Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Azores and Madeira: part 2

Spring passage waders at Cabo da Praia, from left to right: Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover.
Autumn migration in the Azores is synonymous with American waders, but what about passage in spring? There must be a chance of a lingering ‘Yank’ and I expected the best shorebird site in the islands, Cabo da Praia, to produce something of interest - it always does.

A Hudsonian Whimbrel caused panic among the Black-tailed Godwits and other waders, harassing roosting birds and driving others away from an area in which it chose to feed. Note the dark rump and underwing.
As it happened, on this trip Cabo was probably the quietest I’ve seen it, but still with a respectable total of 10 wader species (though no wildfowl). The pick of the bunch was a fine Hudsonian Whimbrel that flew in on my second visit and proceeded to give the party of 12 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and any other waders within reach a hard time. It was preceded – and followed – by a Eurasian Whimbrel, but curiously I never saw these two birds together. Also present were numerous Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot and a White-winged Black Tern still moulting into summer plumage which is presumably the same bird that first appeared on the island last October.

This White-winged Black Tern at Cabo da Praia has stayed on since arriving last autumn.
Cabo da Praia is the only regular site for Semipalmated Plover on the European side of the Atlantic.
Plovers are a permanent feature at Cabo, and at least one Semipalmated Plover in evidence during my visits has presumably wintered at the site, the species' only truly regular location in the Western Palearctic. Four Grey and numerous Kentish Plovers were also in evidence, the latter peaking at about 30 – now that this species has been split, who will be the first to find a Nearctic Snowy Plover here?
Yes! Delighted to discover that a pair of Killdeers is in residence on Santa Maria and in breeding mode.
Shorebirds also featured strongly on Santa Maria, where last year, among the numerous Kentish Plovers, a pair of Killdeer was present and monitored constantly by Alan Vittery, who reported the first breeding of this American species in the Western Palearctic. Though the birds were present again in the winter, Alan hasn’t been on the island since February, so I spent some time searching the airport area in case they had lingered into spring.

One of Santa Maria's Killdeers flashes its distinctive rump and uppertail for further confirmation of its identity.
On the second day of searching, I finally succeeded in finding a Killdeer, though it quickly disappeared into a restricted area. More scouring of the site next day produced not one but two adults, behaving very territorially, and I felt sure that breeding was in progress. Although I ran out of time to prove this, I passed on the location details to Gerby Michielsen when he visited the island a few days later, and congratulations to him and his colleagues for discovering two Killdeer chicks – an amazing event on this side of the Atlantic! The possibility that this species could become established here is very real if the adults succeed in fledging more youngsters successfully – fingers crossed.

Pretty in purple: two male Kentish Plovers on Santa Maria, where chicks were in evidence by mid-May.
I found this colour-ringed female Kentish Plover while birding on Santa Maria: it was ringed as an adult exactly two years earlier, on 18 May 2009, on the same island.
* Coming up: an influx of avian predators involving at least one new bird for the islands.


  1. "Autumn migration in the Azores is synonymous with American waders" -- Huh? You don't like passerines and other landbirds? I'd say they're more 'exclusive' to the Azores; these waders end up relatively more often in Europe as well. And of course more exciting in the first place :)

  2. While it's true that American passerines and other landbirds might be regarded as more of an Azores speciality, their appearance is far more weather dependent in the Azores. At times in autumn 2010, for example, the wind was prolonged easterly and there were virtually no 'Yank' landbirds turning up. In contrast, Nearctic shorebirds are guaranteed whatever the weather and always present in autumn (and far more reliably than in 'mainland' Europe). Westerlies help, naturally, but at Cabo da Praia in autumn, whatever the conditions, it is virtually impossible not to see a Yank!

  3. Hi Dominic, are there any pictures of the Killdeer chicks from Santa Maria somewhere?


  4. Not sure if anyone actually photographed young at the chick stage, but I believe Alan Vittery photographed three Killdeers, including at least one juvenile, the previous year. Other birders may have subsequently photographed the species in the same area, as birds lingered there last year and this.



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