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…
Juvenile Gannet, Ring's End/Guyhirn, Cambridgeshire
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