PELAGICS

Fortune
hunters
With a host of migrant and breeding
seabirds, plus the presence of an
endemic storm-petrel, birding in the
deep Atlantic Ocean off the Azores was
always going to be exciting. Peter Alfrey
and Richard Bonser chart the recent
history of Azorean pelagics and the
search for specialities which led to the
RAFAEL ARMADA (WWW.RAFAELARMADA.NET)

discovery of the Bank of Fortune.
This is a ‘classic’
Monteiro’s Storm-petrel,
photographed in mid-
summer when only this
species is present in
the region, showing an
obviously forked tail and
long-winged appearance
producing an overall
‘rakish’ structure.

T
he nine Azorean islands numerous upwellings, provide rich out to sea to explore the deep waters
extend for 370 miles out in the feeding grounds for a variety of migrant around the islands. And so began the
Atlantic, thrusting up from the seabirds, as well as a recently split development of pelagic birding in the
deep oceanic depths as some of the Azorean endemic, Monteiro’s Storm- Azores ...
tallest part-submerged mountains on petrel.
earth. The surrounding seas, through Good views of these enigmatic birds Exploration begins
subsequent varied topography and are often only possible by heading In 2007, PA and Simon Buckell
launched a serious of exploratory
trips in the deep waters off the Azores
in search of vagrant seabirds. There
had already been a few interesting
seabird sightings – including Black-
browed Albatross and Black-capped
and Trindade Petrels – mainly from
whale-watching boats around the
islands. It would clearly be worthwhile
to run specific trips for seabirds. The
first pelagics were ‘wild cat’ expeditions
from various islands including Corvo,
Faial and Santa Maria, with seamounts,
banks and steep oceanic slopes targeted
as likely areas of upwelling in nutrient-
rich waters, where seabirds would
concentrate to feed.
PHOTOS: RICHARD BONSER

Good numbers of Wilson’s Storm-
petrel were discovered on these initial
trips, with more than 30 at the Azores
Bank off Faial in July 2007 and 70-80
there in September 2009. Regular
breeding species were also encountered,
Praia Islet, Graciosa, is home to the recently split Monterio’s Storm-petrel, an Azorean endemic. It including Barolo Shearwater, Bulwer’s
breeds in summer, sometimes sharing the same nest with winter-breeding Grant’s Storm-petrel. Petrel and Madeiran Storm-petrel, ❯
www.birdwatch.co.uk Birdwatch•July 2014 57
PETER ALFREY
PELAGICS

PETER ALFREY
While the endemic storm-petrel was the main target, a variety of other A worn Monteiro’s Storm-petrel in heavy secondary moult. The
bird and mammal species have been recorded on the pelagics, including upperwing coverts and dishevelled carpal bar also indicate this bird is
Barolo Shearwater (above) and Spotted Dolphin (below) in worn plumage.

with a new breeding colony of this An Azorean endemic at different times of year, the best way
last species, which breeds in winter, In 2008, ground-breaking research to see either storm-petrel was simple:
discovered on Lagoinhas Islet off Santa revealed that the summer-breeding visit a colony at the time of year when
Maria. Two Fea’s-type Petrels were population of Madeiran Storm-petrel only that species was present. In the
also recorded. Overall, however, there on the Azores had evolved separately case of Monteiro’s Storm-petrel, this
were no huge surprises. from the winter-breeding birds, leading would be in May and June.
Various forms of chum were to its recognition as a new species, Opportunities for birders to
experimented with, and in the end Monteiro’s Storm-petrel (Bolton et al encounter this little-known species
an adapted version of Hadoram 2008). Subtle differences in biometrics, were limited by access restrictions to
Shirihai’s ‘petrel liquor’ turned out to genetics, breeding ecology and the main breeding colony off Praia
be the most successful (using liquid oil vocalisations (Robb et al 2008) were also Islet on Graciosa. Joining research
instead of melted margarine), along described, though to the field birder it is teams, who monitored the artificially
with sardine chum, drip lines and fish extremely similar to other members of created nest burrows, was the only way.
oils. Tests with frozen blocks proved the Madeiran Storm-petrel complex (see RB was lucky enough to do this in July
problematic due to the comparatively Flood and Fisher 2011). 2009, courtesy of Joël Bried, and he
cool deep Atlantic temperature. Due to the two populations breeding was able to study the species at close

❝ Ground-breaking research revealed that the summer-breeding
Madeiran Storm-petrels on the Azores had evolved separately
from winter-breeding birds

VINCENT LEGRAND

58 Birdwatch•July 2014  www.birdwatch.co.uk
Taken in early August when both
Monteiro’s and Grant’s Storm-
range, including adults and nestlings.
petrels are present, the bird’s Remarkably, the two populations
forked tail suggests the former. use the same nests at times. Just as the
However, Flood and Fisher Monteiro’s Storm-petrels were fledging
(2011) advise extreme caution
as there is much overlap in this and leaving their nest sites, the winter-
feature between taxa. breeding birds (known as Grant’s
Storm-petrel, but not yet widely ‘split’)
were moving back in.
The waters around Graciosa were
the obvious area for pelagic exploration
to discover regular feeding areas to
see Monteiro’s Storm-petrels at sea. It
didn’t take long. In fact, it happened
even before the formal description of
the species, as in May 2007, Killian
Mullarney and Magnus Robb not only
discovered Monteiro’s Storm-petrel at
sea to the south-east of Graciosa, but
also found a Black-capped Petrel. With a
renewed sense of purpose, PA returned
to the Azores for seabirding.

Surveying for storm-petrels
Armed with GPS co-ordinates
supplied by Killian Mullarney, PA
visited Graciosa in May 2010. Adverse
weather hampered the potential for
any prolonged period at sea, but even
limited searching turned up Monteiro’s
Storm-petrels in the same area as in
May 2007. The peaks and troughs of
the stormy sea also allowed the boat to
closely approach a Barolo Shearwater –
very different from the usual view of a
bird flapping frantically away ahead of
a vessel.
Other than this close encounter,
VINCENT LEGRAND

however, that 2010 trip was pretty
much a mini-disaster. It was getting very
expensive, too, and with boat charter at
more than €500 per day, the only way
The fresh set of primaries and to make these expeditions cost effective
secondaries indicates this is was to get more people on board. So PA
either a juvenile Monteiro’s returned in June 2011 with a group of
Storm-petrel or an early adult
Grant’s Storm-petrel. Such 12 birders, including RB. Unfortunately,
birds cannot be identified with on the first evening’s pelagic, any cost
certainty on current knowledge, savings on PA’s part were more than
and despite perceived structural
differences such as the less negated when he accidentally dropped
notched tail and sturdier overall £3,000 worth of camera equipment
appearance for Grant’s Storm- overboard and it sank straight to the
petrel, a bird such as this is best
left unidentified.
bottom of the ocean.
The weather conditions in June 2011
were ideal for sailing, but this seemed
to have changed the behaviour of the
Monteiro’s Storm-petrels. Not many
birds could be found in close proximity
to the breeding area on Praia Islet, and
so a second target area – the Bank of
Fortune, where fishermen had reported
lots of small black-and-white birds – was
VINCENT LEGRAND

visited on the last day of the trip.
Lying 20 or so miles to the east of
Graciosa and providing numerous
upwellings suitable for feeding seabirds, ❯
www.birdwatch.co.uk Birdwatch•July 2014 59
PELAGICS

it was still within easy reach. After a
few hours of observation, the team
saw more than 50 Monteiro’s Storm-
petrels and up to 15 Wilson’s Storm-
petrels at close range. Also logged were
at least three Barolo Shearwaters, a
Grey Phalarope and four Great Skuas,
surprisingly lingering in Azorean waters
in early summer. A Sooty Tern was seen
on Praia Islet, where up to two birds
have been seen each year recently.
In 2011 the team was accompanied
a Portuguese film crew, who were
making a documentary called In Search
of Monteiro’s Storm-petrel. The film
has subsequently been watched by a
quarter of a million Portuguese – not
a bad thing for raising the profile of
this Azores endemic and conserving its
breeding habitat.

Good Fortune
The last day of the June 2011 pelagic
trip established one thing: the Bank
of Fortune was the place to locate
storm-petrels at sea off the coast of
Graciosa. With the world population of
Monteiro’s Storm-petrel conservatively
estimated at 250 birds, and all of these

HARRO MÜLLER
breeding off Graciosa, the draw of
guaranteed sightings of this species The identification of this Zino’s Petrel in Azorean Waters at the Bank of Fortune was confirmed
would inevitably inspire interest from by Flood and Fisher (2013). Geolocator studies have revealed that the birds disperse widely into
the North Atlantic from their breeding grounds in Madeira.
birders. However, it was important to hit
this seabird hot-spot at times that would
maximise chances of connecting with Madeira, its sole breeding location, and hot-spot’ based on past records and
vagrants and passage seabirds, too. confirms geolocator studies which reveal geolocator studies, so with Zino’s and
The obvious choice was to go in the that it disperses into Azorean waters. Fea’s Petrels already recorded, it may
August-September period – the overlap These same studies also show that only be a matter of time until Bermuda,
time of year between the hot-season Bermuda Petrels regularly move Black-capped or Trindade Petrels are
and cool-season breeding populations, into Azorean waters, and it is hoped also seen on these trips. ■
allowing both Monteiro’s and Grant’s that future expeditions will connect
Storm-petrels to be seen together. As with this species. Bermuda Petrel has Acknowledgements
well as trying to identify these two already been recorded on the Azores: Many thanks to Bob Flood for
closely related species at sea on the basis an individual was famously captured improvements to the text of this article.
of wing moult, there was also the real and recaptured in a burrow on several
potential of vagrant seabirds. occasions in November 2002, November Azores pelagics
The team’s pelagic efforts were 2003 and December 2006. The best way to see Monteiro’s and
therefore concentrated on the Bank of As more birders and pelagic trips Grant’s Storm-petrels, as well as other
Fortune, running three separate trips – focus on the Bank of Fortune and seabirds on the Azores, is to join an
with a total of 12 days at sea – in early beyond, the team is hopeful of further organised pelagic. The authors are
August 2012, late August 2013 and early significant records. Bob Flood and running a trip this year from 24-29
September 2013. As well as gaining Ashley Fisher have identified the Azores August; for more details contact PA at
excellent views of Monteiro’s Storm- as ‘the north-east Atlantic’s Pterodroma littleoakgroup@btinternet.com.
petrel, each of the three trips recorded
a Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel. This Pacific REFERENCES
• Bolton, M, Smith, A L, Gomez-Diaz, E, Friesen, V L, Medeiros, R, Bried, J, Roscales, J L, and Furness, R W.
breeder perhaps represents just the tip of 2008. Monteiro’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monteiroi: a new species from the Azores. Ibis 150: 717-727.
the iceberg, and despite the impressive • Flood, B, and Fisher, A. 2011. North Atlantic Seabirds: storm-petrels & Bulwer’s Petrel. Pelagic Birds and
haul so far (in only four trips to the areas), Birding Multimedia Identification Guides, Scilly.
• Flood, B, and Fisher, A. 2013. North Atlantic Seabirds: Pterodroma Petrels. Pelagic Birds and Birding
the best is surely yet to come. Multimedia Identification Guides, Scilly.
Also outstanding was the discovery • Howell, S G, Patteson, J B, Sutherland, K, and Shoch, D T. 2010. Occurrence and identification of the
of a Zino’s Petrel in the same area. Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma castro) complex off North Carolina. North American Birds 64:
196-207.
The identification confirmed by Bob • Monteiro, L R, and Furness, R W. 1998. Speciation through temporal segregation of Band-rumped Storm
Flood, this is one of few sight records Petrel (Oceanodroma castro) populations in Azores? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 353: 845-953.
• Robb, M, Mullarney, K, and The Sound Approach. 2008. Petrels Night and Day. The Sound Approach, Poole.
of this species away from waters around

60 Birdwatch•July 2014  www.birdwatch.co.uk