Fuerteventura, 15-21 November

Añadir imagenWhen my friend Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides asked me if I wanted to a join a few friends and himself on a trip to Fuerteventura in the second part of November it didn't take me long to think about it, consult with She who gave her blessing, and I accepted before She changed her mind, even though other priorities mean that I had to reurn to the Peninsula a day early on 21 November but it was a Sunday and well know what Sunday birding can be like. So, with apologies for posting this a week after returning but there were some 600 photos to sort and 400 e-mails awaiting attention, plus reverting to being chief dogsbody for shopping and such mundane exercises, here is the story of 6 days of R & R.

All these photos are my own, the majority with my Olympus E-450 with 70-300mm zoom (4/3 system) and some which were digiscoped by Stephen through his scope using my little Nikon, this means that if you look at Stephen's blog at http://andalucianguides.blogspot.com/ and then click on the 'never mind the finnsticks' header, you will see that he has some great photographs, mine are obviously very inferior.

It may seem odd to you (it certainly did to me) that there are no direct flights from Málaga to Fuerteventura but there aren't and the easiest way is through Madrid, although with long layovers. Thus it was on Monday 15 November that I flew to Madrid, met up with Stephen, who had flown up from Jerez, at T4 and then we transferred to T1 before flying south and the birding as well as meeting the other participants: David and Dee Griffiths and Pat and Valerie Pearson (L), all of us staying in the Hotel Elba Carlota in Caleta de Fuste, a few kms. from the airfield, indeed the approach from the south flew over the hotel but fortunately there were relatively few inbound flights per day and certainly not at intempestuous hours.

16 November : Mostly sunny with some clouds at midday. The manadatory pre-breakfast walk in front of the hotel and a few hundred metres N to the rocky area gave 3 Gannets, the only ones seen all trip, a couple of Sandwich Terns, with up to 5 or 6 of these being seen daily while on the beach and rocks there were the usually present Turnstones (normally 2), Kentish Plovers (up to 18 seen this first morning) and a single Whimbrel.

After breakfast we set off in the general direction of La Oliva, seeing the first of many Ravens (the Canary race), the omnipresent Berthelot's Pipits (L) and were surprised by the density of Southern Grey Shrikes (race koenigii), while along the way at one of the muñtiple stops some of saw a single House Sparrow, the only one of the trip that I have noted, the rest being Spanish Sparrows. Further north we turned off the road in search of whatever might come into view and saw our first Barbary Ground Squirrels, which in an odd way reminded me of Meerkats when they stood up, on the rough side of a barranco, while in the avian line there were some Linnets and Spectacled Warblers, a species which has some specal attraction for Stephen, and a short view and not too satisfactory view of what we decided was a female/imm. Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff, which we believe to be probably a Canary island Chiff.

All this was very nice and scenery, arid and rocky, made one wonder how birds manage to survive in such a barren landscape, scarcely without trees but with some stunning sights. But it was when we came to the goat farm at Barranco del Valle that we started to get in amongst the specialities. Black-bellied Sandgrouse, of which you often hear the bubbling call before seeing the birds which fly over at an incredible rate and, like fighters passing low but as soon as they touch down their dorsal camouflage, nowadays known as cryptic colouration, makes them disappear as they scuttle away from you across the stoney ground (R). The first Trumpeter Finches and the first 4 Ruddy Shelducks of the day were also seen here.

Lunch was taken at the restaurant "El Labrador" (not the dog but a worker) at Castillas del Angel near Puerto del Rosario where we ate extremely well by the simple method of picking several dishes, including the Canary speciality of papas arrugadas - wrinkled potatoes to you - and which probably resemble the first ones brought back from the Americas than those we buy nowadays.

After lunch we went further around downstream of the dry dam of the embalse de Los Molinos and had our first really good views of Fuerteventura Chat, a species recently separated from our wellknown Stonechat, as well as seeing more Ruddy Shelducks making a total of 38 for the day, hearing and seeing some more Black-bellied Sandgrouse while down in the thin trickle of the stream there was a single Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover.

From there it was back to the coast at Cala de Fustes to look for waders amongst the rocks where apart from those seen in the morning there was also a Grey Heron, ca.40 Ringed Plovers, 5-7 Sandwich Terns moving back and forth which made counting difficult, a single juv. Gannet way out at sea ploughing its way north and a single 1st winter Black-headed Gull.

17 November Cloudy am with sun all pm. The pre-breakfast walk gave us the maximum Whimbrel count of 4 birds and also a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Thus fortified for the morning, or at least until coffee time, we drove around the Blanca and El Cortijo area, seeing more Southern Grey Shrikes, Ravens and the Spectacled Warblers which have Stephen besotted/bewitched, I'm not sure which! and the ever-present Berthelot's Pipits, their Spanish name of Bisbita Caminero - loosely translated as the 'running pipit' - is most appropriate as they never stop moving, so getting a satisfactory photograph or two is quite an achievement. They were named after Sabin Berthelot, a French naturalist, born in Marseilles in 1794 and later French consul in Sta. Cruz de Tenerife where he died in 1880 - how about that for a bit of useless historical information with which to astound your friends?

Going out back towards the Antigua road junction, we saw 6 Common Buzzards as well as two military helicopters doing something so it was back towards the coast on the FV-2, heading south.

It was shortly after this, when we turned down the track by the goast farm at Antigua where not only was there a flock of Trumpeter Finches but also 3 highly cooperative and photogenic Cream-coloured Coursers (R), one of the major objectives of the trip and the only ones of the trip in spite of searching.

Lunch was taken at the restaurant "La Marisma" in Gran Tarajal and thence across to the F-617 road between Costa Calma and Pared on the rocky dunes in search of the second real rarity of the trip, going down towards Morro del Jable in search of Houbara Bustards.

This species
inhabits a huge area of sandy scrub and in a well signposted sensitive area, not that the signs appear to make much difference as as there are tracks of trailbikes and quads everywhere, once more testifying to the illiteracy of those who use the countryside and laying bare the apparent lack of policing by the environmental authorities of the island and Canaries in general.

We stopped, we scoured the countryside through binoculars and telescopes, Stephen and the others decided to go on along the track whilst one idiot decided to walk as he thought, wrongly as it turned out, that he might see something which might be missed from a vehicle. As I breasted the rise and caught sight of the crew-bus, I was treated to the spectacle of Stephen and Pat hurtling down the hillside, followed rather more sedately by David, whilst Val and Dee sensibly remained up by the van and watched from a distance. As Stephen stopped every now and again to raise his telephoto lens and by dint of following the angle that he was pointing, I too saw the 2 Houbaras just in time, one pitching down just as I picked them up and the other not far away. And they simply disappeared, melted away, gone, the black and white flashing of the wings gave way to the disruptive plumage of the upperparts. But we had seen them. The second big one had fallen, and there was still plenty of good birding to come. Oh yes, and there was a single Trumpeter Finch too.

18 November
Poor weather with rain showers most of the day. After the mandatory morning walk under lowering skies along the shore before breakfast when we saw absolutely nothing new, it was off in the general direction of La Oliva. This site showed us a few rather elusive Laughing Doves, many Spanish Sparrows, a single Sardinian Warbler, more of Stephen's favourite Spectacled Warblers and Southern Grey Shrike, Common Ravens of the Canary Island race canariensis).

By then the weather was deteriorating and we checked the Correlejo area for birds until the consensus was that lunch should be taken, this in La Oliva at the bar-restaurant El Horno where the general consensus was that the pizzas were some of the best ever eaten, a place which we recommend for the hungry.

Barbary Falcon on pylon Los Alares and 2 adult Egyptian Vultures on the cliffs of the barranco behind the salinas del Carmen, it being well posted so that the ignorant could not mistake the importance of the site for this rare CanaryIslands species.

19 November : A cloudy start then some sun pm. We made an early start at 07.oo, past the Salinas del Carmen and through to the barranco where a pair of Egyptian Vultures breed with 2 birds obligingly on the nest site (R). Visitors are, as can be seen from the photograph (above L), requested to keep their distance and not even pass during the breeding season, given the sensitivity of the birds to disturbance.

From there we went on to Los Alares, where we had good views of Common Buzzard perched and later in flight (L above), more Spectacled Warblers - the whole place was crawling with them - and Berthelot's Pipit. The late morning coffee stop at Antigua was enlivened by seeing the only Blue Tit of the trip (R above), a bird of North African race ultramarinus with wing-bar, this lacking in the Canary race teneriffae. (Stephen's photograph).

Lunch was taken at a small roadside bar-restaurant but when a Barbary Falcon flew over we all piled out of the door, probably looking like something out of a Marx Brothers film and certainly to the surprise of a the few locals, one of which would have made a good stand-in for a lighthouse siren in fog.

Going in south of the dam at Los Molinos to see if there was anything on the thin thread of standing water we first had an adult Egyptian Vulture fly over in front of us and down in the barranco on the stream we had quite decent views of 6 Ruddy Shelducks, although I later heard from Tony Clarke that they had seen 80 in the same area later in the afternoon, leaving us to think that the birds must disperse into the rocky plains and come in late to drink, as too the Black-bellied Sandgrouse which we also heard must do. This is a good area for Fuerteventura Chats and we were not to be disappointed. A juv. Little Ringed Plover was rooting around in the sides of the stream.
20 November : Clouds and sun. An early morning visit to the Salinas del Carmen at 0700 hrs gave a single Redshank, 2 Little Egrets, 1 Eurasian Spoonbill (juv), Sanderling and the solitary Black-winged Stilt. From there we took the FV617- road between Costa Calma and Pared nefore peeling off on the track over the rocky dunes to search for elusive Houbara Bustards (below R) and hopefully gain better views than the previous day. And we had luck.

First we found recent foot prints by the tracks, so recent that sand was still trickling in and the central toe nail had marked the sand so the birds had be close, so it was down to searching with telescopes. These took some finding but eventualy we located a pair feeding tranquilly, albeit at some distance, and had the pleasure of watching them for well over an hour as they slowly moved away. Heaven knows how many photographs were aken, the best method being the digiscoping with a small cameras, as in the attached, as they kept low most of the time and once one lost sight of one, it was more than difficult to find it again.

In the same area we also saw 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight (twice), yet another Southern Grey Shrike, more Common Ravens, Trumpeter Finch, Berthelot's Pipits, Lesser Short-toed Larks, Common Buzzard and a Kestrel. Lunch was again taken at Restaurant El Labrador.

21 November : Overcast all day. (These are Stephen's notes for the day as I was travelling, including a reading complete paperback inTerminal 4 at Barajas airfield, Madrid.)

Early morning after dropping me off at the airfield, Stephen saw Ruddy Shelduck (11) on the Salinas de Antigua Golf course (opposite hotel), together with 2 Common Sandpipers, Whimbrel, Fuertevnetura Chat, Black Redstart, Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike. After breakfast the group took the La Oliva to Tindaya track (very quiet) and tried for Houbara Bustards again but with no joy! Lunch was taken at El Cotillo on the coast at a lovely restaurant called 'Azzurro' (correct spelling) with great views, tapas & fresh fish.

After lunch they went took tracks through the dunes near El Cotillo, seing Lesser Short-toed Larks and 1 sub-adult Barbary Falcon hunting them! What a way to finish the trip!

22 November : Stephen managed to have a brief view of 2 Plain Swifts over the hotel before he too left for home.

Mammals and insects We saw very few lizards and then only at one site and which were not identified. I managed some photographs of a red darter dragonfly and we were all enchanted by the Barbary Ground Squirrels, some of which were exceedingly tame, even the one that was tryng to eat Stephen!

A full annotated trip list will be available by about 10 December for those who want one.

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