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Azores Pelagic 23-30 August 2014

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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 09:23   #1
Stephen Dunstan
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Azores Pelagic 23-30 August 2014

There are many Azores trip reports out there, but given formal Azores pelagic holidays are a relatively new proposition I thought my experiences on this year's trip might be helpful to some readers.

Essentially Peter Alfrey runs the trips, but Archipelago Azores are the hosting company. They offered me two itineraries, one from Manchester to just do the pelagics and a longer one from Gatwick to include a search for Azores Bullfinch. As the cost difference was negligible I went for the latter.

Day 1

Unfortunately the flight from Gatwick to Sao Miguel was a couple of hours late departing. This meant that we only had an hour or so of reasonable light once checked into our hotel in Porto Delgado, the appropriately named Porto Delgado Hotel. Nevertheless a walk down the front to find somewhere to eat was not without some bird interest. Azorean Gulls were unsurprisingly prominent, a few Common Terns were fishing and half a dozen or so Turnstones were on the rocks. The passerines making it onto the trip list included House Sparrow, Starling and Blackcap. Perhaps the ‘bird of the day’ was a Black-headed Gull, these things always being relative.

Last edited by Stephen Dunstan : Tuesday 26th August 2014 at 09:49.
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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 09:24   #2
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Day 2

The cloud covering the sky when the alarm went off was soon replaced by glorious sunshine, and a quick view from the balcony added three species to the trip tally, Grey Wagtail, Ring-necked Parakeet and Collared Dove. The last was a surprise to me, as the reference I had brought along was obviously from before its recent colonization.

After Gerby Michelson arrived to take us on a day’s birding of the eastern half of the island. In essence the plan was to head to the eastern end of the island for the Azores Bulfinch, then if time allowed check other sites for North American waders and anything else that might be around.

Having said that we did stop briefly at a sewage outfall east of Porto Delgado. This was reasonably productive with 2 Knot, a Turnstone and a Little Egret. Of particular interest were two Whimbrels, which were flushed as we watched and confirmed our suspicion given the other birds present that they were Eurasians.

Without further ado we headed to the laurasilva forests. Gerby spends a lot of time here and knows the seasonal variations in their favoured areas. For this reason he can almost guarantee sightings of this species these days. Nevertheless it was a bonus to very quickly get good views and some decent record shots of a juvenile. In the first place we stopped.

Thereafter things got a little more difficult with the arrival of a couple of other tour groups. Eventually though, with further perserverance, we were able to enjoy very good views of some adults. Over this period we had also caught up with the local races of Chaffinch, Goldcrest and Buzzard. We also had reasonable views of an Azores Noctule Bat, the only native mammal of the islands and one that unusually flies routinely during the day.

Following lunch in the laurasilva forest we headed to a number of sites in the north eastern hills that Gerby knows can be productive for American waders, whilst recognizing that it might be too early in the season for them. The short summary of this would be that we visited a number of sites and didn’t see anything other than Azorean Eiders (aka Muscovy Ducks and Mallard hybrids), but the potential was obvious and the birds we were told had occurred spoke for themselves.

In a last throw of the dice Gerby took us to a small beach in the second city of the island, and nearby fields. This added two new waders to the list, Sanderling and a carefully scrutinized Ringed Plover that remained just that. A Quail called briefly, and as one of the group failed to hear it Gerby finally took us to the old airfield (where hunting is not permitted) to hear several singing males.

Gerby was very good company, full off insight and humour, including for other groups looking for the Bullfinch though rather amusingly not one tour leader who slighted him. Defiintely recommended to anyone looking for a day or two of guided birding on Sao Miguel.

After we were dropped off at the hotel and freshened up we went into town for a bite to eat and drink. In a large group of Common Terns in the harbour there was at least one adult Roseate which was a nice end to a long but rewarding day.

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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 09:47   #3
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Day 3

We got up very early and headed to Porto Delgado airport for the short flight to Terceira island. After some respite from the oppressively hot conditions in a café we headed to Praia Pool, an area that has been restored to something like its former self by local naturalists. One of the team, Sophia, showed us round. In winter this site holds flocks of up to 30 American Wigeon and a variety of other Nearctic and Western Palearctic ducks. It is of course early in the season and we saw just Coot, Moorhen, Muscoy Ducks and in the surrounding vegetation Canaries and the introduced Waxbill.

Next on the agenda was the famous tidal quarry pools at Praia de Cabo. There were quite a few waders on sight and Richard Bonser and others already present informed us that these included Short-billed Dowitcher and Semipalmated Plovers. Soon after this one of the two Hudsonian Whimbrels that have been present here also arrived. European wader species were also well represented including Sanderling, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Kentish Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Knot.

The only negative from an excellent variety of species was the fact that the adult Semipalmated Sandpiper that had been present for a couple of days wasn’t around. We left to get some lunch and get out of the oppressive heat for a bit and received a text message that a juvenile Semi-P has flown in as the water levels rose. We just had time to go and watch this bird for about fifteen minutes before heading to the Graciosa ferry. It was indeed a new bird and its skittish behavior suggested it was fresh in from across the Atlantic. A great end to a brief visit to this fantastic site.

Eventually the ferry we were on headed along the Terceira coastline and then across the Bank of Fortune to Graciosa island. The expected rafts of Cory’s Shearwaters were soon joined by good numbers of Greats and a further two species of shearwater were also seen – Manx and Sooty. Several Band-rumped Petrels were seen but could not be assigned to species, Bulwer’s Petrels were seen by other group members and I had a small dark rumped petrel that could not be clinched but may have been a Swinhoe's. The undoubted highlight for me though was the site of several Sowerby’s Beaked Whales breaching clean out of the water at fairly close range. They were so acrobatic that several people needed a lot of convincing that they weren’t in fact Bottlenose Dolphins. Fortunately several very good quality photographs were obtained that put the matter beyond doubt.

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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 11:39   #4
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Good to get a running commentary on your trip Stephen, sounds like you're having a great time.

Just out of interest, are Roger and Ian (from the Bournemouth/Poole area) on your trip? I know they're in the Azores now. If so, say hi from me!
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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 15:32   #5
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Hi Mark,

Yes Roger and Ian are on the trip. Will pass on your regards.

Stephen
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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 15:49   #6
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Day 4 Part 1

Given the winds were less than ideal a full day boat trip out to the Bank of Fortune was ruled out. Instead the plan was to do two trips, one primarily for the Sooty Terns nesting on the Ilheu de Praia outlet and the latter in the evening primarily for Monteiro's Petrels.

A Whimbrel in the harbour proved to be Eurasian. Having clarified that we were soon on our way to the Ilheu de Praia. Initially there was no sign of any Sooty Terns but then Richard Bonser picked out the juvenile in flight. Over the next hour or so we had great views of this bird and at least one of the adults. At times adult and juvenile were flying together, at other times the adult was bullying Common Terns very much in the style of an Arctic Skua. Some excellent photos were taken, I might put up my rather less inspired effort later.

Heading to a bank where Black Capped Petrel has been recorded proved not to be very fruitful due to the conditions being choppy, however as we headed to another site we had very close views of a pod of perhaps ten to twelve Bottlenose Dolphins, including animals breaching clear out of the water. Views were so good that some of those with 400mm lenses failed to get the whole animal in shot...

At a reliable Monteiro's Petrel site we did some chumming. This did produce some results, with Great and Sooty Shearwaters visiting to see what was going on. Azorean Gulls feeding on the slick presumably put paid to any petrels coming in to investigate.
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Old Tuesday 26th August 2014, 21:12   #7
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Day 4 Part 2

We got out again late afternoon in the boat to chum an area favoured by Monteiro's Petrels. Leaving the harbour we soon had plenty of Cory's Shearwaters and several Great Shearwaters. So far, so largely expected but we did get some bonus birds.

A fine adult Long-tailed Skua passed the boat at reasonable range.

A baroli Little Shearwater came very close past the boat, again passing straight through.

The juvenile Sooty Tern came to the chum even though we were several miles from the islet it was born on.

In addition a number of Band-rumped Petrels were seen, including a couple of certain Monteiro's. Add to this Great Shearwater down to around 15 feet and it was an enjoyable trip out even if the return to harbour was more than a little bumpy.
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Old Wednesday 27th August 2014, 22:38   #8
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Day 5

Basically this was the best ever Azores pelagic for seeing Swinhoe’s Petrel. There were five sightings in all, including one prolonged sighting when a bird came to chum, which this species hasn’t done previously. Everybody on board eventually enjoyed fantastic views.

To give an idea what the full day was like for anyone considering this in future years here are the highlights following a 10.20 departure (we returned just after 8pm).

11.00 – first Great Shearwater, ones and twos passing all day and a couple attracted to apple cores in chum and sat on water at one point

11.15 – first Monteiro’s Petrels seen, then regular birds all day at the Bank of Fortune including up to double figures at a time.

11.25 – pod of dolphins seen close to, probably Spotted Dolphin

11.30 – first two Wilson’s Petrels seen, ones and twos on a couple more occasions during the day

11.55 – Swinhoe’s Petrel seen by about half those on board at medium range, despite brief observation photos conforming the ID are obtained.

13.00 – Swinhoe’s Petrel seen again at medium range

13.15 – Swinhoe’s Petrel seen again at medium range

13.35 – first summer skua seen, considered to be a Pomarine

13.50 – Swinhoe’s seen again, similar to previous observations and all bar one of the birders on the boat had connected by this stage.

14.15 – first Bulwer’s petrel of the pelagic

14.30 – Great or South Polar Skua seen, consensus from photos obtained is Great Skua.

15.00 – another three or so Bulwer’s Petrel are seen on the Bank of Fortune.

15.30 – Arctic Skua completes the set of four regular skua species in two days.

15.45 – circa 10 Bottlenose Dolphins move through, what is thought to be the same Great Skua appears over the boat.

15.50 – a small gull is seen distantly, from the pictures obtained the eventual consensus is juvenile Sabine’s Gull.

16.20 – another Bulwer’s Petrel is seen.

16.45 – the Swinhoe’s is seen again, this time offering excellent views at close range to all birders onboard.

17.00 – A Blue Shark appears near the boat and is seen on and off fof around half an hour.

17.10 – A Sooty Shearwater is new for the day.

17.15 – the best candidate of the day for a Grant’s Petrel is seen as Monteiro’s Petrels thin out, departing for their islet nesting grounds.

17.35 – another Arctic Skua is seen.

19.00 – a Manx Shearwater is seen en route back to the harbour from the Bank of Fortune.

19.50 – a pod of unidentified dolphins are seen breaching at long range.
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Old Friday 29th August 2014, 13:25   #9
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Day 6

A probable Swinhoe's Petrel was the highlight but unfortunately didn't linger. Otherwise there were again several Bulwer's whilst cetacean highlights included Sperm Whale and a large, lingering pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.

Timings of highlights today were as follows:-

1030 - left harbour

1045 - Bottlenose Dolphins seen in transit to Bank of Fortune.

1055 - first Great Shearwaters seen.

1100 - Sperm Whale seen to surface several times

1130 - pod of Spotted Dolphins seen also Manx Shearwater, Bulwer's Petrel and first of regular sightings of Monteiro's Petrel.

1135 - two adult Long-tailed Skua passed boat at close range.

1145 - Bulwer's Petrel

1210 - pod of unidentified dolphins

1240 - Bulwer's Petrel

1225 - Arctic Tern (unusual in the Azores)

1240 - Bulwer's Petrel

1520 - Arctic Skua

1530 - Bulwer's Petrel

1555 - probable Swinhoe's Petrel past

1615 - prolonged views of pod of c30 Bottlenose Dolphins

1640 - Sooty Shearwater

1720 - Bulwer's Petrel
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Old Friday 29th August 2014, 13:28   #10
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Day 7

We had a mini pelagic close inshore for three hours. The highlights were as follows:-

- juvenile Sooty Tern seen twice heading from and back to the nest islet (no sign of either adult at the islet)

- pod of Spotted Dolphins close to boat

- plenty of Great Shearwaters passing close to the boat with Cory's.

We are getting off Graciosa late today and flying back tomorrow, so there may not be a lot else to report thought some of the party are going to Terceira and any wader news from there will be on the Birding Azores Facebook page.
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Old Wednesday 3rd September 2014, 21:47   #11
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A shot of the / one of the Swinhoe's Petrel taken by Rich Bonser can be viewed at:-

https://twitter.com/bonser_rich/stat...302848/photo/1
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Old Thursday 11th September 2014, 00:28   #12
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Nice trip report - makes my mouth water. I have never been on one of these trips but I have such things to look forward to luckily! Lots of birds I have yet to see. I have only seen Leach's Petrel and Manxie's.
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