Saturday 20 October 2012

Back in London...

... considering what could have been. Corvo is amazing. Bring on 2013.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Final full days on Corvo (weather permitting)

The sun is slowly setting to the west this evening on what is my last full day on the island. Today has been a little quiet, although yesterday ended up producing yet more great birds.

I started yesterday morning in Cantinho, spending four hours up there until I started to lose concentration and talk to the trees. Heading out on to Lighthouse Road, heard that David had relocated the Wood Thrush in Cancelas so spent some time scrambling around the top of the valley there, but saw nothing. Meeting Eric at da Ponte, we decided to head back towards the village when PAC alerted us to a couple of snipe in Lapa - turned out to be nothing interesting so the three of us ambled back along the road towards the miradour. Pierre then picked up a distant thrush in a cow field which transpired to be an American Robin; he called it just as I was about to speculate on the possibility of Eyebrowed Thrush...! The twitch soon formed and the bird showed well - below are my digibinned efforts:

Leaving the thrush, PAC and I once again continued back towards the village only to be called back by a mystery passerine flushed by Eric and David from the roadside. The bird proved to be a Lincoln's Sparrow - seen well only by me (the flusher from the field) for two hours until it finally returned to its favoured tamarisk and most enjoyed decent views. My final act of the day was checking out the American Herring Gull, which was still blogging about at the west end of the runway and looking decidedly healthier than the evening previous.

This morning, there were big blue skies and the wind had completely dropped, so Eric and I headed up the caldeira. I flushed a Wilson's Snipe twice from the north side and, having never seen the taxon before, was genuinely surprised at how obvious the bird was. The white trailing edge to the wing was almost non-existent, the underwing was so heavily barred it looked dark, and the flanks were also extensively and densely barred. I also saw the bird land on the deck, and had decent views of it running around on the floor before it found a little hole to creep in to - remarkably cold-looking compared to the 40+ Common Snipe seen in the caldeira during the morning. The upperwing was very dark with very pale, crisp fringing to the upperparts. Eric and I later flushed a possible second bird which, although not as obvious, had plenty of features suggestive of delicata.

Other birds in the caldeira included a couple of useful Azores ticks - Pink-footed Goose and Osprey - as well as a drake Black Duck, 25+ White-rumped Sandpipers, the juvenile American Golden Plover, 5 Wheatears and a couple of female-type Teal although no sign of the recent Great Blue Heron.

The rest of the day proved pretty lazy in the pleasant weather conditions, with very few bits seen. Tried for the Parula/Yellowthroat combo and also the Lincoln's with no success, although the latter was still around. I checked the dump for the smiths but no sign, and didn't see much else around the village aside a Wheatear.

Willet on Sao Miguel today. Just hoping that we can fly tomorrow.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Quiet 15th, crazy 16th

Another couple of days to report back on. Yesterday (Monday 15th) proved a difficult day. I started in the Lighthouse Valley with PAC and Eric; we had 'my' Red-eyed Vireo from GWW day, but little else. Climbing out the valley, we were greeted by a text suggesting a possible Mourning Warbler in da Ponte. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day there - no MW, and not much else to rave about.

Today was much more promising. Many went back to da Ponte for second helpings of the MW dip. I continued on to Fojo, and spent the morning walking up and down the slopes about the picnic area. In four hours of staring a dense laurels, I saw precisely nothing so headed up and out of the wood and on to the lighthouse road. Meeting Ernie Davis, we decided to work the upper part of Poco d'Agua and see what happened. Absolutely nothing, to be precise! Although both Hannu and Ernie saw a thrush with a red tail, which we will all check out tomorrow morning.

I decided to head towards the reservoir, working the upper parts of Lapa as I headed there. Nothing in Lapa, but 9+ White-rumped Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Plovers bombing around the reservoir. Finally, Hannu located the Solitary Sandpiper showing well on the small muddy patch of the north side of the reservoir which eventually showed to two metres..!

Hannu and the Solitary.

My heart sunk shortly after when Vincent and Pierre found a Common Yellowthroat in the yams at the top of Lapa; I'd walked this spot just an hour before and had nothing but a Snipe - bollocks! Decided to head back down and try it out, while PAC went up towards the reservoir. After a few minutes there was a loud 'tsiip' and Vincent and I were expecting the yellowthroat to pop back out. No sign, so I walked up the valley and pished - bang! Small warbler with white spots in the outer tail feathers... it lands... fuck! Northern Parula! I was more relieved than anything, being happy just to have finally found something decent out here. The bird was mobile, although showed well on and off over the following couple of hours.

Back down in the village, Gordon, Ernie and I set out on an evening lap of the airfield to see if anything turned up. One of the gulls hanging in the wind over the west end of the airfield this evening proved to be a messed up, near-adult Herring-type - further scrutiny when it finally landed on some rocks (after floating around on the sea with wings open, looking half dead!) showed plenty of features suggestive of American Herring Gull - which it must be, given the weather. As we watched this bird, Ernie radio'd with news of a Canada Goose flying west towards us from the windmills! Sure enough, the goose flew over our heads shortly afterwards, before turning back and heading out to sea to the southeast. Looking at the size and structure (as well as dark breast) it looks a decent candidate for interior (Todd's), not too dissimilar to the bird I found in Co. Mayo in January.

Knackered smiths and big breakers

Digibined record shot; note the mantle colour looks so dark as the bird is soaked!

Presumed Todd's flying around over the airfield.

In the meantime, Gordon had found a moribund teal species by the windmills and had a Laughing Gull fly past! Vincent and I headed round for the teal, which I was easily able to pick up and put in my pocket. Although far from an obvious candidate, it looks likely thay this bird is a female Green-winged Teal (not surprising given the weather), although we'll take some feathers for DNA analysis to make sure either way. I took the bird down to the SPEA girls, who will rest it overnight and let us know how it is in the morning - it seems the bird is more tired than unwell, as it had plenty of fat left and seem fairly spritely despite being unable to fly off. Fingers crossed it makes a full recovery; a nice way to end an eventful day which ended in a genuinely dynamic manner - everyone seems optimistic that new birds will be found over the next couple of days...

The teal in the safe hands of SPEA.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Birds still arriving

 It's been a pretty decent couple of days, although don't let the long lists of birds fool you - finding and seeing birds out here is just as hard (and exhausting!) as ever.

Yesterday was a day devoted to the valleys. We started in Fojo where I flushed the Wood Thrush from its usual spot 'behind the wall', although views were again brief and poor - frustrating! Waded down to the bottom of Fojo for the following hour or so seeing nothing. Pierre and I subsequently worked both Cantinho and Cancelas - again nothing save a (the) Barn Swallow flying north over Cantinho towards Lighthouse Valley.

It was turning in to a quiet day as I ambled my way through the upper fields during the evening, but the radio then crackled in to life announcing a wood-warbler - probably a Tennessee - in the middle fields! I headed down but missed the little critter, although as we were charging around the fields Pete re-found the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, which suddenly appeared in the tamarisks! Flying to a more distant patch of tamarisks, it revealed a bright red underwing (= male), and proceeded to give excellent views - a real bonus; thought it had done one! Long and short, there was no further sign of the Tennessee, which it was confirmed as thanks to more excellent shots from Vincent.

This morning started in Fojo yet again, although there was no sign of the Wood Thrush early doors and, while ambling down through the north slope of the wood, David's dulcet tones calmly relayed news of a Dickcissel in the middle fields, which he had just found. Mass panic once more as people ran, scrambled or simply fell out of Fojo in the bid to reach the nearest road. Half an hour later, we were all watching the bird - a first-winter male (quite a lot of yellow in the head pattern and breast) as it scrotted around with House Sparrows and regularly gave a high-pitched 'spink' from exposed
perches. Nice - much nicer than I had anticipated!

Other bits today included a brief view of the grosbeak again in flight and, this evening, excellent views of the Tennessee Warbler which was relocated in the middle fields by Eric. Although mobile, it was much better behaved than last year's bird but was silent. In other news, Pierre found a Philadelphia Vireo in da Ponte (seen, then gone again within minutes), while I walked all over the mountain and through lots of fields yet still failed to find a landbird of any kind. Nevertheless, a really showy juvenile White-rump was on the reservoir road as was a Semipalmated Plover, eating worms from a small wet patch by the side of the concrete - ridiculous! Also had a further four Semi-pees flying around the village and two Indigo Buntings in Lapa - they've been there for a few days now.

Juv White-rump on a hill.

Semipee in typical habitat (road).
Juvenile Cory's showing well by its nest in Lapa.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring. The wind is still in the west, and it's raining. Tomorrow promises calmer weather - maybe a good finding day...

Friday 12 October 2012

Golden Wonder

I said around 24 hours ago that I'd update my blog no more than every two days. Well, today sure merits a bit of effort to throw something together

The day started as that previous, in the top part of Fojo looking for the Wood Thrush. No sign of the thrush but we did hear a couple of contact calls from the Blackpoll (not seen). Then the radio crackled in to life - "GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER IN LIGHTHOUSE VALLEY" was repeated several times and everyone scrambled out of the wood and started to run north like a bunch of headless chickens.

Meeting Jens on the way there, it transpired that he had seen the bird briefly on a juniper bush before it had disappeared, not to be seen again. We headed down to the valley, but there was no sign of the beast - in the mean time, I managed to find a Red-eyed Vireo in dense vegetation midway along the valley and the French machine Pierre picked up a Black-and-white Warbler at the GWW site. The Black-and-white showed extremely well to most; I was one of the few people who had just a few calls and flight views - maybe I'll try it again over the next few days. In the meantime, the weather got pretty awful, with heavy rain and a strong westerly blowing down the valley and causing most of the birds to take cover. The next couple of hours were the most miserable I've endured on The Rock; we all ended up pretty soaked although eventually it did brighten up slightly and the Golden-winged search could begin again.

With the Black-and-white again showing in the improved conditions early afternoon, we were starting to believe the Golden-winged had done one. Deciding that the bird must have moved somewhere different, I elected to head up the valley and check some of the more sheltered areas beyond where I'd had the vireo in the morning. Plenty of searching but no reward; I was out of the valley a minute too late to see the bittern-type bird Stew flushed from fields on the south side. I continued to walk along the north side of the valley until, a further 100m up, I heard a wood-warbler give a sharp 'tsiip' call. Five minutes later, another 'tsiip' and then a flash of yellow - holy fuck! The bird landed on top of a hydrangea, and there was no mistaking it - black mask, black throat, ridiculous golden-yellow wings and forehead - it was the Golden-winged Warbler!

I couldn't find my radio in my panic and just started to wave like a maniac until those gathered down the valley saw me. Fortunately Ernie was on hand to put out my message on the walkie talkie and soon the twitch started to gather pace; thankfully the bird obliged and showed incredibly well for the next hour or so (down to 3m) - one of those monster WP birds that everyone dreamed (but no-one dared to believe) would turn up here. Simply incredible - words cannot describe! I even managed some digibinned pics; the fourth pic down shows the tiny hydrangea stand the bird spent about half an hour in.

On the way back, we had great views of the vocal Indigo Bunting at da Ponte bridge. Back in the village in the evening Pierre found an American Barn Swallow showing extremely well over the middle fields - a perfect end to a brilliant day.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Corvo: days 1 to 2

I'm afraid there's not too much to blog about here; sure there have been some fantastic birds in the first 24 hours of being on the island but no images - not having an SLR essentially renders you useless on Corvo in terms of photos to show off.

After meeting Jens S√łgaard Hansen at Lisbon airport early yesterday morning, we spent a few birdless hours on Faial before our plane to Corvo. The best bird was a Wheatear by Horta harbour - amazing to think this boy has just flown 2,000km to get here, and is now about to do the same distance across to Africa for the winter.

Greenland Wheatear at Horta, Faial.

Finally arriving on The Rock at around 15:45, we were in da Ponte by 16:30 where an incredibly similar situation to last year panned out. Within five minutes of arriving at the bottom of the valley, I had relocated Gordon Beck's Magnolia Warbler - no more than a few yards from where we first saw last year's Blue-winged. Incredible start!

Wasting no time, I ran up to Fojo to meet PAC in the hope the Wood Thrush might show. On the way, I had two Cliff Swallows feeding over fields near Poco d'Agua with four House Martins. Nice distraction, but was soon on my way again. To cut a long story short, we didn't see the thrush by 18:45 when we left although, on the walk down, the Indigo Bunting popped in to the usual tree at da Ponte - being a Corvo novice, another new bird for me.

This morning, first stop was Fojo. Within five minutes of arrival, I picked up an obscured bird scrotting around in the leaf litter in the 'usual' spot - sure enough, it moved slightly revealing itself to be the Wood Thrush as suspected, although views were distant and it quickly disappeared. Over the next two hours, I only had flight views of the bird as it zoomed past us down the valley - I'll be back there again tomorrow morning. In the meantime, man-of-the-moment Gordon Beck (along with Ernie Davis) had found a wood-warbler just 50m from where we were standing. Shortly after I heard a couple of contact calls and we scrambled up the slopes and quick were on to the bird. Christian and I enjoyed superb views at just five metres' range and, as Ernie and Gordon suspected, the bird was a crisp-looking Blackpoll Warbler - cracking!

The rest of the day was spent exploring the rest of Fojo, as well as do Vinte and the little wood on the slopes just south of there. I saw a grand total of nothing before heading down to the village late afternoon, where my plan was to explore the fields and perhaps photograph some waders. I popped back to my apartment (I have a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and lounge all to myself! Photos soon) and managed to fall asleep until around 18:30. A quick walk down to the windmills produced nothing of note, and that was my day. With birds at a premium, my best discovery of the day were eight cannabis plants in do Vinte; evidently one of the islander's prized crop and, by the looks of things, several different strains as the buds were different shapes and colours. Sadly it later transpired that David had already found them yesterday, so not one for the self-found list..!

Cannabis close-up

Yank habitat in do Vinte.

I've decided to update the blog every two days; internet is much worse than I remembered here and the connection in my room doesn't work at all. Hopefully have some more arrivals to report back on soon and, all being well, some photographs too.

Sunday 7 October 2012

King Deal

Belted Kingfisher habitat, Lough Fee.

Like many others, I headed west towards County Galway for Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the near freezing temperatures and crystal clear skies in west Ireland revealed an inevitable outcome - Friday's Eastern Kingbird on Inishmore (a Western Palearctic first) had done an overnight bunk.

Nevetheless, massive consolation was provided by a magnificent male Belted Kingfisher in the heart of Connemara - just a few kilometres from a likely-looking sea loch which I have deliberately searched for the species both in this and previous autumns!

Describing a BK as 'consolation' simply doesn't seem fair. It was an awesome beast, and every bit as satisfying following the heartbreaking miss back in April 2005 (dipped it in Yorks and couldn't get a lift when it was in Aberdeens). Regularly giving its characteristic rattling call, it also spent a lot of time flaunting its crest and cocking its tail though remained wary and mobile throughout the morning, coughing up the odd pellet and occasionally also having a shit.

Amazingly, at around 12:45, it flew high - very high - until it became just a dot in the 'scope, disappearing over the mountains to the south of the lough. Heading round to Kylemore Lough, some 4km to the south, our team (John, Will, Pierre and I) spent some time searching for the bird without success until, at 13:25 when stood on the N59 bridge just east of Kylemore Abbey, PAC picked up the kingfisher flying in from the east! Giving stunning flight views, it flew right over our heads and continued westwards past the abbey out of view - we couldn't quite believe that, some 7km from the original location, a speculative stop had resulted in a relocation!

Although not seen again initially, a couple of teams scored on the lake by the abbey mid-afternoon but, after flying off, the bird was not seen again. Given how restless it seemed (perhaps not many fish in these loughs?), no sign doesn't seem surprising. Hopefully it is refound again for the Galway birders who didn't connect.

Finally, congratulations to Hugh Delaney et al. who are having an incredible few days on Inishmore. Fair play lads - you deserve it.

Now, get me to Corvo...

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Weekend highlights

Didn't really look at many birds this weekend. Spent most of the time with the little critter above, my mother's new springer pup Molly. She's at that stage where she has to bite literally anything and everything, but otherwise is good as gold.

I did visit my old patch, Baston & Langtoft Pits, to reminisce. On 28th September 2007, I had two Great Skuas through here among an amazing passage of non-passerines. No such luck over the weekend, but Black-headed Gulls were evidently moving, bringing with them a few Common, Lesser Black-backed and this adult Yellow-legged:

Michahellis are always decent patchs bird for me as we don't get many gulls; September seems to be peak time as birds filter back southwards. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot doing aside 50 Golden Plovers, a few flyover Siskins, a Hobby and a Green Sandpiper. A Chiffchaff spent the weekend in our garden, and was singing during the sunnier spells. A big flock of Starlings on the patch failed to reveal the hoped-for Rosy Pastor, although they looked pretty smart in the autumnal sunshine.

I'm flying to the Azores on Saturday. Pretty pumped, just hoping for a westerly blow while I'm there this time. Last year, I only got the most pathetic of light westerlies during my visit which still delivered a couple of monster hirundines. The forecast looks decent for the next few days on Corvo although quietening down in to next week.