Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Azores Natural History Tour May / June 2015

Following on from a recent recce to the Azores, I am pleased to say that I shall be leading a trip next year with Peter Alfrey of Azores Nature 
The tour will be focusing on all natural history of the Azores covering geology, botany, birds, cetaceans and insects. The tour will visit 3 islands: Sao Miguel (4 nights), Terceira (full day and ferry trip) and Graciosa (3 nights).
Highlights are sure to include: stunning volcanic scenery, endemic birds like the Azores Bullfinch and endemic races of Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (Azores Gull). American vagrant birds such as Semipalmated Plover and other surprises at Europe's premier wader hotspot, Cabo da Praia Quarry on Terceira. An abundance of marine life whilst on Graciosa with Atlantic Spotted, Bottlenose, Common and Striped Dolphins as well as a number of whale species as they follow the annual bloom of phytoplankton such as Humpback, Fin and an outside chance of Blue Whale. Resident whales include Sperm Whale and rarer beaked whales such as Cuvier's Beaked Whale. Of course there are plenty of seabirds to be found too with expected species such as Cory's Shearwater, Little Shearwater (Barolo's Shearwater), Bulwer's Petrel and a chance of something rarer like Black-capped Petrel! Add to this an amazing array of endemic plants such as Azorean Holly, Azorean Blueberry, Azorean Cherry, Azorean Heather, Azorean Juniper and Azorean Laurel as well as the endemic Azores Grayling Butterfly and it is a great week of wildlife! 

Dates are to be confirmed but it is looking like Saturday 30th May until Saturday 6th June 2015
If interested, please email Peter Alfrey.
Further information and contact details: HERE

Lagoa das Sete Cidades Volcanic Crater - The setting for the first day of the tour

Bottlenose Dolphin - A likely species to be found on the boat trips from Graciosa Island on days 3-5

Fin Whale - a migrant through the Azores during April to June though recently some individuals have stayed the Summer 

Common Dolphin - a commonly encountered species

A visit to Terceira Island on day 2 and Cabo da Praia Quarry is a must for any birdwatcher
America and Europe meet - Semipalmated Plovers feed alongside a Kentish and Common Ringed Plover
Short-billed Dowitcher - This individual has been resident at Cabo da Praia Quarry, Terceira since August 2013

Great Shearwater - a regular migrant through the Azores, mostly during the late summer months

Cory's Shearwater - a breeder from March until October
Common Heather and the endemic Azorean Heather Erica azorica

The endemic Azores Bullfinch or Priolo perched in Azorean Laurel (Laurus azorica) - The tour will end with a visit to the Priolo Project and a visit to the important Laurel Forest in which it lives

Friday, 29 August 2014

Priolo Project

Visited the eastern side of São Miguel yesterday and met with Ruben from SPEA (Portugese Ornithological Society) who showed us around the Priolo Project. Priolo is the local name for the Azores Bullfinch and there is a great deal of hard work being done to restore the Bullfinch's natural habitat, the Laurel Forest. The biggest problem being the removal of the many invasive species that out compete the native species.
The endemic Azores Grayling

The endemic race of Goldcrest from Sao Miguel

Juvenile Azores Bullfinch or Priolo

Terceira Whales and Botany

Yesetrday, Pete and I headed out on a whale watching boat from Angra after failing to achieve our intended destination of exploring more marine banks further out to sea. Still a good trip with the main highlight being at least 6 Fin Whales. A seemingly unusual time of year for this species in the Azores. Other highlights included a few Great Shearwaters the usual Cory's Shearwaters and pods of Common Dolphins. Plus juvenile Roseate Tern and Azores Gull. Also managed a final visit to the Cabo da Praia Quarry, though nothing new this time, but good views of two Hudsonian Whimbrel. 

On Tuesday we met with a couple of botanists and explored some of the coastal botany of the island and enjoyed some local tea and cake too!
Exotic tree from Haiwai
Ivy Leaf Fern
Cecilia and Isabelle (botanists) and Pete
CT sampling the local tea and cake!

Common Dolphins
Juvenile Roseate Tern

Great Shearwater
Fin Whale off Terceira Island
Cory's Shearwater
Hudsonian Whimbrel

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Cabo da Praia Quarry, Terceira

A visit to the Cabo da Praia Quarry today produced some great views of a number of waders. Highlights included 2 Hudsonian Whimbrel, 4 Semipalmated Plovers (all adults) and single Short-billed Dowitcher and juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling and Turnstone
Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper

Azores Again

Currently out in the Azores with Peter doing some broader natural history and more exploratory pelagics. Only had time today to get out for an evening from Terceira, but all very pleasant.
Hopefully more to report later in week.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Wood Sandpiper

Pretty pleased to find a Wood Sandpiper on the scrapes yesterday afternoon. A bit of rain is always a good thing! Only my second Wood Sand on the patch, the last being on the same scrape on the much later date of 9th September 2009. Typically, as with most decent waders on the patch it didn't stick around for long before flying off never to be seen again. Managed a quick digiscoped record for posterity!

Wood Sandpiper, Budleigh Scrapes 11th August 2014

And here is a better shot of a Wood Sandpiper I took on Lesvos!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Local Birding and French Kittiwakes in Devon

I have been enjoying finally spending some time at home over the last week and getting out birding locally. Notable birds for the time of year on the local patch have included:

Common Eider - Eclipse drake 4th August until at least 8th August west of Budleigh Cliffs
Sanderling - one moulting ad on rocks off Otter Head 9th August
Teal - a single bird on the Otter 9th August

More interesting however was the recent information I received back on a number of colour-ringed Kittiwakes that I saw with the Mrs whilst carrying out productivity surveys at the Kittiwake colony at Straight Point. This colony is the most important Kittiwake colony in Devon with over 160 nests and has been closely monitored by the RSPB since 2013 because of the recent national decline in Kittiwake productivity. Whilst carrying out the surveys, I noticed a colour ringed bird in the colony on 30th July, followed by another 3 colour-ringed birds on 4th August. All 4 birds were ringed in Brittany in the Finistère region. The birds consisted of an adult, a 2CY and most interestingly, two 1st year birds that only left the French colony during the last week of July before ending up at Exmouth 8 and 12 days later!

This year productivity at Straight Point has been 0.67 chicks fledged per pair which is pretty good for Kittiwake.

1st year Kittiwake (colour-ringed) photographed at Straight Point Exmouth 4th August. Ringed in Finistère, Brittany, France and fledged on 20/07/2014, last seen in it's natal colony on 23/07/2014.

Common Eider - Eclipse drake 4th August west of Budleigh Cliffs 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Devon Mega!

Don't think I shall be winning any awards for the very distant photos, but you can just about tell what it is!
Devon's 3rd Caspian Tern today was a real treat thanks to Matt Knott who found the bird early this morning off Exmouth seafront. A very fortuitous and very appreciated phone call from Matt later this afternoon had me make a small diversion to Mud Bank Lane and the rest is history!
I saw the bird again this afternoon from the Imperial Recreation Car Park quite a bit closer before it vanished!
You have to go back as far as July 2004 for the last record, seen for just a couple of hours at Dawlish Warren

Thanks again Matt for a great find!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Ovipositing, Peregrines and Great White!

Today started with an early morning phone call from fellow birder and friend Matt Knott. Now when my mobile rings early in the morning and I see it is Matt, it means only one thing - a rarity!
With yesterday's amazing news of a Black-browed Albatross past Portland Bill, I must admit, I was slightly nervous about what Matt was going to tell me! However, it wasn't the albatross, but a good bird nontheless - Matt had literally just had a Great White Egret fly over his head at nearby Exmouth and head my way! Now, Great White Egret is a bird I have always hoped to find on the patch, but I couldn't resist heading straight out to see if I good "luck in" on Matt's bird - despite a quick dash out of the house and to the seafront and Otter, I sadly had no joy. A well deserved find for Matt for his early starts! Matt - if you are reading this - don't ever worry about ringing too early- I am always keen to hear about rare birds whatever time - no problem and thanks for the call.

Other highlights this weekend were a couple of juvenile Peregines that have recently fledged and an Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing in our garden pond! 
Ovipositing Emperor Dragonfly in our garden pond