Sunday, July 7, 2013

Birds of Spain!

When Anna said she wanted to move to Germany for a post-doc, I agreed on one condition:  that we take at least one trip to Spain (where I could speak the language) with the principle aim of finding birds.  The original pitch was a long weekend, which got extended into a week, on the grounds that Anna would rather spend a week with some non-birding time than a few days of non-stop birding.

The trip was AWESOME!  Since this is Anna’s blog, I will categorize the birds according to the Anna taxonomy (well, since Anna is the final arbiter of the Anna taxonomy, and like most taxonomic systems it changes frequently, this is categorized according to my best understanding of the Anna taxonomy):

Large Raptors:  Spain was really good for large raptors.  Highlights were large numbers of Griffon Vultures, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, and large numbers of what I think were mostly European Honey Buzzards, but feel free to correct me if there are other raptors mixed in!
Griffon Vulture, as seen from the castle on the top of the hill at Montfragüe

Griffon Vultures seen from Salto de Gitano.
My wife, watching a Griffon Vulture
Spanish Imperial Eagle!!! Many thanks to the birders who pointed this one out to us!  Note the diagnostic white on the leading edge of the wing (unless that means it's a California Condor...)

A kettle of raptors.  Kettle is the term used for aggregations of raptors all using the same thermal.  A thermal is an area of rising warm air, where the raptors can gain elevation with relatively low effort, then coast until they reach the next thermal.  I think they're mostly Honey Buzzards, but my raptor silhouette ID skills aren't that great, and I failed spectacularly at finding other birders to help me identify them.  I'm pretty sure the bird in the middle of the group right of center is not a Honey Buzzard.

Close up view of what I am pretty sure is not a Honey Buzzard.
This one I'm pretty sure is a Honey Buzzard.  If not, let me know, so I can take it off my life list...
Booted Eagle - we saw a few of these too - very reminiscent of Swainson's Hawk!

Colorful Birds:  Hoopoe was Anna’s favorite bird of the trip.  We were worried that we would not see one, as they were taunting us from a distance, with their distinctive song (not my video, but there is a link where you can hear the song here: ).  But finally, we got nice views of one in the morning as we were leaving El Rocio.

The Bee-eaters, Blue Rock Thrush, Rollers, Azure-winged Magpies, and apparently Purple Swamphens, also fit into this category (my Roller & Azure-winged magpie pictures are less than amazing, and I didn't get any pictures of the Purple Swamphen, so you'll have to Google them to see what they look like)


"Yum, bees!"
Okay, so bee-eaters don't actually say "Yum, bees".  I actually don't know their call very well. 

Blue Rock Thrush: aptly named because it's blue and on rocks.

Flamingos: Not sure if this is a sub-group of the Colorful Birds, or a taxonomic group in its own right (actually the real taxonomic experts can't decide whether Flamingos are their own order, Phoenicopteriformes, or whether they belong as a family in a different order).  We saw several flocks of flamingos, and had one close and obliging individual.

 Little Brown Birds:  For some reason, I have not succeeded in convincing my wife that little brown birds are exciting.  I try and try, but have not had much luck.  This is tough, when one is a grassland biologist, where most of the species are little and brown.  But Spain has a nice assortment of sparrows, larks and warblers, many of which were new for me.

Okay, Anna did have to admit that this Reed Warbler was pretty cute.

Thekla Lark - larks were everywhere, but many of the species are similar, and I had a tough time identifying them!

Shorebirds:  We really struck out on shore-birds, but did see a few.  Sadly, my best views of the Kentish Plover were looking at this photo afterwards, as it was really back-lit.   Note that as a compromise in a long-standing discussion on how to pronounce the word "plover", my wife and I have agrees that it should be pronounced pl-ooh-ver, to rhyme with mover, and not pl-uh-ver to rhyme with lover, or pl-O-ver to rhyme with clover.

Kentish Plover

Sea Gulls: My wife loves to call gulls "Sea Gulls", mainly in an attempt to get a reaction out of birders, since there are many birders who strongly object to the common name "Sea Gull".  I think the funniest conflict over the name Sea Gull was when Utah tried to make it their state bird, and were told they couldn't, because there was no such bird species.  In a show of state pride, they chose the California Gull as their state bird (the reason for choosing a gull is historical - there was a plague of locusts which was ended when flocks of gulls descended & feasted upon the locusts, thus saving the early settlers).  We did much worse than I expected in terms of gulls - Yellow-legged gull was my only lifer, and one of the few birds we saw at Gibraltar itself, due to the fog.

Yellow-legged Gull, aptly named for it's yellow legs, which are not shared by any other species of gull.  Except the Lesser Black-backed Gull.  And the Pallas Gull.  And the Ring-billed Gull.  And the... well, maybe it's not such a unique field mark among gulls after all... 

Herons:  Donaña is really good for herons, especially at the Jose Valdeverde Center, where you can get nice views of a rookery.
Squacco herons really don't look like bitterns, despite the similarity in my bird book.

Part of the heron rookeries at the Jose V. Valdeverde Center in Donaña.  Well worth visiting!  This part is mostly Cattle Egrets, with a few Glossy Ibises.  We also saw a few Black-crowned Night-herons, some Little Egrets, and a couple of Squacco herons.
Coots: My wife is obsessed with coots, so they get their own grouping.  So, here we were in Spain, at Donaña Natioanl Park, in a heron rookery, and my wife wants me to look at the coots!  And these aren't even the red-knobbly kind!  But I am of the opinion that it is still good to take pleasure in even the common species (probably part of what holds me back from being a really good birder, I'm too easily distracted by the ordinary birds!).

Coots with young

A parent getting food for its young.  Coots have old man babies - they're born with bald heads and what look to be beards.  They later start to look like normal birds again.

Even if we didn’t see everything I wanted to see, such as little bustard, great bustard (listen to the vocalization for this one if you’re in the mood for some immature humor), or either of the sandgrouse species, it was still an awesome trip.  It just means I have to go back sometime.

Statistics – For those of you unfamiliar with birders, birders like to keep lists.  Some just keep a life list.  Others are more obsessive, and keep additional lists.  I’m in the somewhat more obsessive category, although I have refrained (so far) from keeping lists by province in Spain.  So the list results from Spain are as follows:
Total species seen in Spain: 87
Total life birds from Spain:  40

Total birds seen by me in Europe as 7 July 2013: 184
Approximate life list as of 7 July 2013: 982

And part of the appeal of the birding was the scenery & context in which we saw the birds.  Spain has a rich history and is a beautiful country!

A White Stork atop a historic structure in Trujillo

Common Swift breeding in the Alhambra, Granada
A Jackdaw overlooking its domain (Trujillo)

Here is the complete list of species we saw & were able to identify:
Eared Grebe
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Bittern
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Little Egret
Gray Heron
Purple Heron
White Stork
Black Stork
Glossy Ibis
Greater Flamingo
Eurasian Spoonbill
Graylag Goose
Common Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
Eurasian Griffon
Cinereous Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Spanish Eagle
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Red Kite
Black Kite
European Honey-buzzard
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Lesser Kestrel
Eurasian Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Eurasian Moorhen
Eurasian Coot
Purple Swamphen
Pied Avocet
Black-winged Stilt
Common Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Yellow-legged Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
Rock Pigeon
Common Wood-Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Common Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Common Swift
Eurasian Hoopoe
European Bee-eater
European Roller
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Eurasian Crag-Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Common House-Martin
White Wagtail
Western Yellow Wagtail
European Robin
Black Redstart
Black Wheatear
European Stonechat
Blue Rock-Thrush
Eurasian Blackbird
Eurasian Reed-Warbler
Great Reed-Warbler
Great Tit
Eurasian Blue Tit
Woodchat Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Eurasian Magpie
Eurasian Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Common Raven
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Common Chaffinch
European Goldfinch
European Greenfinch
European Serin
Corn Bunting
Rock Bunting

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