17 June 2016

Graciosa, Azores: 15-17 June

Back from a trip to the Azores. Visited three islands - São Miguel, Terceira and Graciosa - for endemics and marine life. Loved it. Shall return. Could live there.

The island of Santa Cruz da Graciosa was our base for three pelagic trips to explore the waters off the north-east coast of the island for seabirds, cetaceans and other marine animals. Here the ocean floor drops rapidly to 1,000 m just 7 km from the coast and further down to over 2,000 m a little further out, a forming a submarine trench that is a magnet for cetaceans. In addition, an area of shallower water known as the Bank of Fortune, creates an upwelling of nutrients attracting a range of seabirds.

Our main target species here was Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi - an Azorean endemic with the total global breeding population of 250-999 mature individuals confirmed nesting on just two islets off the coast of Graciosa - Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia) and Baixo islet (Ilhéu de Baixo).

The first boat trip, on the afternoon of the 15th, was very tough going in rough seas with a nauseating swell and a force 13 wind. Highlights were several Monteiro's Storm-petrel, lots of Cory's Shearwater (but apparently much lower numbers than expected), 3 Roseate Tern around Praia islet, 2 Common Tern, 3 Eurasian Whimbrel, 2 Cuvier's Beaked Whales together and a pod of 3+ Common Dolphin, 1 turtle sp. and 3 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis.

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

On the 16th a longer trip in calmer sea conditions out to the Bank of Fortune was disappointingly quiet, with c. 10 Bulwer's Petrel, c. 20 Monteiro's Storm-petrel, c. 30 Cory's Shearwater, 1 Common Tern, a pod of c.10 Common Dolphin and around c. 15 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis seen, with not a single bird at the bank itself. At the south end of Graciosa near Ponta da Restinga a sick Cory's Shearwater found floating on the sea was successfully captured and brought aboard to be taken to a rescue centre, and several jellyfish sp. and a small Common Tern colony were also noted.

Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Monteiro's Storm-petrels Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

The trip on 17th was also quiet but did produce a lot more Cory's Shearwater, with hundreds in several rafts on the water. Unfortunately another sick bird was also found, this time in Praia de São Mateus harbour. Also noted were 1 pale phase Pomarine Skua in heavy primary moult, about 40 Roseate Tern plunge diving just offshore from Praia islet along with c. 30 Common Tern, and several Yellow-legged Gull offshore.

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii near Praia islet, Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii plunge diving near Praia islet, Grasiosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Additional notebook entries from the land on Graciosa include 1 Ruddy Turnstone at Praia de São Mateus harbour on 15th, 1m and 1 juv. Grey Wagtail at Porto da Barra on 15th, several Common Starling at Porto da Barra on 15th, lots of Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii at Porto da Barra on 15th. Abundant House Sparrows were seen at Porto da Barra daily and several Yellow-legged Gull were noted at Praia de São Mateus harbour on all three days of various ages including adults, 1st-S and 2nd-S.

Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia), 17 June 2016 - one of only two sites where Monteiro's Storm-petrel has been confirmed breeding

Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii, Porto da Barra, Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

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