Friday 15th February 2019
Our group met at a very foggy London Gatwick Airport for the flight down to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands and after checking in, we had breakfast and boarded the plane to find there wasn’t enough food for the journey. We then sat on the tarmac whilst cabin crew took food from another plane! We took off late but in just over four hours, landed in Fuerteventura to overcast but warm conditions.
After sorting out the van and loading up, we drove straight to the nearby Barranco de Rio Cabras where our main priority was having lunch after a very early start. Whilst tucking in we had excellent views of several NORTHERN RAVENS which are much smaller than the ones in the U.K. and with a different call.
Once suitably refreshed we walked over the stony plain to the edge of the Barranco where we found our first BLACK-WINGED STILTS plus RUDDY SHELDUCKS, LITTLE EGRETS and small numbers of SPANISH SPARROWS and EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES. A couple of MONK PARAKEETS zipped through as did a single LAUGHING DOVE and with the wind blowing briskly from the northwest, we moved to the top of the Barranco making our way into a slightly sheltered spot.
This was a good move as down below us were a family party of CANARY ISLAND CHATS, the only endemic on the island and a good bird to see so early in the tour. We had good views as they flitted about the vegetation close by. A pair of TRUMPETER FINCHES showed well on the rocks as did a GREAT GREY SHRIKE of the race koenigi.
Other birds of note included quite a few EGYPTIAN VULTURES plus COMMON BUZZARDS both showing well over the rubbish tip nearby. The sky started to look dark to the north so a quick scan of the wetlands provided us with a single GREEN SANDPIPER plus WHITE WAGTAIL before the first rain drops started to fall!
We made our way back to the van flushing a small party of LESSER SHORT-TOED LARKS in the process. Rain started to fall heavily, something we didn’t expect to happen in the Canary Islands!
We headed north through the rain and in the distance we could see clearer conditions behind dark clouds which boded well for the remainder of the afternoon.
Taking a dirt track off the main road, we slowly crept along and found our first BERTHELOT’S PIPITS scurrying around low vegetation close by and further on struck gold when David spotted a fine HOUBARA BUSTARD standing still close to the track! We had excellent views until a lorry came thundering past sending the bustard scurrying off.
Moving onwards we had only gone a short distance when Mike saw movement at the top of a ridge so we moved closer and discovered a family party of CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS feeding constantly on small insects.
With time getting on we turned around and had another brief view of the HOUBARA BUSTARD plus more BERTHELOT’S PIPITS which showed very nicely in the afternoon sunshine.
We had only gone a little way into the village when Jane O spotted some birds in a field close by, so a quick turn was made and four EURASIAN STONE-CURLEWS showed fabulously well in the afternoon sunshine.
We then went straight to our accommodation where we checked in and had time to unpack before meeting for a pre-dinner drink. Our evening meal went down very well with some large portions of typical Canarian food.
After completing the bird-list, we retired for the evening after a very long day travelling and birding.
Saturday 16th February 2019
We awoke to the chirping of SPANISH SPARROWS plus calling EURASIAN STONE-CURLEWS and lovely clear skies with only light winds.
Some of the group met for a pre-breakfast excursion to look for more Houbara Bustards and other species of the stony plains and we hadn’t gone far when several CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS were seen plus a single HOUBARA BUSTARD.
Over the next hour or so we were treated to some excellent sightings of up to 30 CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS plus LESSER SHORT-TOED LARKS, BERTHELOT’S PIPITS and flyover PALLID SWIFTS.
Time quickly ran away with us so we headed back for a late breakfast which was very welcome, especially the coffee!
Afterwards we met at the van where there was a distraction in the form of a GERANIUM BRONZE butterfly which allowed close approach, then we went south to visit the largest body of freshwater on the island. We took a walk along the ridge above the reservoir noting a group of EURASIAN COOT plus BLACK-WINGED STILTS, two SPOTTED REDSHANKS, COMMON SANDPIPER, COMMON GREENSHANK and lots of RUDDY SHELDUCK. The shallower eastern end yielded three EURASIAN SPOONBILL and overhead we had good sightings of BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE.
It was then down to the coast where we parked and immediately had stunning views of a singing male SPECTACLED WARBLER right in front of us, plus SAHARA BLUETAIL damselfly and a motley assortment of MUSCOVY DUCKS. The north-westerly wind was brisk with waves crashing into the cove and we moved up onto the cliffs to get better views of the area. This coincided with a superb flypast of a BARBARY FALCON as it hunted domestic ROCK DOVES before disappearing round the cliffs.
Delighted by this and with our stomachs rumbling, we drove up through the hills to the historical capital of the island, Betancuria and lunched close to the van before walking through the village. SARDINIAN WARBLERS were numerous and we had brief views of a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER in the tamarisks bordering the path. Our main target here was AFRICAN BLUE TIT of the Fuerteventura race which is potentially a full species. A family party fed in a small-holding and gave lovely views.
Further up in the village, we watched a STRIPED HAWK-MOTH feeding on Bougainvillia whilst nearby was a HUMMINGBIRD HAWKMOTH. After a while we headed back down and found several feeding COMMON CHIFFCHAFF plus an unseen EURASIAN BLACKCAP quietly singing from a tamarisk.
A single MONARCH BUTTERFLY glided past but only two of us managed to get onto it. A short while later we visited a new site which immediately yielded two BARBARY PARTRIDGE. They crossed the road before walking up a nearby hillside and further along, we came across a single bird perched close by which quickly scuttled away.
After parking we explored the area and soon found a beautiful male ATLANTIC CANARY perched up on a bush which is not a common species on the island, unlike some of the other Canarian Islands. Several more ATLANTIC CANARIES were seen and showed well as did three more BARBARY PARTRIDGE, one of which called from the rocky hillside.
Another stop was made at a migrant hotspot where we had brief views of a singing male EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE plus a calling YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. Other highlights included EASTERN CANARIAN GECKO, LAUGHING DOVE and several BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS.
We concluded the day at a watchpoint in the hills where NORTHERN RAVENS were particularly confiding as was a single BERTHELOT’S PIPIT. Jane N hand fed the Ravens which absolutely delighted her as her constant smile proved!
It was then back to base where we had time for a refreshing hot shower before meeting for our evening meal. The garlic prawns remained popular for starters and everyone except for David had a mixed Paella which could have fed hundreds!
After a long day in the field we turned in, very much looking forward to the following day of birding.
Sunday 17th February 2019
Another pre-breakfast excursion out onto the plains was organised and the weather was calm and sunny as we made our way. We had only gone a few yards when two EURASIAN STONE-CURLEW were seen right next to the track giving stunning views. Carrying on, we didn’t have to wait to see HOUBARA BUSTARD either with at least four birds showing well and walking in front, behind and down the side of us which offered great photographic opportunities.
LESSER SHORT-TOED LARKS, BERTHELOT’S PIPITS and a couple of RUDDY SHELDUCK were seen and four distant CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS were noted. With a long day ahead, we drove back for a welcome breakfast.
Afterwards we headed to the south of the island, past the tourist hotels down to the coastal town of Morro Jable where as we parked, two WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS fed on the short turf of the road verge. Good numbers of MONK PARAKEETS were seen plus a single COMMON CHIFFCHAFF and a calling YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER which remained unseen.
Over the road were a few BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS plus SPECTACLED WARBLER and a very tame BERTHELOT’S PIPIT.
Retracing our steps north, we called in to a woodland in Costa Calma where two RED-VENTED BULBULS were seen plus a short while later, a smart immature/female RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER showed well as it flicked around the trees. A small party of PALLID SWIFTS flew over us and Tony did well to find another YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER which showed for some of the group.
Lunch was enjoyed in the shade before we decided to try the Barranco de Rio Cabras once more.
On our way there we passed a small irrigation reservoir and on it were a small number of COMMON MOORHEN plus EURASIAN COOT, two LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS, WILLOW WARBLER and RUDDY SHELDUCK.
The weather was much calmer at the Barranco as we made our way across the plains and we tried the western end where we saw two EURASIAN SPOONBILLS plus a good number of EGYPTIAN VULTURES and a male FUERTEVENTURA STONECHAT. There were a lot more birders present today and there was a shout from the eastern end which could only mean one thing!
We quickly made our way to the spot to find the Dwarf Bittern had flown into the base of a Tamarisk bush. Constant scanning relocated the bird standing motionless and a short while later, it made its way out into the open. The DWARF BITTERN gave good but distant views and it was with great relief that we saw this very scarce bird with it being only the 5th record for the Western Palearctic!
Making our way back to the accommodation, some of the group reconvened for a pre, pre dinner drink outside before preparing for dinner and a pre-dinner drink with a perusal of the menu for the last night.
The food once again went down well and feeling content, we headed off to bed after a great day of birding.
Monday 18th February 2019
With a long day ahead we packed our bags and met for breakfast at 8.00am. Afterwards we left our luggage in the hotel for collection later before going to the northern part of the island.
During the journey we drove through a heavy rain shower, but on reaching the coast it was sunny with a northwest breeze. Parking up at Faro El Toston, we checked out the rocky shore and quickly found a pair of KENTISH PLOVER plus RUDDY TURNSTONE, EURASIAN WHIMBREL, COMMON SANDPIPER and COMMON RINGED PLOVER. Several NORTHERN GANNETS and a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL flew northwards and on the shore was a dead COMMON DOLPHIN.
After a while we moved south of El Cotillo but it was rather quiet except for a gathering of YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS.
We popped back to our base to pick up the luggage and also settle our bills before driving south for our last few hours of birding. The first port of call was the Salinas del Carmen where lunch was a priority before circling the salt pans. A pale-mantled Gull interested us as it loafed on rocks, which on closer inspection turned out to be a lovely subadult AUDOUIN’S GULL.
Scanning through the gulls yielded three more AUDOUIN’S GULL and a large flock of SANDWICH TERNS plus WHIMBREL, DUNLIN, COMMON SANDPIPER, COMMON REDSHANK and COMMON RINGED PLOVER whilst a search offshore produced a single CORY’S SHEARWATER and a small party of NORTHERN GANNETS.
The tour concluded at the nearby Caleta Golf Course where a search was made for the long-staying Lesser Scaup but unfortunately there was no sign.
It was then off to the airport where the group checked in for the flight and after a coffee and completing the bird-list, we said our goodbyes after what had been a superb tour with lots of birding highlights all enjoyed in fantastic company!