Friday, 21 October 2011

Azores: days 5-7

Good numbers of Great Shearwaters were lingering in the channel between Flores and Corvo.
Arm's length views of Great Shearwater were had from the boat.
Three islands in three days was bound to produce a flurry of good birds, and though the wind stayed east, we continued to rack up some great sightings. The trip across to Corvo was a little on the bumpy side but 30 or more Short-beaked Common Dolphins right around the boat and big numbers of Great Shearwaters among all the Cory's were welcome distractions. The only storm-petrel was seen just a few inches away soon after arrival - a Leach's, in the hands of a SPEA seabird worker who was preparing the recovering waif for release. Heading the line-up of Corvo rarities from the east was a Eurasian Kestrel - a species far rarer in these islands than, say, Semipalmated Plover.

A crowd gathers around an exhausted Leach's Storm-petrel, picked up in the harbour on Corvo.
A record shot taken at vast range of the ring-tail Northern Harrier we ran into on Flores.
It was the turn of raptors again the next day on Flores when star bird-of-prey spotter Christine (who found the kestrel) picked up a harrier on Flores while I was momentarily away from the group, checking out a sleeping duck which turned out to be a Garganey. The raptor flushed all the wildfowl, including the drake Wood Duck and the Garganey, from Lagoa da Lomba before disappearing. We set off in rapid pursuit and Suzanne eventually relocated the bird over distant moorland, where scope views confirmed it as a Northern Harrier - a great find, particularly as it is now an impending split from Hen Harrier. Other goodies we came across during the day included Little Stint and Snow Bunting, as well as a terrific roadside view of Woodcock in broad daylight.

Woodcock can be very difficult to see well in the Azores, but no one told this bird ...
On our last morning on Flores, we took in a small wetland which turns up the occasional duck of interest. Even before we'd got out of the car, another Woodcock just a few feet away feeding out in the open gave extended views at close range. On the lake a rather drab wigeon with orangey flanks looked interesting at first but eventually proved to be a female-type Eurasian. Undeniably vagrant at the site, however, was a Great Egret which flushed, despite our cautious arrival; its greenish tibia suggested it was probably of European origin. We followed that up at a nearby site with a pukka American Black Duck sitting near five close-ish congeners, at least four of which (and possibly all five) I felt were hybrids. A final check of Lomba and also Lajes then saw us heading back to the airport at Santa Cruz, a second Great Egret in the harbour there - this time probably American - being our last vagrant for the island before departing to Terceira.

One of two Great Egrets we found on Flores, this bird's greenish tibia suggest it is of European origin.
As sometimes happens in the Azores, with everyone checked in ahead of schedule the plane departed 30 minutes early - perfect in the circumstances for us, as it allowed time for a quick pre-dusk check of Cabo da Praia. There we met up with some familiar faces from Corvo and elsewhere, and enjoyed an unexpected wader fest which included our first Semipalmated Sandpiper of the trip, as well as two White-rumped Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Plover and three Ruff, also new to the trip list. It set us up well for a full day on the island the next day - our last before heading for home.

On our second Terceira visit we finally added Semipalmated Sandpiper, an almost expected vagrant, to the trip list.

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