Saturday, 29 August 2015

Swinhoe's on the Azores pelagic again but...

It's good to be back in London, with another August Azores Pelagic tour under the belt. I'm still getting the odd throwback whiff of chum that's stuck into my skin, but this year's sacrificial clothes were left behind on Graciosa.

I had it very hard this year; in fact, it's a miracle in itself that we got out to the Bank of Fortune this year. After going out on Tuesday for a few hours (detailed in the last post), Wednesday was storm force - big winds and high seas. So much so that walking back on Wednesday evening with the wind still pushing 40+ mph, I told the group that we wouldn't reach the Bank of Fortune at all on this trip. And so people wanted to leave Graciosa (we saw nothing scouting about the island on the Wednesday bar three Long-tailed Skuas past Ponta da Barca) and head back to Terceira. But Rolando had surprising news on Thursday morning and said 'let's do it!' and so we all headed back from the SATA office and quickly got our boat gear on.

We were off to the Bank of Fortune! Having been seawatching the evening before and the sea looking abysmally rough, it had flattened out remarkably though there was still a swell. I opted to purely focus on chumming for the participants so left my camera behind. Bulwer's Petrels were seen on the way out to the bank, but we didn't stop much until we got to one of the 'annual' GPS points. Monteiro's Storm-petrels found my petrel liquor very quickly, and half an hour later I called the first of two Wilson's Storm-petrels - they showed really nicely this year. An adult Arctic Skua and then an adult Pomarine Skua (complete with 'spoons') joined the party.
Monteiro's Storm-petrel at the Bank of Fortune
We then moved off to a second GPS point, and knowing this was going to be our last real chance of anything mega (with Friday's weather looking poor), I really went for it on the chum front. It started off slowly, with a few Monteiro's Storm-petrels and another Wilson's Petrel and an adult Long-tailed Skua. Slowly, momentum gained, and then there was the call from Bob Swann of 'dark-rumped petrel' that quickly turned into 'Swinhoe's Petrel' when a few others got onto it. I was chumming and with a low vantage point, failed to get onto it first time around. Then it did another circuit - never close - and then a third, when finally I could be happy that for the fourth year running (and fifth successive trip!) the Azores Pelagic team had recorded a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel. A couple of shots were rattled off too from what I gather. Once again, the flight action was very different to the nearby Monteiro's, being distinctively butterfly like and slightly more erratic.

So all was well despite the tricky weather, and to cap it off on the way back a Little Shearwater showed for all too. So with lots of Great Shearwaters, and the Sooty Tern earlier in the week, (nearly) everyone was happy.

But what this year has taught me is that birders are a difficult bunch, or at least some are. With my normal line of work being in a 'challenging' London school this week was comparatively difficult, and the behaviour of some people in times of adversity left a lot to be desired. Peter and I run these trips (and don't get paid!) to explore the pelagic potential of the Azores, and yes we're having good luck with Swinhoe's Storm-petrels, but anyone coming in the future needs to approach these trips as follows: -
- the weather can be bad and therefore it is not our fault if we can't get out to sea
- there are few birding sites known on Graciosa (though we did find a Spotted Sandpiper this year) so if we don't go out, there may need to be a lot of relaxing time
- please don't shoot the messenger if you don't get Swinhoe's Storm-petrel (or in one case this year, South Polar Skua!!)
- enjoy the Monteiro's Storm-petrels, Sooty Tern(s) and just being out in the mid-Atlantic

Anyway, we got flown back to Terceira on Friday evening by Captain Monteiro, which was a nice coincidence. And with an hour to spare, I did a mad dash around Cabo da Praia quarry and found three juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers (presuming one to be from last weekend) and an adult White-rumped Sandpiper still. And then it was back to the airport, ready for a nice long stint in London to unwind at work next week!
two of the three Semipalmated Sandpipers at Cabo da Praia, Terceira 28th August 2015
Looks like we're already fully booked for 2016 too but do contact me if you're interested as you never know, we may have more spaces/trips come up.

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