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Rare Birds in Spain


Great Snipe at Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, 22.5.2002 and the problems regading acceptance of this taxon from the Spanish Rarities Committee* 

Text by Ricard Gutiérrez. Descriptions by RG and Ferran López
Photos by Rafael Armada


On 22.5.2002, Ferran López was carrying out the regular count of the birds present at Filipines marsh, Remolar-Filipines reserve, Llobregat delta, Barcelona, Spain. When a phone calling from FL was received at RG mobile, something strange had to be present at the reserve. 'Ricard, Gallinago media a la maresma, corre! corre!" were enough words to know that what could be our 2nd Great Snipe in the recent times at Llobregat delta could be around. The Black-winged Stilt H.himantopus breeding count had to wait for a while. Fortune benefited a couple of visiting birders from Manchester, Kath Butterworth and Phil Palmer who also helped finding and managed of being two of the only eight observers to see the bird.

Great Snipe is one of the most difficultly accepted birds by the Spanish RC. This is not because of the bird identification problems but probably because of behaviour and difficulty in proper recording of critic characters. However, in this case, all observers had seen the species before and hence knew what to look for and besides, the skill of Rafa Armada made possible the below photographs, the only document of flying Great Snipe in Spain in recent times which add further proofs to this bird identification and we hope contributes to clarify this bird characters in flight.

Below we describe the bird characters plus feature three of the photos supplied by R.Armada.


There are two submitted descriptions of the bird to the Spanish Rarities Committee (CR/SEO). Here you can find them in pdf (acrobat) format. They are written in Spanish. Both were written before seeing the enclosed photographs.

Description of the bird in Spanish (Ferran López)
Description of the bird in Spanish (Ricard Gutiérrez)

Clicad en los enlaces de arriba para visualizar las descripciones enviadas al CR/SEO del ave, antes de ver las fotografias de debajo. Están en formato pdf (acrobat)
Cliqueu en els enllaços de dalt per tal de visualitzar les descripcions enviades al CR/SEO de l'ocell, fetes abans de veure les fotografies que hi ha abaix (format pdf, acrobat).
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All photos by © Rafael Armada, 22.5.2002, Maresma de les Filipines, Barcelona.


Note here the diagnostic white tail and the bulkier aspect compared with Common Snipe
Fijaos en la cola que posee rectrices externas blancas y en el aspecto más corpulento que el de la agachadiza común
Fixeu-vos en l'aspecte més robust del becadell gros comparat amb el comú i amb una característica fàcilment visible quan surten volant: les rectrius externes blanques de la cua.

In flight, what can be seen in the wings is a darker central area (coverts) surrounded by two whitish bards, that formed by edge of medians and greater coverts. Secondaries have a faint terminal bar compared with Common snipe and the tail appears again with some white. Notice also the bulkier aspect and short bill.
En vuelo puede apreciarse un área central en las alas (coberrtoras) rodeada por dos bandas alares blancas formadas por los extremos de cobertoras medianas y grandes. Las secundarias presentan una banda terminal menos extensa que en la agachadiza común. Nótese también la cola con bastante blanco, el aspecto más rechoncho que en la agachadiza común y el pico más corto.
En vol es pot apreciar bastant bé un àrea central a les ales (cobertores) rodejada per dues bandes alars blanques formades pels extrems de les cobertores mitjanes i grans. Les secundàries presenten una banda terminal menys extensa que en el becadell comú. Noteu també la cua que té bastant blanc, l'aspecte més voluminós comparat amb el becadell comú i el bec més curt.

The short bill is characteristic. Also the flight action is very different from Common Snipe.Dark underwings are also a good character. 
Fijaos en el corto pico que es bastante característico. También el tipo de vuelo es diferente del de la agachadiza común. Las alas oscuras por debajo también son un buen carácter de identificación.
El bec relativament curt és característic. També el tipus de vol és ben diferent del del becadell comú. I en vol és interessant fixar-se a les ales, que per sota són fosques.

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Both descriptions and photographs show the latest-ever Spring record of Great Snipe in Spain.

There are six accepted records of Great Snipe in Spain up to now (see below, source: CR/SEO files)

  • 910    Balears, Albufera, 06-abr-91, Vicens
  • 2502  Catalunya, delta del Llobregat, 21-mar-00, Gutiérrez Benítez
  • 1957  Catalunya, Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, 05-may-94, Bas
  • 413    Galicia, laguna de Traba 15-oct-88, Rabuñal
  • 909    Balears, Albufera, 27-mar-90, Vicens
  • 412    Galicia, laguna de Traba 21-sep-86, Rabuñal
As noted, there are four spring records all from NE Spain (Catalonia or Balearics) and ranging from 21 March to 5 May and two from Autumn (21 September to 15 October) interestingly from the other corner of Spain, Galicia, the NW.

Eleven submitted records to the CR/SEO have been rejected. Interestingly, only one rejected record (22.3.1993) overlaps with the period covered by accepted records, all the rest being wintering claims from december (3), january (1), february (3) and march (4). Six of the eleven submitted claims belong to an author, and the other five one to each other observers. Those six claims of a single author come from N Spain where no accepted records exist, and the rest from Balearics (2), Galicia (1), Catalonia (1) and Central Spain (1). There are two more records still under discussion at the committee not counting the present one.

These figures clearly point a pattern of occurrence of the species in the NE in Spring. Might occur elsewhere in the N but the presence of good observers in the NW is behind the accepted records.

Knowing what to look for and good concentration during the brief seconds of observation is crucial to build up a good description. Obtaining photos like those presented here is exceptional in Spain. As shown above, the shape, characters and jizz of the species are unique and of a rather straightforward identification. An effort in gathering the more information the better would certainly improve the ratio of accepted records in Spain and would help to clarify the status of this species which has to be a regular albeit scarce migrant,at least in the NE.

Thanks to Rafa Armada for the excellent photos!.Gracias a Rafa Armada por las excelentes fotos.Gràcies a Rafa Armada per les excel·lents fotos!..
*The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Spanish Rarities Committee (CR/SEO) despite RG belongs to it. Las opiniones de los autores no son necesariamente las del Comité de Rarezas de SEO/Birdlife, aunque RG forme parte de éste. Les opinions dels autors no són necessàriament les del CR/SEO malgrat que RG en formi part.

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Great Snipe at Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, 22.5.2002 and the problems regading acceptance of this taxon from the Spanish Rarities Committee 

R.Gutiérrez, F.López & R.Armada, 2002


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