30 October 2008

Roll on 2009?

Left Terceira this morning and, after a brief stop in Lisbon, ended up standing at a freezing Heathrow waiting for my ride. Another successful Azorean jaunt completed, let's hope the tour groups sniffing around don't balls-up future years by filling Corvo's limited accommodation with useless tossers expecting to saunter round ticking yanks at every turn. During my stay, the team put in something like 1,500 birding hours producing two new megas (White-eyed Vireo and Black-throated Green) and it took us 10 days to nail down the sapsucker, despite birding its chosen valley every day. If the island gets booked out by numpties expecting Fair Isle-esque conditions and nicely manicured paths (as opposed to sub-tropical secondary growth woodland on ankle-mangling slopes) it may well result in half the parulidae going unfound. Let us hope the Corvo phenomenon isn't buggered by those looking to cash-in on Mr Alfrey's discovery.

Just the sort of image that would attract bird-spotting twats to Corvo.

29 October 2008

Last knockings

Flew off Corvo at lunchtime and spent the evening in Cabo da Praia quarry. This year has been pretty quiet at this, the premier Western Palearctic site for Nearctic waders, and only produced Semi-palmated, White-rumped and Pec Sands plus Semi-palmated Plovers. Not bad, but not the range or number of species found in here over the last couple of years. It is a classic birding location though, an oil refinery on one side, fly-tipped crap dotted here and there, and the primary viewpoint consists of the remains of a construction compound complete with rusting storage containers and dilapidated security fencing, aesthetically it's right up there with some of the finer sewage works of this world.

28 October 2008

The final full day

Three hours at the Black-throated Green site this morning produced nothing more than a slightly perturbed Woodcock. The da Ponte quarry was similarly barren but a wander back down toward Villa do Corvo resulted in my second American Great White Egret for the trip,... which was nice.

27 October 2008

Best day of the trip?

Refound the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker this morning and, after a few frantic minutes of headless chickenry, another half dozen birders scored before it disappeared once again, hotly pursued by the local Chaffinch mafia. Managed to get quiet recordings of both feeding taps (at around 30 secs and 1 min) and calls (at around 3 mins 28 secs) amongst the general melee...

[Two warnings on this one: a. it is a large file; and b. if you can speak French be warned of some upcoming language grossièr]

Spent the rest of the morning failing to relocate the vireo before news from Flores produced ideal conditions for the most fun-filled dip in history. The frigatebird sp. had spent all morning at Santa Cruz so we decided to charter a boat. The trip over was a race across 15 miles of sun-drenched Atlantic swell in a 25 foot rib (wind in the hair, sun at one's back, blah, blah, blah...). Then followed a couple of hours sat drinking ice tea, coffee, etc. at the Buena Vista Cafe whilst the bird singularly failed to play ball. The real fun was the trip back though, in the gathering gloom and rising wind, 12 birders bounced back to base through rafts of Cory's, rain squalls and spray as Villa do Corvo shone in the distance (at least when the increasingly lumpy ocean wasn't spoiling the view). I think my enduring memories will be Pierre doing his finest impression of Washington crossing the Delaware, Stuart being pitched back and fore on a makeshift space-hopper and the sad demise of Peter's Che hat. All jolly good fun and we were safely back in time for tea.

26 October 2008

Sloooooow day

No sapsucker, and precious little else. Sperm Whale and both Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins were probably the best 'birds'.

Que você está olhando?

25 October 2008

Two Azores ticks but...

Managed to catch up with the juvenile Hobby (1st for the Azores) today and, whilst staking out the bleeding sapsucker, had a flyover Kestrel. Two new falcons for my Azores list. Unfortunately, both were rather over-shadowed by the fact that only Peter managed to see the sapsucker today, despite 15 of us blitzing Fogo. Sub-tropical woodland, not the easiest habitat in which to find a woodpecker.

24 October 2008


Found my second second for the WP today, will update properly tomorrow, beer taking precedence...


During the morning, Peter and I had worked our way up a small valley near the 'beanfields' finding nothing more exciting than a Lesser Yellowlegs; Peter worked his way back through the fields as I pushed on up. Dropping back into the valley, I was struck by how 'birdy' it was and briefly stopped to take a photo as it felt as though something interesting might be about to happen.

I settled down in some shade on one side, scanned across, then a small, grey-headed passerine with double wingbars and yellow underparts came into my life...

Recording one: The sound of utter panic, made moments after having seen the bird drop from a laurel about 50 yards away and instantly disappear. I somehow managed to underestimate the distance between myself and the bird, resulting in an underestimate of the birds size (hence the dendroica tag). I was also a little non-plussed as to the ID of my 'mystery dendroica' and absolutely delirious regarding the possible WP status (I think I was leaning towards Nashville, having conveniently forgotten their lack of wingbars).

Recording two: The sound of straight-forward panic, having had good views but singularly failing to digiscope the blighter, I now knew what it was but couldn't accurately describe where I was and then,... a Canary chased it off down the valley.

It took an hour for the others to arrive and two to relocate the little blighter. Two of the longer hours in my life.

Fourteen birders bagged the bird (well 14.5 if we count Peter's unborn child), my kinda size of twitch.

23 October 2008

Seconds of a fourth/fifth

Dawn in the valley with no name was just a touch foggy. It took a good hour to locate the bird but it was still calling regularly and everyone got it; by the afternoon there were some cracking photos in the bag and I even managed some reasonable sound recordings despite the wind, rain and 15 noisy bastard birders.

If you happen to be out looking for dendroicas (and specifically a Black-throated Green Warbler) the following has half a dozen calls on it to lodge in your memory banks...

If, however, you are a budding sound recordist and you want to record at twitches this is the sort of thing more likely to be passing through your microphone [note, some anglo-saxon language may be heard near the termination of this recording]...

22 October 2008

So not a blank day

It was all pretty quiet until lunchtime, then Pierre found a dendroica in 'the valley with no name'. Naturally, something bordering on blind panic ensued, mostly involving mud, rotten logs, a few dry-stone walls, two cows, and a small brightly-coloured passerine. By the end of the afternoon, two of us had Black-throated Green on our lists (including the esteemed author of this blog), whilst everyone else had heard it repeatedly but only managed glimpses as it flitted about in the canopy.

21 October 2008

So nearly a blank

Spent interminable hours in Fogo and Ponte today and got the square root of bugger all for my effort. Did hear Hermit Thrush singing at one point, which caused me to scale an 8 foot dry-stone wall and scramble up an earthen bank at breakneck speed only to be met by an apologetic French face clutching an MP3 player. Also heard a quiet, disyllabic, downward inflected call, bit like Bullfinch but not so plaintive - God knows what it was. It was not unlike some Catharus calls only very weak, probably another distant playback experiment or I have walked away from a mega (let's hope the former).

After dipping on the Yellowthroats it was fast looking like consecutive blank days on Corvo until, in the gloaming, Pierre pulled out a Hudsonian Whimbrel on the airfield. The bird then flew a short distance to join two of it's European counterparts on the nearby rocks as shown below, I won't patronise you by pointing out which is which (on these views the giveaway is the stronger heard pattern).

20 October 2008

Onto Corvo

A quick hour at Cabo added a few more White-rumps and a Pintail but the rest was yesterday's offerings reheated. We then flew out to Corvo (via Faial), on landing we were met by a TV crew, Manuel and bad news on the Yellow-throated Vireo front (no sign despite a search). Spending an afternoon crawling all over Cancales didn't help,... arse.

Another arse, the first in a new series - 'which WP rare's arse is this?'

19 October 2008

The Terceira roundabout

Did a spin around Cabo, Cabrito, Angra, the harbour and Praia Pools. The quarry was the poorest I have seen it, only 2 Semi-palmated Plovers, 2 Semi-palmated Sands and 1 White-rumped Sand kept the stars and stripes flying. A Lesser Yellowlegs at Cabrito (presently drained) and an American Great White Egret at Praia kept the interest going but Angra could only chip in with a Peregrine and the harbour was devoid of the long-staying Laughing Gull.

18 October 2008

The rarest bird in the Western Palearctic

First stop Serra da Tronqueira and the remnants of the Azorean native flora plus its famous inhabitant the Priolo. The bullfinches are pretty easy to locate, their calls (more-or-less identical to our birds') are regularly heard whilst peering into the undergrowth. Seeing the buggers is a wee bit more difficult, and seeing them well is bordering on flipping hard work. I had one prolonged flight view and one or two glimpses and, much to the chagrin of the Monsieur Crochet, ticked and ran. Also had Weasel at this site, who released those on the island?!

Next stop was the wilds of Terra Nostra Parque and its equally wild Wood Duck. This bird, considered tickable by all manner of muppets, was being fed by nippers out for a Sunday stroll and parading round in a mixed flock including such well-proven 'carrier species' as Bahama Pintail, Mandarin and Mute Swan. F*ck knows why anyone would put this plastic shite on their list but they do.

After a quickish lunch of cozido, we headed to Lagoa das Furnas and, between the fumaroles, model speed boats and Tai Chi types, we turned up 1 Blue-winged Teal, 5 Ring-necked Duck, another teal sp. (strong head pattern but bi-coloured greater-covert tips, so who knows?), 1 Ruddy Shelduck (every bit as wild as the Wood Duck), 6 Common Tern and an Osprey.

17 October 2008

Pixie gen

Landed post-lunch and headed to the western end of Sao Miguel and the last known site of one of this year's Yellow-throated Vireos - 'Phyllo woods'. Unfortunately, despite being enchanted, and quite possibly rammed with pixies at the right time of year, the woods were lacking in American passerines. At the nearby Lagoa Azul and Sete Citadades we managed to cobble together a 1st-winter male Ring-necked Duck, 1 teal sp., 1 Pintail, 1 Little Egret and 14 Coot. Not the most inspiring of starts...

14 October 2008

Cheek pouches

Both the above spent a fair bit of their formative years held captive by strangers in a strange land, without any hope of escape. But only one of them talks about it every time he opens his mouth.

PS. Also, and I just noticed this, only one of the above does strange things to his eyebrows.

12 October 2008

Back in the real world

I'm sure we'll can look forward to another week of world leaders, economists, financial journalists and bankers pissing themselves over the state of the markets/banks. All the while gloriously missing the point... click here, have a read and then email the link to Robert Peston, or your MP, or some other twat revelling/wallowing in the 'credit crunch' and ask them to "wake the [enter expletive here] up and smell the roses."

[Edit - for more on how the 'nature crunch' makes the 'credit crunch' look like a dribble of piss click here]

11 October 2008

Double aaaargh!

A bit of a mixed morning started with a Bar-headed Goose flying west with the Canadas. Then a pretty steady movement of common migrants (mainly west) along the coast maintained the interest; the bulk consisted of Skylark, Pied Wag, Mipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, and Siskin plus the odd Song Thrush, Redpoll and one Bullfinch. On the deck Wheatear, Stonechat, Treecreeper and Coal Tit were the only semi-notables. Unfortunately, the bird(s) of the day were a couple of silent larks, going west, probably Woodlark, I only had a glimpse as they flew low along the opposite side of a line of hawthorn/blackthorn; despite legging it along the path, to try and get a view, I gained nothing but a slight muscle pull (and that, ladles and gentlespoons, is how to duff up a patch and county tick),... bugger!

Then came the news from Corvo; regular text updates including Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Red-eyed Vireos did little more than bring the words dejected, depression, despondency, doleful, dysphoria, doldrums, downhearted and dumps to mind, but I was so pissed off I couldn't even be bothered to fashion them into a sentence.

10 October 2008


This week saw a flurry of yanks reach our shores, a dose of ReVs were accompanied by Blackpoll Warbler, Grey-cheeked Thrush and, highlight of highlights, Alder Flycatcher. Ireland waded in with Scarlet Tanager, all very exciting I'm sure you'll agree, but it has taken Gwent to really grab the headlines with today's posting on the GOS sightings page of the following monumental October story (to be read out loud in your best [and, therefore, most annoying] Robert Peston drawl),...


Eat your heart out Nanjizal.

08 October 2008


This is a public information announcement for all those readers from Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands who have followed the link on Netfugl over the last day or two and arrived here expecting a picture of a Common Nighthawk - try clicking here. Alternatively, see below.

This bird was the one Peter and I bumped into last year on Corvo. Given the way this autumn is shaping up, I'm thinking the Azores might not be the worst place to be right now.

06 October 2008

How do people continually think up titles?

There appears to have been a bit of doom and gloom around lately. The Gwentish double whammy of putrid weather and limited ornithological fare seems to have coalesced with the recent economic down turn to sour the mood. So, in an effort to spread cheer to the birding masses, I thought I'd trawl this year's notebook and pick out the goodies, for they are easily forgotten amongst the avalanche of shite.

So far 2008 has provided yours truly with six (count 'em) county ticks, in rough chronological order: Caspian Gull, Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Long-tailed Skua and Wryneck. I have also had a couple or three in the way of decent patch ticks, including Red Kite, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Nuthatch. What with a Spoonbill and a smattering of Ospreys, Med Gulls, Marsh Harriers, etc., it is all adding up to an OK year (certainly nothing that, given another rare or two and the opportunity to repeatedly punch a 'city banker' in the face, couldn't turn into a very nice twelve months thank you). Even the fact that the Yellow-browed Warbler decided to turn up at Llanwern doesn't dampen things unduly.

PS. Please note I am choosing to avoid mention of Great Grey Shrike, Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Ferruginous Duck and Slavonian Grebe, all of which would have been new for my Gwentcestershire listette.
PPS. Yes nurse, I think upping my prescription has done the trick, thank you.

05 October 2008

Where not to watch birds in Gwent: Ynysyfro Reservoirs

The first installment of this new regular feature takes in the delightful Ynysyfro reservoirs.

Location - Just north-east of High Cross, from junction 27 of the M4 take the B4591 towards Risca, after approximately 0.5 miles turn right (signposted Fourteen Locks Canal Centre), park at the Canal Centre. From the entrance to the car park turn right and right again and walk down the minor road to the reservoirs (signposted Ynysyfro Reservoirs).

Access - All of the upper basin, and the majority of the lower, can be viewed from the causeway. Gwent Ornithological Society members also have access to the paths around the lower basin.

Habitat - Two small artificial reservoirs with very limited marginal vegetation surrounded by regularly mown grass banking. During periods of low water some restricted areas of mud occur, in addition, a culverted ditch runs along the south west side of the lower basin. A small coniferous plantation, hedgerows, pasture, rough grassland, a golf course and a garden border the site.

Species - Very few species of bird have been located at this site making it one of the premier sites for not watching birds in the county. Apart from Little Owl, Feral Goose, Pochard and Chiffchaff, this evening I managed to not watch birds during most of my visit.

The idyllic lower basin looking east towards the golf course, note the tranquil surface to the limpid waters, almost entirely undisturbed by waterfowl.

04 October 2008

A bit of a dip

A morning at Castle Meadows resulted in precisely zero Great Grey Shrikes (or indeed Cattle Egrets for that matter). A few Redwing, Redpoll and Siskin flew over between the showers, contrasting nicely with the small number of hirundines knocking around. The Dippers, Kingfishers and Grey Wags, liberally spread along the river, also did their best to keep the interest up.

03 October 2008

02 October 2008

Ickle boy Ieuan

If you prefer your Gwent Levels without a tarmac top, please click here and sign the online petition calling for the Westminster rejects/over-promoted town councillors of the Welsh Assembly to seek a sustainable transport solution for south Wales (as opposed to a 1970s vintage 'lets build our way out of traffic jams' plan).

01 October 2008

Naaarfolk, etc.

A couple of days in East Anglia, lovely, I even managed to get a few hours birding at Holkham and Blakeney whilst not ensconced in meetings, etc. What a change to be out and about in a county where finding a Yellow-browed does little more than induce a nigh-imperceptible rise of an eyebrow. Didn't see 'owt of great consequence but just working through a decent dose of crests whilst Pinkfeet skeins passed overhead was nice enough.