Archive for the ‘Azores’ Tag

2014 – what a great year!   Leave a comment

2014 has been a great year, full of foreign travel, great birding/ringing and social events. Fortunately there have been no serious issues, so the year has passed without major problems.

This post just summarises some of the highlights; more photos and discussion of each subject can be found on the blog.

During the year the companionship of my family (see the Christmas photo below) and my many friends (be they from school or university days, or birders and ringers here at home or people I have met on foreign trips) has greatly added to the quality of life. There have been a number of social events and musical concerts, many of which I have illustrated on this site.

 

IMG_4075 unwrapping presents

When at home much of my time has been taken up with bird ringing, either around Poole or at Durlston Country Park. We have ringed well over 5000 birds in this area and have amassed a lot of useful data. We have been notified of lots of interesting recoveries some of which I intend to post here in due course. The photo shows a male Bearded Tit photographed at Lytchett Bay.

IMG_1303 beardie

British birding and twitching has taken a bit of a back seat this year. I recorded 223 species in the UK, quite a bit less than usual and most of my birding has been following up other peoples sightings. I have only added one species to my British list – this Baikal Teal seen in Cambridgeshire in March, one to my Dorset list – a Hooded Crow on Portland and one to my Poole Harbour list – a Great White Egret.

IMG_1272 Baikal Teal

Foreign travel has dominated the year. I did eight tours through the year, although this was just seven trips from home as two were taken back to back, and birded in eleven different countries. I recorded 1515 species in total and had 199 life birds. This brings my life list to 7870 following the IOC checklist or 74.5% of the world’s birds. According to the ‘list of lists’ on the Surfbirds website this gives me the 27th highest life in the world, but I know that there are quite a number of birders who do not submit their lists and think I’m more like 50th in the world. Even so, I consider that to be a great achievement and well worth the cost and physical effort involved, and although it hasn’t required much skill on my part, as I have mainly seen these birds on guided tours, I am very pleased to have progressed so far.

For each tour taken in 2014 I have included two photos below, one of the scenery and one of a notable  species.

The first trip was in February to Oman to search for the newly described Omani Owl, wonderful scenery, although long hours were spent in the dark before we eventually got good views. No photos were obtained of the owl so I have included a shot of two critically endangered Sociable Lapwings that were also seen on the tour.

 

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In March I did two trips to Mexico back to back. The first was to the delightful El Triunfo cloud forest reserve in Chiapas. The first photo shows dawn at the clearing where we stayed, the second the incredible Horned Guan, which was the 10,000th bird species Birdquest had seen on their tours.

IMG_0176 El triunfo

IMG_0074-Horned-Guan-b

 

The second Mexico tour was to the Yucatan where we enjoyed the Mardi Gras festival and climbed to the top of some Mayan ruins as well as some stunning birds like the Ocellated Turkey.

IMG_1084 Anne and Martin at Calakmul

IMG_1033 Ocellated Turkey

 

The most varied trip and in some ways the most enjoyable was the drive from North Carolina to the Canadian border that Margaret and I did in May/June. We enjoyed birding in southern woodland and the Appalachians, did pelagic trips off Cape Hatteras, went sightseeing in Washington and New York, birded in the boreal forests of New Hampshire and the coast of Maine as well as visiting a number of friends. I have yet to edit all these photos so I there should be more posts from this most photogenic trip still to come. Below – the Statue of Liberty and a Black Bear seen in North Carolina.

IMG_0094 Statue of Liberty

IMG_0210 Black Bear

 

In May/June I had another great trip, this time to Borneo. One of the highlights was seeing the last bird family for my list, Bornean Bristlehead, but the four new species of Pitta came a close second. There was a really good selection of mammals too. The photos show dawn at Danum Valley and Blue-banded Pitta.

P1120162 Danum

P1120091 Blue-banded Pitta2

 

In late August my friend Roger and I had a week in the Azores concentrating on pelagic trips off the island of Graciosa. The highlight for me was seeing two new species of storm-petrel, Monteiro’s and Swinhoe’s The former is shown below along with storm clouds off the coast of Graciosa.

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IMG_5609 Monteiro's SP

 

The longest and hardest tip of the year was to northern Madagascar and the Comoros in September/October.  Good birds and mammals abounded but roads were poor in places, transport unreliable, journeys were long and accommodation was variable. The photos below shows sunset over Lake Kincloy, the site of the rare Sakhalava Rail, but the bird of the trip was the wonderful Helmeted Vanga seen earlier on the trip on the Masoala Peninsula.

IMG_0759 Kincloy Sunset

IMG_0329 Helmet Vanga

 

The final trip in November/December was to southern Argentina. This highly scenic trip was most enjoyable and produced some great birds. The photos show the Moreno Glacier in Glacier National Park and the critically endangered Hooded Grebe. I have still to upload the final installment of this trip but will be on this blog within a few days.

IMG_3559 Glacier NP

IMG_3885 Hooded Grebes

 

All of these trips are illustrated in more detail on the blog. Feel free to scroll back through the year. Happy New Year – here’s to a successful and enjoyable 2015.

Posted January 3, 2015 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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23rd – 30th August 2014 – The Azores part 2   Leave a comment

This post deals solely with the seabirds we saw on the pelagic trips. If anyone is interested in these seabirds then I would highly recommend reading Magnus Robb and Killian Mullarney’s ‘Petrels night and day (Sound Approach)

 

IMG_5672 Cory's Shearwater

The commonest pelagic seabird was the Cory’s Shearwater which breeds in large numbers in the islands.

IMG_5670 Cory's

The species has recently been split into three; the smaller Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii, Scopoli’s Shearwater C diomeda whose breeding is almost confined to the Mediterranean (but winters off South Africa so must traverse the Atlantic) and Cory’s Shearwater C borealis which breeds only in the Azores, Madeira, Canary and related islands.

IMG_5269 Cory's Shearwater

One of the largest of shearwaters, Cory’s is easy to separate from Great, but telling it from a Scopoli’s on the pattern of white in the outer underwing would require a photo.

IMG_5352 Great Shears

The further out to sea we got the scarcer Cory’s and the commoner Great Shearwaters became.

IMG_5649 Great Shear

Great Shearwaters breed in the Tristan da Cunha group in the south Atlantic. After breeding they undergo a tremendous loop migration that takes them north to the Grand Banks off America and then south through the eastern Atlantic in our autumn.

IMG_4733 Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwaters also breed in the Southern Atlantic and around Australia and New Zealand. Atlantic populations undergo a loop migration like Great Shearwaters although they peak in the eastern Atlantic a bit later in the autumn. The other tw shearwaters, Manx and Barolo’s were too distant or briefly seen to be photographed.

 

IMG_5581 LT Skua

We saw all four species of North Atlantic skua/jaeger; three Long-taileds (all adults) 3 Arctic/Parasitic, one Pom ……

IMG_5503 Bonxie

… and this bird which we assumed was a 2nd cy Great Skua (or Bonxie) from its moult pattern. South Polar Skua is another possibility, as like the large shearwaters it undergoes an Atlantic loop migration. If you can identify this bird conclusively either way then please leave a message. Postscript:  Dani Lopez-Velasco, who wrote a paper on the identification of South Polar Skua has conclusively identified it as a South Polar.

IMG_5484 Bulwer's Petrel

Far smaller than the shearwaters but larger than storm petrels, the little Bulwer’s Petrel was a wonderful sight. I saw seven during the trip.

IMG_5609 Monteiro's SP

The highlight the trip was the great views we got of four species of storm petrel. Our friend, Magnus Robb, wrote a wonderful book on the seabirds of the north Atlantic (Petrels Night and Day – The Sound Approach) and based mainly on vocalisations split ‘band-rumped storm petrel’ into four species. The form breeding on two islets off Graciosa, was already being described as Monteiro’s SP (photo above), it breeds in the summer whilst the other population, called Grant’s Storm Petrel (after the late and much missed birding guru Peter Grant) breeds in the winter. Grant’s is not confined to the Azores but also breeds (in winter) in the Canaries and Madeira and associated islands where it occurs with a third form, Madeiran Storm Petrel (that breeds in the summer). The fourth form breeds only in the Cape Verde Islands. Monteiro’s is treated as a full species by the world’s checklists but Grant’s is not recognised at all. All forms are vocally distinct and to some extent, genetically distinct. Thus we have a summer and winter breeding population in the Azores that are treated as two species and a summer and winter breeding population in the Canaries and Madeira that are treated as the same species. Something needs to change!

IMG_5389 Monteiro's SP

At this time of year Monteiro’s is ending its breeding cycle and is starting to moult and this can be clearly seen as a notch in the wing where the new, still growing inner primaries abut the old faded outer primaries. On some it was striking and could even be seen with naked eye. Another advantage of visiting in August is that this year’s juveniles will still be in the nest, so there is no confusion with recently fledged individuals with fresh flight feathers. Also Monteiro’s shows a clear notch in the tail, whereas Grant’s does not.

IMG_5633 Grant's SP

I am confident this is a Grant’s Storm Petrel with fresh flight feathers with no evidence of moult and a square ended tail.

IMG_5433 Grant's or Monteiro's SP

But some birds seem intermediate – the secondaries on this bird look fresh and contrast with the primaries, but there is no evidence of moult. Do Grant’s look like this post moult? There is a small tail fork but not as obvious as on the Monteiro’s. Is this another Grant’s?

IMG_5432 Monteiro's SP

The same can be said about this bird, is the apparent tail fork caused by the feet showing below the tail and is that a notch in the wing caused by moult or just the way the wing is bent? I think it’s a Grant’s but I’d appreciate informed comments.

IMG_5518 Swinhoe's SP

The best bird of the trip, was another species of storm petrel, the legendary Swinhoe’s. Breeding off Japan and Korea and wintering in the Indian Ocean, hardly surprisingly the only historic WP record was from Eilat, but in the 80s there was as series of captures by ringers at storm petrel colonies in Madeira, the Canaries, France and even the UK. They must be breeding somewhere in the north Atlantic! Since then there have been several more captures in the UK (including the last two years on Fair Isle) but the bird remains extremely hard to catch up with. As one of my goals is to see every bird on the British list somewhere in the world (now just four to go, Ascension Frigatebird, Aleutian Tern, Tufted Puffin and Red-throated Thrush) then seeing a Swinhoe’s had become a high priority.

IMG_5416 Wilson's SP

A third white-rumped species was Wilson’s Storm Petrel which breeds in Antarctica and also undergoes a loop migration, appearing in the eastern Atlantic in late summer. As well as being smaller with longer legs, a more curved wing shape and a more fluttery flight they can be distinguished by their moult pattern, at this time of year they have moulted all the primaries except the outer one or two.

IMG_5420 Wilson's SP

This bird seems to have replaced all its primaries in the left wing but is still growing the outermost primaries in the right wing.

IMG_5624 Common Tern

Common Terns lived up to their name but in spite of the Azores holding the WP’s largest population of Roseate Terns, they were surprisingly scarce, with the only sizable flock being seen briefly on the Teceira breakwater as we departed on the ferry.

IMG_5148 Sooty Tern best

Ilheu da Praia, a tiny islet off the NE of Graciosa not only holds almost the entire world’s population of Monteiro’s Storm Petrel but also the WP’s only breeding Sooty Terns. On the day we visited the sea was rough and we couldn’t come any closer to the island.

IMG_5201 Sooty Tern

However the single juvenile did briefly buzz the boat on a couple of occasions.

IMG_5748 AZ YL Gull head

The atlantis race of Yellow-legged Gull is a very impressive bird indeed. The heavily streaked hood and pale eye are distinctive. I have heard that a paper is in preparation which advocates its elevation to species status. Intermediate populations in the Canaries and Madeira are the problem with this approach however.

IMG_5496 BN Dolphin

I said this post was only about seabirds but I couldn’t resist including a couple of photos of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. We also saw Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, a Sperm Whale and the beaked whales that I uploaded on the last post.

IMG_5235 BN Dolphin

That concludes our Azores pelagic trip. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’

23rd – 30th August 2014 – The Azores part one   Leave a comment

I visited the Azores in 1991 and although we saw the endemic Bullfinch and some cetaceans we didn’t see much of the islands pelagic seabirds. When I saw a one week trip advertised that comprised mainly of pelagic trips from the island of Graciosa, my friend Roger and I jumped at the chance.

 

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It is only a four hour flight from Gatwick to Porto Delgarda, the capitol on the main island of Sao Miguel.

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Our first day taken up with a tour of Sao Miguel led by local operator Gerbrand (Gerby) Michielsen in his customised van.

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Much of the natural woodland of the sierras in the east of Sao Miguel have been replaced with Japanese Cedars.

IMG_5000 Azores Bullfinch

Here the endemic Azores Bullfinch can be found with a little persistance. Unlike its continental cousin there is little sexual dimorphism, a reduced white rump and the wings are shorter. Once critically endangered, the population has risen with protection to around 1000 individuals.

 

IMG_4990 Azores Bullfinch juv

The presence of several juveniles indicates that the population is recovering

IMG_5021 Azores Buzzard

Although the Bullfinch is the only endemic landbird species, the Azores has several endemic races such as the rothchildi form of Common Buzzard

IMG_5040 Canary

The Atlantic Canary, the ancestor of the domestic Canary is widespread. It is found in the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Contrary to popular belief the Canary Islands were named after the abundance of dogs and not after the birds.

IMG_5023 Sao Miguel

Pretty little towns nestle in green valleys all over Sao Miguel.

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There are several volcanic calderas on Sao Miguel giving spectacular views from the rim.

IMG_5025 Azorean Eiders

Several lakes hold American wildfowl throughout the winter but none had arrived yet. All we could find were these mutants. Gerby said ‘they’re not domestic ducks they are ‘Azorean Eiders’!

IMG_5030 Azores YL Gull

The Azorean race of Yellow-legged Gull atlantis is very distinct with a hooded appearance when not in breeding plumage. It has been suggested that it deserves specific status but intermediate populations exist on Madeira and the Canaries.

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At the town of Ribeira Grande we searched the foreshore for American waders but only found Sanderling which could have reached the Azores from the New or the Old World.

IMG_5033 Ringed Plover

Pulses increased when we found a ‘ringed plover’ on some short vegetation nearby but critical examination showed it was just a Old World Ringed Plover and not its Nearctic counterpart.

IMG_5047 Whimbrel

The following day we flew to the island of Terceira and met up with the rest of the group who had skipped the Sao Miguel option and gone straight there. We headed for the tidal pools at Carbo da Praia, here an old quarry is connected to the sea by cracks in the rock and pools form at high tide. This acts as a magnet for waders and with the proximity of the islands to America this is the best site for vagrants in the entire Western Palearctic. We found 14 species of wader there, four from the Nearctic, six from the Palearctic and four that could have come from either. There were ten Whimbrels (eight Eurasian and two Hudsonian). They are separated mainly by the rump colour, which isn’t much help here, but the lack of buff tones on the supercillium indicate this photo is of the Old World form.

IMG_5064 Ruff

Ruff winter in large numbers in the Niger inundation zone in West Africa so this juvenile was was a long way off its intended route.

IMG_5073 Semi-P Plover

As well as, the Hudsonian Whimbrel we also saw three other American waders, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semi-palmated Sandpiper and this Semi-palmated Plover. The fine supercillium, narrow black breast band and most importantly the small palmations on the toes.

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In the late afternoon we took the ferry from Terceira to Graciosa. The crossing takes three and half hours, about the same as from Penzance to Scilly. We got our first taste of Azorean seabirds with Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwaters seen plus our first storm petrels

IMG_5110 Beaked Whales

We had great views of a couple of pods of beaked whales. A cetacean expert on board identified them as Sowerby’s Beaked Whales but photographs were circulated on line and other experts thought they might have been the much rarer Gervais’ Beaked Whale. Postscript: further circulation of my photos with cetacean experts confirms they are Sowerby’s.

IMG_5117 Santa Cruz, Graciosa

In the evening we arrived at Praia in Graciosa and transferred to the the little town of Santa Cruz (above).

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Over the next four days we made a number of pelagic trips offshore, aiming where possible to reach the ‘bank of fortune’ some 23 nautical miles offshore.

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In order to attract seabirds to the boat a prodigious amount of ‘chum’, a mixture of fish bits and cod liver oil was prepared on a daily basis.

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This is the boat, we used, the little ‘Gobi’.

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This wasn’t a very comfortable boat, kitted out as it was for scuba diving and not pelagic birding, and when all 13 birders plus the crew were on board it was rather crowded, but the low deck, just inches above water surface, allowed great opportunities for seeing and photographing  seabirds. Photographs of the species we saw will appear in the next post.

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For some of the time during our pelagic outings we had lovely sunny weather with a calm conditions but at other times the black clouds rolled in …

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…. and we endured some pretty rough seas.