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)

domingo, 31 de diciembre de 2017

December 2017, miscellaneous sightings

 Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

The present post is an overview of bird sightings in December 2017.

The solitary Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) shown in the first photograph was observed in an area of irrigation ponds (Las Martelas, Los Llanos de Aridane) on Dec 19 and 20. The bird was foraging in two different ponds, one of which was completely dry.

 Part of a flock of 20 Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) photographed in Tazacorte, Dec 23

Varying numbers of Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) are regular annual migrants to La Palma. There are presently about 20 birds in the Tazacorte area, 11 in the Laguna de Barlovento, plus another 2 individuals at irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane).

 Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

 Part of a flock of Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) flying over banana plantations in Tazacorte

 Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

A juvenile Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) was seen at the saltpans in Fuencaliente on Oct 16 and featured in a previous post. The bird shown above, possibly the same individual, was photographed at the same location on Nov 30 in rather unusual circumstances.

The Spoonbill was approaching the saltpans from the northeast, and was just about to land, when a helicopter appeared out of the blue and scared it off! It is rather odd for a chopper to be flying around the southern tip of the island; in fact, I can't recall ever seeing one there. Anyway, the bird flew back in the direction it had come from, so I never actually got to see the spoonbill on the ground.

Eurasian Spoonbil (Platalea leucorodia)

The photograph above was taken at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) on Dec 4. I also saw what was probably the same bird at another irrigation pond in Tazacorte on Dec 23.

Other interesting records from the end of 2017 include a Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) seen in flight, but unfortunately not photographed, above irrigation ponds in Las Martelas on Dec 17.

A visiting Dutch birder, (D. D.) observed and photographed a South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) during a whale-watching trip out of Tazacorte. The same observer also sound-recorded a migratory Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) at the Laguna de Barlovento recreation area.

sábado, 2 de diciembre de 2017

White-rumped Sandpiper (Part 2)

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) seen at Las Salinas, Nov 30

The White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) shown above was observed at the saltpans (Fuencaliente) on Nov 30, from about 09:15 onwards.

The next bird, also a White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis) was observed on the same morning in an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), from about 11:50 onwards.

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) seen in Las Martelas, Nov 30

Readers may recall from my previous post that on Nov 28, there were two of these Nearctic vagrants in Las Martelas, precisely in the same pond where the above bird was photographed.

Did one of the two sandpipers fly to an unknown location (possibly leaving the island altogether), or did it just move to the saltpans?

You would imagine that close examination of the various photos I took would settle the doubt. But, distinct light conditions, different angle of view, and varying distance from my subject make comparison tricky. I hope to find time to devote to the matter over the next few days.

Both the freshwater ponds and the saltpans provide suitable stopover habitat for this Transatlantic migrant, and my previous records of this species have been split more or less equally between the two sites.

So, nothing strange if one of the birds decided to switch location. But neither is there anything strange for there to be more than two birds on the island at the same time. There was an influx of about 50 birds on the Canary Islands in October 2005, with nine individuals recorded together on La Palma.

martes, 28 de noviembre de 2017

White-rumped Sandpiper

 Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

A morning visit to the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane) produced an interesting discovery.

There had recently been a Little Stint (Calidris minuta) together with a solitary Dunlin (Calidris alpina) in one of the ponds, and this morning there were initially two waders present also. But by comparing the relative sizes of the two birds it was immediately obvious that the Little Stint (C. minuta) had gone, and its place had now been taken by a vagrant White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis).

I only had my Fuji bridge camera with me at the time, and the birds were moving non-stop as they foraged on the dry areas near the water's edge, so the resulting pictures are poor quality. I have included the first photo above, in which the two Calidris sandpipers can be compared.

 Dunlin (C. alpina)  + 2 x White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis)

I returned to the pond in the early evening with my full photographic kit, unfortunately with light that was already fading. The surprise this time was that there was not just one, but two fuscicollis along with the solitary alpina!

 2 x White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis)

Despite the mediocre images, most of the key field marks can be appreciated: the extremely long primary projection, the white rump visible between the folded wings, the brownish lower mandible, and the conspicuous pale supercillium.

 One of the two White-rumped Sandpipers (C. fuscicollis)

Dunlin (C. alpina) + 2 x White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis)

This is my 8th record (11 ind) of White-rumped Sandpiper (C. fuscicollis) on La Palma, and the 2nd this year. See Oct 20 post for details of the previous 2017 record at the saltpans in Fuencaliente.

Details of this sighting will be submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

sábado, 18 de noviembre de 2017

Migratory Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Route taken by Osprey 637 around the island of La Palma, and on towards La Gomera 
(image: Forestry Commission Scotland)

Two weeks ago, I was very kindly contacted by Janet Sampson, a British observer, who had been following the migration routes taken by several juvenile Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) released in Scotland. On Oct 28, one of the birds, nº 637 had reached the island of La Palma, after a very "oceanic" flight south. In Janet's words:

"The route taken by this juvenile (osprey 637 on the tracking map) is very interesting as he/she took a very westerly route from Portugal, perhaps due to the prevailing winds yesterday.  637 made a stopover of a few weeks at the Embalse de Tanes, Abantro in Northern Spain and only left there 5 days ago on 23 October".


Details of the project, and regular updates of 637's position can be found at the following link:

http://www.societe.org.gg/movetech/ospreys2017/

After receiving the alert on Oct 28, I spent the whole morning of Oct 29 searching for 637 in the northeast of La Palma. The bird had spent the night in the vicinity of San Andrés, and I was hoping to locate it somewhere along the sea cliffs between Playa de Nogales and Barlovento. However, my search turned out to be fruitless.

Movements of 637 on La Gomera over the last two weeks
(image: Forestry Commission Scotland)

637 seemed to be firmly intent on reaching the coasts of La Gomera, where he/she has been for the past fortnight. Recently, the bird ventured out to sea and back, and made some incursions inland, its flight paths clearly visible in the above screenshot.

The island of La Gomera boasts a small breeding population of Ospreys, which has remained more or less stable over recent decades at around 3-4 pairs. The main threat to the species is human encroachment on potential habitat.

The Osprey no longer breeds on La Palma, although it is presumed to have done so in the past. Remains of old nests have been identified, and the island's toponymy includes several references to "guincho" the Canary Island name for the bird known elsewhere in Spain as the "Fishing Eagle", Águila pescadora.

However, migratory Ospreys continue to visit La Palma, and I have seen several here over the years. Some of the island's man-made irrigation ponds have been stocked with carp and/or goldfish, which provide a convenient and relatively easy-to-catch source of nourishment for these resourceful birds.

As in other parts of its worldwide range, the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) seems able to adapt to humanised surroundings, provided it perceives no direct threat. Many of the irrigation ponds on La Palma are found in semi-urban areas, in which electricity pylons and telephone posts make useful perches:

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) perched on a telephone pole on La Palma, 30/03/2012

The occasional presence of a migratory Osprey on La Palma soon attracts the attention of resident gulls and raptors such as the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus).


Migratory Osprey being harassed by a Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis). La Palma, 28/03/2012