Sunday 26 October 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Porthgwarra, 24 October 2014

Comfortably the highlight of my British and Irish year. What a cracker!

Unfortunately not the easiest bird to photograph despite being pretty tame, it generally sat partially (or totally!) obscured and thus 'clean' shots were very difficult to obtain.

Left London on news at 09:30 on Friday morning, arriving at PG around 14:30. Bird last showed a short while after 17:30. It appeared to be feeding quite avidly on caterpillars (not sure of species) and generally seemed quite healthy, though it did spend one ten-minute period sat out on closing its eyes late afternoon. I was pretty surprised that it wasn't there on Saturday morning, but Friday evening was cold and clear - perhaps it simply moved on?

Wednesday 15 October 2014


Found by Hannu today - a lovely first-winter male in da Ponte. Cracking bird, terrible photo. Otherwise I appear to have hit a mental and physical brick wall. Saw a flock of White-rumps and a Pec bombing around the village. It's still blowing an absolute gale; the novelty is kind of wearing off now. Plane cancelled today, and not looking good for Friday.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

More wind than birds

As I type this the wind is absolutely howling outside - the storm is well and truly here. Looking at the forecast this isn't even a patch on what's coming in on Thursday!

So it's all very exciting being on a tiny island in the mid-Atlantic when the wind is blowing like this. Surely the birds will come? It's been surprisingly quiet today despite intensive coverage. The east side of the island is nice and sheltered, particularly at lower altitude, and the occasional sun today gave us hope that there'd be a few new discoveries. As it turned out Pierre's Northern Parula in Lapa late afternoon rescued a generally disappointing day (though I didn't see it). Three White-rumped Sandpipers and a Wilson's Snipe crash-landed in the old harbour were also new in.

Earlier in the day, the Wilson's Snipe that I'd photographed on Sunday was seen again around Fojo and later Poco de Agua. We chased it round for a bit attempting flight shots before leaving it be. The under and upperwing only confirm it as a classic Wilson's Snipe; sadly my handful of pics are awful (in poor light and at distance) but others managed far better of the underwing especially. Still, you can get an idea of the restricted white on the secondary tips from the image below - as well as the heavily barred outer tail feather if you squint hard enough.

Wilson's Snipe in flight

Hopefully more news to bring you in the next few days. Currently looks touch and go with regards to getting off the island on Friday. High seas today.

Monday 13 October 2014

Pete's cake

Not much to report on today from the field - had a Red-eyed Vireo at the Cape Verde Farm late this afternoon. The plane arrived safely this morning but soon after things got pretty windy and it's been worsening ever since - currently raining quite heavily. Let's hope birds will follow in the next few days.

In the meantime, Peter arrived and so a little party was thrown at the Comodoro (thanks Kathy) to celebrate his tenth autumn on the island. It's been said before but both birders and many islanders alike are indebted to Pete for finally realising the island's potential back in autumn 2005 and starting off what has become the highlight of many annual birding calendars. Cheers Pete.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Another slog for not a lot

When I woke this morning it was clear the weather had changed overnight - it was altogether windier and there was quite a bit of murk above the Miradouro. Still, I took the early taxi up in to the fog with a bunch of other optimistic souls and opted to head for Lighthouse Valley, as no one else fancied it. It turned out to be a long old morning with heavy rain ensuring I spent an hour sat under a rock while waiting for the weather to pass.

Eventually it cleared and I gave the valley a good thrashing but to no avail. I got back to the middle road about midday and ambled back to within phone signal range - Northern Parula and one or two Red-eyed Vireos had been found. Shortly after, bumped in to Hugues who'd also seen a probable Wilson's Snipe flying around near Fojo.

Went down towards the parula at the picnic site and as I ambled down the road I inadvertently surprised a snipe, which had evidently been feeding along the roadside. It only flew a little way but was immediately striking in appearance, despite the split-second view. Calmly rounding the corner, I found the snipe settled on the edge of a track. Slowly edging in to position, some great views (down to 10 metres or so) were had and it also afforded great photo opportunities. I'll let the photos below do the talking in terms of appearance but I can confirm that the axillaries were heavily barred and the secondaries showed only inconspicuous white tips when it flew off, flushed by the taxi coming down the road! For me, it's a really good Wilson's Snipe - incidentally one thing I noticed was that the bird routinely bobbed as it probed around in the track, rather like a Jack Snipe but less pronounced. Apparently V Legrand noticed this on the Ouessant bird of 2005 - is this behaviour a feature of delicata?

Wilson's Snipe, Fojo, 12 October 2014

The rest of the afternoon was spent working Lapa, the reservoir and the west side of the island. Best bird was a Pectoral Sandpiper flying around high above Lapa, but we couldn't relocate it up at the res - as I anticipated we would.

Lots more new birds today - Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, a number of Red-eyed Vireos etc etc.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Quiet day in the woods

After a couple of great days I guess I was due a slow one, and that's exactly how today panned out. My recent success (in fact, pretty much all of it on Corvo in the past four years) has been in the more open areas - fields, open valleys etc. So far this trip I'd managed to avoid going deep in to any of the wooded ribeiras altogether but that changed today when Pierre dragged me in to Cancelas. Three hours working up the valley produced absolutely nothing, though in the calm and sunny weather it certainly felt promising. Later I tried the southern fringes of do Vinte and also the top half of da Ponte. Nothing. Zilch. Sod all. There were a few new birds seen by others today though.

Woods. Too much time in the woods.

Friday 10 October 2014

REVved up

Today has been absolutely glorious - a cloudy but calm morning gave way to a stunningly warm afternoon with unbroken blue skies stretching far out in to the Atlantic in all directions. I made a last-minute decision this morning to start at Poco de Agua, working my way up from the Lighthouse Road to the caldeira slopes. Within 45 minutes I had my first Red-eyed Vireo of the year in the north arm of this brilliant valley - appearing from nowhere, it showed pretty well in the low light of early morning for a few minutes before zipping off out of view. It didn't come back in the next half an hour.

The rest of the valley lacked any quality despite plenty of bird activity, and so I headed down the caldeira road towards Lapa. By the time I'd started covering the middle section of the valley, the sun began to break through and I could feel my already singed neck beginning to turn redder.

A quick rendez-vous with Hannu suggested the lower part of the valley was quiet so I reorientated off up towards the reservoir, covering the upper section of Lapa as I went. It was about 100m below the top that I bumped in to my second Red-eyed Vireo of the day (hence the frankly excellent blog post title). This one was showing altogether better along the sheltered, sunny side of the valley so I sat and watched it for ten minutes or so.

Red-eyed Vireo, Ribeira da Lapa

REVs are really great birds - amid the grey of countless Blackcaps on Corvo you'll occasionally glimpse the contrasting olive and white of this species. Closer scrutiny tends to reveal the blue grey cap and then, when it turns to look at you, the stunning facial pattern and strong bill. I've found them each year I've been here but when a vireo appears in front of you it remains a genuinely pulsating moment - because they never call it's always by sight, and that means they tend to take you by surprise more than the often-vocal warblers.

The rest of my day was spent around the reservoir, down the west side of the island, back up to the white obelisk above Tennessee Valley, down the slopes to the power station and then back to the village late afternoon. As I mooched down, Michael Fricke found a Bobolink in the Lower Fields and so I headed around there. Sharp-eyed Phil Abbott happily relocated the bird and, although mobile, we had some nice views among the House Sparrows. It even called a few times for us too. How kind!

Both the grosbeak and tanager remain today though I steered clear of the inevitable crowds at both. It turns out Gary F photographed a second grosbeak in Lapa and we also have a new Indigo Bunting in the village. The only other bit of news on a personal level was a large pod of dolphins off the west side of the island late pm - no idea what species, far too distant for binoculars.

Thursday 9 October 2014

That's more like it ...

Today I started up at the reservoir again, hoping for better light and better pics of the pipit. Neither came - in fact it seems the pipit has gone. After I meandered down the seismic station valley on the west side of the island - a sure fire spot for newly-arrived Yanks, but nothing doing today.

After traversing back around the reservoir hill, I decided to cut across to the white obelisk on the hill to the south and then drop in to the so-called 'Tennessee Valley', named as such because the main man Pierre-andré found a Tennessee Warbler there in 2011. There's a great patch of junipers on the steep slopes here but they're very hard to access due to brambles, difficult terrain etc. As I worked my way down the wind dropped, the sun came out and it became very birdy - Chaffinches, Canaries and Blackcaps all around, and very showy.

Climbing over a wall, I said aloud [talking to oneself is the norm here]: "I'm going to find something here". Honestly, no more than a few seconds later, I put my bins up to scan a flock of Chaffinches sat on a juniper and there among them was a bigger bird with a stripy head and dock off bill - bloody Rose-breasted Grosbeak!

It soon flew but better views quickly followed, made only better by an interesting passerine that flew by with a high-pitched tick. Landing on a hydrangea for a couple of seconds, I was utterly ecstatic to see it was an Indigo Bunting before it dropped in to cover! How is this happening when the forecast has been so uninspiring?! As it turned out the bunting made a very quick exit - I only saw it once again in flight as it zoomed off up the valley. I had some decent views of the grosbeak over the next half hour but it quickly went more elusive - only Bosse saw it before the wind got up again and it vanished.

Thrilled with that I headed off down in to the valley itself where Daniele O, Marcin from Poland and Gary F were making their way up for the grozzer. I stopped for a roll (ham and cheese of course) before continuing. It was shortly after the roll that a Willow Warbler began calling to my right. Willow Warbler is a good bird here and this was the first of the autumn, so naturally I turned to look for it. What I hadn't bargained for was a yellow and black bird staring back at me with a beady black eye no more than ten metres away. Fuck about! It's a Scarlet Tanager! I was straight on the radio and Daniele, Marcin and Gary were quickly by my side, securing some great shots to document the beast.

The tanager turned out to be the most confiding bird of the afternoon and was twitched by most of the birders on the island - I believe it was still showing well at times late afternoon. Also this afternoon Bosse found a Red-eyed Vireo in tamarisks at the west end of the airstrip (a classic spot for newly-arrived birds) and a Lesser Yellowlegs was frantically flying around the village looking for somewhere to land - a nice discovery for Hugues.

So it seems, for reasons I can't quite fathom, we've had a nice arrival of Nearctic birds today. Long may it continue!

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Euro fodder

Bird of the day for me - a self-found Azores tick:

Other highlights included the party of Collared Doves having increased to three and my Little Stint still performing admirably in the harbour alongside its White-rumped Sand buddy.

That White-rumped was one of two seen today; the other was showing very well at the old reservoir early morning but alas flew off before the light improved enough for good quality images.

White-rumped Sandpiper at the old reservoir ...

... and the village bird still showing well around the old harbour

Same goes for the Buff-bellied Pipit at the reservoir - again an early morning job with low shutter speeds leaving images worth of the record shot tag only.

Buff-bellied Pipit - one of five seen on the island in the past week

For the record, my route today took me from the around the reservoir up to the caldera slopes, across to the top of Poco de Agua, down past the Yellow-throated Warbler spot to the lighthouse road, back south to the miradouro (the Yellow Wag was near the power station) and then to the village. I did one and a half circuits of the airstrip before throwing the towel in.

The forecast for next week looks great at the moment but will it all come too late for me? I leave next Friday.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

First full day on Corvo

Grim times today. Started off at the Lighthouse Valley with the rest of the new arrivals, and very quickly saw the Snowy Owl. The poor thing must be in a terrible state - it's missing most of its flight feathers, was soaking wet and (according to Darryl) makes a horrible whirring noise when it flies. So, while there is no denying that Snowy Owls are generally beautiful, regal birds, I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed by - and frankly quite sorry for - this altogether mouldy looking creature as it hopelessly flopped around the cliff top. Apparently when found on Sunday it was eating an Azorean Gull - if it's got to that stage, then it must be desperate times. Would be nice if someone could catch it and take it back to Canada but I suspect it'll be dead if it ever allows such a close approach.

And on that cheery note, it's worth rounding up my sightings today. The highlight was a seawatch off the windmills late afternoon which was pretty meagre in its offerings: a single Great Shearwater, a very distant Oceanodroma (Leach's/Band-rumped type) and the baffling sight of a Sooty Shearwater chasing Azorean Gulls around just offshore.

On the land the greatest excitement came from a (Common) Kestrel above the village late afternoon. Goodness knows how or why that's here. Otherwise my yomp around a number of difficult-to-reach and no doubt so far unchecked sites on the east side of the island produced... yes, you guessed it. Nada.

I did see this though - Corvo tick!

Slim pickings out west

Despite an aborted landing, finally managed to land on the hallowed turf at the second attempt - low cloud and miserable visibility meant the pilot struggled to make any sort of visual contact with the island!

A leisurely afternoon wander around the village produced the Spoonbill sheltering along the shore northwest of the airstrip, a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull at the rubbish dump and then a greyish first-winter stint in the old harbour. Hang on... what's this?! From a distance my instant reaction was Semipee, but it seemed to have quite a thin, tapering bill. I got really excited - could it even be a short-billed Western Sand?!

Alas, closer views brought me back to earth:

Yes, it was a Little Stint. From totally the opposite direction to what we want, but a big Corvo rarity nonetheless - not sure if there have been many (if any) previous records?

It was also temporarily joined by this White-rumped Sandpiper, which has been around a few days:

And that was about it for the day. One of the most pitiful returns I've known from Corvo on an early October day! But of course tomorrow is a new day and anything can happen. Suspect that we'll look for the Snowy Owl if the visibility allows before hitting the ribeiras - for what it's worth!

Here's the Lesser Black-backed Gull by the way. Gripped? I would be.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Back in the mid-Alantic

Second-winter Azorean Gull

Here we are, set for another season. Not overly enamoured by the week's forecast - expecting a struggle but to be honest, it's just nice to be back.

The Willet is surprisingly difficult at times but evidently has massive potential - a local was watching it to 15 metres when we arrived this afternoon but we didn't get very good views by comparison. First visit it flew off just after we arrived, second it wasn't present and third it spend most of its time hidden behind rocks at relative distance. Couple of poor record shots:

Western Willet, 5 October 2014

Next update from the Rock.