Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Corvo rocks

Ok, so we flew to Corvo today. Finally, and after dumping the bags at the Comodoro, Arthur and I headed out straight away. Vincent, Josh and PAC had given me the lowdown on where to go for any potential lingerers this year and little more than 200 metres from the guesthouse the Mourning Dove flew over heading into fields near the Cape Verde farm. Corvo magic again, and bizarrely my third of this species in the WP (following birds in the Outer Hebs in 1999 and Galway in 2007).

So, then literally two minutes later, we headed just down the hill to look for the dove when Arthur calmly says 'I've got an American sparrow' and within seconds there was a really rather nice diminutive Lincoln's Sparrow scrubbing around - the third for the WP, presuming it is different from the bird at the power station a couple of weeks ago (which it may or may not be). To be honest, we were both rather shell shocked as we'd put in some effort over the last couple of days on Flores with little reward and back on this magic island things were very different. This was a new bird for me, so made up with it and we got some nice views. Our initial luck abated somewhat, as we could only muster a Willow Warbler and the three Cranes that locals had seen (and photographed) earlier had headed north from the village - only the second record for the Azores. So 2 hours birding on Corvo and already 2 quality yank passerines. I'll say this again, anyone else fancy doing the late show here next year too? Just the two of us and two Finns, so loads of scope to find your own stuff.

Lincoln's Sparrow - a true Corvo special with all WP records coming from this small island
Almost forgot about Flores, but the morning was pretty decent - a nice Monarch butterfly looking pretty screwed at Ponta Delgada, a bit of a scare with a Moorhen near a ribeira at the most northwest point of the island, the drake Wood Duck, 5 American Wigeons, 2 Black Duck/hybrids, Ring-billed and Med Gulls, 7 Semi-p Plovers and 3 White-rumped Sands. You get a little complacent out here.
Azorean autumn 2012 wader selection - White-rumped Sand and Semi-p Plover

adult Ring-billed Gull, Ponta Delgada
The weather has quietened down here (thanks for the text Mum), so we'll be hitting the east side of Corvo hard tomorrow to see whether there are any new/lingering megas. And hope those Cranes show up too!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Torrential conditions in the mid-Atlantic

Having had the flight cancelled yesterday, we woke up to this: -
The natural swimming baths at Santa Cruz, Flores - wouldn't fancy it today
It was some mad storm, with schools closed and loads of landslides across the island. Probably more rain in one day than I see in London in a year, with all flights across the western and central Azorean islands cancelled apparently. Just a shame that the wind was from the east.

Anyway, birds wise it was pleasant though unspectacular (for an Azorean context this autumn at least). Each time I've visited the old soccer pitch at Ponta Delgada, it has felt rare and with 11 White-rumped Sands and 5 Semi-p Plovers walking around at point blank range, today was no exception. Nearby, there was an adult Ring-billed Gull and White-rumped Sand at Ponta do Albarnaz but anything the size of a passerine was staying low or getting blown about like a leaf.
juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper - one of eleven on the soccer pitch on Flores
So to Faja Grande, as the middle of the island was covered in fog, and I managed to find a Skylark before it quickly got blown away - an Azores tick no less! Four Semi-p Plovers walking around a village field was nice too, though rather gripping was news of a 'small swallow' from the couple of Finns who have also got stranded here on Flores. Retrospectively, they put the name Cliff Swallow to it but, alas, there was no further sign.
1st-winter Semi-p Plover on the soccer pitch too - showing off what you need to see with an obvious orange bill base, narrow breast band, yellow eye ring, nice white lores at the base of the lower mandible and obvious pale fringed coverts
Meant to fly onto Corvo tomorrow. We will see... not got too high hopes though.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Failure to get onto the rock

It all started so well this morning on Terceira, with a juvenile Surf Scoter showing nicely in the inner harbour at Praia da Vitoria. The handful of immature Common/Black Scoters were also still about, though all the roosting gulls had dispersed despite looking at dawn.
Surf Scoter at Praia da Vitoria, Terceira
A trip to Cabo da Praia revealed the usual suite of yank waders - you get complacent here, especially this year with the quick 'chip' of White-rumped Sandpipers being the commonest call in the quarry. Nice to see a few vagrants lingering, and in years gone by, if they're here this late on then they may well winter at Cabo.
1st-winter White-rumped Sandpiper - really variable regarding their moult

Little and large - Lesser Yellowlegs and White-rumped Sandpiper at Cabo da Praia
The middle of Terceira was, as is often the case, shrouded in fog so there was no chance of looking at Lagoa do Junco or Cabrito. So instead, we headed to Angra where the Pied-billed Grebe was still doing its usual thing around the boats in the marina. Then it was back to the airport where there were a couple of Snow Buntings, a juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper and yesterday's Golden Plover. Not too much wind, a pleasant day with expectations of getting to Corvo high. Flight left on time, arrived on Corvo where a hair-raising landing signalled that things weren't going to go to plan. After a couple of hours waiting, SATA announced that they'd cancelled the flight and Wednesday was the next opportunity to fly on. So, stuck here on Flores - it could be worse with SATA picking up the bill for the inconvenience and being on the westernmost European island, but it is still not Corvo...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Back on the Azores for the late show

It's been real tough of late. Updating the Azores Bird Sightings website from London while everyone basks in the glory of their 2012 stint on the rock, combined with the usual crazy days at school and all those rare sibes during the week on the British east coast. But, at last, I finally arrived on the Azores yesterday morning and met up with Sao Miguel birding legend Gerby Michielsen and my good buddy Vincent Legrand, fresh off Corvo the previous day with his usual selection of mind blowing images. And certainly for Vincent, it was back down to earth with a bang, while for me it felt like one of those nights where you roll up to a party that is just winding down... but I guess we'll see what happens this week.
Ring-necked Ducks at Lagoa das Furnas
Highlights on Sao Miguel yesterday included a couple of female (adult and 1st-winter) Ring-necked Ducks, the usual Pied-billed Grebe at Lagoa Azul and a Green-winged Teal at Lagoa dos Espraiados. We searched forlornly for ghosts of birds that we knew had gone - such as the Willet and Little Blue Heron - and we even managed to dip a couple of Double-crested Cormorants that had been chilling out on rocks at Vila Franca do Campo (that Gerby found there midweek) that were seen in the morning (and again today). Other highlights included Gerby almost getting his hand bitten off my a pretty mean mofo of a dog that he thought was his friend, and Vincent being renamed unintentionally as Victor for the day by Gerby. Oh yeah, and Pochard was an Azores tick...
Pochard at Lagoa das Furnas
And so today, it was to Terceira which is always packed full of birds. Arthur had already arrived last night, so as soon as my flight arrived we hit the sites. We managed to find a couple of new birds - a 1st-winter Bonaparte's Gull in the gull roost at Praia da Vitoria, and a 1st-winter drake American Wigeon at Paul da Praia. Otherwise, it was great to see two Double-crested Cormorants together at Ilheu da Mina just to the west of Porto Martins - a place I'd dipped this species with Lee G back in November 2008. Five (presumed!) Common Scoters and a Euro Golden Plover at Lajes airfield were both nice new Azores birds for me. And of course, you can never not mention the legend that is Cabo da Praia - c.60 White-rumped Sandpipers were brilliant stuff (more than I've seen in total in the WP before today), 8 Semi-p Plovers and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs were the yank offering today.
One of many White-rumped Sandpipers at Cabo da Praia

Semipalmated Plover - one of eight at Cabo da Praia
Meant to fly to Corvo tomorrow. See whether the weather is on our side.
juvenile Cory's Shearwater - a common site across the islands in late October

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Wet wet wet

The forecast looked decent last night for East Kent - northeasterly winds with rain overnight. Though the rain persisted, we got wet and the birds decided to keep hiding. Starting off at dawn at King George V memorial park in Ramsgate, trying to re-live the Bluetail dream 4 years ago but with, predictably, no result bar a Chiffchaff and a few crests. Punctuated by a breakfast stop to shelter from the lousy weather, it was the same story at Northdown Park and Shuart too, with a similar line up of species though quite a few thrushes were passing through.

Wanting to get something out of the day, we headed back west towards Faversham and with the rain intensifying, thought we'd played another poor move. However, after a brief wait we got back out into the elements and hot footed it along the seawall from the Sportman's pub at Seasalter. There was a Wheatear looking pretty bedraggled, and loads of Dark-bellied Brents on the mud - good to see them back in force including several juveniles. And a mile or so on, I picked out the adult Red-breasted Goose feeding close in with the flock. Best views I've had of this species in the UK (a wild one at least), though it seemed not to be greatly appreciated by the accompanying Brents, which behaved agressively towards it (just look at the middle image above!).

School's out Friday. Bring on the Azores.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Med Gull - Polish origin traced

A couple of weeks ago on 7th October, I saw this adult Med Gull in the ASDA car park off Bugsby's Way, North Greenwich, London: -

PJN0 was ringed as a nestling in Western Poland on 21st June 2009 at Zb. Nyski, Wojcice, OPolskie - 749 miles straight line distance from Greenwich.
It was seen again at its birth site on 27th May 2011, as a second-summer, but hadn't been seen since. It's always fascinating tracking indvidual birds, and you get a lot of info from colour-ringing gulls compared to a lot of other ringing schemes. I'll be interested to see whether this bird lingers around Greenwich for the winter, or whether it has already headed off (I couldn't find it this weekend in a couple of brief looks). And also, will it be back to breed in the colony of its birth next summer?

Thanks to Adam Bassett for his assistance, as well as the Polish Bird Ringing Scheme.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Yellow-legged Gulls in the hand

An early start, and back into the routine of visiting Pitsea landfill site to get some close gull action. Today started off worryingly, with news that there's a DEFRA directive of no food waste on landfill sites - with little of the 'good stuff for gulls' now coming to the main tip. Fortunately, some moist stuff does still get in with the dry waste so the gulls were out in force. So much so that we were on the tip from 7am til 4pm, which meant 3 catches - a massive 569 gulls ringed in total, including 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (all colour-ringed) with just a small selection of the shots that I took of these three birds here: -
Adult (colour-ringed YJ4T)

Adult (colour-ringed YJ5T)

2nd-winter (colour-ringed YJ6T)

395 Herring Gulls were processed, of which I ringed a few...
Also, be on the lookout for colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls - 52 birds with yellow rings starting 2A followed by another two letters were processed today.
On the way out, there was a nice showy fox that didn't seem too bothered with me papping it as it devoured Hawky's leftover sandwiches.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Polish immigrant

I'd meant to do this post earlier this evening, but running the Azores Bird Sightings website seems to have taken over my life at the moment. Looking on enviously with what is going on over there - it's still a distant 3 weeks til I go - the London offering is pretty sobering. But, within the few miles of my flat, there is always birding potential along the River Thames.

Having got back from Ireland early afternoon yesterday, I headed out for a spot of late lunch with Karen in Greenwich. Once this was finished, while driving along the road in North Greenwich, I spotted an adult Med Gull over an Asda car park with a few Black-headed Gulls - still a notable bird in London. As it was within a mile or so of where I'd seen last week's Polish ringed bird, it wasn't surprising that it was indeed this bad boy again - and still yet to hear from the ringers, it is definitely Polish, as the bottom photo here allows you to read the ring inscription as being from Gdansk. I had to open the £1.69 loaf of bread we'd just purchased to lure it in, much to Karen's annoyance as she felt it wasted on a Polish gull. But this Med Gull, PJN0, had expensive taste.

Also, a male Black Redstart still just chilling on the Greenwich peninsular. Sometimes a bit of relaxed local stuff is a nice anecdote from the manic nature of hardcore British and Irish listing.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A tale of two kings

Shattered after one of those autumn pulse periods that won't be forgotten in a hurry. Hugh Delaney has blindly kept faith with Inishmore, County Galway, for years and years and having found a Myrtle Warbler a couple of years ago, he stepped it up to the max by finding the WP's first Eastern Kingbird on Friday. It doesn't get any bigger than that, so flights booked and ferry sorted, it was looking promising for the weekend... especially with some vague news of a Belted Kingfisher also in County Galway (I'd missed the 2005 bird as I was abroad).

So meeting up with Jerry, Dave, Bob and Lee G in the early hours at Stansted, and after a technical fault that delayed us for half an hour or so, we were on our way to Shannon... or so we thought. As we descended into Shannon, it was a complete pea souper and after an aborted landing and a fair amount of circling we were told we had to divert and land in Dublin! Not good, though news already filtered through whilst airborne that the Kingbird hadn't been seen so the pressure was off a little. However, for me and Lee G, the Belted K had firmed up, so there was still some urgency and a plan was hatched for our arrival in Dublin.

We legged it through the airport, and treating good old Ryanair's offer of a courtesy bus to Shannon with the contempt it deserved, hired a car and screamed across the country arriving in beautiful Connemara, Galway within three hours. With still no sign of the Kingbird (having obviously departed), focus on the BK was the target but we arrived at Lough Fee 20 minutes after it had flown off high south towards Kylemore. Josh, PAC and Peggers had then seen it from the road flying towards Kylemore Abbey so the chase was on for a nervous couple of hours until, bang, Jim L located it sitting unobtrusively in low branches on the small lake west of the abbey.

The staff here were absolutely blinding, waivering the 12.50 euro entrance fee for us so long as some photos get sent their way of this rare visitor. Anyway, I watched the bird for over an hour until just shy of 4pm when having had a couple of pops at fishing and calling a couple of times, it headed back east. And that was the last sighting of the bird, at least up until as I write this.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Galway - a fantastically scenic site made even better by the presence of the BK
We managed to get back to Shannon for a decent time, booking a hotel, have a decent Chinese washed down by a couple of pints of the black stuff whilst watching the video of the Long-toed Stint video too at Weirwood. A crying shame the Kingbird wasn't around, but for someone who has seen a fair few birds, getting a BOU/IRBC tick out of the weekend was unreal as I'd have gone for the BK alone of course. Every cloud has a silver lining.
No pot of gold at the end, but an impressive rainbow(s) with Connemara as the backdrop