Fuerteventura, Canary Islands – 12th-19th November 2011
This was our first visit to Fuerteventura and I wasn’t expecting more than about 50 species. I had three targets – Fuerteventura Chat, an island endemic, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, dipped in Spain and Trumpeter Finch, dipped in Tenerife in 2001 and in Britain since. Bridgette planned to do some diving as she had learnt to dive over the summer. Generally we were both just looking forward to a break. We stayed in an apartment at Castillo Beach Club at Caleta de Fuste.
S 12th November 2011
Aside from a Pied Wagtail at Bristol Airport I didn’t write a single bird in my notebook today. We took a midday flight to Fuerteventura with Thomas Cook arriving at around 4:30pm. It seemed to take ages to clear the airport and find the courtesy bus to pick up our hire car from Gold Cars. They were bad and were averaging 45 minutes to issue a car out. With just two clerks dealing with a packed office and a further delay because we refused the car until we got a parcel shelf to hide things left in the boot it was dark by the time we were on the road. When we arrived at our accommodation late and said we had car hire problems, the check-in clerk just said knowingly “Gold Cars?”. You have been warned!
Su 13th November 2011
I left Bridgette sleeping as usual and headed out at first light for a look around. It was, as expected hard going, I had just ten species – Collared Doves, two male Spanish Sparrows, a Kestrel of the Canary Islands subspecies dacotiae, six of the ever present Berthelot’s Pipits, two Chiffchaffs, a Raven, a Southern Grey Shrike of the Canary Islands subspecies koenigi, which gave me the run-around, 34+ Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls, six Goldfinches and a flyover Hoopoe. All were on dry, rocky desert-like landscape adjacent to the apartment with very few plants other than tamarisks and a few spindly trees.
I went back and joined Bridgette for breakfast, we sat outside enjoying the sun, and three Pallid Swifts were circling the complex. We decided to have a local lazy day, so after breakfast we wandered down into Caleta de Fuste. Twelve Sandwich Terns were sat on a line of buoys just off of the beach. We discovered a barranco running from the golf course down to the sea, it had a little water in it and a good collection of birds. There were four Common Sandpipers, a Dunlin, six Ringed Plovers, a Redshank, a Grey Wagtail of the Canary Islands subspecies canariensis, a Hoopoe, a Scarlet Darter and an Emperor Dragonfly.
After lunch we walked to the Deep Blue dive centre so Bridgette could book a dive for Wednesday, then continued a couple of hundred yards past The Penalty Spot pub where we found a few people feeding fruit and nuts to the colony of BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS here. They were active and entertaining to watch. Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows also fed on the free food, a Whimbrel and another Redshank were on the shoreline rocks. Walking back we saw Painted Ladies and African Migrant butterflies.
M 14th November 2011
It was Bridgette’s birthday so we celebrated by going birding. We got up early and headed towards the Jandía peninsula in the extreme south of the island. Our first stop was to be at Costa Calma to search for my target species. The main roads in Fuerteventura must be the best roads in Europe, a joy to travel on. On the way Southern Grey Shrikes were at La Pared and Tarajalejo. We arrived at Costa Calma but were frustrated finding our way out into the desert-like habitat, due to the construction of a new road, and eventually parked behind a housing complex and walked in. It was very hot. White Wagtail, Black Redstart and Spectacled Warbler were holiday ticks but there was no sign of any of the target birds or Houbara Bustards. We covered a wide area, saw a few Rabbits, a Barbary Ground Squirrel, two more Southern Grey Shrikes, an EASTERN CANARY SKINK (amazingly the only lizard of the week) and then we heard the bubbling call of Sandgrouse, they seemed to be everywhere but we couldn’t see them. It was very frustrating! A couple of Lesser Short-toed Larks flew up and then a BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE burst from cover, followed by two more which gave good flight views as they flew towards the wind farm on the hill. We returned to the car to cold drinks and air-con, we had decided it was now too late for bustards and would move on.
We drove to Jandía where we stopped to buy lunch and then on to the Faro de Jandía at the southernmost tip of Fuerteventura. Apart from a Kestrel, the only birds here was a flock of 35 Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls and 6+ Cory’s Shearwaters were over the rolling waves just offshore. As Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls are in the news these days a few photos are below.
Leaving the lighthouse we took the pass to Cofete, which was an entirely different proposition to the main roads, being little more than a narrow dusty dirt track with steep drops at the edges. We made it to the bottom without to much trouble, being lucky enough to only meet oncoming traffic at passing places. We realised the only way out of the valley was back the way we came, having usefully left the map in the apartment. As we started to ascend I spotted two FUERTEVENTURA CHATS in the garden, the island’s only endemic, my second target of the holiday. On the way back up a photo stop produced two Spectacled Warblers and a Little Egret at Jandía was a holiday tick.
On the way back we stopped at a small lake called Catalina Garcia, which was inspired as it not only held water it was awash with birds. There were 35 RUDDY SHELDUCKS, which breed on Fuerteventura so were probably more tickable than any I’d seen in Britain. Fifty Coots were amongst them, along with 6+ Moorhens and along the edges were four Eurasian Teal or so I thought, then one shook its wings and revealed a lovely cobalt blue flash, it was a BLUE-WINGED TEAL! I don’t know if it had been found before today but it felt like a good find to me. There was a really impressive collection of waders too for such an arid country, there were 11 species here, a Little Stint, three Little Ringed Plovers, two Dunlins, five Black-winged Stilts, two Ruff, four Greenshanks, a Spotted Redshank, two Snipe, a Common Sandpiper, a Kentish Plover and a Curlew Sandpiper.
I managed a distant record shot of the Blue-winged Teal (below) but intended going back for better as this site was only half an hour from our apartment.
Just before we left Tony Clarke arrived with a party of birders, we hadn’t seen each other for 10 years, so it was nice to see him. I told him about the Blue-winged Teal and told him a local birder called Roland had photographed a Bittern earlier. In the evening we went out for a nice meal to celebrate Bridgette’s birthday, it had been a very good day, but still no sign of my most wanted, Trumpeter Finch, which were supposed to be common where we were staying.
T 15th November 2011
Early morning I walked down to the golf course and the barranco. A pair of Mallards on the golf course were holiday ticks. There was also a Hoopoe and a juvenile Fuerteventura Chat was on the boundary fence. The barranco held three Ringed Plovers, three Common Sandpipers, two Dunlins and a Grey Wagtail. A RED-VEINED DARTER here was new for me. I went home and we went out for breakfast and then we went into town to the Deep Blue dive centre where Bridgette booked a dive for tomorrow.
Then we set off for the rest of the day first stopping at Salinas del Carmen. The most notable bird was a juvenile Gannet, which seemed lost as it went backwards and forwards past the Salinas several times before settling on the sea. We had some fun then feeding and filming the small but manic colony of Barbary Ground Squirrels.
We drove inland then heading for Tiscamanita where we knew carcasses were left for Egyptian Vultures. We didn’t have exact directions but we knew we needed to head off right just before leaving the village. A proper road soon led to a fork of dusty red tracks off into the distance. We took the left fork and headed towards Caldera de la Laguna. After a couple of hundred yards we came upon a flock of 30+ Lesser Short-toed Larks. A little further and the car was surrounded by inquisitive Camels, after negotiating them we parked up and headed out on foot. Bridgette went off to take photos and I followed the main track. It was hot, silent and practically birdless.
I saw a pair of Spectacled Warblers and 6+ Ravens but nothing else. Just as I was about to give up I spotted a juvenile Egyptian Vulture briefly, flying out of sight below the horizon and appearing to land. I went back and fetched Bridge, we crested the horizon and saw – nothing! I didn’t know where it had gone but suddenly six Egyptian Vultures came off the ground from below a low stone wall. It was into the sun so we didn’t get photos and in any case they went from the ground to about 1000 feet in about two minutes.
We left and headed off in search of Embalse de las Molinos but initially got lost and found ourselves heading for Llanos de la Concepcion. Here there were 30+ Spanish Sparrows, a Hoopoe, a Southern Grey Shrike and a Barbary Ground Squirrel. Then we tried to access the reservoir on rough tracks from the south but couldn’t really get close. We could see there were a lot of birds there though but they were distant. Finally we got ourselves sorted and found the road in to the dam from the north at Las Parcelas past the goat farm. A Grey Heron, a pair of Wigeon, a Canary Islands Buzzard and two pure-looking Rock Doves were all new for the holiday. Also there was a great count of 80+ Ruddy Shelducks, three Teal, 120+ Coots, a Black-winged Stilts, two Common Sandpipers, two Greenshanks, a Kestrel and 50+ Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls.
W 16th November 2011
Bridgette was doing her first ocean dive today, she’s certainly braver than me. I watched and filmed from the shore until she went under then I went off for a walk for half an hour. I met Bridgette when she came back ashore and we stopped for a while to see the underwater pictures, then we went to a nearby bar and had lunch.
After lunch we headed back to Las Parcelas where I had been tipped off we could see Trumpeter Finches, although we hadn’t seen any yesterday. We stopped along the road to Embalse de las Molinos at the end of the goat farm paddock. There were birds everywhere including four Lesser Short-toed Larks, 10+ TRUMPETER FINCHES, at least three Fuerteventura Chats, including a male, a female and a juvenile, 20+ Spanish Sparrows, six Berthelot’s Pipits, a Southern Grey Shrike and a Canary Islands Buzzard was overhead. You need to be wary of the fierce dogs here.
Having enjoyed an hour taking photos and finally getting to grips with TRUMPETER FINCHES we drove on down to the dam. The birds were pretty much the same as before, less Ruddy Shelducks and more Coots, but at the far end of the reservoir I scoped a pair of diving ducks. Unbelievably it was a pair of RING-NECKED DUCKS. I took very distant photos but they weren’t great. However two birders came walking up from that end of the reservoir, we hadn’t gone down there because there was a no entry sign at our end. They were German birders and confirmed that they were indeed RING-NECKED DUCKS. They also said that earlier they had four Marbled Ducks but they had flown off. I suggested we call in at Catalina Garcia on the way home just in case they had flown there.
There wasn’t a lot of daylight left when we got there, but it only takes a short time to survey the whole lake. The Blue-winged Teal was still present as were most of the waders and 30 Ruddy Shelducks but sadly no sign of Marbled Ducks. The only new bird for the holiday was a lone Swallow.
Th 17th November 2011
This morning we set out early to have another go for Bustards at El Cotillo. A Canary Islands Buzzard was at Caldereta. We drove onto the plains at El Cotillo and drove the tracks without seeing a single Bustard, Courser or surprisingly Stone Curlew (a bird we didn’t see at all, all week). Then we walked towards the hills to a deserted farm. Whilst driving we saw two Hoopoes, two Meadow Pipits were new for the holiday list, a pair of Ruddy Shelducks on a tiny pond was a surprise, another Buzzard and a Spectacled Warbler. At the deserted farm were 4+ Lesser Short-toed Larks, 10+ Trumpeter Finches, 15+ Linnets, new for the list and two Rock Doves. We then tried some other areas on the way out of El Cotillo to the right of the main road, there was very little there except the ubiquitous Berthelot’s Pipits. At one spot I thought I had finally found Bustards but when I focussed the scope it was two Peacocks!
We drove to the lovely mountain village of Betancuria, a Southern Grey Shrike was at Mirador de Morro Velosa on the way. We had lunch in a nice little restaurant where we dined on tortillas and the local Tropical beer. Then we went for a walk around the village where we added three species to the holiday list – three African Blue Tits of the racedegener, a Barbary Falcon soaring above the village and a cracking male Sardinian Warbler. Also four Monarch butterflies here.
We left then and started to head back to home. We stopped at a couple of the mountain viewpoints, one of which held probably the tamest wild Ravens in the world. At one point I was sat on the barrier with one right next to me. Also here was a colony of Barbary Ground Squirrels.
It seemed a shame to drive past Catalina Garcia without stopping so we did and yet again were rewarded. This time with a Squacco Heron sat in the reeds enjoying the sunshine. The Blue-winged Teal was also nearer than it usually was.
F 18th November 2011
Bridgette was doing her second ocean dive today, so we decided to make the most of the morning by setting out early back to Costa Calma. We again failed at Bustards but almost immediately found a small flock of eight Cream-coloured Coursers, which showed really well. Also here we had four Hoopoes, two Spectacled Warblers, three Lesser Short-toed Larks and in the town the only Blackbird of the week flew over. We had a look around La Lajita, where Laughing Doves have been recorded but we didn’t find any.
We had lunch and I dropped Bridgette off for her dive and headed off for my new favourite spot, Catalina Garcia. When I arrived the Eurasian Bittern that had been reported was sat at the edge of the reeds showing brilliantly. There were again 11 species of waders, the Blue-winged Teal was still present, four Trumpeter Finches flew in to drink, and there were now two Swallows.
S 19th November 2011
Today we were going home so we packed up early and checked out, heading for a final time to Costa Calma, but we turned right at the roundabout just before the town and just before La Pared we drove out into the desert. This was our final failure at Houbara Bustards, although Tony Clarke’s party had been successful at Costa Calma earlier in the week. I was glad we had seen them before on Lanzarote. We had a huge flock of 70 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight and I finally managed a haze-affected shot of one of five Lesser Short-toed Larks.
Then we made a last visit to Catalina Garcia, which had been great all week, and got even better after we had gone home when an Allen’s Gallinule was found here! I would’ve loved that one. All the usual suspects were there, but all of the rarer species weren’t around. As a final parting shot 11 Black-bellied Sandgrouse circled the lake and seven landed for less than 30 seconds, I managed one shot and they were gone.
That was that, we went to the airport had some lunch, did some last minute shopping and flew home. It had been a good week, I had got my three target species and Bridgette had done her first ocean dives.
© Mike & Bridgette King – The Gloster Birder 2011