December twitching

The end of the year is getting closer, there are still some twitchable birds around. On our way back from Kiruna, news came with certain sightings of a Dwarf Bittern on Furteventura. We found cheap direct flights from Stockholm direct to Fuerteventura making the choice of going for that gem of a bird easy. The bird was found by Daniel Kratzer, and when we got there Arne Torkler was waiting for us at the site of the bird. We started to scan the valley and soon found the stunner. What a bird!

African Dwarf Bittern
African Dwarf Bittern

An additional reason for us returning to Fuerteventura was that the unsubstantiated rumours of Allen’s Gallinule on Fuerteventura were still buzzing around. We heard those rumours on our visit to Fuerteventura just a couple of days ago but were unable to get hold of any actual information. This time we had some slightly better information, we never found the Gallinule though.

There is a really fucked up situation on the Canaries as to reporting of rare birds. There were Allen’s Gallinules on Furteventura on our first visit, and possibly also on our second visit but the sightings are kept secret by local birders for personal reasons – shared to select birders only. Kindergarten mature and I urge all involved to get your act together and start behaving like adults.

Next up was Pine Buntings in Switzerland, we flew to Milan, rented a car and drove an hour north to the village of Locarno where the surrounding fields should hold a number of wintering Pine Buntings. This is a species we were craving badly, we searched for it in the Urals where we had an entire field of hybrids, Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting, some with just a single yellow feather, but others, like this one, almost equal share of both.

Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting from The Urals
Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting from The Urals

Once on site on the fields, we were joined by young local Swiss birders, Samuel Büttler and Jaro Schacht. The buntings turned out to be hard to find, and we searched the area hard until we finally connected with a female.

Pine Bunting
Pine Bunting

We wanted pictures of a male though, especially since Swedish club300 disqualified all sightings of female Pine Buntings (this bird would not be accepted in Sweden!!) Later in the afternoon, a fully mature male came flying in and we got short views in the scope, it took off and we never got any photos of it.

Next up was Lisbon, and a returning American Herring Gull in the port of Sesimbra. When we arrived at the port it felt almost impossible to find an AMHG inside the chaos of Gulls.

Gull chaos in Sesimbra
Gull chaos in Sesimbra

Thousands of gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the area. We started to scan the roofs, and later in the afternoon things started to become more manageable with Gulls roosting on the roofs. The AMHG stood out, with its light mantle and clear pink legs.

American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull
American Herring Gull

We had been reading up on the characteristics in Peter Adriaens famous paper Identification of adult American Herring Gull and – well it’s not a walk in the park. The wing pattern on this bird appears to look just right though.

Wing Pattern AMHG
Wing Pattern AMHG

This was tick 760, and at the time down there in the port of Sesimbra it felt like maybe this was the last tick of the year.

Our friend Pedro Nicolau has been urging us to tick off two Category E birds in Portugal. We already ticked one Category E in Portugal earlier, Scaly-breasted Munia, and according to Pedro, both Blue-crowned Parakeet and Pin-tailed Whydah will be moved into Category C soon. Thus we went Cat-E ticking the following day.

Clue-crowned Parakeet
Blue-crowned Parakeet
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pin-tailed Whydah

So together with Javan Myna from Kuwait, we have 4 possible armchair-ticks to look forward to.

This last journey was strenuous and it felt really good to go home this time, especially since our options were slim and not especially attractive.

  • Go back to Switzerland for an alleged Eastern Yellow Wagtail (going to need DNA)
  • Go back to Egypt and look for Goliath Heron without optics.
  • Go back to The Azores and a still lingering Green Heron. Flights sucked big time.
  • Go back to Kuwait and the Grey-throated Martin there, found by our friend Markus Craig. It would be fun to revisit there, but it doesn’t feel right with expensive 24h flights for a single bird.

 

Technology

I’ve been wanting to write a piece about what technology we have used over the year. It’s no secret that tech plays a role in todays bird watching, maps, alarm apps, facebook groups, different sites, cameras, chats, cell phones technology all help the intrepid birder towards those ticks. Let’s start with maps.

Maps and Internet access

Google maps is awesome, however we worried like crazy prior to the Big Year because a number of Arab countries do not allow offline of Google Maps. We prepared another map app, called Locus Maps which allows for offline maps. The solution turned out be much simpler – we brought an extra lo-end Android phone and bought SIM cards where ever we went. Then we used WiFi tethering on that phone, providing WiFi for all of us. One drawback with tethering is that most phones have quite a few settings, where stuff is downloaded, synced etc in the background on WIFI only. From the p.o.v of our phones, we were on WIFI, whereas in reality we were all on the 4G network via the extra phone. These settings must be tweaked into manual, otherwise the data traffic becomes to high and you have buy more data all the time.

This gave us perfect map access in all countries. Especially the satellite option in Google Maps turned to be gold over the year. Quite a lot of time has been spent searching for the right bird habitat, the satellite option has given us invaluable clues as to where there are dirt-tracks, marshes, ponds, fields etc.

It’s usually very easy, and also cheap to buy those SIM cards and data. The cost is a fraction of the price at home. Sometimes we have bought them on the airport, but more often we have bought them in small shops in cities. The activation of the SIM card is sometimes difficult though, and you need help with that – typically at the shop/vendor/street person where you buy the card.

Tapping up the phone, i.e buying additional data you also need help with, different countries have different systems. Usually you can buy extra data in all small shops, even small grocery shops or cafes. The sellers always help with the tap-up process though.

Cell coverage is excellent in all the remote countries, we had better 4G coverage in Oued Jenna, Western Sahara than what we ever had in the UK.

 

Language

In our group we speak Swedish, English, German and Spanish. Important languages we lacked were French, Arabic and Russian.  When all else fails, body language is of course the last resort, however a recent addition to Google Translate saved us a few times. It’s now possible to offline an entire language in Google Translate, that in combination with different-language keyboards makes it possible to communicate (slowly) in those remote languages.  English is not as prevalent as you would think, and especially on the remote country side, English doesn’t work.

Picture storage

We’ve taken a lot of pictures over the year and those SD cards quickly fill up, especially if you chose (as you should) the RAW option in the camera. The solution is to bring a proper Laptop on the trips, and do all of that pesky image processing in the field, upload (over the 4G network) all pictures you want to save and then throw the rest away. Yes, I realise this hurts, but the opposite would hurt even more. There are plenty of good cloud storage possibilities for pictures. Buy some extra space on Google Drive, sign up at www.smugmug.com, etc. Your choice.

Reporting and keeping track of ticks

There are AFAIK 3 different apps that are good at keeping track of your observations, iGoTerra (which we use) eBird and it’s associated app, and Observado and it’s associated app.  Pick one.

Digiscoping and Photography

Learning to Digiscope reasonably well is often the difference between a record picture of the bird and no record at all. If it’s a rare bird, you’ll need that photograph in order to convince other birders of the authenticity of the sighting. There are adapters, but they make you slow. Learn how to just put the phone on the scope and take that picture  – fast.

Calls and playback

Traditionally the CD pack from  Andreas Schultze  has been the best sound recordings of WP birds. Now we have other options. One good option is to use the calls from Collins Bird Guide app, and then complement those with additional calls from  Xeno canto for species that are poorly covered in the app. The best loud speaker for birders is JBL clip, just buy one.

We have used Mobtapes sometimes, here is one which has proved successful over the year. Mobtape – use with care.

We have also used a sound recording app, called Easy Voice Recorder. It has been useful a couple of times when we have heard a bird, but were uncertain of the id. Doing a quick recording, gives you time to investigate further without relying on memory only. This particular app has the ability to gain the sound, making even very low recording useful.

Bird info

Fresh bird information is abundant on the internet, the problem for us has been that there so many different sources of information. We have had to scan all those sites/apps continuously over the year. Here are a few.

  • RBA, rare bird alerts in UK/Ireland. This is a service you have to pay for, it’s invaluable though and a must.
  •  eBird has in many areas/countries been the main source of information for us.  The ability to explore hotspots and all the other search functionality has been invaluable. We have done all our reporting in iGoTerra, but once the year is over I’ll ensure all our data finds its way to eBird as well. Ebird has an excellent app for sight recordings as well, and going all-in on eBird is clearly an alternative to iGoTerra.
  • Observado is in many ways similar to eBird but with worse search functionality. We have used Observado extensively over the year.
  • BirdAlarm is the Club300 in Sweden app, it’s used in Norway and Denmark too. Costs money.
  • All the various facebook pages for various countries are worth to sign up for. Birding Germany/Iceland/Italy/Poland/Cape Verde/
  • Bird news from Germany and France at ornitho.de and ornitho.fr
  • Whatsapp groups in the various countries have been great, they always require a local contact though.

 

 

Winter is coming

We flew directly from the Canaries to the north, a short stop at home to pick up winter clothes and we were off to Kiruna, northern Sweden. Benny Modig runs a feeder close to Kiruna which attracts the rare Siberian Tit. We did tick the Siberian Tit in The Urals, but apparently the bird in The Urals was just outside the WP border.  It’s dark in Kiruna this time of the year, and the sun just barely shows itself. In the very last light the nicely coloured Tit was there though.

Siberian Tit
Siberian Tit

We then drove west, five hour drive from Kiruna to Lofoten in the dark. We were still almost shocked by the difference in temperature and feeling from yesterday when we enjoyed Cream-coloured Coursers in the desert.

-24
-24

We were choosing between Lofoten and Tromsö. Advice from Håvard Eggen and Martin Eggen made us decide on Lofoten in the end. The Fjords around Grimsöysand hosts wintering Yellow-billed Loons every winter according to the Eggen brothers. Thanks guys!

The following day we started at dawn, searching for wintering Yellow-billed Loons. The first large loon we found eventually turned out to be a Common Loon though, and so was the second and the third … Finally, we found it, with its characteristic stance with the bill turned slightly upwards.

Lofoten is one spectacular place, usually the weather in winter is bad. We were lucky though with low winds and clear skies.

Scanning the fjord
Scanning the fjord

The sun barely shows itself.

Almost midwinter
Almost midwinter

On the way back, we decided to sleep in Abisko, on the Swedish side. Hoping for Northern Lights, no suck luck though. In the morning just as we were to jump into the car, we heard the Crows and the Magpies being agitated, the reason was a slumbering Hawkowl. We called Erik who was doing number two inside and he came running with his pants at the ankles. We showed the Owl to the Chinese and Indian tourists there to see the Northern Lights, they were all very excited.

Northern Hawkowl
Northern Hawkowl

The Canaries

The last group of Macaronesian islands waiting for us were the Canaries. With planning help from Eduardo Garcia del Rey, we needed to visit only three islands to get all the endemics as well as the Houbara Bustard that we also needed. It feels much better to tick the Bustard on Fuerteventura than to tick it in Merzuga, Morocco where Bustards are regularly released for hunters.

First Island for us was Gran Canaria which hosts a lingering population of Blue Chaffinch that was just recently split into two species, one on Gran Canaria and one on Tenerife. The Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch is rare, maybe less than 200 birds in total, whereas the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch is common. The Blue Chaffinch habitat is high altitude pine forest. Eduardo had told us to search in an area here walking a dirt trail listening and watching. First evening we found none, but next day we were back early in the morning and were able to locate a flock after a couple of nervous hours searching.

Gran Canaria Chaffinch
Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch

Gran Canaria Chiffchaff was present everywhere. Very easy.

Gran Canaria Chiffchaff
Gran Canaria Chiffchaff

 

With those endemics in the bag, we headed towards Tenerife. We met up with Eduardo and we stayed at his place. Next Eduardo joined us for a full day of birding. First up were the two endemic pigeons, Laurel Pigeon and Bolle’s Pigeon. We stopped at a cafe’ next to a cliff and soon we spotted the first Laurel Pigeons.

Laurel Pigeon
Laurel Pigeon

No sign of Bolle’s Pigeon though and we headed towards the pine forests and the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch. These birds were considerably much easier to locate than their close relatives on Gran Canaria.

Tenerife Blue Chaffinch
Tenerife Blue Chaffinch

The two Chaffinches were very much alike each other, the calls and the wing bands were distinctly different though. After lunch we went back to one of the valleys hosting Laurel forest and in the afternoon we soon found also the Bolle’s Pigeon.

Bolle's Pigeon
Bolle’s Pigeon

At the laurel valley, the all-year present Goldcrest was common, it is a subspecies but felt quite different from “our” Goldcrests.

Goldcrest (ssp teneriffae)
Goldcrest (ssp teneriffae)

With some extra time on our hands, we started to explore various ponds and marshes. In one of the ponds, a group of Common Shellducks were resting. Eduardo goes all apeshit, SHELLDUCKS!!! and we go .. ehh, yeah,what ?

Common Shellduck
Common Shellduck

It turns out to be a first for Tenerife. It’s weird birding on the islands of Macaronesia, the chances of finding the first for something – are high. Nice birding day indeed, thanks Eduardo – see you soon!!

Eduardo Garcia del Rey and us
Eduardo Garcia del Rey and us

Next up was Fuerteventura where we had two birds, the Houbara Bustard and the endemic Fuerteventura Stonechat. We had good info on both from Eduardo and went to a desert like area where we found the Bustard almost immediately. We love Bustards!!

Houbara Bustard
Houbara Bustard

The Stonechat was easily located, they were virtually everywhere.

Fuerte Ventura Chat
Fuerteventura Stonechat

Next day we had half a day of birding on our hands, and we explored various reservoirs and marshes. Good birding, in general birding on Fuerteventura was much better than what we expected, good species everywhere.

Cream-coloured Courser
Cream-coloured Courser
Berhelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit
Trumpeter Finch
Trumpeter Finch

At the reservoir of Embalse del los Molinos we sat down to just enjoy all the Ruddy Shellducks when suddenly large groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse came flying in. Beautiful indeed.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse

 

 

Dusk in Lisbon

On our way from Cape Verde to The Canaries we decided to make a short stop in Lisbon, a Dusky Warbler (lacking its tail) had been resident in Tejo Estuario for over a week. We arrived in Lisbon in the evening and the day after we had received excellent information from Pedro Nicolau regarding the whereabouts of the Dusky Warbler. We spent the entire day staring at this bush.

Dusky Warbler bush
Dusky Warbler bush

In the afternoon the wind picked up and it started to rain, no warbler. Eventually we embraced the dip and went back to the apartment we had rented.

We’d made an invite on Facebook, inviting Lisbon birders to come and have a drink with us in the evening and gossip about birds. It was really nice to meet Pedro Nicolau who has been very helpful over the year, providing excellent information over and over again. Other birders that came were Manuel Ribeiro and Frederico Morais, and Frederico had a card to the Estuary gates. The Estuary is closed over night, apparently to protect against thieves!! We borrowed Fredericos card and could access the Estuary in the morning. Otherwise, without a card we wouldn’t have had time to do that, our flight to The Canaries was at 11 am, and the gates open at 9 am. We drove back to the same spot, the same patch of reeds we spent the entire previous day staring at – and as soon as we jump out of the car, we heard the Dusky Warbler calling.  It was there !!!

Dusky Warbler
Dusky Warbler

Sao Vicente sewage ponds

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.

Whimbrel
Whimbrel

After a short while we found our first rarity, an Intermediate Egret. A bird we looked for like crazy on Santiago.

Intermediate Egret
Intermediate Egret

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.

Wilson's Snipe
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson's Snipe
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.

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup [update Tufted Duck]
[update: This was non trivial, there were two ducks here, one was a Lesser Scaup and the other a Tufted Duck. See the pics below:

Lesser Scaup and Tufted Duck
Lesser Scaup and Tufted Duck
Lesser Scaup and Tufted Duck
Lesser Scaup and Tufted Duck

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.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs

 

Raso and Branco

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.

Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater

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.

Cap Verde Sharwater
Cape Verde Shearwater
Cap Verde Shearwater
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.

Fea's Petrel
Fea’s Petrel

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 Lark
Raso Lark
Raso Lark
Raso Lark

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.

Brown Booby
Brown Booby
Red-billed tropicbird
Red-billed tropicbird

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.

Brown Booby colony
Brown Booby colony

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.

Red-footed Booby
Red-footed Booby

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.

Exploring Branco
Exploring Branco

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.

Cap Verde Storm-petrel
Cap Verde Storm-petrel

Also the Boyd’s Shearwaters were confused on the ground, having troubles finding their bearings in the torch lights.

Boyd's Shearwater
Boyd’s Shearwater

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.

 

 

Feels like Africa

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.

Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher

On our way up to the reservoir, we saw swifts, stopped and photographed the Cap Verde Swift.

Cap Verde Swift
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.

Squacco Heron
Squacco Heron

Counting subspecies, the Bourne’s Heron is also rare. It’s counted as a subspecies of Purple Heron.

Bourne's Heron
Puple Heron (ssp bournei)

A common bird around the reservoir as well all over the island was the local subspecies of Common Kestrel, (alexandri)

Common Kestrel (ssp alexandri)
Common Kestrel (ssp 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.

Cap Verde Warbler
Cap Verde Warbler

With the warbler bagged, we had a spectacular pork lunch in a little mountain restaurant. The endemic Iago Sparrows feeding around the restaurant.

Iago Sparrow
Iago Sparrow

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.

Cap Verde Buzzard mirador
Cap Verde Buzzard mirador

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.

Black Heron
Black Heron

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.

Reed Cormormant
Reed Cormorant
Reed Cormorant
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.

 

White-winged Tern
White-winged Tern

Tried one under birded reservoir that held nothing special, beautiful place though.

Erik
Erik

We spent the evening – once again – at the reservoir scanning through all the Cattle Egrets.

 

 

 

Neighbour countries

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.

Stellar's Eider
Stellar’s Eider

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.

Barrow's Goldeneye
Barrow’s 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.

Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin 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.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull
Iceland Gull
Iceland Gull

Other common birds were Long-tailed Duck, Common Loon, Common Eider and also the nice Icelandic subspecies of Wren.

Common Eider
Common Eider
Eurasian Wren (ssp islandica)
Eurasian Wren (ssp islandicus)

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.

Rock Ptarmigan
Rock Ptarmigan

Late in the afternoon we tried another bay, where we were able to connect closely with Harlequin Ducks again. Erik got some great shots.

Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin Ducks
Harlequin Ducks

This has to be the most handsome duck in the WP. The same bay also had cooperative Purple Sandpipers.

Purple Sandpiper
Purple Sandpiper

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.

Gyrfalcon
Gyrfalcon

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.

 

 

 

Dip Trip

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.

Rock Pipit
Rock Pipit
Common Loon
Common Loon

The other Thush in Cork, at Galley Head was also gone. We had to settle for a few Firecrests.

Firecrest
Firecrest

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.

Two-barred Warbler
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.