Little owl and Thekla lark in Spain

Little owl, 3 November 2014

This little owl was photographed in Spain, on a hillock in a plain, south of the Pyrenees.

After 2 November, 3 November 2014 in Aragon.

To Monegros plain.

A green sandpiper on a lakelet bank.

Foggy weather. There has been drought for a long time. As we walk, many millipedes on the dry soil.

Also, many young natterjack toads. Still very small, less than one centimeter.

Many larks flying and singing. Most of them are calandra larks. Also some, smaller, lesser short-toed larks.

We had hoped to see sandgrouse here, but we don’t see them.

We do see the little owl, pictured at the top of this blog post.

A meadow pipit drinking at one of few puddles.

Then, sandgrouse at last: three black-bellied sandgrouse.

This video is about black-bellied sandgrouse (and chukar partridges)  in Israel. We could not see these three ones in Spain as well, as they flew overhead fast.

A crested lark on a field.

A bit further, eight red-legged partridges.

A male merlin on a wall. A hoopoe on a rock.

Six black-bellied sandgrouse on a field.

A flock of choughs.

Thekla lark, 3 November 2014

A bit further back along the same road, a Thekla lark. Sometimes, it sings.

Thekla lark, Aragon, 3 November 2014

We go back to the lakelet. A snipe.

Butterfly, Spain, 3 November 2014

Though it is already November, still butterflies. Like this one.

We climb a hillock. At first, we see hardly any birds. A bit later, we can see scores of pin-tailed sandgrouse.

After a long time of exerting our eyes and binoculars near a village, we finally manage to see a well-camouflaged stone curlew on a field near a village. The scores of cattle egrets on a building there are easier to spot.

Little grebe, Spain, 3 November 2014

Finally, a hide near a lake. A little grebe.

Teal male, 3 November 2014

A teal.

Water pipit, 3 November 2014

A water pipit.

Marsh harriers, 3 November 2014

Two marsh harriers, flying to the reedbeds for sleeping.

Migrating cranes and marsh harriers in Spain

Riglos, 2 November 2014

Still 2 November 2014. After the Alpine accentor, still in Riglos village in Aragon, Spain.

House sparrow male, Riglos, 2 November 2014

The house sparrows were still there.

We left Riglos. At 15:55, a southern grey shrike in a tree.

At 16:43, we were near a reservoir. The water level was much lower than we expected.

Scores of great cormorants flying.

Cranes flying, Spain, 2 November 2014

At 5pm, about a hundred cranes flying overhead. We could hear the trumpet-like sounds of the adults; and the higher pitched voices of this year’s chicks, flying along on their first migration ever.

Marsh harrier, 2 November 2014

The reedbeds along the reservoir also attracted another migratory bird species: marsh harriers, preparing to spend the night there as the evening approached.

Marsh harrier, Spain, 2 November 2014

Birds, dinosaurs, eggs and evolution

This video is called Hundreds of Dinosaur Egg Fossils Found in Spain.

From Wildlife Extra:

Egg shapes could be key to explaining evolution of birds

Research by scientists suggests that bird egg shape could be key in explaining their evolution

Next time you sit down to your breakfast of hard-boiled egg, you might want to take a moment to stop to consider why it is so perfectly ‘egg-shaped’. Evolutionary biologists have been studied [sic] the difference in the eggs of modern day birds compared to those of their extinct relatives, Theropod dinosaurs. The difference in their shape could be the key to explaining why some birds were able to survive the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Researchers from University of Lincoln examined eggshells looking at the transition of Theropods into birds based on fossil records and studies of modern birds.

Their findings suggest that the early birds from 252 to 66 million years ago laid eggs that had different shapes to those of modern birds. This might suggest that embryonic development was different in the earliest birds, so could have implications for how some birds survived while the dinosaurs perished.

The author of the study was Dr Charles Deeming of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences. He explains, “These results indicate that egg shape can be used to distinguish between different types of egg-laying vertebrates. More importantly they suggest Mesozoic bird eggs differ significantly from modern day bird eggs, but more recently extinct Cenozoic birds do not. This suggests that the range of egg shapes in modern birds had already been attained in the Cenozoic.”

The origin of the amniotic egg, which is an egg that can survive out of water, is one of the key adaptions underpinning the vertebrates’ transition from sea to land over 300 million years ago.

Dr Deeming suggests that the different egg shape of birds both past and present could be associated with different nesting behaviours or incubation methods, but points out that not much research has been carried out into this due to insufficient fossil data. “We hope that future discoveries of associated fossil eggs and skeletons will help refine the general conclusions of this work,” he says.

Alpine accentor in Aragon, 2 November

This video shows Alpine accentors in the snow.

After the morning of 2 November 2014, the afternoon. No snow yet, quite the contrary: rather high temperatures for November. Still, we would like to see whether birds like Alpine accentors had already arrived from their high summer homes to their lower summer abodes.

Near Riglos village, in the Sierra de Guara, mountains south of the highest Pyrenees.

Alpine accentor, 2 November 2014

Fortunately, an Alpine accentor was present, close to the footpath under the steep cliff faces.

Alpine accentor, looking up, 2 November 2014

It was looking upwards …

Alpine accentor, looking down, 2 November 2014

.. and downwards, to see if there was any food.

Alpine accentor, still looking down, 2 November 2014

Alpine accentor, looking up again, 2 November 2014

The bird looked up again …

Alpine accentor, looking down again, 2 November 2014

… and down again.

Alpine accentor, still looking down again, 2 November 2014

Alpine accentor near plant, 2 November 2014

Sometimes, the Alpine accentor was close to the sparse vegetation.

Alpine accentor still near plant, 2 November 2014

Alpine accentor on rock, 2 November 2014

Sometimes, it was on rock, seemingly bare except for small bits of lichen. Nevertheless, it did manage to get food.

Alpine accentor still on rock, 2 November 2014

A clouded yellow butterfly flying.

Red-legged partridge and little owl near Spanish castle

Montearagón castle, 2 November 2014

After 1 November came 2 November 2014 in Aragon, Spain. We went to the surroundings of Montearagón castle, not far from Huesca town.

In 1094, Christian king Sancho Ramirez of Aragon had Montearagón castle built, to help with his plans to conquer Islamic Huesca. Later, it became a monastery. Now, it is a ruin.

A kestrel on a pole.

On a rock, a Thekla lark. This species was named by German zoologist Alfred Edmund Brehm in 1857 for his sister Thekla Brehm, who had died recently, only 24 years old.

A stonechat.

Rock sparrows on a wire.

A little owl, resting on a rock.

On another rock, a black wheatear cleanses its feathers.

Crag martins flying around.

A raven flying.

Closer to the ground, a Dartford warbler in a bush.

Zitting cisticola, 2 November 2014

A zitting cisticola on another bush.

Zitting cisticola, on 2 November 2014

Common linnets.

Red-legged partridge, 2 November 2014

A beautiful red-legged partridge.

Near Montearagón castle, view, 2 November 2014

Near the castle ruin, a griffon vulture flies.

Rock face near Riglos, 2 November 2014

We continue to another part of the Sierra de Guara mountains, around Riglos village.

Rock face near Riglos, on 2 November 2014

Near Riglos there are many steep rock faces, attracting much mountaineering tourism. Some of the people who used to climb here have died on the still more difficult north face of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland.

Riglos church, 2 November 2014

House sparrow male in Riglos, 2 November 2014

House sparrows live in Riglos. We want to see if there are also less common birds around here.

Birds and chamois in Aragon

Portelet pass, Pyrenees, 1 November 2014

This is a photo of the mountains around the Portelet pass, near the Spanish-French border.

Still 1 November 2014 in Aragon, after the earlier wallcreeper and other birds.

We are going higher and higher in the Pyrenees mountains.

A pied wagtail on a roof in Escarrilla village.

We get at our highest point, almost 2000 meter, near the French border.

Lichen, 1 November 2014

A few small trees just surviving in favourable spots. All other vegetation is much smaller. Like this lichen.

Lichen, Portalet pass, Aragon, 1 November 2014

Lichen, Portalet pass, 1 November 2014

Lichen, at Portalet pass, 1 November 2014

Near the Portelet pass, yellow-billed choughs, common chougs, and two ravens flying together. The choughs tried to drive a raven away.

On a rock, a northern wheatear.

On another rock, near a lakelet, a yellowhammer.

Two Pyrenees chamois walking on a mountain meadow. We now know it is a different species than the Alpine chamois.

We go back, following the Rio Gallego river downwards.

As we went back, two sparrowhawks circling. Lots of mallards in a lake.

Red kites flying.

Dipper, 1 November 2014

On the river banks, two dippers. Every now and then, they dive.

Wallcreeper, dipper and crested tit in Spain

This video is the trailer of a film about wallcreepers.

Underneath here is a photo of a wallcreeper. A really special bird. One of the main reasons why we went to the Pyrenees mountains in Spain.

Wallcreeper, 1 November 2014

We might have seen a wallcreeper at the canyons near Alquézar on 31 October. However, we did not.

Next day, 1 November 2014, we left the foothills of the Pyrenees for the higher parts of these mountains.

10:00: a griffon vulture on a pylon.

Thirteen minutes later, we are at about 1200 meter above sea level. A small bridge across a stream.

The first special bird which we see is a dipper among the rocks in the water.

Wallcreeper spreads wings, 1 November 2014

Soon afterwards, a maybe even more spectacular bird: a wallcreeper on the canyon face!

Wallcreeper spreading wings, 1 November 2014

Wallcreeper still spreading wings, 1 November 2014

In summer, male wallcreepers have black throats, females have grey throats. Now, in November, they both have whitish throats.

Wallcreeper spreading wings again, 1 November 2014

This bird sings (hear recordings here). As both genders sing, we can’t know whether this bird is male or female.

Wallcreeper singing, 1 November 2014

Wallcreeper looking sideways, 1 November 2014

They usually nest above 2000 meter, and are at lower altitudes now because of the approaching winter.

Wallcreeper still looking sideways, 1 November 2014

Wallcreeper flying, 1 November 2014

We walk on. A long-tailed tit in a coniferous tree.

Griffon vultures circle around a mountain top.

A crested tit in another coniferous tree.

A bit further, a treecreeper doing acrobatics on the underside of a branch.

Then, a coal tit.

As we go back, we leave the forest.

A golden eagle flying high.

Alpine choughs flying lower, near a rock face.

Though it is November, still blue chicory flowers.

On a white lucerne flower, a small butterfly: a geranium bronze. Originally from South Africa; introduced to Spain.

We continue, still higher up the Pyrenees.