Mostly Yanks

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.

Least Sandpiper, Dorset
Least Sandpiper, Dorset
Stilt Sandpiper, Dorset
Stilt Sandpiper, Dorset

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.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Kent
Long-billed Dowitcher, Kent

Picked up a wind-blown Sabine’s Gull at Daventry Country Park, east of Birmingham

Sabine's Gull, Daventry
Sabine’s Gull, Daventry

Finally arrived at Oban where the ferry took us – and quite a few other Redstart twitchers – to Castlebay, Barra. Quite an outpost.

Castlebay, Barra
Castlebay, Barra

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.

American Redstart, Barra
American Redstart, Barra

Year-Ticked a fairly common bird on Barra too, the Lesser Redpoll, Acanthis cabaret  which is split by the IOC into a proper species.

Lesser Redpoll
Lesser Redpoll

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.

Golden Plovers
Golden Plovers

Suddenly Mårten reacts to a smaller bird in one of the flocks. Our second self-found Buff-bellied Sandpiper this year.

Buff-bellied Sandpiper
Buff-bellied Sandpiper

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.

Common Loon, Butt of Lewis
Common Loon, Butt of Lewis

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.

Forster's Tern, Derry
Forster’s Tern, Louth, Ireland
American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover (Eurasian Golden in the foreground)

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.

Cat-C Cackling Goose
Cat-C Cackling Goose
Un ringed Ross's Goose
Un-ringed 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.

Dotterel
Dotterel

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.

Backsteps and Stepups

We strung our Rüppel’s Vulture in Spain. Apparently, according to Dick Forsman we’re not the first to do so. Quite a few experienced Spanish birders, familiar with dark Griffons Vulture told us that our photo was indeed a Griffon Vulture, not a Rüppels.

Rüppels Vulture
What we thought was a Rüppels Vulture

We’re still struggling though, to find a picture of a Griffon Vulture on the internet that looks as our bird. So, that was backstep #1.

Backstep #2 is the American Herring Gull we twitched in Southern Portugal. There has been quite a lot of discussions on the Internet on that bird, including the famous two-bird-theory which was effectively disproven by Yoav Perlman in a facebook post where he showed that the bird that was originally identified as an AMHG was indeed the same bird that later in the spring developed an orbital ring and started to look like a Yellow-legged Gull. Discussions are still ongoing, but for now we step back on the bird.

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull – maybe

Upstep. This weekend we gave a talk on Falsterbo Birdshow, as we get out from the talk, there is a brand new alarm on Swedish BA for Baird’s Sandpiper on Öland. We skip the (probably very nice) dinner, go to Öland together with Anton Castelius and Eric Sandelin and twitch successfully.

Baiird's Sandpiper on Öland
Bairds’s Sandpiper on Öland

 

700

When we started to plan the Big Year, one of the birders we turned to for advice was Bosse Carlsson, Swedish WP lister. Bosse thought that maybe 650 was a realistic upper goal for a Big Year, later on when the  planning started to become more detailed we realized that maybe even 700 was attainable. Now that we’re at 700 before the end of August we’re starting to fantasize about 750.

It wouldn’t have been possible to be at 700 now without all the massive amounts of help we have received from birders in WP. You are too many to mention, but you know who you are. Thank you !!!!!

On our way back from Madeira we did a short stop in Lisbon to pick up some additional birds. First off were two Cat-C birds in the Tagus estuary.

Yellow-crowned Bishop
Yellow-crowned Bishop
Yellow-headed Weaver
Black-headed Weaver

The next morning we hung at the gate of privately held Sesimbra Nature Park where a Pie-billed Grebe has been residing for quite some time now.

Got better views of the Iberian Chiffchaff than on our last visit to Iberia at the place of the Grebe.

Iberian Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff

Finished off by driving all the way to Tarifa in southern Spain, same place where were we earlier in the year and ticked Iberian Chiffchaff and White-rumped Swift. This time we found the Rüppels Vulture almost ridiculously easy. The first place we stopped, and for me, the first vulture I looked at in the scope was a clear Rüppels. We also got the opportunity to compare the bird to the more common Griffon Vulture. When watching the Rüppel in the scope and a Griffon came into the same scope view, the two vulture species are really different.

Rüppels Vulture
Rüppels Vulture

So, according to our iGoTerra list this was bird number 700. However, we have a few questioned birds already up on the list. In particular.

American Herring Gull. This was the bird from southern Portugal originally identified as an AHG by Mårtens friend Pieter Adriaens. The bird starts to look bad though. Pedro Nicolau wrote us: “By the way guys, I’m not sure if you’re aware but the American Herring Gull you’ve seen in Portugal is a heavily controversial bird, and will most likely be dismissed as a michahellis. As the moult progressed the bird was showing red orbital ring and yellow legs.. to me the bird is a michahellis. I’d go for another one.”

We’ll see what happens with this bird.

Pale Martin.  Highly controversial bird, but recently confirmed by Lars Svensson to be a Riparia Diluta, Pale Martin.

Long-toed Stint. The Stint found by Erik in Kuwait, we’re still working this bird since we’re still convinced it’s an LTS. KORC has tabled the bird until additional information is presented. Pics and video of that bird on our Google Drive

Maybe some or all of these three questioned birds eventually has to be removed from our list.

Well back in Stockholm, we got picked up at Arlanda by Andreas Bohlin. We do look confused.

Confusion
Confusion

Andreas drove us to Hjälstaviken close to Stockholm. Quite a few Lesser White-fronted Geese there, so if we remove the American Herring Gull, we’re still on 700.

Lesser White-fronted Goose
Lesser White-fronted Goose

 

Madeira – Pelagic heaven

Madeira is a must for sea watching and pelagics. We flew directly from The Azores to Madeira. We had arranged previously a three day trip with Wind Birds. Wind Birds with Catarina Fagundes and Hugo Romano organises very professional sea watching pelagics off Madeira. Compared to the pelagic we just did on The Azores, Hugo and Caterina truly know their stuff, especially the chumming techniques that they have fine tuned over the years.

The first day we went east, heading out beyond Ponta de São Lourenço with the aim of seeing Zino’s Petrel. This is the price bird of Madeira with an estimated number of below 100 breeding pairs. The Zino’s breed on cliffs at the highest mountain peek of Madeira, very hard to access the breeding grounds.

Zino's Petrel breeding grounds in the distance
Zino’s Petrel breeding grounds in the distance

The Zino’s Petrel is very similar to the Desertas Petrel, but it is possible to distinguish the two in the field. Desertas is a chunkier bird, with a noticeable thicker bill. We saw our first Desertas just outside the port of Machico, no pictures of those birds though.

They drove the Rib Boat, aptly named Oceanodroma, eastward for almost two hours and eventually picked a spot and threw in the chum. A 15 liter bucket of frozen, chopped fish together with some shark liver oil as well as some alleged secret sauce.

They drifted over the area with the chum over and over again. Once the chum started to melt/shrink they threw in onother 15 liter bucket. Alltogether 3 buckets in a session. Good numbers of Great Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrel and Cory’s Shearwater came inspecting the smelly goo.

Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer’s Petrel
Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater

The first really good bird that came were Wilson’s Storm-petrel. A spectacular bird that dances on the water with it’s long legs, dipping into the chum, feeding. It looks as if they are running on the water. The Swedish apt name of the bird is Sea-runner.

Wilson's Storm-petrel
Wilson’s Storm-petrel

A diagnostic feature of Wilson’s Storm-petrel is the yellow webbing on the feet.

We've got yellow webbing
We’ve got yellow webbing

Long-tailed Jaegers came feeding on the chum.

Long-tailed Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger

So did a Blue Shark, not good.

Chum massacre
Chum massacre

Finally towards the end of the day, a clear Zino’s Petrel came close enough to be safely identified and photographed. Earlier in the day we have had a few Petrels that were too far away to safely id. Note the slim body and the thin bill. Nice article about Zino’s here.

Zino's Petrel
Zino’s Petrel

Day two was much windier, I asked Hugo how bad the weather must be for them to cancel. He answered that they don’t cancel for bad weather, they cancel for good weather. They’re called Wind Birds for a reason, and this second day, with the wind we headed straight south from Machico, far out off shore. The wind turned out to be good indeed, the amount of Bulwer’s Petrels was staggering, we estimated over 500 Bulwer’s this day.

The first really good bird to show was a Barolo’s Shearwater. This was unexpected and the Barolo is clearly one of those birds we could have missed entirely on the Big Year. Luck. Later in the day we saw yet another Barolo’s Shearwater.

Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater
Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater

Similar to the first day, quite a few Cory’s and Great Shearwaters as well. After a few hours on the sea the next super bird comes feeding, White-faced Storm-petrels. These birds run on the water similar to the Wilson’s Storm-petrel, close to the boat providing excellent views. At this point we were in heaven.

White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel

Just as we’re enjoying the White-faced, Band-rumped Storm-petrels start to show on the slick (oily surface of see surrounding the chum). These are most probably of the Madeiran variety, not Grant’s but its difficult to tell.

Band-rumped Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel

As we photograph the various Band-rumped I looked at one of my out-of-focus shots and saw indications of a forked tail. We started looking closer at the Band-rumped Storm-petrels and soon Hugo identified one, or maybe two Leach’s Storm-petrel amongst the Band-rumped. We were not able to get any sufficiently good photographs of the Leach’s but Martijn Verdoes did and we’ll got a copy of his shots. It was far from easy to identify these Leach’s Storm-petrels but the id was verified by Nils Van Duivendijk, Brian Patteson and Bob Flood which is hard to argue with.

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach’s Storm-petrel

Not an entirely satisfying experience, we would have thought it would have been easier to distinguish a Leach’s from a Band-rumped – apparently not.

Day three we headed back eastwards again, to the same waters of day one. Our primary goal was to get better views of Desertas Petrel. We saw several Desertas in the day, some close enough to be photographed and safely identified.

Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel

Compare the chunkier body and the thicker bill to the Zino’s Petrel.  Day three was by far the slowest day, mostly due to the wind. Apparently high winds (and bumpy rides) are what is needed. Desertas Petrel is recently split from Fea’s Petrel which breeds on Cap Verde. It’s not possible to distinguish Fea’s from Desertas in the field, thus this is pretty much a geography tick.

We saw quite a few Dolphins and whales in the three days. Flocks of Cuvier’s beaked whale, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Atlantic Short-nosed Common Dolphin. Spectacular to have a group following the Rib Boat, jumping. 20170825-IMG_5267

Finally, Madeira host a few land birds too. The pelagics started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and went on into the dark, thus we had the mornings free to explore the island. Two endemics, the Madeira Firecrest  and Trocaz Pigeon.

Madeira Firecrest
Madeira Firecrest
Trocaz Pigeon
Trocaz Pigeon

Furthermore Berthelot’s Pipit and Plain Swift reside here as well as on the Canaries.

Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit
Plain Swift
Plain Swift

 

 

Graciosa Pelagic

One more of the small Islands of the Azores to visit. This time Graciosa. Small place with just a few thousand inhabitants and very few tourists. Here the Monteiros Storm-petrel nest and we had booked a pelagic trip with Calypso Azores. The place to visit is called Bank of Fortune and is situated at least an hour off shore. On the way out we enjoyed the massive amount of Cory’s Shearwater. They gather in rafts, floating.

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater

20170820-E20A9688

On the way out to the Bank we also see a few Bulwer’s Petrel. A lifer for all of us.20170820-E20A9510

Once out on the Bank, the Crew spilled about a liter of shark-liver  oil into the water. The oil has a very strong smell and it almost instantaneously started to attract Storm-petrels.

Bulwer's Petrel
Monteiro’s Storm-petrel

20170820-E20A9341

 

The Monteiro’s Storm-petrel nest on the Islets outside of Graciosa. It’s a summer breeder. The id of these birds is difficult (to say the least) . Alternative birds are Grant’s Storm-petrel which is a winter breeder. The Grant’s should arrive to Graciosa now, or maybe soon. Yet another alternative is Madeiran Storm-petrel. They exist on the Azores, there are sound recordings of Madeiran from the colony of Monteiro’s.  We believe the birds above are Monteiro’s though. A good id article can be found on Birding Frontiers.

On the way back, we enjoyed the Cory’s again, as well as quite a few Bulwer’s Petrels. We saw thousands of Cory’s, maybe 15 Bulwer’s and 3 Great Shearwater. Inside a raft of Cory’s we found a lone Manx Shearwater.

Manx Shearwater
Manx Shearwater

The bird we were hoping for didn’t show up though. The Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel has been seen off Graciosa this time of the year in recent years.

We returned to the port of Praia later in the evening, and got good scopes views of a pair of Sooty Terns nesting on the Islet.

Sooty Tern
Sooty Tern

Next day, we had planned for yet another pelagic, it got cancelled due to bad weather. And today, when I write this the weather is even worse. Thus, of three days on Graciosa, two were spoiled due to weather. Thus, most probably Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel is a lost bird for us on the Big Year. This makes it the third bird which is definitely lost, the other two being Goliath Heron and African Skimmer from Egypt.

Terceira – The Azores

For quite some time we have had a scheduled trip to Madeira. A trip focused on Tubenoses (Petrels, Storm-petrels and Shearwaters) with three days of pelagics. On short notice we decided to go to the Azores prior to the Madeira trip. A few heavy-weight rarities have been present on the Island of Terceira for a while. It’s surprisingly easy and cheap to go a place as exotic and far away as the Azores. While fiddling with the rental car at the airport a birder approaches us and asks – Are you going for the Tattler. Hey yeahhhhh. We hung out with WP twitcher Thierry Jansen for two days. Terceira has one pond, called “The Quarry”.

The Quarry
The Quarry

It’s fed by tidal water and boy is that a good pond. It’s just a few minutes drive from the airport.  We immediately went there together with Thierry and the Gray-tailed Tattler was there.

Grey-tailed Tattler
Grey-tailed Tattler

The Tattler has been present in the quarry for the better part of the summer. It has proved to be a tricky bird though, this was the second trip to the Azores for Thierry. We were lucky, it just stood there begging to be photographed. Phuuuwww. Flying all the way to the Azores and dip would have been horrible. The quarry was teeming with waders. Mostly Sanderlings, Kentish Plovers and Turnstones.

Turnstone
Turnstone

Quite a few Semi-palmated Plovers were feeding in the pond.

Semi-palmated Plover
Semi-palmated Plover

Soon though – Erik screams – or rather makes funny noices. A White-rumped Sandpiper was there.

White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper

Earlier in the year, we were very very close to a Hudsonian Whimbrel on our England twitch tour in January. At the time, we decided to skip that Whimbrel, it’s not an IOC species and we were in a hurry.  We got it now now though, in the quarry. We love the quarry!!

Hudsonian Whimbrel
Hudsonian Whimbrel

Off from the quarry to the southern end of Terceira where a Snowy Egret had been reported. This has also been a tricky bird, people have searched for it for days without finding it. When we came, with our usual luck, it just stood there with it’s yellow legs and lore.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

At the same place where the Egret hung out, there was a colony of terns with mostly Common Terns but quite a few Roseate Terns. Our original year-plan was to get the Roseate Tern on Ireland, they were very easy to find here.

Roseate Tern
Roseate Tern

From a rarity point of view a very good bird we found at the site with the Roseate Terns was a Bridled Tern, apparently the 17’th find on the Azores.

Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern

After lunch we obviously had to go back to the quarry – and what do you know – a few new birds had arrived. Self found Semi and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper

What a place – the quarry. Next time we go the Azores we’re definitely going to plan for a stop on Terceira.

Next morning, new birds again in the quarry. A Pec stood there.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

 

Lofoten Röst

Quick trip to northern Norway. Eva Wikström and Anna Bohlin joined up on this short touristy trip. Two target birds, a Snowy Owl on Röst and a 3-year-returning White-winged Scooter in a fjord inside of Bodö.  There are actually cheap direct flights from Stockholm to Bodö, this is a place I will return to, next time with bins and my fishing gear!! – it’s sport fishing mecka. Once on Röst, we were able to find the Snowy Owl easily – thanks to the folks on Röst Fuglestation.

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Here is a pic of the gang – post tick. Chilling.

Post tick
Post tick

Röst is a pretty little place, and the village by the harbour has a hostel which is mostly occupied by Kittiwakes.

Occupied hostel
Occupied hostel

Once back in Bodö, we went for the White-winged Scoter. This is a returning bird that has spent the summer in the same fjord the last couple of years. It usually leaves in the beginning of August so it was far from clear that the Scoter would still be there. It was – albeit far out and tricky to id among all the Velvet Scoters.

White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoter

 

Euro trip part 2

After the successful twitch of the Elegant Tern in Valencia we flew to Corsica. The Island hosts a number of endemics and specialities. The first morning we woke up in the dark so that we could be at the spot for California Quail well before sunrise. Mårten and his friend Martin Berg slept in this very same vineyard almost ten years ago. We playbacked the quail at first light and after a couple of minutes we hear a response from inside the forest. We go closer and position ourselves silently, hidden, waiting for the Quails to come out into the vineyard. The male responds several times and soon we see a few birds poorly some distance away. We playback some more but eventually go closer. The family group took to the wings and flew into the forest. No pics, but decent quick views. The Quail is supposedly difficult to hear and see, so I guess we were lucky.

We moved on towards a spot known for Marmora Warbler, we stopped abruptly on the mountain road instead because we saw Siskins along the road side. And, yes, for sure the Corsican Finch were abundant in the right habitat.

Corsican Finch
Corsican Finch

With that cleared up we continued to one of the spots for Marmora Warbler. This is July and nesting season is over, birds are in principle not singing any longer. The Marmora Warbler responded to playback as if there was no tomorrow though. With non-singing birds, finding a skulky Sylvia without playback would be a most time consuming activity.

Marmora Warbler
Marmora Warbler

Last endemic was the Corsican Nuthatch. After a fantastic breakfast in a little mountain village we drove higher, into the high altitude pine forests and almost immediately found a family group of Corsican Nuthatch.

Corsican Nuthatch
Corsican Nuthatch

That was fast, all four of Corsicas specialities cleared up in a single morning.

Also common on the Island as a whole was the Mediterranean

Mediterranean Flycatcher
Mediterranean Flycatcher

Flycatcher. This picture shows nicely the lack of spots on the belly, it’s not a Spotted Flycatcher.

Time to move on, we had no fresh information on the Albatross in Sylt, so that – in combination with very expensive flight tickets to Hamburg made us decide to just fly to Paris and decide there and then what to do next. Once in Paris, we opted to go to London instead of Hamburg. There were quite a few good birds waiting for us on the English east-coast. We drove north from London and slept halfway. When we woke up, we received some boring news. Two of the target birds on the east-coast were gone, and American Golden Plover and a White-rumped Sandpiper had decided to move on the day before. We went for the remaining Pectoral Sandpiper which we failed to find. Just as we’re about to leave the reserve, a local birder found the Sandpiper. Nice.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

Spectacular sanctuary with awesome birding in general. The brits have some amazing birding areas.

Black-tailed Godwits
Black-tailed Godwits

At this point we were at a loss what to do, nothing more for us in England really. It’s not especially easy to be spontaneous while traveling in England. We have become used to proper Internet connection while driving. This is just not the case in England and it’s irritating. We did see quite a few signs advertising “Psychic Mediums” though and Mårten suggested that – maybe that is how they communicate here.

However a report came in showing that the Albatross had been seen in Sylt the day before. We found cheap tickets from Manchester to Hamburg and immediately embarked on the quite complicated trip to Sylt which including a car train out to island itself. We drove to Niebull, parked as number two the queue for the train and slept a few hours in the car. Took the first train at 5 in the morning. Arrived at the spot and the Albatross was not there, and it also started to rain and we didn’t really have proper rain gear with us. Had breakfast and waited for the rain to stop. Went back to the area where the Albatross had been seen most of the times and the bird still wasn’t there. At this point we started to argue about tactics, and then suddenly it just came flying in. What a twitch.

 

Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross

 

Thug Life

While driving all the way from Stuttgart to Calais, we listened to a radio documentary about 2pac, the hip hop artist that was gunned down a long time ago. He introduced the ridiculous phrase thug-life, and then later on Mallorca, we bumped into a group of thug-lifers, thus the phrase became a bit of a meme inside our trio.

The Elegant Tern was the sole reason for us going to Valencia. We had earlier given the Tern 2 days, driving all the way to Calais and dipping was hard. Furthermore, when we were in souther Spain, in the Gibraltar area an Elegant Tern was reported in the harbour of Cadiz. That was just a single report, so we decided to not go for the Cadiz bird.

When we arrived at Valencia thing started to go sour, first the car rental agency under performed, then we got news from Ricard Gutierrez from Rare Birds Spain that the reserve where the Elegant Tern roosts during day was closed during weekends. Very strange. Secondly on our way to the booked hotel, we call them and they say that they have no rooms. Later we get an SMS from that same hotel, where they say that they have another house for the same price. Fine we drive there only to be told that the house is not available. Booked another hotel, arrive there and there is no booking, nor any available beds. Bad start on the Valencia twitch.

Saturday morning, we park ourselves on the beach, between the litle lake with a Sandwitch tern Colony and the sea with the idea of catching the terns when they move between the nesting colony and the sea. Lots of Sandwitch Terns pass by between morning and noon, no terns with orange beaks though. Lots of Common Tern though. Mediterranean Gulls and Audouin’s Gull are patrolling the beach. Different age classes.

Audoins Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Audouin's Gull
Audouin’s Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Mediterranean Gull

After lunch we decide to break into the nature reserve by jumping the 2.5 meter high wall.

The Wall
The Wall

We walk silently and slowly through the thorny forest – then Marten whispers – people, I see people. We hunch down waiting, I see them and they’re just tourists. What!! We decide to act as tourists too. We speak to some folks and this part of the Nature Reserve is open on Saturdays until 2 pm, it’s the wrong lake though. The lake in this part hosts a colony of Common Terns. We’re back on square one again.

We drove by the entrance and there are guards with batons there, so we decide to wait until after 2 pm when the guards are no longer there. We took position on a nearby road where we can sometimes get a glimpse of a Sandwitch Tern. A couple of Little Bitterns are calling from the reeds.

Little Bittern
Little Bittern

Suddenly Erik calls out – I have the bird. Crappy UTV (Untickable View) Not good enough, so we decide to drive around and jump another wall, this time to the right part of the reserve.

At the inside, we climb a small sandy hill and – the Elegant Terns are down there, roosting. What a twitch.

Elegant Tern
Elegant Tern

 

 

Euro trip

We’re on a Euro trip, picking off birds here and there. Lithuania, Poland, South Germany, Calais France, back to Germany, Gibraltar, Mallorca, …..

The first bird was Aquatic Warbler in Poland. It was a close call that we went for the Albatross that had been seen regularly on Sylt, north-west Germany but the Albatross decided to leave just as our Euro trip started, so we went to Poland instead.

Our original plan was to try for the Aquatic Warbler during migration. We were told that it’s reasonably easy in Portugal during migration, late August. It’s also a possibility in Holland during migration. We felt this was a bit random and decided to twitch it at one of the breeding sites in Poland instead. Flew to Lithuania and drove to Bialystok in eastern Poland. Arrived late at the site and slept in the car. At dawn the warblers were singing in the marsh and we were able to locate a singing male fairly easy.

Aquatic Warbler
Aquatic Warbler

Off to Germany and their two iconic Cat-C species. The Yellow-headed Amazon in downtown Stuttgart and the Swan Goose in downtown Heidelberg. Both were easy to find.

Yellow-headed Amazon
Yellow-headed Amazon (shot through bins)
Swan Goose
Swan Goose

At this point, we had a few options available. A White-winged Scooter in Scotland, the possibility of the Albatross becoming twitchable again as well as an Elegant Tern that had been very stable close to Calais on the English Channel. We opted for the tern. This was also close to forests with known populations of Reeve’s Pheasant. We twitched the pheasant easily. Our friend PAC said that these pheasants are not tickable, however other birders (on Netfugl) tick Reeve’s Pheasant around Calais and until some French birding committee  says that these birds are cage birds we tick it. The former population on Îles d’Hyères is apparently extinct.

Mårten trying to flush a Reeve's Pheasant
Mårten trying to flush a Reeve’s Pheasant

These birds, the pheasants are assisted by humans. They are bred and released for hunting. OTOH, so are Ring-necked Pheasants, all over Europe. We tick the Ring-necked Pheasant without hesitation (unless you are Dutch)

Then we went for the tern. It had been seen regularly amongst a colony of Sandwich Terns on a beach just north of Calais. We arrived at the beach in the evening and scanned through the Tern colony. Next day we started at dawn, and searched and walked the beaches to no avail. The Elegant Tern just wasn’t there.

Sandwich Terns
Sandwich Terns
Searching the beaches
Searching the beaches

Eventually we gave up on the tern and drove all the way back to Stuttgart to return the car and fly on to Malaga, southern Spain. (Today, when I write this, we see that the damned Tern is back again)

Two important birds in the Gibraltar area, the first one – where we had received a good spot from Mårtens friend Rafa Benjumea (from Ecotonobirding ) for Iberian Chiffchaff. We played our mobtape, which has proved extremely successful. No Chiffchaff appeared so we gave up and went to another spot, a spectacular cliff overlooking the strait of Gibraltar. The bird which was possible here was White-rumped Swift. We scanned the area for a few hours. An Eleonora Falcon came flying – this was a year tick and a lifer for Erik and me.

Eleonora Falcon
Eleonora Falcon

Balearic Shearwaters flying outside the cliffs, also a good bird. Far away, but identifiable.

So – with this streak of bad luck, dipped Tern, no Chiffchaff nor the Swift we had lunch. No time to relax, just push on. We eBirded another point for the Swift and went there, just north of Gibraltar. Lots of swifts in the air, and after maybe an hour, we found two White-rumped Swifts flying. We got good views in the scope but no pictures. Phuuu, at last, now it’s turning. Went to a strange hotel very close to the site for the Chiffchaff, the idea being that we jump up very early in the morning looking for it again. Just as we park the car at the hotel, an Iberian Chiffchaff shows well in the hotel garden. Dang.

Move fast, next day we flew to Mallorca. Two important birds there, the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher which was very easy. They were virtually everywhere on Mallorca.

Mediterranean Flycatcher
Mediterranean Flycatcher

Harder bird to find was the Balearic Warbler. We tried first one place close to Port de Pallenca where it had been reported, we only saw Sardinian Warblers there though. Next we tried a valley close by. Walking into the stony valley, Mårten and Erik hear the bird calling faaaar away. Hyper-hearing. It’s in the bushes, and they sort of hear it maybe calling very low. I cannot hear a thing, but we make our way through the thorns and suddenly we flush a small dark bird. It lands maybe 100 meters away and we can see it, it’s the Balearic Warbler. It came in closer as we playbacked the song and the call and we got excellent, but short views.

Balearic Warbler
Balearic Warbler

Mallorca cleaned up, next stop before we go to Corsica is Valencia where a pair of breeding Elegant Terns appears to be possible.