Unfortunately there is so far (before 2006) almost
no real seawatching carried out in the Azores. There are no longer series
of continuous counts from watch points along the shores, or any regular
count from ferry routes between the islands. Visiting bird watchers have
just spent a few hours at promising localities, picking up some of the
more sought after species. There is very little known of the occurrence
of species like Fea´s Petrel, all the Skuas, Sabine's Gull and Arctic
Tern. Yet the Azores have an extraordinary list of seabirds including
goodies like Trinidade, Black-capped and Bermuda Petrels. Here is a real
challenge for those interested!
Seawatching in the Azores normally includes
lots of Cory´s Shearwaters and also many sightings of dolphins.
Off São Miguel 2006-09-23. Photo:Jan-Michael Breider
Summer pelagic tours
Some species like Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, Wilson's Storm-petrel
Oceanites oceanicus, and the summer breeding Monteiro's Storm-petrel
Oceanodroma monteiroi are rarely seen from land. Good views of
these, and also close contacts of other seabirds, are possible by taking
a pelagic tour further out on the sea. The many whale watching tours are
all depending on land based lookouts who spots the animals, and they are
all normally to close to land. To get access to the more interesting waters
around the seamounts at Princess Alice's or Azores Banks south of Faial
and Pico (Wilson's Storm-petrel), or the waters southeast of Graciosa
(Monteiro's Storm-petrel) you need to book a special tour.
Experience from Madeira and the Canary Islands shows that early autumn
is the best. At this time of the year you will see the resident seabirds
together with migrating species on their way back to breeding or wintering
grounds further south. But there are also specific groups of seabirds
to watch for in summer or winter. In summer there is a possibility to
see some of the more southerly species like Red-billed Tropicbird, Bridled
and Sooty Terns, and there are even a few claims for South Polar Skuas.
In winter many seabirds seem to arrive from the northwest with several
species of interesting Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, alcids, Gannets,
"Bonxies", Kittiwakes and much more.
So far, the most known place for seawatching is Mosteiros on the northwest
point of São Miguel. Here is a good watch point just north of the
harbour, where you have a wide horizon and the sun in the back all day.
A lot of species have turned up here, and there have been a few good counts
around 1000 Cory's per hour. But there seem to be many more places worth
exploring. Still on São Miguel there is often much to se from Ponta
Delgada, the best place being up on the large pier in the harbour. In
the central group a lot of seabirds seem to gather within calmer waters
between the islands, and there are some promising counts from Praia da
Vitoria (outside Cabo da Praia) and Horta (south of the harbour on the
slopes of Monte da Guia). Light conditions should be better on the other
side of Canal do Faial, where also more sheltered watch points will be
fond in the harbour of Madalena. A lot of shearwaters, as well as other
seabirds, seem to pass north of Flores in a south-easterly direction,
best watched in good light and wind conditions at Ponta Delgada das Flores
or even better in Santa Cruz. From here over a 100 Great shearwater per
hour are reported from mid September.
There is almost nothing reported from the ferry routes
between the islands, but since there are many regular tours in early autumn
this should be a pioneering challenge!
Counting seabirds from land using telescopes have a long tradition mostly
in northern an western Europe, but have in recent decades spread to many
more places. A traditional seabird count means that you count and write
down every species flying over the sea, and mostly in two major directions.
Notes are also made about place, date, time of the day, weather, and observers.
We hope that creating this page on Birding Azores will render in more
and more counts from different seawatching spots. This will first of all
give us a better knowledge of the movements of seabirds in Azorean waters.
Further more this will, as the data base builds up, also allow all interested
to search among all gathered data to see where and when the best opportunities
are to see seabirds, or to check out what is normally seen at a special
place at the time of the year when one is visting the area.