Thursday 3 October 2013

American Buff-bellied pipits and more...

For their very first visit to the high-altitude grassland area around the Reservoir, Richard Ek and Jesper Segergren did pretty well today with the discovery of two American Buff-bellied pipits. The news came around 12am while most of the remaining birders were still 'working hard' inside the wooded valleys. American Buff-bellied pipit is quite regular on Corvo (first one found in 2005 and then annually between 2009 and 2012), so the finding did not immediately attract many birders on the spot. However, with no other interesting discovery made on the island by 2pm, a visit to the Reservoir to photograph and enjoy good views of the pipits was the only thing that could "save the day"!
So, by mid-afternoon, a small group (Mika Bruun, Petri Kuhno, Bosse Carlsson and myself) undertook the physically-demanding ascension towards the Reservoir where one of the two Buff-bellied pipits was still showing well and provided good photographing opportunities.

American Buff-bellied pipit, 3 October 2013, Grassland around the Reservoir, Corvo
Soon after the photo shoot ended around 4pm, it was the high-pitched voice of Kari Haataja that came on the walkie-talkie to drop the exciting news of an unidentified falcon briefly seen flying west from the Mirador above the village. The chances of it being of American origin were quite high - after all this is Corvo - so Mika and I got immediately interested to try our luck with that bird despite an important issue: walking from the Reservoir to the Mirador using the regular road and path network was time consuming and the chances that the falcon would be gone by the time we could make it to the Mirador were high. So we opted for a more straightforward and brutal solution: crossing directly through the grassland - which means jumping above stone walls, fences and rows of hydrangeas - to reach Cova Vermelha, a vantage point located west of the Mirador, as soon as possible. That strategy eventually paid off as we managed to reach that area within 10-15 min and to relocate the bird - a Peregrine falcon - flying high in the sky. With a bit of patience and luck, a few decent shots were obtained with a rather unequivocal verdict: Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile plumage, F. p. tundrius) or in other words, one of the 2 Arctic subspecies/races of Peregrine falcon that breed in Greenland and Arctic Canada (the other Arctic subspecies being the ssp. calidus from Arctic Siberia).

From the photographs provided below, a juvenile individual of the subspecies calidus can be easily discarded based on size (these are obviously larger birds) while the key features that are indicative of the 'tundrius' subspecies here (as opposed to nominate 'peregrinus') are the pale fore crown and cap, uniform pale cheek, slightly longer wings, more brown-grey upper parts (not visible on the two images below), and narrow and relatively large malar stripe.

Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile, ssp. tundrius), 3 October 2013, vantage point west of Mirador, Corvo
Arctic Peregrine falcon (juvenile, ssp. tundrius), 3 October 2013, vantage point west of Mirador, Corvo

Thus, overall today was a pretty entertaining day despite a rather slow start this morning. Tomorrow, a large group of birders will join us on Corvo, so there is certainly hope for some exciting new discoveries...time will tell! 

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