Saturday, January 15, 2022

Fuerteventura - Week One

First a bit of background. Since becoming nomadic over four years ago it has always been our intention to spend the majority of the winter months somewhere warmer than the UK. That worked fine for the first couple of years with extended stays in Spain and SE Asia. Then COVID19 landed and that became a little more difficult. But with Spain now allowing entry for the multiply vaccinated it was time to risk leaving the sceptic isle and planned to utilise our post-Brexit 90 days to the full.

For the first month we booked a place in the north of Fuerteventura, planning to move on to Tenerife for February and the mainland for March. By spending at least 4 weeks in each place we managed to find good AirBnB discounts and flights were pretty cheap.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis
Our early flight from Luton had to be de-iced before departure and it did feel good to be leaving -4C behind. Only 40 people on the plane and a very quite arrivals area at Fuerteventura airport meant formalities were super fast. Our Spanish health check QR code was just scanned through with no other checks. Unfortunately we arrived on Three Kings Day and as a result bus services were vastly reduced and those that were running rather full. So we took a fast taxi ride north to our base at Corralejo in the north of the island.

First impressions were of a largely bird free place. Others have remarked on this but don't be disheartened. Only Yellow-legged Gulls and Feral Pigeons seen at the airport and virtually nothing on the way. There didn't seem to be much more around the apartment complex where we were staying but it was rather windy and it was sunny and 21C, so who cares!

Friday, 7 January 2022

Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara
I'd chosen an apartment right on the edge of the Corralejo Natural Park, a huge swathe of desert habitat, sandy with rocks at the north end close to us, becoming more open sand further south. Soon after dawn, but still with a strong NEly blowing I set out to explore. First bird I encountered was a Great Grey Shrike of the local koenigi race that remained at some distance. Soon after, and still quite close to the edge of town, I encountered a flock of Barbary Partridge. Also very wary, these ran off some way but I later encountered either this or another flock of 8 on my return.

Sanderling Calidris alba
One Rabbit was the only other wildlife I encountered on my way down to the shore, where I set up the scope for a bit of seawatching in the strong wind. Optimistic seawatching is a favourite pastime of mine but only Yellow-legged Gulls were out at sea this time. There was plenty going on along the shore though. 2 Sandwich Terns were nice to see and waders included Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin and Whimbrel. A Little Egret was expected but a juvenile Spoonbill passing less so.

Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotii
I returned via a longer route through the desert habitat and was rewarded with two flocks of Mediterranean Short-toed Larks (the name for the recently split, streaky western taxon of the former Lesser Short-toed Lark). The first held a single Linnet and the second several Berthelot's Pipits. My first lifer of the trip. This was fairly quickly followed by the second as two Pain Swifts flew around unfished buildings close to the apartments. Their rather uniform appearance and deeply forked tail put me in mind of Palm Swifts.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
After the encouraging birds yesterday I decided to push further into the NP today. Heading due south took me through the sandy, stony scrub until I hit some high ground overlooking more open sandy habitat. Scanning from here failed to reveal much though and none of the previous day's birds showed apart from a couple of Great Grey Shrikes and a few Berthelot's Pipits. 3 Ravens were the only new birds.

Later it was good to photograph the waders on the rising tide and I added Spanish Sparrow in town. Finally there was a bewildering encounter with a presumed exotic. Collared Dove sized with a very long tail and comparatively short wings. Dove-like light. Overall pale but with some dark marks on the upper wings. Otherwise it kept flying away towards town and I couldn't get any more on it. It did utter a rather parakeet like harsh multisylabic call but is certainly nothing I've encountered anywhere before.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Sandlerling Calidris alba

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

Sunday, 8 January 2022

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Later start today and decided to check out the high ground west of town. Made it to the base of the Volcanes de Bayuyo picking up a very welcome Barbary Falcon on the way! No doubt attracted to the quite large numbers of Collared Doves out this side of town. The signed footpaths here seem to just head up to some quarry working where it's unclear where, if anywhere, you can continue. Anyway I was happy to pick up my first Spectacled Warbler here and even happier with the 3 or 4 Egyptian Vultures cruising about. Adding 2 Ravens and a Common Buzzard (presumably the local race) I felt this was an area worth returning to another day.

Other additions today were a rapid flyby danainid (possibly Plain Tiger), a Painted Lady and a couple of Hoopoes. A party of high flying swifts remained unidentified.

Star bird award went to a very showy Great Grey Shrike right next to the apartments, which caught and ate a large caterpillar.

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor koenigi

Monday, 9 January 2022

Rain! High cloud all day and enough rain to wet the ground a.m. but much less wind and a distinct change in bird activity as a result. The day started with a party of at least 10 House Martins and 1 Barn Swallow passing the apartments along with a small flock of unidentified swifts. Nothing stuck around very long though.

Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae
A moment's indecision on leaving in the morning. To go back and check the caldera area or try to press on further into the desert. I chose the latter and spent the first 30-40 minutes seeing nothing at all. That all changed pretty quickly though as I suddenly and unexpectedly flushed a group of 3 Houbara Bustards. I'd pretty much given up on seeing them close to Corralejo, partly because of the number of joggers and dog walkers using the northern end. I watched them land at some distance but made no attempt to get closer. I'm not much of a photographer and had no wish to disturb them further. The grainy impression here will have to do. Pleased to have found these within walking distance as I really thought I'd need a car to get to the more regular sites.

Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis
The spot they flushed from proved to be a bit of a goldmine. As I watched the bustards I caught the sound of an alarm call and was soon watching a fairly showy Spectacled Warbler. 2 Berthelot's Pipits and 2 Great Grey Shrikes were also present and 3 House Martins fed nearby throughout.

That was it though, and the walk back taking a different route was another devoid of birdlife. The afternoon in the town did have a few extras in store though. A single White Wagtail was an addition and a pair of Kestrels along the shore very nice to see. This must be the eastern dacotiae subspecies. The Sandwich Terns of a couple of days ago seem to have moved on from the harbour but I did pick up the immature Spoonbill again (or maybe a different bird). This was sporting a white ring on the left tibia with 'NAJA' in black lettering. A regular metal ring was on the right leg. I reported it on European colour-ring Birding and it seems it was first ringed in Holland on 5/6/2019 and last reported there on 9/9/2019. There were then two sightings in France before it was first reported in Fuerteventura on 12/09/2020. Seen again here in April and November 2021.

Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Back at the apartments a Great Grey Shrike had taken to calling from the rooftop aerials. All in all a pretty good day and now on 34 species.

Tuesday, 11 Jan 2022 "Fancy a chat?"

Western Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis ibis
Sun. No cloud and light winds. Feeling very warm. Up to 3 Barn Swallows kicking around the southern end of town first thing. For me it was a return for a proper look at the caldera of the Volcano Bayuyo, or MontaƱa San Rafael if you prefer. I went via the abandoned Acua Water Park where half a dozen Western Cattle Egrets were hanging out along with a good many Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows, 1 Common Chiffchaff and a Great Grey Shrike.

Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis 

From here I headed through the new Tres Islas development. A pair of Great Grey Shrikes were interacting on the wires and a pair of Spectacled Warblers showed nicely. Then I struck gold with a very showy male Fuerteventura Stonechat perched on an outbuilding of the only completed development here. The noisy dogs here were a momentary annoyance but soon shut up and I was able to enjoy lifer number 4.

Fuerteventura Stonechat Saxicola dacotiae

Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus
So on to the volcano along the clear dirt road leading off from here. A large information sign explained a bit about the geology and farming attempts in this extreme environment and also mentioned the wildlife. Common Buzzard, yep. Common Kestrel, OK. But also very specifically Fuerteventura Chat (local name "Caldereta") and Trumpeter Finch. Of course soon after 3 small finches flew over. They didn't call but they could have been Trumpeters; or was that just the power of suggestion? Anyway a party of five cracking Barbary Ground Squirrels soon had me distracted. Haven't seen these since years ago in Morocco and love 'em to bits.

At the base of the northern ridge the track turns right and a path headed off left, SE into the caldera. I followed this and dropped into the base for a look around. 2 Ravens were flying around calling throughout but I kept hearing faint passerine calls from somewhere, really difficult to pin down in this bowl of rock. Then I picked them up. On the eastern rim of the crater a flock of around 10 Trumpeter Finches with 4 or 5 Linnets. I scurried back up to the path that runs along there and was rewarded with stunning views. Another species I'd not seen for years and a much anticipated target.

Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus

Atlantic Lizard Gallotia atlantica 
But the volcano wasn't finished with me yet. I took the well worn path leading out due east from the southern end of this low eastern ridge and, after crossing a service track leading to a large square building higher up, found myself watching another pair of Fuerteventura Chats. Don't be tempted to take the clear path that heads east at the northern end of this ridge (from near the top of the path going into the crater), as that seems to lead directly to the quarry and a difficult or impossible exit. Coming from town the start of the path I took is extremely hard to pick out and it's no surprise I couldn't find it the other day. To locate it take the road at the southern end of Tres Islas west towards the quarry workings. Just before you reach the works there is a track to the left with a chain between two concrete blocks across it. Take this about 150m to a red and yellow no entry type sign and head right where the path should soon become clear and edged with stones. I also had my first lizard here, a small species which rapidly hid, which would be Atlantic Lizard Gallotia atlantica, the only small lacertid on the island.

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
Another stroll along the beach in the afternoon revealed a couple of additions to the trip list. 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Heron were new and there were now 3 Spoonbills roosting out on rocks at low tide. A couple more Painted Ladies were about and 5 more Swallows heading north finished the day's birding.

Thursday, 13 Jan 2022 "the measure of success"

I really wanted to see Cream-coloured Courser again, which I've not seen for many years now, so headed off deep into the Natural Park again. The now familiar 30-40 minutes of bird free semi-desert made me realise my first day encounters with Barbary Partridge and Med Short-toed Lark were very fortunate indeed. I pushed further south than I'd been before well into the very sandy habitat west of the isolated development of hotels here and beyond. I soon started to notice a different set of tracks in the sand and they became very common. Similar to the partridge tracks further north and often with a distinctive drag mark between them. Surely this was the target species. Also found bustard tracks and some smaller mammals than the ubiquitous rabbits. In fact these were absolutely tiny and surely must have been made by the endemic Canarian Shrew.

Mediterranean Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens polatzeki
Anyway to cut a very long story short I completely failed to see courser, bustard or sandgrouse in the 3+ hours I was out. However I did see plenty else eventually and had I not already ticked the chat and had such great views of the Trumpeters yesterday this would have been a sensational morning. So, yes, I would say a success. The best location, at a small rocky gully and plateau on the western edge of the sandy habitat, held a good 30 Trumpeter Finches plus maybe 10 Mediterranean Short-toed Larks and a Fuerteventura Stonechat. There was also Barbary Ground Squirrel here and nearby first two then third (this one singing) Hoopoe. Just before I'd been watching an adult and an immature Egyptian Vulture and a few Great Grey Shrikes. All in all pretty good.

Otherwise later in the town there were a few Monarch butterflies about, none settling unfortunately, and this very large potter wasp, which looks likely to be Delta dimidiatipenne.

Delta dimidiatipenne a Potter Wasp

Finished the week on 38 species and walked about 100km according to my phone's step counter. All four likely Fuerteventuran lifers now in the bag but some species I'd still like to catch up with again over the next three weeks, some needed for the 'nomadic list' which now stands at 659. Additions there would be Cream-coloured Courser and Black-bellied Sandgrouse and exploring further afield might add Ruddy Shelduck. Atlantic Canary (a potential lifer) and African Blue Tit will be much easier on Tenerife but are also possible.

Bold = lifer Italic = nomadic tick

Barbary Partridge
Rock Dove
Collared Dove
Houbara Bustard
Plain Swift
Grey Plover
Kentish Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Common Sandpiper
Yellow-legged Gull
Sandwich Tern
Grey Heron
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Eurasian Spoonbill
Egyptian Vulture
Common Buzzard
Eurasian Hoopoe
Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Great Grey Shrike
Common Raven
Mediterranean Short-toed Lark
Barn Swallow
Common House Martin
Common Chiffchaff
Spectacled Warbler
Fuerteventura Stonechat
Spanish Sparrow
White Wagtail
Berthelot's Pipit
Trumpeter Finch
Common Linnet

European Rabbit
Barbary Ground Squirrel
Small White
Painted Lady
Potter Wasp Delta dimidiatipenne
Atlantic Lizard