Posts Tagged ‘Azores


2016 here we come …

So I guess we will stumble into the new year tomorrow night and we’ll all be reflecting where we are and what we’ve achieved.

For me there have been several moments I would like to forget but there have been many more that I will remember. The tours to Solway, Scotland, Mull, Northumberland, Wales and the Scillies as well as the days here in Norfolk and trips to France and Spain were all good. Full of good birds and sightings of special wildlife. One single day however stands out above all others. Saturday 18th July 2015.

I was with Sharon being shaken like a cocktail in a Zodiac crossing some rough seas off the Azorean archipelago. Amid the eye stinging spray and the clenching grip that held us steady her stare met mine and mine met hers … ‘what the hell are we doing here’… was written on both our faces. It soon became apparent what took us there when a pod of Northern Bottlenose Whales broke the surface some 100 yards in front of us. They like us were fighting the boiling sea, but with much more ease. What an animal. The moment was so far from watching one on TV stranding in the Thames nine and a half years earlier. These whales were free, unbridled and in their element… and so were we. After all the planning and anticipation seeing these animals meant so much. I will never forget the moment.

So what of 2016. Lots planned. Already the diary is bulging with tours. Another journey across Biscay is on the cards as is a trip to Grand Manan Island off Canada – Northern Atlantic Right Whales are on the agenda. Roll on 2016.

Northern Bottlenose Whales


Tern around

Spot the tern that’s not a Common Tern. Easy enough; yes? Now take a close look at the Common Terns.

These photos were taken on Pico in the Azores.

Do they look a little larger headed to you? A bit more elongated perhaps? Thicker, longer billed? Does the black on the bill look a little more extensive than our home grown Common Terns? I think it does.

Although The Azores are within the Western Palearctic these terns are reported to winter off the South American coasts of Brazil and Argentina, as do the Common Terns that breed in North America. From genetic studies the race of Common Tern in the States is proven to be the same race as in Europe.


The Common Terns on the Azores are not reported to be a separate race … but to my eye look structurally different.

CommonTern Terns




Big wrinkly. Sperm Whale. Exit stage down!

Sperm Whale



Beautiful but deadly – Portuguese Man O’ War. Sometimes these drift north and I have seen them on the Scillies in October. Hell of a sting. Our guide found that out as he tried unsuccessfully to lift one from the water to show us.

Portugese Man o' War



One evening on Pico I walked out among dark lava fields; a black rough undulating volcanic landscape. It was important not to disturb the Cory’s Shearwaters that make their nests among the lava caves and tunnels so I did not leave the roads and tracks. These birds are already under threat here from cultivation and encroachment of civilisation. I saw several feral cats hunting the area on my walk and no doubt there were introduced Black Rats around that would also predate on Shearwaters eggs and chicks.

I saw and heard nothing until around 10:30pm; after that all hell was let loose. It was as though someone had flicked a switch. The shearwaters, that up until then had been loafing offshore, turned up big time. The call is without doubt one of the most haunting sound uttered by any living thing. It’s quite eerie having these large birds calling and flying around in the dark. One came close enough to make me flinch.

I left!

Cory's Shearwater


Cetacean tally

We saw seven species of cetacean in the Azores. It’s always difficult to be sure which animals we saw on more than one occasion but the following sums up numbers of sightings rather than individuals.

20 Sperm Whales over five days

Circa 100 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins over five days

Circa 10 Short beaked Common Dolphins on one day

7 Bottlenose Dolphins over two days

Circa 50 Risso’s Dolphins over three days

Circa 15 Short-finned Pilot Whales on one day

… but, perhaps best of all …

Circa 13 Northern Bottlenose Whales over three days.

Beaked Whales were the main reason why we went to the Azores so this was particularly pleasing.

We narrowly missed out on a pair of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and we may have had a Bryde’s Whale but all disappeared before we could get to grips. Sure makes the total of 24 hours at sea in a rather bumpy zodiac worthwhile.

Common Dolphin


Sitting on the balcony

The end of a good time is always in itself a sad thing but as we sat on the balcony of our last port of call on Faial I couldn’t help feeling what a wonderful, beautiful place we had chosen to spend a little time. From our high point in the village the evening sun was glowing red and cast a peach luminescence on Pico in the distance. As we sat there lenticular round clouds stacked themselves over the dormant volcano in a captivating formation. Below us a quail constantly called for him to ‘wet my lips’; a special quail this ‘conturbans’ is a sub species only found on these islands. Above us the also endemic Azores Noctule bats flew around the hillside.

Almost everything here is slightly different from those with which we are familiar; the Blackbirds, Buzzards, Grey Wagtails, Blackcaps, Chaffinches and even the Wood Pigeons are all endemic sub species. Special birds in a special place.

2015 07 24 Pico Azores Portugal 001 Azores Noctule Quail


A balance of luck

Some you win some you loose.

The passage of Northern Bottlenose Whales through the Azores is a slim window of opportunity; you have perhaps a week, maybe a little more before they move to deeper oceans. They arrive and then they are gone. Analysing past sightings we targeted this week as a likely arrival date.

So after our first day out whale watching were the two flights, the choppy ferry, the lost fleece and an Air Portugal cock up with our (still) lost luggage all worth the bumpy four hour trip out on the zodiac? you bet your bottom dollar it was!

Skimming the waves past a Loggerhead Turtle, Great and Cory’s Shearwaters, Bottlenose Dolphins, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Short finned Pilot Whales we happened upon five of the Northern BN Whales. … Oh! and did I mention the crippling views of the biggest bull Sperm Whale you can imagine? Roll on the rest of the week.

2015 07 18 Northern Bottlenose Whale Azores Portugal_Z5A0732 (2)

excuse the photo … it’s a JPEG and unedited.

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Aug 2022


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