Trip Report for Birds, Azores, 3/3-25/3 2012

Nick Rossiter

In Preparation

Gulls

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull Larus atlantis

4/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull totalled 300 with 15% adult, 5% 2w/3w and 80% 1w, suggesting that many adults have returned to their colonies. Here's some pictures showing adults/3w at rest with 1   2  3  4  5 (sick adult); pair of adults perched and in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 and 3w perched and in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12; they have completely white heads now and look very smart; in comparison with birds from Portugal mainland they look very similar with short stubby bill, bunched primary tips (P10 over P9, P8 closer to P9 than to P7), dark mantle, rounded head and short legs; their calls are also similar to other atlantis with definite traits of Herring Gull. The mantle of the Azores gulls is even darker than other Atlantic forms and there is very little white in the wing tip with typically just a small mirror on P10. Some of the 2w/3w, particularly 2w, still showed some brown on the head with a residual dark mark around the eye and some fine nape streaking. The 1w were uniformly very dark, all having dense brown heads and no pale primary window. Their white rumps stood out because the rest of the bird was so dark. Here's one in flight. The colour was more a dark brown than the chestnut brown of many atlantis 1w. In gatherings mainly of 1w, there were some decent views 1  2 of 2w, with dusky heads still, and the uniformly dark 1w.

5/3 São Miguel: Mosteiros. Visited Mosteiros, which is an atmospheric town on NW extreme of island with breakers 1  2  3 rolling in. Five Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull gatherings were located, all looking occupied for breeding with spacing between the birds. Here's an overview with zoom in on NE stack 1  2 (30 adult), S isle (305+, not all in view), SE isle (5), SW Isle (295) and S cliffs 1  2 (120). So total of 755+ adults, much higher than count of 115 pairs in 2004 (Neves, Murdoch & Furness (2006)). A number of adults in the harbour posed beautifully with pairs 1  2  3  4 and singles 1  2  3  4  5 perched and a few adults seen very close-up in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21. The typical wing-tip pattern appears to involve a large rectangular mirror on P10, not forming a white tip, no mirror on P9, extensive black triangle, broad black band on P5 and a black spot on P4, but considerable variation particularly on P4/P5 markings. Two adult gulls on a jetty gave extensive rally calls (wav 1 with spectrogram 1  2, wav 2 with spectrogram 1  2) with occasional intermixed anxiety calls (wav 3 with spectrogram 1). The rally calls contain many elements, some 7-9, spaced evenly from 1-5kHz, with the lowest being the loudest; each element is strongly 'wowed'. Out at sea some Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were fishing actively supporting the idea that they are more pelagic than say the birds on the Canaries; but a number were coasting as in say Gran Canaria. It is possible that the richer seas around the Azores enable the gulls to be proper sea gulls! Great majority of birds seen were adult, not surprising with number of young birds at Ponta Delgada. This Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1, with narrow long wings and dark mantle, was also coasting; it could be intermedius but graellsii 2w can also show darkish mantle in flight with residual immature feathers. Got plenty of video (80 minutes HD, 8 GB) from last 2 days, much processed when returned to UK. Have close-up rally calls and masses of all sorts of call at medium range. Went on to spectacular viewpoint, Vista de Rel, above Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. There were some 35 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, mostly adult, on Lagoa Azul with adult and 2w captured in flight. The Lagoa are volcanic craters with lakes at the bottom.

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull calls were recorded as follows (clips, ld quality): anxiety 1, rally 2  3  4. Clips 2,3 include Grey Wagtail calls; clip 2 also includes a dramatic encounter between the gulls and a Little Egret and clip 4 shows a Little Egret flying pass. All clips show close-ups of the adult gulls.

6/3 São Miguel: Lagoa de Fogo. Did make this lagoon today: a sort of heaven for Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull enthusiasts, birds all over the place, over the top with sex and brilliant for wingtip and call recording! Must say was surprised how approachable the birds were and how agressive they were: was dive-bombed a number of times with one bird actually pulling on my hair! Have got masses of calls, some very close, on video HD with 5.3GB total; inland lakes are great for sound recording because they're much quieter than the coast with no sea and less wind. Here's overview 1  2  3  4  5 of the site, showing the old crater (caldera); last irruption was in 1563 but kept an eye on water levels throughout, having seen fair share of disaster movies! The information board was helpful 1  2; grand view on all sides but particularly to W; the sides are not completely stable as shown by this cliff fall. The colony was very scattered, in all sorts of habitat: small groups in heather scrub 1  2  3, like Lesser Black-backed Gull on Whitfield Moor but much steeper sides here, right up to the top of the caldera (60 birds); lake edge on W side like Lesser Black-backed Gull in Lake District (70); little lagoon on N side like marismas used in Spain by nominate michahellis (70); lake edge on remote E side to top of photo (460); maybe loafing birds on lake on N side (80). Total is 740 birds. Last count here was apparently higher at 600 pairs in 2004 (Neves et al) but of course some would have been feeding away today. It's also possible that birds are still being recruited to the colony or that some birds have moved to other colonies such as Mosteiros. Access is not easy providing some natural protection to the gulls nesting on the lake sides itself but you can study the birds nesting in heather from the road. You need to descend to the lake for the full action from the point where this photo was taken down a steep path. Well it was irresistable. There's even a little stretch on a ladder at the bottom, plus a very good beach of white sand. The loafing area is covered by gull feathers. Finally here's some birds with pairs of adults 1  2  3  4, single adults 1  2, single 2w and groups 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 in the loafing area, including some 1w, where had late lunch. Also had many shots of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull in flight: adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16, 3w 1  2, adult with 1w 1, 1w 1  2  3 .

7/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Found the outfall on SW side of Ponta Delgada. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull numbers declined from Sunday in the main harbour, not surprisingly as the tips are open again, but expect some move back to colonies, even by immatures. Total was 184 birds (8 adult/3w, 10 2w, 166 1w), so 1w predominating even more. Had some gatherings 1  2 and some close encounters with 2 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1w, near the lido where people were swimming in the sea! Here's a selection 1  2  3  4  5, showing amazing uniform darkness, strong streaking and even the dark front of the lower legs (tibia), first noted by Dubois. The use of the outfall by the vagrants is interesting: are the Nearctic birds better at dip feeding than the local Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, giving them an acquired advantage. Or are they so out-manoeuvred in the other feeding areas by the resident Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull that this is all they've got.

8/3 São Miguel: Lagoa das Furnas. Did make Lagoa das Furnas today and saw its old church. Had 14 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adults 1  2  3 on the lake.

9/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. In the main harbour had a session with this 1w Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 and this pair of adult Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1  2  3  4  5  6, with gatherings 1  2  3. Total for Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull was 285 (20 adult, 17 2w, 248 1w).

10/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Whale watching trip. Very interesting was the number of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (perhaps 30 in all) 1  2  3  4  5  6 of all ages a few km offshore feeding like proper seabirds; they were overflying us from further out so think this confirms their ability to feed at sea compared to say the Canary birds. There were a few Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull apparently occupied nest sites 1  2  3 at Ilheu da Vila 1  2, which we circled in the boat. In the harbour took shots of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adult in flight 1, 1w in flight 1  2, a pair of adults perched 1 and the usual gathering 1, mainly 1w. In the harbour there were 185 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (167 1w, 18 older birds as mixture of 2w and adult).

11/3 São Miguel: Nordeste. Almost a gull-free day with the only bird an adult Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull over forest SW of Nordeste: no sign of nesting populations on the cliffs in the area, which fits with the last survey (2004).

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. What a day at outfall for Nearctic gulls. Many, many videos and stills were taken. Here's Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adult 1  2  3, 3w 1  2  3  4, 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16, 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9; further shots show groups of 1w/2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 1w/2w/3w 1, 1w/2w/adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 (some with michahellis, see below), 2w/3w 1  2, adult/1w 1  2  3, adult/3w/2w/1w 1  2. Could not see any seabirds at this stage of season staking out this islet to E of the port.

13/3 São Miguel: Lagoa de Fogo. Out to lagoon for last look at Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull colony while still got the car. The gulls are more settled at the Lagoa but still not on eggs I feel; however, laying cannot be far off. Got a lot more piccies and calls of gulls from the road. Here's views 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 of the loose colony around the lake from the top road and pictures 1  2  3  4  5 of the moorland colony close to the top road. At the rather bizarre loose colony straddling the road in the stumps of the old wood had some superb close-ups of perched adults 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10. Some more photos were taken of birds in flight: ad 1  2  3  4  5  6, 3w 1  2  3  4  5  6. Here's some long calls: wav 1 with spectrogram 1  2; wav 2 with spectrogram 1. The long calls are looking very much like argenteus and much of atlantis, with 3 strong elements at 1.2, 2.2 and 3.2 kHz and much 'wowing' with a;so emphasis on the down-stroke. Some higher elements also appear and a full analysis has yet to be performed.

13/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. At the harbour outfall in the port 1  2 had some close-up shots of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 in the fishing port, showing variety of plumage. The 1w were joined by one 2w 1  2  3 for a while. Totals for port today was 255 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (3 adult, 2 2w, 250 1w) and 25 Lesser Black-backed Gull (6 adult, 8 2w, 11 1w). Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers similar to yesterday; today managed to get the oh so-valuable comparison shots with Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gull adult with 1w Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1  2  3  4  5  6  but also 7 2w Lesser Black-backed Gull with 1w Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull and 8 adult Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (left) with adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. As with other Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull forms, the Lesser Black-backed Gull are only slightly smaller overall but are more attenuated with finer features. Indeed the comparison is much like that between Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull (argenteus). Finally here's the gathering on the pontoon, mainly Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1w.

Here are some Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull long calls from today. First, the 2 adults in Ponta Delgada harbour with video showing birds calling with male followed by female, sound recordings of calls wma  wav, and spectrograms of male and female long calls. The calls of these 2 birds are on the deep side as can be seen from the strong 1kHz band; the male call shows 5 harmonics from 1kHz-3kHz, in between Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull in number, but there is a significant wow on each call (rise and fall) as in Herring Gull. At first glance the calls are similar to other Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull and quite different from michahellis. Second, calls from Lagoa de Fogo colony with video showing adults in air giving long call and a pair of adults giving bowing close-up call, sound recordings of long call and bowing call wma  wav, and spectrograms of long call and bowing call. The long call here again has 5 harmonics but the frequencies are higher going up to 5.5kHz so the call sounds more like Herring Gull; also the notes are extensively wowed as in Herring Gull. The bowing calls are deeper with many wowed harmonics stretching up to 3kHz. Obviously more work still needs to be done before coming to final conclusions.

14/3 Faial: Horta. The Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were much fewer in number than at Ponta Delgada: 14 adult, 2 2w, 13 1w, so total 29. Calls recorded close-up already and very similar to Herring Gull. Here's 2 adults in flight 1  2, showing typical single small mirror on P10, a possible nest site on a cliff at entrance to harbour with birds below on rocks, and the 2 adults perched 1  2  3, which obliged by calling well.

15/3 Faial: Horta; Pico: Madalena. Interviewed all the Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull in the harbour this morning, getting a lot more piccies and calls. More gulls around than yesterday, perhaps because of hour, with 85 seen (45 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 11 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 29 1w 1  2  3), but still the one species only. Here's piccies of adult, 2w and 1w. By this stage had still not found one showing a mirror on P9. Studied islands Ilhéu Deitado 1 just off Madalena and could see 2 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull colonies here, one of about 10 sites on stack 1  2 and another of about 30 sites on the flatter island 1. About 30 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were seen in the Madalena area, including 22 adult 1  2  3  4 (note tiny mirror on P9 on still 2!), 2 2w and 6 1w 1.

16/3 Faial: Horta. Did a sea-watch for 2 hours from 12:15-14:15, across this line from Faial-Pico, and moving N had 16 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (7 adult 1  2, 4 2w 1  2  3, 4 1w 1  2  3, 1 3w); moving S were 6 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (2 ad, 3 2w, 1 1w).

17/3 Faial: Horta. Still no Lesser Black-backed Gull in harbour so it's still preserve of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull with 60 today (31 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7, 1 3w 1  2  3, 3 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 25 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7); that's 1st 3w photographed so shows value of long stay. Needed some care in taking this photo of local swimming baths! Relevance? Amount of rust indicates damp climate, which is surely relevant for wear and bleaching of gull plumage.

18/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were fairly common with about 30 noted (22 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12, 4 2w 1, 4 1w); no differences from other Azores populations with small mirror on P10 only and calls like Herring Gull.

19/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were a little scarcer, perhaps gone to some tip; but did have 17 (12 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 2 2w, 3 1w) in addition to those seen on sea-watch. This last activity was very busy with a count from 14:00-15:00 across this line. Result, all going SW into the strong wind, was Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 6 (adult, 2w, 4 1w). The Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were not venturing out to sea, coasting just offshore, so perhaps casts doubt as to how pelagic they are in rough weather, which prevails for a lot of the winter. Expect they eat these crabs from time to time.

20/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Interesting gulls were a Laughing Gull 2w flying past SW with 5 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adult. An Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1  2 flew past SW on its own (note finer, longer bill than in Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, overall greyer tone and stronger carpal bar). So that's trebled the number of gull species found on Flores and the Nearctic one is a great bonus; didn't have any Lesser Black-backed Gull in Faial/Pico. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull total was 42 (28 adult 1  2  3, 6 2w 1  2  3, 8 1w 1); consistent low totals for 1w may suggest a poor breeding season in 2011.

21/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Pinned down 2 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adults in the harbour and got lots of close-up photographs (last 4 in flight elsewhere today) 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20, but would they call --- não!

22/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Local Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull unperturbed by storm with photos of 2w 1  2  3  4 and 1w 1  2; finally persuaded the pair of adults in the harbour to long-call when recorder on.

23/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Only 10 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (6 adult, 4 1w 1); suspect the Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull here are moving back to their colonies on W of island as none at regular harbour locations.

24/3 São Miguel, Ponta Delgada. Numbers of gulls in Ponta Delgada increased markedly since last visit with 610 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (20 adult, 3 3w, 58 2w, 529 1w). Here are lots more piccies of Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull: adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17 ,1w 2w 1  2, 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15.

Mediterranean Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

9/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. A cloudy day with showers and sea running high (clip) on a strong SE breeze. Made outfall again and there were no Nearctic Gulls: maybe too rough for them with c20 large gulls patrolling with 3 Black-headed Gull. Had a very interesting 2w gull 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24, somewhat larger and heavier, particularly in head and neck, than Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull with gleaming white head, neck and tail base and mantle colour only slightly paler than dark blackish fairly uniform wings with darker secondary and carpal bar not standing out, legs pale perhaps yellowish, bill base extensive bright yellow with dark tip, broad subterminal tail band. It was a superb strong dipper, outperforming the other gulls. Thinking is that it's michahellis Yellow-legged Gull or a Kelp Gull (from South America or South Africa), which would be 1st record for the Azores, though one has been seen in Macaronesia at Tenerife in Canaries.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. The 2w stranger was also seen as arrived at outfall but cleared off to SE; feeling at the time was that it's not classical michahellis because the wing is not contrasting enough and it's not classical Kelp because the mantle colour is slightly paler than the wing colour. It was later seen perched on the pontoons 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 and this confirmed in hindsight on last day (24/3 above) it was a 2w michahellis with its long pale yellow legs, squarish large head, long thick bill with some gonydeal angle, darkish but paler mantle than Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, attenuated appearance at rest with long primary extension. Also on the pontoons was a 1w michahellis 1, looking distinctly larger than nearby atlantis with longer legs, long bill, squarish head, paler head with dark eye spot and flare behind eye; the almost entirely black bill has a small pale area at the base of the lower mandible; the bill has only a small gonydeal angle.

24/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Highlight again was the problematic 2w, getting some quality photos in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16.

Have thought of Caspian for the 2w problematic gull: long bill with parallel sides, long snouty neck, long wings and legs, small head, lack of contrast on upper-wings except for prominent secondary bar, lots of white on underwing and dominant behaviour point this way. But the pale eye is not typical (but is found in some birds) and the amount of dark markings on underwing seems greater than on many birds; not very convinced after reading British Birds paper and applying bill metrics. So swinging back to michahellis; indeed see comments in next paragraph and for perched bird on 12/3 on definite move to michahellis when reviewing the material at home. First record for Azores if Caspian but don't think it is! Writing this at Lisbon, departure imminent at 13:30 BST.

Managed to settle the Kelp/Caspian/michahellis debate (with myself!): it's certainly a michahellis 2s with long, bright yellow legs from 24/3 views, P10 longer than P9, mantle colour darkish but not as dark as in atlantis, pale eye with reddish orbital ring, general robust, strong performance, dominating outfall as before. The mantle looked darker before as it presumably still contained some 2w feathers. The legs are a much richer yellow, than at start of trip, and look sturdy and long, against the tail in flight. The strong bill is long and thick with some gonydeal angle. So that's a very interesting observation on rapid ageing over a period of not even 2 weeks. There's further discussion: the moult on the wings in particular is still retarded as there is less contrast than usually found in 2s michahellis with carpal and secondary bar prominent against paler background. Also the residual dusky markings on the body are fairly common in local Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull but not normally a feature of michahellis. If the bird has spent the winter (or even 2 winters) in the Azores then moult timing may be delayed, so perhaps moult condition has to be used with great care in identifying extra-limital birds because it may be affected by the local climate.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii

5/3 São Miguel: Mosteiros. A Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1, with narrow long wings and dark mantle, was coasting; it could be intermedius but graellsii 2w can also show darkish mantle in flight with residual immature feathers.

9/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. At least 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 dipping well in the rough sea.

10/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull 1w and further Lesser Black-backed Gull were an adult as came in off the boat and a 1w in the lido at dusk, latter in useful comparison with Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1w.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. An increase in Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers also today with 24 noted across whole of harbour (7 adult, 5 2w, 12 1w 1  2) with many feeding in outfall area.

13/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Totals for port today included 25 Lesser Black-backed Gull (6 adult, 8 2w, 11 1w). Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers similar to yesterday; but today managed to get the oh so-valuable comparison shots with Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, mainly Lesser Black-backed Gull adult with 1w Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull 1  2  3  4  5  6  but also 7 2w Lesser Black-backed Gull with 1w Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull and 8 adult Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull (left) with adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. As with other Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull forms, the Lesser Black-backed Gull are only slightly smaller overall but are more attenuated with finer features. Indeed the comparison is much like that between Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull (argenteus).

20/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. A Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1  2 flying past SW on its own (note finer, longer bill than in Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, overall greyer tone and stronger carpal bar). Wonder if this Lesser Black-backed Gull was from the growing American winter population, also on way back W.

22/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers up to 4 with 2 2w, 2 1w 1 (of which one 2w was intermedius).

24/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Lesser Black-backed Gull numbers were down at 5 (2 ad, 1 2w 1  2, 2 1w 1  2  3).

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus intermedius

5/3 São Miguel: Mosteiros. A Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1, with narrow long wings and dark mantle, was coasting; it could be intermedius but graellsii 2w can also show darkish mantle in flight with residual immature feathers.

22/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. One 2w with 3 graellsii.

23/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Did manage a walk out this morning in Santa Cruz, establishing that the remaining Lesser Black-backed Gull 2w 1  2  3 from yesterday was intermedius, with very dark mantle. Since other Lesser Black-backed Gull have been graellsii, that adds one to the gull types.

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus

15/3 Faial: Horta. A Great Black-backed Gull 1w flew N between Pico and Faial. It looked quite dark still, suggesting that slow movement in the area to paler plumage from juvenile to 1s may be partly climate-related.

22/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. A Great Black-backed Gull 2w put in a very strident performance over the sea.

Laughing Gull Larus atricilla

7/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Found the outfall on SW side of Ponta Delgada and struck really lucky with North American vagrant gulls, getting 7 Nearctic gulls of 3 species including 2 Laughing Gull (both 1w). The main clip showing the gulls is here with derived stills showing Bonaparte's Gull adult with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2  3; Bonaparte's Gull 1w with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2; Laughing Gull 2 birds, both 1w 1  2; Laughing Gull 2 birds, both 1w, with Ring-billed Gull adult 1.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. What a day at outfall for Nearctic gulls with at least 35 Laughing Gull (31 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, 2 2w, 2 adult), clip 1 (hd  ld) including calls, clip 2 (hd  ld) with further derived stills 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 showing groups of Laughing Gull of the 3 age-groups. So that's 45 Nearctic Gulls. Shots of mixed gulls include Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull 1w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 2w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull ad 1  2  3  4  5  6; Laughing Gull 2 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1; Laughing Gull 3 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1  2; Laughing Gull 1w with Common Gull adult 1  2. Suspect gulls are concentrating prior to attempted movement W. Whatever think previous counts have concentrated on numbers in autumn, not in spring.

The Laughing Gull numbers are exceptional. The birds were dip-feeding on the sea surface off the outfall in the port at Ponta Delgada. The 1w birds are browner than normally depicted in field guides, indeed they're closer to early autumn birds in many respects than to 1s ones, though the head is much paler. It is presumed that the relative lack of sunshine in the Azores in the winter compared to that in say the Caribbean has retarded the normal progression of the plumage. The long, black legs and long, black bill are as expected for the bare parts; the bill is slightly curved in some shots. The wings are long and narrow. The necks are thin and the heads squarish. The subterminal tail band is broad, about one-third of the exposed tail, and it extends to reduced extent to outer tail feather. There is a prominent dark trailing edge to the wing with obvious carpal bar. The outer wing is very dark. There is a dark eye-stripe on the head. In comparison to nearby Ring-billed Gull, the Laughing Gull appear similar in size to slightly smaller on length and approximately equal in wingspan.

20/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Interesting gulls were a Laughing Gull 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, flying past SW.

21/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Outstanding gull was another Laughing Gull, a 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9, flying SW offshore but then coming inshore to grab opportunistically a quick meal. Suspect this bird and the one yesterday are on their way back to America. Amazing, not sure that's been recorded before on the Azores.

22/3 Flores: Santa Cruz. Also had yet another Laughing Gull 1w moving strongly SW at 15:40, looking very rakish and dark compared to other gulls, followed by a further 1w at 16:10. Don't think they're really moving SW; to get to Flores from say Ponta Delgada they will have flown NW and just think they're skirting island Flores before continuing to move NW to America. These storms are a hazard but they're very hardy birds!

Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis

7/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Found the outfall on SW side of Ponta Delgada and struck really lucky with North American vagrant gulls, getting 7 Nearctic gulls including a Ring-billed Gull (adult). The main clip showing the gulls is here with derived stills showing Ring-billed Gull adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, plus Laughing Gull 2 birds, both 1w, with Ring-billed Gull adult 1.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. What a day at outfall for Nearctic gulls with a remarkable 6 Ring-billed Gull (1 ad 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8, 2 2w, 3 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15). Shots of mixed gulls include Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull 1w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 2w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull ad 1  2  3  4  5  6; Laughing Gull 2 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1; Laughing Gull 3 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1  2. In comparison to nearby Ring-billed Gull, the Laughing Gull appear similar in size to slightly smaller on length and approximately equal in wingspan.

13/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. At the harbour outfall in the port 1  2 had the Ring-billed Gull adult.

Bonaparte's Gull Larus philadelphia

7/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Found the outfall on SW side of Ponta Delgada and struck really lucky with North American vagrant gulls, getting 7 Nearctic gulls of 3 species including 4 Bonaparte's Gull (adult, 3 1w). Think the Bonaparte's count is an Azores record! The main clip showing the gulls is here with derived stills showing Bonaparte's Gull adult with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2  3; Bonaparte's Gull 1w with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2; Bonaparte's Gull 1w 1  2  3; Bonaparte's Gull 3 birds, all 1w 1.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. What a day at outfall for Nearctic gulls with first up 4 Bonaparte's Gull (2 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 2 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6).

13/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. At the harbour outfall in the port 1  2 had 2 Bonaparte's Gull 1w.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

4/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. 4 in harbour with pictures of 1w 1  2 and adult 1  2  3.

7/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. 11 Black-headed Gull (mixture adult/1w), presumably from Europe.

9/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. Made outfall again and there were no Nearctic Gulls: maybe too rough for them with c20 large gulls patrolling with 3 Black-headed Gull.

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. On more familiar grounds had 2 Black-headed Gull (1 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 1 1w 1).

24/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. There was just 1 Black-headed Gull 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 at the outfall.

Common Gull Larus canus

12/3 São Miguel: Ponta Delgada. On more familiar grounds had 1 Common Gull adult 1  2  3. Here's picture of Laughing Gull 1w with Common Gull adult 1  2.

Diary

March 25th: early start, up at 05:55, catching 08:40 Azores time (BST-1) SATA plane to Lisbon from Ponta Delgada, arriving 11:45 (BST) on time! Main booty is 54 GB of images and clips with 1.55 GB uploaded already onto BT web server. Have thought of Caspian for the 2w problematic gull: long bill with parallel sides, long snouty neck, long wings and legs, small head, lack of contrast on upper-wings except for prominent secondary bar, lots of white on underwing and dominant behaviour point this way. But the pale eye is not typical (but is found in some birds) and the amount of dark markings on underwing seems greater than on many birds; not very convinced after reading BB paper and applying bill metrics. So swinging back to michahellis; indeed see comments in next paragraph and for perched bird on 12/3 on definite move to michahellis when reviewing the material at home. First record for Azores if Caspian but don't think it is! Writing this at Lisbon, departure imminent at 13:30 BST. Indeed boarding now! Back to UK on time and straight up M6, crossing finishing line in Hexham at 20:50.

Managed to settle the Kelp/Caspian/michahellis debate (with myself!): it's certainly a michahellis 2s with long, bright yellow legs from 24/3 views, P10 longer than P9, mantle colour darkish but not as dark as in atlantis, pale eye with reddish orbital ring, general robust, strong performance, dominating outfall as before. The mantle looked darker before as it presumably still contained some 2w feathers. The legs are a much richer yellow, than at start of trip, and look sturdy and long, against the tail in flight. The strong bill is long and thick with some gonydeal angle. So that's a very interesting observation on rapid ageing over a period of not even 2 weeks. There's further discussion: the moult on the wings in particular is still retarded as there is less contrast than usually found in 2s michahellis with carpal and secondary bar prominent against paler background. Also the residual dusky markings on the body are fairly common in local AYLG but not normally a feature of michahellis. If the bird has spent the winter (or even 2 winters) in the Azores then moult timing may be delayed, so perhaps moult condition has to be used with great care in identifying extra-limital birds because it may be affected by the local climate. Total of gull-types is therefore the hoped-for 10!

March 24th: had good day catching up with things, ready for departure to Manchester tomorrow. Weather was brilliant with warm sunshine and a light breeze, perhaps 19ºC. Numbers of gulls in Ponta Delgada increased markedly since last visit with 610 AYLG (20 adult, 3 3w, 58 2w, 529 1w). However, LBBG numbers were down at 5 (2 ad, 1 2w 1  2, 2 1w 1  2  3) and there was just 1 Black-headed Gull 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 and 2 Common Tern 1  2  3 at the outfall. There were 3 Turnstone and one Little Egret 1  2  3  4 among the familiar supporting cast, and took last opportunity to snap Grey Wagtail 1  2  3  4, House Sparrow 1  2  3  4  5  6 and Canary (male) 1  2. Highlight again was the problematic 2w, getting some quality photos in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16. Here are lots more piccies of AYLG: adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17 ,1w 2w 1  2, 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15. Total of gull-types is 9 unless can dig something out of clips! A few days ago an Iceland Gull was seen in Ponta Delgada harbour and have looked very hard for one without success; did think I might get one of these in a 3-week stay but can't have everything. Here's final shots 1  2  3  4 of gull paradise at Ponta Delgada, including outfall.

March 23rd: back on São Miguel now at Ponta Delgada after a bit of a scare time-wise. Took off almost 3 hours late from Flores at 18:30, after plane was delayed through engineering problems! But made it in the end, via Terceira, to some relief as weather deteriorating in W again tomorrow. Collected some supporting documents for incidents from car hire company on arrival, getting one vitally needed for the more expensive one; last remaining one on smaller incident promised for early Sunday morning on way out; very obliging, needed for claim! Did manage a walk out this morning in Santa Cruz, establishing that the remaining LBBG 2w 1  2  3 from yesterday was intermedius, with very dark mantle. Since other LBBG have been graellsii, that adds one to the gull types, bringing total to 9. Other counts were down with 130 Cory's, 1 Manx, the one LBBG and only 10 AYLG (6 adult, 4 1w 1); suspect the AYLG here are moving back to their colonies on W of island as none at regular harbour locations. This (dead) Blackbird juvenile 1 was a surprise: presume they breed very early. Had a Little Egret so not all gone: they have a precarious existence on edge of breakers 1  2  3  4 as no real tides. A rainbow appeared 1 and it was still stormy at sea 1  2  3  4  5  6  7. M was showing attractive proportions for b&t: she does remind me very much of someone!! Anyway looking forward to re-entry!!! lok to the gorgeous ones!!! Worst week on markets for the year and for 1st time had a drop, 2k, could have been a lot worse (-9k matching index fall)! ¾ of fall was in managed funds, own funds holding up much better. 2moro it's back to the outfall, after 10th gull type: that would be a real achievement. Time is going to be important on Sunday: who thought of travelling the day after the clocks go forward!!

March 22nd: well still on Flores, courtesy of SATA for all meals and hotel (same one)! Last night there was a terrible storm, winds up to 120kph and rain hammering into the window; this morning we had hail up to 2cm deep! Weather had actually cleared by early afternoon when due to take off but islands further E were then being hammered and all flights cancelled for safety reasons. Amused by passenger reactions: watching like a hawk as announcement made in Portuguese and everyone smiled so thought we're off, then announced in English as cancelled; passengers liked thought of SATA putting us up for an extra day! So another try tomorrow afternoon. Maybe it's 1st prize 1 week in Flores, 2nd prize 2 weeks in Flores! This is one reason why buffer in Ponta Delgada of 3 nights as cannot rely on getting away from outer islands. Going to look for more Laughing Gull after an excellent lunch! Well lots of activity bird-wise in wake of storm. Cory's numbers up to 500 1  2, LBBG numbers up to 4 with 2 2w, 2 1w 1, and a GBBG 2w putting in very strident performance over the sea. Local AYLG unperturbed with photos of 2w 1  2  3  4 and 1w 1  2; finally persuaded the pair of adults in the harbour to long-call when recorder on. Also had yet another Laughing Gull 1w moving strongly SW at 15:40, looking very rakish and dark compared to other gulls, followed by a further 1w at 16:10. Don't think they're really moving SW; to get to Flores from say Ponta Delgada they will have flown NW and just think they're skirting island Flores before continuing to move NW to America. These storms are a hazard but they're very hardy birds! Other sightings were 4 Gannet (2 ad, 3w, 1w), surely more than just a vagrant, 3 Turnstone, a (Eurasian) Whimbrel and a Purple Sandpiper. Sea is up to 6 metres swell around the islands but we're sheltered here. Some nice rainbow 1  2 and powerful breakers 1  2  3  4 today. The German tall ship must have sought refuge off Flores as it sailed off to SE today, towards Horta, where storm was worst evidently. This Canary 1  2  3 was obliging.

March 21st: grand day with lots of warm sunshine from time to time and just a few light showers on a moderate W breeze – transforms the place as shown by headland, 'swimming' area and hills. That's why need to come here for a few days; Flores is further N than other islands, except Corvo in full view today 1  2, and is the furthest out into the Atlantic, so on the NW of the group as a whole. Had both Large White and (single) Clouded Yellow butterflies. Pinned down 2 AYLG adults in the harbour and got lots of close-up photographs (last 4 in flight elsewhere today) 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20, but would they call --- não! Out at sea loads of Cory's Shearwater with one loose gathering of 220 birds; also had a Gannet 1w, 2 Manx Shearwater and most interestingly a Great Skua moving ponderously N. Turnstone increased to 9 birds but no Little Egret: have they started movement back? Outstanding gull was another Laughing Gull, a 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9, flying SW offshore but then coming inshore to grab opportunistically a quick meal. Suspect this bird and the one yesterday are on their way back to America. Amazing, not sure that's been recorded before on the Azores. Wonder if the LBBG yesterday was from the growing American winter population, also on way back W. Here's Grey Wagtail, Goldfinch, Canary and Chaffinch seen today. Flores means flowers so thought would show some off from cliffs 1  2  3  4. A German tall ship came close to land today. Off on plane (6th flight) back to Ponta Delgada tomorrow lunchtime, just 2 more to go after that.

March 20th: rain threatened all morning and then arrived just as was getting some interesting gulls. Like Scottish rain, keeps on coming, sometimes light but with heavy pulses now and then, and from time to time brightens up and everyone says it's clearing, but it doesn't! But no midges! Visibility has improved with the rain, can now see Corvo. Interesting gulls were a Laughing Gull 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, flying past SW with 5 AYLG adult, and an LBBG 2w 1  2 flying past SW on its own (note finer, longer bill than in AYLG, overall greyer tone and stronger carpal bar). So that's trebled the number of gull species found on Flores and the Nearctic one is a great bonus; didn't have any LBBG in Faial/Pico. AYLG total was 42 (28 adult 1  2  3, 6 2w 1  2  3, 8 1w 1); consistent low totals for 1w may suggest a poor breeding season in 2011. Had one wader, a Turnstone. Finished compiling São Miguel (Ponta Delgada) 1st visit records and it's 32 species total including 7 gull types; need to process pictures from 13/3 Lagoa de Fogo and 12/3 Ponta Delgada to confirm everything. Been studying car hire contracts; see can recover all charges and excesses for both incidents from UK Holiday Autos with whom I made the original contract, which they then subcontracted to a local Lisbon company. This is because I took out total damage excess waiver for £57 extra; well that was a bit of foresight as repair bills for which I'm otherwise liable (€100 wheel/tyre, €880 excess payable to local company) are up to €980 now evidently. Suspect repairs are a bit lavish! Phew: I'll still be able to have the odd g on return! Not sure I've phrased report to family on incident very tactfully: comment from son “don't want to ask how the dog fared!!!”. Internet is also weak so expect glitches like some pictures not uploaded yet. Looking forward to seeing Maria again at L-PD!! Good dinner tonite, got rid of the creep waiter and had a mutually beneficial relationship with his temp! 2moro is last full day on the edge of Europe: will the sun come out?

March 19th: Flores reminds me of combination of E coast of Barbados, Harris and N end of Gran Canaria. It's very wild, certainly not classically beautiful, but very glad I've come to see the Azores in a truly vigorous Atlantic setting! When they say it's not a beach destination, you can see what is meant, by these shots 1  2, though if you were a really good swimmer, you might enjoy it (doubt it actually, you'd have to be f.. crazy!). Rough sea 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 was inspiring! Everyone is incredibly friendly but very few speak English, unlike elsewhere in the islands! Did walk up the back today to see what was around and very high numbers of Blackbird, Chaffinch (males looking a little blue, this is a female), Blackcap, Starling 1  2  3  4  5  6 and House Sparrow, and one Common Buzzard on the cliff. No Goldcrest or Robin yet though. The hills were obscured by mist and the farming is rather primitive. The hotel looks like part of an industrial complex from here! On the coast had 2 Little Egret, 2 Turnstone and the (presumed same) Purple Sandpiper. AYLG were a little scarcer, perhaps gone to some tip; but did have 17 (12 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 2 2w, 3 1w) in addition to those seen on sea-watch. This last activity was very busy with a count from 14:00-15:00 across this line. Result, all going SW into the strong wind, was Cory's Shearwater 85, AYLG 6 (adult, 2w, 4 1w), Manx Shearwater 5, Bulwer's Petrel 2 and Gannet 1 (1w). Very pleased with the Bulwer's, have seen them before several times in the Canaries but they're not supposed to be so common here. The AYLG were not venturing out to sea, coasting just offshore, so perhaps casts doubt as to how pelagic they are in rough weather, which prevails for a lot of the winter. Expect they eat these crabs from time to time. Internet down this evening, except for one brief period, emphasising remoteness! But hotel is very luxurious so just letting it wash over me!! Could actually fit someone else in the room at no extra cost – can think of some suitable contenders!!! This small plane is tenuous link with Ponta Delgada. Am here for 3 more nights, then back to L-PD to have final check!! In a week's time will be back to Hexham's pavement café!!

March 18th: well arrived quickly (40 minutes) back of beyond in a wee plane from Horta; airport at Santa Cruz (Flores) is just 5 minutes walk from the hotel; room has a marvellous view 1  2  3  4  5 over Atlantic including neighbouring island on the North American shelf Corvo; whatever there's a lot of sea in all directions! Not many people in hotel, vague atmosphere of The Shining! Dinner was good though, best so far. Added 3 species to list, in harbour: Purple Sandpiper 1  2  3  4  5  6, White Wagtail (1w) 1  2 and Hudsonian Whimbrel (brownish mantle). Also had 4 Turnstone (one in shot with the sandpiper), Little Egret, Cory's Shearwater (4 birds), Gannet (2 adult, 3 1w), Goldfinch and Starling, besides birds found everywhere in the island group: Feral Pigeon, House Sparrow, Blackbird, Grey Wagtail, Canary. AYLG were fairly common with about 30 noted (22 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12, 4 2w 1, 4 1w); no differences from other Azores populations with small mirror on P10 only and calls like Herring Gull. Viewing conditions were difficult in the strong SW wind, my tan 1  2 has improved a lot in the last week, going native! Inland there are some interesting woods, which may hold Goldcrest, different subspecies evidently from São Miguel. The coast is pretty wild 1  2, the port is a little improvised but there is a massive church. Internet here was very erratic today, past experience in Iberia suggests that nothing's fixed on Sunday so just wait for 2moro (Marijuana, or something like that!). Feeling very relaxed, even Ponta Delgada's going to be a culture shock after this!

March 17th: beautiful spring day with almost continuous sunshine and light N wind; getting very laid back and just stayed in port area lapping up the atmosphere; did catch up with logistics, washing clothes and writing cards. Greeted at dawn by Pico mountain exposed 1 and ditto at sunset 1  2  3 – very impressive! Also partial view 1 of cap at tea-time. That's view from my room, did ask yacht owner to move his boat but didn't quite catch his reply! Still no LBBG in harbour so it's still preserve of AYLG with 60 today (31 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7, 1 3w 1  2  3, 3 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 25 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7); that's 1st 3w photographed so shows value of long stay. Added many gull photos for 13/3 in Ponta Delgada harbour; these are very useful as show many 1w close-up and give comparisons of AYLG with the gold standard LBBG. Needed some care in taking this photo of local swimming baths! Relevance? Amount of rust indicates damp climate, which is surely relevant for wear and bleaching of gull plumage. Grebe seen again – it's definitely a Red-necked 1  2  3  4 (thanks John) with a number of shots; it seems to like me following me out of pontoon harbour onto the sea wall but suspect it's fish that really interest it! It's the first Red-necked for Portugal, including Azores and Madeira, first seen in January 2012 I believe. Also shots today of Blackbird male 1  2 and female 1  2  and Turnstone 1, finally got some of latter on Faial. These ducks looking like Muscovy approximately are pretty dubious as to origin. Got one still of Common Buzzard but main material is on clips, including calls which sound very much like ours. Here's 2 (standard) churches 1  2 in Horta. Views today included island São Jorge 1, Cabeço Gordo 1 with top clear and hotel from Horta outer quay. Can't get over the Gulls in football, clear 2nd now; internet voucher ran out 16 minutes in when we were leading 1-0, when came back a few hours later we'd won 4-1 with 2 goals and a penalty save by us in last 10 minutes. Won't make any predictions, let it just flow! Chelsea matched against Benfica is intriguing: local view is that current Benfica are the best Portuguese side for years and they've got an easy draw! Thinking a bit more about camcorder. Bottom line for new one is plus points of current one – decent straight-through viewfinder for locating dots in sky, HD quality, easy to use software for emulating frame-by-frame processing at 1 MB a frame, still capture at 1 MB while taking clips, increasing exposure through pressing a button, 100 GB disk capacity – plus better zoom, perhaps x20 optical and x30 digital (compared x10 optical, x20 digital), quicker start-up from cold as with birds of prey cannot leave on stand-by for lengthy periods in between sightings, more stamina in lengthy shoots as in nest visits (current one starts over-heating after 30 minutes of shooting), any other recent helpful advances for nature. Could put up 1.5-2k cash. Tonite after dinner visited Peter bar for a couple: reminded me of Haltwhistle!! So getting ready for another hop W by SATA!

March 16th: much brighter today with generally sunny afternoon but felt cooler than in Ponta Delgada though temperatures quoted as same; think humidity is even higher here. Went for walk to the impressive Monte da Guia 1  2  3  4 and Caldeira do Inferno, a very beautiful part of island, where even some good beaches. The highest point of Faial is Cabeço Gordo at 1043m asl but in clouds today 1  2. It's out of tourist season here, Ponta Delgada's goes on much of year but here it's mainly the school holidays. Still hotel is functioning efficiently. The headland, a Parque Natural, is a breeding area for Cory's Shearwater and Common Tern, but the latter have not returned yet. Did a sea-watch for 2 hours from 12:15-14:15, across this line from Faial-Pico, and moving N had 16 AYLG (7 adult 1  2, 4 2w 1  2  3, 4 1w 1  2  3, 1 3w), 2 Cory's Shearwater and 2 Manx Shearwater; moving S were 6 AYLG (2 ad, 3 2w, 1 1w). Suspect was at right place as these old whale lookout platforms were nearby. View to Madalena, Pico, was also much better than yesterday and that to Horta town shows why it's a popular attraction. Don't take the AYLG local movements too seriously; think one 2w was going around in circles just to confuse me! Feeding on the ocean to S were 8 AYLG (all ages), a GBBG 1w (presumed yesterday's bird), 9 Cory's, 5 Manx and 2 Macaronesian Shearwater. Have had most of passerines here that had on São Miguel, except for Goldcrest with shots of Blackbird and Feral Pigeon; also had Common Buzzard today over headland and a Grey Heron on the shore. But no cetaceans. Lizards were all over the place and so were woodlice, where I was sitting! The Large White butterfly was present. Flowers out included African Daisy (or something like that!). So far on trip got 34.5 GB of video and stills, all held on cameras and backed up on laptop each day with further copy transmitted to BT web site each night of the better stuff (1.01 GB total). Only technical hiccough so far is hard disk became full on camcorder and deleting files on it did not overcome problem: fortunately deleting files through the laptop sorted it, otherwise was getting ready for complete save to laptop, reformat and full reload from laptop as sledge-hammer approach. Camcorder's not long for this world with shift-lens problems: thinking of upgrading before Honey-buzzard season to semi-pro HD; sure advice is to upgrade!! Really need a few assistants (I'll pay)!! Recordings of Azorean AYLG surpass expectations with some more calls at 10:05 in Horta harbour: they're much more approachable than the ones in the Canaries. Had t in Peter Café Sport, a colourful bar on port-side, reminded me of my old local in Teignmouth, the Ship. Met Germans again for dinner, very good chat about travel! Have 2 more nights here, then even further W to absolute back of beyond! Getting to that stage when thinking a lot of attractions back home!!!

March 15th: interviewed all the AYLG in the harbour this morning, getting a lot more piccies and calls. More gulls around than yesterday, perhaps because of hour, with 85 seen (45 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 11 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 29 1w 1  2  3), but still the one species only. Here's piccies of adult, 2w and 1w. By this stage had still not found one showing a mirror on P9. Then it started to rain but decided to still take the boat to next island Pico. Didn't see much from the boat Cruzeiro das Ilhas on the ½ hour crossing (just 3 Cory's Shearwater) and the heavens completely opened when we arrived at Madalena so that you got soaked just walking between the boat and the station! But it soon eased off, even though it remained dull. Here's Horta from Madalena in the gloom. Studied islands Ilhéu Deitado 1 just off Madalena and could see 2 AYLG colonies here, one of about 10 sites on stack 1  2 and another of about 30 sites on the flatter island 1. About 30 AYLG were seen in the Madalena area, including 22 adult 1  2  3  4 (note tiny mirror on P9 on still 2!), 2 2w and 6 1w 1. Had 4 Turnstone and a Little Egret on the black rocks here, which looked particularly austere in the poor light. Best of all a GBBG 1w flew N between Pico and Faial, making the 8th type of gull for the trip. It looked quite dark still, suggesting that slow movement in the area to paler plumage from juvenile to 1s may be partly climate-related. Here's the inevitable church and on the shore-edge Nasturtiums were in bloom. Then suddenly it all happened and a massive influx of shearwater occurred in S straits between the 2 islands; counted 96 Cory's and 6 Manx. Got the boat back in the drier but still overcast weather and ran into the top end of the influx, also seeing 2 Short-beaked Common Dolphin, putting cetaceans up to 3 species. The tall ship Eendracht seen in Ponta Delgada arrived here today. Had long chat with 2 German visitors from Hanover: they did their best to put me off Cape Verde and I did my best to put them off Hierro (the only Canary they hadn't visited)! 2moro going to walk to the headland S of Horta as that was centre of feeding frenzy today. Reminds me of Skye!!

March 14th: on Faial tonight at Horta enjoying a change in scenery, staying at this hotel 1  2, right on the harbour front. Had 2 planes over, ticking off island Terceira as a transit stop; all was on time. Main landmark from Horta is peak Ponta de Pico 1  2  3 on next island Pico, 2351 metres asl and snow on top. Bill for car was more than expected (high-100s!). Always good humour though; when car smoothie found I was going on to further islands he was very insistent on my taking out another car! Suspect they make more on accident excesses than on repair bills! Anyway changed the subject by asking him whether he wanted me to fill in the customer satisfaction questionnaire, still waiting for an answer to that! Horta's port side 1  2  3  4 is a very famous mid-Atlantic stop-over as you can see from the murals 1  2. The AYLG were much fewer in number than at Ponta Delgada: 14 adult, 2 2w, 13 1w, so total 29. Calls recorded close-up already and very similar to Herring Gull. Here's 2 adults in flight 1  2, showing typical single small mirror on P10, a possible nest site on a cliff at entrance to harbour with birds below on rocks, and the 2 adults perched 1  2  3, which obliged by calling well. Rarity was a Red-necked Grebe 1  2  3 fishing at close-range in the marina, 1st for Azores, first seen in January. Thought at first it might be the commoner, though still very rare Great Crested Grebe, but put right by helpful comment. Waitresses in new hotel are more matronly, less talented than in old one!! Thinking of a few boat trips now!

March 13th: two trips 2day – 1) out to Lagoa de Fogo for last look at AYLG colony while still got the car, 2) usual saunter through port to outfall. Weather was again superb with strong sunshine and 17ºC; wind dropped and for first time sea was almost calm. So calm in fact that you could look for whales from the shore and had 2 Pilot Whale 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11 at distance off Ponta Delgada harbour wall. The gulls are more settled at the Lagoa but still not on eggs I feel; however, laying cannot be far off. Got a lot more piccies and calls of gulls from the road. Here's views 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 of the loose colony around the lake from the top road and pictures 1  2  3  4  5 of the moorland colony close to the top road. At the rather bizarre loose colony straddling the road in the stumps of the old wood had some superb close-ups of perched adults 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10. Some more photos were taken of birds in flight: ad 1  2  3  4  5  6, 3w 1  2  3  4  5  6. At the harbour outfall in the port 1  2 had 2 Bonaparte's Gull 1w and the Ring-billed Gull adult. Got some close-up shots of AYLG 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 today in the fishing port, showing variety of plumage. The 1w were joined by one 2w 1  2  3 for a while. Totals for port today was 255 AYLG (3 adult, 2 2w, 250 1w) and 25 LBBG (6 adult, 8 2w, 11 1w). LBBG numbers similar to yesterday; today managed to get the oh so-valuable comparison shots with AYLG, mainly LBBG adult with 1w AYLG 1  2  3  4  5  6  but also 7 2w LBBG with 1w AYLG and 8 adult AYLG (left) with adult LBBG. As with other Atlantic YLG forms, the LBBG are only slightly smaller overall but are more attenuated with finer features. Indeed the comparison is much like that between LBBG and Herring Gull (argenteus). Finally here's the gathering on the pontoon, mainly AYLG 1w. Waitresses this evening obviously with bated breath as to whether I'd leave a tip, having paid on hotel card for nearly everything. Well of course I did – €30 – as ever, totally vulnerable to feminine charm!! Service was actually brilliant but how do women know you're going to deliver!! So moving W 2moro to W most point of European shelf, at ½ way point in trip. See Gulls are 2nd tonite after winning away at their bogey side Rotherham. Absolutely amazing, we've won so many games 1-0.

Here are some AYLG long calls from today. First, the 2 adults in Ponta Delgada harbour with video showing birds calling with male followed by female, sound recordings of calls wma  wav, and spectrograms of male and female long calls. The calls of these 2 birds are on the deep side as can be seen from the strong 1kHz band; the male call shows 5 harmonics from 1kHz-3kHz, in between Herring Gull and LBBG in number, but there is a significant wow on each call (rise and fall) as in Herring Gull. At first glance the calls are similar to other AYLG and quite different from michahellis. Second, calls from Lagoa de Fogo colony with video showing adults in air giving long call and a pair of adults giving bowing close-up call, sound recordings of long call and bowing call wma  wav, and spectrograms of long call and bowing call. The long call here again has 5 harmonics but the frequencies are higher going up to 5.5kHz so the call sounds more like Herring Gull; also the notes are extensively wowed as in Herring Gull. The bowing calls are deeper with many wowed harmonics stretching up to 3kHz. Obviously more work still needs to be done before coming to final conclusions.

March 12th: what a day at outfall for Nearctic gulls with first up 4 Bonaparte's Gull (2 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 2 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6). Then a remarkable 6 Ring-billed Gull (1 ad 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8, 2 2w, 3 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15) and at least 35 Laughing Gull (31 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10, 2 2w, 2 adult), clip 1 (hd  ld) including calls, clip 2 (hd  ld) with further derived stills 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 showing groups of Laughing Gull of the 3 age-groups. So that's 45 Nearctic Gulls. Shots of mixed gulls include Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull 1w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 2w 1; Laughing Gull 1w with Ring-billed Gull ad 1  2  3  4  5  6; Laughing Gull 2 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1; Laughing Gull 3 1w with Ring-billed Gull adult 1  2; Laughing Gull 1w with Common Gull adult 1  2. Suspect gulls are concentrating prior to attempted movement W. Whatever think previous counts have concentrated on numbers in autumn, not in spring. Also, on more familiar grounds had 1 Common Gull adult 1  2  3 and 2 Black-headed Gull (1 adult 1  2  3  4  5  6, 1 1w 1). An increase in LBBG numbers also today with 24 noted across whole of harbour (7 adult, 5 2w, 12 1w 1  2) with many feeding in outfall area. AYLG numbers rose with 255 seen (15 adult, 13 2w, 227 1w). Many, many videos and stills were taken. Here's Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull adult 1  2  3, 3w 1  2  3  4, 2w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16, 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9; further shots show groups of 1w/2w 1  2  3  4  5  6, 1w/2w/3w 1, 1w/2w/adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 (some with michahellis, see below), 2w/3w 1  2, adult/1w 1  2  3, adult/3w/2w/1w 1  2. The 2w stranger was also seen as arrived at outfall but cleared off to SE; feeling at the time was that it's not classical michahellis because the wing is not contrasting enough and it's not classical Kelp because the mantle colour is slightly paler than the wing colour. It was later seen perched on the pontoons 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 and this confirmed in hindsight on last day (24/3 above) it was a 2w michahellis with its long pale yellow legs, squarish large head, long thick bill with some gonydeal angle, darkish but paler mantle than AYLG, attenuated appearance at rest with long primary extension. Also on the pontoons was a 1w michahellis 1, looking distinctly larger than nearby atlantis with longer legs, long bill, squarish head, paler head with dark eye spot and flare behind eye; the almost entirely black bill has a small pale area at the base of the lower mandible; the bill has only a small gonydeal angle. Could not see any seabirds at this stage of season staking out this islet to E of the port. Other birds snapped were Little Egret 1 and Feral Pigeon 1  2. Weather was beautiful today with strong sunshine at 16ºC, rather like weather in North Pennines in May, feeling very warm while sun was out and then cold as the slightest cloud came over. Another tall ship came in to the port (sign), Eendracht, from the Netherlands, and the whale watching boat was still in view. Love ports: this annual jaunt is a substitute for moving to Devon or elsewhere, hope people understand!! This is my local bar on the port side! Next year Cape Verde is tempting!

The Laughing Gull numbers are exceptional. The birds were dip-feeding on the sea surface off the outfall in the port at Ponta Delgada. The 1w birds are browner than normally depicted in field guides, indeed they're closer to early autumn birds in many respects than to 1s ones, though the head is much paler. It is presumed that the relative lack of sunshine in the Azores in the winter compared to that in say the Caribbean has retarded the normal progression of the plumage. The long, black legs and long, black bill are as expected for the bare parts; the bill is slightly curved in some shots. The wings are long and narrow. The necks are thin and the heads squarish. The subterminal tail band is broad, about one-third of the exposed tail, and it extends to reduced extent to outer tail feather. There is a prominent dark trailing edge to the wing with obvious carpal bar. The outer wing is very dark. There is a dark eye-stripe on the head. In comparison to nearby Ring-billed Gull, the Laughing Gull appear similar in size to slightly smaller on length and approximately equal in wingspan.

March 11th: long drive, at least by Azores standards, to NE of island where had a Collared Dove singing at Nordeste; see other records here over last few years so maybe initial colonisation point for the Azores which is not surprising as closest to mainland. Nordeste has an old church and a rather limited sea view. After late lunch there, chatting with café owner from Pakistan, moved up into Sierra da Tronqueira, driving up to Pico Bartolomeu (887 metres asl), with piccies of yours truly 1  2 just below summit in the mist. See car had already lost rear wiper blade by now, so that's the 3, good! Line with car hire company will be that most of car's still there! Here's record of dog damage, for my protection. Almost a gull-free day with the only bird an adult AYLG over forest SW of Nordeste: no sign of nesting populations on the cliffs in the area, which fits with the last survey (2004). Had Common Buzzard on the summit of Pico Bartolomeu as well as on the cliffs, with total of 7 during day. They're everywhere on island, perhaps not surprisingly as they're the only raptor. Views 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 from Pico Bartolomeu were incredible. Looked for Azores Bullfinch in lower ground habitat below park HQ with laurels and the red spiky plant and had a pair singing/calling, so they seem fairly reliable if you've got this type of vegetation 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 and are familiar with Bullfinch habits in Europe. The reserve itself has some impressive conifers and a notice about its inauguration. Caught up with piccies from boat trip. Dazzled by the standard of waitress in the hotel, they seem to have a never ending supply of charming beauties!!

March 10th: whale watching was something to be remembered though we didn't see any whales! Beautiful sunny day with continuous sunshine and 17ºC maximum. Winds were moderate SW. Sea was not that calm because of course this is the Atlantic with swell 3-4 metres. Anyway 40 of us ventured forth and as soon as we exited the port, the boat started pitching excitedly. We were soon being shown Bottlenose Dolphins 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 which came very close to the boat and even performed formation exercises for us. But after an hour numbers on deck were declining and didn't enjoy continual Dolphin manoeuvres and some seabirds with 7 Cory's Shearwater 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8, a Gannet (2w) and a flock of 20 Roseate Tern, obviously coming close to the end of their pelagic holiday and about to move ashore somewhere. Very interesting also was the number of AYLG (perhaps 30 in all) 1  2  3  4  5  6 of all ages a few km offshore feeding like proper seabirds; they were overflying us from further out so think this confirms their ability to feed at sea compared to say the Canary birds. There were a few AYLG apparently occupied nest sites 1  2  3 at Ilheu da Vila 1  2, which we circled in the boat. Here's some shots of the sea 1  2  3  4  5  6, our boat 1, the sister rubber boat 1  2  3  4, if you fancied a swim yourself, the view of Ponta Delgada 1 as left, and the motley crew 1! Trip lasted 3 hours from 09:15-12:15, cost €46 and was so exhilarating if you love the sea but for some it was clearly hell! Got lots of video as well. Planning to go on similar trips in Horta and again when get back here. It's a bit like safari really with cetacean experts on board. It's a bit early for some of the whales (though they had Blue Whale a few days earlier and Sperm Whale are resident) and the Atlantic is still pretty wild; traditionally whale watching has been done from April-October but they're keen to try and extend the season. Incidentally further note on temperatures: nights are very warm because of the high humidity; it hasn't dropped below 13ºC since I arrived. In the harbour took shots of a Turnstone, and of AYLG adult in flight 1, 1w in flight 1  2, a pair of adults perched 1 and the usual gathering 1, mainly 1w. Later also visited outfall and no Nearctic Gulls, nor the stranger from yesterday, but there were 2 LBBG 1w and further LBBG were an adult as came off the boat and a 1w in the lido at dusk, latter in useful comparison with AYLG 1w. So we're up to 7 gull types now, including the stranger. In the harbour there were 185 AYLG (167 1w, 18 older birds as mixture of 2w and adult). Favourite waitress is very tantalising: the local talent is more appealing (finer featured, putting it on) than remember from mainland!! 2moro it's out in the car to the laurel forest in far E of island, perhaps calling in at Lagoa de Fogo on way back, wish me luck!

March 9th: a cloudy day with showers and sea running high (clip) on a strong SE breeze. Made outfall again and there were no Nearctic Gulls: maybe too rough for them with c20 large gulls patrolling with 3 Black-headed Gull. Had a very interesting 2w gull 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24, somewhat larger and heavier, particularly in head and neck, than AYLG with gleaming white head, neck and tail base and mantle colour only slightly paler than dark blackish fairly uniform wings with darker secondary and carpal bar not standing out, legs pale perhaps yellowish, bill base extensive bright yellow with dark tip, broad subterminal tail band. It was a superb strong dipper, outperforming the other gulls. Thinking is that it's michahellis YLG or a Kelp Gull (from South America or South Africa), which would be 1st record for the Azores, though one has been seen in Macaronesia at Tenerife in Canaries. Also had at least 2 LBBG 1w 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8 dipping well in the rough sea. So exciting analysis to complete! Have seen quite a few Kelp Gull at Cape Town. In the main harbour had a session with this 1w AYLG 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 and this pair of adult AYLG 1  2  3  4  5  6, with gatherings 1  2  3. Total for AYLG was 285 (20 adult, 17 2w, 248 1w). Got closer pictures of Little Egret and Turnstone. Main square of Ponta Delgada has this tower, style of which seems to be everywhere. Decided to break out from hotel this evening, going to the port where lively Friday (Sexta locally!) celebrations in progress including some live bands which watched with a few g (yes, also missing that, but not as much!!!). Might be off early 2moro morning for whale watching so need early nite for a change!! Needs change in weather which is forecast, but waves are still going to be 3-4 metres high! Makes a change from driving, or something like that!

March 8th: did make Lagoa das Furnas today and saw its old church. Plenty of bubbling springs (cauldrons) 1  2  3  4 of boiling water at NE end all powered by volcanic energy! From a distance 1  2 it looked as if a barbecue was in full flow. A notice did warn about getting too close! It's in Portuguese, English and French; presumably the Germans are too sensible to need a warning! And impressive crags with very green fields 1  2 in between. It's a bit like touring the Lake District in some respects, even had a shower of heavy rain this afternoon, but otherwise cloudy, dry and cooler at 15ºC. Had 14 AYLG adults 1  2  3 and 5 Grey Heron 1  2 on the lake, surprised at the latter in March, surely they're breeding as Azores frogs in good supply to help things along. Surprised also at 27 Coot in a tight group (introduced or wild?) but 24 Mallard looked like the ultimate bastards! A dark rakish heron caught my attention early-on in the visit and was thought to be a Little Blue Heron 1  2  3, on these distant shots. Had as many as 9 Common Buzzard around the lake, with 5 up at one time, and 5 more on the road. Here's clip 1 hd  ld of the 3 Common Buzzard, complete with calls and derived stills 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10; and clip 2 hd  ld of one bird passing over, with derived stills 1  2  3  4. These Common Buzzard seemed very much like our Common Buzzard in terms of shape, calls and behaviour; their thick necks and shortish tails are very evident in the stills; the Azores birds though are regarded as forming a distinct subspecies rothschildi, based on plumage differences (light was too poor to study this today) and size (no comparisons!). A very tame Chaffinch 1  2 was near the cauldrons. Habitat was more semi-natural with quite a lot of laurel around and some exotic looking plants 1  2; explored path up to Pico de Ferro at end and had at least 3 Azores Bullfinch (calling, seen, singing) where upland forest met the meadows. The Azores Bullfinch is the only endemic bird on the islands at the species level so that's a very good tick. Motoring continues to be unusual: hit a dog on the way back on a busy dual carriageway at 90kph; dog came out running across lanes between cars, no chance of swerving or braking, very sad for the dog but would like to shoot the owner! Minor damage to front fascia on rhs and pipe ruptured out of bottom of screen wash bottle causing loss of fluid; think will leave till car goes back on 14/3 (and finish Azores driving career!) as damage can only be done once! First dog met on the open road; bit shaken as it could have been a real pile up. Have got a lot of material for the next IGM, which may now be held in Israel as we've been offered sponsorship by a Tel Aviv ecological body. Think will have another go at the local outfall (and port life!!) 2moro!! So pleased with hotel that I've booked the last few days here when return from island hopping. Turn of both Manchester teams to suffer at the hands of Iberian sides tonite.

March 7th: laid-back day around the local port in another fine day at 18ºC. Had interesting long lunch on quayside chatting to a British crew, from Dorset, who'd just come from Antigua to Azores, on the way to Portsmouth, in 12 days. Another tall ship Stavros S Niarchos in today: it's also British, a gift from Greece evidently. Found the outfall on SW side of Ponta Delgada and struck really lucky with North American vagrant gulls, getting 7 Nearctic gulls of 3 species: 4 Bonaparte's Gull (adult, 3 1w), 2 Laughing Gull (both 1w) and a Ring-billed Gull (adult). Think the Bonaparte's count is an Azores record! The main clip showing the gulls is here with derived stills showing Ring-billed Gull adult 1  2  3  4  5  6; Bonaparte's Gull adult with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2  3; Bonaparte's Gull 1w with Laughing Gull 1w 1  2; Bonaparte's Gull 1w 1  2  3; Bonaparte's Gull 3 birds, all 1w 1; Laughing Gull 2 birds, both 1w 1  2; Laughing Gull 2 birds, both 1w, with Ring-billed Gull adult 1. Also here had 11 Black-headed Gull, presumably from Europe. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull numbers declined from Sunday in the main harbour, not surprisingly as the tips are open again, but expect some move back to colonies, even by immatures. Total was 184 birds (8 adult/3w, 10 2w, 166 1w), so 1w predominating even more. Had some gatherings 1  2 and some close encounters with 2 AYLG 1w, near the lido where people were swimming in the sea! Here's a selection 1  2  3  4  5, showing amazing uniform darkness, strong streaking and even the dark front of the lower legs (tibia), first noted by Dubois. Note that's 5 species of gull now. The use of the outfall by the vagrants is interesting: are the Nearctic birds better at dip feeding than the local AYLG, giving them an acquired advantage. Or are they so out-manoeuvred in the other feeding areas by the resident AYLG that this is all they've got. Also had 8 Turnstone, 14 Canary, 3 Grey Wagtail and a Little Egret. Lively nite in hotel: Germans off to bed early after Barca's rout of Leverkusen; not that the Portuguese are that enamoured of the Spanish but think they bask in their prowess! Off to Lagoa das Furnas 2moro, where the rocks are hot enough for cooking! It's not a gull colony. Still having odd difficulties with the local drivers: told off 2day for turning left across a dual carriageway in a short cut to get to the hotel. It's not at all like Greece where everyone has their own laws! Also told off by waitress for coming in late (twice) for breakfast but she's mellowed a lot since I bought her a drink!!

March 6th: beautiful weather with 19ºC, strong sunshine all day on light winds; had shirt off at Lagoa and bared legs, all in cause of vitamin D! Could do more, forgetting about the health benefits!! So did make Lagoa de Fogo today: a sort of heaven for AYLG enthusiasts, birds all over the place, over the top with sex and brilliant for wingtip and call recording! Must say was surprised how approachable the birds were and how agressive they were: was dive-bombed a number of times with one bird actually pulling on my hair! Have got masses of calls, some very close, on video HD with 5.3GB total; inland lakes are great for sound recording because they're much quieter than the coast with no sea and less wind. Here's overview 1  2  3  4  5 of the site, showing the old crater (caldera); last irruption was in 1563 but kept an eye on water levels throughout, having seen fair share of disaster movies! The information board was helpful 1  2; grand view on all sides but particularly to W; the sides are not completely stable as shown by this cliff fall. The colony was very scattered, in all sorts of habitat: small groups in heather scrub 1  2  3, like LBBG on Whitfield Moor but much steeper sides here, right up to the top of the caldera (60 birds); lake edge on W side like LBBG in Lake District (70); little lagoon on N side like marismas used in Spain by nominate michahellis (70); lake edge on remote E side to top of photo (460); maybe loafing birds on lake on N side (80). Total is 740 birds. Last count here was apparently higher at 600 pairs in 2004 (Neves et al) but of course some would have been feeding away today. It's also possible that birds are still being recruited to the colony or that some birds have moved to other colonies such as Mosteiros. Access is not easy providing some natural protection to the gulls nesting on the lake sides itself but you can study the birds nesting in heather from the road. You need to descend to the lake for the full action from the point where this photo was taken down a steep path. Well it was irresistable. There's even a little stretch on a ladder at the bottom, plus a very good beach of white sand. The loafing area is covered by gull feathers. Finally here's some birds with pairs of adults 1  2  3  4, single adults 1  2, single 2w and groups 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 in the loafing area, including some 1w, where had late lunch. Also had many shots of AYLG in flight: adult 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16, 3w 1  2, adult with 1w 1, 1w 1  2  3 . Added Goldcrest (azoricus, quite common in scrub with odd bushes) to species list. Also had 5 Common Buzzard in trip through Remédios with one close-up at the Lagoa showing small size, darkness and rather lightweight jizz. Other birds at the Lagoa included Grey Wagtail, Blackcap, Robin and Little Egret.

March 5th: rain early on clearing midday to warm sunshine 17ºC on SE wind. Visited Mosteiros, which is an atmospheric town on NW extreme of island with breakers 1  2  3 rolling in. Five Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull gatherings were located, all looking occupied for breeding with spacing between the birds. Here's an overview with zoom in on NE stack 1  2 (30 adult), S isle (305+, not all in view), SE isle (5), SW Isle (295) and S cliffs 1  2 (120). So total of 755+ adults, much higher than count of 115 pairs in 2004 (Neves, Murdoch & Furness (2006)). A number of adults in the harbour posed beautifully with pairs 1  2  3  4 and singles 1  2  3  4  5 perched and a few adults seen very close-up in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21. The typical wing-tip pattern appears to involve a large rectangular mirror on P10, not forming a white tip, no mirror on P9, extensive black triangle, broad black band on P5 and a black spot on P4, but considerable variation particularly on P4/P5 markings. Out at sea some Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull were fishing actively supporting the idea that they are more pelagic than say the birds on the Canaries; but a number were coasting as in say Gran Canaria. It is possible that the richer seas around the Azores enable the gulls to be proper sea gulls! Great majority of birds seen were adult, not surprising with number of young birds at Ponta Delgada. This LBBG 2w 1, with narrow long wings and dark mantle, was also coasting; it could be intermedius but graellsii 2w can also show darkish mantle in flight with residual immature feathers. Got plenty of video (80 minutes HD, 8 GB) from last 2 days, much processed when returned to UK. Have close-up rally calls and masses of all sorts of call at medium range. Went on to spectacular viewpoint, Vista de Rel, above Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. There were some 35 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, mostly adult, on Lagoa Azul with adult and 2w captured in flight. The Lagoa are volcanic craters with lakes at the bottom. Species added today included Grey Wagtail (patriciae, common everywhere, taking up role of Rock Pipit on rocky shore and Meadow Pipit on inland rough grass), Chaffinch (moreletti, male, common), Robin (common in wooded areas), Little Egret (1 Ponta Delgada, 2 Mosteiros 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8), Woodpigeon (azorica, 1 edge Ponta Delgada), Mallard (15 on the 2 Lagoa, assorted), Northern Pintail (female, Lagoa Verde) and Gannet (2 1w, 1 2w, offshore). Also had total of 5 Common Buzzard, including this one on cliffs at Mosteiros 1  2  3  4, but it's strange on an Atlantic island with no Common Kestrel; a Turnstone was at Mosteiros. Butterflies included Large White (abundant), Clouded Yellow (common) and Red Admiral (3 at Vista de Rel). Other shots were of old church at Mosteiros and typical countryside, at Ginetes. Going 2moro afternoon to another gull colony at Lagoa de Fogo; forecast is sunny and warmer at 19ºC. After that pace will drop! Still got Micra no. 2: no problems today!! Hotel is proving a good choice!!

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull calls were recorded as follows (clips, ld quality): anxiety 1, rally 2  3  4. Clips 2,3 include Grey Wagtail calls; clip 2 also includes a dramatic encounter between the gulls and a Little Egret and clip 4 shows a Little Egret flying pass. All clips show close-ups of the adult gulls.

March 4th: lovely and warm, close really with 17ºC on mild SW wind and high humidity; shirt sleeves weather if you've just arrived from Northumberland and already getting a tan. Spent morning in harbour area at Ponta Delgada fishing port  inland  coast to e  coast to w finding 12 species of birds and 2 of butterflies. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull totalled 300 with 15% adult, 5% 2w/3w and 80% 1w, suggesting that many adults have returned to their colonies. Here's some pictures showing adults/3w at rest with 1   2  3  4  5 (sick adult); pair of adults perched and in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7 and 3w perched and in flight 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12; they have completely white heads now and look very smart; in comparison with birds from Portugal mainland they look very similar with short stubby bill, bunched primary tips (P10 over P9, P8 closer to P9 than to P7),dark mantle, rounded head and short legs; their calls are also similar to other atlantis with definite traits of Herring Gull. The mantle of the Azores gulls is even darker than other Atlantic forms and there is very little white in the wing tip with typically just a small mirror on P10. Some of the 2w/3w, particularly 2w, still showed some brown on the head with a residual dark mark around the eye and some fine nape streaking. The 1w were uniformly very dark, all having dense brown heads and no pale primary window. Their white rumps stood out because the rest of the bird was so dark. Here's one in flight. The colour was more a dark brown than the chestnut brown of many atlantis 1w. In gatherings mainly of 1w, there were some decent views 1  2 of 2w, with dusky heads still, and the uniformly dark 1w. Species list stands at 12: Common Buzzard (2 of local race rothschildi), Turnstone (11 in harbour 1  2), Black-headed Gull (4 in harbour, 1w 1  2, adult 1  2  3), Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern (1 just offshore), Feral Pigeon, Blackbird (azorensis), Blackcap (gularis), Starling (granti), House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Canary (1, common in scrubby areas). What I'd like to see is the Azores gulls in direct comparison with Lesser Black-backed Gull but none of latter seen yet. Also have collected some calls but need a lot more. The Large White 1  2 azorensis butterflies looked a little larger than ours and also saw a Clouded Yellow. Car-wise the 1st Micra proved to be a 1-night stand, suffering from a puncture with a dented rim after hitting a pothole. Now got another one having changed the wheel and driven the failed car back. It could cost if the rim can't be straightened! Thinking of going for a spin tomorrow along the coast and with good weather forecast for Tuesday, maybe a visit to the Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull colony at Lagoa de Fogo (an inland lake). Later in the week could perhaps go whale watching. Terrible congestion, breathing-wise, over travel period: ear ache, loss of hearing, feeling dead in the water, but perking up rapidly now!! Everyone in Riding Mill has caught it! Other shots include a church, the hotel, another hotel named after Sea Gull and a Norwegian tall ship. Also see SATA's emblem is a blue Montagu's Harrier. Waitress tonite at The L-PD was spitting image of someone, gave her a €5 tip, which she hugged to her breast!! So you could say vacation has started quite well but not very well!!

March 3rd: did make the ocean, long day, leaving UK at 13:00 and getting to hotel at other end at 22:30 local time (23:30 UK). Did ask for a Ka for hire car but they've given me a Micra! Don't know what to say about that!! Hotel is not bad, already on nodding terms with barman and breakfast is served until 11. Into the AYLG tomorrow! Amazing how many urgent messages I've got to do with things back home: feeling laid back!!

March 2nd: well slight change from normal, being at Premier Inn in Handforth: lots of tatty blondes, prefer brunettes!! Shall miss the lovelies!!! 2moro will hit the ocean!!