Tuesday 29 October 2013

On the rock again

I've now finished my second day on the rock. You'll read this and think it has all been plain sailing, but believe me, it has been a real struggle. After nailing our 'last supper' on Sao Miguel on Sunday night, we (Lee G and I) arrived early afternoon yesterday and headed straight up to Pico (via the dwindling flock of Glossy Ibises that are now down to three - at least two of the original six have been found dead) where a Black-throated Green Warbler had been seen on Saturday (and heard on Sunday). With the weather excellent - little wind and the sun shining - we thought we had a decent chance. However, an hour ticked by and the daunting ribeira was deadly silent. Then another hour and with just the odd Blackcap and Canary to show, and not even a call to show for, Lee struck gold by finding it feeding unobtrusively in the canopy. This fourth for the Azores, a first-winter, was pretty mind blowing with a nice double wing bar, streaked flanks and a deep yellow cheeks. Once again, I wasn't going to leave Corvo without a new WP bird...

American Bittern, Fojo, Corvo 29th October 2013
Today, Tuesday, dawned cloudy with a moderate westerly breeze. After a token check of middle fields and around the airport - where there were still a couple of Glossy Ibises looking pissed off with life, and a load of newly released Cory's Shearwaters (locals collect young that are fresh out of the nest, get dazzled by street lights and end up in the village) - we headed up to the ribeiras. Lee and I did Cantinho, while the Finns took on the upper part of Fojo - both of us leaving empty handed. Between Cancelas and Fojo, while in a field watching a load of birds around a fruiting tree, I noticed a large bird coming quickly through the valley - it was obviously an American Bittern, and so I yelled to Lee who was close by and told him that it had landed out of sight in the lower bit of Fojo. The Finns were informed, and they did a professional job of getting on site quickly, just as Lee located it in a tree. Here it remained, rather skittishly before a band of fog and a brisk breeze forced it down into cover never to be seen again.
Glossy Ibis at the airfield, Corvo - one of an initial flock of six that was down to two today; two birds have been found dead on Corvo during October.
With torrential rain, and poor visibility, late afternoon was spent back in the village where a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers were on the airfield and a Wheatear was by the windmill. With just five of us birding here, there must be a lot more out there but weather conditions really weren't conducive for finding stuff so we'll take the bittern from what was essentially a wash out.

Saturday 26 October 2013

In the middle of the Atlantic again

Half-term couldn't have come sooner. And predictably I've headed out to 'the rock' (Corvo)for the fifth successive year. I've got as far as Sao Miguel today, and with the news that the Black-throated Green Warbler is still about today, I'm wishing Monday would come sooner. Only those who have been to the Azores will realise how dull the eastern and central islands are compared to Corvo, but I tried to make the most of the day on Sao Miguel in damp and dull conditions.

I started off with the Oystercatcher at Ribeira Grande - a species I'd not seen on the Azores - and more interestingly, this bird is of the Central Asian race longipes; note the massive white collar, large amount of white in the wings and brownish upperparts. Jizz wise, it also appeared really leggy. About as interesting as Oystercatchers get for sure!
Lagoa das Furnas and the surrounding fields full of shite were quiet, save for a female Pintail and half a dozen Teal. And after stopping off at Vila Franca do Campo, where I papped atlantis for an hour or so, I headed to Praia do Populo to get my usual digs for the next couple of nights. Scanning through the bathing gulls, I came across a massively shawled, pale-mantled bird that immediately pressed all the right buttons for an American Herring Gull. Although distant, I was more than happy this was a blindingly obvious 3rd-winter smithsonianus; amongst the atlantis, any 'Herring Gull' here stands out.
1st-winter Azorean Yellow-legged Gull; this is the third 'pink-billed' 1st-winter I've seen in the last couple of years. An almost unheard of trait in nominate birds. Look at those dark shins too!
The drizzle (and tiredness) got the better of me this evening, and I didn't quite last out until dusk for the gull roost at Ponta Delgada. Anyway, better go as need to do a taxi run to pick up Lee G from the airport. More tomorrow hopefully.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Parrots in the rain

I was prepared for today. I'd looked at a number of weather forecasts, with all saying it was going to be grim. And it sure was and typically, with my waterproof jacket that probably hasn't been waterproof for the last decade, I got extremely wet. Fortunately though a small group of Parrot Crossbills - four of them in all - decided to bed down last night at Gunner's Park, Shoeburyness, Essex and because of the abysmal conditions were still about this morning. Two males and two females about, getting blown about in the seafront pines - extremely showy, so even in the poor conditions managed a couple of average shots.

male Parrot Crossbill, Gunner's Park 13th October 2013
Must admit that structurally, they were really bull-necked and all birds seemed to show a relatively meagre 'crossed-bill' so all pro-Parrot features. Being a London birder, Crossbill isn't a species I see often at all so regular experience would help - though I was slightly underwhelmed by the smallish lower mandibles and actual bill size. Though the deepening kink towards the bill tip was pretty unique on these smart birds. I'd have liked to have watched them for longer, but with me and optics thoroughly soaked enough was enough.

Yesterday, with just the morning to play with, I headed out to some local spots. There was a 1st-winter Arctic Tern at Woolwich Ferry at high tide, while Crossness produced an adult Little Gull off the golf centre and an Arctic Tern that flew through mid morning could feasibly have been the same as that at Woolwich.

Monday 7 October 2013

A quick trip to Kent

After yet another weekend has gone, and it's back into the school routine supplemented by being the Azores Bird Sightings bitch (a job in itself in October!), time to reflect quickly on yesterday's events.

News of the continued presence of a nice adult Lesser Grey Shrike on Sheppey, well found by Mike Buckland the previous evening, meant John A and I headed out of London for a change of scene. Arriving at Harty Marshes in the warm sunlight was pleasant for the time of year, and though a lovely bird, the harsh light, haze and distance put the whole event in the 'good scope views' category. I haven't seen too many Lesser Grey Shrikes in Britain, so a nice adult like this was decent enough.
adult Lesser Grey Shrike Harty Ferry, Kent 6th October 2013 - a bit distant but note the extensive white primary bases, long primary projection, white outertail and pale-based bill
After yesterday's dip, we then re-visited Cliffe and the Lesser Yellowlegs was seen from the viewing ramp; looking into the bright sunlight, rather distant and with a haze probably ranked this as one of my more forgettable experiences of this species, not least with the showy bird in Galway a couple of weeks ago still in the recent past.

Back in London, there was no sign of the Little Gull at Woolwich Ferry and with the Thames Barrier having a test day, and with its gates up, loads of gulls were attracted to the churned up sediment and current; shame that I could only find a single adult Yellow-legged Gull amongst the larids. So that was it for the first October weekend of 2013

Saturday 5 October 2013

Guillemot and Little Gull in London

The week caught up with me this morning, and having pressed the snooze button too much, I was going through Woolwich (on the way to Crossness) when John A called me to say that he'd found a Guillemot on the river. A patch mega, and a bird I'd never seen in London before so abandoning plans to grab supplies at the local Tesco, I whacked it up a gear and got there as soon as possible. In just over 10 minutes, there it was - a winter-plumaged Guillemot... not that much in some circumstances, but all about context here. It was bloody distant too, in Barking Bay and then heading upriver towards the barrier. A nice Ruff on the foreshore and a Kingfisher added value.

With a few people turning up to see the Guillemot, including Jono L and Nick C en-route to Pembrokeshire (I admire their youthful enthusiasm!), I left Crossness with David B and we decided to head to Grain. A couple of hours there produced two Firecrests, but little else, and the Lesser Yellowlegs at Cliffe didn't behave during our brief visit.

Back in London, I stopped off at the Woolwich Ferry where there was this nice adult Little Gull lingering with the Black-headed Gull flock. Chucking bread out managed to bring it in, so although the light was dull and shots grainy, probably the best views I've had of the species in London. Also a 1st-winter Common Tern here.

adult Little Gull, Woolwich Ferry complete with tower block backdrop

Friday 4 October 2013

Ticks but no tick

A rather chronologically inept, belated post triggered today by the news of a couple of American wood warblers on Corvo (3 weeks tomorrow I set off for my annual after party adventure). For the second time in the space of a year, Galway scored with an Eastern KIngbird and just like the first time, this mega had done a bunk. This time, with the bird on Inishbofin, the masses of birders managed to locate a Blackpoll Warbler that was actively moving east through the island.

Blackpoll Warbler, Inishbofin, County Galway September 2013
One of the earliest Blackpolls to be found in Britain and Ireland, a shame that it was probably not destined to be on this planet for much longer given the state of its tick-infested head. Anyway, it was nice to return to the island - fond memories of a nice twitch with John A and Josh J a few years back.
I'll be out locally tomorrow as after a shattering week at work that day on Fair Isle in May 2003 is feeling like a nice investment. Good luck to those heading north for the Thick-billed Warbler.