Thursday, 2 November 2017

The 2017 autumn on Corvo: a brief summary

The 2017 hurricane season in the Northern Atlantic was already considered by meteorologists as more intense than normal by mid September with 13 storms recorded, of which 4 were major hurricanes listed as Category 3 (on a scale of 5). By then, scientists at the US National Hurricane Centre were tweeting messages like “Never seen anything like this in the modern record”…with some of these tweets being reprinted in the New York Times! Six weeks later and after another 7 hurricanes have gone through the southeast US seaboard, the Caribbean region and the north Atlantic, 2017 is about to enter the selective club of “10 busiest years in terms of hurricane activity and number of storms recorded”.

Predictably, this had some important implications for the rarity-hunting season on Corvo that clearly stands out as the most productive season since 2005 in terms of total number of birds discovered, and certainly also as one of the best season in terms of quality and rarity of the records made.

In fact, the data/observations compiled for the period 23 September to 31 October 2017 yields self-explanatory figures:

Nearctic landbird species recorded on Corvo from 23 Sept to 31 Oct 2017 (no. of individuals involved):
Rough-legged Hawk (2)
Belted Kingfisher (1)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (6)
American Buff-bellied Pipit (1)
Cedar Waxwing (1)
Grey-cheeked Thrush (3)
Swainson's Thrush (1)
American Robin (1)
Yellow-throated Vireo (1)
Philadelphia Vireo (3)
Red-eyed Vireo (24)
Tennessee Warbler (1)
Black-and-white Warbler (5)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)
Black-throated Green Warbler (3)
Blackburnian Warbler (1)
Magnolia Warbler (2)
Northern Waterthrush (6)
Bay-breasted Warbler (1)
Blackpoll Warbler (8)
Ovenbird (5)
Common Yellowthroat (4)
Hooded Warbler (2)
Canada Warbler (1)
Scarlet Tanager (4)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (4)
Indigo Bunting (3)
Dickcissel (1)
Bobolink (1)

Nearctic non-landbird (waterbirds) species recorded on Corvo from 23 Sept to 31 Oct 2017 (no. of individuals involved):
Surf Scoter (2)
American Wigeon (4)
American Black Duck/incl. hybrids (6)
Blue-winged Teal (6)
Green-winged Teal (3)
Ring-necked Duck (4)
American Great Egret (1)
Semipalmated Plover (1)
American Golden Plover (2)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (3)
White-rumped Sandpiper (11)
Pectoral Sandpiper (2)
Wilson's Snipe (2)
Upland Sandpiper (1)
Lesser Yellowlegs (3)
Greater Yellowlegs (1)
Solitary Sandpiper (1)
Spotted Sandpiper (4)
Bonaparte’s Gull (1)

In about 40 days American landbird rarities discovered fall short of a hundred individuals (97 more precisely) divided among 29 different species, an unprecedented haul in Corvo’s history. In fact, only two previous years approach these annual totals, 2012 with 26 landbird species and 2015 with 27. In addition, no less than 18 waterbird species were reported on Corvo this autumn, which brings up the annual numbers at an astounding 155 individuals within…48 different species!

Notwithstanding this impressive total, every day is considered as a new dawn on Corvo and, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and number of birders present, more or less discoveries were made. And the day among all that no one would have wanted to miss was Friday October 20 when it was literally “raining birds all over the place” with 14 Nearctic landbird species on the charts on that evening.

Also extremely enjoyable this autumn for the 70+ birders or so who visited Corvo was the wealth of American Wood-warblers reported with no less than 13 species found – so far the highest peak was in 2012 with ‘only’ 11 species.

Evidently, quality was also au rendez-vous this autumn with major WP records made: Bay-breasted Warbler (2nd for WP), Blackburnian warbler (5th WP), Canada warbler (5th WP), Hooded Warbler (5th & 6th WP), Dickcissel (6th WP), Magnolia Warbler (7th & 8th WP), Yellow-throated Vireo (7th WP) and the duo Black-throated Green (8th, 9th & 10th WP) and Black-throated Blue (9th WP) Warblers. Locally three 1st records for Corvo (Surf Scoter, Bonaparte’s Gull & Belted Kingfisher) and two 1st records for the Azores (Blackburnian & Bay-breasted Warblers) were bagged. 

So overall, a real big year for The Rock, which more than ever stands out as the best destination in the entire Western Palearctic for Nearctic rarities! 

See you next autumn for more reporting news…

David & Peter.

One of 8 Blackpolls seen this year on Corvo - This one at Ribeira de Lapa, 28 October 2017 (Peter Stronach)
The fourth American Robin for Corvo since 2005, Caldeira, 26 October 2017 (Peter Stronach)

Thursday, 26 October 2017

And still they come

Yesterday was a day of little change with the three amigos, ( Bay-breasted Warbler, Swainson's Thrush and the Blackpoll Warbler) still at the Lighthouse Valley , a male Hooded Warbler was still near the whale watching hut, there was a second Blackpoll seen again and Gerby's Ovenbird was seen again on the road near Cancelas. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the village was still giving the run around and there was a Red-eyed Vireo near the Hooded Warbler site.

Today an American Robin was found in the Caldera- another new American land bird species for the already record breaking autumn. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak was also found in the Caldera while birders were looking for the Robin.  Other birds included a Black-and-white Warbler at the bottom of da Ponte, the Hooded Warbler was still present, the Upland Sandpiper was at the reservoir, an Indigo Bunting was around and a Blackpoll Warbler was seen near the airport in the evening.

 Ovenbird on road near Cancelas (Gerby Birding)
Male Hooded Warbler  (Gerby Birding) 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Plenty to enjoy again on Corvo today!

Another busy report from Corvo’s group of 30+ remaining birders today, with a total of at least 12 different American landbirds reported. About half of these concerns new individuals within the following species - Ovenbird (2), Grey-cheeked Thrush (2), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (1) and Scarlet Tanager (1). 

In addition, the trio Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll and Bay-breasted warblers were still performing well in the same juniper field at lower part of Lighthouse Valley (third consecutive day) and the two first-winter males Hooded Warbler were also relocated at Cancelas (fifth day) and between Cantinho/Lighthouse Valley (second day). 

Nearctic species seen today include:
Upland Sandpiper: 1 (fields Upper  Tennessee Valley)
White-Rumped Sandpiper: 6 (Vila do Corvo)
Short-eared Owl: 1 (grassland fields between Lighthouse Valley and Cantinho)
Swainson’s Thrush: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Grey-cheeked Thrush: 2 (near carpark to Lighthouse Valley) - 1, Tennessee Valley - 1)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 1 (pig farm at Low fields)
Scarlet Tanager: 1 (Ribeira de Poço d’Agua)
Red-eyed Vireo: 1 (Tennessee Valley)
Blackpoll Warbler: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Hooded Warbler: 2 (Cancelas - 1, Between Cantinho and Lighthouse Valley - 1)
Bay-breasted Warbler: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Ovenbird: 2 (Lower road between Cancelas and Cantinho - 1, near carpark to Lighthouse Valley - 1)

Swainson's Thrush (first-winter), Lighthouse Valley, 24 October 2017 (Klaus Drissner)
Philadelphia Vireo, Lighthouse Valley, 23 October 2017 (Peter Stronach)
Short-eared Owl, Between Lighthouse Valley and Cantinho, 23 October 2017 (Peter Stronach)

Monday, 23 October 2017

Another great day on The Rock!

It is now beyond any doubt that autumn 2017 will set up a new record for Corvo both in terms of quality and quantity of Nearctic rarities encountered at a single location!

While yesterday everyone’s efforts and attention was focusing towards the Bay-breasted Warbler discovered at the Lighthouse Valley, today saw again a seizable number of new discoveries for the season at the favour of a better coverage of the island. And it is certainly Peter Stronach who was the most fortunate birder of the day here, having genuinely opted for a thorough investigation of the north-easternmost areas on the island that had been rather under-explored yesterday. In a couple of hours spent between Cantinho, Lighthouse and their surroundings, he nailed no less than 3 new American landbirds including a Philadelphia Vireo, a Cedar Waxwing and a new Hooded Warbler for the autumn - this time a stunning first-winter male! More than that, he also found and photographed a Short-eared Owl, whose overall appearance did not look right for an individual of Palearctic origin...Thus, overall an interesting tally that is not without recalling the good days he and Bob Swann had had together on Corvo nearly a month earlier when Hurricane Irma and its associated cast of depressions had delivered en masse

Other discoveries elsewhere on the island included today a possible third Hooded Warbler for the autumn near Cantinho bridge and the second Surf Scoter of the season. In addition, some of the individuals reported in previous days were also relocated: Blackpoll Warbler above the rubbish dump at Vila do Corvo, Bay-breasted Warbler now present for its second day at Lighthouse Valley together with another Blackpoll Warbler and a Swainson’s Thrush, and the Hooded Warbler in Cancelas still performing well for its fourth consecutive day.

Last but not least, a Spotted Crake of Palearctic origin was found by Mika in the lower part of Ribeira de Cantinho - only the second ever for Corvo and still the kind of record that brings a great feeling of astonishment - how could a crake survive such a long-haul flight over the Atlantic Ocean after all? Surely ornithologists have here some interesting research topics to investigate in order to come up with a plausible explanation of these type of extreme vagrancy behaviour!

Nearctic species seen today include:
Surf Scoter: 1 (Seashore at western end of airstrip)
White-Rumped Sandpiper: 5+ (Flying east over airport)
Lesser Yellowlegs: 1 (Flying over Vila do Corvo)
Short-eared Owl: 1 (Grassland fields between Ribeira de Cantinho and Lighthouse Valley)
Swainson’s Thrush: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Philadelphia Vireo: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Red-eyed Vireo: 1 (Between Ribeira de Cantinho and Lighthouse Valley)
Cedar Waxwing: 1 (Between Ribeira de Cantinho and Lighthouse Valley)
Hooded Warbler: 2+ (Ribeira de Cancelas - 1, Ribeira de Cantinho - 1+)
Bay-breasted Warbler: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Blackpoll Warbler: 2 (Lighthouse Valley, Tamarisks above rubbish dump)

Hooded Warbler (first-winter male), Between Lighthouse Valley and Cancelas, 23 October 2017 (Mika Bruun)

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Lighthouse magic!

Another quality day again on The Rock has gone. A day that I will remember for a long time as I was fortunate enough to score with a new American Warbler species for the island discovered around late morning at the Lighthouse Valley. 

Around 9am this morning, I teamed up with Vincent and Gordon to pay a visit to this famous wooded valley, which has been producing so many rarities over the past years. I believe any birder who has visited Corvo at least a few times has his favourite spot on the island and clearly, as far as I am concerned, Lighthouse Valley is my favourite spot - a magic place where I have been already blessed with quite a few ‘big’ discoveries. And today was no exception to this. Shortly after the taxi had left us at the end of the ‘middle road’ and as we were slowly making our way towards the Lighthouse Valley, Gordon discovered a Blackpoll Warbler feeding along the rows of hydrangeas bordering the main path. Twenty minutes later and as we were entering the juniper field sited at the lower end of the valley, I noted in the distance another small American wood-warbler flicking inside a juniper tree. This bird also looked like another Blackpoll Warbler and its identity was eventually confirmed as soon as my two birding mates -Gordon and Vincent -had a chance to have a proper look at it. Well, this was already a pretty good day for us with 2 Blackpolls scored in less than an hour! Encouraged by such a good start, I patiently continued to scan the junipers with my bins until I bumped onto the third American wood-warbler for the morning: a brief sighting of a bird flicking in the centre of the largest juniper tree in the valley…in fact that very juniper tree where 2 years ago I had already discovered a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

Today, it took me around 5 min to see the wood-warbler twice: the first time I noticed its ‘Blackpoll-like’ appearance but with two major differences: it had darkish feet and two very large white wing bars, which are both rather unusual features for a classic Blackpoll. That was enough to make me very nervous and eager to see it a second time. Luckily, it didn’t took long before I had my bins on it again and this time it was a mind-blowing sighting: the flank had a light pinkish tone, which I knew was a diagnostic feature for Bay-breasted Warbler, allowing me to discard the eventuality of it being an atypical Blackpoll. I knew I had it and the only thing that I had to do was to pick up my walkie-talkie in order to shout out loudly the news to my nearby birding pals. The rest is history: Gordon first managed to have a brief sighting of the beast and agreed that it was indeed a young Bay-breasted; then Vincent followed shortly with confirmation. With an additional hour, all birders on the island were aware of this major finding, and within the next 2 hours every one had had decent views of the bird. 

A few more interesting birds were newly reported and/or relocated from a previous day but the Bay-breasted Warbler - a first-winter male - was obviously the ‘star’ bird today as it is only the second record for the Western Palearctic following one individual in Cornwall, UK in October 1995. It is also the rarest bird discovered so far this autumn on Corvo - but for how long? The weather forecast looks very promising for the next week and while many birders will depart the island tomorrow, some will stay and continue the hunting at least until the end of the month. 

Nearctic species seen today include:
Blue-winged Teal: 2+ (Caldeira)
Lesser Yellowlegs: 3 (Caldeira)
White-rumped Sandpiper: 5 (Caldeira - 2, Poço d’ague - 1, Airport strip -2)
Swainson’s Thrush: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Blackpoll Warbler: 4 (Lighthouse Valley - 3, Lower Fields)
Hooded Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Bay-breasted Warbler: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Indigo Bunting: 1 (Ribeira de Lapa)

Bay-breasted Warbler (first-winter male), Lighthouse Valley, 22 October 2017 (David Monticelli)

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Business as usual...

With rather strong Southerly winds resuming today, birding was again difficult in the most exposed wooded valleys. As a result, only a few new discoveries were made, including the fourth Ovenbird of the season in Cancelas, at least the fifth Northern Waterthrush this autumn in the bottom of Ribeira de Lapa and the fourth Blackpoll Warbler this month in Lapa fields. The later bird soon joined yesterday’s Tennessee Warbler which had been relocated during early morning hours, with both birds being eventually observed for a brief moment in the same field and on the same fennel stick!

Other additions to today’s log include Hooded and Black-and-White warblers that were seen again at the same spot where they had initially been discovered, with both birds performing very well for those who had decided to have a second look at them!

So overall, a rather ‘ordinary’ day on Corvo as compared to the major fallout reported yesterday. Notably, yesterday marked a special occasion for Pierre-André Crochet who reached 850 species in the Western Palearctic thanks to the Hooded Warbler tick; an incredible total only met by 2 WP birders so far (Ernie Davis and Pierre-André) that would have been allegedly out of reach without a firm dedication to autumnal birding on Corvo since 2006. With the ‘heat’ going down today, it was thus time to celebrate this moment altogether with most birders gathering at night at the famous Comodoro guesthouse around a superb cake prepared by Rosa and Manuel Rita, our wonderful hosts over the last 12 years. 

Nearctic species seen today include:
Spotted Sandpiper: 1 (Old Harbour)
Tennessee Warbler: 1 (Lapa fields)
Blackpoll Warbler: 1 (Lapa fields)
Ovenbird: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Black-and-White Warbler: 1 (Ribeira da Ponte)
Hooded Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Red-eyed Vireo: 1 (Fojo)
Northern Waterthrush: 1 (Ribeira de Lapa)

Tennessee Warbler, Lapa fields, 21 October 2017 (David Monticelli)
Club 800 with from left to right Pierre-André Crochet, Markku Santamaa, Bosse  Carlsson, Vincent Legrand, David Monticelli, Gordon Beck, Ernie Davis, Hannu Palojärvi and Thomas Lang (Mika Bruun)

Friday, 20 October 2017

The Rock rocks!

Today was a truly special day that everyone will remember on Corvo. The strong Westerlies that had been continuously blowing over the last 7 days finally went down, allowing us to do a proper check of the main wooded valley on the island. And with still over 40 birders present at this time of the year it is an euphemism to say that it paid off!

By 10.00am, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White Warbler, Ovenbird, Blackpoll Warbler and Indigo bunting had already been logged for the day. The pinnacle however came around 10:30am when Vincent discovered a first-winter male Hooded Warbler in Ribeira de Cancelas while trying to photograph yesterday’s Black-throated Green Warbler that had been relocated at the same spot. During several hours, the two American warblers were observed hopping from ground to canopy level in the same area, thereby providing all birders with delightful views down to several meters. 

Madness continued in the afternoon with numerous Red-eyed Vireos being reported from many wooded valleys as well as several Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Add to this Grey-cheeked Thrush from Cancelas (again!), a couple of Blackpolls from Vila do Corvo, the trio Scarlet Tanager - Dickcissel and Tennessee Warbler from Lapa fields, Rose-breasted Grosbeak from Reservoir, and you have what should be termed a ‘mind blowing’ day on Corvo. Surely the kind of day that every decent WP birder would have been dreaming off…

Historically, only October 17 in 2015 produced such a major land fall on The Rock although today’s finding is setting up a new record: no less than 12 American warblers have now been recorded since the onset of the 2017 autumnal season and there is hope for more to come as the weather forecast for the next days is still very promising. Hooded Warbler also remains an extreme vagrant species to the Western Palearctic with only five records to date, three of which have been on Corvo (2005, 2008, 2017). 

Nearctic species observed today include:
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 4 (Lighthouse Valley, Fojo, Pico, Tennessee Valley)
Red-eyed Vireo: 8 (Da Ponte - 2, Fojo - 3, Lighthouse Valley, Do Vinte, Middle Fields)
Grey-cheeked Thrush: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Scarlet Tanager: 1 (Lapa fields)
Dickcissel: 1 (Lapa fields)
Indigo Bunting: 1 (Fojo)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak: 1 (Reservoir)
Blackpoll Warbler: 3 (Tamarisk above Rubbish dump - 2, Ribeira de Poço d’Agua)
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Hooded Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Tennessee Warbler: 1 (Lapa fields)
Black-and-White Warbler: 1+ (Ribeira da Ponte, Pico)
Ovenbird: 1+ (Ribeira da Ponte, Pico)
Common Yellowthroat: 3 (Fojo, Power Station, Middle Fields)

Black-throated Green Warbler, Ribeira de Cancelas, 20 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)
Hooded Warbler (first-winter male), Ribeira de Cancelas, 20 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)
Ovenbird, Pico, 20 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)