, and the better-lit photos are definitely my best so far. Camera settings are still ISO 1600, however, to freeze the birds' flight.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), this time against the light.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) plunge-diving into the bushes, as it hunts for prey.

2 x Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): both birds are captured in this bucolic scene.

domingo, 7 de enero de 2018

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): Part 1

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), showing black wing tips

I don't usually post such poor quality images on "La Palma Birds", but despite four attempts to photograph this migratory Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), the present shots are the best I have managed to get.

On the first two occasions (Jan 4 and 5), I saw only one individual, but on Jan 6, I was surprised to discover that there are actually two birds present on the island. I saw them briefly together again this evening, Jan 7.

Although this species is partly diurnal, the two visiting owls don't come out to hunt until about half an hour before nightfall, and it is hard to predict just where their erratic quartering will take them. So far, I have not been positioned in the right place for a good picture, and the light is already failing when the birds first appear.

All the shots posted here were taken at ISO 1600 (the maximum on my old Canon 40D), with a handheld 400mm lens. The fastest shutter speed at my widest aperture is obviously too slow to freeze this fast-moving subject in such poor light.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), showing boldly barred tail

It has been several years since I observed this migratory owl on La Palma, my last records being from 2006, 2007 and 2008, when two birds over-wintered. On all three occasions, the birds commenced foraging earlier, and seemed less shy when approaching people or the occasional passing vehicle. They also perched in more conspicuous, predictable spots, making them much easier to photograph.

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The two birds currently on La Palma have chosen precisely the same area to hunt in as the previous visitors did, the Llano de Las Cuevas, in the high part of El Paso, roughly between the National Park Visitor Centre and the Virgen del Pino church. The fields in this part of the island are either used as pastures for grazing, or are planted with Tagasaste ("Tree Lucerne", Chamaecytisus palmensis/floridus, an indigenous forage crop).

 Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), with yellow eyes just discernible.

Hopefully, these two visiting Short-eared Owls will likewise decide to spend the winter on La Palma, and give me the chance to improve on the photos over the next few weeks.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)