Sunday, 31 August 2014

Azores August 2014 - pelagics off Graciosa - update 2

Swinhoe's Storm-petrel at the Bank of Fortune, 20 miles east of Graciosa 27th August 2014 
I've been leading a group of birders out on pelagics off Graciosa this week, part of an ongoing project to see what's out there with a bit of effort. The plan on arriving on Graciosa was this - try and get out to the Bank of Fortune on as many days as possible weather permitting, as well as paying a visit to the breeding Sooty Terns on Ilheu da Praia (which for the first time ever have successfully fledged one young). With three and a half days to play with, there is should be enough scope to get to the Bank of Fortune on at least one day - like the last couple of years, we were fortunate to get out there on two days. So three and a half days with my head in a bucket of rotting fish was to commence.

The first day (Tuesday 26th August) as predicted was the worst weather wise, and with a decent swell and high seas, it wasn't possible to go too far offshore. However, this was a good excuse to plan on a visit around Ilheu da Praia in the morning. We were in luck with the juvenile seen first - an amazing sight in the WP - and then the two adults were seen. Some excellent shots were taken, but with grey skies and fishy fingers I decided to leave my camera back at the hotel. A Sooty Shearwater was seen too as well as the first Great Shearwaters.
Great Sheawater off Graciosa 27th August 2014
The evening session was really enjoyable, and I decided to take the group out to the seas to the east of Ilheu da Praia where Monteiro's Storm-petrels congregate each evening before they head to their burrows. Needless to say we saw a handful of 'band-rumped petrels' including a couple at decent range that were in heavy moult confirming them as Monteiro's Storm-petrels. A close baroli Little Shearwater skirted the boat and an adult Long-tailed Skua flew by too, along with ever increasing numbers of Great Shearwaters in amongst the abundant Cory's Shearwaters.

Monteiro's Storm-petrel at the Bank of Fortune, 20 miles east of Graciosa 27th August 2014
Wednesday looked like it was going to be the day, and what a difference a day makes. Calm seas and blue skies meant one thing - we were off to the Bank of Fortune, a seamount 20 miles east of Graciosa that provides upwellings and sea depths from 500 metres. And for sure, it was an excellent day and the chum mix went down a treat. The undoubted highlight was a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel in the same area as it had been seen on our last three trips (two in 2013 and one in 2012). Unlike the previous trips, we had several sightings through the day including some decent views mid afternoon as it fed in the chum line. I'm glad that my three and a half days of spooning rotting fish and dribbling fish oil out paid off.
Bulwer's Petrel at the Bank of Fortune, 20 miles east of Graciosa 27th August 2014
It wasn't just about the Swinhoe's though, and with Great Shearwaters passing all day to within just a few metres at times everyone was happy. Monteiro's Storm-petrels were in good numbers too, and though difficult to assess precisely, perhaps forty or so is a decent estimate. They showed rather well too.

To add to this a 'Bonxie' caused excitement as this was the first large skua we've seen on August pelagics. Up to three Wilson's Storm-petrels were also well received. A first-summer Pomarine Skua and a couple of Arctic Skuas, a very distant juvenile Sabine's Gull, a handful of Bulwer's Petrels, a Manx and a Sooty Shearwater meant that there was usually something to look at. A Blue Shark around the boat for a while and a load of Bottle-nosed Dolphins added to the diversity of what was, in everyone's opinion, a pretty special day.

Wind had been forecast to get up on Thursday, but with the calm seas the previous day and lack of swell we headed to the Bank of Fortune again. Early signs looked decent, with Bulwer's Petrels and Manx Shearwaters, as well as two adult Long-tailed Skuas, seen on the way out. A Sperm Whale was also seen to surface, as well as both Spotted and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Perhaps we'd got a little complacent after yesterday, and admittedly we still saw large numbers of Monteiro's Storm-petrels (as well as some good Grant's Storm-petrel candidates) and Great Shearwaters, but with a choppy sea and just an Arctic Tern and Arctic Skua of note we headed back towards Graciosa early evening. Closer to shore, we saw a Sooty Shearwater and our final Bulwer's Petrel while with an increasing wind the sea was becoming rather lumpy.
Cory's Sheawater off Graciosa 27th August 2014
Friday morning was always going to be a bonus, and so with the sea still pretty choppy we headed out but kept close to the island. Highlight was seeing the juvenile Sooty Tern fishing independently - with no sign of its folks - a mile or so from Ilheu da Praia. With a nice pod of Spotted Dolphins by the boat and a few Great Shearwaters soaring about, 2014's Graciosa pelagic came to an end. A very enjoyable experience made even more so by a good bunch of guys. Thanks to Stephen Dunstan for the meticulous notes taken throughout - his Birdforum thread can be found here - as with oiled hands throughout, notes for me were out of the equation.

If you are interested in doing this trip next year - most likely at the same time of year - please let me or Peter Alfrey know as with four successive trips now seeing Swinhoe's Storm-petrel (as well as phenomenal views of Monteiro's Storm-petrel), it could be busy again.


  1. Hello.. I am thinking about making a journey to Graciosa in June 2015 to look for Monterio's Storm-Petrel. I understand that it nests on the island 1 km from Praia and wonder if you know of any fishermen in the village I could contact to take me out to circumnavigate the island (not land) to search for the bird? Thanks.

  2. There may be fishermen that will take you out, but everyone I know of has used Rolando of Diving Graciosa - and he can be emailed at He has a lot of experience in finding the species, knows the spots so you should have no trouble at all. Th birds tend to come closer to the island during the evening, so if you can try and do an evening trip. Cheers Rich.

  3. Thanks very much!! I have sent an email to Rolando and look forward to hearing back from him!