This month we’re focusing on the work of David Perpinan – a veterinarian by training and naturalist by vocation, he has dedicated his life to nature and animals.
At the end of the 1990s he began to study the fauna of the urban rivers of Barcelona, a subject on which he made his first photographic exhibition and wrote his first nature book. After 15 years working in zoos and universities, he decided to focus on what he liked most: photographing and filming wildlife in its natural environment.
We asked David to select some of his favourite clips and explain the story behind them, whether about the species or the process.
I started photographing little ringed plovers (Charadrius dubius) in the 1990s, always in the Besos River, a small Mediterranean river next to the city of Barcelona. I use a combination of techniques to capture footage of this species, such as the traditional use of hides and telephoto lenses. Although due to the city lights I need to get inside the hide at night and walk inside the hide towards my final position, to avoid disturbing the plovers and other birds. For nests, I prefer to leave the cameras self-recording for some time; as I think it’s the best way to obtain footage of unusual natural behaviours and interactions with other animals. The joy of discovering such images when I am at home downloading the footage from my cameras is difficult to describe!
Female little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius) incubating nest, when two house martins (Delichon urbicum) mating land nearby causing the Little ringed plover to chase them away.
Good Use Of A Broken Streetlight
In the vicinity of a pine forest where natural cavities are scarce and demand is huge, I discovered a pair of great tits (Parus major) that had decided to breed inside a broken street light in an area with little human pressure. The chicks were at ground level, which surprisingly did not preclude a successful outcome. I employed variety of self-recording cameras and lenses to obtain this footage.
Great tit (Parus major) visiting nest located in broken street light to feed chicks, removes faecal sac.
Rock sparrows (Petronia petronia) are abundant in the rural landscapes of Spain. They are not difficult to film during the summer months, as watering and breeding spots are limited, which means that any small human construction surrounded by agricultural fields has a good chance of holding at least one sparrow nest. As rock sparrows nest in cavities, I used infrared (IR) technology to reveal what happens inside the nest.
Common rock sparrow (Petronia petronia) feeding chicks in nest.
Up Close and Personal!
I find remote and self-recording cameras extremely valuable to capture the behaviour of animals in situations where they would be disturbed by the presence of people. Small, camouflaged cameras are easily accepted in all sorts of situations, such as by this nesting oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus). Only by constantly recording for long periods of time can you fully appreciate the diversity of situations our ‘characters’ experience. Life for wildlife is not boring at all!
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) incubating eggs on nest, alarm calling as a predator flies overhead.
Saved From Extinction?
Half a century ago, the Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii) was one of the rarest gulls in the world. Fortunately, the population of this Mediterranean bird had recovered from barely 1,000 breeding pairs to about 20,000 breeding pairs, although there have been recent declines due to food shortage (the gull population was very dependent on discards from fisheries), and increased colony predation. Recently, the species has started breeding in non-developed land inside some of the largest ports of Catalonia, Spain. In order to monitor the population, some chicks are ringed every year, and I was lucky enough to be able to document it.
Audouin’s gull (Larus audouinii) chick ringing procedure.
A Lucky Strike
Some times lucky strikes happen and you just needs to be prepared to be flexible. When some fledgling barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) used the cables just outside my balcony to wait to be fed by their parents, I knew I needed to cancel all my appointments for that afternoon and see what unfolded. Patience and schedule flexibility are always helpful when working with wildlife, and the birds were not bothered by my presence nearby, nor the usual gear I was using (tripod, camera, telephoto lens and external recorder).
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) fledglings perched on a cable, parent flies in and feeds one chick.
The Climate Change Trap
Over the last decades, cities have become more attractive for a number of species. Similar to what happened with swallows and swifts some centuries ago, some populations of crag martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) have abandoned their original mountain cliffs and have colonised buildings and bridges in the urban area of Barcelona, encouraged by the mild winters and the presence of insects. For this species, wintering came first, with roosting sites on buildings with up to 200 birds. Breeding has followed and nests have been found in abandoned buildings, highway bridges and even in the famous cathedral Sagrada Familia.
Unfortunately, climate change has set a trap for these birds. During winter 2020-2021, a cold event (very common years ago) depopulated the sky of insects, causing the death by starvation of hundreds of crag martins. The roost shown in this footage was sadly reduced by more than half.