A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Fuerteventura Birding Trip Report - Day 1 (Monday 24th October 2016)

The Canary Islands - a chain of rugged, mountainous land masses sitting off the west coast of Africa that contain a snapshot of specialist birdlife. With the endemic Fuerteventura Chat the main reason for our visit to the island of its namesake, the supporting cast of dry-loving desert species saw us travel through the often arid countryside and towering mountainsides in the quest for our avian targets, enjoying the epic landscapes en-route that were hard to avoid on this picturesque island. From the endless rolling dunes of Corralejo to the dry and dusty El Jarde plains, this was my first foray in to Canary Island birding and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Fuerteventura Chat - Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura Chat
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura

Housekeeping:

Our trip to Fuerteventura involved travelling around the Northern half of the island, incorporating Corralejo, El Cotillo, La Oliva, Vega de Río Palmas, Caleta de Fuste and the plains south of Triquivijate, with specific targets of Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Fuerteventura Chat, Trumpeter Finch, Ruddy Shelduck, Berthelot’s Pipit, Barbary Partridge and African Blue Tit.  10 lifers and 52 species in total were seen during our 4 days in Fuerteventura, covering the 24th October – 28th October 2016.
Houbara Bustard - Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard
Cream-coloured Courser - Fuerteventura
Cream-coloured Courser
Ruddy Shelduck - Fuerteventura
Ruddy Shelduck
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
African Blue Tit - Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit
We hired a car for the duration of the trip from Hertz and flights were direct return from Manchester to Puerto del Rosario. We had no specific route during our journey, and instead travelled sporadically to a number of sites in the northern half of the island. From our base in Corralejo we had easy access to all of the sites in the area, with no journey taking more than an hour. We stayed in a total of 2 hotels during the trip – a late arrival in to Puerto del Rosario saw us stay in the town for the night at JM Puerto Rosario, before heading north the next day to our base at Corralejo Lodge, – a self-catered villa complete with outside pool.

Daily Diary

Day 1:

After catching the late afternoon flight from Manchester to Fuerteventura airport, our after dark arrival left no time for birding, instead settling down in our hotel ready for an action packed first day to follow. Awaking bright and early the next morning under strict instructions from Alex that he didn’t want a late start, I was dismayed to find my 6am “rise with the larks” wake up call had all been in vain – the streets outside were still bathed in inky darkness an hour later and the first hints of the Canary Islands sun didn’t start to break through the black for another hour or so after I was ready!
Fuerteventura
Never the less, as soon as the first golden rays hit the sparkling waters of the harbour outside we were well on our way, several Yellow-legged Gulls cruising above the waves and taking advantage of the discards from the previous day’s fishing catch in the port our first taste of Fuerteventura birds, while a gang of Spanish Sparrows chirruped away in their palm tree roost lining the road. Heading south out of Puerto del Rosario and winding through the tall buildings on the outskirts of town we caught a brief glimpse of a swift species flying low down directly overhead – possibly Plain – but having had poor views and unable to confirm its identity from our split second views we could only note it down as a possible.

With rain threatening and ominous forecasts given for our 5 day stay on the island, we abandoned our original plans and headed straight for the closest site deemed best for the majority of our target species – Reserva de El Jarde – aka the Bustard Reserve. 
Reserva de El Jarde - Fuerteventura
Reserva de El Jarde
Reserva de El Jarde - Fuerteventura
With the roads carving through the mountainous landscape the views were stunning, if not a little barren on the birding front. Several scans of the rubble and boulder strewn roadsides revealed nothing of any note, and it wasn’t until we began to travel down the approach roads to the reserve that the birding scene started to come to life.
Southern Grey Shrike - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Southern Grey Shrike
Several Southern Grey Shrikes perched on the thorny scrubs and thickets surrounding the gravel track, while my first lifer of the trip and a Macronesian endemic – Berthelot’s Pipit - casually scurried in to view. Found only on these Spanish islands and slightly north in Madeira, we saw several during our week here, although surprisingly they were never abundant.
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Carrying on along the track revealed large flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks feeding amongst the tiny pebbles, while a flash of black and white by the farmyard building signalled the familiar bounding flight of a Hoopoe. Several groups of Spanish Sparrows congregated on the spilt grain and seeds amongst the old farm machinery and it wasn’t long before we had locked down our next key target species of the trip in the form of a small flock of Trumpeter Finches

Feeding in the weedy scrub along the fence line of the farm, we immediately stopped the car and got our scopes on them, making out their chunky red bills and grey tones before the whole flock took off as one and headed out over the plains. Luckily, after our brief first sighting, we caught up with a further two birds much closer a little way along the track, perched on the chain-link fence and offering the chance for a couple of record shots. With their colourful appearance this was a species I was particularly focused on seeing, and having quite a nomadic and sporadic appearance on Fuerteventura it was great to succeed so early on with them.
Trumpeter Finch - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Trumpeter Finch
Scanning the plains for Barbary Partridge and Cream-coloured Coursers, only the Canary Islands race of Common Buzzard caught our eye, while further Berthelot’s Pipits perched obligingly on the fences and rubbery cacti lining the few gardens in the area. 
Buzzard - Canarian subspecies - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Buzzard - Canarian subspecies
Berthelot's Pipit - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
A flock of around ten Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying overhead were also of note, their distinctive pig-like cries rattling across the valley.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse - Fuerteventura
Black-bellied Sandgrouse and the mountains... if you squint close enough!
With the billowing black rain clouds that had formed over the mountains threatening to unleash their torrents upon us, we had limited time before the heavens opened, and sure enough as soon as I picked up a small party of Cream-coloured Coursers delicately hurrying through the rubble in the distance, we felt the first spots of rain on our foreheads.
Cream-coloured Coursers - Fuerteventura
Cream-coloured Coursers - can you spot them all!?
Luckily, as is often the case with southern European rainstorms, the shower passed quickly, and having taken shelter in the car we set about trying to re-find the coursers. Thankfully they hadn’t gone far, instead having moved even closer to the road and offering great views as they scuttled from boulder to boulder. The species I was most looking forward to seeing on our trip, we could really admire their gorgeous cream colouration and striking striped head patterns, and it was fantastic to be able to watch them at length so close up.
Cream-coloured Courser- Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Cream-coloured Courser
Cream-coloured Courser- Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
With no further sign of any Trumpeter Finches around the farm we headed over to the reserve field itself, an area of habitat specially managed for Houbara Bustards and other plain dwelling species to aid in their conservation on the island. Approaching the stone wall border, we set up our scopes to scan through the limited vegetation and rubble on high alert for any signs of movement. 
Reserva de El Jarde - Fuerteventura
With the plains seemingly deserted after ten minutes of searching, a snatch of Spectacled Warbler song caused me to start checking much further right in an attempt to locate this charismatic singer. Noticing a slight movement in the boulders below the scrub, my immediate reaction was that it was a pigeon or dove, before closer inspection revealed I had stumbled across one of our key targets for the trip and a species we feared may have been hard to come by – Houbara Bustard
Houbara Bustard - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Houbara Bustard - distant but distinctive!
Excitement ensued, and getting Alex’s scope on the bird too we both watched as it crept stealthily through the rubble, the Bustard’s superb camouflage working a treat and only its movement betraying its location. Watching this fantastic species at length as it moved further out in to the open, we could clearly see the attractive grey neck marked with black and white stripes as the bustard foraged between the rocks – an incredible experience and great to score within the first morning of our trip. With a whole host of our target species in the bag before lunch the pressure was now off, but the El Jarde Reserve kept on giving when Alex spotted two Ruddy Shelducks sat by the side of the track as we were leaving. 
Ruddy Shelduck - Reserva de El Jarde, Fuerteventura
Ruddy Shelduck
With feral populations inhabiting Europe it was great to see the real deal here in Fuerteventura, and we were relatively surprised to see these large ducks away from any significant bodies of water, looking quite out of place on the dry dusty plains of the farmland.
Reserva de El Jarde - Fuerteventura
With the majority of our target species for Reserva de El Jarde under our belt, we decided to move on to our next site- the lush villages of Vega de Río Palmas and nearby Betancuria
Fuerteventura
Lined with palm trees and a far cry from the barren landscapes of El Jarde, after pulling up outside the green vegetated areas of the park at Plaza Concepción it was only a matter of seconds before we had located our next target – a high pitched tweeting revealed two smart African Blue Tits hopping through the leaves above our heads – if only all birds could be as easy as that! 
African Blue Tit - Betancuria, Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit
African Blue Tit - Betancuria, Fuerteventura
Affording great views as these much brighter and bolder relatives of our more familiar European Blue Tits preened and perched on the branches, we saw several more of these charismatic birds on our trip, including a further two individuals elsewhere in Betancuria – a definite hotspot for this species and a reliable site for locating them.
African Blue Tit - Betancuria, Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit - Betancuria, Fuerteventura
Heading towards Vega de Río Palmas – a usually reliable site for Laughing Dove on Fuerteventura – we were able to admire the beautiful scenery this part of the island holds, with the roads winding through the huge mountains and offering spectacular views across the plains below. 
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Sadly Vega de Rio Palmas and the surrounding palm trees drew a blank on the Laughing Dove front despite extensive searching, with just an unconfirmed view of a darker coloured dove powering along the side of the road before disappearing into a nearby copse of trees our only possible sighting.
Fuerteventura
Arriving at the small parking space amongst the unkempt allotments and gardens at Barranco de las Peñitas, we immediately set to work birding the area. A familiar scratchy song emanating from the scrub signalled our first Sardinian Warblers of the trip, while the Canary Islands subspecies of Robin serenaded us from a nearby water pool. Enjoying a quick bite to eat as Ravens cronked overhead, we watched as a Kestrel attempted to hunt in the arid surrounds while the unmistakable orange flash of a Monarch butterfly flitted powerfully over the car.
Fuerteventura
The valley at Barranco de las Peñitas
Fuerteventura
It wasn’t long until Alex had picked up an extremely distant chat on the slopes, although zooming in with the scope unfortunately didn’t reveal any of the finer details. Whilst European Stonechats on the island are extremely few and far between, we wanted better views to really nail the ID as our Fuerteventuran endemic, so it was rather frustrating when it hopped down in to a ridge and didn’t show again. Unperturbed, we continued to scan the rest of the slopes, Alex again picking up another of our target species in the form of a pair of Barbary Partridges stepping gingerly across the scrubby rocks. Similar to our Red-legged Partridges, these African originals differ in their facial patterns, having a much more reddish-brown tone overall and a lack of white on the face. The thin brown shawl around the neck complete with white speckles is also distinctive.
Barbary Partridge - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
Spot the Barbary Partridge!
Fuerteventura
The slope the Partridges were living on
With no further sign of our chat we headed back towards the car, a third African Blue Tit perched on the metal fencing providing excellent views as we kneeled close by. 
African Blue Tit - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit - Vega de Rio Palmas Fuerteventura
African Blue Tit - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
Remarkably, the noise from the Blue Tit had attracted another bird close in, and taking a look through our binoculars we were stunned to see a fine male Fuerteventura Chat staring back at us, bobbing up and down on the scrub and providing outstanding views. Remarkably it proceeded to come even closer, at one point settling mere metres away – what a way to see a lifer! 
Fuerteventura Chat - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura Chat!
Fuerteventura Chat - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
Endemic to the island of Fuerteventura, Fuerteventura Chats have now been split and enjoy full species status, differing from European Stonechats by their all white throat and small white eyebrow above the eye. Truly smart little birds, we savoured these incredible views as it hopped from cactus to cactus in the garden.
Fuerteventura Chat - Vega de Rio Palmas, Fuerteventura
Winding our way back through the valleys and back in to Betancuria revealed two more African Blue Tits calling loudly from a stand of nearby conifers, while a short drive around the nearby farm settlements resulted in point blank views of several Berthelot’s Pipits feeding in the soil as a second Hoopoe preened on the roadside fence. 
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
Stopping off by the side of the road in an attempt to ID a species of butterfly hovering above the car also resulted in us flushing a covey of 12 more Barbary Partridges, this time tolerating much closer views and even allowing a brief record shot before they scattered.
Barbary Partridge - Fuerteventura
Barbary Partridge record shot!
We also came across our first Barbary Ground Squirrels of the trip, native to Africa but introduced to Fuerteventura in the 1960’s where the population is now thriving.
Barbary Squirrel - Fuerteventura
Barbary Squirrel
Barbary Squirrel - Fuerteventura
Barbary Squirrel - Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura
Having combed the area for Laughing Doves but with no success, we headed towards the north of the island where a brief stop at Casa de los Coroneles drew a blank in terms of bustards and coursers – several Berthelot’s Pipits foraging for ants in the sandy soil the only birds of note here.
Casa de los Coroneles - Fuerteventura
Casa de los Coroneles
Berthelot's Pipit - Fuerteventura
Berthelot's Pipit
Arriving at our hotel in Corralejo we stocked up on juice and supplies for the coming days before settling down for the night, enjoying a delicious Spanish meal of flavoursome ham with hot cheese and tasty pork steaks at a local restaurant. With the majority of our target species already seen on our first morning, there was now only the realistic prospect of Laughing Dove to add to our trip list as a new bird over the coming days. Our first foray in to Fuerteventura birding had certainly been a huge success, and we headed to bed looking forward to what the next few days would bring.
Fuerteventura

No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...