26 October 2007

An Azores first!

Bump, the 1960s vintage military transport plane arrived in Terceira. Two hours of daylight remained and, thanks to the most efficient baggage retrieval, airport evacuation and taxi hijacking yet performed, we (myself, Vincent and David) spent over an hour of it at the mighty Cabo da Praia. Whilst the paparazzi chased the Laughing Gull, I scanned the waders and soon stumbled onto a small, dull-axilleried, short-winged pluvialis. Having fought off the initial disbelief, I cautiously uttered "I think I might have a Pacific here". All three of us then grilled the bird and slowly (oh, so slowly) became more and more confident as the gloom became more and more impenetrable. I also took this opportunity to obtain some of the worst photos and video of any bird ever (some of which I present here, see/squint below).

If you listen very, very carefully the bird calls right at the end of the clip, seemingly in response to a Semi-palmated Plover, it appears to utter a very similar 'chew-it'.

25 October 2007

My last full day on here

What a way to finish! Spent three hours caning some distant valley with no reward but, on the way back down the track, we walked straight up to a Common Nighthawk and, due to the increasingly dense fog, almost straight past it (thank God for mobbing Chaffinches). Pandemonium ensued, eventually everybody got outrageous views before the bird had enough, flew around a couple of times, and settled on a nearby wall. An absolutely unmissable and unforgettable birding experience.

24 October 2007


Woke up to blustery south-easterlies and decided against flogging oneself in the valleys. Seawatching and sauntering between fields and fig groves was the order of the day. Seawatching produced next to nothing beyond the usual doughnut of cagarro that encircles this rock (see pic). On a positive note, further views today may mean we have gained an additional Tree Swallow and yet another Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

23 October 2007

Oh dear

Having shunned Grey-cheeked Thrush, Indigo Bunting, Tree Swallow, Corncrake, etc. today. I ended up going for a bit of actitis action on the beach but only ended up with crabs (Oh,... and a Whimbrel).

22 October 2007

Eradicate them all

Cuckoo Killer
Qu'est-ce que c'est?
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Probably the biggest threat to any rarity on these islands, shudder to think what their impact is on the breeding seabirds.

21 October 2007

They keep coming

So far, I haven't spent a day on Corvo that didn't produce a new American bird, today was no different with top-billing going to an additional Indigo Bunting and a Grey-cheeked Thrush. The two buntings are now hanging around together, showing down to less than 4m and the male has even been heard to sing. The thrush, on the other hand, has been a usual bastard catharus, showing for seconds at most and often only in flight. Given the aforementioned, it will come as no surprise which species is featured in the photo below.

20 October 2007

Last year Summer this year...

On 26th October 2006 I co-found a Summer Tanager on Corvo, today I managed to stumble across a Scarlet, only two people can claim to have found both in the WP and I'm one of them,... nice. The magic moment went a bit like this:

Bird: pwee, pwee (high-pitched and rather irate due to presence of annoyed Blackcap whose figs the tanager is trying to scoff).
Me (turning to my right and seeing a tanager): Jesus titty-f**king Christ!
Bird: (flies to next fig 'orchard').
Me (on radio): Tanager! I've got a Summer Tanager! (SIC!)
Bird: (starts tucking into a fig whilst harrassed by Blackcap, see pic below).
Me: No, tanager sp., shit! (much ensuing panic as Pete arrives, photos are grabbed and various garbled directions are sent in at least three languages to get everyone else to the site).

As the adrenaline subsided, we realised it was, as belatedly suspected, a Scarlet (luckily well before any other f***er had seen it and re-identified it).

Other highlights are another view of the Tree Swallow, three Yellow-billed Cuckoos (including two sat beside one another) and a Spoonbill (Azores tick, yay!).

Hello, there are at least six of me on the Azores at the mo.

19 October 2007

A funny old day

Spent all morning thrashing Ribeiro do Cantinho for nothing more than a Woodcock. Lunch produced three Sperm Whales from the picnic site (including a little baby,... aaaaah) but the birds were still decidedly thin on the ground. However, things started to pick up when a look through the 'bean fields' resulted in the following conversation:

Peter: I say, what have I got here?
Me: That, Mr. Alfrey, is a Tree Swallow.
Peter: Gosh, so it is.
Me: Gosh indeed.

And that is exactly what happened. Having soaked up the Tree Swallow for an hour we then sauntered off towards Villa do Corvo,... where we refound the Tree Swallow, which was unlucky for two members of the circus, as they had just shot off to the 'bean fields'. Another half an hour or so was spent oohing and aahing over the swallow before we went looking for more. It was at this point I found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (see pic below), unfortunately it was a little off colour, probably due to its long transatlantic voyage or, just possibly, the local moggy (can't tell which). Luckily, Peter then found two more Yellow-billed Cuckoos in the surrounding fields, both of which were much healthier, and one of which was feeding on Convolvulous Hawk-moth caterpillars. So that'll be three Yellow-billed Cuckoos within about 250m of each other, I do so like Corvo.

18 October 2007

Pressure rising

The only quality new bird today was a flyover 2nd-winter Laughing Gull, however, interest was maintained by the cuckoo showing flipping well at times and a few other odds and sods (White-rumped Sands, etc.). No new American landbirds today and, with neighbouring Flores on two (Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-rumped Warbler) was are trailing in the inter-island competition. The mood isn't being improved any by the promised high-pressure system, which appears to be building out to the west,... ho-hum.

17 October 2007

Two more flights...

Strong overnight westerlies abated and, despite the best attempts of a trainee pilot, we are now on Corvo. As a WP tick was sitting in the caldera, two-thirds of Team UK bolted up the slope, over the edge and down into the crater. Last night's blow had significantly added to the waterbirds around the lake and, in addition to the Great Blue Heron, we also saw 1 Wilson's Phal, 2 Semi-p Sands, 3 Pecs, 1 White-rump, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Mallard x Black Duck hybrid and 4 Teal sp. All very nice, but not really the aim of the visit (finding yankee landbirds), unlike the Yellow-billed Cuckoo that the remaining member of the team had pulled out of the bushes back at Villa da Corvo. A few sweaty, knee-aching miles later and the cuckoo was safely on the Azores list. Two years ago to the day another Yellow-billed Cuckoo heralded the start of the most amazing run of records on this island,... here's hoping for a re-run of 2005.

PS. Look at the arse on that bird...

16 October 2007

Three flights later...

Three flights down and we have nearly reached our destination, however, a little pre-trip planning means we have a full afternoon at Europe's premier location for Nearctic waders - Cabo da Praia. Basically you can't fail and I don't believe we did. In order of abundance, we managed to round up 15 White-rumps, 12 Semi-p Sands, 4 Semi-p Plovers, 2 Least Sands, 2 Pecs, 1 Long-billed Dow, 1 AGP and 1 Laughing Gull. There is nothing else even approaching this place in the WP. Just as we were winding down for the day all the above were eclipsed as we pulled out,... wait for it,... Razorbill at Porto Oceanio, third for the Azores and the first for 20 years. Two of the birds peering out at the three muppets peering in are pictured below.

14 October 2007

Another dead mammal

Anyone good at dolphin identification? Or, more precisely, dead dolphins on their side off Goldcliff Pools identification? The photos below show a smallish cetacean which bobbed downstream with the tide at lunchtime, notable features included: a reasonably long, crescent shaped pectoral fin; all dark grey upperparts; an obvious pale area in front of the pectoral fin; a seemingly rounded tail fluke; and, though difficult to judge, a reasonably large size, probably 3-4m covered the length of the visible bits. Answers on a 'comment' please (click below). Also 14 Fieldfare, 30 Swallow and 1 Wheatear amongst the migrants, and 41 Avocet flushed by the farmer on his quad (again).

13 October 2007


God knows why it has taken so long for me to catch up with Barn Owl on the reserve but the drought is over; one was hunting over the reedbeds this morning. Then, in London bus fashion, a second patch-tick appeared, a Firecrest, only my second in Gwent, very nice.

08 October 2007

Identification pitfalls (part 1)

With a bit of luck this will become a regular feature of my blog. The aim will be to provide reference illustrations relating to particularly difficult species pairs found in Gwent. In future, I hope to be able to add tips on how to separate the species involved, however, with these two, all I can suggest is that there must be some differences in wing formula or maybe moult schedule. Uncanny, isn't it.

07 October 2007

A certified Sibe!

Today a bird from Siberia ended up at Uskmouth. That is about all you need to know really. I should point out the photo below was supplied by Mr. Richard Clarke Esq., by far the healthiest member of GRG. Good birds only jump in nets when I leave my camera at home. Anyhoo, I'm off to have a nice cup of Horlicks whilst listening to the dulcet tones of Mimsy Carpenter in Mrs. Bradshaw's Hat on Radio 4.