Archive for the ‘Moltoni’s Warbler’ Tag

The Atlantic Odyssey: a summary – 23rd March – 6th May 2016   Leave a comment

Margaret and I have recently returned from a very long trip known as the Atlantic Odyssey, a repositioning cruise that is available once a year as a tourist ship ends its program in the Antarctic at the onset of the southern winter and moves to the Arctic for the northern summer. On top of that we went straight from Cabo Verde, the end point of the cruise, to Mallorca to join our friends at Birdquest in Mallorca to celebrate their 35th year of operation. It total we were away 45 days.

I hope to upload many photos from this remarkable and highly photogenic journey from each of the locations we visited, but for now here is a brief overview of the entire trip.

111 Atlantic Odyssey map

Here is a map of our route. There is one important difference to what shown above. In 2016 for the first time the operators, Oceanwide Expeditions, didn’t take the Plancius to the Antarctic Peninsula before heading to South Georgia, instead cruised directly from Ushuaia to South Georgia. You could take a Ushuaia – Antarctica – Ushuaia trip immediately prior to the Atlantic Odyssey, but this would have lengthened our entire tip to 55 days which we though was too much. I have already been to Antarctica but we both intend to to visit some time in the future.

IMG_1101 view from hotel on arrival

After a couple of days of travel we arrived at Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, just as darkness was falling. The view from our hotel was breathtaking.

IMG_4510 Beagle Channel views

Over the next day and a half we explored the Tierra del Fuego National Park …,

IMG_4250 Andean Condor

…. seeing wonderful birds like Magellanic Woodpecker and this Andean Condor.

IMG_4587 Humpback Whale

We took a boat trip on the Beagle Channel and had close up views of Humpback Whales as well as several species of seals and seabirds.

IMG_4682 Plancius

In the afternoon we boarded the Plancius, the ship that was to be our home for the next 34 days.

IMG_4705 fogbow

The passage from Ushuaia to South Georgia was disappointing, we were following the line of the Antarctic Convergence and at this time of year this means fog. This meant few seabirds were visible, even though we did see some lovely fogbows.

7F1A6898 SG glacier

South Georgia was an absolute delight, one of the most wildlife rich and photogenic sites on the entire planet. Described as being like the Alps rising straight from the sea, huge glaciers sweep down from 3000m peaks to the coast.

IMG_4793 Wandering Albert fem + chick

We were able to see Wandering Albatrosses on the nest ….

7F1A7187 King Penguins

…. enormous colonies of King Penguins ….

IMG_5203 KPs

…. many which waddled by completely indifferent to us.

IMG_5227 Fur Seal

There can be few cuter things in this world than a Fur Seal pup.

IMG_5118 Grytviken

We also paid a visit to the old whaling station at Grytviken.

7F1A7748 rough seas

As we left South Georgia we headed north towards Tristan da Cunha we encountered rough seas and several icebergs.

7F1A7910 Wandering Albert

This was the best section of the entire trip for seabirds. Species varied from the enormous Wandering Albatross with its 3.5m wingspan ….

7F1A7931 Wilson's SP

…. to the tiny Wilsons’ Storm Petrel.

7F1A9629 Spectacled Petrel best

As we approached the island of Gough the endangered and much desired Spectacled Petrel put in its first appearance.

IMG_5474 approaching Gough

No landings are allowed on Gough but it is normally possible to cruise inshore in the zodiacs and see the endemic species. On arrival we found the stiff easterly wind had built up a big swell, so we couldn’t approach any closer.

IMG_5622 remotest island

Good weather the following day allowed us to land on the main island of Tristan – the most remote inhabited island in the world.

7F1A9801 Inaccesssible Island

We were not so lucky with the nearby (and appropriately named) Inaccessible Island. Although vertical cliffs prevent access to the interior, the tussocks at the base of the cliff hold a population of the smallest flightless bird in the world – the Inaccessible Island Rail. A swell breaking on the steeply shelving beach prevented any hope of landing and dashed our hopes of seeing this enigmatic bird.

IMG_6032

We were luckier with the neighbouring island of Nightingale, although the landing was far from easy. The endemic finch and thrush were abundant and we hiked up to the relict forest at the top to see the critically endangered Wilkin’s Finch.

IMG_5829 Great Shearwater on launch post

On route we saw many Yellow-nosed Albatross chicks and recently fledged Great Shearwaters (above) which launched themselves into the air from these take-off posts and sometime pattered across the top of our heads to give themselves an extra push.

7F1A0133 Flying Fish

The sea crossing between Tristan and St Helena was the quietest of the trip with only one or two individual birds seen on some days. There were plenty of flying fish about to challenge your photographic skills.

IMG_6154 Jamestown

The capital of St Helena, Jamestown is nestled in this steep-sided valley.

IMG_4093 Jacob's Ladder

There is a winding road connecting Jamestown to the rest of the island of course, but if you want a short cut you can always try the 700 step Jacob’s Ladder.

IMG_3990 White Tern

St Helena’s tourist trade is mainly based on sites associated with its famous former resident , Napoleon Bonaparte. Of course the birders were more taken with nesting seabirds, like this White (or Fairy) Tern photographed at the site of Napoleon’s former tomb.

IMG_4216 Wirebird

Although St Helena had a number of endemic birds before the arrival of man, only one remains, St Helena Plover or Wirebird. We had great views of up to 40 at two locations in the mountains.

7F1A1247 PTS Dolphins

We encountered a few more seabirds as we headed towards Ascension Island but we also saw a good number of cetaceans, such as these Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins.

IMG_4405 view from Plancius

Ascension is basically just a huge military base and is covered with listening and communication devices. It is technically uninhabited as none of the 800 or so residents has right of abode or can buy property, all are on fixed term contracts.

7F1A1180 Ascension cliffs

Ascension, a relatively new volcanic island, has stunning coastal scenery comprised of layer after layer of lava and ash.

7F1A0921 Sooty Tern colony

The two biggest wildlife spectacles are the Sooty Tern colony on the mainland ….

IMG_4438 Frigates

…. and the huge offshore Ascension Frigatebird colony.

IMG_4443 Boatswain Bird Island

We arrived at the offshore stack of Boatswain Bird Island at first light and saw just about all of the world’s population of Ascension Island Frigatebird leave their roost.

7F1A1086 Ascension Frigatebird imm

As the light improved we had fantastic views of this rare and range restricted seabird right over our heads.

7F1A1417 Leach's SP

As we headed north we crossed the Equator and it became very hot on deck. The following day we passed through the doldrums and the sea was still and flat with an oil-like texture. You could see the reflections of the Leach’s Storm-petrels in the glass like surface ….

7F1A1389 Clymene Dolphin

…. and when a group of Clymene Dolphins came in to bow ride, you could see every detail underwater.

IMG_4286 Praia church

On the 28th of April, 34 days after we left Ushuaia, we docked at Praia on the island of Santiago, Cabo Verde. Margaret opted for a cultural tour of the city visiting churches, museums and sites of historical importance ….

IMG_4518 Santiago rocks

…. whilst I joined the other birders for a trip into the interior.

IMG_4523 GH Kingfisher

We saw three of Cabo Verde’s endemic species, a number of vagrants to the island (from the New World and the Old) and other residents like this beautiful Grey-headed Kingfisher.

From hotel

Whilst most of the other passengers headed home we continued on (via Lisbon and Barcelona) to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. We spent much of the first day relaxing after our overnight flight, but in the evening we met up with 19 other Birdquest clients and 9 members of staff who had come to Mallorca to celebrate Birdquest’s 35th year of operation. Rain affected the first part of the trip but it brought down many migrants ….

IMG_4640 Tyrrenian Spotted Fly

…. as well as newly arrived ‘Tyrrhenian’ Flycatchers, the pale and lightly streaked local race of Spotted Flycatcher, which recent research had indicated is worth specific status.

7F1A2168 Tawny Pipit

Agricultural areas held lovely birds like this Tawny Pipit.

Formentor

The mountainous spine of the island ends in the picturesque Formentor Peninsula, a location for Crag Martins, Eleanora’s Falcons and other great birds.

7F1A2106 Cinereous Vulture

Higher up in the mountains we saw Griffon and Cinereous Vultures (above) ….

Albufera at dawn

…. whilst the marshes of S’Albufera and S’Albufeteta gave us views of many specialties ….

IMG_4774 Red-nobbed Coot

…. such as this Red-knobbed Coot, a mainly African species that in Europe is restricted to Spain.

Cabrera (3)

The highlight of the trip for me was our visit to the island of Cabrera off the south coast of Mallorca. In this untouched area of maquis and woodland we found many migrants and well as stunning views of the endemic Balearic Warbler ….

7F1A1738 Moltoni's Warbler

…. and the range restricted Moltoni’s Warbler (which contrary to what I posted last year) is actually the last European breeding bird that is a life bird for me.

7F1A2048 Scopoli's Shearwater

On the way to and from Cabrera I had my best ever views of Balearic and Scopoli’s Shearwater (above). All-in-all our four days birding on the reunion gave me many more species than I saw during the whole of my last two-week visit to the island.

 

As I said at the start this is just an overview of the trip. Probably starting some time in the summer I will post a lot more pictures, treating each site in more detail.

Rock Partridge – my last European bird?   Leave a comment

Over the years I have got to see almost all the birds of Europe (at least somewhere in the world) but one remained elusive – Rock Partridge. Because of its shyness and difficult to access habitat, Rock Partridge remains one of the least observed birds on the continent. The fact that it closely resembles the easy to see Chukar of the Middle East doesn’t add to its desirability for many, but for some years now its been my most wanted European bird. I tried at a site in Austria two years ago without success (see https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/july-5th-21st-austria-and-italy-with-short-visits-to-germany-hungary-and-san-marino/). Since then some reliable sites in Croatia and central Italy have come to my attention, but as we were in the Alps anyway for Margaret’s nephew’s wedding, I thought it made sense to check out some areas in the French Alps. I’ll include some photos of the French Alps in the next post and concentrate in this one on my claim that Rock Partridge is my last European bird, just to say that after a stiff climb I saw one well near St Christophe, south-east of Grenoble on 3rd May.

Rock_Partridge Martin Flack Croatia.4

Due to the circumstances I will outline in my next post, I was unable to photograph the Rock Partridge but I got a view almost as good as this. This is the nominate race which is found in the Balkans whilst I saw the race saxitalis which occurs in the Alps. A third race whitakeri occurs in Sicily. Photographed by Martin Flack in Croatia, taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

So is this my last regularly occurring European bird? Well firstly there are several species that breed in Europe that I have only seen outside of Europe, for example Black-winged Kite (breeds in Spain, seen Morocco and many other places), Little Buttonquail (has bred in Spain, seen in Cambodia) and Little Swift (breeds in Spain, seen many places in Africa) and several others, but I am talking about whether I have seen the species anywhere within its world range.

There is another European bird that I need to see: Moltoni’s Warbler, this is a recent split from Subalpine Warbler. The chances are that I have seen this bird already before I knew about the possibility of a split but I cannot be 100% sure. I tried to locate one in Piedmont in NW Italy on this trip without success, but we are going to Mallorca next spring for a few days and should be no problem there. See http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/categories/articleitem.asp?item=1022

Also my claim to have seen every European bird depends on your definition of Europe. Is it a geographical unit, an economic one or do we include all the countries which take part in the Eurovision Song Contest? (in which case that would include Israel – I have never understood how Israel can qualify as European by any definition.) What about Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Most definitions include Turkey west of the Bosphorus and Georgia and Azerbaijan north of the highest ridge of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Europe, thus including northernmost Georgia and Azerbaijan. So there is another bird I haven’t seen that might just be considered European; Caspian or Hycranian Tit. This is a recent split from Sombre Tit and occurs in northern Iran and in eastern Azerbaijan. I have yet to find out if it occurs on the northern slope of the Caucasus. Having already birded in Georgia and Armenia I will have to decide if I want to go back to that region for a bird that looks very like the Sombre Tits I have seen elsewhere.

And then there are birds that are split by the Dutch national checklist committee but not by the major world checklists, such as Sicilian Rock Partridge (yes, a Rock Partridge still occurs on the want list), Mediterranean Storm Petrel, Slender-billed Barn Owl and Madeira Barn Owl and Lilford’s Woodpecker (split from White-backed) but none of these have passed the seven point test as used in the new Illustrated Checklist see http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/birdlife-and-lynx-publish-first-ever-illustrated-world-bird-checklist. Also in this category are Hierro and Palma Blue Tits but of course the passerine volume of the Illustrated Checklist won’t be published until 2016 (a recent genetic paper has indicated that Palma Blue Tit, but not the Hierro one deserves full species status).

There are a few vagrants to Europe that I haven’t seen, although they don’t fall within the category of ‘regularly occurring’, these include – Tristan Albatross, Ascension Frigatebird*, Relict Gull, Aleutian Tern*, Horned Puffin*, Parakeet Auklet, Red-throated Thrush*, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, African Desert Warbler and possibly Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (views the Portland bird did not exclude Pale-legged Leaf-warbler) and Pallas’ Rosefinch. The birds marked with an asterisk are birds on the British List that I have yet to see.

Also there are a few birds, that although I am confident that I have seen them, I would like better views, these include Spanish Imperial Eagle, Houbara Bustard and Balearic Warbler, in each case I thought I had seen the species concerned on previous trips only to later find out it had been split and perhaps I made less of an effort to secure better views as a result, although in at least one case it was just bad luck.

So the conclusion is – I might have seen the regularly occurring birds in Europe, but there are still enough loose ends to keep me busy for some time yet!

Caspian_Tit greyowliran

Caspian Tit, whether it occurs in Europe or not its still on the wanted list. Photographed by Greyowl in Iran. Taken from Bird Forum Opus.