Sunday, 31 August 2014

Azores Natural History Exploration Tour Recce

As the Azores Pelagic 2014 was over-booked, Rich Bonser took the group to Graciosa to explore the Bank of Fortune while Jaffa and I explored some pelagic areas off Sao Miguel and Terceira and also did some work towards setting up a Natural History Tour for the Azores, as part of our  AZORES NATURE project. Here is a brief photo sketch of the new tour plan.

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE AZORES
Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals and endemic botany of the Azores

DAY ONE
Setting the Scene
A landscape and geology tour on Sao Miguel with volcanologist  Dina, exploring the volcanic origin of the Azores and understanding the landscape.

Sete Cidades Caldera complex, Sao Miguel- the inside of a huge volcano
Looking east over Sao Miguel over a volcanic landscape of small volcanic cones and huge volcanic complexes in the distance. 
The endemic race of the Common Buzzard B.b.rothschildi are frequent over the volcanic slopes

DAY TWO
Wetlands and coastline
An exploration of the coastal habitats and the wetlands of Terceira CRW, looking at coastal botany and the wetland habitats around Praia da Vitoria, including the famous Cabo da Praia quarry which is the best place in the Western Palearctic biozone to see American shorebirds. Morning visit to the Santa Barbara reserve.
Semi-palmated Sandpiper at Cabo da Praia Quarry
Short-billed Dowticher at Cabo da Praia Quarry
Red-veined Darter- a resident on the Azores 
Atlantic Canaries- can be found across various habitats
 Lunch on the cliffs with Isabelle and Cecilia
Azorean Heather growing on an old lava flow
The endemic Myosotis maritima (Coastal Forget-me-not)

DAY THREE TO FIVE
The Marine Environment 
An exploration of the marine environment from Graciosa island, exploring the Bank of Fortune to see the endemic Monteiro's Petrel, local and rare seabirds and also the whales, dolphins and other marine life of the area. 
Cory's Shearwater- an abundant local breeding species 
Great Shearwater- a regular visitor from the south Atlantic 
 Blue Shark and pilot fish- a pelagic predator that is attracted to the chum on the pelagic trips
 Monteiro's Petrel (Rafael Armada)- an Azores endemic, with the entire world population breeding on the islets off Graciosa and can be seen at sea on the nearby Bank of Fortune. Other local breeding seabird species include Bulwers Petrel, Grant's Petrel, Barolo Shearwater and Roseate Tern
  The Bank of Fotune also hosts large populations of cetaceans including Spotted Dolphin (above pic by Vincent Legrand). Recent pelagic trips have recorded Spotted, Common, Bottlenose, Striped and Risso's Dolphin and Sperm, Northern Bottlenosed, Sowerby's Beaked, Cuvier's Beaked, and Minke Whale.
Zino's Petrel (Harro Muller) - various rare seabirds have been seen on the Bank of Fortune or nearby in recent pelagic trips including this Zino's Petrel (one of the rarest seabirds in the world), Trindade Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Brown Booby and it also appears the bank is a regular spot for the enigmatic Swinhoe's Petrel.  Wilson's Storm Petrel are regular. In recent years a pair of Sooty Tern have been holding territory/breeding in the area.

Pelagic photography off the Bank of Fortune

DAY SIX
Azores Bullfinch (Priolo), endemic landbirds and the Laurissilva Forests

Exploration of the Laurel Forests of the Azores to look for endemic plants, insects and the endemic Azores Bullfinch. Also to look the conservation work of the area protecting the endemic ecosystem. 

Laurissilva (Laurel Forest)- a suite of species from an ancient assemblage that once covered large areas of Europe but is no confined to the Macronesian islands. Typical shrub species include Azorean Holly, Azorean Blueberry, Azorean Cherry, Azorean Heather, Azorean Laurustinus, Azorean Juniper and Azorean Laurel.

The Azores Bullfinch- endemic to the Laurel Forests of the Azores with a world population of between 700 and 2200 birds
Azorean Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs moreletti) - an endemic sub-species. Other endemic bird forms include Common Quail (C.c.conturbans), Azores Gull (L.c.atlantis), Common Buzzard (B.b.rothschilidi), Woodpigeon (C.p.azorica), Grey Wagtail (M.c.patriciae), Blackbird (T.m.azorensis), Blackcap (S.a.gularis), Goldcrest (R.r. azoricus and other island forms), Starling (S.v.granti), 
 Hypericum foliosum - an Azores endemic
Azores Grayling- an endemic butterfly found at higher altitudes on the Azores 
Clouded Yellow- one of several species of butterfly including Azores Grayling, Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Long-tailed Blue and also american visitors such as American Painted Lady and Monarch. 
 Azorean Laurel 
 Azores Nature kit

The tour will be led by Azores Nature, travel arrangements by Azores Choice with specialist guides and services from SPEAComunicairGeofunGerby, Life CWR and Nautigraciosa.

If you're interested in joining a trip please email me for more details: littleoakgroup@btinternet.com 

All trips will be collecting new wildlife data/records, supporting sustainable local businesses and contributing to local conservation. 

AZORES NATURE is a not-for-profit initiative, aimed at exploring and contributing to the recording of the natural history of the Azores. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Priolo


  Juvenile Azores Bullfinch (Priolo). It's been a good breeding season. Following conservation efforts the population has increased from c300 birds to 700-2200 individuals.
 Adult Azores Bullfinch (note black cap, brown in juvs)
 Long-tailed Blue
Azores Grayling
 
Spent the day in the Laurissilva forests in the east of Sao Miguel looking at the endemic birds and botany (more details to follow). 

Fin Whales

 
Fin Whales (Terceira)- in the last couple of years Fin Whale have been summering in the Azorean waters. A marine bloom over the last three years has attracted exceptional numbers of baleen whales to the Azores from the spring including good numbers of Blue Whale- which we will target next year.
 Common Dolphin
 Great Shearwater
 Cory's Shearwater
Fin Whale

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Terceira

 Short-billed Dowitcher
 Semipalmated Sandpiper (juvenile)
 Semipalmated Plover
 Hudsonian Whimbrel

 Bottlenose Dolphin
 Ivy-leaved Fern
Azorean Ivy
 
Spent the last couple of days on Terceira, while a team of 15 have gone on to Graciosa to do pelagics from there. Weather has not been the best so, so far unable to get out to the marine banks we wanted to explore. We (Jaffa and I) managed a short pelagic yesterday evening. Spent some time in the quarry looking at the waders and also went out with a botanists this morning to learn a few of the endemic and native plants.
The Graciosa pelagic team, led by Rich Bonser went over on the ferry yesterday evening and managed to get off shore today.
More from Rich HERE and HERE

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Azores trip, Sao Miguel

 
 

 Sete Cidades- inside a volcano (all pics above)
View to east over Sao Miguel, with distanct large volcanoes in distant and small cone field in mid ground. 

Spent the day today around the Sete Cidades volcano, having  a look at the vulcanology. Heading off to Terceira tomorrow and the pelagics start then.