Monday, 16 October 2017

OPHELIA !

What a hectic couple of days! We didn't expect Hurricane Ophelia to bring in American vagrants as it was moving up from West Africa (it's the furthest east a Hurricane has been in the North Atlantic since 1980!). However the intense disturbance dragged across a moderate westerly airflow from the US and with it.... came the Megas!

It had already started on Friday with the Blackpoll Warbler and by Saturday 14th things started to escalate fast sending birders in all directions. By the end of Saturday. new birds found included a Black-throated Green Warbler at the Lighthouse Valley, a Northern Waterthrush in Tennessee Valley, a Common Yellowthroat at the rubbish dump, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (same bird from last week?), 2 Blackpoll Warblers,  a Scarlet Tanager coming in off the sea, 5 Red-eyed Vireos, an Upland Sandpiper and White-rumped, Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers were also in the game from previous days.

Frustratingly an American Sparrow sp. was seen on the Caldera road, the description suggesting something like a Vesper Sparrow but the bird was not seen again. Further frustration was generated by the mobility of the fresh in vagrants. Some birders failed to connect with any new species at all. The Big Year WP crew spent the whole day running around after species that quickly moved on- ending the day with no new ticks despite several being on offer as they reach for the 750 species in a year for the WP- a good milestone for their world record.

Sunday 15th was a day for the history books but proved to be even more frustrating than the day before with mobile mega birds being found on treacherous mountain slopes.

At 9:50am Mika Brunn was looking for the Northern Waterthrush in Tennessee Valley when instead he found a first for the Azores and a 5th for the WP- a Blackburnian Warbler. Chaos quickly ensued and birders from all corners of the island attempted to make their way to the spot- a steep side of the Corvo volcano, of low scrub where birds often first arrive and move over the top to the valleys on the east side of the island. It was two hours until the bird was re-located and still several birders didn't connect with it.

Blackburnian Warbler (Vincent Legrand). More pics HERE

Then at 1.15pm with several birders still un-connected with the Blackburnian, Radek Gwozdz found a stunning Yellow-throated Vireo further up the Tennessee valley. Some birders deserted the Blackburnian to go for the Vireo and ended up missing both birds! The Vireo was last seen around 2pm - it had made it's way to the cliff-top Junipers, ready to move off to the Valleys.

Yellow-throated Vireo (Radek Gwozdz). More pics HERE

During the mayhem of twitching the megas, a few other birds were seen (but needless to say with bird finders on the chase, presumably other birds went un-found) with a Greater Yellowlegs briefly at the reservoir, two Semipalmated Sandpipers, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 2 Red-eyed Vireo, 1-2 Common Yellowthroats and 2 Blackpoll Warbler.

New birds on the neighbouring island of Flores included an Osprey (on Saturday), Northern Waterthrush, Surf Scoter and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, found by the small numbers of birders on there- a reminder of the potential of the larger island of Flores if only there were the 200 birders of so needed to match the Corvo effort and cover the larger area.

With Ophelia continuing to drag in westerlies for the next few days- what will tomorrow bring??

Friday, 13 October 2017

A change in the weather

Yesterday was relatively quiet on the Rock with the main new arrival being 2 Dotterel at the Reservoir. Remaining birds included 2 Blue-winged Teal, 1 Ring-necked Duck, 3 Little Stint, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Pectoral Sandpiper, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper and 5 Glossy Ibis in the caldera with the Rough-legged Hawk/ Buzzard seen over the reservoir, a Red-eyed Vireo at Do Vinte, a Willow Warbler at Tennessee Valley and the Semipalmated Sandpiper still at the old harbour and presumably the same bird seen at the reservoir. 

Today saw a complete change in the weather from clear skies and temperatures approaching 30 C to heavy rain and a brisk south west breeze. Conditions are set to deteriorate further (or rather improve from a birding perspective)  as the weekend progresses as Hurricane Ophelia swings past the Azores by Sunday. The source of the system is East / Central Atlantic so the expectation for American vagrants is not particularly high but the possibility of good sea watching is. In the past, tropical species such as White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird and Trindade Petrel have been recorded in the autumn on Corvo and Flores so tropical species are possible.

With the increasing winds today, the sea watching immediately improved with 1 Fea's-type Petrel, 5 Sooty Shearwater, several Great Shearwaters, 1 Manx Shearwater, 1 Arctic Skua, 1 Ring-necked Duck past the windmills and a Leach's Petrel was taken into care.

Even more encouraging there was a small arrival of new american vagrants headlined by a Blackpoll Warbler in tamarisks near the village, a presumed American Great White Egret ,Spotted Sandpiper and 2 White-rumped Sandpipers.

Rarer still for Corvo, a Curlew Sandpiper was at the Old harbour- one of the few island records. 

Blackpoll Warbler (Vincent Legrand) 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

An even quieter day on the Rock

Very little change today in the continuing high pressure and warm conditions. New migrants included a Moorhen and 3 Teal.

The Big Year WP are on Corvo for most of the month. Here's the latest blog post from them HERE

Drone video of birders in the caldera 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Quiet day on the rock

A relatively quiet day on the rock in unseasonal weather with temperatures around 30 C. Bird of the day from a regional perspective was a Pied Flycatcher- the third record for the Azores. Other new migrants included a Ruff and a Willow Warbler but with westerly winds picking up as the day progressed, hopes are building for a return of migrants coming from the opposite direction.

Remaining birds on the island included one of the 'Rough-legged Hawks', 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 5 Glossy Ibis, 2 Wilson's Snipes, 1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1 Red-eyed Vireo, 2 Blue-winged Teal, 1 Ring-necked Duck and the flock of hybrid Mallard x Black Duck (12 birds today).

The Belted Kingfisher was relocated on the neighbouring island of Flores so tomorrow half of the island's birders are off twitching.

Rough-legged Hawk/Buzzard from early October (Peter Stronach). 

Monday, 9 October 2017

9th October 2017

A significant arrival of birders on the island today with over 40 birders now present. Despite the high pressure and east winds there were a few other new arrivals (or rather new discoveries) including a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

The Northern Waterthrush was still present at the Pig Farm but was elusive and there were at least four Red-eyed Vireos including three at Fojo. A Glossy Ibis was flying around the Airfield, presumably one of the four birds that have recently been present in the Caldera.

A Sperm Whale was seen in the channel between Corvo and Flores.

Red-eyed Vireo, Da Ponte Bridge (Rafael Armada)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Will autumn 2017 set up new records for Corvo?

Two years have elapsed since we last used this forum to report news from Corvo in autumn. Nonetheless, having spoken to a few fellow birders over the last days, I decided to attempt to "resurrect" this blog and report again news from "the Rock" on a regular basis and at least until the end of this month! There are in fact reasons to believe that the currently ongoing autumn on Corvo may set up new records in terms of quality and quantity of rarities recorded, which is certainly worth the effort of blogging over the next few weeks!

The rarity hunting season on Corvo started rather early this year with the first birders reaching the island from mid September onwards. By then, the 2017 Hurricane season on the eastern American seaboard was already well on its way to become classified as a "record year". Irma, a category 5 hurricane that formed on late August and devastated the Carribean and the southern US seaboard in Florida during the first half of September had just started to fade off when a first international team of 4 birders (Bob Swann, Peter Stronach, Jean-Pierre Jordan and Dominique) arrived on the Rock to find out that Irma and its associated cast of depressions had delivered "en masse": in 10 days (22 September - 2 October) they tallied at least 5 species of american waders, 1 american raptor, 8 species of American Warblers and two species of vireos. An impressive haul which is not without recalling the year 2009 when the early visit to Corvo in September by Swedish Birder Olof Johnson had also largely paid off, though the 2017 high totals scored here remain totally unprecedented since the potential of Corvo as a rarity hunting ground was revealed to the Western Palearctic birding community in 2005. 

Another record which is about to be set for Corvo this autumn concerns the attendance level by international birders. Thanks to the compiling work of Finnish birder Mika Bruun published on the "Corvo birders" FB page, it is estimated that at least 78 birders from 15 different nationalities have booked a trip to the island between late September and early November, with peak attendance foreseen for the third week of the month when about 70 birders will be present on Corvo. These numbers are also totally unprecedented for the island and may well require some adjustment and coordination work, e.g. to ensure that everyone can get a meal at night in one of the few local restaurants still available at this time of the year! 

Total daily numbers of birders present on Corvo in October 2017 (courtesy of Mika Bruun)
Despite these potential logistic issues, the perspectives for the rest of the month are very promising: hurricanes and depression activity is predicted to remain substantially high in the Western Atlantic while number of birders arriving on the island will continue to rise steadily in the next days and weeks, thereby ensuring the wide coverage needed to maximise the chances of a new discovery. In fact, since Peter Stronach et al. left the island on October 2, many of the regular Corvo birders have started to arrive, resulting in a few interesting discoveries including a Belted Kingfisher in the Old harbour on the 3rd, a Bobolink in Poço d'Agua on the 6th, the second Philadelphia Vireo of the season in Do Vinte on the 7th, and a Scarlet Tanager at Lighthouse Valley on the 8th

Nearctic landbird species recorded on Corvo since 22-09-2017 and up to date:
Rough-legged Hawk 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Northern Waterthrush 2+
Magnolia Warbler 1
Canada Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Ovenbird 2
Philadelphia Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 20+
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Bobolink 1

A few images courtesy of Peter Stronach and Rafa Armada:

Common Yellowthroat (male), Between Pico and Poço d'Agua, 27 September 2017 (Peter Stronach)
Black-throated Green Warbler, Cantinho, 27 September 2017 (Peter Stronach)
Canada Warbler (1st winter male), Poço d'Agua, 28 September 2017 (Peter Stronach)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1st winter male), Lapa, 01 October 2017 (Peter Stronach)
Northern Waterthrush, Lower Fields (Old Pig Farm), 06 October 2017 (Rafa Armada)

Friday, 31 October 2014

One last bird before the plane took everyone home

And so this is firmly it. Yesterday's post was supposed to be the last for this season, but with a Long-billed Dowitcher plonking itself on the airfield this morning an update was in order for the sake of completeness.
Long-billed Dowitcher on the airstrip (photo courtesy of Richard Bonser)
And, as we left, a passing cargo ship was in the distance heading east. Unfortunately all those stowaways will never be found even if they do make landfall on the rock. Because, the lights have firmly been closed for this birding season and nobody's around anymore.
Cargo ship heading east around Corvo (photo courtesy of Richard Bonser)
Same people, same place, next year, different birds.