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 female 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)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Magnolia Warbler delight!

With constant Westerlies blowing over the last week, more vagrant discoveries had to be expected on Corvo today. While early morning didn’t produce more than the regular Red-eyed Vireos, mid morning saw the broadcasting on the Walkie-talkie by Daniele of  a ‘Catharus’ thrush briefly seen in the Tennessee Valley that wasn’t subsequently relocated and would therefore remain unidentified to species level as I write this blog post.  

More encouraging for the day was the discovery in late morning of an Ovenbird by Jesper in the lower part of the ‘legendary’ Ribeira Da Ponte. As many birders were needing this species for their own WP list, the news was immediately welcomed by many who immediately headed towards the above named wooded valley. During the time spent to relocate the Ovenbird, Jesper stroke again with another impressive discovery in Da Ponte - a magnificent first-winter Magnolia Warbler - only the 8th WP record and 2nd for Corvo this year, and obviously the ‘star’ bird of the day, which proved very cooperative during the several hours needed for nearly everyone to connect with this beauty. Later in the day, a new Yellow-billed Cuckoo was found in Ribeira de Poço d’Agua as well as a Black-throated Green Warbler in Ribeira de Cancelas. So again a very productive day on The Rock despite heavy rain in the afternoon and strong blowing winds throughout the day. 

Nearctic species seen today include:
Spotted Sandpiper: 1 (southern beach)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: 2 (Ribeira de Poço d’agua, Middle Fields)
Ovenbird: 1 (Ribeira da Ponte)
Magnolia Warbler: 1 (Ribeira da Ponte)
Black-throated Green Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Red-eyed Vireo: 4 (Tennessee Valley, Ribeira da Ponte - 2, Fojo)


Magnolia Warbler (1st winter), Ribeira da Ponte, 19 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Dickcissel and more...

Another ‘magic’ day on Corvo today for most birders despite a slow morning start with very little reported apart from the death of the Surf Scoter in the New Harbour witnessed by Vincent and myself. Not surprising as the bird was getting weaker and weaker every day, presumably due to a lack of appropriate feeding opportunities on this side of the Atlantic!

By 11am, the only American landbird on offer was a Red-eyed Vireo reported by Daniele on the southern part of Lapa fields. With so little Nearctic activity on the island recorded so far today, a few birders, including the Spanish team led by Ferran, decided to have a try at Daniele’s Vireo. They couldn’t have thought better as on their way to the bird, they discovered in Lapa fields a new Nearctic species of major interest for the Azores and the Western Palearctic: a fine looking Dickcissel, presumably only the 6th WP record following one in Norway in 1981, 2 on nearby Flores Island (Azores) in 2009, followed by one on Corvo in 2011 and 2 again on Corvo in 2012. A welcome news for many birders who still needed this species for their list and managed decent views of the bird, which was rather cooperative over the course of the afternoon.

Another noteworthy event for the day relates again to the Blackburnian Warbler which was briefly relocated by Chris and myself on the southern gully of the Tennessee Valley in late afternoon (around 4pm) and despite a hard blowing wind. This was enough to bring many birders back into the area in a coordinated effort to relocate the bird, which eventually did cooperate more than on previous days, offering good, albeit brief, views for all who had missed it earlier.

And last but not least, the Caldeira area that had been forgotten over the last few days was visited again today by some of the Swedish, thereby producing a few Nearctic waterbird additions to the autumnal list!

Nearctic species seen today included:
Surf Scoter: 1 (New Harbour)
Blue-winged Teal: 1 (Caldeira)
Ring-necked Duck: 2 (Caldeira)
Lesser Yellowlegs: 2 (Caldeira)
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 2 (Reservoir and Old Harbour)
Spotted Sandpiper: 2 (Caldeira and Beach at southern end of airstrip)
White-Rumped Sandpiper: 2 (Caldeira)
Upland Sandpiper: 1 (Reservoir)
Dickcissel: 1 (Lapa fields)
Red-eyed Vireo: 3+ (Fojo 1-2, Lapa, Tennessee Valley)
Blackburnian Warbler: 1 (Tennessee Valley)

Dickcissel (1st winter female), Lapa fields, 18 October 2017 (Daniele Occhiato)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A brief and disappointing reappearance of the Blackburnian Warbler.

With such a recent 'mega day' last Sunday as a result of tropical storm Ophelia, there was much expectations among Corvo birders that more goodies had to be found over the next week. Unfortunately this assumption wasn't backed up by any evidence over the last two days.

Even worst, the two 'star' birds of the season found on Sunday, Yellow-throated Vireo and Blackburnian Warbler, were nowhere to be found on Monday despite intensive search throughout the day by the many birders who had failed to connect with those two 'beauties' on Sunday. Today, however, hope for a second chance was back at 2pm when the news broke that a single birder had had a brief glimpse at the Blackburnian in the dense and large Juniper patch located on the east flank of the Tennessee Valley, only meters away from the spot where the bird was initially discovered by Mika. Needless to say that panic ensued as soon as the news went out, with dozens of birders running frantically from all corners of the island towards the above named area. The epilogue of the day was nevertheless less fancy for most of us as relief would never materialise: in fact, apart from the fortunate birder who had a brief sighting of the warbler today, no one else did connect with it despite much coordinated efforts to relocate it. The 'take-home' message here being that birding on Corvo can be somewhat frustrating at times, due to a combination of factors such as rude terrain with steep slopes and numerous hilly valleys, with large patches of impenetrable overgrown vegetation in which unobtrusive warblers can be easily missed.

Tomorrow however is another day and surely more efforts will be dedicated to relocate the Blackburnian Warbler and to find out new interesting birds. Weather-wise, wind is still blowing from the West although the overall conditions over the Western Atlantic are predicted to become optimal  only towards the end of the week!

Totals of Nearctic species seen on 16-17 October 2017:
Surf Scoter: 1 (New Harbour)
Semipalmated Sandpiper: 2 (Reservoir and New harbour)
Lesser Yellowlegs: 1 (Reservoir)
Upland Sandpiper: 1 (over the road to Reservoir)
Spotted Sandpiper: 1 (Southern end of beach)
Red-eyed Vireo: 4 (Fojo, Da Ponte, Tennessee Valley, Tamarisk south of airstrip)
Common Yellowthroat: 1 (above rubbish dump)
Blackpoll Warbler: 2 (Tamarisk in Upper Fields above dump)
Northern Waterthrush: 1 (Tennessee Valley)
Blackburnian Warbler: 1 (Tennessee Valley)

Surf Scoter, New Harbour at Vila do Corvo, 16 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)
In addition, several Palearctic species rarely seen on Corvo over the last two days include a Red Phalarope at sea,  a Black-crowned Night-Heron over the Low Fields, two Snow Buntings around the Reservoir and a Common Whitethroat at Tennessee Valley.

Common Whitethroat, Tennessee Valley, 17 October 2017 (Vincent Legrand)

Monday, 16 October 2017

OPHELIA !

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

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

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

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

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

Blackburnian Warbler (Vincent Legrand). More pics HERE

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

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

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

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

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