Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Plovers and pelagics

A showy Semipalmated Plover at Lajes de Pico.

Bumped into Gerbrand Michielsen at the airport. Dutch by birth but Azorean through 20 years' residence in the islands, Gerby works for a government ecotourism department. He once found a Snowy Owl on Flores - an amazing record - and we published his photo in Birdwatch. We talk birds all the way to Pico, and agree to meet in the evening once our respective plans for the day have been completed. Mine include looking for Nearctic shorebirds at Lajes, and they duly get under way with a showy Semipalmated Plover.

Lajes is a semi-regular site for Spotted Sandpiper in autumn.
Lajes looks great but is one of my two least favourite sites to bird in the islands because of its difficult terrain (the other is the 'walk of death' out of the caldeira on Corvo). Nonetheless, I struggled over lava fields smothered in tall spiky grass and finally reached the 'oxbow' pool where on both previous visits I have found American wanderers lurking. Sure enough, a handsome Spotted Sandpiper popped up to keep the run alive and, after much furtive sneaking through the grasses, it got used to my company.

In the afternoon I met up with another Birdwatch contributor, Justin Hart (check out his amazing Cory's Shearwater article in the October issue), and courtesy of C W Azores we headed out mid afternoon to a sea mount south of Graciosa and west of São Jorge. En route among numerous Cory's were a single Sooty and a very worn adult storm-petrel that proved to be a Leach's rather than the hoped-for Monteiro's. We chummed to little effect, but did have three Great Shearwaters, not to mention Loggerhead Turtle and two beaked whales - Cuvier's is possible here but not the only option (any other suggestions?).

A very worn Leach's Storm-petrel at sea near Pico.
One of three Great Shearwaters seen on the same pelagic.
 After thanking Justin and the C W Azores team for a thoroughly enjoyable trip, I headed back to dinner with Gerby and friends - the latter including Jõao Qaresma, another Pico skipper and sometime Birdwatch contributor. Small world.

Beaked whale - but which one? Cuvier's seems likely, but other
suggestions welcome from seasoned cetacean-watchers.

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