Friday 24th February 2017
FUERTEVENTURA - ISLAND OF THE SUN
Friday 24th - Monday 27th February 2017
With Storm Doris out of the way we were glad to meet the group at a very chilly but bright and calm Gatwick Airport for our flight down to Fuerteventura.
Our flight down to the Canaries took just over three and a half hours, over Southampton with stunning views of the Isle of Wight, Poole Harbour and Portland Bill.
We arrived to warm but slightly overcast weather in Fuerteventura, picked up our minibus and headed off northwards.
The journey produced a few YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS plus COMMON KESTREL of the race dacotae and NORTHERN RAVEN of the smaller race tinginatus.
Once we got closer to our destination, we turned off onto one of the many dirt tracks that cover the area and it wasn't long before we spotted our first SPANISH SPARROWS and HOOPOE of the tour.
A small area of land held two LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL and a little further on we had excellent views of several SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES of the race koenigi including a fine juvenile. BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS ran around the walls made from blocks of lava, always on the look-out for predators.
With our stomachs rumbling due to the very early start, we headed down a track only to find it flooded at the end. With a spot of careful reversing, we turned and headed back into town and past the gulls, which had now increased in number with the addition of more LESSER BLACK-BACKS and two YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.
Eventually we found the right track and drove down to our lunch spot. This small area of agricultural land is very good for passerines and it didn't take long before a male FUERTEVENTURA STONECHAT flitted up onto a fence. During the next thirty minutes, we found a family party of this sought-after species and they were good to see within just one hour of landing!
At least two LAUGHING DOVES flew around a large willow-type tree and both HOOPOE and SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES were numerous. Overhead we watched a few COMMON BUZZARDS of the fuerte race insularum and an EGYPTIAN VULTURE of the darker race majorensis.
Warm weather brought out many butterflies including GREENISH BLACK-TIP and what were almost certainly GREEN-STRIPED WHITES plus a few unidentifiable blues.
A pair of TRUMPETER FINCHES showed well as they fed on the ground and a single BERTHELOT'S PIPIT was spotted in an open field before flying overhead uttering its distinctive call.
With time moving on we tried another area nearby in the hope of seeing more specialities of this barren island. A super EGYPTIAN VULTURE was seen in a field feeding whilst another was spotted in flight.
Large flocks of SPANISH SPARROWS flew about plus there were a super pair of TRUMPETER FINCH including a smart displaying male. A lone BERTHELOT'S PIPIT was even briefly before disappearing from view.
Carrying on, we drove southwards and within a few metres of turning, three cracking CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS were spotted close to the road. On closer inspection there were two adults and a juvenile and it was great to watch these intriguing-looking birds as they strutted around.
Moving on up the track we were lucky to see a male HOUBARA BUSTARD close to the road! We had brilliant views as it wandered about before heading down the slope where we found another. We couldn't believe our luck as we had only been on the island a few hours and had already seen our two main targets.
After a while we retraced our steps only to find five more CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS feeding on the open plains.
Another brief stop was made at the fields but apart from a single CHIFFCHAFF feeding in Tamarisk it was rather quiet.
We arrived at our hotel a little earlier than planned and after getting water from the local supermarket, we checked in and had some rest before meeting for a pre-dinner drink.
Our evening meal was delicious and just what was needed after a very long day, and what a good one it had been!
Saturday 25th February 2017
We met just before sunrise and headed to a nearby area of open plain where we slowly drove along tracks using our van as a hide. Good numbers of HOOPOE and SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE were seen and they were very confiding.
It didn't take too long before we found our first HOUBARA BUSTARD of the morning which showed well close by. During our time here we found a total of six HOUBARA BUSTARDS including two displaying males, doing an impression of demented headless Chickens!
Other goodies seen here included two adult and two juvenile CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS, three STONE CURLEW, BERTHELOT'S PIPITS, LESSER SHORT-TOED LARKS and RAVENS.
With our stomachs rumbling, we drove back for breakfast which went down very well especially the excellent coffee!
Afterwards we visited a large reservoir, the largest freshwater area on the island which produced good numbers of RUDDY SHELDUCK amongst COOT. A scan of the edges produced a few waders with BLACK-WINGED STILTS being the most numerous plus GREENSHANK, COMMON SANDPIPER, COMMON SNIPE, LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS and a single SPOTTED REDSHANK.
There were a few ducks comprising of TEAL, MALLARD and a couple of WIGEON plus some odd looking Mallard hybrids.
It wasn't just waterfowl though as there were quite a few EGYPTIAN VULTURES, COMMON BUZZARDS and YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. Good numbers of BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE were seen in flight plus a couple of FUERTEVENTURA STONECHAT.
We reached the shallow end of the reservoir which held several LITTLE RINGED PLOVER but little else so we began to retrace our steps. The sun came out and this encouraged other wildlife to do the same with good numbers of ATLANTIC LIZARDS basking on the rocky walls and SAHARA BLUETAIL DAMSELFLIES out in force. We also came across an EASTERN CANARIAN GECKO basking in the sunshine which allowed good views.
It was great to get back to the van for a drink before dropping down to the coast for a spot of lunch. A gaggle of MUSCOVY DUCK greeted us along with a PEAHEN and after sorting out our food, we climbed up onto the rocks which overlooked the sea. We soon picked up a couple of CORY'S SHEARWATER heading northwards and over the next thirty minutes or so we recorded at least thirty moving north. Three GANNETS flew south before we headed back to the van.
Our journey took us south through some spectacular scenery until we reached the old capital of Fuerteventura - Betancuria. After parking up, we had a stroll around the village noting SARDINIAN WARBLER, CHIFFCHAFF, BLACKCAP and our first AFRICAN BLUE TIT of the Fuerteventuran race which is considered by some authorities to be a potential split in the future.
Eventually we had great views, as up till now Houbara Bustard had been easier to find than Blue Tit! In a sheltered spot we had flight views of a MONARCH BUTTERFLY as it flapped lazily around the treetops before we decided to treat ourselves to an ice-cream.
After we had retraced our steps to the van and settled ourselves in, just by the bonnet in a hole in the wall was an AFRICAN BLUE TIT - typical!
With time slipping away we popped into a site that is a potential migrant trap, but there was quite a few people around although several ROBINS were seen or heard plus SARDINIAN WARBLER, LAUGHING DOVE and COMMON KESTREL.
Our last port of call was a watch-point high in the mountains which was basked in glorious evening sunshine. COMMON BUZZARDS soared around plus we had point blank views of RAVEN and BARBARY GROUND SQUIRREL.
It was time to head towards base and we arrived back just as the sun was setting after what had been a good day of birding. After a hot shower, we met for dinner where the Garlic Prawns were a popular choice and for main course we had a pre-ordered a vegetable and a fish Paella which went down extremely well especially with a cold beer.
Sunday 26th February 2017
We decided to have a pre-breakfast walk around village to see what was around locally and to stretch the legs. In the adjacent fields were SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE, BERTHELOT'S PIPIT, HOOPOE and we heard BLACKCAP 'chacking' from a Prickly Pear field.
Time soon slipped away so we began the short walk back to the hotel, when a raptor zipped past us. Raising the bins we were delighted to see that it was a BARBARY FALCON! Luckily it landed on a hillside right in front of our hotel, so we ran to get the scopes and confirmed it as a juvenile.
This delightful bird made us slightly late for breakfast but no one cared as it great to see one of our main targets and just by our accommodation!
After a good breakfast we loaded up and headed south to the small town of Pajara where we took a stroll in the early morning sunshine. We watched a GOLDFINCH on a nest and several BLACKCAPS in the palms but they were quite elusive.
A CLOUDED YELLOW BUTTERFLY was seen in a dry riverbed plus an unidentified dragonfly species. Overhead we watched a couple of EGYPTIAN VULTURES plus a small party of PALLID SWIFTS flew through. Across the road were a pair of AFRICAN BLUE TITS one a singing male.
Retracing our steps we had a brief sighting of a Ring-necked Parakeet so we set off in search of this species that has a feral population on the islands. Despite a good search, the bird had simply vanished although we did see AFRICAN GRASS BLUE BUTTERFLY and FUERTEVENTURA GREEN-STRIPED WHITE BUTTERFLY.
Just as we reached the van, the RING-NECKED PARAKEET performed a noisy overhead flyby for us which was good after all the effort we had put in searching for it.
Our next port of call was on the coast near Costa Calma where we parked up with all the sun worshippers and kite surfers!
A stroll was taken through the scrub where we enjoyed our best views of BERTHELOT'S PIPITS before wandering out along the flat, sandy beach. A group of 21 WHIMBREL fed in a lagoon plus we found a pair of KENTISH PLOVER which were good to see. Four SPOONBILL roosted on the marsh and with the rising tide, they flew south and joined a small party of LITTLE EGRETS to feed. On closer inspection, two of the SPOONBILLS were colour-ringed but a little too far away to read the ring numbers.
With the tide coming in rapidly, some of the group took the opportunity to have a paddle in the warm water which apparently was quite delightful! A last look at some roosting gulls produced both LESSER BLACK-BACKED and YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS and a little nearer were some paler-mantled birds with dark legs - AUDOUIN'S GULLS! Eight of these scarce birds were seen, six adults and 2 juveniles and although distant you could pick out their red bills.
It was good to get back to the van for water and a rest before visiting our lunch stop in Morro Jable to the south of the island. Within a few minutes of parking, we had seen RING-NECKED PARAKEET and MONK PARAKEET with a healthy population of the latter species around the area.
Sandwiches with the addition of crisps went down well with everyone and whilst having lunch, we were entertained by MONK PARAKEETS, BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS and a CATTLE EGRET on the marsh.
A singing male SPECTACLED WARBLER gave brilliant views as it sat on top of bush in full view before skulking off and away.
The walk back to the van gave us brief views of two PLAIN SWIFTS as they flew low over palms before disappearing to the north.
It was then off to a zoo park that has breeding Red-vented Bulbul but despite a search we failed to find any, although we did see a couple of BLACKCAPS plus a free-flying HADADA IBIS and a mystery raptor with jesses on over a hillside. We managed good views of a MONARCH BUTTERFLY in the gardens and even better views of ice creams!
Our last main site was the Salinas del Carmen where a stroll along the beach turned up WHIMBREL, RINGED PLOVER, TURNSTONE and a few SANDWICH TERNS passing offshore. Setting up our scopes behind a building, we took a look out to sea which yielded good numbers of CORY'S SHEARWATER passing northwards with a total of around 80 birds.
We left to head home but made a brief stop at a damp ditch that held LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, COMMON SANDPIPER and a pair of WHITE WAGTAILS. Our journey back was slightly curtailed when we spotted a group of swifts feeding low over palms adjacent to the airport which looked good for PLAIN SWIFT and amongst them we located at least six HOUSE MARTINS.
As we drove into the village, probably the same BARBARY FALCON as we saw in the morning was powering its way over the rooftops.
Arriving back slightly later than planned (again) we had time for a hot shower before meeting for our last evening meal of the tour which certainly filled us up.
Monday 27th February 2017
A short pre-breakfast walk was arranged this morning and we noted the usual suspects with the addition of a female FUERTEVENTURA STONECHAT.
After a hearty breakfast we drove a short distance from the hotel to an area designated as a EGYPTIAN VULTURE feeding station. On arrival there were good numbers of this scarce resident sitting around on the rocks with adults, sub-adults and immatures all mixing together.
In the compound we also watched many RAVENS, PIED WAGTAILS and HOOPOES. All of the Vultures eventually took to the air and we counted around 20 birds which was pretty good.
With the vultures nervous about coming back to the compound we left them in peace and ventured to another site. On the way out were several SPECTACLED WARBLERS and SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES before we drove north to the coast.
Stopping at what we thought a suitable spot along the coast proved problematic with the naturists which were not a pretty sight, we did however find two GREY PLOVERS flying north before we gave up and drove to the lighthouse at El Cotillo.
A few CORY'S SHEARWATER were seen plus a confiding SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE, BERTHELOT'S PIPITS and best of all, a pair of KENTISH PLOVERS including a splendid male!
A quick stop was made near the harbour but with only a couple of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS to note we headed back to base for lunch.
It was delightful to sit in the sunshine and tuck into lunch whilst enjoying a coffee. We said goodbye to our hosts and spent the remainder of our time in Fuerteventura back on the plains. The weather was now around 24 degrees and the plains quite hazy, but during our reasonably short time here we noted two BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, 10 CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS, BERTHELOT'S PIPITS, LESSER SHORT-TOED LARKS and a few SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES.
Unfortunately it was time to head to the airport where we checked in and took off later than scheduled. Luckily we made up time on our journey and landed at a damp Gatwick Airport where it was only three degrees!
Birding in Fuerteventura had been an absolute joy, with brilliant birds and wildlife, lovely weather, scrummy food and a lovely group of customers to spend time with!