Sunday 22 October 2017

Lighthouse magic!

Another quality day again on The Rock has gone. A day that I will remember for a long time as I was fortunate enough to score with a new American Warbler species for the island discovered around late morning at the Lighthouse Valley. 

Around 9am this morning, I teamed up with Vincent and Gordon to pay a visit to this famous wooded valley, which has been producing so many rarities over the past years. I believe any birder who has visited Corvo at least a few times has his favourite spot on the island and clearly, as far as I am concerned, Lighthouse Valley is my favourite spot - a magic place where I have been already blessed with quite a few ‘big’ discoveries. And today was no exception to this. Shortly after the taxi had left us at the end of the ‘middle road’ and as we were slowly making our way towards the Lighthouse Valley, Gordon discovered a Blackpoll Warbler feeding along the rows of hydrangeas bordering the main path. Twenty minutes later and as we were entering the juniper field sited at the lower end of the valley, I noted in the distance another small American wood-warbler flicking inside a juniper tree. This bird also looked like another Blackpoll Warbler and its identity was eventually confirmed as soon as my two birding mates -Gordon and Vincent -had a chance to have a proper look at it. Well, this was already a pretty good day for us with 2 Blackpolls scored in less than an hour! Encouraged by such a good start, I patiently continued to scan the junipers with my bins until I bumped onto the third American wood-warbler for the morning: a brief sighting of a bird flicking in the centre of the largest juniper tree in the valley…in fact that very juniper tree where 2 years ago I had already discovered a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. 

Today, it took me around 5 min to see the wood-warbler twice: the first time I noticed its ‘Blackpoll-like’ appearance but with two major differences: it had darkish feet and two very large white wing bars, which are both rather unusual features for a classic Blackpoll. That was enough to make me very nervous and eager to see it a second time. Luckily, it didn’t took long before I had my bins on it again and this time it was a mind-blowing sighting: the flank had a light pinkish tone, which I knew was a diagnostic feature for Bay-breasted Warbler, allowing me to discard the eventuality of it being an atypical Blackpoll. I knew I had it and the only thing that I had to do was to pick up my walkie-talkie in order to shout out loudly the news to my nearby birding pals. The rest is history: Gordon first managed to have a brief sighting of the beast and agreed that it was indeed a young Bay-breasted; then Vincent followed shortly with confirmation. With an additional hour, all birders on the island were aware of this major finding, and within the next 2 hours every one had had decent views of the bird. 

A few more interesting birds were newly reported and/or relocated from a previous day but the Bay-breasted Warbler - a first-winter male - was obviously the ‘star’ bird today as it is only the second record for the Western Palearctic following one individual in Cornwall, UK in October 1995. It is also the rarest bird discovered so far this autumn on Corvo - but for how long? The weather forecast looks very promising for the next week and while many birders will depart the island tomorrow, some will stay and continue the hunting at least until the end of the month. 

Nearctic species seen today include:
Blue-winged Teal: 2+ (Caldeira)
Lesser Yellowlegs: 3 (Caldeira)
White-rumped Sandpiper: 5 (Caldeira - 2, Poço d’ague - 1, Airport strip -2)
Swainson’s Thrush: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Blackpoll Warbler: 4 (Lighthouse Valley - 3, Lower Fields)
Hooded Warbler: 1 (Ribeira de Cancelas)
Bay-breasted Warbler: 1 (Lighthouse Valley)
Indigo Bunting: 1 (Ribeira de Lapa)

Bay-breasted Warbler (first-winter male), Lighthouse Valley, 22 October 2017 (David Monticelli)

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