Thursday, 17 September 2020

Monteiro's Storm Petrel Pelagic

Graciosa Island is Monteiro's Central, with a couple small islets just offshore being home to most of the world's population of this rare seabird. We had 3 pelagic booked but unfortunately after the first the weather began to deteriorate and we did just a short boat trip close to shore on the second day and everything was totally cancelled for the third day. However, our first and only deep water pelagic was good enough and we got to see double-figures of Monteiro's Storm Petrel. It was a great pelagic and I think we did pretty well during our 7.5 hours out to sea.

Classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife International as it only breeds on these few small islets off Graciosa Island in the Azores.The population is estimated at 375-1499 individuals making it probably the rarest regular breeding seabird in the Western Palearctic.













Monteiro's Storm Petrel


At this time of year the Monteiro's are approaching the end of their breeding season and are looking rather worn, with the base of the inner primaries missing on many of the individuals we saw - but not all. And most of them had noticeable deeply-notched (forked) tails too. We did have a few 'odd' looking petrels and two birds in particular looked like good candidates for Grant's Storm Petrel. This species replaces Monteiro's on the breeding grounds usually from September onwards, with a big overlap during that month. So the 2 darker, squarer-tailed stormies probably have to be left unidentified. There was a paler. greyer-looking stormy that 'got away' too!






Cory's Shearwater


During our time at sea we had awesome close views of 1000's of Cory's Shearwaters and with the news there had been a White-chinned Petrel the week before on the other side of the Azores we grilled every single one! But to no avail!

But we had several Wilson's Storm petrels attracted to our chum slick....





Wilson's Storm Petrel


We were all hoping for Swinhoe's Storm Petrel but there wasn't much variety in seabirds at all, not a single Great Shearwater or even any skuas... But we did see a few Azores (Yellow-legged) Gulls, Leatherback Turtle and stacks of Portuguese Man O' War....

Azorean Gull

Leatherback Turtle

Portuguese Man O' War


On the much shorter second trip we managed to find a Sooty Tern, a much wanted lifer for yours truly (and yes I know it's a tarts tick and I was constantly reminded of this by my 'ship mates'...!), but it's a good Western Palearctic tick. And it was this bird that got me excited about Western P listing, and after counting up I realised what a pathetic list I have for this region. So I made a mental note to do something about this... 






Sooty Tern


Thursday, 13 August 2020

Azores 1

Ok so i'm in the Azores. It's one of two autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being Madeira) and is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the Macaronesian region of the North Atlantic Ocean about 1,360kms west of continental Portugal. It's literally in the middle of nowhere! 



And before you start to criticise about travelling during this pandemic, i'm not doing anything wrong and it's perfectly legal and we've followed the relevant government's advice.... You may have a different opinion and that's your prerogative but we've got to live alongside this virus as it's not going away anytime soon.

Anyway, I had a Covid-19 test done in the UK and it's negative (of course!), so after a 4 hour flight on an empty plane we arrived in Terceira Lajes airport, I quickly did the formalities and was soon on the way to our lovely accommodation in Praia da Vitoria. Ten minutes later a taxi whisked us off to the shorebird hotspot of the Western Palearctic at Cabo de Praia.... We noted Common Quail, flocks of Common Waxbills and an Atlantic Canary walking along the lane.



I must admit I was expecting to find an American shorebird or two very quickly and easily. But in birding I should know not to expect anything. Arriving at a little after 6pm there appeared to be very little about, but scanning from the vantage point depicted above eventually revealed 4 Eurasian Whimbrel, 10+ Ruddy Turnstone, 20+ Kentish Plovers, 8 LRP's, 3 Little Stints (and boy I really tried turning them into something else!), 1 Common Greenshank, 6 Common Snipe, 1 sum plum Red Knot, 3 Ruff, and over 18 superb Sanderlings in various stages of moult. To say I was disappointed is an understatement and I don't wear it well. But walking around to the other side, watching flocks of Common Terns passing by and scoping a big stream of Cory's Shearwaters along the way, we scanned again....

Eventually, I picked up an apparent juvenile Common Ringed Plover at the back of the pools and my heart began racing. It had to be right? Thin breast band and those dark lores do look like they meet the bill above the gape line.... Hmmm... After watching the bird for a good while I was happy with the identification of Semipalmated Plover - a bird from the USA that has been fairly regular here, but it's just a shame it was too far away for photos. Oh well, there's always tomorrow.... 

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Azores Pelagics

I'm running 3 pelagics out of Graciosa island on the Azores next week. The dates are 14th, 15th & 16th August and the cost is £150 per pelagic. We will be heading out to the Bank of Fortune to look for the endemic Monteiro's Storm Petrel, but if the sea gods allow then hopefully Swinhoe's Storm Petrel and Barolo Shearwater too. There are some previous reports of Grant's Storm Petrel, as well as Sooty Tern, Desertas Petrel and Brown Booby. Who knows what we will see? And for anyone interested in cetaceans it's a great opportunity to see a variety of whale species too. Each pelagic will run for 6/7 hours and we'll be chumming for some of the rarest seabirds in the Western Palearctic.

If interested or you want further info just send me a message to: info@zootherabirding.com or WhatsApp me on +44 771 226 3475




Sunday, 2 August 2020

#BirdersTogether

So what is #BirdersTogether you may well ask? Well, this is the hashtag for a link that has been used on Facebook to help raise money for people at the grass roots level of Colombia's birding community who have zero income due to Covid-19. So what's that got to do with us right? And that's not an easy question to answer really, except from my own personal point of view having birded in that great country last year and meeting some of these people I just felt I wanted to help. For some reason, and I've honestly looked at this in the most naive way, I thought I could do something to help. My company (Zoothera Birding) sent a donation to the Vaki Crowdfunding platform almost straight away and I kept following to see if the donations total was rising and it was..... but very slowly. In fact, too slowly. At the same time, my wife was tinkering with an idea that has been burning with her for a while and she suggested we design something to sell and raise money that way. You know, what i've seen during this year is that many, many people have their own agenda and rarely do people do something for anyone else without there being something in it for them! Sad but true. You may even call me a cynic. So we both wanted to do something good.....Anyway, she designed some greetings cards from my photos and then got in touch with a nearby printers and we now have the finished product. And here they are....


Bicolored Antpitta

Brown-banded Antpitta

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer

Chestnut-naped Antpitta

The exquisite Crescent-faced Antpitta

Northern Tawny Antpitta

Pale-naped Brushfinch

Purplish-mantled Tanager

Slaty-crowned Antpitta

The daddy of them all.... Undulated Antpitta

They really are top quality greetings cards, printed on really thick card and being 158mm x 158mm - they are rather large. So despite the Vaki Crowdfunding deadline has passed we can still get money to these people who desperately need it via PayPal. And it's not the big tour companies who are getting the money, it's the people at the grass roots level of Colombian birding. The guy who walks miles to dig for worms and then goes every day to feed the antpittas we all so desperately want to see. It's the other people involved in doing the mundane jobs around the feeding stations, restocking hummingbird feeders, tinamou feeding stations etc. It's the drivers who ferry us birders up precipitously narrow mountain tracks and whose main source of income is this. It's the small B&B's in remote villages, it's the people who cook for groups of birders, the people who do the laundry. The ones who do the dirty work, the hard work. Can you even begin to imagine the hours and hours of legwork and patience required to start an antpitta feeding station...? Me neither but it's tough! Can you imagine having zero income at all for the whole year and beyond, due to this killer virus and zero tourism for a year? So by purchasing a pack of 20 greetings cards you can contribute to a small monthly wage for the hardest hit of Colombia's birding community. It's just £20 for a pack of 10 good quality cards with free 2nd Class postage if you live in the UK. 


Front and Back of one of the cards...
My wife has set up a website where you can buy the Colombia cards right now. It is called Country View Arts and the website is www.countryviewarts.co.uk 

And during these strange times you might even want to purchase a face mask too. Love them or hate them they are going to be around for a while, so why not go to Tesco's looking like a birder?

Crescent-faced Antpitta face mask

Apologies if i've bored you, but i'm off birding now! Stay safe everyone.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Getting Back to Birding

Following on from the last Azores & Madeira post, we've decided to go a few steps further now and add another Macaronesian tour in our short series of tours in the 'Getting Back to Birding" programme. The current situation around the UK and Europe is still promising and within the next 2 weeks our wonderful government (that's tongue-in-cheek by the way) are going to announce a list of countries that are going to be safe to travel to...... Hmmmmm...... well, let's see! Well, we thought Portugal was going to be in the top 3 of that list but it seems despite the Azores & Madeira barely having any cases of Covid-19 we would still have to quarantine upon return to UK - the government have made this very confusing. And the next best/safest destination could well be the Canary Islands. So with pretty cheap flights from the UK and Europe, throwing in a bunch of endemics, add a list of endemic subspecies that could well be split in the future, a few seabirds, throw in the odd Houbara Bustard and Cream-coloured Courser into the mix and it looks like a recipe for a damn decent trip. Oh and let's spice it up a bit by some island hopping and call in to Gran Canaria for the recently split Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch on top of visits to Tenerife, La Gomera and Fuerteventura and all this in just a 9 day tour. See tour info here - Canary Islands Info

See our 'Getting Back to Birding' philosophy here - Getting Back to Birding Info

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That's all ok but these are difficult times and our invisible enemy is still out there somewhere, lurking in plain sight.... That's Covid-19 by the way. So we have hired large, private villas on Tenerife and Fuerteventura for a 3 night stay on each island, with a 2 night stop on Gran Canaria at an all-inclusive resort. As with all our other 'Getting Back to Birding' tours we will bring our own cook/housekeeper rather than get a bunch of strangers in a restaurant to prepare food for us. We will also have 2 vehicles so we can manage the social distancing requirements whilst travelling to and from sites etc. We've even looked at etiquette around using leaders' scopes and hygiene issues and social distancing...! Then there's the hygiene and cleaning of our vehicle each day... And on and on. But what I really want to stress is how seriously we are taking all this, and how seriously we are looking at making your next birding trip as safe as possible. This isn't just a business to us, this is us looking after friends on a birding trip. This is us looking after you.We know how most birders feel about not travelling, about our confidence being affected with the travel industry and with travelling in general right now. But it will get better. 

Other tours in our "Getting Back to Birding' Programme:


Azores & Madeira - See full tour info here

Isles of Scilly & Land's End - See full tour info here

Scotland in Winter - See full tour info here


We believe there is a way to 'Get Back to Birding' in a safe and sensible manner. And we believe we've got it covered as much as possible. Let's go birding!



Friday, 12 June 2020

Birding Through the Looking Glass: Macaronesia Dreaming...

So all the signs are that the lockdown is easing, Covid-19 cases are on a downward curve, pressure from countries with summer holiday destinations is increasing even here in UK, and Bojo has mentioned just this week about a proposed 'air bridge' between the UK and Portugal. That pricked up my ears a bit and after doing a little (lot) research it amazed me that both the Azores and Madeira have had very few Coronavirus cases and zero fatalities from this awful disease..... Let that sink in. Zero fatalities..... I don't know about you but I'm sick of seeing that sycophantic Hancock bloke most evenings telling us what to do, how and when! And the teenager policing the supermarket queue reminding me to socially distance every time I get to the entrance of the shop. Amazingly I haven't been living under a rock and I'm perfectly aware of the current rules, having still got a few grey cells between the ears!

Anyway, I'm literally climbing walls now. Living in an area surrounded by beautiful fields and hedgerows is all well and good and I've been distracting myself by trying (pretty unsuccessfully I might add) to get a decent photo of the pair of European Bullfinches that visit our garden most days, seemingly mocking my attempts at a clear shot. How is it I've got decent images of tragopans, wren-babblers, warblers, pteradromas but not this species...... Hmmm, bullfinches and pteradromas..... No Covid-19..... Hmmmm.... 

In my imagination there's a place I can take myself with minimal threat of the virus, bobbing around an ocean with sexy, long-winged, and mega-rare petrels all around. And a lush-sided mountain with a mega-rare passerine found nowhere else in the world. Sadly, it's just a dream.... or is it? 

Well, no actually. Keeping fingers and everything else crossed, all things being equal, and the world/politicians/new world order/zombie apocalypse don't interfere on Wednesday 12th August ( that's under 9 weeks away so there's still plenty of time for the world to kick us in the face again) it is possible that we could be on a direct flight from Stanstead to Terceira in the Azores.... The gateway to some of the most exciting pelagic birding in the Western Palearctic. Now we are talking.

Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel


Zino's Petrel

This archipelago of 9 volcanic islands is about 930 miles west of Lisbon in mainland Portugal, right out in the Atlantic Ocean. We will visit 3 of the islands where the focus is on doing two pelagics out to the Bank of Fortune where we should see Monteiro's Storm Petrel and i'm praying for a Swinhoe's Storm Petrel too! This is the best place in the Western Palearctic to have even the slightest chance of seeing the latter, whilst the former species breeds on a couple of small islets in the Azores. Oh, and Barolo Shearwater is possible too, let's not forget that one! And we'll have time to nail the rare Azores Bullfinch too!

A short flight takes us to Madeira and our private villa. We have 3 pelagics looking for Desertas and Zino's Petrel. Do you know how rare Zino's is? With possibly around 110 individuals it's incredibly rare, but we still expect to see them. And we'll visit a breeding colony high in the mountains one evening and listen to their eerie calls. Other birds we are targeting include Madeiran Storm Petrel, Bulwer's Petrel and White-faced Storm Petrel - all great birds for your Western Palearctic list. 

Madeiran (Band-rumped) Storm Petrel

Bulwer's Petrel

So over these 11 days we will literally be birding in the outermost limits of the Western Palearctic and I don't know about you, but i'm hoping for a rarity as well...!!

Cory's Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Long-tailed Skua

Wilson's Storm Petrel

You can see the full tour details here: Azores and Madeira Ultimate Pelagic Birding

But that's not really the whole story. We really wanted to make this as safe a tour as possible, bearing in mind all the social distancing and hygiene measures we've all (sadly) become accustomed to. That's why we are organising a series of tours over the next few months that include staying in private holiday homes and villas. We have our own housekeeper/cook along to cook us fresh food and this way we can keep away from other people. Just in case. But as I said before, the Azores and Madeira are probably the safest places to be right now, but why take a chance. Ok on the Azores we may well have to use a hotel, but there's minimal risk. Convenience doesn't come into it really, it's damn more expensive to use private villas but we feel it's a very important aspect of these tours for the time being. 

I'm also planning trips to Norfolk, there's an Isles of Scilly and Land's End tour in October, a week in Scotland in an enormous house in the Speyside area for November, and a winter Sweden tour in January i'd like to do. Oh and a trip to Tenerife, Fuerteventura & Gran Canaria (who split that Blue Chaffinch??!!) in September 2020. All of these tours will be on the website over the next week or so - I hope. If you are as desperate as I am to go birding, then maybe there's something here to float your boat? Pardon the pun.

So in the meantime stay safe, go birding, and brush up on your seabird identification!