Sunday, 17 October 2010

Azorean wonders

Upland Sandpiper
Cory's Shearwater
Atlantic Canary
Bar-tailed Godwit being harassed by a Blackbird
1st winter American Redstart
White-rumped Sandpiper
All images copyright of Russell F Spencer
As you probably know, I got back from The Azores on Tuesday after being held up on Flores (my favourite Azorean island) due to the tropical storm created in the wake of Hurricane Otto.

They are a group of nine islands in the mid-Atlantic between Portugal and the States. I though that all the islands would be within sight of each other, so I was surprised when we landed on San Miguel (the main island) to learn that Corvo and Flores were a whooping 400 miles and 2 hours flight away. In short, I found some the European twitchers on Corvo full of testosterone, arrogance and unfriendliness. They just seemed interested in finding the next American rare to add to their Western Palearctic list. And that was it. Birding didn't seem to come into it. One of them, a Belgian photographer, poured scorn on the thought of us heading off to nearby and far larger and under-birded Flores. More reason for me to go, I thought.

Birding on Flores was like birding on a island with the blended characteristics of Scillies, Yorkshire, the Mediterranean with a tropical forest vibe thrown in. We ended up working around four areas as patches and as a consequence found American vagrants on a daily basis. We also found a few birds that were arguably Nearctic including a winter male Snow Bunting and a rather buffy looking juvenile Peregrine that lunched on one of the flock of four White-rumped Sandpipers that we were watching.

There were not many species to entertain us in between finding rares. Basically, there were Blackbirds with strange weak alarm calls and strange 'seaaa' calls. Also the females were quite dark almost like 1st winter males. The Goldcrests looked dingier and longer billed than our birds, whilst the Chaffinches looked like the North African birds with very little white on their tails and wings making them look quite dark. They seemed to flutter lacking the strong flight that I'm used to. There were tons of Canaries around. They reminded me of Serins. Starlings were prevalent seeming more spotted than usual. Finally, out to see were hundreds of Cory's Shearwaters, although some of us saw a few Great Shearwaters and I noticed a petrel on the boat over from Corvo which seemed like a Leach's.

I found the trip very interesting and although the weather conditions were perfect for bringing over falls of vagrants, it was very humid and wet which meant wet optics and sometimes poor visibility. Regardless, it was a great adventure that was supported by The Portuguese Trade and Investment Office and SATA Airlines. There, plug done!


Tony Duckett said...

Hi Dave.

The last time I looked you hadn't updated your blog. It seems an island with a wide variety of habitats and finding birds looks hard. That is the kind of challenge I enjoy. It is one of the reasons that I have started going to the Scilly's just before the main arrival of birders. Lets hope that we get a good passage of birds out of Scandinavia when I return from Cornwall.



Peter Alfrey said...

Hi David,
I wished you spent more time with the Corvo birders- some are private and focused on their lists but great guys, that bird hard all day and love birds. Corvo and Flores are friendly rivals so just a bit of tournament banter which probably got lost in translation.
Nice photos!
Speak soon

The Urban Birder said...

Hey Pete,
Perhaps you are right. I found it all a bit intense. I'm all for finding interesting rarities but perhaps not so competitively.
I'm really interested in the Azores that you sold me - studying the occurrences of vagrancy and also the seabird situation there.
Maybe I got it all wrong, but I heard little talk of conservation and that irritated me. It seemed like just a playground for WP listers.
I'm glad that I visited Corvo but I much preferred Flores. It was harder work with less birders. Just the way I like it!

Peter Alfrey said...

Hi David,
yes I agree- it is hard work here and Flores is much more relaxed. I prefer the excercise and the hard competition but it is not much of a holiday!
As for conservation, many of us here are full time conservationists and in October we just enjoy birds for a couple of weeks. However there are some serious conservation issues on the Azores, some of us work on these projects and we are all very concerned and involved in these matters.

Cheers David