Monday, 28 November 2011

Fuerteventua Tour, November 21st -27th 2011

One of the most sought after and also one of the most elusive birds on Fuerteventura is the lovely Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata, fuertaventurae), here seen in flight near Cotillo

Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Spain is one of the best known birding destinations within this wonderful volcanic, Atlantic island group. I've been leading groups here with my own company, Andalucian Guides for a few years now and really have a deep affection for the grandeur and stark beauty of this special island. Some quarters are a pretty inhospitable looking at first glance, especially on the flight along the east coast to Fuerteventuras main airport at Caleta de Fustes. You pass over huge lava flows on the aircrafts final approach and the colours of what was once rivers of moulten rock look as if they are still coolong down. The last estimated volcanic activity on the island took place between four and five thousand years ago although the island 'core' is reconed to be twenty million years old.

Around Pared in the south of the island is one of the most popular spots to look for Houbara Bustard. This year in the Pared area, we only managed to see one distant bird in flight and with so many walkers, some even with dogs, cutting across country, we moved to the north of the island and looked at first light. Here we had success and managed to get some good flight shots as well.

There's a nice little digi-scoped film of a Houbara on Fuerteventura here from 'Bustersymes'

Hubara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata, fuertaventurae) . Males are heavier than females with the average male weighing 2.2 kg, the lighter female average weight has been recorded at 1.2 kg, a significant difference. Their wingspan is 1.5 m.

Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis)

Great Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis, koenigi)

Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii)

Ruddy Shellduck (Tadorna ferruginea)

Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae). I see that it's referred to as the Canary Islands Bush Chat now in the latest Dutch Birding list (Dutch = Canarische Rootborsttapuit).

Fuerteventura Chat taking a drink at Los Molinos Barranco.

Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) can be another elusive bird of prey to get onto. We managed to see a pair at El Cortijo.

Linnnets and Trumpeter Finches feeding.

The Fuerteventuran form of Common Kestrel (Falco tinniculus, dacotiae)

A Great Bittern was an added bonus. This lovely adult bird had been at the small reservoir at Catalina Garcia, south of Tuineje.

Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens polatzeki)

Intelligent birds like all the other crows, here a Raven turns over stones looking for food.

The race of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus, majorensis) has a deeper ochre coloured hue and looks slightly more muscular around the neck and the top of the back than Spanish birds.

There are estimated to be only around 150 of these birds left on Fuertervantura with just one pair on nearby Lanzarote. It's estimated that there has been a population decline of 30% of these birds in the last twenty years (Source: Proyecto Life - Coservación del Guirre en ZEPA de Fuerteventura). You can download a poster about the aims of the project here of course most of the work is informing the public, asking the electricity suppliers to insulate and mark spanned cables and motivate and stimulate enough people to reduce hunting and poisoning.
Sadly, it looks like the funding for this project and for many other good causes has dried up after the initial four year grant.

This lovely sub-adult is showing off the ochre tinge on the inner wing and body. Come and see them now while there are some still around!

A few more Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) photos. Birds colliding with unmarked power lines that span the countryside are thought to be one of the main factors in causing the deaths of these birds. Number estimates vary with continued reference to older statistics from a general population study which included the Canary Islands in the 1990's. More recent studies suggest higher numbers of the birds on the Canaries. More on-line facts at Birdlife, here.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis)

The good thing with the Black-bellied and most other sandgrouse is that you can always hear them calling in flight from a long way off!

The Barbary Ground Squirrel is quite a star at lots of island locations and will come and take food - athough this isn't to be encouraged!

The North African form of Blue Tit (Parus caeulus degener) has a deep blue, almost black cap and small white wing bar.

Island rainbow

Common Raven (Corvus corax) in flight. One of the commoner bids, seen in flight every day. Lovely birds, intelligent, with a life span of 10-15 years in the wild, weighing around 1.2 kg and like us a successful omnivore but continually persecuted by Man.

Trumpeter Finch (Becanetes githagineus, amantum). The 'squeaky toy' bird call is so amusing. Here's a really good film with some slow motion film from the BBC Natural History Unit. You can hear their contact calls where they are filmed drinking at a pool together.

Hoopoe (Upupa epops) fairly common and widespread.

Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor, bannermani). Really stunning, close-up views provided a very special morning for us on the tour.

Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor, bannermani)

This is Houbara Bustard, Short-toed Lark, Berthelot's Pipit and Trumpeter Finch habitat where Barbary Falcons hunt the smaller birds.

Looks like a rain shower coming in from the north. We did have mainly good weather with only two days where we had some light rain. The temperature was a bit lower than normal, around 18oC on a few days.

Time for lunch...

Typical 'tapas' lunch on Fuerteventura. Olives, freshly grilled sardines, chickpea stew, Spanish Omlette, and those lovely island small pototatoes 'papas arrugadas con mojo', 'mojo' is a red garlic spicy sauce!

Fuerteventura can be divided into two different areas with la Maxorata, forming the largest area where most of the island's inhabitants live. The Península de Jandía, which is an arid, sandy area, is the second largest municipal area. Fuerteventura used to live from agriculture and cattle raising and there is no great fishing industry. The agricultural area is located inland in Betancuria. The island's ports (Puerto del Rosario, Tarajal, Corralejo and Morro Jable) are usually very busy.
However, tourism is now the biggest earner for the island given that it has 152 beaches where tourists can go diving, do watersports or just relax. Fortunately most of the good birwatching spots are off the beaten track and early mornings can be quite productive.
Fuerteventura has some excellent hotels with great facilities.

Ruddy Shelduck showing those lovely colours that seem to blend in wonderfully with the landscape.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse better seen like this, free and alive, better than in this YouTube clip from Kuwait where attitudes are different regarding a whole range of varying subjects.

A small flock comes calling, dashing across the track in front of our group.

The very smart 'Berties' or Berthelot's Pipit

Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), shows quite a lot of yellow on the lower mandible, very similar to our own garden birds further north in Andalucia.

Close up of the Cream-coloured Courser

Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspiculata) were fairly common, seen most days. were the Great Grey Shrikes

Fuerteventura is located between Lanzarote and Gran Canaria within the Canaries Islands. The island covers an area of 1658 km2 and is the oldest of all the volcanic islands that make up the the Canary Islands group. It also has the smallest population with approximately 70,000 inhabitants. Puerto del Rosario, the capital has the largest population with 24,175 inhabitants with Betancuria having a population of just 708.
The island’s climate is quite arid with very little vegetation and it is frequently windy with warm southerlywinds.
The average annual temperature is around 20oc.

A digi-scoped view of a herd of camels in the south.

Species List

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus (One seen from the plane on leaving the island!)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Eurasian Widgeon Anas penelope
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Great Egret Casmerodius albus
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia (Alastair & Christine)
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo insularum
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus dacotiae
Barbary Falcon Falco (peregrinus) pelegrinoides
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae
Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor bannermanni
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius curonicus
Greater Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Sanderling Calidris alba
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Common Redshank Tringa totanus totanus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii & intermedius
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis
Rock Dove Columba livia canariensis
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens polatzeki
Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotii
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
European Robin Erithacus rubella
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Fuerteventura Chat Saxicola dacotiae
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala leucogastra
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Canary Island Blue Tit Parus teneriffae degener
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis koenigi
Common Raven Corvus corax canariensis
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina harterti
Trumpeter Finch Rhodopechys githaginea

Algerian Hedgehog Atelerix algirus
Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus
Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus

Amphibians & Reptiles
Gecko Tarentola angustimentalis
Haria/Atlantic Lizard Gallotia atlantica mahoratae

Greenish Black Tip Elphinstonia charlonia
Geranium Bronze Cacyreus marshalli
Monarch Danaus plexippus
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

Scarlet Darter Crocothemis erythraea
The Island Darter Sympetrum nigrifemur
Blue Emperor Anax imperator

(Small) Green lacewing sp.Chrysopidae family

I'll be running another tour there in February if you'd like to join me. Click the link to have a look or download the pdf itinerary.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Busy Birding in November...

Short-toed Eagles were very much in focus this week as I came back to Andalucia after visiting Scotland and 'giving away' my lovely eldest daughter Hannah to her new husband Johnat a great Scottish wedding at Aberlady

There were a couple of Short-toed Eagles seen close to Tarifa

Fishermen on the coast at Guadalmesi. The tracks and country roads are becoming a bit tricky to navigate after the rains

Marsh Harriers are very much the most abundant raptor in the La Jand area

Lesser Kestrels too are around in La Janda and in the white villages or 'pueblos blancos'

Looking down to Gibraltar with the Moroccan coastline behind 'The Rock'

Fan-tailed Warbler or Zitting Cisticola

The main collector canal at La Janda has lots of Purple Swamphens

Huge flocks of Calandra Larks gather to feed during winter

Black-winged Kites are very easy to see in La Janda and all along the inland countryside from Tahivilla to Jerez

We saw a few Booted Eagles and it's common for these birds and other raptors to winter in Cadiz province. This one is an intermediate form

Vejer de La Frontera

There are also a lot of Black Storks here and they will also stay with us during the winter

A Black-necked Grebe with those lovely bright red eyes!

Red-legged Partridge

The beach at Conil