Saturday 31 October 2015

Back down at Dungeness

I headed back down to Dungeness for a bit of wound healing, after an unsuccessful attempt for the Chestnut Bunting yesterday. I only got as far as a Yorkshire airfield, but that's three times now I've come off Corvo with something having turned up in Britain. And that continues my 100% lack of success. At least I had a good time on The Rock, but fighting on the WP front late October certainly takes its toll on my British and Irish list...

Anyway, enough of the self pity. And after a good night's sleep, I headed down to Dunge mid-morning for some gull action. When I arrived, chucked a load of bread out and in came a smart Dutch-ringed Great Black-backed Gull - seems to like food, as the ringer Roland-Jan Buijs caught it by hand by a fish and chip shop in Scheveningen harbour, Zuid-Holland as recently as 12th October 2015!
Dutch-ringed Great Black-backed Gull 'B4' at Dungeness, Kent 31st October 2015
I'd totally forgotten there'd been a Dusky Warbler about, and it wasn't until I saw a few birders over at Channel View that I recollected that. And so I headed over, taking in a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls on the stroll over (plus a couple of regular Great Black-backed Gulls - from Norway and Guernsey).
adult Yellow-legged Gull at Dungeness, Kent 31st October 2015
On arrival at Channel View, there was a small crowd present. Typically, the warbler was proving to be a bit elusive but a Firecrest showed really nicely as I arrived - before heading off west. However, after a bit of a stomp about, the Dusky Warbler started calling from some nearby scrub and was coaxed out, with my first views being relatively brief. Over the next half an hour or so, it kept pretty low down but at times showed itself quite nicely (though briefly throughout). To be honest it's probably getting on towards a decade since I saw my last Dusky Warbler so pretty happy with my fill, despite forgetting there'd been one here.
Dusky Warbler at Dungeness, Kent 31st October 2015
The gull spectacle with Mick S and Richard S failed to materialise today though, possibly due to the high tide late afternoon. So no Caspian Gulls about, though a couple of first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls added to the couple of adults seen earlier. I got a little bored and had a wander, and found a couple of these little guys in between the fishing boats near or dusk.
Black Redstart at Dungeness, Kent 31st October 2015
So with a cracking sunset and a few interesting bits and bobs, I headed home. It wasn't a Chestnut Bunting, but was a pleasant late autumn day out.

Thursday 29 October 2015

The end of the season

Tuesday was hard work. I started off in Cantinho, but quickly decided that the wind was making it a no go. And so ended up doing the mid part of Cancelas, before spending a few hours in Fojo where the highlight was a brief Red-eyed Vireo - one of the birds that has been present here most of the season.

By early afternoon, the nice morning had turned sour weather wise and I descended down towards the village, only for a Common Redpoll to be feeding on the track in front of me beyond Da Ponte in higher fields. After drying out in the guesthouse for half an hour or so, I ventured out in the sour weather - a young Peregrine flew over the airfield in the gloom, while two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were amongst the sparrows in the middle fields at the top end. Overnight, the wind got even worse and so did the rain...

Common Redpoll lower fields, Corvo 28th October 2015
But Wednesday dawned bright. And a walk around the airfield and the middle/lower fields produced one of the Buff-bellied Pipits, the rather forlorn looking Black-tailed Godwit and a couple more Common Redpolls - and these birds showed nicely as they fed near the doctor's house. Presumably northwestern rostrata birds; at least they fitted the part with heavy flank streaking, a well marked yet pale rump and quite robust structure.

And that was that. The forecast for Friday looked a bit too much on the dodgy side for me to risk being stranded, so after a bit of negotiating managed to extricate myself from The Rock and I write this from London. There was also the small matter of a bunting on Orkney too... but in all honesty, it felt like the Corvo season had I ended as I left.

Monday 26 October 2015

Quieter times

In previous years, I'd have normally arrived on Corvo today. But thankfully, due to a new scheme at work where I could wangle a day off for doing copious amounts of cover, this was my fourth day here. And it was relatively quiet in all honesty, with many of the birders departing early afternoon. So it's now down to the late stayers to finish the season off.

I started off around the village, with the usual suspects - a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks gnawing away in their favoured corn field and then this really confiding 1st-winter White-rumped Sandpiper in the old harbour.

White-rumped Sandpiper old harbour, Corvo 26th October 2015
I find it difficult to take myself away from showy yank waders like this, even on Corvo in October. Nevertheless I did, and I had another unsuccessful search for the Philadelphia Vireo that has been lingering on by the windmills.The young Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit looked a solemn figure pecking away on the airfield.

After a brief interlude where a Sora was reported in the middle fields, before vanishing into thick vegetation, I walked up the island and through Tennessee Valley. Nice, but no birds. And the same went for the reservoir, though 17 Snow Buntings were good value and a couple of Skylarks were on the slopes too. Heading down through Lapa looked promising in the still conditions, but delivered only Blackcaps, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Canaries.

Snow Buntings at the new reservoir, Corvo 26th October 2015
Back in the village for the last half hour or so of light, I joined the Rose-breasted Grosbeak party again. Three birds, two 1st-winter females and a 1st-winter male. So here is today's obligatory 'grozzer' shot: -
Rose-breasted Grosbeak middle fields, Corvo 26th October 2015

Sunday 25 October 2015

The stuff of childhood dreams

There's something about a certain species that makes it mythical. It's not necessarily a first, but a species that you've had a sense of expectation about ever since you were a kid. American Redstart; now that's an 80's bird if ever there was one. With a dip at Mizen Head in September 2008, this has been a yank I had always wanted, and expected, to see. And today was the day.

It all started late today, nothing to do with the clocks going back though. There'd been a serious southwest blow overnight that meant that it was absolutely pouring with rain as I awoke. They seem to get the weather pretty spot on out here, and by 8am right on cue it was possible to get out and do some birding. I started off in middle fields, and quickly notched up a Grey-cheeked Thrush near the Cape Verde Farm (presumably the same bird I'd seen a couple of days ago). A walk round the airfield produced a showy juvenile Black-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover amongst the Turnstones. And then in the extremely blustery conditions, I headed into lower fields where after a bit of wandering about managed to locate the longstaying Blackpoll Warbler - this bird was seen to come in off the sea on that legendary 'fall day' last Saturday and still seemed pretty spritely. My first out here on the Azores, and again a classic yank that showed extremely well...
Blackpoll Warbler lower fields, Corvo 25th October 2015
Walking about around the village didn't provide much else, but the conditions were extremely difficult so I was happy with what I'd seen. And so at lunchtime I headed up the island, and made a ridiculous decision with blind faith that Lighthouse Valley would be worth a shot. I was alone, and for good reason - it was a total blow out, literally. Bar a couple of areas of cover at the top end that had some slight shelter, there were more twigs, grass and corn snaps flying about than birds. There could have been several yanks there (including the longstaying Eastern Wood Pewee) but today was not a day for finding them. And so I started the long trudge back down the island.

It was around about Fojo on the middle road where the radio crackled into action with 'American Redstart at the bottom of Da Ponte'! I'd said to a few people that Da Ponte would be a sheltered area worth checking today - should have heeded my own advice! Anyway, missing my gym session tomorrow evening shouldn't be an issue now, as the run down the island was good cardio. When there, I was remarkably the first on the scene and it didn't take too long for the bird to show - a real cracker, with the photo below not at all doing it any justice. Typical of the location, it kept high up in the canopy and was a pain to track let alone photograph.
American Redstart Ribeira da Ponte, Corvo 25th October 2015
With little time left before dark, I started walking back down towards the village and picked up a Great White Egret (presumably Nearctic in origin) between Da Ponte and the higher fields, before finishing the day with a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in their usual place in middle fields.
Great Egret Higher Fields, Corvo 25th October 2015
Tomorrow should be a calmer day weather wise, although a significant number of birders are leaving and we'll be down to seven pairs of eyes once the plane departs. Still time for something else for sure.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Hard going today on The Rock

It's like any other place where there is a list of good birds at the end of the day. On Corvo, you just don't see anywhere near everything - particularly if you go out on a limb. And that's what happened today. So with much less wind today, I once again headed to Ribeira das Cancelas early morning and spent three hours in there without the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Just a Woodcock to show for the effort and so I headed back down to the village at lunchtime...

Within half an hour though, all hell broke loose as Lars M had found a Hermit Thrush at the top of the reservoir. A second for the Azores, following one here in early October 2009, it was a tick for all (bar me!). But I joined the party and got a lift up with Katt where after an hour or so of searching, the bird was located. I saw it pretty distantly a couple of times before it disappeared, and so I left the crowd and headed back through Tennessee Valley. Nothing there, but the strengthening southerly wind didn't help.

Back down in the village, things are a lot easier - just walk through whichever field you want and see what's about. No private access, just lots of House Sparrows and Canaries to go through. The first thing decent I saw was a Grey-cheeked Thrush up in middle fields near the fig trees, and then a couple of Buff-bellied Pipits down by the campsite. I made a half-hearted attempt to go back up towards the miradouro where there'd been a Scarlet Tanager, but only got as far as the middle fields again - where there was a showy Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the same place as yesterday, and at least three Indigo Bunting buzzing away...
Rose-breasted Grosbeak middle fields, Corvo 24th October 2015
1st-winter male Indigo Bunting middle fields, Corvo 24th October 2015
So, although I'm not one for creating lists, here's one that shows I'm on Corvo: -
1. Bread, ham and cheese
2. Cravings for salad and anything but murdered vegetables
3. Falling over at least a couple of times per day
4. A mega rare eastern bird turns up in Britain

Strong southwesterly winds forecast overnight with heavy rain too. Could be hard going in the morning but there could be some potential rewards. We'll see.

Friday 23 October 2015


Well, it really couldn't come soon enough. After the amazing fall of birds on Corvo last Saturday, time inevitably went very slowly between then and the end of my working week. Fresh from a night on Lisbon airport floor as usual, I arrived on The Rock at about midday.

After a very speedy unpacking session and getting my gear together, I headed up into the ribeiras with Joao the taxi driver (who endearingly gets you to put a tick by your name for every journey then settle when you leave - not London service!). I got dropped off inevitably at Poco do Agua where, after a short search, the Eastern Wood Pewee obliged - this the second of the duo to be found, comprising the first two records for the Western Palearctic! It eventually showed really nicely - calling frequently - in one of the only sheltered areas from the strong north/northeasterly wind.
Eastern Wood Pewee Poco do Agua, Corvo 23rd October 2015
Once I'd had my fill of the pewee, target number two was a Black-throated Blue Warbler in Cancelas; Gerby took me to the spot where it'd been seen yesterday but despite a couple of hours hanging about there, the wind and lack of bird took its toll and I headed back down into the village for early evening... though I'll be trying again in the morning.

The levels of yanks in the village were obscene. There's often all this talk from people who've never been to Corvo about saying how easy it is to find American passerines on the island. Well, for once, perhaps they're right. I've actually seen relatively few 'solid yanks' (i.e. stuff you'd have expected on Scilly 'back in the day) so to literally walk through the corn fields and see three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Grey-cheeked Thrush and a Red-eyed Vireo - all new birds for me on the Azores - was fantastic. And I missed seeing Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Blackpoll Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo in the same area today.  I can only imagine what it was like almost a week ago as these birds landed on The Rock.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak middle fields, Corvo 23rd October 2015
Tomorrow is a new day, and the weather looks promising for some new arrivals potentially on Sunday onwards...

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Sprites from the east in Kent

Sunday dawned moist and damp as John A and I arrived in the Palm Bay area of Margate. Exactly what we'd wanted. Getting out the car we were greeted by some Redwings fresh in, and as is typical of this autumn, copious amounts of Goldcrests. Lovely birds, just a shame that sometimes they're so common! A walk around the scrub for the first couple of hours of light was great; a morning where it was decent to be alive if lacking the cutting edge. A few Bramblings over, and one in the coastal scrub, along with Siskins and Redpolls; plus thrushes, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits all coming in from the North Sea.

When the viz mig dried out, we retreated the short distance to Northdown Park. There must have been several hundred Goldcrests here, and looking high up in the canopy takes its toll. This wasn't before we located a very vocal Yellow-browed Warbler in the southwest section - embarrassingly without much coastal birding and too much gulling, this was my first of the autumn! Several Chiffchaffs were here too.

With tiredness kicking in, and needing to get back to London for late afternoon, we headed back west and stopped in at Seasalter on the off chance that the Pallas' Warbler seen earlier in the day was still about. And sure, despite no updates since early morning, it provided me with my best views ever of this species.

Pallas' Warbler Seasalter, Kent 18th October 2015
So that's it for me with October and Britain. Off to The Rock again Friday, and I really cannot wait (and neither can the Eastern Crowned Warblers!). Every autumn due to the chagrin of my chosen line of work, I always feel everyone is in on the action during the peak period - finding things, enjoying the delights of migration - but my birding time will be here again soon enough...

Saturday 17 October 2015

Tired owls at Dungeness

I aimed to get up at an ungodly hour this morning and head to northeast Kent. However, with another torrid week at work, the alarm just wouldn't get me up. And so what happened was a mid morning arrival at one of my more usual spots, Dungeness. With a pretty nippy northerly wind, working Dengemarsh gully was hard work - a Northern Wheatear, more than a handful of Chiffchaffs and a fair number of Goldcrests. All nice for a Saturday morning saunter, but without anything even on the semi-scarce scale.

And so it was round to the fishing boats as usual, and with Mick S sunning himself in Portugal, it was just me and Richard S with the gulls. Our gulling time was cut short though, as Martin C informed us that there'd been an influx of Short-eared Owls (which included one that had unfortunately come to an abrupt end). Mid afternoon in the desert area was amazing - at least six of them, obviously tired and out of place from their recent sea crossing. And though as a kid I was used to some nice views of them at high tide at Parkgate, some of the views I had here were incredible. Really happy to have been down at Dunge when this happened.
Short-eared Owl Dungeness, Kent 17th October 2015
And to the gulls. There were lots of them, including two adult Yellow-legged Gulls which were a bit of a surprise given it'd been a good couple of months since I'd seen any of this age here. The only rings of note were four Norwegian/Danish Great Black-backed Gulls, three of which I'd seen before (including one 5 times) and one new adult. But there were, unlike last weekend, no Caspian Gulls which was a shame. You can't have everything though.
adult Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness, Kent 17th October 2015

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Galapagos Islands day 5 - Santa Cruz

We awoke in the harbour at Puerto Ayora, and after a pretty smooth sailing, it was miserable weather wise this morning. Grey skies, continual rain were what we got as we walked the short distance from the harbour to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. A fairly interesting place that does great things to combat animal extinctions, and educate tourists, but when you're faced with imbeciles in your group that pose questions such as 'is there a difference between a tortoise and a turtle?' - it was time for me to seek solitude with the local (wild) birdlife.

The real highlight of the morning walk around the research centre were three Woodpecker Finches, new birds for me but views of one using a small tool (piece of wood) was special. The area was birdy, mainly Medium Ground Finches and smaller numbers of Small Ground Finches, but also Yellow Warblers, Galapagos Mockingbirds and smaller numbers of Smooth-billed Anis and Galapagos Flycatchers.
Woodpecker Finch Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Walking back to the harbour, and what was to become one of my favoured haunts when we stayed in Puerto Ayora later on in the trip, was the fish market. This small kiosk adjacent to where catch is landed is always a hive of activity - sea lions, pelicans, Lava Gulls - pecking away at the scraps and begging the workers for 'free food'.
Medium Ground Finch Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Back on the boat at lunch, the first Hudsonian Whimbrel of the trip flew through whilst Elliot's Storm-petrels, Brown Noddies, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Blue-footed Boobies were common. And then the afternoon was spent with these iconic characters at El Manzanillo Ranch - the photographs can do the talking.

Giant Tortoise Santa Cruz, Galapagos
All in all, we saw about 25 Giant Tortoises and despite my initial 'Jurassic Park' first impressions of the site, it was possible to get away from the minions and enjoy these spectacular animals without the inanity that comes from many of the Galapagos' tourists. This was also the only place on the trip where I saw Small Tree Finch and Vegetarian Finch. A couple of White-cheeked Pintails and a Warbler Finch rounded things off for the day.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Two more showy Casps

I'm not proud to say it at this time of year, but it was another day where I resorted to looking at gulls. Saturday was filled with an unproductive scout around Rotherhithe in between spouts of work while I headed to Dunge again to join Mick S and Richard S on Sunday.

There were lots more gulls present compared to last weekend, and with a biting easterly wind I was relatively content there'd be at least something to look at. I wasn't proved wrong, as within a few minutes of the infamous fish bucket being put out, I picked up a hefty 2nd-winter Caspian Gull. Result, and a nice bird to boot and despite hanging about for an hour or so, it enjoyed resting and generally didn't get involved in the melee too much.

2nd-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 11th October 2015; note the lack of a distinct mirror on P10 - atypical for Caspian Gulls of this age. Other than the lack of this feature, this individual appears a classic individual in all other plumage and structural traits.
With the above bird still on show, Mick S picked up a different Caspian Gull, this time a 1st-winter; one of those dusky looking individuals, and slight in structure too. In the glowing afternoon light, and showing down to just a few metres, it looked the part.

1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 11th October 2015
There was also a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull present, seemingly the same bird as last weekend on comparison of photos. Nice to have a look at the spread tail in comparison to the first-winter Caspian Gull above.
1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness, Kent 11th October 2015
1st-winter Caspian Gull Dungeness, Kent 11th October 2015
In addition to this, Herring Gulls from Essex and Suffolk as well as Great Black-backed Gulls from Guernsey and Normandy rounded off the few hours nicely.
Great Black-backed Gull (99L) Dungeness, Kent 11th October 2015 ringed in Normandy, France - a new ringing scheme for me; just awaiting specific details...
I really was hoping that some passerines would have diverted me from October gulling, but it wasn't to be. So I'll write the same as I did last weekend and hope that some far flung bright sprite draws me away... let's see.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Galapagos Islands day 4 - Espanola

This was the day I'd been waiting a long time for. One of the ultimate birding highlights, and one I'd never experienced before, was to visit an albatross colony; and on the island of Espanola, this would be possible with between 15,000 and 18,000 pairs of Waved Albatrosses present. In fact, to cut things short, our afternoon stop was focused around viewing these fantastic creatures - courtship displays, take off along the 'runway', eggs and views as they returned from sea. All in lovely light and down to just a couple of metres at times. Birding at its best...

Waved Albatrosses Espanola August 2015
Aside from the albatrosses, it was a fantastic day with the morning spent along the scenic white sand beach at Gardner Bay. There were three new species for the trip here - Large Cactus Finch, the endemic Hood Mockingbird and a couple of American Oystercatchers: -
Large Cactus Finch Espanola August 2015
Hood Mockingbird Espanola August 2015
American Oystercatcher Espanola August 2015
A walk along the beach also provided a relatively sickly young Nazca Booby, some really showy Galapagos Doves as well as equally obliging Galapagos Flycatcher and Warbler Finches.
Nazca Booby Espanola August 2015
Galapagos Dove Espanola August 2015
Warbler Finch Espanola August 2015
Galapagos Flycatcher Espanola August 2015
After a good bit of snorkelling, we all loaded onto the boat and made the short sail to Punta Suarez, also on Espanola. This was the home of the albatrosses, but as we disembarked, it was the usual Marine Iguana assault course. Hundreds of Nazca Boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls dominated the seabird scene, as did a good few Red-billed Tropicbirds. Thousands of Galapagos Shearwaters buzzed around offshore too, while on land a lost looking Cattle Egret stalked about, a Galapagos Hawk was calmly tending its chick and a fair number of Small Ground Finches buzzed about.

The seabird experience here was brilliant, like the Farne Islands on heat. The albatrosses were as good as I'd expected yet the whole day we were blessed with great weather and it never felt I was rushed about. You often here about people being frog marched around the Galapagos by their guides, from one site to see to the next, but rarely did I feel like this with our guide Juan Tapia.
Galapagos Petrel off Espanola August 2015
Anyway, all good things have to come to an end and in the late afternoon it was time to get back on our boat and head out to sea in the direction of Santa Cruz island. With a couple of hours of light left, it was a good opportunity to do a bit of birding from the boat. And this paid off - twenty or so Waved Albatrosses cutting the waves, four Galapagos Petrels, including a couple nice and close, as well as a single Madeiran Storm-petrel (the only one of the trip), a handful of Wedge-rumped Storm-petrels and lots of Elliot's Storm-petrels and Galapagos Shearwaters.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Sunshine weekend at Dungeness

October the 3rd and 4th. I've seen a few good birds this time of year; but not when you can sit on the beach and bask in the sunshine...

1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness 3rd October 2015
High pressure and forgetting what rain looks like were the main reasons for this. Nevertheless, you make of things what you can. And so after an open morning at school yesterday, I managed to get to Dungeness early afternoon and join Mick S and Richard S. Deckchairs at the ready, we sat out in the sunshine and enjoyed a few bits - namely a showy 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull and a handful of rings (including Great Black-backed Gulls from Norway and Guernsey).
Great Black-backed Gull (JP281) Dungenes 3rd October 2015 - born in Vest-Agder, Norway in 2011, and seen again there this summer. It has been a regular at Dungeness each winter since 2012.
And today the weather was as equally nice, if not a bit brighter and with less wind. John A and I arrived at Dungeness mid morning, and flogged Dengemarsh first - quite a few Wheatears as well as a load of Meadow Pipits and Swallows passing through. A walk around near the observatory produced a good number of Goldcrests while the real highlight of the day was a 'continental' Coal Tit, part of the influx this week (which included one with a Belgian ring). Stonechats were pretty active, and there were also a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Otherwise, quiet but nice to be out in what could be one of the last warm, sunny days of the year.

'continental' Coal Tit Dungeness 4th October 2015 - cold grey upperparts and relatively concolourous flanks and underparts
And then it was on predictably to the gulls. I only stuck it out a couple of hours, but in that time a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull turned up in the melee briefly. But unlike last weekend, no Caspian Gulls seemed to be about.
2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull Dungeness 4th October 2015
On the way back to the car, five Wheatears seemed intent on enjoying the late afternoon rays by the fishing boats; potentially the last that they'll get here in Britain as they seemed intent on sniffing out La Manche...
Northern Wheatear Dungeness 4th October 2015
I'd be hopeful there may be more October quality for next weekend, but let's wait and see.