Thursday, 25 November 2010

Birding on Fuerteventura

Barbary Falcon, Spanish name Halcón tagarote Falco pelegrinoides). For raptor lovers, this magnificent bird never fails to impress and just one of the very special birds that can be found on the Atlantic island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries

Last week I led a birding tour to the Spanish Island of Fuerteventura with friends David and Dee Griffiths from N Ireland, Patrick and Valerie Pearson from Colchester and Andrew Paterson from Malaga, Spain.
The most sought after birds on the island by birdwatchers are Barbary Falcon, Fuerteventura’s Chat, Houbara Bustard, Black Bellied Sandgrouse, Creamed-Coloured Courser, Ruddy Shellduck, Berthelot’s Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Canary Island Blue Tit, Trumpeter Finch, Common Buzzards and Egyptian Vulture.

On a wet afternoon another Barbary Falcon sits on an electricity pylon and preens those special flight feathers.

If you have good luck with the weather, particularly with light winds, then you may still find that birding here is more difficult than expected. It may take a great deal of patience and a good knowledge of the island to locate particular species. Thanks to fellow birding guide Tony Clarke who was with another group for giving us a call to go and see this particular bird.
Tony's book is worth getting if you are planning a trip to any of the islands

Common Kestrel, Spanish name - Cernicalo común, (Falco Tinnuculus canariensis)

Some History of this special island
Fuerteventura is thought to be the oldest of the islands, having been the result of a volcanic eruption some 20 million years ago.
Fuerteventura, like the rest of the Canary islands, was inhabited by a primitive pagan people prior to its invasion by Europeans, although what to call this ancient people still remains a contentious issue.
Most Canarians call their ancestors 'Guanches' although strictly speaking this refers to a specific tribe from Tenerife. 'Mahorero' is still used today to describe the people of Fuerteventura and comes from the ancient word 'mahos'meaning a type of goatskin shoe worn by the original inhabitants.
Analysis of prehistoric remains seem to indicate that this people arrived from North Africa, and this is borne out by many linguistic similarities between pre-hispanic place names, words and the language of the Berbers in North Africa.

Common Kestrel
Falco Tinnuculus canariensis

Fuerteventura is the closest point at only 52 nautical miles due west from the coast of Morocco and is the second largest of the Canary islands, measuring 1660km2 (including the island of Los Lobos, just off the northernmost point of the island, at 6.40km2).

Common Kestrel Falco Tinnuculus canariensis - quite clean, lighter wing underside

A very common misconception is that the Canary Islands were named after the birds, when in actual fact, the birds were named after the islands. All of the worlds Canaries are directly descended from those birds found here by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 15th century. The birds were captured and taken back to Europe, where they soon became very fashionable pets due to their attractive colouring and beautiful singing voices. It is believed that the name was first given to Gran Canaria by King Juba II of Mauritania (25BC-25AD), when his expedition to the islands found not humans, but ferocious dogs, and named the island after the Latin word for canine.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo insularum) - taking off

Typical Common Buzzard structure and wing length but with some obvious 'southern' clouring

This Fuerteventuran buzzard is sporting a ring!

The geographical position of the islands, not too far above the tropic of Cancer, puts them in a subtropical zone, on roughly the same latitude as Orlando in Florida and Delhi, India. You would imagine that this would make for similar weather patterns and conditions to these cities, but the climate in Fuerteventura is actually very different. The island boasts a fabulous all year round climate with warm winters and temperate summers. Generally the annual temperature variation is relatively small, with year round temperatures of 20 27 degrees Celsius.

HOUBARA BUSTARDS (Watch the small Youtube film here..)

A fresh Houbara Bustard print. Three large padded toes with the leading toe having a large claw for scratching and it also gives stability when walking quickly---which they invariably do!
Searching the barren desert landscapes for Houbaras can take time. Patience is required to study each bush, the spaces between them and basically anything that moves...

Fuerteventura was one of the poorest regions of Spain and only decades ago this territory was practically an afterthought to mainland Spain. The prosperity we see in many parts of the islands was brought in large part by tourism. When Spanish dictator Francisco Franco opened Spain to the sun-starved masses to Tenerife and Gran Canaria in the 50s and 60s prosperity from tourism didn't get to Fuerteventura until the 80s. Sadly, Franco paved the way for development (and over-development) on the islands and this large-scale construction brings its own problems, particularly with wildlife and subsequent habitat loss for quite a few already threatened bird and other species.

Girls on the hill watching us check some Bustards that were flushed by a walker with two dogs... This is what you'd be looking for and the sort of initial views you might get. If you see the birds closer than this then be pleased!
Houbara Bustard blending into the landscape

HoubaraBustard (Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventurae)

Fuerteventura was granted the status of a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in May 2009 in recognition of its extraordinarily rich and unique natural setting. The Biosphere Reserves are large scale studies for demonstrating sustainable development on a regional scale and it is hoped that the award will secure the island's future as a high quality sustainable tourism destination. Of the total coastline of 326 km (202 miles), the eastern coast of low cliffs, long beaches and sand dunes has wetlands and sand dunes with many endemic and rare species of plants and birds.

Rear view of a Houbara Bustard

A digi-scoped view of a Houbara sitting down in the afternoon heat (My 30x scope eye-piece just about coped with the heat shimmer and haze. Anything with larger magnification was a waste of time)

There are thirteen natural protected parks and areas on the island which means that nearly 50 percent of the total land area is under legal protection or has conservation status. Plans are afoot to create a National Park along the west coast, an area of more than 100 kilometres in length which would include beaches once used by loggerhead and leatherback turtles to lay eggs.

Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)

A Ruddy Shellduck takes off in the early morning light from a local golf course
Ruddy Shellduck

That must have been some high tide...

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis )

Birders head back to the mini-bus. Fortunately I have the keys...

The very special and quite unusual looking Cream-coloured Courser. This semi-desert species and insect feeder, classed as a wader (shorebird), not unlike
a pratincole in flight and are related to pratincoles.

Cream coloured Courser with Trumpeter Finch

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus majorensis)

This Egyptian Vulture has an injured leg

Little House on the Prairie...

Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Black-bellied Sandgrouse Spanish - Ganga ortega (Pterocles o. orientalis). The largest of the sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse habitat - rocky, stony open ground
There they are creeping along heads down

A male Black-belied pops up to have a good lok at us

Off they creep...

A male Black-bellied Sandgrouse comes in to land

The underside ...A bit closer...

Group flight fast and vocal!

Not an easy bird to photograph in flight but you can usually hear them coming towards you
After rain showers the desert comes to life

Spectacled Warbler - Spanish Curruca tomillera - (Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis)

Spectacled Warbler

Some flight shots

Spectacled Warbler

Desert plants- a kind of succulent growing on the volcanic plain

and a Flowering desert thorn

Greenish Black-tip butterfly (Elphinstonia charlonia)
We also noted Monarch, Clouded Yelow and Painted Lady butterflies
Common Raven, a Canary Island's sub-species - (Corvus corax canariensis)

Andy and Pat emerging from a gorge

Fuerteventura, as the name suggests can be a fairly windy island hence many windmills old and new. Most are used as water pumps.
Southern Grey Shrike (Alcaudón real meridional) Lanius meridionalis koenigi

Morning light bathes this shrike that still has his feathers puffed up
Barbary Ground Squirrel (Spanish name - Ardilla moruna) Atlantoxerus getulus

All mammals on the island have been introduced accidentally - or as in the case of the camel, donkey and goat - deliberately. Shepherds and their flocks of goats are a common sight in the hills and on the rolling plains; the goat meat and milk of Fuerteventura is reckoned to be the best of the Canaries for the animals feed on the wild grasses, lichens and aromatic herbs which grow wild on the dry steppe and scree. Feral donkeys and goats roam freely in some of the more remote parts of the island on the west coast.

Cute and cudly

A male Fuerteventura Chat (Spanish - Tarabilla canaria) Saxicola dacotiae

A female posing nicely

She bows to show her crown...


Tall palm

A male Trumpeter Finch
, Rhodopechys githaginea


Male eating seeds

juv male

Lesser Short-toed Lark, Spanish -Terrera marismeña, (Calandrella rufescens polatzeki)

Eurasian Hoopoe
, Spanish name Abubilla, (Upupa epops)

Valuable moisture is retained in some valleys where there is some plant life

Although prosperity has brought the Canaries closer to the mainland, the perceived separation still strikes a real nerve with proud islanders that have been through hard times in their long history.
Agriculture is still alive and well; thousands of Canarios work as farmers, and their growing number of crops (planted across around 520 sq km) are responsible for tasty fruits and veggies and for the often-photographed, well-tended landscapes. New crops such as grapes, avocados, tropical fruits and flowers are contributing to a modern farming mini-boom. The fishing industry is also understood to be still strong.

Canary Island Blue Tit, the Spanish name is Herrerillo sp? Canarias? (Parus teneriffae degener)

Ink-blue cap, white wing bars - just different

Spanish Sparrow, Spanish Gorríon moruno, (Passer hispaniolensis)

Berthelot's Pipit- the Spanish name is Bisbita caminero (Anthus berthelotii)
Dainty, greyish but always acting typically like most pipits

Berthelot's Pipit? Meadow Pipit or Tree showing the back, wing and tail detail. This pic also shows the bill length and typically long claws most pipits have. Brian Small suggested that this last pic it isn't a Berthelot's but could be one of the others that migrate south for winter. Gregarious feeding groups, mostly Berthelot's, were in action in lots of areas on the island but particularly around goat farms. Looking again closely at the detail of this bird's back and wing, there's some pattern differnce (other than worn feathers or moult) than with the other Berty's pics.
Latest...21st Dec. Back from Germany. I have gone through photos for comparison with other likely candidates and Brian and I both agree on Tree Pipit. I have added it to the list below.

Species List

Northern Gannet (Alcatraz) Morus bassanus
Ruddy Shelduck (Tarro Canelo) Tadorna ferruginea
Little Egret (Garceta común) Egretta g. garzetta
Eurasian Spoonbill (Espatula común) Platalea leucorodia
Egyptian Vulture (Aimoche/Guirre) Neophron percnopterus
Common Buzzard (Ratonero común) Buteo buteo insularum
Common Kestrel [Cernicalo común] Falco tinnunculus dacotiae
Barbary Falcon [Halcón tagarote] Falco (peregrinus) pelegrinoides
Houbara Bustard [Avutarda hubara] Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae .
Cream-coloured Courser [Corredor sahariano] Cursorius c. cursor (inc. bannermanni)
Black-winged Stilt [Cigüeñuela común] Himantopus h. himantopus
Little Ringed Plover [Chorlitejo chico] Charadrius dubius curonicus
Greater Ringed Plover [Chorlitejo grande] Charadrius hiaticula
Kentish Plover [Chorlitejo patinegro] Charadrius a. alexandrinus
Grey Plover [Chorlito gris] Pluvialis squatarola
Sanderling [Correlimos tridáctilo] Calidris alba
Red Knot [Correlimos gordo] Calidris canutus
Bar-tailed Godwit [Aguja colipinta] Limosa l. lapponica
Whimbrel [Zarapito trinador] Numenius p. phaeopus
Common Redshank [Archibebe común] Tringa totanus totanus
Common Greenshank
(Archibebe claro) Tringa nebularia
Common Sandpiper [Andarríos chico] Actitis hypoleucos
Ruddy Turnstone [Vuelvepiedras común] Arenaria i. interpres
Black-headed Gull [Gaviota reidora] Larus ridibundus
Lesser Black-backed Gull [Gaviota sombría] Larus fuscus graellsii & intermedius
Yellow-legged Gull [Gaviota patiamarilla] Larus michahellis atlantis
Sandwich Tern [Charrán patinegro] Sterna s. sandvicensis
Black-bellied Sandgrouse [Ganga ortega] Pterocles o. orientalis
Rock Dove [Paloma bravía] Columba l. livia [ inc. canariensis]
Eurasian Collared Dove [Tórtola turca] Streptopelia d. decaocto
Laughing Dove (Tortóla del Senegal) Streptopellia senegalensis
Plain Swift (Vencejo cencillo) Apus unicolor
Lesser Short-toed Lark [Terrera marismeña] Calandrella rufescens polatzeki
Berthelot's Pipit [Bisbita caminero] Anthus berthelotii
Tree Pipit (
Bisbita arboréo) Anthus trivialis
European Robin [Petirrojo] Erithacus rubella
Black Redstart [Colirrojo tizón] Phoenicurus ochruros
Fuerteventura Chat [Tarabilla canaria] Saxicola dacotiae
Blackcap [Curruca capirotada] Sylvia atricapilla
Spectacled Warbler [Curruca tomillera] Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis
Sardinian Warbler [Curruca cabecinegra] Sylvia melanocephala leucogastra
Common Chiffchaff [Mosquitero común] Phylloscopus collybita
Canary Island Blue Tit Parus teneriffae degener
Southern Grey Shrike [Alcaudón real meridional] Lanius meridionalis koenigi
Common Raven [Cuervo] Corvus corax canariensis
Spanish Sparrow [Gorrión moruno] Passer h. hispaniolensis
Common Linnet [Pardillo común] Carduelis cannabina harterti

Algerian Hedgehog [Erizo moruno] Atelerix algirus
Barbary Ground Squirrel [Ardilla moruna] Atlantoxerus getulus
Brown Rat [Rata parda] Rattus norvegicus
Rabbit [Conejo] Oryctolagus cuniculus

Amphibians & Reptiles
Gecko [Perenquén majorero] Tarentola angustimentalis
Haria/Atlantic Lizard [Lagarto atlántico] Gallotia atlantica mahoratae

Greenish Black Tip [Puntaparda verdosa] Elphinstonia charlonia
Geranium Bronze Cacyreus marshalli
Monarch [Monarca] Danaus plexippus
Painted Lady [Cardera] Vanessa cardui

Scarlet Darter Crocothemis erythraea
and another large Emperor type that blasted past in a green and blue frenzy…

Thanks once again to those that came along! We had many laughs, great food and wine and all in all a most worthwhile adventure at a comfortable pace and viewing all the key species. Fuerteventura is a great birding destination - especially during those cold winter months in the north!