Thursday, 24 December 2015

Fuerteventura - 3

We visited most of the island’s recommended birding sites seeking out our ten target species.

The Barranco de la Torre is described as the best site on the island for Fuerteventura Chat and we saw several of them there.  It was another place that we saw Barbary Partridge and we photographed Spectacled Warbler and Southern Grey Shrike there.  Again, with the shrike, we were looking at an endemic subspecies koenigi; they proved to be reasonably common in most areas that we went, often heard before they were seen.

Barranco de la Torre

 Barbary Partridge

Southern Grey Shrike - subspecies koenigi

 Spectacled Warbler - subspecies orbitalis

Berthelot’s Pipits and Trumpeter Finches proved to be common and widespread but with our remaining two target species we just got lucky.  We saw only one Barbary Falcon, which we watched for just a couple of minutes when we had stopped to look at something else and it was quite by chance that we came upon a small mixed party of Plain & Pallid Swifts when heading back late one afternoon to Caleta de Fuste.  They were circling quite low over the small town of Tetir and we had time to compare the two species.

 Berthelot's Pipit

Trumpeter Finch

We made just one trip to the south of the island to the Costa de Jandia, which sounded much better in the books than it proved to be on the day we went.  We assume that accounts of exceptional numbers of waders in pools along the beach refer to migrants in the late summer and autumn and not to wintering birds in December.

While we were ‘down south’ we crossed to La Pared on the opposite coast where Black-bellied Sandgrouse reputedly come to drink.  Not while we were there, they didn’t!  Nor were we successful in the area between La Pared and Costa Calma, which is supposed to be good for desert species.  Probably we weren’t persistent enough having already seen all the species in question near Tindaya.

The most common birds seen almost everywhere were Eurasian Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows.  Ravens were widespread and wherever there was water, there were Ruddy Shelducks.  The Ravens are of the subspecies tingitanus that also occurs in North Africa.

Spanish Sparrow

 Common Raven - subspecies tingitanus

Barbary Ground Squirrels were quite common but the only other mammal species seen were a single Rabbit and several Algerian Hedgehogs that were ‘ roadkill’.  All of these have been introduced to the island.

Barbary Ground Squirrel

In total we saw only 52 bird species during the week, although with a bit more effort that number could no doubt have been improved on.  However, there seemed little point in spending time searching out common species that we see regularly and we very much concentrated on our targets.  We didn’t even go and look for the Yellow-browed Warbler that was reported from Costa Calma while we were there!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Fuerteventura - 2

During our week on Fuerteventura we were based at Caleta de Fuste, a tourist resort situated only about 10km from the airport and no more than an hour’s drive from any of the birding sites we planned to visit.  It proved to be a good choice.

We had prepared for the trip by reading various tour reports published on the internet and by talking to friends who had been to the island.  We took with us Finding Birds in The Canaries by Dave Gosney and A Birdwatchers' Guide to the Canary Islands by David Collins and Tony Clarke both of which proved helpful.

We particularly wanted to see ten species that would be new for us: Fuerteventura Chat, Houbara Bustard, Plain Swift, Barbary Falcon, Barbary Partridge, African Blue Tit, Berthelot’s Pipit, Canary Islands Chiffchaff, Trumpeter Finch and Atlantic Canary.  In the event, we managed to find nine of them.  Some sources suggest that the Canary doesn’t even occur on Fuerteventura and we might now be inclined to agree with that!

We also wanted to try and photograph Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Lesser Short-toed Lark.

 Cream-coloured Courser

 Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Lesser Short-toed Lark - subspecies polatzeki

We went twice to the reservoir at Los Molinos, where Ruddy Shelducks outnumbered all other birds put together!  We counted about 200 of them.  Unfortunately, the high water level resulted in very little shoreline for waders but this was one of the places we saw Fuerteventura Chat and Egyptian Vulture and we also had good views of the dacotiae race of Common Kestrel and the insularum race of Common Buzzard.

 Los Molinos Reservoir

 Ruddy Shelducks

Common Kestrel - subspecies dacotiae

Egyptian Vultures - subspecies majorensis

We made two visits to the plains around Tindaya and La Oliva.  On the first occasion we saw Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser and Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  They all took a bit of finding and the birding was ‘hard work’ but we enjoyed it so much that we went back there on our last day simply for a second helping!

Houbara Bustard - subspecies fuertaventurae

The water level at the Las Peñitas reservoir was also very high and it was hardly worth going there.  However, on the walk along the mainly dry river bed we did see a Grey Wagtail and our first African Blue Tit.  Nearby we spent some time in the attractive little town of Betancuria.  Founded in 1404 this was the original capital of the Kingdom of the Canary Islands and while there we slipped into ‘tourist mode’ for a short while.  It was also there that we had our best views of African Blue Tit and we also saw Canary Islands Chiffchaff and Monarch butterflies.

 Iglesia Catedral de Santa Maria de Betancuria

 African Blue Tit - subspecies degener

 Monarch Butterfly

More from us about Fuerteventura to come shortly...

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Fuerteventura - 1

We’re just back from a week-long stay on Fuerteventura, the second-largest of the Canary Islands and the nearest of them to the coast of Morocco.

Although the name Fuerteventura is said to derive from the Spanish ‘viento fuerte’ meaning ‘strong wind’, the island enjoys year-round pleasant weather and it is only a four-hour flight from Birmingham.  It’s not difficult then to see why it’s such a popular holiday destination, particularly for those seeking winter sunshine.  For keen birders, however, it’s maybe a place to visit just once!  When it comes to birds it’s very much a question of quality rather than quantity.  In fact, we’ve seen more species in a morning around Tavira than we saw in the whole of our week on Fuerteventura.

The island is volcanic with extensive lava beds resulting from eruptions that reportedly last took place about 4-5,000 years ago.  It is essentially a desert island with rather little vegetation although there are areas with some trees and these attract migrant birds in spring and autumn increasing species diversity.  With an area of 1,660 square kilometres it is about the size of Surrey; the distance by road from Corralejo in the north to Punta Jandia at the south-western extremity is about 135km.

The ‘star’ bird is the Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae), which now occurs only on Fuerteventura and is the only species with that distinction.  It looks a lot like a Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) but the male has a pure white supercilium reaching behind the eye, a narrow white throat and white sides to the neck; the breast is a light orangey-chestnut becoming duller and paler on the underside towards the whitish belly; there is also a white wing bar.  The female is similar to a washed-out version of the male, with a brown, black-streaked head and no white neck patches.  The bill is noticeably long compared to that of Stonechat.

We saw quite a few Fuerteventura Chats without much difficulty, one of them within sight of the airport.  We have heard it suggested that you could easily fly in, add the species to your life list and fly out again later the same day.  That seems a bit extreme but certainly with a bit of luck you could expect to find most of the islands bird species in a couple of days.

The Fuerteventura Chat was only one of the reasons for our choosing the island for a rare week’s holiday.  There are several other species there that we had never seen and some that we had seen but not been able to photograph.  Also, as might be expected on an island, there are a number of subspecies that were interesting to see.

There will be more from us about Fuerteventura very soon…

Friday, 4 December 2015

Projecto Arenaria 2015/16

Earlier this week, we spent a morning counting the waders and gulls along the Algarve’s easternmost stretch of beach near Monte Gordo.  We walked from the Guadiana River to Praia Verde, a distance of about 7km and then back again to the car.  We were taking part in Projecto Arenaria, a survey of the birds of Portugal’s non-estuarine coast.

Looking west towards Monte Gordo
Gulls feeding on the falling tide

We have taken part in Projecto Arenaria in previous years and blogged about it here, here, here and here.  It is similar to the BTO’s Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey, which grew out of the Winter Shorebird Count of 1984/85 but it has been difficult to think of any day this week as winter - in fact, we could hardly have wished for better weather for a walk on the beach.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was warm enough for people to be sunbathing!

Lots of jellyfish on the beach

Based on previous experience it wasn’t a surprise to find that there rather few waders on the beach.  The Ria Formosa and other tidal areas along the Algarve coast provide much better feeding and roosting places than the beaches.  We found just three species: Sanderling (39), Oystercatcher (9) and Kentish Plover (8).  It was disappointing not to find even one Turnstone, the species that gives its name to the survey.


We did, however, find some gulls.  Often they were quite mobile, disturbed by various walkers, joggers and fishermen and they were difficult to count accurately.  We counted each flock that we came across and tried as best we could to avoid including the same birds twice if they moved ahead of us.  In the end, we had a grand total of 1,050, mostly Lesser Black-backs but also a few Yellow-legged.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in Bath, England in June 2015

Not surprisingly we managed to find five Lesser Black-backs with colour-rings: two from the Channel Islands and one each from England, Holland and Denmark.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed on Alderney in July 2014

We hoped that on the sea we might find some Common Scoters or a Razorbill but it wasn’t to be.  A couple of Cormorants flew by and there were plenty of passing Gannets but we saw no other seabirds.

As well as the birds, we were also required to count people (98), vehicles (2) and any dogs not on a leash (2) but we doubt that any of these had a significant influence on the numbers of birds we saw.

Our contribution to Project Arenaria was our last birding in the Algarve for a while but we hope to be reporting from elsewhere before very long.