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Azores pelagic trip: August – September 2016
Azores pelagic trip: August – September 2016

By Josh Jones

Participants: Janne Aalto, Bart Brieffies, Bosse Carlsson, Pierre-André Crochet, Brian Gregory, Marc Guyt, Guy Mirgain, David Monticelli, Heather Pantrey, Hans Ruhde & Hugo Touzé

2016 represented the fifth consecutive year that a tour has been run to Graciosa in the August/early September period. The pelagic trips, around which the tour is based, focus on visiting the Bank of Fortune, a seamount rising to depths of just a couple of hundred metres, and the aim is always to reach the Bank on as many days as possible. With warm and settled conditions throughout our week in the Azores we were able to maximise our time spent at this local hotspot, visiting on each of our three full days on Graciosa.

The tour was an overall success: at sea we enjoyed excellent views of the endemic Monteiro’s Storm-petrel as well as managing to see the enigmatic Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel on two of the three days out at the Bank. There were many other memorable avian and cetacean encounters. Our participants that visited São Miguel were able to secure good views of the endemic Azores Bullfinch and although the famous quarry at Cabo da Praia, Terceira, was relatively quiet during our visit, it nevertheless produced a reasonable selection of Nearctic shorebirds. The nearby harbour produced an apparent Cabot’s Tern, potentially the first live record of this subtle taxon for the Western Palearctic and a clear highlight of the trip if confirmed, while good weather in the hills of interior Terceira ensured we all got good looks at Azores Grayling, an endemic butterfly.

Sunday 28 August

A split day. Heather, Bart and Brian spent the day touring São Miguel with Gerby Michielsen and recorded Azores Bullfinch at Serra da Tronqueira. Josh flew to Terceira early to meet up with the rest of the participants, some of whom had already arrived while others arrived on various flights throughout the day.

Cabo da Praia quarry naturally proved a focal point for the day’s birding activity and a good range of shorebirds were recorded including up to five Semipalmated Plovers and juveniles of Semipalmated and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. A short tour of the island gave us great views of Citrine Forktail (Ischnura hastata) a tiny American damselfly that

maintains its sole European population in the Azores and some great views of Roseate Terns in the harbour at Angra do Heroísmo.

A family part of Long-eared Owls at Paul da Praia was an Azores tick for most of the team, including those with many visits to the archipelago under their belts. The late-arriving Janne was fortunate enough to see a Glossy Ibis at Paul da Praia during the evening.

Potential bird of the day was a ‘Sandwich Tern’ found by Hugo in the evening tern roost at Praia da Vitória fishing port. European Sandwich Tern (Thalesseus sandvicensis) is an Azores rarity and North American Cabot’s Tern (Thalasseus acuflavidus) is yet to be recorded. Detailed analysis of this bird’s plumage seems to suggest that it may well be the latter, therefore representing a potential first for the Azores and the first live record for Europe.

Monday 29 August

Several of the group had an early start in the hope that the putative Cabot’s Tern was still at Praia da Vitória harbour. Indeed it was, but it seemed to fly off out to sea a short while after 07:30.

Heather, Bart and Brian arrived from São Miguel mid-morning and our tour of Terceira began. We headed up in to the highland interior of the island, where our first stop was Lagoa do Negro. Here we enjoyed great views of several of the endemic and Azores Grayling (Hipparchia azorina) as well as a few Long-tailed Blues (Lampides boeticus). The entire group was able to enjoy further views of the abundant Citrine Forktail around the lake’s margins.

A stop at Cabrito Reservoir produced an apparent Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid while nearby conifers gave us great views of inermis Goldcrest something Bart was particularly happy about!

After lunch in Praia da Vitória we headed round to the harbour to try for the Cabot’s Tern but, in the middle of the day, it was no great surprise that the bird wasn’t around.

We caught the late afternoon ferry from Terceira to Graciosa, arriving on the latter island late evening. The crossing brought us three or four breaching Sowerby’s Beaked Whales at distance as well as the odd Sooty and Great Shearwater among the many Cory’s. Our approach to Graciosa was well timed and we were able to watch several presumed Monteiro’s Storm-petrels making their way purposefully towards the colony at Ilhéu da Praia in the fading light of the evening; a single Bulwer’s Petrel was also seen.

After meeting Rolando at the ferry terminal we enjoyed a late dinner near Praia before retiring to our hotel for some much needed rest!

Tuesday 30 August

With a scheduled departure time of 10:30 for the first full day pelagic to the Bank of Fortune, there was little need to rush around in the morning. Those that walked around Santa Gruz recorded typical Azorean species as well as shorebirds such as Whimbrel and Turnstone, while the long-staying drake Mandarin (of presumed suspect origin) was still on the small pool in the middle of town.

The weather was perfect very light south-westerly winds and blue skies meant it was a day for sunblock rather than seasickness pills!

The calm weather gave spectacular vistas of almost mirror-like blue seas at times, and we were also rewarded with fantastic views of warm-season breeding Monteiro’s Storm-petrels, usually easily identifiable by their active wing moult, and a few birds which looked a better fit for the cold-season breeder Grant’s Storm-petrel. Several of us saw an all-dark storm-petrel which, on the balance of flight action, size, structure, and colour, we all agreed must have been a Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel however it remained frustratingly brief and distant and could not be clinched.

The calm conditions were ideal for cetacean-spotting and we were able to record Bottlenose Dolphins, two Sperm Whales and, best of all, four Cuvier's Beaked Whales showing brilliantly by the boat as we were heading back to Graciosa.

Out at the Bank for much of the day, we returned back to Santa Cruz at 20:00 via Praia Islet, where we could not locate the Sooty Terns seen here annually in recent years. However excellent views of Roseate Terns were a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable first day at sea.

Wednesday 31 August

The wind had strengthened slightly overnight but otherwise it was another fine day with largely clear skies. Leaving Praia at 08:30, the plan was to spend another full day at sea.

It was quickly apparent that the increase in wind strength had increased numbers of the larger species, with Great Shearwaters considerably more numerous than the previous day. The first of two Long-tailed Skuas came to investigate the boat as we steamed out towards the Bank with a second following shortly after arriving at the ‘traditional’ GPS location. This second bird was part of a memorable 15 minutes that also included fantastic views of the first of two Fea’s-type Petrels, which performed brilliantly as it circled the boat on a couple of occasions before powering off to the south.

Storm-petrel numbers had also improved on the previous day with up to a dozen Monteiro’s at any one time and three Wilson’s seen. Highlight of the day, and a prime target for many of the participants on the tour, was a Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel, which appeared in front of the boat at 13:55 and lingered for a couple of minutes. Thankfully all on board managed to see this rarity, although it never came particularly close to the boat.

Returning to port late afternoon produced another Fea’s-type Petrel, this time a bird with clearly all-dark underwing coverts, but another search around Praia Islet again failed to produce any sign of the Sooty Terns.

Thursday 1 September

With the forecast again very calm and sunny, we were able to spend all day at sea. The morning (08:30-14:00) was spent at the Bank of Fortune before returning to port. Then we enjoyed an evening (17:00-20:00) cruise much closer to shore.

The conditions resulted in a drop in general activity at the Bank, though storm-petrels were present in decent numbers throughout the morning and a Swinhoe’s appeared on and off for at least six minutes at around 11:25. Three Bulwer’s Petrels were also seen in addition to the usual mix of Monteiro’s and Grant’s Storm-petrels. One of the highlights, though, was hand-feeding a sardine to a particularly confiding Great Shearwater!

The lack of wind meant swell was minimal, making cetacean-spotting much easier. Several distant blows were likely Sperm Whales while a super pod of around 25 Striped Dolphins entertained us on the way back to port.

The evening pelagic trip was fairly unproductive for unusual sightings but we were able to hand-feed another Great Shearwater and got great looks at several large rafts of Cory’s Shearwaters. Feeding the terns around Praia Islet again produced no Sooty but compensation came in the form of fantastic views of Roseates trailing the boat.

Friday 2 September

With bad weather forecast to be arriving in the Azores later on Friday we were unable to take a morning boat trip out of Praia, so instead decided to take an island tour. Though not the richest Azorean island for birding opportunities, the lack of significant sightings was more than made up for by the impressive scenery and a visit to the sulphur mines in the island’s caldeira.

In the afternoon we headed back to Praia for an extended lunch, while some of the participants scanned Praia Islet for the Sooty Tern no luck, it seems the lack of breeding taking place this year meant that the adults had already left.

The evening saw the group say their goodbyes at Graciosa airport as the 2016 pelagic trip came to a close. Some were destined for another day on Terceira, where they were to find a pleasing influx of shorebirds at Cabo da Praia on the Saturday, while four of us continued on to São Miguel for our respective onwards journeys.

Pelagic trips 2016: bird list

Please note that all counts are minima. Use of ‘x’ means species present, but not counted.

Species

30 August

31 August

1 September

Great Shearwater Cory’s Shearwater Sooty Shearwater Fea’s-type Petrel Monteiro’s Storm-petrel Grant’s Storm-petrel Wilson’s Storm-petrel Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel Bulwer’s Petrel Arctic Skua Pomarine Skua Long-tailed Skua Roseate Tern Common Tern

20

80

30

x

x

x

1

20

 

2

20

60

40

x

x

x

2

3

 

1

1

3

2

3

4

1

 

1

 

2

 
 

List of birds recorded

1. Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula

2. Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

3. Common Quail Coturnix coturnix

4. Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea

5. Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis

6. Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

7. Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulweri

8. Fea’s Petrel Pterodroma feae/deserta

9. Wilson’s Storm-petrel Oceanites oceanicus

10. Monteiro’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma monteiroi

11. ‘Grant’s’ Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro granti

12. Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma monorhis

13. Little Egret Egretta garzetta

14. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

15. Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus

16. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo rothschildi

17. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

18. Coot Fulica atra

19. Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula

20. Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus

21. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrines

22. Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola

23. Knot Calidris canutus

24. Sanderling Calidris alba

25. Turnstone Arenaria interpres

26. Dunlin Calidris alpine

27. Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea

28. Little Stint Calidris minuta

29. Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla

30. Buff-breasted Sandpiper Calidris subruficollis

31. Ruff Calidris pugnax

32. Common Redshank Tringa tetanus

33. Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

34. Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

35. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago

36. Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus

37. Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus

38. Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus

39. Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

40. Azores Gull Larus michahellis atlantis

41. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

42. Cabot’s Tern Thalasseus acuflavidus

43. Common Tern Sterna hirundo

44. Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii

45. Feral Pigeon Columba livia

46. Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus azorica

47. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

48. Long-eared Owl Asio otus

49. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea patriciae

50. European Robin Erithacus rubecula

51. Common Blackbird Turdus merula azorensis

52. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

53. Goldcrest Regulus regulus azoricus/inermis

54. Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris

55. House Sparrow Passer domesticus

56. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs moreletti

57. Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

58. Canary Serinus canaria

Image gallery

Image gallery Images 1 & 2: putative Cabot’s Tern, Praia da Vitória, Terceria, 28-29 August
Image gallery Images 1 & 2: putative Cabot’s Tern, Praia da Vitória, Terceria, 28-29 August

Images 1 & 2: putative Cabot’s Tern, Praia da Vitória, Terceria, 28-29 August

Image 3: Azores Grayling, Lagoa do Negro, Terceira, 29 August Image 4: Citrine Forktail with
Image 3: Azores Grayling, Lagoa do Negro, Terceira, 29 August Image 4: Citrine Forktail with

Image 3: Azores Grayling, Lagoa do Negro, Terceira, 29 August Image 4: Citrine Forktail with prey, Lagoa do Ginjal, Terceria, 28 August

Image 5: Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, Terceira – Graciosa ferry, 29 August Image 6: Bottlenose Dolphin,
Image 5: Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, Terceira – Graciosa ferry, 29 August Image 6: Bottlenose Dolphin,

Image 5: Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, Terceira – Graciosa ferry, 29 August Image 6: Bottlenose Dolphin, off Graciosa, 30 August

Image 7: Sperm Whale, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 8: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, off Graciosa,
Image 7: Sperm Whale, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 8: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, off Graciosa,

Image 7: Sperm Whale, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 8: Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, off Graciosa, 30 August

Images 9 & 10: Striped Dolphins, off Graciosa, 1 September
Images 9 & 10: Striped Dolphins, off Graciosa, 1 September

Images 9 & 10: Striped Dolphins, off Graciosa, 1 September

Image 11: Wilson’s Storm -petrel, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 12: Swinhoe’s Storm -petrel, off
Image 11: Wilson’s Storm -petrel, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 12: Swinhoe’s Storm -petrel, off

Image 11: Wilson’s Storm-petrel, off Graciosa, 30 August Image 12: Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel, off Graciosa, 1 September

Images 13 & 14: Monteiro’s Storm -petrels off Graciosa
Images 13 & 14: Monteiro’s Storm -petrels off Graciosa

Images 13 & 14: Monteiro’s Storm-petrels off Graciosa

Image 15: Grant’s Storm -petrel, off Graciosa, 1 September Image 16: Fea’s -type Petrel, off
Image 15: Grant’s Storm -petrel, off Graciosa, 1 September Image 16: Fea’s -type Petrel, off

Image 15: Grant’s Storm-petrel, off Graciosa, 1 September Image 16: Fea’s-type Petrel, off Graciosa, 31 August

Image 17: Fea’s -type Petrel, off Graciosa, 31 August Image 18: Sooty Shearwater, off Graciosa,
Image 17: Fea’s -type Petrel, off Graciosa, 31 August Image 18: Sooty Shearwater, off Graciosa,

Image 17: Fea’s-type Petrel, off Graciosa, 31 August Image 18: Sooty Shearwater, off Graciosa, 30 August

Images 19 & 20: Great Shearwaters off Graciosa
Images 19 & 20: Great Shearwaters off Graciosa

Images 19 & 20: Great Shearwaters off Graciosa

Image 21: Cory’s Shearwater off Graciosa Image 22: 2016 pelagic team back in port after
Image 21: Cory’s Shearwater off Graciosa Image 22: 2016 pelagic team back in port after

Image 21: Cory’s Shearwater off Graciosa Image 22: 2016 pelagic team back in port after three successful days at sea!