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 island...no 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)...plus 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.


miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2016

Autumn roundup 2016

 Part of a flock of 15 Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

It has been a fairly poor autumn so far, at least in terms of vagrants. Despite consistent birding efforts throughout October, both by myself and by a visiting observer (J.O.), no Nearctic waders were discovered at the saltpans in the south, nor at the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas.

Otherwise, the season is playing out as as usual, with various common shorebirds arriving from September onwards, and the first ducks from about mid-November. There are currently 17 Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca), including at least three drakes, at the ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), and a couple of juvenile Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) in the same area.

 Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Among the less frequent, but by no means rare visitors to the island,  the solitary Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) shown below added a discrete dash of colour to the drab surroundings it was found foraging in:

 Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Undoubtedly the highlight of autumn so far is the 1w Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) shown below, which was discovered at a partly-empty irrigation pond in Las Martelas on November 26.

My previous sighting of this species on La Palma was several years ago: it could nevertheless be a much more regular visitor, but being rather cryptic, easily goes undetected. Suitable habitat is provided by any abandoned irrigation pond with a layer of mud on the bottom, and there are lots to choose from in Las Martelas.

 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus) 1w

 Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus)

Despite its lack of a red throat, or any hint of rufous tones, the overall plumage pattern, bill colour, and foraging behaviour all point to Anthus cervinus, classed as a P3 (low fequency) migrant to the Canaries in the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (Lynx Edicions, 2011).


Not exactly a spectacular bird, but a welcome novelty on my regular trips to the area.


Note the bold streaking on the breast and underparts, clearly visible in the photo above.

In addition to the previously-mentioned species, small numbers of the following migrants have also been recorded on the island in recent weeks:

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), and Common Coot (Fulica atra).

martes, 11 de octubre de 2016

(Greater) Short-toed Lark

 (Greater) Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)

I found this LBJ at the saltpans in Fuencaliente yesterday morning, Oct 10th. Despite its rather unassuming appearance, the bird was immediately recognizable as a migrant passerine, and a first record of this species for La Palma, to the best of my knowledge.


In the "Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia", Eduardo García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions, the (Greater) Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) is classed as a P2 (medium frequency) passage migrant to the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa).


The photos shown here are poor quality, but the best I could do with the Fuji bridge camera I had with me on the day. I hope to be able to improve on the images over the next few days, assuming the bird stays at its present location.

(Greater) Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)

In addition to the above bird, there were also several common waders at the salt-pans, and a migratory Phylloscopus warbler awaiting analysis.