230 species spotted by the ZEISS team

How many species can be recorded during a 24h race inside the WP? At the end of 90’s and beginning of this century, scores were increasing, especially in countries like Finland, France and Estonia. In the latter country the European record was set up by a Finnish team, composed by Mika Bruun, Sampsa Cairenius, Jukka Hatva and Jan Nordblad on 25th May 1998 with a total a 190 species. After these scores, the Tramuntana Birding Team won the Spanish bird race organized by SEO/BirdLife, several time arriving for first time at 200 species in 2004, then 202 species in 2005, 204 species in 2006 and 217 species in the race of 2007. This was the absolute best European record for the last ten years.

They offer detailed information of their races at their blog (www.tbt.cat), where many pictures and the chronicle of each marathon for every year is available from that Catalan team, composed by Jordi Sargatal, Oriol Clarabuch, Deli Saavedra, Aleix Comas, Ponç Feliu and Joan Carles Gimisó. This high diversity of species recorded during spring migration is possible in Europe because in NE Spain a wide array of habitats and altitudes are present, from the sea and coastal wetlands to high mountains with alpine pastures, and steppes and different types of forests, allowing to find more than 200 species during a whole day.

During the last race in Spain the European record was finally beaten, by the team ZEISS-Reservoir Birds, composed of José Luis Copete, Ferran López and Francesc Kirchner, with a total score of 230 species, on 6th May 2017. These were also obtained in Catalonia, where the previous team arrived to a score of 211 species in 2016. They shared their race experience with us:

The beginning of the race began just in the first minutes day on the Saturday inland Catalonia on the steppic areas near Lleida. There several species vocally active by night were the first ones to be noted: Red-necked and European Nightjars; Barn, Little, Scops, Long-eared and Eurasian Eagle Owls; Quail, Stone Curlew, Common Nightingale and a few other species. This was a promising beginning. From there, straight to the C25 to drive by night to Vic, about 70 km north of Barcelona city, and then heading north to the Pyrenees. A few stops before the high mountains added some species like Night Heron and Little Egret in a heronry. We left the road to take a track going up the summit at 2000 m, on the way we flushed a Woodcock, a quite scarce species during breeding period in south Europe.

Arriving to the top of end of the track at the top of alpine meadows we still needed to wait a while for the sunrise to add the songbirds. The previous year at the same point we arrived during the middle of a blizzard of snow and heavy winds. However this year the weather was more helpful!

With the first lights we quickly added those species of alpine pastures and subalpine forests: Northern Wheatear, Water Pipit, Citril Finch, Ring Ouzel, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Black Woodpecker, Dipper, Grey Wagtail or Marsh Tit between other species only to be found at that area during the race. We didn’t miss any of the specialties we were expecting at that area of the Pyrenees, except Tengmalm’s Owl, a species we didn’t try because some of the territories with singing males were not so close and they needed valuable time. After the Pyrenees, we returned to the open areas of Lleida, first near Guissona, where quite a lot of specialties are concentrated: Orphean, Dartford, Subalpine, Bonelli’s and Melodious Warblers; Corn, Ortolan and Cirl Buntings; Tawny Pipit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Hen Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Woodchat Shrike, and many other species were recorded in a short walk, some of them allowing very good views. From there the steppic areas of inland Catalonia provided specialties like Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Kestrel, Little Bustard, Black and Black-eared Wheatears, Dupont’s, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks, were some of the fine species seen during that part of the circuit.

Then we headed to the Llobregat Delta, where we planned to stay during the whole afternoon. This area provides a high diversity of species in a rather small area of lagoons, marshes, and beaches. Actually we recorded almost 70% of the species we recorded at this spot. One of its strong points during a race is you can perform sea watching from the coast at the same time you can listen for wetland species.

Lady Fortune was with us during the sea and marsh watches; appearing in less than two hours a wide array of iconic species were to be seen from the beach European Storm Petrel, Gannet, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, Little, Black, Common, Whiskered and Sandwich Terns, several gulls and one of the last wintering Great Cormorants. At the marshes or near them we added a lot of waders, ducks, passerine migrants, and some of the bonus presents in the area, Hooded Crow, a pair breeding at the town of El Prat – the first record in Spain! – a lone Barnacle Goose which arrived in winter and was still present the first week of May, and a lone Marbled Teal, a rarity at the Llobregat Delta. However we missed a Terek Sandpiper which was found only the previous day! We felt we had an impressive list when the last light was going down, however we didn’t have time to know with certainty our exact number.

We knew we were above 200 species, but not sure the present number. A singing Grasshopper Warbler was added almost at dusk, yes!!, and a lone Gull-billed Tern passing above us while we were running to the car. With night was arriving we still had time to add a last species which escaped us during the first night: Tawny Owl!
During the races some easy species always don’t seem to appear, and this was the case with it. It was after 21.30h when we went to Sant Climent de Llobregat, the hills where a last effort should add the last tick. We arrived quite quickly to a territory where the owl is normally vocal, but we failed to hear it. We still needed almost an hour and half to finally hear a vocal Tawny Owl, only one hour before midnight! Exhausted, but happy with that final species, we finished the race going to nearby Barcelona to sleep.

We knew while we were waiting for the voice of the owl we were on 229 species, so when we heard the Tawny Owl we arrived to 230. A new European record, confirmed after the final results of all team were published.

The Reservoir Birds Team is equipped with ZEISS products:

“Our team, Reservoir Birds use the new ZEISS Victory SF because of its top quality optics. The 10x magnification model has the biggest field available in its spectrum. It is like watching with 8x and it has an absolutely stunning vision field. Unbelievable sharp images are combined with easy and sensitive focusing. Using these binoculars in the field means to enjoy every bird you watch.”

The ZEISS sponsored team from Spain, the Reservoir Birds, have already participated successfully in the Champions of the Flyway bird-race in March.