Our skipper Marco set us ashore in the little fishing village of Calhau on Sao Vicente where we arranged a car to Mindelo, the city on the island. Virtually the only birding spot (waders) on Sao Vicente is the sewage ponds just outside the city. Taxi distance, no rental car needed. We took a taxi there just before the sun rose. Once there we immediately understood that the rarity potential was great in the sewage ponds. Lot’s of waders everywhere, Whimbrels, Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers etc.
After a short while we found our first rarity, an Intermediate Egret. A bird we looked for like crazy on Santiago.
Shortly thereafter, we saw a Snipe flying, and none of us saw any white in the trailing edge on the wing of the bird. Could this be that Wilson’s Snipe we had been searching so hard for during the past months. We worked hard on the bird to get good photographs. We then saw two additional Snipes, and all three flew together and one of the birds stood out as slightly darker. Once we got pictures we felt pretty confident that we had found a Wilson’s Snipe.
This is a very difficult bird to safely identify, it can be confusingly like a Common Snipe. All dark underwing and very thin white trailing edge on the wing are the two most important id characters in the field.
The ponds also held a pair of Lesser Scaup. This also is bird that is non trivial to safely identify. One diagnostic character though, is the wing band if you can see the bird in flight. Greater Scaup wing band is all white, Lesser Scaup is half white, half grey.
We had high hopes also to find a rare American wader, apart from the Wilson’s, the sole yank in the ponds were a Lesser Yellowlegs.
eFinally, we were all setup for a pelagic to the famous island of Raso. To access the waters of Raso, the village of Tarrafal on Sao Nicolau is the starting point. There are no organised pelagics there, you have to organise a boat by some of the locals yourself. Arne Torkler and Martin Gottschling recommended a guy called Marco Salvatici who had a decent boat and we arranged with him to take us first to Raso and then to Branco where we haphazardly had decided to spend the night. You also have to organise the chum yourselves, we bought fish, chopped it up and put it in buckets. We bought oil and corn and popped pop corn. Once on the sea, we soon saw Shearwaters and assumed they were all Cape Verde Shearwater. The first one we could safely id turned out to be a Cory though.
Later in the day, we became more proficient at differentiating between the two Shearwaters, the Cape Verde Shearwater was smaller with a different flight jizz. There were more Cory’s Shearwaters than Cape Verde Shearwaters, thus good views are required to safely id a Cape Verde Shearwater.
Somewhere between Sao Nicolau and Raso we saw our first Fea’s Petrels in the distance, not close enough for any good photographs though.
We started chumming in the strait between Raso and Sao Nicolau. We used the same tactic that the Windbird guys did on Madeira. You pick you spot and stay with it. Distribute some chum, drift, drive up wind, repeat for hours. The chum seemed to attract a few birds but it wasn’t nearly as good as it was on Madeira. Some birds came in to inspect though. A single Fea’s came within photography distance.
No Cape Verde Storm-Petrels though which is what we were hoping for. The Boyd’s Shearwater we really didn’t dare expecting, we were told they were all in the South Atlantic by this time of the year.
Eventually we gave up the chumming and drove with the boat towards Raso. Raso is mostly famous for it’s endemic lark, the Raso Lark. It’s pretty amazing that a little rock like Raso can hold an endemic Lark. You are not allowed to go ashore on Raso to get good views of the lark, it’s strictly allowed for researchers only. Our friend Eduardo Garcia del Rei tried sort a research permit for us to no avail. It turned out that it was reasonably easy to see the larks from the boat though.
Raso holds a colony of Brown Boobys. Red-billed Tropicbirds breed next to the Boobys. And, a month ago, 22 Red-footed Boobys were seen in that colony by Arne Torkler and his friends.
Our hopes were set high for the Red-footed Booby but none were there. We decided to set anchor outside the colony and have lunch in the boat.
After a while, chilling in the sun, we saw an odd looking booby in the distance. Marco is quick with the anchor and we drove closer. And – dang – it’s a single Red-footed Booby in an odd immature plumage.
Spirits were high, the feeling when that rarity just comes flying in is hard to describe.
We decided to go to Branco, the next island where we had decided to spend the night. We hadn’t planned ahead for that so we hadn’t brought any gear – thinking that it would be ok to just curl up on a rock.
The skipper set us ashore on a beach where we could jump into the water and wade ashore. Together with us here was a birding team from Austria, Ruper Hafner and friends. We had decided to meet up on Branco with them. Close to the landing spot we found the colony, or at least we thought we did since there were droppings on all the stones and on the ground and we all decided to spend the night there.
Together with the Austrians we sat down, watching the sun set and waited for the dark. Once it got dark, we started to hear the first calls of the Cape Verde Storm-petrels and using our flash lights we tried to get views. The birds were fluttering in the dark, calling everywhere. Using the flash light, Erik spots a bigger bird in the dark, and we all see it well – it’s a Boyd’s Shearwater flying – calling. It turned out the colony was mixed, mostly Boyd’s, maybe a hundred of them. Quite a few Cape Verde Storm-petrel and the occasional late breeder Cape Verde Shearwater. A Storm-petrel flew right into us and we could pick up the confused bird.
Also the Boyd’s Shearwaters were confused on the ground, having troubles finding their bearings in the torch lights.
The whole night was a marvellous spectacle, with Storm-petrels and Shearawaters calling through the whole night. We’ll never forget this night, lying there on a rock, looking up at the stars with all the constellations in odd positions and the birds flying calling all through the night.
The next day, our skipper picked us up in the morning. We had arranged with him to drive us directly from Branco to Sao Vicente instead of going back to Sao Nicolau. We stopped for chumming in the strait between Santa Luzia and Sao Vicente but it was slow, just the occasional Shearwater.
What was a bit strange here was that we never saw any Cape Verde Storm-petrels neither any Boyd’s Shearwaters on the sea, we only saw them in the colony. The birds are apparently there now, at this time of the year, but apparently difficult to see on the sea.
November trip to Cap Verde, we’re planning to do 3 different islands here, the first being Santiago. Santiago hosts all the endemic land birds as well as all the passerine WP specialities.
A couple of weeks ago, a Black-headed Heron was seen here and that bird was high on our want-list. The first day we searched for the Black-headed Heron twice in the reservoir where it had been seen previously. First year-tick on Cap Verde was Grey-headed Kingfisher. The Kingfisher is abundant all over.
On our way up to the reservoir, we saw swifts, stopped and photographed the Cap Verde Swift.
Once at the reservoir, we started to scan. Cap Verde has an excellent track record for rare vagrant birds, anything can occur. However the reservoir only held the expected waders and herons. The rarest heron there was a Squacco Heron.
Counting subspecies, the Bourne’s Heron is also rare. It’s counted as a subspecies of Purple Heron.
A common bird around the reservoir as well all over the island was the local subspecies of Common Kestrel, (alexandri)
We walked a small path below the dam, and almost immediately heard the song of the Cap Verde Warbler (which we had just studied in the car) The warbler was cooperative and easy to photograph.
With the warbler bagged, we had a spectacular pork lunch in a little mountain restaurant. The endemic Iago Sparrows feeding around the restaurant.
Next up was the Cap Verde Buzzard, we drove to a mirador recommended by Arne Torkler. After scanning the mountain tops for a while we found two buzzards, we saw them several times and we had decent views in the scope. Too far away for any pictures. At the same spot, we also heard the Helmeted Guineafowl (cat C, introduced species ) calling. After some time a group came flying crashing into the bushes. Too fast for pictures though.
In the evening we went back to the reservoir. It was a show of Cattle Egrets coming in to roost. Nothing rare though. Just when we’re about to leave at last light, the Barn Owl (ssp detorta) came flying in. It felt like a tick, this Barn Owl was dark.
Next day, we headed east to the village of Pedra Badejo. Two pools there that looked interesting on Google maps. The first one held nothing out of the ordinary, but the second one was as MEGA as it can get in a listers life. First we found a Black Heron, it was feeding out in the open, doing it’s Night-time Day-time thing. This was 9’th for WP. Heavy.
Just 10 minutes later, up in the little creek we see a small cormorant fishing and we immediately understood that it was a Reed Cormorant.
This as much MEGA as it gets these days. It’s a first for Cap Verde, and the only other place it can be found inside WP is Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania.
After lunch we went to investigate a couple of ponds in the city of Tarrafal, In one of the ponds a White-winged Tern sat, That just has be a rare bird here given it’s easterly distribution.
Update: It turns out that the Tern is the first for Cap Verde ever.
Tried one under birded reservoir that held nothing special, beautiful place though.
We spent the evening – once again – at the reservoir scanning through all the Cattle Egrets.
After a couple of days at home after the last dip trip, we set out again towards our neighbour countries, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. First up was Stejneger’s Stonechat trapped and ringed at the famous Gedser Birding station. The Stonechat was released and then seen regularly for several days in the area. Driving south from Copenhagen, we see the bird being reported in the BirdAlarm app and we feel tick-confident. Once we arrive, the Stonechat is gone though, never to be seen again. We, together with quite a few Danish birders searched all day to no avail. Our dipping is now starting to becoming more than irritating and we’re starting to crack bad jokes about that this bad streak started just after Erik mocked God in a post.
Next destination is a long staying Stellar’s Eider two hours drive south of Oslo in Norway. When we finally walk down towards the fjord and the Stellar’s is just sitting there waiting to be ticked, we almost don’t feel joy, only relief – now everything turns for the better.
Last – and by far, the most interesting country on this trip is Iceland. There had been westerly winds for some time, and they would continue. Iceland is a vagrant magnet, and American birds are regularly seen there in fall. As we’re sitting in the airport waiting for the flight to Reykjavik, Birding Iceland reports a newly landed Hermit Thrush, the timing couldn’t have been better. The Thrush was seen very close the lake where Barrow’s Goldeneye can be seen, thus that was our first destination on Iceland. Unfortunately, the Thrush was gone, but we did land the Goldeneye.
In the evening we met up with Edward Rickson and spoke about tactics for the upcoming days. Edward decided to join us on the next day. The next morning we met up in he village of Grindavik, according to Edward a sure spot for Harlequin Duck, and also a possible spot for Gyr Falcon. The weather this day was spectacular with high winds, and a gale forecast for the afternoon. It was almost impossible to scan the bay with the scope due to the wind and waves. Finally we spot a few Harlequin Ducks at the other side of the bay. Drove there to get better views, and managed to get poor pictures of the wonderful hardy ducks.
We spent the remainder of the day searching for Gyrfalcon. The Keflavik point west of Reykjavik holds 1cy Gyrfalcons every winter. It’s just a matter of spending time on the site.
Gulling is nice on Iceland in general, both Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull are common.
Other common birds were Long-tailed Duck, Common Loon, Common Eider and also the nice Icelandic subspecies of Wren.
Eventually the weather became unbearable, mean wind was measured to 43 m/s late in the afternoon and we had give up.
The next day was entirely devoted to Gyrfalcon search. We combined driving slowly with the car scanning, with just standing at strategic points watching, waiting for that sign of gulls in panic mode. Late in the afternoon, driving, I see the Gyrfalcon, it went down behind a small hill and was gone. Neither Mårten nor Erik saw it and we had to continue searching. Close to where I saw the Falcon, we spot a group of Ptarmigans, this is the Gyrfalcon favourite food.
Late in the afternoon we tried another bay, where we were able to connect closely with Harlequin Ducks again. Erik got some great shots.
This has to be the most handsome duck in the WP. The same bay also had cooperative Purple Sandpipers.
Last day, flight is booked and we have a couple of hours in the morning to search for the Gyrfalcon. Same tactic as before, just spend time in the area. After a few hours we see that sign of panicking Gulls far away and we scan with the binoculars. Mårten screams JAG HAR DEN, JAG HAR DEN and indeed a Gyrfalcon is patrolling the coast. We drive like crazy down the coast to try intercept the bird at the Lighthouse. Too late though, a minute later we see a large group of scared Gulls further down the coast. We drive down, and sure enough, the impressive Falcon sits there on a pole intimidating a group of Widgeons. We drive closer, and then the Falcon decides to fly just above our heads.
Ten minutes later, we have to leave for the airport in order to catch the plane. Phuwwww.
Finally, thanks for the help Edward, it was a pleasure meeting you. Birding Iceland wrote about our visit here.
On Oct 24 we set out for a fairly unplanned twitching tour. There were quite a few possibilities for us in the UK/Ireland but also on mainland Europe. First destination was a Wilson’s Phalarope that had been present in Kent/UK for over two weeks. This was our second attempt at Wilson’s Phalarope, the first one was eaten by a Pergrine in France a couple of weeks ago. This one seemed certain though, however when we arrive at the site the Phalarope is gone. Dip. This was our second visit to the awesome site of Oare Marshes, the first one, months ago we ticked Long-billed Dowitcher. That same bird was still there this time too.
The disappointment of dipping is hard, it affects the mood in the group and it’s easy to cater dark thoughts only. Furthermore, twitching on Europe scale is both costly and time consuming. It’s probably the case that if we had just thrown ourselves on a plane at first opportunity for every reported bird this fall, we would have had a few more ticks, but we would definitely have had more dips too.
At this point time we had a few options, an Upland Sandpiper in France and two Grey-cheeked Thrushes in Cork/Ireland – we opted for Ireland. Once again, when we arrive at the site – the bird is gone. The Thrush at Rosscarberry had been seen in the afternoon the day before we arrived. Dip again. Some nice birding at the site though.
The other Thush in Cork, at Galley Head was also gone. We had to settle for a few Firecrests.
At this point we either wanted to go to London or Stockholm, tickets there were unreasonably expensive though, so we settled for Copenhagen where a Dusky Warbler had been residing just an hours drive from Copenhagen. WE arrived in Copenhagen late afternoon and since the Dusky had been searched for all day, but not seen, we never even tried for the Dusky Warbler. Instead, we drove from Copenhagen to Öland, and finally, at first light in the morning we’re able to connect with this beauty. A Two-barred Warbler.
At last!!!! a tick.
Quite a few Swedish birders are there at the site, all doing proactive ticking. According to Swedish taxonomy committee this bird is still considered to be conspecific to Greenish Warbler. They were all counting on that to change in the not too distant future.
There is a rule amongst Corvo birders that say – Rule #1 – Never leave Corvo. The reason for this is of course that it’s impossible to predict when that special day arrives, when the yanks come falling down. We had an additional very slow and boring day without an inkling of anything, except of course the impossible Upland Sandpiper around the Resorvoir and the even more impossible Yellow-billed Cuckoo around the Campsite. We walked the Riberia da Ponte, worked the fields of Lapa and walked around the Reservoir. In the evening of Oct 17 we decided to break Rule #1 and leave Corvo for one day on Terceira and one day on the main Island Sao Miguel where the endemic Azores Bullfinch resides. The idea being that we then decide later weather to return to Corvo or not.
On Oct 18 we search for the Upland Sandpiper in the morning and then return to pack up our stuff and fly. Two hours before the flight we receive an alarm in the WhatsApp group, a Dicksissel had just been found on the Lapa fields, we’re able to twitch it in the nick of time. When we arrive to the Lapa fields the bird is gone and we sit down to wait. Time ticks, and eventually we have to call the taxi to get to the airport. Just as the taxi arrives, so does the Dicksissel which flies in and land in the trees it was seen in a few hours earlier.
We fly to Terceira and together with Eduardo Garcia del Rey easily tick the American Coot recently found in the Reservoir there.
Spent some time in the famous quarry trying to get photographs of the snipes, some suspicious individuals but shots probably too poor to safely id that Wilson’s Snipe.
In the evening at the harbour we discover two adult Sandwitch Terns and one 1cy Sandwitch which looks a bit odd to us. We take photographs, and together with Eduardo and Michael Gerber we manage to get some shots. We send the pictures to PAC who replies that the Tern looks very good for Cabot’s Tern. Eduardo has much better photos that can be made available later on.
Next day we return to the harbour to try to get better pictures, the suspicious Tern was seen leaving the harbour at first light. We did return later in the day, and the Tern was back in the harbour at noon. Also visited the quarry again – of course. Plenty of American waders and ducks there.
We leave for Sau Miguel and go searching for the endemic Azores Bullfinch which turned out to be harder to locate than we thought. After a couple of hours of searching we find a few and get decent, albeit short views. No photographs.
In the evening in the hotel room we have to make the decision weather to leave for mainland Europe or go back to Corvo. There had been a few new birds coming in, but no major fallout, thus we decided to leave the Azores. None of us were especially eager to spend another week watching Chaffinches on Corvo. This was probably the biggest mistake we have done in the year. The day we spend flying back, we started to receive the reports back from Corvo. This day, the day we spent in various boring airports turned out to be – the day on Corvo. All in all 14 different American landbirds were seen – and we missed them all. We broke “Rule #1” and payed the price.
First day of this blog post, which is day 7 for us on Corvo, we decided to go up to the famous Caldeira, that is the actual crater of the vulcano. This is one crazy beautiful place. Mårten walking up the Caldeira.
Our main target in the Caldeira was the elusive and difficult to id Wilson’s Snipe. We walked all the moorlands inside the crater flushing snipes trying hard to get photos of all the flushed snipes. Here is Mårten wetting his boots.
All flushed Snipes were deemed to be Common Snipe. It’s not easy though, and observation just though the bins might look perfect, but once you see the pic – not so much. Birding the village in the afternoon.
Next day, day 8 on Corvo, Oct 13, rainy day. We started out with some sea watching. Plenty of Cory’s Shearwater and one Sooty. Other birders found a dying Leach’s Storm-petrel in a garden. In the evening rain stopped, PAC found a Blackpoll warbler in the tamarisk above the garbage dump. Everyone went there.
At the time, we all got decent views, however the bird, or actually birds, there were two, stayed and are still here, and we later get good photos.
Day 9, Oct 14 – our big dip day. We started out by making the most idiotic decision we have done this year by splitting up. Mårten and Erik were so eager to work hard and I was – well not. They go with the first taxi-bus to Ribeira Fojo and I bird the village. Idiotic. They did find two REVs, nice but not a year tick.
I was birding the village and a Common Yellow-throat was reported above the Rubbish dump. I go there and assume they will somehow get the news of this and get down to the village. Hectic. The Yellowthroat is kinda gone so nothing lost. Once we get in contact, an alarm on an unidentified sparrow (very very interesting) as well as an alarm in the Ribeira furthermost on the island, the Lighthouse Valley on a Black-throated Green Warbler. Dip. And even more horrible, after we gave up the on the Black-throated Green in Lighthouse Valley, the one birder, Per Forsberg, that stayed got the bird. Later in the same day Vincent Legrande sees and alarms an Upland Sandpiper, we go there – dip. Also, the impossible-to-see Yellow-billed Cuckoo was seen. So, all in all this was a most horrible day, several fantastic birds seen on the island – and we see zero.
Day 9, Oct 15 turned out to be the day. Now it turned. We started out in the village by trying to relocate the Yellowthroat. Maybe at 10 o’clock Mika Bruun sees and alarms a Blackburnian Warbler in Tennessee Valley, this is 5th for WP. Everyone runs, we on the other hand are so pissed with the experience of yesterday so we (STUPIDLY) decided to stay and continue the search for the Yellowthroat. After maybe an hour, we get more reports that the Blackburnian is re-found and we decide to go there. Once at the site, up the mountain, the bird is just not there. After maybe an hour or so of waiting, a new alarm arrives, unidentified warbler further up on the same mountain. We all run, and soon we got certain id of Yellow-throated Vireo. All birders are running up, except a few that stay on the Blackburnian site. Just 5 minutes after all birders except just a few left the Tennessee Valley site of the Blackburnian Warbler, it’s reported on the radio that the damned Blackburnian shows again – at the original spot. We all run towards the Vireo instead and we got it just in the nick of time.
Just after we saw the Vireo, it disappeared, never to be seen again. We went back to the site of the Blackburnian and sat down to wait. After a short time, it’s seen further up the valley and – again – all birders run. We all got to see the bird, albeit poorly. Lots of adrenaline.
Once down in the village, I’m sort of dead, whereas the young guns still have energy and keep on birding. Again PAC (In PAC we trust) finds the bird we need and they call me and I get running again. Wonderful views of Common Yelllowthroat.
PAC flushed the bird for us, and we all got it good. Together with WP top birders Ernie Davies and Chris Bell.
Top day, 3 new year ticks in a day.
Day 10, Oct 16. Winds have been exceptionally good last days and they appear to continue to be so. This morning winds are very strong westerlies together with heavy rain. A juvenile Surf-Scoter was resting in the harbour.
Once the rain subsided we decided to walk up to the reservoir, searching for the Upland Sandpiper, the alleged Greater Yellowlegs seen there and of course Wilson’s Snipe. We see a few Snipes, but the winds are too strong to get decent photos of flying Snipes. We see a flying Yellowlegs, but it was a lesser. A Semipalmated Sandpiper on the way back was all we had.
We’re finally on that famous birding destination Corvo, a.k.a The Rock. It’s a small island in the western most part of The Azores. When American birds get lost in the storms on the Atlantic, this is where they end up.
It was fairly recently discovered what an amazing migrant trap Corvo was, these days WP birders flock to the island in October, waiting for that MEGA to land. By now it’s very well organised, all birders have walki-talkies and bird news is announced on the radio as well as on a WhatsApp group that everyone is connected to. It’s also a very nice and social environment here, birders from almost all countries in Europe join up and search for vagrants. There is dinner in a restaurant at 8 o’clock every evening and it is jointly organised. Pierre-Andre Crochet is doing great work as organiser of most things. Thanks PAC!
We arrived in the afternoon, and after unloading the luggage at Guest House Comodore which is the place to stay here, we immediately set off. The Comodore is fully booked by birders, and we were told by friends to book well in advance. We booked in December last year. In the old harbour a Belted Kingfisher as well as two Northern Waterthrushes had been seen on and off for the last couple of days. Before trying for the Kingfisher we decided on a quick lunch. When we came out on the street after lunch and started to walk down towards the harbour, an alarm came in – Bobolink up on the Island found by Danish birder Lars Mortensen.
Stressfull, what to choose, Kingfisher or Bobolink. We decided to spend 5 minutes first on the Kingfisher, and then go up on the Island by taxi for the Bobolink. The Bobolink was seen close to one of the Riberias called “Rebeira do Poco de Agua”. It’s important to learn the names of all the birding sites here. A “Ribeira” is a steep valley ravine with forest. The rest of the island is cow pastures and this is probably what makes Corvo so good for birding – there are no forests for birds to hide in.
No luck on the elusive Kingfisher, even though other birders had seen it just 10 minutes before we arrived. Up on the Island, Lars Mortensen was on site helping us to locate the Bobolink. After maybe an hour of searching Mårten finds the bird and calls on the radio.
Erik and I run – but too late – the bird is gone. We continue to search, and finally after a few more hours of searching the steep fields we’re able to connect with the bird again and we all see it. Fast down the mountain with Taxi again. They have an elaborate Taxi system here, driving birders en masse up and down the mountain. The Kingfisher was gone though, the last siting was the one just 10 minutes before we had our short 5-minute attempt. Much searching was done for the Belted Kingfisher this day and the following days, but the bird was truly gone. We also had the Waterthrush to work on, the Waterthrushes had been seen in the tamarisk on the lower fields, next to the airstrip. Several birders search for the shy Waterthrushes and we can hear the birds calling several times inside the tamarisk. Soon we all get it. No pictures though, it’s an elusive quick bird.
Day two, we run on an alarm on Philadelphia Vireo from upper parts of Ribeira do Vinte found by famous WP birder PAC. When we’re accessing the Riberia from the Upper road, two bad things happen. The bird moved down and is now in the lower parts of do Vinte and it starts to rain as if there is no tomorrow. We take shelter for the rain in a cave!! and have no real high hopes for the Vireo. Eventually the rain gives up and PAC calls on the radio and says that he still has the bird, and that he also has a Red-eyed Vireo. We slide through mud down the steep ravine and it’s simply not possible to get any wetter and muddier. We reach PAC together with Lars Mortensen and we get both birds.
Truly a good start on Corvo. Next day we finally had no alarms to act on, and we could go searching ourselves. It’s always more fun to find your own birds than to run after other peoples birds. We decided on Riberia do Cantinho and worked ourselves upwards in the ravine. Mårten and I on one side and Erik on the other. This is extremely exciting birding, slowly working through a ravine full of thickets, moss and high trees. Stopping, listening, looking, playbacking, walking slowly. After a couple of hours Erik calls on the radio in full on falsetto – Shit I have an Ovenbird –
Mårten and I make our way to Eriks side of the Riberia and we start to try to relocate the Ovenbird which is gone by now. This is a very skulky bird who almost never shows well. After many hours we have all three seen the rarity. Erik is in heaven, so are the other birders that arrived when we called out the Ovenbird on the radio. Many people dipped the Ovenbird though since it was almost hopeless.
Day four we decided to start birding in the fields close to the village. Soon there is an alarm on Rose-breasted Grosbeak which was never refound by anyone. Then, by lunch a group of birders call out a flying Yellow-billed Cuckoo that we searched for extensively. This Cuckoo was very shy, and it was seen this day and the following day – briefly – by several. We were never able to connect with i though, although we spent hour after hour searching in the tamarisk bushes the Cuckoo seemed to prefer.
Next day we decided to have reprisal of self-found birds and started in the morning by walking the Riberia da Ponte. Beautiful ravine, but no yanks. Once we reached the top, we got a new alarm on the Yellow-billed Cuckoo from yesterday. Taxi down the mountain and fruitless Cuckoo searching for the remainder of the day. Boring. It’s interesting that a Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been close to the village for two days, many have searched for it and maybe 5 birders have seen it. So, it’s certainly possible to miss out on birds here.
In the evening though some good news arrived, the Belted Kingfisher had re-appeared on the Island of Flores which is close. Erik started to organise a joint boat trip to Flores for the next day. Quite a few birders from quite a few different countries joined up to search on the neighbour island.
It was a dip – and now we feel very very strongly that we need some flow.
We’re on the move again, after doing not so much at home for a week. We’re back on the Azores, the island of Terceira which hosts the best wader spot in all of WP. The pond close to Cabo De Praia, also known as the quarry. We have spent two days here on Terceira before going to Corvo where we’ll search for lost Yanks together with quite a few other WP birders.
The first bird we went for was a Redhead who had been lingering in a pond in the city of Praia Da Vitoria since end of August. The bird has been moulting heavily, however the wings look fresh now so the bird is ready to go. We were probably lucky to get it now before it leaves.
Next we went together with Catalonian birder Rafael Armada to the pond. The Grey-tailed Tattler that had been in the pond since summer appeared to be gone. We did find two Blue-winged Teals though, that was tick number 715 for us.
The number of species of waders in the pond was staggering, of the more exotic it’s worth to mention: Two Temminck’s Stint (apparently rare on the Azores we learned today), 7 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 4 Pectoral Sandpipers, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, lots of Semi-palmated Plovers and one Baird’s Sandpiper.
We spent quite some time scanning through flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls, looking for that one American Herring Gull. No luck. We revisited Lago da Junco where we last time saw quite a few Common Snipes, this time we went back looking for Wilson’s Snipe. There were no snipes at all there this time.
We also searched hard in various little patches of forest on the western side of the Island searching for lost American songbirds. Exciting type of birding, walking slowly by your self listening attentively for that odd call. Mostly found Atlantic Canaries and odd sounding Chaffinches.
Checked the pond in the city late in the evening and thought we found a Spotted Sandpiper, apparently Rafa had already found it earlier today. Great bird anyways.
Tomorrow, Corvo in October – pretty famous WP birding spot.
As previously planned we went on a September twitch tour. WP twitching on this scale is pretty strenuous, it involves many boring kilometers in rental cars and many boring flights. Also the amount of actual birding is pretty low, OTOH once you reach that target bird it’s a good bird. Good – as in rare.
We started out with a flight to Nantes, France and a reported Wilson’s Phalarope at Ollone-sur-Mer. We arrived in the evening and had a few hours to search for the bird. Next day we had an additional couple of hours to search. A local birder we met said that they had seen the Phalarope being chased by a Peregrine. We never found the Wilson’s and the most likely explanation is that it was taken or injured by the Peregrine. Bad luck.
Next on our improvised itinerary was Terceira, Azorez. Quite a number of good birds had been reported from the famous quarry at Cabo de Praia including a Western Sandpiper. However, the Western was gone (or it was a Dunlin) so we decided to throw away the tickets to Azores and go to the UK instead. First up in the UK were two yankee birds in Weymouth, Dorset, a couple of hours drive from Gatwick. Both birds were found after some searching in the marsh.
We contacted Chris Batty for advise on how to plan the UK tour and Chris told us what we already knew – that we had to go for the American Redstart on Barra, Outer Hebrides. There is a bit of inertia before embarking on such a trip, the Hebrides are remote – to say the least. We decided to drive there. The alternatives with flights were slower and much more expensive. Decided to pick off a couple of other vagrants en route. First was a Long-billed Dowitcher reported from Yorkshire. When we were driving north in the morning, there were no RBA alerts on the Yorkshire Dowitcher so we decided to detour through Kent instead and another Long-billed Dowitcher that had been stable for several weeks. Wise decision, the Yorkshire bird turned out to be gone.
Picked up a wind-blown Sabine’s Gull at Daventry Country Park, east of Birmingham
Finally arrived at Oban where the ferry took us – and quite a few other Redstart twitchers – to Castlebay, Barra. Quite an outpost.
With at least an hour of decent daylight left we all went straight to the bird which was eventually very cooperative – showing well. The local birder (never got the name of the guy) who had found the Redstart was proudly acting welcome committee at the church. All in all, a very friendly and social twitching experience.
Year-Ticked a fairly common bird on Barra too, the Lesser Redpoll, Acanthis cabaret which is split by the IOC into a proper species.
At this point we decided to stay for a while on the Western Isles. We went slowly north, ferry-jumping the Islands scanning the large flocks of Golden Plovers for that American Golden which we needed.
Suddenly Mårten reacts to a smaller bird in one of the flocks. Our second self-found Buff-bellied Sandpiper this year.
No AGPs though. On Uist, we suddenly, just before dark, saw an alarm in the Rare-Bird-Alert (RBA) app for Snowy Owl on Uist, very close to where we were. The Brits don’t use GPS coordinates though, making it impossible for us to find the exact location of where the Owl was last seen. This is a major deficiency in the otherwise decent RBA app. Our only explanation for this is that 3G/4G coverage is so poor in Britain that the birders in Britain cannot yet use their phones to report/find birds. This is in stark contrast to rest of the world including not so developed countries as Mauritania and Egypt.
Eventually we find ourselves at the famous “Butt of Lewis” the most northern tip of the Western Isles scanning for Sooty Shearwaters in the early morning hours. Sure enough, soon we pick up a couple of Sooties – another year tick. At the Butt, we also had a few overflying Common Loons which is a very good bird – at home at least.
Returning back to the mainland from the Hebrides, we had a hard choice to make in the car going south. A Black-billed Cuckoo was just reported on Shetland and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler was reported from Norfolk, just north of London. After a longer stop at an unexpected point with 4G coverage we made up our plans and decided against Shetland. We drove through the night to Norfolk and arrived at the site 4am. Slept a couple of hours in the car and was at the site of the PG Tips (UK slang for Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler) at first light.
It was a pleasure meeting up at the site with Dan Pointon, WP birder with whom we have discussed many issues of birds, countries and tactics over the year. Quite a few UK birders were present and the PG Tips is a skulky bugger. Together with Dan, we started to more actively search for the bird, trying to flush it. Soon we found it, and the three of us all got decent to good flight views of the bird. Especially some of the views from the back, with the bird flying away along the ditch showing well the round tail, the buff rump and the patterned back were good. None, or almost none of the famous white tips were present in the bird. After we left, quite a few of the present birders hadn’t seen the bird at all. More and more birders arrived at the site, and apparently things got almost completely out of hand later in the day.
Besides, the decision to drive to Norfolk instead of trying for the Black-billed Cuckoo on Shetland was the right one, the Cuckoo was gone by the morning.
With the PG Tips in the bag, we decided to go to Ireland. Two good birds awaited us there and both were easy to pick up due to some excellent support from the Irish Birding Community with help from Niall Keogh, Wilton Farrelly and Gerry O’Neill.
At this point there was nothing left for us in the UK/Ireland except for the small matter of a reported Siberian Thrush on Shetland. We deemed the Thrush as un-twitchable and decided go to Holland instead. Quite a few people told us it was madness to leave the UK now that it was raining rarities. Holland turned out to be the right move though, the Thrush disappeared and short of an Helicopter we wouldn’t have made it there in time. Two uglyish birds bagged the first afternoon in Holland. Cat-C Cackling Goose and an alleged Cat-A Ross’s Goose.
The real reason we decided to go to Holland was to try a little bit harder for Dotterel, a bird that had been regularly reported at various sites, mostly over flying on waarneming, the Dutch bird reporting portal. We got a tip to search the fields near Europoort which we did to no avail. At the very last moment when we had given up to find one ourselves, Dutch birders came through and a Dotterel was reported in southern Holland. We went there and found it in a flock of several hundred Golden Plovers.
Home at last, only to see Magnolia Warbler being reported from The Azores and a Radde’s Warbler present in Uppsala, just 100 km north of Stockholm. We cannot go for the Radde’s though, Erik is out sailing in the Baltic and Mårten is stuck on an island in the archipelago. Stressful.