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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A diagnostic feature of Wilson’s Storm-petrel is the yellow webbing on the feet.
Long-tailed Jaegers came feeding on the chum.
So did a Blue Shark, not good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Furthermore Berthelot’s Pipit and Plain Swift reside here as well as on the Canaries.
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.
On the way out to the Bank we also see a few Bulwer’s Petrel. A lifer for all of us.
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.
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.
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.
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.