Fuerteventura April 2018


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.

Typically the birds have distinct round-heads with a blackish mantle, white throat and supercilium and rusty-orange on breast.
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.
This wonderful bird is a famously slender bird with a relatively long, pointed, down-curved beak, a short tail, distinctly long legs and a characteristic upright stance.
The bird also has strikingly marked haed with a black stripe from the eye to the back of the neck, bordered above by a white stripe, and has a bluish-grey crown
After covering almost the whole site, and driving across some terrible roads in 2nd gear, we worked hard to find this bird, taking almost five hours to find one.

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.
In the superb Dave Gosney book it says that the bustards can be found near a small patch of fig trees off the track on Tindaya Plain.

We were sceptical as we were feeling a bit fatigued after an exhausting search, but Gosneys directions came up top trumps, pure gold.
Almost as soon as we scanned across the area I spotted our first Houbara bustard........we were made up!!

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.
The Sardinian warbler is a common and widespread typical warbler from the Mediterranean region, but on Fuerteventura its range is restricted to a few small areas.
Every other bush, tree and shrub seemed to emmit the loud churring often accompanied by a short, sharp rattled tacking noise. The call was very distinct, especially compared to the speccy warbler.

The Sardinian warbler on Fuerteventura is a subspecies (S.m. leucogastra) and is smaller, with more rounded wings. It has less white on outer rectrices. The race is also paler on E Islands, but darker on those of Palma and Tenerife.

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)
The notible birds we had here at Vega de Rio Palmas included African blue tit, Barbary partridge, Egytian vulture, Eurasian eagle owl, goldfinch , linnet, laughing dove, Sardinian warbler, spectacled warbler, Southern grey shrike and turtle dove.

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.
On the walk over to the hide overlooking the lake Gary spotted a hoopoe close in behind the stone wall. This gave me a great chance to get up close and personal with a bird we've seen all over the island but often at a distance or only in flight.

Berthelot's Pipit: The large open plain on the other side of the stone wall also held good numbers of pipit and larks.
I was keen to get some crippling shots of the pipit, so as the guys searched the lake from the hide I spent sometime up on the ridge, behind the wall stalking these little guys.
Typically they are not very shy and several were happily feeding only a yard or so away from me.
We watched from the hide and counted the coots, mallard and shelduck and watched the common swift and palid swift circling overhead. We also had our first peregrine and a small flock of spoonbill here along with a single common sandpiper and greenshank, overall a nice place to visit.

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.
On our way out we spotted this cattle egret standing in the middle of the road and not flying off, seemed odd, maybe hit by a car and stunned. We observed it for a short while until it flew up, landed then ran off. It was fine....
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.
Great looking birds with their unique vermiculited pattering on their backs, we never got tired of watching them as they roamed over the Fuerteventura plains.
And across the roads.....
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.

This was difficult as between the four of us we only had two scopes, and we were getting distracted by the huge volume of Cory's shearwater that were flying over the sea.
Eventually we gave up, we had no sightings, no possible sightings, not a sniff of a tropic bird. The wind was strong and unrelenting and it looked like it may even rain, we looked at each other and said stuff it lets keep looking.
We moved around the cliff edge, scanning as we went. And there, right there I spotted two very distant birds flying in to the cliff tops.
Punching the air and full of excitement we moved closer to where we saw the birds and counted not two, not three, not even four but eight birds.
I was simply blown away, not only did we get the chance to see these superbly stunning birds, we managed to see eight and at an unbelievably close  range.
Red-billed tropicbird is fairly large and predominantly white, with greatly elongated central tail feathers. It's bill is large and powerful, slightly decurved and is as long as the head. Head is rather large, neck is short and thick. Legs are very short. Toes are rather small and connected by webs.
Plumage is soft, rather compact on back and wings. Red-billed tropicbird has long, acute wings. Tail has twelve feathers, wedge-shaped, with the two middle feathers extremely elongated, narrow and tapering.
Bill is orange red, iris is brown. Tarsi and base of toes are yellow, webs and claws are black. General colour of plumage is pale pink, with the two median tail feathers redder. It has curved spot before the eye, and a black stripe behind it. A black band extends across the wing from the flexure to the extremities of scapulars.
There is a black spot on some of primary coverts.  Female resembles the male, but is less tinged with red. Bill is yellow. Tail feathers are also less elongated.
Juvenile resembles adult, but has yellowish bill, blacker on nape, black subterminal spots on tail and feathers, and lacks elongated central tail feathers.
Proper stunning birds and definitely the best bird of the trip!!
Tropic birds only land to breed and this may possibly be the only breeding colony in Europe and an extremely sensitive bird. We have been sworn to secrecy not to say where they can be found on the island.
****I hope that readers of my blog can respect this and have the understanding that in the world of birding and twitching there are times when people ask for information on sensitive bird sites to be withheld****

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.

Day 3

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).

The Dave Gosney book specifically states that the birds come to brink at 10am on the dot and as we arrived early we decided to drive over the tracks north of La Pared off Pueblo del Mar.
These bumpy tracks had plenty of sand grouse on them but again they were all flying over in the direction of the valley.
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.
Like clockwork they flew on to the side of the opposite cliff face and gathered together in good numbers before walking down the hill towards the stream.
The black-bellied sand grouse has an extremely large range, and a very large global population, however the population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction and hunting pressure.
In Europe declines have been very rapid and Fuerteventura offers the best place to see these shy, easily spooked birds.

Interestingly these birds legs are covered by feathers up to the toes, but the toes are not feathered.
Striking birds in flight, black-bellied sand grouse have obviously a blackish belly region, their central tail feathers are short giving a wedge-shaped and their wings are long and pointed. The under wings are whitish and they have a thin blackish band around the lower breast.
The upper parts are brown and have dark markings the males also have a chestnut throat patch and the female is pale brown with fine dark markings on upper parts, head and breast.
 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.
We scoped the coast line from the hill and added Kentish plover to the list before setting off on to the beach itself. This areas was particularly warm, which was a bit of a treat as all we had experienced over the last few days was strong winds and overcast weather.
We walked around the palms looking and listening before heading over to a small group of torists who were feeding the local Barbury ground squirrels.
These charming little things were not shy and came right up to them taking food directly out of their hands.

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.
The squirrels are found pretty much all over the island, their correct name is the Barbary ground squirrel which are endemic to Western Sahara, Algeria and Morocco. They were introduced into Fuerteventura in 1965 and have thrived ever since. Many people refer to them as chipmunks or Fuerteventura chipmunks, which they do resemble.
I loved them, they were great to photograph.
Spanish Sparrow: Amongst the squirrels and the tourists there were also collard doves and Spanish sparrows feeding.
This gave me a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these birds that i have encounted all over the island but nothing like as close as this.
Very distinctive little birds compared to our home grown house sparrows, males have a brown-reddish cap, a white stripe over the eye, and black throat and breast gradually extending into patterned belly and flanks.
Its cheeks are white as well as its undersides with some white stripes on its rufous-brown back. Females are lighter and more uniformly grey-brown, with a striped flank, darker wings and a beige supercilium stripe.
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.