Thursday, 31 October 2013

Over and out

Today was extremely blustery, and a check of Lighthouse Valley by the last birder on Corvo this year, Lee Gregory, revealed nothing though fog shrouded there and all of the ribeiras. Therefore, with a strong southerly/southwesterly a seawatch from the windmills produced the goods - a (presumed) Fea's Petrel flew east between 2.50pm and 3.02pm coming as near as 300 yards at its closest.

So with the flight out tomorrow, that closes the season for 2013 so who will those two Glossy Ibises on the airfield, that were still about today, have for company from now on? And, unfortunately, the question of how long will they last also comes to mind...

It has been another eventful season on 'the rock' this year, and although the general consensus being that it has been tough graft this year with a fair amount of fog (certainly in the final 10 days of the month), the same faces will be back once again and doing it all over next autumn. The last one on Corvo has closed the lights for autumn 2013.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The autumn's third Black-and-white Warbler

The weather was fine again today, and the five remaining birders headed off into Ribeira da Ponte, Lapa and Poco d'Agua. It was the turn of the Finns today, when Ilkka Sahi managed to find the autumn's third Black-and-white Warbler. A statistic that continues to illustrate what a magnet the island is for American landbirds.
Black-and-white Warbler, Ribeira da Ponte (Richard Bonser)
Otherwise, it was just long staying birds that were seen. The White-crowned Sparrow was relocated late on in the day a couple of hundred metres from where it was last seen on Sunday, while a couple of Glossy Ibises and Ruff remained on the runway. With northerly winds and fog forecast for Friday (the worst direction as it is a cross wind), and with the potential for disruption, four birders left the island today and so only one birder remains to finish the Corvo 2013 season off.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

American Bittern at Fojo

The fog had rolled in again this morning but the remaining birders headed out of the village and into the ribeiras. Cantinho was checked, as was Fojo, and it was the Brits that scored with today's highlight - an American Bittern. Richard Bonser located the bird flying down the valley, and then Lee Gregory quickly located it in a tree where it remained for half an hour or so.
American Bittern, Fojo (Richard Bonser)
Two Glossy Ibis were still on the airstrip, as well as a juvenile Ruff and 2 White-rumped Sandpipers. The only passerine of any note today was a juvenile Greenland Wheatear by the windmills.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Least Sandpiper new in and Black-throated Green Warbler still

The fog finally cleared today after a weekend full of the stuff, which hampered birding. With such a nice day, the caldeirao was checked for the first time in ages by three Finnish birders and they found a Least Sandpiper along with five White-rumped Sandpipers and two Barnacle Geese still. There was a flock of 10 Snow Buntings at the top of the road to the caldeirao, but the general birding continues to be tough going despite the sunshine.
Least Sandpiper in the caldeirao (copyright Janne Aalto)
There was an exodus of five birders today, with two new Brits coming in to enjoy the last few days of the 2013 Corvo birding season. After some searching, the Black-throated Green Warbler was found to be still in Pico albeit remaining elusively. Three Glossy Ibises remain on the airfield and complete the day's lineup.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Monthly report (27 sept - 27 Oct)

Not much to report over the last days. Fog was extremely thick all over the island - to an extent not experienced before by any of us - making birding rather hopeless since Friday. And as a matter of fact, no new discoveries have been made since the Black-throated Green warbler. This latter individual was nevertheless successfully twitched in the fog by 3 Norwegian birders who crossed by boat from Flores on Friday. Other notheworthy sightings for this week-end include an Indigo bunting lingering in the Middle Fields and the White-crowned sparrow above Vila Nova do Corvo still briefly seen yesterday.

On a more personal note, I've been birding on Corvo for a month but I will depart tomorrow, together with 4 other birders. Two new birders are scheduled to arrive for a few days, so next week will see the last opportunity for a few new findings on the Rock this year.

As of today, the total number of American landbirds discovered on Corvo this autumn (27 Sept - 27 Oct) include 43 individuals within 22 species. In addition, 9 non landbird species (waders and raptors) were also reported.

Detailed list is as follows:
Black duck (1)
Rough-legged hawk (1)
Tundra Peregrine falcon (1)
Semipalmated plover (1)
Lesser yellowlegs (1)
Spotted sandpiper (1)
Buff-breasted sandpiper (1)
White-rumped sandpiper (3+)
Wilson's snipe (2+)
Mourning dove (1)
Philadelphia vireo (2)
Red-eyed vireo (6+)
Cliff swallow (2)
Tree swallow (1)
Gray-cheeked thrush (1)
American robin (1)
American Buff-bellied pipit (2)
Cedar waxwing (1)
Northern parula (3)
Black-throated Blue warbler (2)
Black-throated Green warbler (1)
Yellow-throated warbler (1)
Black-and-white warbler (2)
American redstart (1)
Common yellowthroat (3)
Scarlet tanager (1)
Rose-breasted grosbeak (3)
Indigo bunting (4)
White-crowned sparrow (1)
White-throated sparrow (1)
Bobolink (3)

No doubts this is an astonishing result, which again boosts Corvo at an indisputable no. 1 position for Nearctic species - in particular landbirds - in the Western Palearctic. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Black-throated Green warbler!

There is little doubts that this day was another very interesting one for the 13+ birders remaining on Corvo. The favourable weather system - the wind had been blowing strongly from West since a few days - added to the recent news of several nearctic megas found elsewhere in the Azores and WP had triggered a 'positive fighting spirit' in the group to try covering as much ground as possible on the island for the last week or so of the season. A strategy that paid off twice today.

The first strike came around 1pm when the Polish team reported a Mourning dove from the fields between the Power station and Lapa. Just a few birders had not seen the previous individual found earlier in the season, so this new discovery only attracted a few of us on the spot.

The second strike - the one that got us all excited - came around 2.30pm when Mika Bruun connected on the Southern slope of Pico with a gorgeous first winter Black-throated Green warbler, not less than the 7th species of American wood-warbler for the year! The news was quickly released to his nearby friend Petri Kunho who managed to relay the info by walkie-talkie and sms to a few other birders. Shortly after, the entire group was aware of the new discovery and, thanks to our landlord Manuel Rita, most of us were quickly car-dropped at the entrance of Pico. Upon arrival on the spot, Mika had lost the bird since a few minutes but it was soon relocated flying above our heads in the dense tree canopy. And the rest is history: within half an hour almost everyone had managed to enjoy decent, albeit brief, views of this restless beauty, while the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to obtain good photographic documents - something everyone failed on except..Mika!

Black-throated Green warbler (1st winter), 25 October 2013, Pico, Corvo (Photo courtesy of M. Bruun)
On paper, Black-throated Green is an impressive finding - only the 6th or 7th record for the Western Palearctic, of which four belong to Corvo (One in 2008, 2 in 2009 and one in 2013).

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

No Cape May warbler on the Rock today!

The last days were very quiet on Corvo with a very slim combined log for Tuesday and today: the Rough-legged hawk (dark morph) was still lingering at the Caldeira, and both Indigo bunting (1st winter female) and White-crowned sparrow (one adult) were still present in the Middle Fields. A Red-eyed vireo (Fojo) and a Rose-breasted grosbeak (Vila Nova do Corvo) were also seen yesterday but not re-found today.

Thus, without much to report from the field, the highlights came over the wire when we learnt of the amazing discovery of a Ruby-crowned kinglet on Flores yesterday by a Finnish group of 3 birders (3rd WP record) and with today's news of a Cape May warbler found on Shetland (2nd for WP)! These are very encouraging signs perhaps suggesting that the season is not yet over for us with hopefully a few more discoveries to come in the next days...

White-crowned sparrow (adult), 22 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo

Monday, 21 October 2013

White-crowned sparrow still on show today!

Today, the wind continued to blow strongly from West, making birding and photographing rather difficult on Corvo. A few new birds were nevertheless discovered along the day including two Indigo buntings (Middle Fields) by Darryl Spittle and Stefan Ettestam, and a female Rose-breasted grosbeak by the Polish team. The Scarlet tanager was also briefly re-observed in flight over the Middle Fields this morning by Darryl but proved once again very elusive for the other birders who did not manage to relocate it and thus dipped out for the second consecutive day!

Indigo bunting (1st winter), 21 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo (Photo courtesy of D. Spittle)
For most birders, however, it was the White-crowned sparrow - initially discovered yesterday evening and fortunately relocated this morning at the very same spot - which attracted most of our attention today. This interest arose from some developments that came out in the middle of last night when an ornithologist from the other side of the Atlantic pointed out that the bird could perhaps be of the western 'gambelii' subspecies (Taiga breeders west of Hudson Bay up to Canadian Rockies and Alaska) - rather than from the eastern nominate 'leucophrys' subspecies. This preliminary diagnostic was established based on a few distinctive features shown by 'gambelii' individuals such as pale lores and orange bill, which is rather contrasting with dark lores and pink bill typically shown by nominate birds. There is, however, an intergradation zone between 'leucophrys' and 'gambelii' where a certain number of individuals show gambelii-type characters, so the assignment of our bird as a 'gambelii' is only speculative at this stage. The only certainty tonight is that our bird is not a 'leucophrys', and thus is coming from further West than all previous records in the Western Palearctic, which have been from nominate birds!

Breeding range of 5 White-crowned sparrow subspecies (cf. Weckstein et al. 2001; Auk 118: 231-236)
Adult White-crowned sparrow (gambelii-type individual), 21 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo
Adult White-crowned sparrow (gambelii-type individual), 21 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo
Special thanks here must go to Frode Jacobsen for initially bringing our attention to the interesting features shown by this bird, for providing supporting literature, and overall for fruitful discussions on the ID of this bird. For more information, check out http://www.sibleyguides.com/2010/11/white-crowned-sparrow-subspecies-where/

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Scarlet tanager and more...

Despite the very promising weather conditions prevailing since Friday afternoon, there was still nothing to report from Corvo by Saturday night. But could such a situation hold for long? Not really.

Around 5pm today, Julien Mazenauer found a Scarlet tanager in the tamarisk patch located above the village in the so-called 'Tennessee valley'. The bird was very flighty and could be seen only by himself and Pierre-André Crochet who appeared to be nearby at the time of the discovery. They both released the news within minutes but despite a rapid arrival of the remaining birders, the bird was not relocated, nor was it photographed, by 6.30pm. In fact, the general impression among us was that the place where the tanager was discovered was very exposed to the strongly-blowing westerly winds, and as such it was probably not a suitable site for the bird to settle down. Thus, if there was a chance to relocate it before dark, that would likely be lower down in the village, somewhere in the Middle Fields at a more sheltered site.

But while most birders were quickly making their way down to Vila Nova do Corvo, another unpredictable event abruptly changed the focus of the evening when Pierre-André Crochet briefly spotted a sparrow feeding on the road side. The initial impression was that of a 'long-tailed sparrow with some amount of white on the head' although the sighting was just a glimpse before the bird dashed back into thick bushes on a rather inaccessible slope. This was nevertheless enough for Pierre-André to know he had just connected with an American sparrow. Sunset was, however, just half-an-hour ahead, hence the available time to relocate the bird and to name it to species level was very short now. Thus, at this stage, only one strategy appeared reasonable: tape-luring the bird out of cover with the hope that it could give some brief views before dark. And so it did. After all the nearby birders were called in for assistance and after a few songs were played with a mobile phone (white-throated and white-crowned sparrow calls), the bird behaved as predicted and perched in a nearby fig tree for just a few seconds before heading back to its favoured bushy area. This was nonetheless enough to obtain a few photographic record shots and at the same time to clinch the ID: an adult White-crowned sparrow, the third one in Corvo's birding history following single individuals seen in 2005 and 2010.
 
White-crowned sparrow (adult), 20 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo (Photo courtesy of V. Legrand)

Friday, 18 October 2013

A pretty calm day on the Rock.

In comparison with the previous two days that were emotionally charged, today was very quiet.

The morning started very slowly with just a few lingering individuals reported, including three vireos - two Red-eyed (Lapa and Fojo) and a Philadelphia (Fojo) - by Julien Mazenauer, a Common yellowthroat (Middle Fields) by Josh Jones, and the White-throated sparrow by myself. The yellow-throated warbler was not relocated despite several independent visits (by different birders) in Poço de Agua, neither were the long-staying American redstart from da Ponte and Black-throated Blue warbler from Cantinho.

Perhaps as a consequence of the lack of significant discovery in the wooded valleys this morning, most birders opted for an early return to the village in early afternoon, with the remaining part of the day being filled up with a sea watching session that did not produce any noteworthy sighting - except the odd Northern gannet and several large flocks of Common and Spotted dolphins.

Common dolphins photographed from the Windmill, Corvo (Photo courtesy of V. Legrand)
At least a dozen birders have left the Rock this evening, so the group of active birders has now plummeted somewhere in the early-twenties. Certainly not the kind of number to be ashamed of at this stage of the season, though! There is still enough 'manpower' on the island, which combined with the depression presently making its way from south-west towards the Azores could bring in some more discoveries in the next days..time will tell!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Star bird of the season still on show today!

For most birders present on the Rock, there is little doubts that today will 'imprint' our memories! Not because another mega was discovered on the island - it had all happened yesterday with Josh's incredible finding - but more importantly, because the rather unlucky pool of birders who had initially dipped out (6 birders out of 30, including myself) were finally able to connect with the yellow-throated warbler this morning following a tantalizing and frustrating search since yesterday afternoon. Thanks to the hard work of a few birders, the wood-warbler, which had suddenly disappeared yesterday before everyone could have a chance to see it, reappeared magically this morning around 9.30 at the very spot where it was initially discovered. And this time, it stayed on view for a least two to three hours, providing delightful views and great photographic opportunities. So at the time of writing, we are all celebrating at the local pub this well-deserved bird after three weeks of intensive work on Corvo.

Yellow-throated warbler (1st winter), 17 October 2013, Ribeira de Poço de Agua, Corvo

Other notheworthy goodies still present today included Azores's first White-throated sparrow discovered yesterday by Kris De Rouck, which performed very well again for the photographers and the Black-throated Blue warbler now lingering for its 14th consecutive day in Cantinho.

White-throated sparrow (1st winter), 17 October 2013, Grassland along Caldeira road, Corvo

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Yellow-throated Warbler - new for the WP!

The morning started with plenty of optimism - the winds were in the west and yesterday's American Robin had given us all hope. It didn't take long for the first bird to break - a Yellow-rumped Warbler, found by the Polish team in the robin spot. A taxi load rushed up there, but unfortunately the bird had soon disappeared and those arriving all dipped out.

The peace didn't last long, though, as Kris de Rouck had brief views of a White-throated Sparrow above the caldeira road, just a few hundred metres from the robin spot. As birders made their way towards the site, momentous news was then broadcast over the walkie talkie - Josh Jones had located the Western Palearctic's first Yellow-throated Warbler in the junipers at the very top of Poco d'Agua! Panic ensued as the rest of the birders on the island made their way to the site, though the bird had disappeared seconds after being found. Fortunately, though, Michael Fricke soon located the bird 100m above its original location and, for the next fifteen minutes, it gave great views in the junipers as it worked its way up the valley. Sadly though, it soon disappeared from view as it flew over the assembled birders heads, down the valley and despite searching, was not seen again by dark.

First-winter Yellow-throated Warbler, Ribeira Poco d'Agua © Darryl Spittle - www.gwentbirding.blogspot.co.uk

Hannu Palojarvi then relocated the White-throated Sparrow up above da Ponte and most of the warbler twitchers enjoyed their lunches as the sparrow gave ridiculous views on the caldeira slopes. A beautiful first-winter, the eyestripe was tinged brown but the supraloral was a fine shade of yellow and the wings were a bright chestnut.

First-winter White-throated Sparrow © Josh Jones - www.joshrjones.blogspot.co.uk/

The weather worsened throughout the afternoon with the wind picking up. As such, no new birds were found but birders on the island learned of two Canada Geese - seen by Tommy Frandsen, Jens Sogaard Hansen, Ernie Davis and others over the Lighthouse Valley, where the Black-and-white was also still present. The Mourning Dove was also frequenting its favoured spot in the village again this evening.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

An elusive American robin!

The Polish team struck again today with the late discovery around 5.30pm by Pawel Malczyk of an American robin in the grassland along the Caldeira road. The bird was photographed by the finder (just a record shot) but unfortunately proved very elusive and could not be refound by anyone despite a rather intensive search until sunset. That kind of event sometimes happens on the Rock but there is certainly no harm done: more efforts will be made tomorrow in an attempt to relocate the bird (only the second record for Corvo and Azores following one bird performing very well last year).

On a more positive side, the 'Blue beauty' was still on show in Cantinho all day and has now been seen by everyone on the island, while the Mourning dove has been showing and photographed very well in late afternoon.

Mourning dove, 15 October 2013, Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo
Other noteworthy records today included a Black duck observed at sea by Hugues Dufourny during a seawatching session and a Red-eyed vireo found in Lapa by Klaus Drissner. The 1st winter male Common yellowthroat found yesterday in the tamarisks in front of the airport office was still present all day but did not performed very well for the photographers, while a few long-stayers such as American redstart (da Ponte), Cedar waxwing (Middle Fields), and Rough-legged hawk (above High Fields, Lapa and Caldeira road) were still lingering on the island.

A few birders left on Monday so we are now around 30 birders. A very exciting weather system stemming from Florida is due to reach Corvo tomorrow and after tomorrow, so we hope for more arrivals from the other side of the Atlantic by the end of this week.

Monday, 14 October 2013

More birds on the Rock... and the reappearance of the Black-throated Blue!

Today was a busy day - very calm after yesterday's storm, and everyone was optimistic that new birds would be found. And so it proved, with at least five new American landbirds found throughout the day. Perhaps best of these was a beautifully showy Philadelphia vireo picked up by Graeme Joynt just below the road in the lower part of Lapa, which was seen and photographed by five observers before it disappeared down in to the valley.

Philadelphia vireo, 14 October 2013, Ribeira da Lapa, Corvo
Philadelphia vireo, 14 October 2013, Ribeira da Lapa, Corvo
A first-winter male Common yellowthroat was discovered south of the airport in the village by Marcin Solowiej, and Pierre-André Crochet discovered a Grey-cheeked thrush lurking within the depths of lower Poço d'Agua mid-afternoon. Two new Red-eyed vireos - in lower Poço d'Agua and Pico - added spice to an already dynamic day.

One of the highlights of the day for many, though, was a Rough-legged hawk picked up over Do Vinte mid-morning by Markku Santamaa, Kalle Larsson and Hannu Palojarvi. Initially described as a Common buzzard, shortly afterwards Josh Jones saw the bird and labelled it a dark morph Rough-legged - making it the first confirmed record of the American race sanctijohannis (all others have been pale birds and thus essentially indistinguishable from European birds). The bird spent much of the day touring the east end of the island, mainly between Fojo and Lapa Fields, and gave some great views.

Rough-legged hawk (immature), 14 October 2013, Above Ribeira da Ponte, Corvo
Big talking point of the day was the rediscovery (in exactly the same spot!) of the Black-throated Blue warbler in Ribeira do Cantinho mid-afternoon. Most birders on the island caught up with the bird but an unfortunate few out of radio range failed to pick up on the message and missed the bird this evening. It will be searched for tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mourning dove!

Owing to very windy and rainy conditions from early morning onwards, only the most intrepid birders had ventured outside the guesthouse by noon in an attempt to relocate the Cedar waxwing that was still present around the same place in the Middle Fields.
 

Thus, today's entertainment started only around 2pm when a Mourning dove was discovered by Vincent Legrand in the Middle Fields (i.e. probably the un-identified dove briefly observed yesterday by Petri Kuhno). The news was immediately released by walkie-talkie with most birders stepping out of the guesthouse almost instantly to converge towards the nearby spot. The dove was nowhere to be seen for at least an hour until the Polish birding team managed to relocate it in a private garden in the old village. The bird was very shy and mobile, commuting frequently between the private garden and several other places in the Middle Fields, so that, by 5pm, only a few of us had had brief flight views, with many birders still lacking any decent observation. The final issue came suddenly in late afternoon when Christian Leth relocated the Mourning dove in a reed area above the village, where the majority of us could now enjoy satisfactory views.

Mourning dove, 13 October 2013, Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo (Photo courtesy of V. Legrand)
Mourning dove is a very rare vagrant in the western Palearctic with only a dozen records, of which four belong to Azores (including one on Flores in 2008 and three on Corvo in 2005, 2012 and 2013). The birds at Corvo in 2005 and at Flores in 2008 were only seen by single observers, while the 2012 Corvo bird was discovered very late in October when most birders had already left the island. This means that the one found today by Vincent was a nice 'get back' bird for most of us.
 
Birders at the Mourning dove twitch (from left to right): Vincent Legrand, Marcin Solowiej, Zbigniew Kajzer, Markku Santamaa, Chris Bell, Graeme Joynt, Rafael Armada, Tom Francis, Klaus Drissner, Wojtek Milojz, Thierry Jansen, Michael Fricke, Ferran Lopez Sanz, Seppo Haavisto, Chris De Rouck, Janne Riihimaki, Petri Kuhno, Thomas Lang, and Gary Fennemore.
 
Birders in action, 13 October 2013, Middle Fields above Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo

Overall, today was a rather hectic one on the Rock due to the extreme weather conditions that prevailed throughout the day (i.e. the wind blowed constantly from West at an average speed of 35-50 knots per hour).


There is nonetheless much hope that this kind of weather will bring its haul of vagrants to the island, with most of us being already up to the challenge of finding them in the next days!


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Little madness!

Any birder who has been visiting Corvo during autumn would probably agree on the fact that the local birding conditions are amongst the most difficult ones in the entire western Palearctic. This is mainly explained by a very rough terrain which combined to the windy and rainy local climate render the birding conditions rather 'extreme' on The Rock. Thus, if you don't invest a great deal of energy on a daily basis to 'find out' the good birds on Corvo, you are likely to go back home with a poor list. But sometimes there are exceptions. Or in other words, there are days when you do not really need 'to fight' for the birds because it is the birds that come to you. And today was such a day. It started around 9.30am when Pierre-André Crochet literally bumped on an exhausted Cedar waxwing in the Middle Fields, very close to the Comodoro guesthouse. The news was quickly released on the walkie-talkie to the nearby birders and via sms to the most distant ones, so that within an hour almost everyone on the island was enjoying great views of the waxwing.

Cedar waxwing, 12 October 2012, Middle Fields, Corvo
This finding alone could have 'made our day' but in reality it was just the starting of a mad morning! Less than half an hour following the initial finding of Pierre-André, it was Phil Abbott who observed a flying Bobolink overhead, just a few hundreds meters away from the Cedar waxwing site. Thanks to the many birders present on the spot, Phil's Bobolink was quickly relocated in a nearby tree...with in addition a second Bobolink found at a short distance from the first one. And if that was not enough, it was soon Lars Mortensen on the walkie-talkie (around 10.30am) to announce the year's second Common yellowthroat discovered further up in the Middle Fields. Pretty impressive? Yes, but there was more: around 11am, Tommy Frandsen came on the walkie-talkie with this incredible news: there were now three Bobolinks sitting together in the same tree!

Furthermore, shortly before lunch time, Petri Kuhno had a flight view of a small dove over the Middle Fields (perhaps a Mourning dove?), although the bird could never be relocated despite intensive search. The afternoon was much calmer with only the lingering individuals being reported: Northern parula (Lower Fields), American redstart (da Ponte), Black-and-white warbler and two Cliff swallows (Lighthouse Valley).

Bobolink, 12 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo
Common yellowthroat, 12 October 2012, Middle Fields, Corvo
So, overall, a great day on Corvo with five new American landbirds discovered. The Cedar waxwing is the 10th western Palearctic record following 4 in UK, 2 in Ireland, 2 in Iceland and one in Corvo in 2010. Bobolink and Common yellowthroat are regular vagrants to Corvo but these two species are nevertheless a nice addition to this year's bird list. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

More of the same...

Another day with plenty on show across the island, with a lot of the star birds performing well. The American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Philadelphia & Red-eyed Vireos, and the Red-breasted Grosbeak all performed extremely well to various birders during the day with some great photos taken despite the unpredictable weather conditions!

 Black-and-white Warbler, Lighthouse Valley, Corvo  © Josh Jones

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Fojo, Corvo © Josh Jones

Another new bird today in the form of an Indigo Bunting in the same area as the grosbeak (below Fojo), found by newcomer Julien Mazenauer who had been on the island just a few hours..! Julien was one of three new birders, with one leaving (Pete) meaning we once again reach record levels in terms of numbers present.

The wind is still in the west, and the forecast looks promising for next week. Hopefully we'll have more to report next week. That Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Newfoundland looks pretty tasty!


Thursday, 10 October 2013

A new vireo

The pattern of a new bird each day continues. Today Fojo offered up Philadelphia vireo (Corvo's 6th)initially showing briefly before eventually being refound and steadily feeding overhead.  The largest of the wooded valleys, Fojo also hosted Red-eyed vireo and teased us with a heard but unseen wood warbler. Dotted around elsewhere, the supporting cast consisted of another Red-eyed vireo, Northern parula, Black-and-white warbler, American redstart, Cliff swallow (2), Spotted sandpiper, and a few Glossy ibises.
 
Philadelphia vireo, 10 October 2013, Fojo, Corvo (Photo courtesy of V. Legrand)
 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Birds continuing to arrive...

On paper, today looks like another fine day on 'The Rock' but in reality things were a lot more difficult. The day started fine - it was warm and sunny, and there was real hope something new might be discovered. However, the weather became greyer and windier as the day wore on and then the rain started about 2pm. Indeed, the weather was so bad (plenty of lightning and thunder!) that the plane had to delay its landing by over half an hour, doing circles of the island until a break appeared! However, by early evening it had cleared up and become calmer once more...

Anyway, bird of the day was the year's second Black-and-white Warbler in the Lighthouse Valley, found by Tommy Frandsen and Lars Mortensen. It was initially very elusive but then showed well, posing for some nice shots to a group of Finns in the afternoon and then an assorted party of twitchers in the evening - in fact, it frequented the very same part of the valley as last year's Black-and-white! No Golden-wing today though!

Black-and-white Warbler, 9 October 2013, Lighthouse Valley, Corvo

Other birds today include the American Redstart still showing well at times in the lower part of da Ponte either side of the storm, much to the pleasure of newly-arrived WP player Chris Bell (for whom it was a tick)! Two Northern Parulas (village, do Vinte), two Cliff Swallows (Lighthouse Valley), Red-eyed Vireo and the Rough-legged Hawk made up the roll call for significant Yanks, and the Lapland Buntings and Glossy Ibis flock also remain.

Two birders left today with an impressive fourteen arriving - this takes the total of birders on Corvo to record levels - somewhere in the mid-forties! Let's hope that more eyes equates to more birds this week...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

American redstart!

The birding conditions were rather 'British' today - with heavy rain falling the whole morning - so the majority of us had already returned to their housing place by mid-afternoon. Only a handful of birders - including the British ones - seemed to be able to cope with such a poor weather and to achieve a complete day in the field. And it paid off. Around 4.00pm, Gordon Beck was still actively birding when he had a brief view of a small warbler feeding high in the dense tree canopy at Da Ponte. The initial sighting was just a glimpse but he had seen enough of it to immediately broadcast the news of an American wood-warbler sp., with a few nearby birders arriving on the spot within minutes. A thorough search of the area was being quickly organised when Gordon himself managed to re-observe the wood-warbler at its original place for a brief moment and, at the same time, to put a name on it: American redstart! Not less than the fifth species of American wood-warbler for Corvo this autumn and a highly sought-after one by most birders present on the island who had now the opportunity to unblock a new species on their personal WP list. Thanks to our taximen, Joao, most birders arrived on the spot within half an hour and by the end of the afternoon, everyone had managed at least a few decent views of this restless beauty.

American redstart (1st winter), 8 October 2013, Ribeira da Ponte, Corvo
American redstart is a very rare bird outside the Azores with only a couple of records in UK and Ireland. As for the Azores, there are currently 11 records, 6 of which belong to Corvo (4 in 2009, 1 in 2010, 1 in 2013). Thus, for the first day with an intense coverage of the island by more than 30 birders, redstart was...a great start! The weather conditions look promising for the rest of the week with westerly winds predicted, so the motivation is strong in the group tonight to do our best in the next days to push further up the list of rarities found on The Rock this autumn.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The calm before the storm?

Today was a calm day. Of course, new discoveries were still made on the island - after all we are in October - but none of them was of major significance, especially regarding the events of the past few days. On the American side, a new Northern parula  - the third one for this year - and a new Red-eyed vireo were discovered by Hannu Palojarvi in Da Vinte, while a visit to the Caldeira produced White-rumped sand (1), Lesser yellowlegs (1), and a possible Rough-legged Hawk. Several American landbirds reported during a previous day that were still present on the island included one of the two Northern parulas still showing in the Tamarisk patch at the western end of the airstrip, the Cliff swallow briefly seen flying around Pico and over the High Fields, and the Buff-bellied pipit still lingering at the Reservoir for its 5th consecutive day. Several western Palearctic species were also reported during the day including Lapland bunting (2 present since 3rd October), Willow warbler (1), House martin (1 present since 2nd October), Glossy ibis (2+ present since 27 September), and Northern wheatear (1+ present since 3rd 0ctober).

'Greenland' Northern wheatear (O. o. leucorhoa), 3 October 2013, Grassland around the Reservoir, Corvo
As of this morning, 20 birders from 7 nationalities (Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain) were present on the island but in late afternoon, an additional group of 13 birders - including the first 5 British birders of the season - have found their way to The Rock. Such a large arrival at the onset of the second week of the month is certainly not attributable to chance alone: statistically speaking, both the second and third weeks of October have often produced the best birds of the autumn, so there is much hope tonight among us (33 birders in total!) that the forthcoming days will bring their share of surprises!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Northern parulas, American swallows and more...

With 20 birders spread all over the island for the second consecutive day, it was not long this morning before the first alert came on the walkie-talkie. Around 8.30am, Jens Sogaard Hansen made the exciting discovery of a first winter male Northern parula in the dense tamarisk patch at the western end of the airstrip. The circumstances of his discovery were rather intriguing. Birds such as vireos and wood-warblers can be tape-lured by playing the call of their own kind and attracted towards the observer in this way, so Jens was playing a few bird calls (using his mobile phone!) from the edge of the large tamarisk patch - in order to attract any potential skulker hiding in the middle - when something rather interesting happened: the Northern parula literally jumped out of the vegetation in response to the call of...White-eyed vireo! The bird only showed up for a brief moment before returning to the middle of the tamarisks again. News of this finding were immediately broadcasted on the walkie-talkie with birders quickly starting to converge towards the Lower Fields in an attempt to relocate the wood-warbler, which eventually showed up for a second time in response to the White-eyed vireo tape around 10am but later proved to be very difficult to observe with only brief and irregular sightings by a few observers.

Northern parula (1st winter male), 6 October 2013, Tamarisks in the Lower Fields, Corvo
Northern parula (1st winter male), 6 October 2013, Tamarisks in the Lower Fields, Corvo
In the meantime, two additional news came on the phone via sms: the first one was from Rafael Armada and Ferran Lopez Sanz who were starting to return from the wooded valleys and had discovered and subsequently observed during 1.5h 'three swallows' at the Lighthouse Valley...Tree swallow, American Cliff swallow and a European House martin. Pretty impressive! The second one came from Kalle Larsson who had found another wood-warbler, this time a Common yellowthroat, at Lapa around 12am. These combined news acted like a small thunderstorm among birders since the majority had now two or three new ticks in perspective for the afternoon. Plans were being discussed to call our local taximen, Joao, to reach the wooded valleys (Lapa and Lighthouse) as soon as posssible when Seppo Haavisto came on the walkie-talkie: "Tree swallow flying low over the Middle Fields". So, first stop with the taxi: Middle Fields. The Tree swallow was nowhere to be seen until Mika Bruun pinpointed towards a high, distant spot in the sky above the Mirador: a swallow...but which one? American Cliff swallow this time!...so, next stop with the taxi: Mirador -  where the Cliff was briefly seen and photographed, with at the same time more news on the walkie-talkie: a second Northern parula had been discovered by René-Marie Lafontaine in Da Ponte! 

American Cliff swallow, 6 October 2013, Mirador above Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo
So, overall a very busy day on Corvo for most of us with at least 5 new American birds found on the island (2 Northern parulas, 1 Common yellowthroat, 1 Tree swallow, 1 Cliff swallow). The two wood-warblers and the Cliff swallow are regular autumnal vagrants on Corvo seen in fairly good numbers since 2005 (ca.10 records for both wood-warblers and 7 records for Cliff swallow). Tree swallow is the rarest species with only 8 WP records, including 5 records for Corvo (one in 2005, 2 in 2007, one in 2012, one this year).

Saturday, 5 October 2013

More American landbirds on The Rock...

If each birding day on Corvo was to be ranked on a quality scale, today would probably be classified as an 'average' one. Perhaps one explanation for this is that with 20 birders now working hard to discover new birds on the island, many of us had hoped for a better issue to today's hunt than just 2 new birds, Red-eyed vireo and Indigo bunting. Both species are regular annual vagrants to Corvo in fair numbers and thus these findings are of somewhat minor importance to most of us. The Indigo bunting was initially flushed from a corn field behind the airstrip (Lower Fields) by Mika Bruun who by doing so offered a new 'tick' to his birding pal Petri Kuhno; the bird - a first winter male - was however not relocated subsequently. The Red-eyed vireo  - the third one this year - was discovered during the afternoon around the Windmill area by Kari Haataja who initially saw it flying inshore directly from the sea!  The vireo was refound in the nearby tamarisks and eventually showed up very well for the rest of the day, attracting quite many birders and photographers.

Red-eyed vireo, 5 October 2013, Windmill area, Corvo
Red-eyed vireo, 5 October 2013, Windmill area, Corvo
Other noteworthy records for today include the two wood-warblers found yesterday at Cantinho which were still greeting us with good views all day, one of the two Buff-bellied pipits still seen at the Reservoir in the afternoon and one Rose-breasted grosbeak still present along the dirty track between Fojo and Cancelas for its 5th consecutive day.   

Friday, 4 October 2013

What a day!

What makes Corvo such an attractive birding destination for western Palearctic listers is not merely the perspective of finding and twitching rare birds in the region, but also the hope that some of those rare birds will be American wood-warblers...those little colourful and beautiful creatures that are so enjoyable to the lucky observer. Their unobtrusive habits usually make them quite difficult to see as well, which adds a taste of victory when the 'connection' with the bird through binoculars actually happens.

Since 2005, several American wood-warbler species have been found annually on Corvo (except in 2007)  - with some years better than others - but as of yesterday night and after 7 complete days of active search, 2013 was still ranking last with no American wood warbler species on the list yet. This situation changed abruptly around 8.45 this morning when Kari Haataja gifted us with the discovery of a stunning male Black-throated blue warbler in the lower part of Cantinho, one of the largest wooded valley on Corvo.

Black-throated blue warbler (male), 4 October 2013, Ribeira do Cantinho, Corvo
The circumstances of the discovery were rather classical for a New World wood-warbler: a high sharp, frequently-called 'stip' which immediately attracted the birder's attention, followed by a patient wait to detect by eye the moving creature and finally the 'connection' with the bird through binoculars. With such a stunning male, identification was obviously straightforward and the news was released immediately by walkie-talkie. A few nearby birders managed to arrive on the spot within minutes and quickly cashed in with, in addition, several documenting photos obtained. The remaining birders (including myself) only managed to arrive 45 minutes after the initial discovery to hear that the bird was nowhere to be found. With a bit of luck and an additional 30 min. of active search, however, the bird was relocated further up in Cantinho. Every birder present on the island could now enjoy decent views of the wood-warbler and I eventually started to concentrate myself on the rather challenging task of obtaining the best of this restless beauty on the photo camera. The rest is history: 4 hours spent in Cantinho with the other photographers with another self-discovery while at work: a second wood-warbler, this time a Black-and-white warbler, gleaning insects along trunks at a short distance - less than 100m away - from the area favoured by the Black-throated blue. So, The Rock is on fire: we welcome the freshly arrived group of 10 new birders this late afternoon not only with one, but with two delightful American wood-warblers that everyone managed to twitch without problem.

Black-throated blue warbler (male), 4 October 2013, Ribeira do Cantinho, Corvo

Black-and-white warbler, 4 October 2013, Ribeira do Cantinho, Corvo
The importance of Kari's finding today is high since the Black-throated blue warbler constitutes only the 6th record in the western Palearctic following two previous records in Iceland (1988 & 2003) and 3 previous ones on Corvo (1 in 2005 and 2 in 2006). There are many more records of Black-and-white warbler in the western Palearctic and this is also the fourth for Corvo, following single in 2009, 2010 and 2012.  This latter species is nevertheless a nice addition to the daily log, making today one of those unforgettable days spent on Corvo that entirely justifies the physically-challenging efforts invested on this island in finding the 'good' birds. And with at least 3 additional weeks of intense birding activity to come and more than 20 birders actively searching the island from tomorrow morning onwards, the rest of the autumn looks very promising! 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

American Buff-bellied pipits and more...

For their very first visit to the high-altitude grassland area around the Reservoir, Richard Ek and Jesper Segergren did pretty well today with the discovery of two American Buff-bellied pipits. The news came around 12am while most of the remaining birders were still 'working hard' inside the wooded valleys. American Buff-bellied pipit is quite regular on Corvo (first one found in 2005 and then annually between 2009 and 2012), so the finding did not immediately attract many birders on the spot. However, with no other interesting discovery made on the island by 2pm, a visit to the Reservoir to photograph and enjoy good views of the pipits was the only thing that could "save the day"!
So, by mid-afternoon, a small group (Mika Bruun, Petri Kuhno, Bosse Carlsson and myself) undertook the physically-demanding ascension towards the Reservoir where one of the two Buff-bellied pipits was still showing well and provided good photographing opportunities.

American Buff-bellied pipit, 3 October 2013, Grassland around the Reservoir, Corvo
Soon after the photo shoot ended around 4pm, it was the high-pitched voice of Kari Haataja that came on the walkie-talkie to drop the exciting news of an unidentified falcon briefly seen flying west from the Mirador above the village. The chances of it being of American origin were quite high - after all this is Corvo - so Mika and I got immediately interested to try our luck with that bird despite an important issue: walking from the Reservoir to the Mirador using the regular road and path network was time consuming and the chances that the falcon would be gone by the time we could make it to the Mirador were high. So we opted for a more straightforward and brutal solution: crossing directly through the grassland - which means jumping above stone walls, fences and rows of hydrangeas - to reach Cova Vermelha, a vantage point located west of the Mirador, as soon as possible. That strategy eventually paid off as we managed to reach that area within 10-15 min and to relocate the bird - a Peregrine falcon - flying high in the sky. With a bit of patience and luck, a few decent shots were obtained with a rather unequivocal verdict: Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile plumage, F. p. tundrius) or in other words, one of the 2 Arctic subspecies/races of Peregrine falcon that breed in Greenland and Arctic Canada (the other Arctic subspecies being the ssp. calidus from Arctic Siberia).

From the photographs provided below, a juvenile individual of the subspecies calidus can be easily discarded based on size (these are obviously larger birds) while the key features that are indicative of the 'tundrius' subspecies here (as opposed to nominate 'peregrinus') are the pale fore crown and cap, uniform pale cheek, slightly longer wings, more brown-grey upper parts (not visible on the two images below), and narrow and relatively large malar stripe.

Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile, ssp. tundrius), 3 October 2013, vantage point west of Mirador, Corvo
Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile, ssp. tundrius), 3 October 2013, vantage point west of Mirador, Corvo

Thus, overall today was a pretty entertaining day despite a rather slow start this morning. Tomorrow, a large group of birders will join us on Corvo, so there is certainly hope for some exciting new discoveries...time will tell! 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Wilson's snipe!

Today saw little advancements in terms of landbird discoveries. The Rose-breasted grosbeak found yesterday in Fojo was relocated in the morning while a second bird was found a few hours later in the lower part of Da Ponte by Jesper Segergren. The debate remains open on whether this latter individual is the one discovered by René-marie yesterday (rather high along the Caldeira road) or is a new one as none of these two sightings have been documented with a photo. The maximum number of Rose-breasted grosbeaks found on Corvo during a single season is two (this happened both in autumn 2005 & 2006), so we are presently missing an opportunity to raise the annual record for Corvo to 3! During the afternoon, a new Red-eyed vireo was discovered by Richard Ek in Poço de Agua and a House martin was observed and well-photographed by Jesper at the Mirador.

Other noteworthy records for today include a snipe self-discovered from the taxi during the early morning drive from the guesthouse to the wooded valleys. Some of us managed to photograph the bird directly from inside the taxi (thanks to our very cooperative taxi driver, Joao) and brief flight views were also obtained. After careful examination, both flight views and photographs of the bird on the ground pinpoint towards a Wilson's snipe. Some of the features that could be studied based on the images obtained and that are indicative of this species include heavily barred flanks, barred tertials, rufous tail and nape, cream-coloured stripes on back, and a rather short bill and typical facial pattern. The bird was also briefly observed in flight and presented a very thin white trailing edge to the wings, which is strongly indicative of Wilson's as opposed to Common snipe.

Wilson's snipe, 2 October 2013, Fields close to Da Ponte, Corvo
During late afternoon, a photo shoot of Semipalmated/Ringed plovers was the only activity that Mika Bruun and I found entertaining as the presence of two birds (two 1st winter individuals) side by side on the western rocky shore provided an interesting opportunity to study the differences between these two species both in the field and later based on the images obtained.

Semipalmated plover (front) and Ringed plover, 2 October 2013, western shore, Corvo
Sanderling (left) and Ringed plover, 2 october 2013, western shore, Corvo
 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The season for American landbirds has officially started!

What a relief! Just as hoped, the first day of October has paid off and the first American passerines are now in the bag. The good news came around 11.30 am when I was fortunate enough to spot a young male Rose-breasted grosbeak moving slowly along the tree line on the southern part of Fojo. The first sight was only brief but clear enough to allow a straightforward identification. I almost immediately released the news of this discovery to the nearby birders (by walkie-talkie) who quickly appeared on the spot in an attempt to relocate the bird. The grosbeak was eventually refound after 15-20 min, this time allowing us prolonged views and providing decent photographing opportunities. And as good news never comes alone, a second Rose-breasted grosbeak  was briefly seen around noon by René-marie Lafontaine feeding within a small group of chaffinches in the grassland along the Caldeira road, while later in the afternoon Richard Ek and Jesper Segergren found the first Red-eyed vireo of the autumn in the lower part of Lapa. Other noteworthy sightings today include Semipalmated sandpiper (2) and a distant Rough-legged buzzard (perhaps a North American one?) at the Caldeira and a Corncrake flushed in the grassland between Fojo and Cancelas.

With the first 3 american landbirds on the log tonight, there is now tangible proof that Corvo has been served by the low-pressure moving over the island since last week...with surely more individuals to be discovered out there in the next days!

Rose-breasted grosbeak (1st winter male), 1 October 2013, Fojo, Corvo
Rose-breasted grosbeak (1st winter male), 1 October 2013, Fojo, Corvo


Monday, 30 September 2013

Goodbye September..

A least there was something to celebrate tonight at the ritual gathering for dinner: tomorrow we are in October! For those who have followed Corvo's birding developments since 2005, October is the month which has most contributed to the reputation of this island on the western Palearctic birding scene...It is a very very 'heavy' month in terms of number of american vagrants scored. So needless to say that everyone here (9 birders now present on the island) is still highly-motivated despite the fact that today was another rather birdless day, with only the usual group of 6 Glossy ibises lingering around the airfield and a Buff-breasted sandpiper discovered around the Reservoir. This last species is nonetheless a welcome addition to the list for this year with just a few previous records for Azores and Corvo (3rd or 4th record for Corvo).

Buff-breasted sandpiper, 30 September 2013, Reservoir, Corvo
Since 2006, little efforts have been invested in birding on Corvo as early as end September although this has happened at least twice, in 2009 and 2011. Those two previous years had a similar coverage of Corvo over the 26-30 September period but have produced much more than this year. For instance, Bobolink and American redstart were found in 2009 by a single birder present at that time on the island (Olof Jonsson). In 2011, more birders were present (Richard Ek et al.) and produced in 5 days an astounding list of american land birds and megas including Yellow-crowned night-heron, Marsh hawk, Philadelphia vireo (2), Red-eyed vireo (4), Northern parula (4), Ovenbird, Grey-cheeked thrush, and Baltimore oriole. With this in mind, none of the birders present on The Rock since last Friday will want to look back at our first 4 days as a memorable birding experience but with September ending today, we hope that the worst days are now behind us!

 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Six Glossy ibises and nothing more

Take the log of yesterday evening and remove from it the two Nearctic waders (Spotted sand and Semi plover): you have the log of tonight. Surely not the kind of beginning to our trip that we were prepared for. The wind has been blowing harder and harder from west/north-west since Thursday, but still no american landbird have found their way to Corvo. Alternatively, there could be some birds already present here but then they have eluded us so far. Either way, everything remains to be done: finding the first good bird of the season!

Semipalmated plover (1st winter), 28 September 2013, airstrip, Corvo
 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Tomorrow is another day!

Despite some heavy rain making birding difficult this morning, we (6 birders) managed to visit the fields around the village and 3 wooded valleys (Fojo, Cancelas and Da Ponte) today without success. The only decent bird species seen were on the European side, a group of six Glossy ibises (high fields and airport strip), and on the Nearctic side, Spotted sandpiper (1 on rocky shore) and Semipalmated plover (1 on airstrip).

Glossy ibis (immature), 28 September 2013, airstrip, Corvo

The log is thus very light tonight despite the fact that the conditions are very exciting to start finding good birds: end September is a great period to be on Corvo (re-check the Birding Corvo 2009 blog if you have doubts about that), wind is blowing from the right direction (west) and we are a fair number of birders actively searching the island. Birding is, however, not an exact science otherwise we should have scored at least one american landbird today.

Tomorrow is another day and we keep looking at the bright side of life..it can only get better!

Friday, 27 September 2013

First afternoon on the island...

The first birder arrived on Corvo yesterday; 5 additional ones joined him today, including myself. Our flight landed at 2pm so we had only a couple of hours before sunset to start looking for birds. Da Ponte was the only wooded valley properly visited (lower and upper parts) without any success.  The low and mid-fields around the village were also checked later in the afternoon, again without scoring anything...

A quick look this evening at the wind charts suggest that westerlies will start blowing seriously from Saturday onwards until at least Monday evening (with gusts up to 30 knots), which shall be very helpful to bring more vagrants to the island! With this perspective in mind, the motivation level in the group is currently at its best! Tomorrow will be the first complete birding day on Corvo for most of us, so we hope to get lucky and find the first american lanbirds of the autumn..
 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Warm up..

Blogging is not the stuff I am most familiar with but there is always a starting point to everything!
I have been enjoying birding and twitching on Corvo (Azores) since 2007. No doubts, October is a very busy month on Corvo with more and more birders visiting the island every autumn, some of them returning year after year.

It is well beyond any words what this place has offered me so far: great birds, intense birding moments, and durable friendship with all the happy birders. Not to mention the great pleasure in meeting the friendly community living permanently on the island. When speaking with some other birders last year, it came up that having a blog relating some "daily news" would be a 'must do'..so this time I decided to jump in for my 7th consecutive autumn on The Rock.

For those who haven't followed regularly the news last autumn, here is a sample of what we managed to see in a few weeks (American rarities on Corvo in 2012). Among the many highlights of the past 2012 season were Golden-winged and Prairie warblers..probably two of the best american landbirds I've seen there so far. 
Golden-winged warbler, 12 October 2012, Lighthouse valley, Corvo
This year, the very first birders coming from abroad will touch down on Wednesday 25, almost immediately starting to pace along wooded valleys of the island..so NEWS are about to start now...
As for myself, it is almost on as I will fly from Lisbon to Corvo this Friday 27 September...for a full month of adventures.

My initial plan is to update this blog on a daily basis from Friday onwards..so stay tuned!