Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Angel from the North
What didn't occur to me was that I'd find one today in Peterborough, but that's exactly what happened. Naturally, there were a few expletives when this massive white apparition emerged from amongst several hundred large gulls in fields south of the tip:
A monster of a second-winter Glaucous Gull; by far my earliest ever in the Peterborough area (I've never seen one before December) and one of very few around in England right now - I can't recall many aside the 'resident' birds in Kent and Devon...
Soon afterwards (this was c.10:30), most of the birds got up out of the field and dispersed, many heading for the tip but some elsewhere. In the following three hours of grilling the tip, I couldn't relocate the ghostly beast but did score a single 1st-winter mich, as well as one or two interesting looking gulls below:
Dark and smudgey 2w Herring, with dark coverts and chocolatey tertials - if it wasn't for the structure, tail and UTC/rump pattern then one could almost look towards 2w Azorean Gull, which do come this dark pretty regularly.
Really dark adult argentatus, approaching graellsii as well as the Rainham Slaty-backed!
Juv/1w Lesser Black-backed Gull, presumably intermedius as perhaps a little large and long-legged to claim a candidate fuscus; only saw this thing briefly so hopefully better luck with it later in the week.
Eventually, the Glaucous Gull was relocated at 13:25, back in the same field as earlier. I decided a bit of off-roading was necessary to get a few closer shots, so drove down the track leading south from the road. The result were pornstar views but, on such an unseasonably warm day, heat haze was making photography problematic at best, and thus results aren't really up to scratch given the close range of the bird:
Really good start to the 'winter'...
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Scilly, 19th October
So, when arriving back in Lincolnshire on Monday to find both target birds were still present, it seemed wise to have a crack at them yesterday (Weds 19th). With local meat connoisseur Will Bowell confirming he had secured a rare day out of the butchers', things were set up to go very smoothly indeed. The drive down was problem-free and, although we couldn't find the Pec Sand at Drift early doors, we were soon on St. Mary's thanks to a sleep-filled outward journey on the Scillonian.
It was only when we arrived at Borough Farm did things start to become disjointed in our grand plan. The Upland Sand had flown off somewhere and wasn't showing - not to worry though, we strolled round to Watermill Lane where there were two absolutely stunning Olive-backed Pipits showing ludicrously well in a small field.
The 'duller' of the two OBPs
I'd only seen one OBP previously, that being last year on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey. Although that bird was close, it was bloody elusive and stayed amongst gorse and long grass for 95% of the time. Not these two though; they were on show more or less constantly as they fed amongst the furrows, and the constant tail-pumping was the first time I had noted such behaviour - amazing!
So, back round to the Upland, which we still couldn't locate. I decided to keep my eyes on the prize, and we walked back down to Lower Moors. No snipe... gargh! My previous experience with Wilson's Snipe has been painful, starting back in October 2007 on the Scillonian on the day the first bird that year was found. By the time the ferry had docked and we'd got to Lower Moors, it had done one, only to return the next day and gradually be confirmed as the month progressed. I've also had a bit of misfortune on the Azores - loads of people see Wilson's around the Archipelago (especially Terceira), but I've never seen anything but Commons. The trip in February was summed up nicely by a very interesting dark snipe I flushed on Pico once and saw once-only; the closest I've got to a likely Wilson's, but yet still so far. Surely the saga wasn't going to continue here today on Scilly, when the bird had been showing reliably virtually every day either at Lower Moors of Porth Hellick?!
Well in short, it did. We charged round to Porth Hellick to look there, but only had three Greenshanks on the pool. There was a very showy first-winter male Bluethroat at the seaward end of the boardwalk, but I'd manage to misplace my camera and so my mind was worrying elsewhere as I watched this little stunner walking round people's feet.
It turned out that the Upland Sandpiper had been re-found in the usual field up at Borough Farm so off we yomped again, up through Holy Vale to enjoy some really nice views of extra-terrestrial beast. Nice to see one on the ground for more than two seconds after experiences on Flores last week, although sadly the Scilly bird didn't utter that magical call (it's instantly become one of my favourite bird sounds). With relocating my camera at the top of my list, closely followed by the snipe, I was unable to enjoy the bird as fully as I would have done if relaxed, so I got a taxi down to Old Town where I was very fortunate to bump into the bloke who had picked up my camera at Lower Moors (thank you!).
The final half hour or so was spent in a noisy ISBG Hide at Lower Moors, longingly scanning the reeds for snipe but with no success. And that, via a sleepy ferry journey and six-hour drive home, was about it.
Monday, 17 October 2011
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Azores: Days 12 & 13
Basically, I'll give a fairly brief run-through of the final two days. With so many birds on neighbouring Flores, we chartered the ferry (a rib) for a return trip across on Thursday 13th - this hopefully also giving us a crack at some of the interesting seabirds seemingly in Corvo/Flores waters. As we were getting on the boat, news broke that a Common Nighthawk had been found at Ponta Delgada (our destination), and with that the already-high expectation levels ascended further. The trip over was relatively uneventful for seabirds, with one or two Leach's Storm-petrels noted amongst the large numbers of Great and Cory's Shearwaters. After an enjoyable close look at some of the fascinating rock formations on the cliffs at the north end of Flores, we pulled up in Ponta Delgada harbour and were met by three taxis - enough to accommodate all 22 of us that had travelled over! First port of call was inevitably the old football field at PDL, where we arrived to find the Common Nighthawk sat in long grass by the clifftop. An attempted flush seemed at first suggest the bird was dead before it attacked me (no jokes) and then just lay there, looked knackered with it's wings open:
Unfortunately more shitehawk than dream bird...
Leaving the poor, wretched goatsucker alone, we all piled in the taxis and headed for Lagoa Lomba. A brief look at Lagoa Seca produced two Black Duck-types - perhaps hybrids but very BD-like; we did not linger for anything more than distant views from the road:
The drake Wood Duck was surprisingly easy at Lomba - I soon picked it up feeding in emergent vegetation on the far side of the lake but, with an excitable mob of the WP's keenest listers arriving, the bird wasted no time in making for overhanging trees and thus out of sight:
Things were going very smoothly indeed as we headed round to Faja Grande. This splendid first-winter Bobolink continued the trend, showing well in a small crop field, on stone walls and occasionally flying around calling. A much nicer bird than I ever imagined, being a beautiful rich yellow in colour with go-faster stripes and pink bare parts thrown in for good measure:
A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was also noted here on the the lava fields, but seemed quite wary as it bombed around looking alert as anything. Wary waders formed a significant part of the rest of the afternoon, as we headed for Ponta do Albarnaz. Another taxi-load had located the Upland Sandpiper that has been in the area here for a few days, and had even gone on to find a second bird with it. It took a while but, after walking through plenty of fields and jumping over several walls, an Upland Sandpiper was eventually located sat on a wall a few fields east of the lighthouse. The bird was pretty aware of our presence though, and soon launched itself into the air and off east, calling with a beautiful bubbling crescendo as it did so. Ridiculously, this was my fourth WP tick of the day(!) - something that doesn't happen often when vagrants are concerned. A couple of adult White-rumped Sandpipers were also here with a Dunlin and two Sanderling.
With no news forthcoming on the exact location of a reported Dickcissel, I spent the last hour or so left on the island lazing around near the harbour at Ponta Delgada, waiting for the boat. The trip back was a bit more eventful with a couple more Leach's Petrels, loads of showy Great Shearwaters, a shark species and plenty of Common Dolphins giving wonderful views. However, as we neared Corvo, the peace was shattered by a crackly message on the walkie talkie from Peter and Eric - they'd just had a large martin (presumably Purple) fly in off the sea at the windmills! Shit! The rest of the evening was spent searching for it and the Cliff Swallow found up by the power station by two Israeli birders - no luck, but a Spotted Flycatcher there was a good Azores tick, even if it has been round a few days.
So, that was Thursday. Friday 14th dawned bright and sunny, with me standing overlooking the fields, cliffs and sheds a few hundred metres up the road from the power station. Everyone was reasonably confident the hirundines would still be around, but less positive about how long it would take to track them down. The answer soon came - not very long! The Purple Martin flew south past me at about 08:05 - amongst expletives I sprinted down to the power station to find the first taxi load of birders had just arrived, and thankfully connected! At least it wasn't a single observer record...
The Purple Martin, along with the Cliff Swallow, went on to show pretty well on and off throughout the morning, mainly over the fields north of the power station - the latter bringing up the 600 for me in the Western Pal. The undoubted highlight of the morning was a ten-minute pornstar-style showing from the PM, when it sat on a stone wall chilling out in the warm sunshine:
A great trip - eight new WP birds, all of high quality. So, would I go back to Corvo? To put it bluntly - yes. However, don't let the long lists of American vagrants reported each day fool you. Corvo is not an easy place to go; the birding can be supremely difficult at times and, if the weather is not on your side (it wasn't for me - all but one day of east/southeasterlies) it can be a draining place that can mess with your mind(!). However, the rewards are high and, if you are lucky enough to encounter westerlies on a trip then the birds soon start to arrive - take the 24 hours we had on the 13th/14th that produced the two hirundines mentioned above, as well as a 1st-winter Blue Grosbeak for two lucky observers (a true first for the WP). The big difference between Corvo and the rest of Europe is that you really don't need fast-moving depressions to see Nearctic passerines - sure, the best 'falls' occur after these but the phenomenon is similar to drift migrants on the east coast; an airflow from the right direction and you're in business. Perhaps I'll be back next October.
Now, back to the reality of British birding...
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Azores: Day 11
The morning session was excellent, with superb views of a Madeiran Storm-petrel (a really fresh bird, whatever that means as to more specific identification) and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters amongst hundreds of Great and Cory's Shearwaters. The evening was less spectacular, with no gadly petrels seen.
The afternoon was broken up by a quick search for the Yellow Warblers in the tamarisks (no luck), as well as crippling views of a newly-arrived juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper that Morten picked up coming in over the airfield. The bird proceeded to show really, really well down at the beach:
Apparently a Dickcissel on Flores today. Who knows what is going on right now.
White-rumped Sandpiper: juvenile on the beach
Madeiran Storm-petrel: one past the windmills
Sooty Shearwater: two past the windmills
Great Shearwater: maybe four-figure numbers offshore today
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Azores: Day 10
And what an amazing place the Caldeira is. Geographically-stunning, as well as offering a unique habitat on Corvo - expansive fresh water with shallow margins - we're talking waders, ducks etc. Pierre and I ended up doing two 'laps' of the crater and the lakes within; highlights were a very nice adult drake Black Duck with 25 or so Mallards (and a few hybrids), a 1st-winter Lesser Yellowlegs, a Lapland Bunting and 9 Black-tailed Godwits as well as a Pintail and a Shoveler. By midday, we had all but exhausted the area and left Bosse and a few others to it. Talking of exhausted; if you want to feel that way, go to the caldeira. It knackers you out, especially the climb out afterwards.
Lapland Bunting in the crater
Lesser Yellowlegs - bottom image camera only!
We then traipsed down the hill towards Cantinho. A couple of hours in the valley were rewarded with the Northern Parula still present in exactly the same spot as last time. Not calling today, but lots of bill-snapping made it easy to pick up in the still and sunny conditions. It responded well to the tape too, and I even managed the appalling digibinned effort below:
By this point, Vincent had radioed in that the juvenile Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier hudsonicus) had been showing near the Lighthouse Valley before heading up towards Caldeirao. Having not seen any of the variably-convincing candidates around Britain and Ireland last winter, I was pretty keen to get back up there and give it a go. So, off we went - back to the crater for the second time in a day. Basically, the bird eventually showed quite well to me (but not to Pierre, he will be going back tomorrow):
I then walked back down the hill to the village. Needless to say, after three laps and two climbs out of the caldeira as well as a bit of Cantinho, I am sapped of energy. I'm feeling pretty sorry for my feet, too.
Marsh Hawk: 1 juvenile at Caldeirao
Northern Parula: 1st-winter still in Ribeira do Cantinho
Black Duck: adult drake at Caldeirao
Spotted Sandpiper: juvenile at Caldeirao
Lesser Yellowlegs: 1st-w at Caldeirao
Lapland Bunting: 1 at Caldeirao
Pintail: drake at Caldeirao
Shoveler: female at Caldeirao
Monday, 10 October 2011
Azores: Day 9
Talking of new birds, two were found today. JSH and MBH found a Grey-cheeked Thrush in the valley below the reservoir, whilst Hannu flushed a Blue-winged Teal from a dry grassy field near Fojo(!).
My day was not quite as spectacular, unfortunately. I started off by exploring the small wood above the Lighthouse Road. Spent 90 minutes there but nothing! The rest of the morning was spent exploring alot of fields; most notably the Lapa Fields and upper Ribeira da Lapa. No birds!
I spent an hour at the Blue-winged Warbler from around midday. Had my best and most extensive views of this absolute gem of a bird today, it's very easy to locate as it calls regularly with a sharp, piercing 'tsiip'. Pretty mobile though! Afterwards I headed back to Lapa, and worked the lower part of the valley. Again nothing, so I moved on to the fields along the road back towards the miradour. Nothing! Bleugh!
Came back down the hill just as the newly-arrived birders were getting a taxi up to the BWW. Had a rest for half an hour before heading out to the Middle Fields and the adjacent tamarisks. No bloody birds! Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I sat at the rubbish tip for half an hour - amongst 30 Azorean Gulls, I had four 1st-winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The variation amongst Azorean Gulls is also quite fascinating. Saw one or two that looked very similar to claimed birds in the UK but I still wonder if the latter birds are Herring x LBB hybrids. I'll go back to take proper digiscoped photos tomorrow, but for now here are some digi-binned efforts:
Juvenile/1st-w Lesser Black-backed
Near-adult Azorean; essentially adult-like but with signs of immaturity in bill colouration and primary coverts, as wells as dull pinkish-yellow legs. This bird looks frighteningly similar to the "Azorean Gull" that has been at large in England for the past two autumns. Problem with that bird is that it should look more adult-like this year. It doesn't. Could hybrid Herring x LBB look like this...? Perhaps the hybrid option explains the retarded plumage/appearance of the English bird? Either way it looks extremely similar to this bird.
Blue-winged Warbler: still in da Ponte
Lesser Black-backed Gull: 4 first-winters at the dump
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Azores: Day 8
For the first couple of hours today, Pierre and I staked out the unidentified warbler we had late yesterday evening. Unfortunately nothing appeared, so I guess the bird has moved on or just to another part of the island. We then walked back down through the middle fields to the guesthouse; again no birds.
We got a taxi up to the valleys and did Cantinho today. Midway along the valley near the clearing, Pierre again latched on to the high-pitched "tsiip" of a Nearctic wood warbler. I was on the north side of the valley (which was windswept to say the least today), so missed hearing it but came down to join him on the south side. We had nothing for around half an hour but then, all of a sudden, I saw something flit amongst the canopy and latched on. Double white wingbars but... ah shit! Another Parula, and presumably the same bird seen further down the valley about 10 days ago. It seems everything is sticking; we need some new birds! To be fair to the bird, it was a little stunner - in my opinion even brighter than the bird in Cancelas yesterday, with a cracking orange necklace amongst the beautiful yellow breast.
We moved on pretty quickly, but did not see anything else. Do Vinte was also pretty birdless, and the mood began to slip once again. According to Magic Seaweed, some mildly-exciting low seems to be passing to the northwest of Corvo tonight and tomorrow so perhaps we'll get some new bits in... I sure hope so. I also need to put my feet up and have an early night!
Northern Parula: 1st-winter male in Ribeira do Cantinho
Great Shearwater: c.30 past off the windmills this evening
Saturday, 8 October 2011
Azores: Day 7
Aside two great rugby victories early this morning, the birds have been great too. In fact today has had it all; relief, joy, exhaustion, pain and also a little frustration late on!
This morning, the France v England game was interrupted by a message on the walkie-talkies that a 'wood warbler' was present in tamarisks below the airfield. "American or European?!" I replied. "American" came the answer and off we went.
After a bit of a wait, the bird came out to play. I was the first to get views of the bird on the deck, and it quickly became apparent it was a Yellow Warbler; presumably a 1st-winter male judging by the lovely bright yellow-green plumage. It was calling quite a bit with a typical Nearctic wood warbler "chip", with call and elusive/flighty behaviour reminding me very much of my first WP Yellow Warbler at Mizen Head (Cork) in 2008 - as with this one, also enjoyed alongside Ernie Davis! Nice start to the day! Following the warbler, I worked much of the upper/middle fields area, including alot of the tamarisks. The constant easterly airflow seems to have finally had an effect as I had no less than four Willow Warblers in the upper fields area. Not what we want! A (the) juvenile Barn Swallow also flew over.
We organised a taxi lift up to the valleys for 11:30; destination for Pierre and I was Cancelas as it hadn't been done for a couple of days. After working the lower reaches of both Cantinho and Cancelas with little luck, we began the ascent up the main part of the latter towards the lighthouse road. About 200 yards up on the north side, I twice heard a sharp "ziip" which excited me at first. However it did not call again and, with many Starlings around making odd noises, I dismissed it and continued some 50 yards or so further up the valley. Some 15 minutes later I had Pierre on the radio saying he had heard what he was sure was a wood-warbler calling four times down the valley from my position. I went back to meet him and we heard it twice more - it was at this point I realised it was more or less the same position I'd heard a bird earlier - shit!
Moving round to the north side of the valley, we again heard the bird call and Pierre picked it up, flitting around in the canopy. I soon got on to the bird and it was clear it was a rather splendid 1st-winter male Northern Parula! Fucking get in, at last the first find of the trip! A bright individual with lots of deep orange streaks on the yellow breast, it was a much better looker than the already-stunning female I saw on Tiree last year. We radio-ed the news out and a few people came to look; I think almost all connected.
Boosted by the find, we continued up the ribeira to the lighthouse road. From here, we decided to continue to the upper reaches of the valley above the road, and bang! Another yank popped out in front of me - Red-eyed Vireo! The bird showed well out in the open at about 10m range for 30 seconds or so, but managed to disappear by the time Pierre had walked round to meet me. We couldn't relocate it so decided to head back towards the reservoir.
Red-eyed Vireo spot, Upper Cancelas
The reservoir was fogged up, so we did the lower slopes of the hill and the valley to the south; amongst the few birds here were a Quail and a Woodcock. We continued south towards the juniper bushes on the hill above the 'Tennessee Valley', but again couldn't find much. Heading down in to the valley, it did not take us long to relocate the Tennessee Warbler still showing well at times and calling regularly, although it seems much more restless and mobile today in the company of two Willow Warblers. We left Vincent and Rafael to continue the plight for photographs, and headed down towards the Miradouro as the light was slowly going.
Now for the frustration. At dusk, just below the miradouro, Pierre and I had a small warbler-sized bird flew up from our right and buried itself in tamarisks above the road. I heard it utter a single soft, high-pitched "siit". It must have been another American wood warbler but what species remains a mystery as we couldn't relocate it in the ever-worsening light. Unsurprisingly, this will be our first port-of-call in the morning!
Today has been exhausting yet deeply rewarding, especially as the wind is still firmly stuck in the east. A half-decent low looks to be passing to the northwest of Corvo tomorrow and Monday, so perhaps we might get a few more birds.
By the way, the Blue-winged Warbler is also still here today (seen by others).
This is what Corvo does to white clothes.
Northern Parula: 1st-winter male found in Ribeira Cancelas
Tennessee Warbler: 1 still in valley above Miradouro
Yellow Warbler: 1st-winter male(?) in tamarisks below airstrip
Red-eyed Vireo: 1 found in upper Ribeira Cancelas
Willow Warbler: 6
Barn Swallow: 1 juvenile, Middle Fields
Friday, 7 October 2011
Azores: Day 6
The day started pretty lazy; no one was expecting new birds with the weather as it is and so most stayed around the village seawatching - some went to Cantinho but saw nothing. The seawatching was good; Olof connected with a juvenile Sabine's and a (the?) Fea's-type but I saw nothing more than lots of Great Shearwaters. A wander around the shoreline to the west of the windmills saw me eventually connect with the juvenile Spotted Sandpiper that has been around a while. I seawatched until around midday, before deciding to lazily walk back to the house for some lunch and an afternoon nap.
Until bang! Pierre found a Tennessee Warbler in the early afternoon in the valley northwest and above the Miradouro that overlooks the village. Fortunately, he rang me to tell me just as I was nodding off in an attempt to read my book. I panicked, and began to run up the hill towards the miradouro. Big mistake - it basically f**ked me up, but did make me realise how unfit I am. Some half an hour after the news broke, I finally made it to the valley in which the bird was present - it had been favouring large areas of fennel on the east side of the valley, but was very mobile and had only really been seen in flight.
I soon got on to the bird as it announced itself with a couple of typical Nearctic wood warbler-type "ticks" and then proceeded to perch in a juniper some 20 yards in front of me. Wow! I called the others over as I enjoyed excellent first views of the bird through binoculars; a lovely lime green on the upperparts and rump, with obvious paler yellowish supercilium, sharp grey bill, yellowish throat and breast, and whiter underside and undertail coverts. We enjoyed further views both in flight and in the fennel, and enjoyed the bird's high-pitched zitting. One thing that struck me was how long the bird remained stationary as it fed - so much so that I'm hoping to go back tomorrow to try and digiscope it! Not at all like other warblers, and nothing like the two flighty Willow Warblers in the vicinity.
The rest of the day was spent with Pierre heading around the slopes west of the 'Tennessee valley', as well as in the upper fields. No more birds aside a Quail, but I don't care - magnifique and big thanks to PAC for finding a bird on a day when everyone else was down in the dumps!
Lots of Great Shearwaters still offshore this evening and a Whimbrel flew over (European). Guess the pterodroma is still out there somewhere.
The windmill this evening.
Tennessee Warbler: 1 above the Miradouro
Spotted Sandpiper: 1 on rocks below airstrip
Whimbrel: 1 on rocks below airstrip in morning then over village this evening
Willow Warbler: 2 above Miradouro
Great Shearwater: 300+ past today
Quail: 1 on upper slopes above Vila Nova
Also Striped Dolphins (5+) today, and a Basking Shark yesterday!
Thursday, 6 October 2011
Azores: Day 5
The Blue-winged Warbler is still here today, and I enjoyed more brief views of this little stunner - it seems alot more mobile than it did on Monday although is not too difficult to locate thanks to it's call. Afterwards, I headed back down to the village where a seawatch off the windmills produced perhaps 150 or more Great Shearwaters, with similar numbers of Cory's and a couple of Common Terns:
Olof picked up the juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron down on the rocks, so I walked round and took a few photos:
The most exciting sighting of the day however, was this very large container ship off the west of Corvo and heading south past Flores:
Perhaps a few birds were on board?
Blue-winged Warbler: still @ Ribeira da Ponte
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: juvenile still at Vila do Corvo
Great Shearwater: 150+ offshore
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Azores: Day 4
This morning, I started up at Cantinho (above) as I quite liked the look of the place yesterday. I worked much of the valley from the low to middle roads, but found absolutely nothing! The plan for the morning was to concentrate effort from as many observers as possible on to Fojo in the hope of turning up a surprise or two, so I walked back along the middle road to the top of the valley. I headed in, and spent an hour walking very slowly down to the picnic site – the best bird I saw was a Woodcock! Whilst I sat at the picnic site with René discussing the lack of birds, the radio crackled to life – alas it turned out to be a series of updates from birders around Fojo and further afield – no-one had seen anything, and it appeared even the Blue-winged Warbler had gone from da Ponte!
With nothing doing in the valleys I decided to head up to the reservoir, accompanied by Daniel. I had five waders flying high over the hillside briefly but they disappeared in to the low cloud (fog) – bizarrely they looked most like Turnstones. We found very little around the reservoir area; I flushed two very Common-looking Snipe from the north side. I still don’t believe Wilson’s exist in the Azores ;-)
Walked back down to the village via the fig trees along the shortcut; again no Baltimore Oriole. Things are real quiet right now! Also my feet are pretty fucked:
Update 17:00: the Blue-winged Warbler has been re-found in da Ponte... that will please today’s new arrivals (three of them). René left this afternoon so there are now 16 birders on the island.
Had an evening seawatch off the village this evening; enjoyable views of about 100 Great Shearwaters offshore with lesser numbers of the usual Cory’s. Also a few Common Terns.
Great Shearwater: c.100 off the village this evening
Common Snipe: 2 at the reservoir