Sunday, 23 January 2011

Bluethroats, Black Storks and Black-winged Kites

Adult female Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

This winter and the great birds that have been present in good numbers, has made this one of the best winters for a very long time. Bluethroats, Black Storks and Black-winged Kites have been very much in evidence around the La Janda area. To be quite honest, this is one of the best birding areas in Europe

An adult male Bluethroat in Spring

Field characters. 14 cm. Resembles Robin in structure and behaviour. Bright rufous base to dark brown tail is conspicuous in flight and when tail is spread. Male in spring with brilliant blue gorget, separated from creamy underparts by black and red-brown bands. Two subspecies occur in region: one with a white spot on the blue breast (cyanecula) in central Europe, the other with a brick-red spot (svecica) in northern Europe.

In autumn throat usually whitish, but also with some blue. Female has the gorget whitish, defined by a dark breast-band and stripes at the sides, with some dark spots and sometimes more or less blue round the borders and with traces of chestnut. Upperparts earth-brown, head with distinct cream supercilium.

Juvenile as juvenile Robin but much blacker and with rufous base of tail. Nests on the ground between shrubs and dense vegetation. Often sings at night.
Voice. A sharp "tacc", a soft hweet", and a guttural "turrc". Song very musical and varied, resembling Nightingale and Wood Lark, but higher, weaker and less varied, mixed with metallic and grasshopper-like notes. Imitates frequently. Usually starts song low in bush or tree and, while singing, climbs higher until near the top, then flies off to the ground or other tree in display flight.

Adult male Bluethroat displaying at dawn

Distribution. White-throated form rare summer visitor in central part of south and central Europe, but may be locally abundant on higher elevations such as in the Sierra de Gredos. This rich mountain area west of Madrid is one of the easiest places to watch them in spring.
The red-throated form is abundant in the north.
Habitat. Inhabits low soggy marshes with trees and bushes, like willows and alders, also moist overgrown ditches and reed beds.
Food. Mainly invertebrates, also some seeds and fruits. Feeds on the ground or low in the vegetation.

Juvenile Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) in flight over La Janda

Field characters. 95-100 cm. Form, flight and carriage as White Stork, but plumage mainly glossy black, except for the white breast, belly, and under tail-coverts. Bill and legs red. Usually shy and solitary in habits. Juveniles browner on head and neck, and upperparts less glossy; legs and bill grey-green.


Adult Black Stork - both sexes are similar

Distribution. A regular breeding bird across Europe but concentrated in the east. Black Storks are still under threat due mainly to habitat loss.
Habitat. Builds nest in large old trees, on cliff ledges or in caves. Prefers undisturbed forested areas with streams, pools, swamps and banks of rivers or reservoirs.
Food. Mainly fish, but also frogs, salamanders, insects, and to a lesser extent small mammals, crustaceans, snakes, lizards. Feeds by stalking through water.

Juveniles and adluts winter in SW Spain and Portugal

Starting early, like a lot of species in southern Europe, these Black-winged Kites (Elanus caeruleus) have been displaying and bonding now for a weeks now.

Field characters. Length 31-35 cm; wingspan 75-83 cm. A small raptor, similar in length to Kestrel but stouter, with long wings and rather short, forked tail, often being raised when perched. Head whitish, upperparts pale blue-grey, black shoulders, and white tail. Upper surface of primaries grey but black below, thus forming bold black patch on underwing. Eyes dark red, bill black, cere yellow. Juvenile with grey-brown upperparts, whitish underparts streaked brownish, and dark greyish upperwing. Usually seen hovering or perched on top of a pole or dead tree.

Distribution. Rare resident in Portugal and Spain.
Habitat. Occurs on open plains, fringes of riverain woodland, savannah, semi-desert, and dry steppe.

What a great week for Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus)

Field characters. 38 cm. Slightly larger than Long-eared Owl and often difficult to distinguish. Generally lighter, more yellowish-white below with more clear cut dark tips on underwings and a white trailing edge to wings (not obvious in pale individuals). Upperwings yellow with black rather than brown. Eyes yellow, not orange, surrounded by dark patches contrasting with pale remainder of face. Ear-tufts very short and hardly visible.

Flight buoyant, with stiff wing beats interspersed with long glides on V-raised wings. More diurnal than other owls, but often also seen hunting at twilight. Perches on the ground. Solitary outside breeding season, but sometimes in small groups. Breeds on the ground.

Distribution. Widespread but never numerous. Winter visitor to La Janda. Their umbers fluctuate world-wide with vole populations.
Habitat. Found in open country with plenty of cover in form of tall grasses or low bushes, like moorland, tundra, marshes, and dunes.
Food. Predominantly voles, but also other small mammals and birds and occasionally insects.

Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Field characters. Length 62-67 cm; wingspan 170-185 cm. Larger than Osprey. Under surface of body and wings variable from almost uniform white to densely dark-patterned; in most individuals throat and upper breast dark; tail with 3 prominent bands. At short distance pattern of dark lines on underwing is visible. Has a round, owl-like head with small bill and large, orange eyes. Upperparts brown tinged pale grey, contrasting with almost black primaries and tail. Juvenile strongly resembles adult. Majestic flight; soars on wings held horizontally, often with dangling legs and head and tail bent downwards; hovers frequently.

A typical turn by a majestic Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Habitat. Haunts damp lowland, valley forests alternating with open heath and grasslands, sandy or rocky exposures fringed with forest or parkland.
Food. Hunts for snakes and lizards by quartering over ground or hovering. When prey is seized it is carried into the air and eaten; large prey eaten on the ground or taken to nest or perch.

A sub-adult Bonelli's Eagle (Aquila fasciata).
It used to bear the latin name Hieraaetus fasciatus, but like just like evolution, things change...
Juvenile with reddish brown head and streaked underbody; tail lightly barred; white back (not mantle) patch and uppertail coverts. Immatures become progressively more white.

The Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) has also undergone a latin name change. It used to be described as Hieraaetus pennatus
Small long-tailed eagle, the size of a Buzzard. Plumage dimorphic, the light form being the most common: white below, with black flight feathers and uniform pale cinnamon, square tail; upperparts dark brown with broad buff band across wing-coverts and scapulars; primaries darker. The dark form is uniform black-brown, except for pale tail and innermost primaries. Tarsi heavily feathered; feet yellow. Soars on almost flat wings; flight action much swifter and more agile than Buzzard. Juveniles similar to adults. Dark phase may resemble Black Kite but lacks forked tail.

Scenes from La Janda during January

A block count revealed that almost 2,000 Common Cranes are present this winter. Already some 'dancing' has been seen and adult plumage is changing.

Below are some waders that I photographed recently

Black-winged Stilts

Ruddy Turnstones

Northern Lapwings

Little Ringed Plover

Grey Plover

Green Sandpipers

Northern Lapwing looking splendid!

More Green Sandpiper shots

Golden Plover

Common Snipe

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit looking quite 'springlike'

Golden Plover flock - a Peregrine Falcon was hunting them at the time!

Slender-billed Gulls

winter Black-headed Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Audouin's Gull has a yawn!

Part of our unspoilt stretch of coastline on The Strait of Gibraltar