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Rare Birds in Spain

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Unidentified Spotted Eagle in Doñana, 
          a possible hybrid pomarina x clanga?

All images and original description by Santiago Villa.
Comments by Ricard Gutiérrez and Dick Forsman

Introduction

Both Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga and Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga are rarities in Spain, needing homologation by the CR/SEO national committee. 

Up to 1999 (last CR/SEO published report) there are 12 accepted records involving 12 individuals of A.clanga but the real panorama is that there seem to be more birds than those reported and the species has to be a scarce but regular visitor to the county. A.pomarina is much rarer, with only one accepted record and a couple more reliable currently under study. If recording any of these eagles please report your sightings to rarezas@seo.org

Despite the identification of some Spotted Eagles can be relatively straightforward, some others, such as the below bird, can show intermediate characters of both Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles, and thus these eagles need detailed descriptions to have their records accepted (11 out of 23 records, 47.82%, submitted up to year 2000 were rejected due to different circumstances, CR/SEO archives)

On 27.12.2001, Santiago Villa saw a Spotted Eagle at La Rocina, PN Doñana and he considered it was a Greater Spotted Eagle A.clanga sending us the following detailed description (in Spanish) to be included in the web and forwarded to the CR/SEO:

Description

Aquila Clanga (aguila moteada)
Doñana - Observatorio de La Rocina
27/12/2001 

  • Descripción
  • Aspecto general (General aspect):
Águila de mediano/gran tamaño con plumaje uniformemente pardo-oscuro, cola relativamente corta y alas anchas profundamente digitalizadas. Llamativas marcas blancas en alas, escapulares y cola. Tarsos profusamente emplumados hasta la base de los dedos.
En vuelo mostraba una marca más clara muy nítida en forma de media luna (pero no contínua, con una leve línea intermedia de plumas oscuras que la dividía).
La observación se prolongó durante más de una hora y fue realizada a unos 300-400 metros de distancia. Cielo despejado y condiciones de luz excelentes. Se utilizó prismáticos de 10x42 y telescopio de 32 aumentos (gran angular). Se adjunta fotos digitales.
  • Partes no emplumadas (Bare parts):
Iris de color avellana.
Narina y comisura del pico amarillo fuerte muy llamativo. Cera negra o muy oscura con una pequeña transición gris. Pico robusto y poderoso. Patas: Emplumadas pero dedos también de un amarillo muy conspícuo. 
  • Detalles del plumaje (Plumage details):
Cuando mostraba las alas desplegadas se podían ver perfectamente dos líneas regulares contínuas y paralelas a lo largo de las secundarias y las primarias, visibles incluso con el ave en reposo. Sin muestra alguna de muda (borde de fuga de las secundarias y primarias uniforme), lo que unido al aspecto "moteado" del ave en cuestión, hace presumir que se trata de un joven de primer invierno. Aunque en la mayoría de guías presentan a los jóvenes de Clanga muy marcados (excepto en los de la raza fulvescens"), Leyendo a Forsman se apela a una gran variabilidad individual en el patrón del moteado. Este ejemplar en concreto no mostraba el moteado típico de los primeros inviernos que la mayoría de guías recoge. Aunque no pude observar volar al ave durante el tiempo que hubiera sido deseado, sí pude apreciar que las partes inferiores del ave tenían un ligero contraste entre las infracobertoras alares (más oscuras) y las plumas de vuelo (primarias y secundarias). No pude observar la famosa "coma" ya visible en los jóvenes de Clanga. Cuando el ave daba la espalda podían apreciarse las claras marcas blancas de las escapulares. La cola, que también estaba rematada por una línea de moteado blanco, no se proyectaba más allá de la punta de las plumas primarias, dando al ave un aspecto compacto y colicorto, más que en nuestras águilas.  Muy a menudo con melena erizada. 
Aunque no tengo experiencia con Aquila pomarina la conjunción de pico robusto, infracobertoras alares más oscuras que las plumas de vuelo, tarsos espesamente emplumados y alas muy digitalizadas y anchas en la base parecen descartarla claramente en favor de clanga
  • Comportamiento (Behaviour):
Bastante sedentario. La mayor parte del tiempo la pasó posada en las partes altas de árboles secos y algún alcornoque, cambiando de posadero sólo cuando era molestada por otras aves. En concreto por un joven de aguilucho lagunero (y que estuve a punto de "estrangular"). En una ocasión se lanzó al suelo para comer alguna presa... no pareció haber captura, mas bien podría ser una carroña. (¿Víctima del lagunero?). 

Discussion of the bird identity

Once seen the excellent bird photos and analyzed the above description it was clear that, despite the bird had been initially submitted as clanga, RG was not totally happy with this fact since the lesser and median coverts were particularly pale, the bird was not 'enough' spotted and the bill perhaps was not so heavy as expected. However, the bird was lacking any nape patch and the head looked so huge to be a true pomarina, the only alternative. After several comments to fellows in Catalonia we did not achieve any particular conclusion so RG decided to contact Dick Forsman for a more qualified opinion:

...I've been sent a number of pictures of a suspected clanga which I've put online (but still not public) at www.rarebirdspain.net/arbsf020.htm and that perhaps interest you. The thing is that having read your book, the bird seems to be rather pomarina-like, with all feathers rather new (hence juvenile) but rather pale median & lesser coverts and few spots, thus recalling pomarina. But with I consider enough big head & bill & powerful build to be a pomarina, then being indeed a clanga. On the other hand, in the photo with the opened wing, it does not look too wide ¿?. The author submitted the set as clanga and I think it has to be a clanga not looking as dark & spotted as average.

Dick Forsman answered:

Dear Ricard,
Thanks for the interesting pictures. The bird is far from simple to identify, and at this stage I would rather leave it unidentified ! To me the structure is very similar to Lesser, although the two can be very similar: The head looks big with a comparatively small bill. Also the legs  appear long and "skinny" (look at the picture with opened wings). The plumage is exactly like in Lesser, including distinct upperwing contrast, except for the missing yellowish nape-patch, which is the only
thing speaking against Lesser! Thus we have a bird featuring characters of both species.
Without seeing the underwing details, especially the barring of the secondaries, I would rather keep an open mind regarding this bird's identity. It may of course also be a hybrid, which would explain the mixed characters.  Hybrids pairs raring young have been found in the Baltic states, and these hybrid young may be expected to show a strange migration pattern.

I hope you can get some more pictures on this bird, which is far from being a straightforward Spotted Eagle

Warmest regards
Dick

Conclussion

From initial suspicions to final DF opinion, it seems that this bird identity is far from being simply.  And what is more interesting: it reminds us that these observations deserve detailed descriptions and that even in the case of having superb above-the-average images such as in this file, the final identity of these and other scarce species cannot be safely stated without full evidence and detailed set of data being available.

Perhaps, as DF states, our concern and doubts have been caused by the fact this is (an unexpected for us) hybrid between both species, the first that would have occurred in Spain so far?.

Photographs

All photos depicting Spotted Eagle sp Aquila clanga/pomarina or clanga x pomarina, juvenile, La Rocina, PN Doñana, Huelva, 27.12.2001 , showing rather pale median and lesser coverts thus resembling A.pomarina and few spots on that area. However, presenting powerful bill and head which also lacks diagnostic pale patch of pomarina then recalling clanga.  All photos by Santiago Villa. 



Thanks to Santiago Villa for sending the photos for its publication in the web site and circulation amongst the CR/SEO. Thanks to Ferran López, Xavier Larruy and Jordi Clavell for their quick opinions on the bird and special thanks to Dick Forsman for reviewing an earlier version of this webpage containing the photos of the bird. Gracias a Santiago Villa por enviar las fotos para su publicación en la web y circulación en el CR/SEO. Gracias a F.López, X.Larruy y J.Clavell por sus rápidas opiniones sobre el ave y gracias especiales a Dick Forsman por revisar una versión inicial de la página con las fotos del ave. Gràcies  Santiago Villa per les fotos per a la web i el CR/SEO i gràcies a F.López, X.Larruy i J.Clavell per les seves ràpides opinions sobre l'ocell. Gràcies especials a Dick Forsman per revisar una versió inicial d'aquesta plana amb les fotos de l'ocell.


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Unidentified Spotted Eagle in Doñana, a possible hybrid pomarina x clanga?

Summary:

Introduction
Description
Discussion of bird ID
Conclussion
Photographs
Acknowledgements


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