Sunday 20 October 2013

Scarlet tanager and more...

Despite the very promising weather conditions prevailing since Friday afternoon, there was still nothing to report from Corvo by Saturday night. But could such a situation hold for long? Not really.

Around 5pm today, Julien Mazenauer found a Scarlet tanager in the tamarisk patch located above the village in the so-called 'Tennessee valley'. The bird was very flighty and could be seen only by himself and Pierre-André Crochet who appeared to be nearby at the time of the discovery. They both released the news within minutes but despite a rapid arrival of the remaining birders, the bird was not relocated, nor was it photographed, by 6.30pm. In fact, the general impression among us was that the place where the tanager was discovered was very exposed to the strongly-blowing westerly winds, and as such it was probably not a suitable site for the bird to settle down. Thus, if there was a chance to relocate it before dark, that would likely be lower down in the village, somewhere in the Middle Fields at a more sheltered site.

But while most birders were quickly making their way down to Vila Nova do Corvo, another unpredictable event abruptly changed the focus of the evening when Pierre-André Crochet briefly spotted a sparrow feeding on the road side. The initial impression was that of a 'long-tailed sparrow with some amount of white on the head' although the sighting was just a glimpse before the bird dashed back into thick bushes on a rather inaccessible slope. This was nevertheless enough for Pierre-André to know he had just connected with an American sparrow. Sunset was, however, just half-an-hour ahead, hence the available time to relocate the bird and to name it to species level was very short now. Thus, at this stage, only one strategy appeared reasonable: tape-luring the bird out of cover with the hope that it could give some brief views before dark. And so it did. After all the nearby birders were called in for assistance and after a few songs were played with a mobile phone (white-throated and white-crowned sparrow calls), the bird behaved as predicted and perched in a nearby fig tree for just a few seconds before heading back to its favoured bushy area. This was nonetheless enough to obtain a few photographic record shots and at the same time to clinch the ID: an adult White-crowned sparrow, the third one in Corvo's birding history following single individuals seen in 2005 and 2010.
White-crowned sparrow (adult), 20 October 2013, Middle Fields, Corvo (Photo courtesy of V. Legrand)

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