Damian Young, Gary Edwards, Patrick Earith and I, all North West birders, planned a trip to Fuerteventura to tick off some of its special birds, personally I was hoping to see the dwarf bittern that had been there since December, but alas, and typically just a few weeks before we arrived it had done one!
We stayed in the very quiet village of Caleta de Fuste just south of the airport on the east coast of the island. I'd read on another trip report of someone comparing the place to Mos Eisley on the planet of Tattoine which is pretty apt, for any Star Wars fans reading this.
The most common and widespread speciality of the Canaries was the endemic Berthelot's Pipit. It was brilliantly illustrated at Fuerteventura airport car park from we where we collected the hire car. Fuerteventura also offers the best places to see the Houbara bustard cream-coloured courser and its very own endemic Fuerteventura stonechat, all of which were on our hit list.
When we arrived at the airport and collected our Hyundai Tucson higher car we headed straight over to the dwarf bittern area, Barranco de Rio Cabras, this was about 10-15 mins from the airport. We knew bittern had gone from this site but we also knew it was good place to start birding as it held some decent species. We explored both sides of the valley, searched the area near the cheese factory and the area near the old refuse site, here we had decent views of our first African blue tit and our only European bee-eater. We also stumbled across a small pool which was being visited by several trumpeter finch and linnet which we watched for a while.
On our first morning we headed to explore the plains of Fuerteventura, which we knew was good for most of our big target species. We headed towards a little village called La Oliva, here we found a small vegetated area close to the track which took us up on the more barren plains, so we stopped to have a look.
Berthelot's Pipit: This small patch held some interesting birds. One of the most notable was this very common resident little bird. The species is named after the French naturalist Sabin Berthelot, one-time resident of the Canary Islands, by Carl Bolle.
Little brown job pretty much describes these birds as they are an undistinguished looking species on the ground, mainly grey above and whitish below, with some breast streaking. It has a whitish supercilium and eye ring, with dark eye and moustachial stripes. Males and females look alike, but juveniles are browner than adults.
Corn Bunting: This was the only area where we came across corn bunting, we could hear the distinctive call of the corn bunting ringing out across this small area.
This small vegetated area was gold as we also saw a common redstart here too.
Spectacled Warbler: Once we headed out over the plains we stumbled across another dried riverbed and a small vegetated area, which was good for the chat and the speccy warbler.
It was here we got our best views of the stonechat.
Fuerteventura Chat (male): Or locally known as the Canary Islands stonechat was discovered in 1888 by E. G. Meade-Waldo, the bird favours hilly area and can be found in the steep valleys and dry or nearly dry ditches which are locally known as barrancos. This is an endemic bird restricted to Fuerteventura and a bird most birders want to tick.
Perhaps what is most notable about this endemic species is its behaviour. Unlike the stone chat I am familiar with here in the UK these island birds tend to be quite secretive and quiet, especially on windy days, they produced call and where particularly flighty little birds.
Cream-coloured Courser: As the name suggests, the body is largely pale cream or sandy in colour, with a white lower belly and sharply contrasting black wing tips and black under wings, which are visible in flight. Perfectly camouflaged against the Fuerteventura plains.
We were thrilled as we watched the bird getting chased around by two short-toed larks.
Houbara Bustard: After finding the courser and not much else in the time we spent driving over the plains we decided to get some food and regroup.
We headed in to Tindaya village itself and had some food. It was here Patrick found a possible better area for the bustards.
We were sceptical as we were feeling a bit fatigued after an exhausting search, but Gosneys directions came up top trumps, pure gold.
The bird was hidden behind a small shrub right next to the road and didn't seem to be bothered by our presence, I think it felt safe hidden behind the shrub.
Tyndaya plain seemed to be the better place to see these birds, we had another 4 coursers and struck really lucky with this bustard.
There were also bigger numbers of larks and pipits, great area.
Eventually the bird got up and casually walked away from our hire car, crossing the road and heading out of view.
Another one of Fuerteventura's top birds ticked off.
On our second day we decided to start our day off at Vega de Rio Palmas, this is a beautiful oasis which consists of a steep valley and a dried river bed surrounded by vegetation and dense trees. There is a view point at the very end overlooking a dam and a impressive cliff face.
Turtle Dove: Almost as soon as we got out of the car we cold hear the marvolous sound of the turtle dove purring. This was by far the best place to see turtle dove.
Sardinian Warbler: Again the Gosney was pure gold as it states that this area is great for Sardinian warbler too, as well as turtle dove.
Barbary Partridge: A particularly difficult bird to see well as they not only blend in well with the terrain but are easily spooked and like to either run off or take flight. We got lucky as we drove around a road overlooking valley near Vega de Rio Palmas and came across this individual accompanied by two little chicks.
Eurasian Eagle Owl: One of the birds we were really hoping to see.
(Eagle Owl pictures courtesy of Damian young)
Hoopoe: Ater leaving Vega de Rio Palmas we headed to Los Molinos which is a huge reservoir and is the largest fresh water accumulation on the island. This attracts many types of birds to live in the area, so it has become one of the best birding areas around the island.This reservoir is located on the road from Tefia to the small coastal town of Los Molinos.
This area is good for marbled teal and a range of swift.
Berthelot's Pipit: The large open plain on the other side of the stone wall also held good numbers of pipit and larks.
Cattle Egret: After having our fill of Los Molinos we sat in the higher car and thought about where we could go, we decided to throw all caution out of the window and head to the coast and do a spot of sea watching, with the hope of seeing the red-billed tropic birds.
Houbara Bustard: We stumbled across several more bustard: one near the road again and another three flew in a little further up the road.
Although we got lucky on day one with the views of the bustard. I was still surprised how close these birds come to the car.
Red-billed Tropic bird: We made it to what we thought was the tropic bird site and spent about 30-40 minutes doing a sea watch.
Spectacled Warbler: The heavens did eventually open and we got rained on, this left a beautifully complete rainbow, a good omen after such a brilliant show.
Southern Grey Shrike: While driving back we had this shrike that was feeding a juvenile bird and chasing the warblers and larks.
Our third and final day we were very keen to get some decent views of the sand grouse, having only seen a couple in flight at La Oliva and at some distance. So we consulted the Dave Gosney book which gave us directions for Bahia La Pared. Here there is a large valley parallel to a road and its here large numbers of sand grouse come together to drink along the small stream at the bottom of the valley.
Raven: We arrived on the road opposite the valley in order to check it over, we were a little early and there were no sand grouse in this area yet.
So instead I got very distracted photographing one of Fuerteventura Ravens, a subspecies (corax tingitanus).
Cream-coloured Courser: As we drove over the bumpy tracks we spotted several coursers, one had a lovely little chick in tow.
Lesser Short-toed Lark: This area also had good numbers of larks and pipits, but that wasn't a surprise as these little birds were almost everywhere.
Black-bellied Sand Grouse: When we got back to the road beside Bahia La Pared we didn't have to wait long before the sand grouse came in.
Interestingly these birds legs are covered by feathers up to the toes, but the toes are not feathered.
Egyptian Vulture: unfortunately the birds didn't get a chance to drink as the large adult vulture came soaring past them, spooking them to take flight.
Collard Dove: From here we headed south in the hope we could find some of our own migrant birds at Costa Calma.
Barbury Ground Squirrel: We parked up at Hotel Melia Gorriones on the coast and as soon as we got our of the car we spotted a red-vented bulbul and a barn swallow.
Next to goats they are probably the most common animals of Fuerteventura, perhaps even more common. They live in colonies and family groups in burrows.
Spanish Sparrow: Amongst the squirrels and the tourists there were also collard doves and Spanish sparrows feeding.
Collard Dove: We checked all around the hotel and scrub alongside the beach but the wind picked up and we didn't find anything, we also checked the site where there had been recent sightings of olive-backed pipi and little bunting without any luck.
Berthelot's Pipit: So that was it, time to go home, we headed back to the airport.
But not before stopping off one last time first at Rosa del Toro pool, a small water body surrounded by reeds.
Muscovy Duck: We found one of these scabby looking things around the pond, a very tame individual, very much an escaped bird.
Pintail: We were however surprised to see a Northern pintail at the same pond. Our first thought was that it might have been a rarity, but after consulting the Tony Clark, Helm book we could see it was a usual visitor.
Trumpeter Finch: We also had one last look at the small pool at Barranco de Rio Cabras.
Smaller than the house sparrow in comparison these Little chaps can be found in dri semi-dessert habitats. They have a distinct round, stocky shape with a large head and stout bill.
It is easy to overlook them as they are well camouflaged. The trumpeter finch, however, betrays its presence by its long drawn-out nasal trumpeting call.
Common Buzzard: We also had a common buzzard in this area along with several vultures in this area.
These are such great little birds, they were very reliable here and we watched as several came to the pool for a quick drink.
Linnet: Several linnet also dropped in for a drink.
Trumpeter Finch: The unreasonable joy gleaned from the observation of birds going about their bright, oblivious business. Loved it.
This was one of my best birding trips, with views like those of the tropic birds it has to be a real birding memory - one of those birding moments I will never forget. But brilliant birds aside, I had a brilliant time with three brilliant blokes. OK there might have been too much back seat driving from a certain un-named individual, and I may have got a little too grumpy after the donkey chased me and I fell over busting my knee open and nearly smashing my brand new camera and don't mention 'cheese gate' this Fuerteventura trip was excellent.
Thanks guys for a cracking time.
We ended on 52 species for the trip and I ended up with 12 new lifers.