Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wild Goose Chase!

Hello Fellow Bird Enthusiasts,
We thought you would enjoy this story. On Sunday, March 11 we drove up to Essex County in the northwest corner of Vermont to look for Snow Geese. We have always seen them in the fall when they are on their way south from their Canadian Arctic breeding grounds to their wintering grounds along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Migration Route of Greater Snow Geese (shown in blue)

We had seen reports of them at the Missisquoi Bay Bridge so we drove north to locate them. They weren’t at the bridge so we drove further west to Mud Creek WMA. Here we ran into fellow birders who told us that Snow Geese were seen in a field near the Price Chopper supermarket in Champlain, NY. We explored Mud Creek WMA first seeing thousands of Greater Snow Geese flying north in "V-formation" along the Atlantic Flyway.

Greater Snow Geese Flying Over Mud Creek

Other than the geese overhead, Mud Creek was quiet so we decided to drive to New York to find the large flock on the ground. We drove over the Rouses Point Bridge into New York along the Canadian border and continued west to Champlain, NY where we had no problem finding the Price Chopper supermarket. We located some nearby corn fields but they were empty. We assumed that all the geese had flown off so started to head back to Vermont. We could see flocks of geese overhead and some appeared to be landing nearby. We followed them in our car and located them in a cornfield in a residential area. At first, there weren’t many but more and more came flooding in.

Snow Geese Arriving in the Corn Field

Some even ventured into the yard of a neighboring home. No one in the neighborhood seemed to take notice but us. Maybe they’ve become oblivious to these noisy neighbors?

Greater Snow Geese

I noticed a goose with a yellow tag around her neck. Through my binoculars, I could see she was XM 22. Of all the hundreds of geese in the field, she was the only one with a yellow neck band.

XM 22

I also noticed two individuals that looked different from the rest. They were darker, smaller and had a white eyering. Could they be a different species? No, they turned out to be juvenile blue morphs.

Juvenile Blue Morph

We watched the flock for 45 minutes but it was getting dark and time to get going. When we returned home Marc did a search on “banded bird reporting” and came up with this site administered by the USGS:

He entered the appropriate information and a day later received the results and a certificate of appreciation!

Marc's Certificate of Appreciation

It turned out that this bird was banded near Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada on August 13, 2017! We had visited there in June 2016 and knew the region where this bird had come from and where she was most likely headed. In fact, she could have hatched the very year we were visiting the floe edge near Bylot Island.  Here is a photo of Bylot Island from our 2016 visit.

Bylot Island

To read more about our trip to the floe edge go to our blog post at:

It was great to see that XM 22 was still alive. Even though Snow Geese can live up to 15 years in the wild, they face many hazards - hunters, colliding with buildings, storms, disease, pollution and predators during migration. We wish her well on the next 1967 miles of her long journey!

Only 1967 Miles to Go!

Fly safe!
Peggy and Marc

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Breaking the Lynx Jinx!

Greetings Everyone,
This year started off with a quick trip to Spain in mid-January. We had booked a 6-day tour with a British travel company called Naturetrek to look for one of the rarest cats in the world, the Iberian Lynx! Since we were traveling from the United States and needed some time to adjust to the 6-hour time difference, we booked an additional 3 days before the arrival of the rest of our group. We flew to Spain by way of Newark, New Jersey and Lisbon, Portugal arriving midday on January 18. We took a taxi from Seville to El Rocio, a curious town on the northeast edge of Doñana National Park. The village is a destination unto itself with magnificent whitewashed buildings and an immense cathedral. We noticed that all the streets in town were unpaved and when we inquired why we discovered that El Rocio is very much a Spanish horseman’s town, seemingly straight out of a spaghetti western film!

The Hermitage of El Rocio

After settling into our hotel we set off to explore the nearby lagoon. At this time of year, the wetlands were filled with Eurasian Coot, Greater Flamingo, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal and other waterfowl.

Greater Flamingos

We walked along the shore and veered off to stop at the visitor center of Doñana National Park. It was closed but we could still walk the boardwalk trails and visit the hides overlooking a series of marshes.

Boardwalk at Doñana National Park

We stayed until dusk but had to return to the hotel before dark. On the way back we noticed a rather large cat sitting by the side of a dirt track below us. At first, I thought it was just a domestic cat and paid it little heed but as we approached its behavior seemed more like that of a wildcat. It kept a wary eye on us and when we tried to approach closer it ran off. I did some research when I returned to the hotel and thought that it may have been a European Wildcat!

European Wildcat or Domestic Cat?

Early the next morning we returned to the park to see if we could catch any mammals on the trail. It was very cold but we did manage to see an Iberian Hare at the very end of the boardwalk. The Iberian Hare is also known as the Granada Hare and is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. 

Iberian (Granada) Hare

We walked back to the hotel to warm up and have lunch. We decided to return to the park in the late afternoon and stay past dark to search for nocturnal animals. We walked to the end of the boardwalk but did not encounter any mammals. We followed a dirt track through scrubland and frightened some Red Deer who were crossing the track, our second mammal! 

Red Deer

We waited for sunset before returning to the boardwalk where we pulled out our lights to look for nocturnal mammals. I was hoping to see European Badger, Red Fox, Egyptian Mongoose or Common Civet but we saw nothing. We returned to the hotel for dinner and bed after walking nearly 18 miles!

The next morning we were picked up by Irene, our guide from Doñana Nature Tours. We were to visit a different part of the park where Iberian Lynx are known to frequent. With a population of around 90, Doñana National Park is one of the best places to see wild Iberian Lynx. Here is a map of the park to get you oriented.  We had walked the trails west of El Rocio over the last couple of days.  Irene took us on the roads east of town to look for the elusive cats.

Map of Doñana National Park

It was very foggy and it would be difficult to see anything. I was surprised to see large swaths of Stone Pines (Pinus pinea) cut down. They aren’t native but were planted here hundreds of years ago to provide wood for building ships. There was a bad fire here last year so many trees were felled to create a firebreak. I couldn’t imagine seeing a lynx in this disturbed habitat but Irene said they were here.

We did see Red Deer and Red-legged Partridge despite the dense fog. Because the visibility was so poor we decided to drive to a marsh and the José Antonio Valverde Visitors Center. We entered a restricted area where Doñana Nature Tours had permission to operate their tours. Lynx are also seen here but we saw none. We passed a ring of giant tree trunks. Irene explained that they were the trunks of Eucalyptus trees that had been removed from the marsh in an attempt to return it to a more natural state.

European Rabbit Enclosure

They were placed to create an enclosure for European Rabbits, the main prey of the lynx. Rabbit numbers have been decreasing due to two viral diseases, myxomatosis, and viral hemorrhagic-disease.  The enclosures won’t protect against disease or predation by lynx but will prevent horses and cattle from trampling their burrows. We did see both Iberian Hares and European Rabbits so the stump enclosures appear to be working.

European Rabbit

Perched on the fence posts along the marsh were Eurasian Kestrels, Common Buzzard and European Stonechat. 

Eurasian Kestrel

We patrolled the dirt tracks for the remainder of the morning but did not encounter a lynx. We returned to town for lunch and a little down time before returning to the park in the afternoon. We cruised the same roads but had no luck in spotting our quarry. Being a Saturday there were lots of people in the park - hikers, horseback riders, people in mule-drawn wagons and mountain bikers. It was no wonder that the lynx remained hidden. We’d try again tomorrow.

Weekend Traffic in Doñana National Park

Irene picked us up at before dawn at 8:00 AM and we entered the park. It was clear today and all systems were "go" but the lynx failed to reveal themselves. We returned to El Rocio for lunch and walked around town which was packed on a Sunday. There were walkers, some horseback riders, mule-drawn wagons and in the square kids were being given pony rides.

Sunday Afternoon in El Rocio

We returned to the park and searched in vain for the rest of the afternoon. That evening, we met our trip leaders, Niki and Lara and the rest of our group. Hopefully, our luck would change in the morning. 

Two vans from Doñana Nature Tours arrived in the pre-dawn darkness at 8:00 AM and as expected there was a lot of commotion deciding which van to go in and what seat to take. We ended up in Jose’s van with Marc squeezing in the front with Lara and I took a seat in the middle row. All the windows were covered with condensation so no one had a clear view. Just past the entrance to the park, Jose, Lara, and Marc spotted a lynx standing on the other side of the fence just 30-40 feet from our vehicle! She walked to the road just ahead of our van. Marc was trying to take photos but it was before sunrise and he didn’t have enough light for a good picture.

First Lynx Sighting

I got an ok view from the back. Jose radioed the other vehicle and they arrived just as the lynx was disappearing into the grass on the other side of the road. All this took place within 2-3 minutes. I was ecstatic to have finally seen a lynx but wished it had a bit later in the morning with more light. At least everyone in the group had seen this rare cat, some better than others. We drove back and forth along the main road but the lynx did not reappear. 

We returned to town for lunch and watched with amusement as a local man arrived on horseback and sat at a table near the door so he could hold onto his horse’s reins. 

Lunch in El Rocio

We returned to the park in the afternoon and this time the other van saw the same lynx in the same location as this morning. By the time we arrived at the scene, the lynx was heading for the tall grass and we saw only her rear end.

Second Lynx Sighting!

Amazingly we had a third lynx sighting, presumably a male, but he was in the tall grass so we didn’t get a great view.

Third Lynx Sighting!

In between our lynx sightings, we did get in some birding. On one such occasion, I heard something rustling in the bushes and a lone wild boar burst out and thundered past our group.

Wild Boar

The next morning we searched for the lynx one last time but today they chose to remain hidden. Later that morning, we traveled to Sierra de Andujar Natural Park, the second location in Spain where lynx are readily seen. After settling into our hotel, Los Pinos, and getting a good night's rest, we were ready to search for lynx in the morning. We drove to a dirt road above an area called La Lancha where we began our scan by foot. Although there are now 200 Iberian Lynx in the park, close to half the world’s population, their territories are large and we’d be lucky to glimpse one along this 1-km stretch of road.

The View of La Lancha

We spotted Red Deer, European Rabbits and Niki found a lone European Mouflon on a ridge a great distance away but no lynx. We slowly walked to the other end of the lynx-spotting area where we stopped to scan.

Scanning for Lynx in La Lancha

I noticed three men rush off back toward the other end of the road from which we had come. I thought that something may be up. We got word that two lynx had been spotted and we rushed back to our starting point. By the time we arrived the lynx had moved off. Bummer! We waited for an hour and a half but they did not reappear. Niki decided to leave and after lunch, we went to the Embalse del Encinarejo, a dam where a female lynx was known to cross in the evening. We waited patiently until dusk but the elusive feline did not show up so we left disappointed. 

The Low Dam of Embalse del Encinarejo

There was always tomorrow but when we awoke we were greeted by a thick fog. We decided to drive to La Lancha anyway but with the visibility severely reduced we were hard-pressed to find a lynx or anything else for that matter.

Walking Above La Lancha

We persevered until noon but reluctantly had to admit defeat and returned to Los Pinos. After lunch, the fog appeared to be lifting so we returned to La Lancha one last time. As we pulled up, a flock of Griffon and Cinereous Vultures soared overhead. 

Griffon Vultures

We hoped that there may have been a lynx-kill nearby but we weren’t so lucky. The rain set in and we had to admit defeat one more time. We drove to the very end of the road where a high dam contained the water of a rapidly shrinking reservoir. Niki said ibex were often seen here and we spotted a few high on the ridge on the other side of the dam.

The High Dam of Embalse del Encinarejo

The next morning we drove back to Seville where most of our group were catching flights home. Marc and I were to stay the night before flying back home in the morning. After much discussion, we decided to extend our trip by one week. We really wanted to get a better photo of an Iberian Lynx and so we decided to return to Sierra Andujar Natural Park. Being a weekend, Los Pinos was booked so we spent two nights in Seville before returning to Andujar on Sunday. This gave us time to explore this scenic and historic city. Our hotel was in the old quarter where only pedestrians were allowed so we were able to stroll about enjoying the many sights. We climbed to the top of the Torre del Oro, a 13th-century military watchtower with magnificent views of this vibrant city.

Torre del Oro

We strolled past the Seville Cathedral, a gothic church with its impressive flying buttresses, completed in the early 16th century.

Seville Cathedral

On Sunday we returned to the airport and picked up our rental car for the drive back to Andujar. We checked into Los Pinos and returned to La Lancha in the afternoon. It was nice to be on our own and to travel at our own pace, stopping whenever we wanted to take photos. When we arrived there were about 30 other “lynx-seekers” and we set about on our quest. We searched with a variety of methods, staying stationary, walking along the road or driving along the road but the lynx remained elusive. We stayed until the sunset but other than Red Deer, Fallow Deer, European Rabbits, and birds we didn’t see much. We weren’t discouraged knowing that we had the whole week to find a lynx. Surely our luck would change.

Fallow Deer

We returned bright and early the next morning but all was quiet until early afternoon when five European Ibex were spotted relatively close by. The rams entertained us with their head-butting and Marc was able to get some good photos.

Sparring European Ibex Rams

I was taking a break in our vehicle when I heard a shout. A lynx had been spotted about 100 meters behind our car! A woman from a group from the UK had seen it come up on the road briefly (10 seconds) before returning to the bushes. We all searched in vain but the lynx did not reappear - foiled again!

It was now Tuesday and along with the UK group that we had befriended, we were all eager to break the “Lynx Jinx”. Once again the morning was quiet so after lunch, we drove to the dam to look for ibex. They weren’t there but the British group had arrived and invited us to see some bats in a tunnel on the other side of the dam. They turned out to be Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat, a near-threatened species. 

Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat

We returned to La Lancha and parked at our upper parking spot. Not far away we heard an unusual noise. It was hard to describe, not a growl, grunt or yowl but it did make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. On the other side of the road, I noticed two small pools of water that the birds were using as a bath. We noted one of the pools was large enough for a lynx to drink from and that we should keep an eye on this spot.

Bathing Song Thrush

It was our second 10-hour day in a row with no lynx sighting. Surely our luck would change tomorrow. We were the first to arrive the following morning and the other usual lynx-seekers began to show up. By now we were all desperate to see a lynx. Again the morning was quiet and in the afternoon we walked up the road to check out the pools where there were only birds. Four raptors soared overhead. Two turned out to be Spanish Imperial Eagles endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and listed as vulnerable by the ICUN.

Spanish Imperial Eagle

The sun set as our third 10-hour day was coming to a close and the “Lynx Jinx” had not yet been broken. What would tomorrow bring? When we arrived at La Lancha our friends from the UK were already there. It was their final morning and they were just as desperate as us to find a lynx. Later in the morning, we decided to walk back up the road to check the pools. There was something compelling about this area. We stopped to photograph some tiny birds drinking from the pools when Marc suddenly whispers “Lynx!”. Sure enough, a lynx appeared out of nowhere not more than 10 meters from us! He slinked toward the road never acknowledging us but I’m sure he was aware of our presence.

Lynx sighting at La Lancha

He walked down to a culvert just below us but did not enter.

Lynx Approaching Us

The stunning feline climbed a small hill and disappeared into some bushes.

One Last Look

We hung back expecting him to cross the road but he didn’t so we moved forward and I just caught his rear end as he entered the next culvert. He reappeared briefly on the other side of the road but disappeared quickly into the thick bushes. The whole encounter was only 3 minutes but we had him to ourselves and it was spiritual! Finally, after searching for over 35 hours, the “Lynx Jinx” had been broken! 

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to the people and governments of Spain and Portugal for all their hard work to protect the Iberian Lynx and for bringing it back from the brink of extinction! May their efforts continue to bring positive results so that future generations can experience the magic of encountering an Iberian Lynx in the wild!

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:


On January 17, our friend Anke whom we had met in Ecuador last November, sent us this clip from “Rewilding Europe’s” Facebook page:

A great and also a horrible year for the Iberian Lynx in Spain and Portugal - a total of 58 traffic mortalities, while the population is growing to over 500 animals now (2017 data not completed). 

Common name Scientific name Comment
1 Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus Donana, Andujar
2 Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Andujar
3 Western European Red Deer Cervus elaphus elaphus Donana, Andujar
4 Fallow Deer Dama dama Andujar
5 European Mouflon Ovis orientalis musimon Andujar
6 Spanish Ibex Capra pyrenaica Andujar
7 European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus Donana, Andujar
8 Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis Donana, Andujar
9 Wild Boar Sus scrofa Donana
10 Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon Donana
11 Schreiber's Long-fingered Bat  Miniopterus schreibersii Andujar

Common name Scientific name Comment
1 Greylag Goose Anser anser Donana
2 Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Donana, Andujar
3 Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata Donana
4 Eurasian Teal Anas crecca Donana
5 Common Pochard Aythya ferina Donana
6 Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa Donana, Andujar
7 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Donana
8 Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus Donana
9 White Stork Ciconia ciconia Donana, Andujar
10 Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Donana
11 Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Donana, Andujar
12 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Donana, Andujar
13 Great Egret Ardea alba Donana
14 Little Egret Egretta garzetta Donana
15 Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Donana, Andujar
16 Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus Donana, Andujar
17 Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Andujar
18 Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti Donana, Andujar
19 Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus Donana, Andujar
20 Common Buzzard Buteo buteo Donana, Andujar
21 Western Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio Donana
22 Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Donana, Andujar
23 Eurasian Coot Fulica atra Donana
24 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus Donana
25 Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Donana, Andujar
26 Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago Donana
27 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Donana
28 Rock Dove Columba livia Donana, Andujar
29 Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Donana, Andujar
30 Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius Donana
31 Little Owl Athene noctua Donana, Andujar
32 Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Donana, Andujar
33 Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops Donana, Andujar
34 Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Donana, Andujar
35 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Donana, Andujar
36 Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis Donana, Andujar
37 Iberian Magpie Cyanopica cooki Donana, Andujar
38 Eurasian Magpie Pica pica Donana, Andujar
39 Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Andujar
40 Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus Donana, Andujar
41 Crested Lark Galerida cristata Donana
42 Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris Donana, Andujar
43 Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Donana, Andujar
44 Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Donana, Andujar
45 Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Donana, Andujar
46 Common Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla Andujar
47 Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla Donana, Andujar
48 Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor Donana, Andujar
49 Common Blackbird Turdus merula Donana, Andujar
50 Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Donana, Andujar
51 European Robin Erithacus rubecula Donana, Andujar
52 Bluethroat Luscinia svecico Donana
53 Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Donana, Andujar
54 European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola Donana, Andujar
55 House Sparrow Passer domesticus Donana, Andujar
56 Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia Andujar
57 Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea Donana, Andujar
58 White Wagtail Motacilla alba Donana, Andujar
59 Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Donana, Andujar
60 Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Donana, Andujar
61 Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Andujar
62 European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Donana, Andujar
63 Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra Donana
64 Rock Bunting Emberiza cia Andujar