Thursday 31 October 2013

The autumn that just keeps on giving...

Hermit Thrush, Porthgwarra, 30th October 2013

Two hours after dawn and we were all going through the motions, slowly accepting that the bird had gone. Then, as if by magic, up it popped - and what a cracker it was! Though it could disappear for extended periods, we enjoyed some stunning views, although it was almost always obscured hence the ropey shots. The bottom pic was taken through a load of grasses and twigs hence the slightly hazed look.

Friday 25 October 2013

Hit and run

First-winter Cape May Warbler, Baltasound (Unst), 24th October 2013

One hour on Unst yesterday, perfect timing with the Cape May Warbler refound as we arrived. Half an hour of blinding views as it hopped about on the ground just a few metres away. Great pilot, great team. Twitching in Britain at its best!

Sunday 20 October 2013

South Coast Semi

First-winter Semipalmated Plover along Hayling seafront, 20th October

Not really a bird to poke a 400mm lens at, the closest we had it was about 25 metres. After hearing it call once at Black Point just before the entire flock flew off, we relocated the bird along the beach at Hayling seafront where it showed reasonably well in windy conditions. A subtle and challenging bird that showed the suite of features you'd want to see (though admittedly I couldn't see the semipalmations on the views I had), and a welcome grip-back just 75 miles from home - I never bothered attempting to see either last year's Hebridean bird or the Kerry bird of 2011.

My guess is that three in three years is just the beginning of a new-found regularity that will see British & Irish records occur much more frequently in the coming years, but only time will tell.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Concluding a fine trip...

...not with a bird from the States, but a lost Oystercatcher of the Central Asian subspecies longipes. I was pretty impressed with how distinctive it was - the brown wash to the upperparts and broad white collar integral to this. By hiding behind a rock on the beach, I was able to obtain some good views and therefore images.

And so, with a final few shots of the bird in to the setting sun, that was that for another fabulous Azorean trip. I'm back in London now, already looking forward to 2014.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Yellow-throated still

The bird - perhaps a first-winter female(?) - showed superbly well in the magic junipers at the top of Poco d'Agua at times today, though could go missing for up to an hour.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Yellow-throated Warbler

Not enough time to say anything more right now, so here's my own ropey record shots. Much better stuff at Gwent Birding and Tarsiger. Bed beckons, so I'm fresh for another assault tomorrow.

Oh, and this White-throated Sparrow (a first for the Azores, no less) was found just a stone's throw away, just above the caldeira road:

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Past couple of days...

The past 48 hours have had their ups and downs but boy, have we seen some good birds. Yesterday started well with a group of Finns calling a [Common] Buzzard above Do Vinte. I saw the bird a few minutes later and it was clear that wasn't what it was - long-winged, very dark underparts - it had to be a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk! Sadly the bird quickly disappeared northwards and consequently I disappeared in to the depths of Poco d'Agua.

D'Agua was very still, and I amused myself with various juvenile Cory's Shearwaters in their burrows before being distracted by what I'm fairly sure was a Yellow Warbler. It didn't find the lower parts of the valley to its liking, though, and I lost it a few minutes later without getting a clear view. I moved on, working the entirety of the valley to the top and was soon alerted to the Hawk flying high above Pico. It was bloody high and seemed to be making an attempt to reach the caldeira, but failed on numerous attempts over the next thirty minutes. Eventually, after chasing it up and down the caldeira road trying to get some decent photos, I finally had some good views between Lapa and Da Ponte. I've got a reasonable series of shots of this fantastic bird, which is (I think) only the second dark morph - and therefore definite sanctijohannis - Rough-leg to be seen in Europe.

Juvenile Rough-legged Hawk, Corvo, 14th October 2013

On the way down there appeared to be some scrambled message about the Black-throated Blue being relocated in Cantinho, but this was dismissed by the original finder (and perhaps one or two others), so I headed down to the main road where I bumped in to Graeme, Chris, Tom and David. David and I hung back waiting for the hawk to reappear while the others started heading down to the village. A great stroke of luck came as we approached Lapa only to hear Graeme radio that they'd just found a Philadelphia Vireo just below the road there! The bird showed fantastically well for the next 45 minutes or so before it moved down in to the valley and we all headed back down to the village.

For once, a showy Philadelphia Vireo.

Sipping a coffee at the Bandits a little while later came the gut-wrenching news that the Black-throated Blue relocation was true after all. Five of us rushed up there in the taxi but by that point everyone else had left Cantinho, the light was going and unsurprisingly our search drew a blank. As such the day really ended on an unnecessarily sour note given that we'd seen some great birds during the day.

Fortunately, the sour grapes didn't last long this morning as the Black-throated Blue was seen very well on numerous occasions this morning, often feeding just metres away on the ground(!). A stunning bird, the blue was really brought to life on odd occasion sunlight penetrated low enough to the forest floor and illuminated the colours. Simply amazing - one of my dream birds.

 Monster Black-throated Blue, lurking in the dark depths of Cantinho.

Eventually hauled myself out of Cantinho early afternoon and slowly ambled back towards the village - distant views of the Rough-legged Hawk up towards the caldeira and a Peregrine passing offshore were the only distractions.

Back in the village, a quick search for the elusive Yellowthroat in pretty windy conditions proved fruitless. After a half-hour rest in the guesthouse, I hit the fields but news then broke that the Polish team had discovered an American Robin on the slopes of the caldeira! An uncontrollable and unnecessary urge to twitch overcame me so I met up with David and a few others to get a taxi up there. Just as the taxi arrived, the Mourning Dove was relocated in its favoured spot in the village so we quickly stopped off there to see it. Porning it, as they usually do, and seemingly unfazed by the cat sat five metres away - ominous stuff! We got up to the caldeira road only to find the robin hadn't been seen for some time, so we came back down to the village for seconds of the dove. The Peregrine flew over as it showed, and that concluded another fine day on Corvo...

Westerlies for the rest of the week. There should be more new birds before I leave on Friday, and probably afterwards too. Hopefully there won't be a repeat of last year's Caspian Plover/Prairie Warbler fiasco.

Sunday 13 October 2013

A kind of 'rest day'

The weather has been pretty rotten here today as a system (not coming from anywhere good I hasten to add) ploughs its way through the Azores - the wind got stronger as the day wore on and as such no-one (apart from Pierre and Julien) ventured away from the village. Bird of the day was a Mourning Dove that gave most a good run around the village - in fact, a small group of us with the dove already safely on our lists from previous years entertained ourselves by watching the rest of the crowd charging around in the abhorrent conditions from the shelter of the Comodoro balcony! Entertaining stuff.

In other news, the waxwing was seen again while I managed some close (but brief and generally obscured) views of the Northern Parula in tamarisks down by the airstrip. I've seen this species every year I've come here!

 Northern Parula. Very nice it was, too - as they always are.

The weather forecast is for calmer conditions tomorrow, so I'm anticipating everyone hitting the valleys once more and (hopefully) one or two new birds.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Did you Ce-dar Waxwing?

Awful pun, I know, but a bloody brilliant bird. Both Pierre and I overslept this morning and consequently missed the second taxi up to the ribeiras, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just as we were donning our boots, Phil Abbott radioed in that he'd flushed a large, yellowish bunting-type bird which had descended in to the middle fields, so we popped up there to help the search. Splitting up to walk the fields, Vincent and I soon noticed Pierre getting pretty animated behind us. And then it transpired that a small brownish blob sat just a few metres away from him was a first-winter Cedar Waxwing...! Bloody hell!

With the news broadcast, we settled in to photograph the bird. Although mobile at times (and heard to call on several occasions!), the bird spent most of the time sitting around closing its eyes, looking exhausted. Perhaps due to tiredness, it proved pretty fearless (though occasionally fed on berries just a few metres from us) and naturally posed for some great photos.

Soon after, a shout went up for a tanager which transpired to be a Bobolink once it was pinned down - no doubt the original bird Phil had seen earlier in the morning. Many of the assembled crowd then spread out the fields, while some of us - including myself - went up the valleys. While on the way up, Lars Mortensen discovered a Common Yellowthroat near the Bobolink spot - clearly, for whatever reason, there had been a good arrival of birds and confidence was high for further discoveries.

I started off by walking up to the top of Poco d'Agua from the middle road. The gradient here is pretty intense and as such the birding can be quite difficult. I had nothing in the more wooded areas but, in the junipers near the very top, I saw a bird shoot past me with a pale underside - on split second views, it looked like a vireo but I couldn't say for sure. Then it popped up on a bush fifty metres away - nice stripy face, green upperparts - fuck yeah! Red-eyed Vireo! OK, so the commonest passerine to occur here but importantly the duck is now broken. It proved pretty mobile and elusive, though I did manage a couple of record shots for documentation.

The rest of the day proved fruitless as I worked the top of Da Ponte, Lapa above the road, the reservoir slopes and finally the 'Tennessee Valley' before descending back in to the village. Long, tiring day but some great birds.

Friday 11 October 2013

Good Corvo times...

Had a really good day today. After toiling around Cantinho and Fojo in the morning and not seeing a lot (no sound of the wood-warbler heard yesterday), I ambled down to the picnic area and had decent views of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak there. By this point, it was mid-afternoon and I joined a team heading to the Lighthouse Valley, including newly-arrived Julien Mazenauer. The Black-and-white Warbler was on show in its usual spot and allowed for some photographs to be taken:

Then it was back to Fojo, where we received word that the Rose-breasted Grosbeak was returning to a large piece of fallen corn to feed. It took about 45 minutes to show and, in the meantime, a mobile Indigo Bunting was seen and heard zipping around, and a couple of showers ensured we were soaked. That said, it was well worth the wait when the grosbeak finally showed. A completely fearless bird, it came down to the corn at a distance of five metres and afforded us some astounding views:

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Bah, humbug!

Long old day - started by walking the entirety of Cancelas, the bottom of Cantinho and bits of the bottom of Poco d'Agua before the heavens opened and I got absolutely sodden. Walked back to the village, had a cup of coffee, found out that the Black-and-white Warbler in Lighthouse Valley had been showing well so headed up there with Vincent, David, Rafa and Christian.

The warbler really saved the day. It was a nice, bright first-winter male that showed really well at the end of the valley, commuting between the large pine and the famous junipers on the south side. Light was poor, and my photos continue to be of poor standard compared to the big boys (not surprising!).

Tuesday 8 October 2013

If you go down in the woods today...

... Ribeira da Ponte, specifically, you'd have seen a fine first-winter male American Redstart. Found mid-afternoon by Gordon Beck very close to where he found last year's Magnolia Warbler, the bird showed very well through to early evening when we left. Though it would go missing for short periods and was quite mobile, it regularly re-announced its presence with a typical wood-warbler 'tsiip' and responded very well to tape. However, in the dark ribeiras, good photos are obtained only by the professionals - a bird constantly on the move up high in the canopy makes for a difficult subject for mere mortals such as I. Views through the bins were absolutely mind-blowing though. A great start to the trip - with good (not great, but decent enough) winds forecast, hopefully a few more birds yet.

Monday 7 October 2013

Azores day one: Terceira

Very, very brief post from Terceira airport - about to fly to Faial. Lots of nice waders yesterday on Terceira - a typical selection of stuff in the quarry with Short-billed Dow, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Spotted Sandpiper plus the usual Pecs, White-rumps and Semi-pees (Plover and Sandpiper).

First-winter Short-billed Dowitcher in the quarry

N. (p.) hudsonicus

 Nearby in Praia da Vitoria harbour, we were entertained by the most incredible wader I've ever seen. A really fresh juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper (about as good as they get), but also stupidly tame. It regularly walked within 50cm of me as I lay on the ground taking photos. 

Juvenile White-rump in Praia da Vitoria harbour