Rare Birds in Spain


The Red-eyed Vireo, Vireo olivaceus at Tiana, Barcelona, 30.10.2000

October is turning up to be a magic month in NE Spain regarding rarities. Mobile GSM phones are strictly necessary if you want to follow the latest news. So when you receive 4 calls in 5 minutes it means that something has happened. Simply, the 3rd Red-eyed Vireo for Spain, and the 2nd for Catalonia, had just been trapped in Tiana, Barcelona, just c.10 km N of the city.

Tiana holds perhaps one of the most traditional ringing stations here in Catalonia located at Can Giró property. It has been managed in agreement with the property by the GCA (Grup Català d'Anellament, the Catalan Ringing Group) which organizes campaigns there since the late seventies.

On 30.10 Carles Llebaria, the ringer in charge of the station that day, trapped an unfamiliar bird which obviously was not one of the common European species. In contact with GCA office the bird was identified by phone as a Red-eyed Vireo and for further confirmation, G.Gargallo went to confirm the sighting. GCA office kindly broadcasted the news and six more observers were able to "fly-by-car" (in only one car, by the way) to the place in time to see the bird.

The identification of the bird was straightforward. A rather powerful passerine, of the size of a Garden Warbler Sylvia borin but with a shorter tail and with a strong bill reminiscent of New-World Tyrannidae: broad-based, hooked and powerful. A disctinctive head design clearly pointed the species.

Vireo olivaceus. 1st winter. Tiana, BCN. 30.10.2000 (drawing)
Sketch note of the head of the bird © Ricard Gutiérrez.  Tiana, Barcelona 30.10.2000

The head showed an ash-grey cap with a tiny jet black border in contact with off-white supercilium. In fact the supecilium had different colours depending on the area: a white patch near the bill base, then a greyish area and a slightly buffish tone over the eye followed by an again greyish area after the eye. Lores were off black and there was a dirty white area under the eye. The rest of the face was greenish and chin was white. Nape and rest of back parts were green. Bill had a dark grey upper mandible plus a pale grey with a dark stripe lower mandible (see in-situ drawing above).

Wing feathers and tail feathers were new but pointed. Tail feathers had a brown tinge with olive-green outer webs. All showed typical calendar-year growing bars (cf. Svensson 1992). Wing feathers showed lesser, median and greater coverts black with outer green edges. Primary coverts did not show such a green extent and were on average darker, only having a narrow greenish outer edge. Tertials, especially innermost, seemed browner than the rest of wing feathers, with the innermost being somewhat abraded. Secondaries and primaries were black with a greenish outer web and a pale narrow whitish edge in their tips. Underwing coverts were yellowish and undertail coverts too. All the rest of underparts were white except some tones in the sides of breast which were greenish. Flanks also slightly grey-green coloured. Legs were of a strikingly grey-blue tone. And the eye was reddish-brown.

Ageing of this bird was straightforward following Cramp & Perrins (1994) BWP: vol VIII: the retained juvenile primaries (with whitish edges), secondaries and tertials, as well as tail feathers in contast with all moulted coverts and the adult head pattern pointed clearly to a 1st winter bird.

This bird showed a 5 fat score (Kaiser 1993 scale) which means a good condition bird. We think this bird was not directly coming from America but probably coming from the North with other incoming migrants (robins, blackcaps, warblers) and may have arrived elsewhere to N/C Europe some time ago, recover somewhere there and accumulate enough reserves to follow its "normal direction" southbound travel. But, in any case, we'll never know the truth. 

This is the 3rd Spanish record after those of a 1st year bird seen in L'Alquida, Elche on 25.10.1995 (I.Kuusisalo and M.Kuusisalo) and a juvenile found dead at Tarragona city, near the Francolí river, on 19.10.1995 (Xavier Jiménez), both records already accepted by CR/SEO and published in De Juana et al 1997. Observaciones de aves raras en España. Año 1995. Ardeola 44(1): 119-141.

All eleven observers were: Carles Llebaria, Miquel Sánchez, Gabriel Gargallo, Sergi Sales, Cristian Jensen, Ferran López, Joan Castelló, Xavier Larruy, Joan Bécares, Marc Iranzo & Ricard Gutiérrez.

More information in the GCA web page:

1st year Red-eyed Vireo, Nova Scotia, Canada ©Blake Maybank
Blake Maybank, from White's Lake, Nova Scotia, Canada, has sent us this photo of a 1st year Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) "In honour of the third Spanish record of Red-eyed Vireo". Thank you. Blake is the webmaster of Birding the Americas Trip Report & Planning Repository, a major site on bird-trip reports covering the New World. Photo: © Blake Maybank.

This page is based on field notes taken by Ricard Gutiérrez with the help of Carles Llebaria. Very many thanks to Vittorio Pedrocchi at GCA headquarters for making possible this sighting to six of us. And the property for allowing us to visit Can Giró ringing station. And again to FLS for the dirty (clean windows or we'll loose future twitchs!) fast car. 

R. Gutiérrez 30.10.2000

This capture is one result of the autumn ringing campaing which is being carried out in cal Giró, Tiana ,Barcelona. It is organized by the Grup Català d'Anellament (Catalan Ringing Group). For further information on bird-ringing in Catalonia, contact GCA

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