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.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The lights are closed on the rock for 2014

The fog finally lifted, with a bit of a chill in the northwesterly winds. The Chimney Swift was still about yesterday (29th), ranging between Cantinho and Lighthouse Valley so everyone ended up getting decent views. The five birders went down to four, and it was the Germans Thomas and Jurgen who (re-)found the bird of the day on - the Northern Shrike (race borealis), as it sallied for food by the road at Poco d'Agua. This mobile bird, a first for the WP and still present on 30th, has now been seen in the caldeirao, Lighthouse Valley, Da Ponte and now Poco d'Agua. Ultimately probably doomed when it decides to leave the rock, it wouldn't be surprising if it tries to overwinter - just there'll be no birders to look for it as we all leave tomorrow (Friday).
Northern Shrike in Poco d'Agua (photo courtesy of Richard Bonser)
Other news from yesterday included another Tree Pipit, again found by Jerome, in the middle fields and a Redpoll in Poco d'Agua. Sightings from today include the continued presence of a first-winter male Scarlet Tanager in Tennessee Valley, seen and photographed by Thomas and Jurgen. White-rumped Sandpipers were down to just one by the reservoir, as well as a single Snow Bunting, while a Chiffchaff was in the upper part of Lapa along with a Monarch butterfly.

So, once again, another Corvo season draws to a close. Not a classic year, and despite the prolonged westerlies that should have delivered, they didn't to the full effect expected. Pride of place goes to the Northern Shrike, initially found by Jens on 18th, which inevitably will become the first record of borealis when split. Add to this a Black-throated Green Warbler, three Scarlet Tanagers, Philadelphia Vireo, several Red-eyed Vireos, at least two Black-and-white Warblers, two Northern Parulas, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, a handful of Buff-bellied Pipits, two Yellow-billed Cuckoos, two Cliff Swallows, Chimney Swift, Bobolink, Blackpoll Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and of course the Snowy Owl, and that's your lot for this year.

The lights have now been closed until 2015. Enjoy the next year folks until everyone again is back on the rock for another session.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Last week of the season - Chimney Swift already in

Most birders left yesterday (Monday) including usual stalwarts David Monticelli, Vincent Legrand, Michael Fricke and Mika Bruun. So that leaves just five birders left on the rock to see out the season until Friday 31st October, when there'll be no birders left.

So since the last update, the Northern Shrike (race borealis) was seen by all who had yet to connect in the caldeirao on Sunday - favouring an area of pines on one of the islands. Mika headed to Cantinho that day and saw a Red-eyed Vireo and a Black-and-white Warbler, as well as a Spotted Flycatcher. On Monday, Jerome found the second Tree Pipit for the Azores in fields near Poco d'Agua - not exactly the score he was looking for, but with the last week of easterly winds, a good European bird was always going to be on the cards. Michael Fricke found an American Wigeon in the lower fields, before he left yesterday, indicating that there are new arrivals coming from the US.

And so to today, Tuesday 28th October. It has been blowing from the west since Saturday night, so there should be some birds about. The island has been all fogged up so visits to places such as the caldeirao, reservoir, Tennessee Valley and Lighthouse Valley have been impossible. A Chimney Swift was found by Rich Bonser in the gloom over Cantinho mid-morning but didn't linger too long as it headed into the mist. The other big news from today was two Black-and-white Warblers, both 1st-winter males, seen alongside each in Fojo - so who knows exactly how many of this species there have been this year on the rock.
Chimney Swift, Ribeira do Cantinho 28 October 2014 (Photo courtesy of Richard Bonser)
Anyway, with the fog hopefully lifting in the next day or so, there'll be a final push for some more yankage before the season is out.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The reappearance of the Black-throated Green Warbler and of the Northern Grey Shrike!

Weather has been a major drawback on Corvo over the last week with persistent easterly winds precluding any significant arrival of American landbirds. However, two "biggies" have been relocated over the last days providing entertainment for those who decided to stay on the island towards the end of the month.

The Black-throated Green Warbler was relocated around its original place in Poço de Agua yesterday afternoon by David and Jérôme. The news almost immediately attracted the remaining group of 15 birders still present on the island, including a freshly-arrived tour group of 6 German birders. As usual, however, the warbler was moving high in the canopy - giving only intermitent views - and was rapidly lost of sight. As a result, only a handful of birders managed to arrive on time to catch decent views of this beauty. And while most of us were actively trying to relocate the Black-throated Green, Yanne had decent - albeit brief - views of a 1cy female Northern Parula. Later, both birds were refound sitting together in the same tree by Mika and Vincent in another part of the ribeira but again, not everyone managed to arrive on time to see them.

Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens), 1cy (probable female), 24 October 2014 (Photo courtesy of David Monticelli)
Today, the Northern Grey Shrike was briefly relocated by Michael Fricke in the lower part of Da Ponte - a rather unexpected place for this bird, which was found sitting high in a large Cryptomeria tree. Soon after its rediscovery, it disappeared again and was nowhere to be seen during the rest of the day despite intensive searches conducted inside the ribeira and in the bordering grassland area. To our knowledge, this is the third place that has been visited by the shrike after the Lighthouse valley and the Caldeira, suggesting that it is extremely mobile all over the island.

In addition to this, today's visit to Ribeira do Cantinho by Mika produced sightings of a Black-and-white Warbler and a Red-eyed Vireo. The Black-and-white was photographed, which should be helpful to later determine whether this bird is a new one for the island  - the third Black-and-white of the season following earlier ones in Da Ponte and in Fojo - or whether it is the same individual than the one in nearby Fojo that disappeared a week ago.

The Caldeira was also visited today, producing Black Duck (1), Pectoral Sandpiper (1), White-rumped Sandpiper (3+) and Snow Bunting (2).

The weather forecast for tomorrow suggests a change in wind direction with westerlies starting to blow again so there is hope for a few late automnal discoveries in the next days...time will tell!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo and little more...

In contrast with the past three weeks, the last two days were extremely calm on Corvo without any significant finding. Moreover, most long-stayers seem to have departed now with only the Black-and-white Warbler relocated today in Ribeira Da Ponte and a few waders still present at the reservoir (Lesser Yellowlegs and 5 White-rumped Sandpipers). The Black-throated Green from Poço de Agua was still seen yesterday morning but not thereafter.

A rather healthy-looking Yellow-billed Cuckoo was reported yesterday evening by Tom Francis in overgrown gardens above Vila Nova, but again it could not be relocated today. Interestingly, Tom's finding raised some hopes among birders that the exhausted bird found two days ago at the western end of the airstrip had recovered, but a comparison of close-up portraits obtained on both dates suggested that yesterday's bird was indeed a different individual.

After the massive departure of birders last Monday and today, the number of birders present on Corvo has now halved with only 10-15 remaining until the end of this week. The wind has been blowing from east over the last days without any change in direction predicted to occur until next Tuesday, so we do not expect any massive arrival of raritees before next week, at which time only a handful of birders will remain on the island.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), 21 October 2014 (Photo courtesy of David  Monticelli)

Monday, 20 October 2014

The haul of American vagrants continues on the Rock!

Owing to the better weather conditions prevailing on the Rock over the last two days, several new discoveries have been made.

First of all, a 1st-winter Black-throated Green Warbler was found yesterday morning by PAC in the lower part of Poço de Agua. The bird performed well for the birders present on the spot within the first hour of its discovery, but thereafter it proved rather elusive, offering only brief views for the rest of the day and today during early morning hours. This finding represents the 7th WP record of this species and is no less than Corvo's fifth, following one in 2008, two in 2009 and one in 2013.

Secondly, a Blackpoll Warbler was found this morning by Mika and Markku close to the rubbish dump above the village. The bird was rather mobile at the time of its discovery, being only observed for less than 5 min by a handful of birders before being lost somewhere in the Lower Fields. Fortunately, several hours later, Jens relocated the Blackpoll in a small garden bordering the road on the northern side of the airstrip. This time, the warbler performed pretty well for the birders and photographers, staying in views for at least 20min before being lost again.

Thirdly, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was discovered by Jouni in the tamarisks at the western end of the airstrip around mid-afternoon. The bird was rather exhausted, allowing prolonged views at very close range for many hours. This species, which was a regular finding on Corvo during earlier years, had not been found since 2012, so it is a welcome addition to this year's list!

Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata), 20 October 2014 (Photo courtesy of David Monticelli)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Northern Grey Shrike: first WP record!

After 4 days of extreme wind, everyone seemed to be relieved this morning to start the day under pretty normal weather conditions. The lack of wind obviously meant better birding with a better chance to find out some good birds, an assumption that actually materialised around 9.30am when Jens found a 'Great Grey Shrike' type bird in the upper part of the Lighthouse Valley. Only a handful of birders were present in this valley or at a nearby location at that time and, shortly after the news was released by walkie-talkie, were able to enjoy good views of the shrike. A few photographs were also quickly obtained, which allowed to directly rule out in the field the possibility of it being a Loggerhead Shrike. Soon after its initial discovery, the bird proved very mobile and elusive on the northern slope of the valley, and, sadly, not all birders present on the island arrived in due time to manage decent views of it. Perhaps not more than 2hrs following the initial discovery, the shrike dispappeared and was not subsequently re-observed. No doubts, more searches will be conducted tomorrow in an attempt to relocate it.

Based on direct observations, photographic documents and even sound recordings obtained in the field, the identification of this individual pinpoints towards a Great Grey Shrike of the subspecies borealis, which breeds in Canada and is a rare winter visitor to the States. Interesting details readily observed on the photos are the heavily barred belly and the brownish tone to the head, nape, mantle, cheeks and flanks - a plumage feature not found in other Great Grey Shrike subspecies.


Northern Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor ssp. borealis), 18 October 2014 (Photos courtesy of David Monticelli)
This subspecies has already been elevated to full species level (Lanius borealis) by some taxonomic authorities, and if this view is confirmed in the next years by addditional genetic studies, the bird found today by Jens will represent the first record of that species for the WP.

Additional taxonomic info can be found here: http://www.martinbrandsma.nl/grey-shrike-complex/