Sunday 6 October 2013

Northern parulas, American swallows and more...

With 20 birders spread all over the island for the second consecutive day, it was not long this morning before the first alert came on the walkie-talkie. Around 8.30am, Jens Sogaard Hansen made the exciting discovery of a first winter male Northern parula in the dense tamarisk patch at the western end of the airstrip. The circumstances of his discovery were rather intriguing. Birds such as vireos and wood-warblers can be tape-lured by playing the call of their own kind and attracted towards the observer in this way, so Jens was playing a few bird calls (using his mobile phone!) from the edge of the large tamarisk patch - in order to attract any potential skulker hiding in the middle - when something rather interesting happened: the Northern parula literally jumped out of the vegetation in response to the call of...White-eyed vireo! The bird only showed up for a brief moment before returning to the middle of the tamarisks again. News of this finding were immediately broadcasted on the walkie-talkie with birders quickly starting to converge towards the Lower Fields in an attempt to relocate the wood-warbler, which eventually showed up for a second time in response to the White-eyed vireo tape around 10am but later proved to be very difficult to observe with only brief and irregular sightings by a few observers.

Northern parula (1st winter male), 6 October 2013, Tamarisks in the Lower Fields, Corvo
Northern parula (1st winter male), 6 October 2013, Tamarisks in the Lower Fields, Corvo
In the meantime, two additional news came on the phone via sms: the first one was from Rafael Armada and Ferran Lopez Sanz who were starting to return from the wooded valleys and had discovered and subsequently observed during 1.5h 'three swallows' at the Lighthouse Valley...Tree swallow, American Cliff swallow and a European House martin. Pretty impressive! The second one came from Kalle Larsson who had found another wood-warbler, this time a Common yellowthroat, at Lapa around 12am. These combined news acted like a small thunderstorm among birders since the majority had now two or three new ticks in perspective for the afternoon. Plans were being discussed to call our local taximen, Joao, to reach the wooded valleys (Lapa and Lighthouse) as soon as posssible when Seppo Haavisto came on the walkie-talkie: "Tree swallow flying low over the Middle Fields". So, first stop with the taxi: Middle Fields. The Tree swallow was nowhere to be seen until Mika Bruun pinpointed towards a high, distant spot in the sky above the Mirador: a swallow...but which one? American Cliff swallow this time!, next stop with the taxi: Mirador -  where the Cliff was briefly seen and photographed, with at the same time more news on the walkie-talkie: a second Northern parula had been discovered by René-Marie Lafontaine in Da Ponte! 

American Cliff swallow, 6 October 2013, Mirador above Vila Nova do Corvo, Corvo
So, overall a very busy day on Corvo for most of us with at least 5 new American birds found on the island (2 Northern parulas, 1 Common yellowthroat, 1 Tree swallow, 1 Cliff swallow). The two wood-warblers and the Cliff swallow are regular autumnal vagrants on Corvo seen in fairly good numbers since 2005 (ca.10 records for both wood-warblers and 7 records for Cliff swallow). Tree swallow is the rarest species with only 8 WP records, including 5 records for Corvo (one in 2005, 2 in 2007, one in 2012, one this year).

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