Saturday, 31 October 2015

Fuerteventura Trip Report - Part 3 Tues 27th Oct - Sat 31st Oct

Tuesday 27th October Caleta de Fuste

A welcome beach day, with minimal effort - Mojito's and turnstones at the Beach bar, the odd passing gannet, and a distant flock of shimmering waders.

Wed 28th Oct Costa Calma - Barranco de la Torre

A long drive south to Costa Calma; and a distant high raptor, seen in peripheral vision, was almost certainly an Egyptian vulture. The only other species of note: 3 cattle egret on the verdant roundabout as we drove into the town.

A brief walk along the coast with slim pickings prompted a reminder to self:

DO NOT walk into the middle of a German nudist beach with a 400mm camera and a pair of bins around your neck!

Although I'm sure if we'd disrobed we could've got away with less scrutiny from the local bathers?

An attempt to get onto the desert roads to the west of Costa Calma was thwarted, as they were most firmly closed to public for construction works?

A late afternoon visit to the Barranco de la Torre, added a pair of buzzard to the patch list, with an overwhelming soundtrack of trumpeter finch in full electric buzzer mode. The water level in the Barranco had risen considerably and extensive "ponds" had formed behind the beach.

Thurs 29th Oct Parque Natural Corralejo

We took in the fabulous sand dunes of the Parque Natural Corralejo. It was really good fun! The birding was bypassed as we took a simple joy in the desert landscape.

At Corralejo, we tried to get onto tracks going west across the island, but were stopped abruptly in the dead end of a construction site.

We then tried the coastal track north west from the harbour, and discovered possibly the worst track on the island? After a bone-jarring 800m or so, we turned around in discomfort and frustration. For the first time on the holiday, I nearly grounded the hire car. The €1300 personal insurance liability felt all too close for comfort. Eventually parking roadside we walked back into the dune system, but found nothing of note.

Friday 30th Oct FuertaSol Apartments

The effects of yesterday's hot dry desert day, alongside the minor frustrations of road access had apparently taken it's toll on the system. As such I found myself confined to the apartment suffering from symptoms of heatstroke? Although some birding distraction was provided by the one-footed collared dove, who insisted on feeding from my hand when I offered seeds picked off the crust of our bread.

Sat 31st Oct A Brief Return to Tindaya on the Day of Departure

Unable to secure a late check out and with the weather again turning dark and overcast. We decided to decline the kind offer of the use of Jacqui and Doug's apartment to store our bags, whilst we hung around poolside.

Instead we headed back to Tindaya, to grab some desert birding between the rain showers. And blimey, did it turn out to be a grand decision!

We returned to the last place we had seen the Houbara bustard settle on the 22nd. Within seconds of parking, I picked the animal up again, some 20m away from where we had left it the week before.

This visit, the bird was very active, and pretty soon we were watching it in full display - breast and throat feathers inflated over it's head, running around madly like a character from Michael Bentine's Potty Time.

The bustard would then stop, look around for an audience and set off in full display again. I'd have loved a record shot, but the bird was distant and meaningless in the camera*. So we simply watched and it was stunning. [I spent some time searching for its attractors, but never found one?].

With the bird heading downhill, we turned the car and took the track below it.

We soon found the bustard again, this time roadside, staring around intently. Creeping forward in the car, Alison shot some increasingly close record shots; and suddenly we were level with the Houbara, and so close, and it ignored us - and we savoured the experience. As it moved along, we followed it parallel in the car.

After a couple of minutes, Alison said "ermm .. there's a couple of birds in front of us on the ground .. that I don't recognise at all?". I looked over her shoulder and straight into the eyes of a pair of black-bellied sandgrouse feeding on new vegetation growth, which had sprung from the rains.

They were the last bird sp. of the day, and of the trip! (If you forgive a little artistic licence - because we watched the bustard for a while again as it sauntered distantly off).

Then the rain hit hard and we started the long journey home.

*Alison using my camera for the first time this trip, realised that the 400mm lens was jammed, and would not go beyond 300mm - it would explain why I had on occasion been slightly bemused / confused by the results of my photography over the trip? Examining the meta data, it would appear that the camera had not functioned properly from the second day of the trip!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Fuerteventura Trip Report - Part 2: Oct 23rd - Oct 26th

Friday 23rd Oct Rain Stops Play

Heavy rain overnight, and the sky remained ominous in the morning, so we hung on at the FuerteSol Apartments where my attention was drawn to the "pik" "pik" of a pied flycatcher or two, foraging across the gardens. Yesterday's unidentified bird now made sense!

Vainly hoping the weather would change we set out for Betancuria and perhaps Embalse de los Molinos and Puertito de los Molinos itself? The main roads showed signs of landslips and there were heavy plant clearing up. With the rain on the hills so heavy, we decided to stay on the plains.

Missing the turning to Embalse de Los Molinos, we promptly arrived at Los Molinos just as the heavens opened, we were engulfed! Even the local Muscovy ducks, looked forlorn in the downpour.

Following a brief rain-blasted detour to Pozo Negro; we headed back to the pool bar at FuertaSol Apartments where Carlos informed us that the roads to Betancuria had been completely closed due to landslips! We sat out the rest of the day's bad weather, with a pack of cards, and a couple of beers.

Sat 24th Oct Barranco de la Antigua - Barranco de la Torre - Salinas del Carmen

I drove to the road head signposted from the FV2 as - Barranco de le Torre - and confusingly looked down into the Barranco de la Antigua? Trumpeter finch flocked around me, as I scanned the Barranco and quickly located a group of five Barbary partridge, and a distant Southern grey shrike. Berthelot's pipit and kestrel were noted.

It was a high viewpoint with no access to the Barranco, so I parked at Salinas del Carmen and walked into Puerto de Le Torre. Since my last visit to the site, there had obviously been a fall of migrants, as the scrub was busy with a good handful of willow warbler and pied flycatcher each, along with singles of reed warbler, chiffchaff, and a spotted-flycatcher.

Trumpeter finch, Spanish sparrow, Berthelot's pipit, Sardinian and spectacled warblers, and a grey heron were also seen. A single green warbler caught my attention? Looking too robust and upright compared to the other willow warblers around, I initially wondered Icterine or melodious warbler, but with prolonged views it wasn't looking right for these two either? I took some record shots for later consideration and wider consultation.

The prize was finding a smart male Fuerteventura chat, which flushed almost immediately as a car drove past, but was then quickly relocated on the fence-line of the nearby field. Flying to the rock face it revealed a female Fuerteventura chat. It had only taken a week's birding and a second trip to the same site before finally getting onto this species?

Sheltering once from a brief rain shower,  I found out later, that I'd had the best of the weather, despite being only 4km or so up the road from Caleta de Fuste. The latter having had heavy rain showers most of day.

The salt pans of the Museo de Sal, held singles of spoonbill and redshank, and a couple of YLG.

Back at the apartments a couple of laughing dove and a redstart drank from the roadside puddles. In the evening a stroll around Puerta de Castillo produced four juv. northern gannet heading north.

Mon 26th Oct Embalse de la Molinos - Puertito de los Molinos - Betancuria

En route: kestrel, southern grey shrike, Barbary partridge.

The reservoir at Embalse de la Molinos produced some very exciting birds - although not the black-bellied sandgrouse aswe had hoped. Large numbers of coot and ruddy shelduck were present along with trumpeter finch, little egret, kestrel, rock dove, Berthelot's pipit, and singles of hoopoe, kingfisher and reed warbler - which I vainly tried to turn into something else!

A male Fuertaventura chat provided Alison with her first opportunity to see the species. It got even more exciting when Alison spotted a dark shape heading low and fast over the hill in front of us, before it disappeared over a crest. It was a ring-tailed harrier sp. but beyond that I couldn't clinch the ID.

Shortly afterwards, Alison called another bird, almost above, but behind us: a Barbary falcon which then flew below us down the Barranco. I completely failed to get a record shot, not lifting the camera once as we watched the bird. Driving back to the road head, we saw a pair of Fuerteventura chat on the wall, and a highly mobile northern wheatear. We met a German couple birdwatching, and exchanged info.

At Puertito de los Molinos we walked part way up the river bed, and the heat of the afternoon was stifling. However, there was a lot of water running, and we cooled our feet in it, as we walked.

We saw singles of willow warbler, redstart, whimbrel and little egret; rock/feral dove, spectacled warbler, Sardinian warbler, Berthelot's pipit, 4 raven, and a female Fuerteventura chat. The local Muscovy ducks looked somewhat happier than on our previous encounter with them.

We arrived late in the afternoon at the picturesque village of Betancuria, after a breath-taking drive up the FV30. Having little time to explore the village itself, we concentrated on finding the local race of African blue tit as I was nervous of driving back up/down the FV30 again in the dark.

Parking in the large, well-signposted car park; we scoured the adjacent Barranco, picking up occasional tit calls, above the clamour of Spanish sparrows. We finally managed to get eyes on a pair of African blue tit working their way along the rock wall in the shade. Enjoying the birds, I failed to lift the camera again.

However, I was able to get a record shot, just before we left when a single tit, alighted briefly on TV aerial, near the car. Willow warbler, pied flycatcher, Southern grey shrike and kestrel were also seen; a high calling buzzard was out of sight.

P.S. re: the willow warbler at Barranco de la Torre. Having returned home and sent a couple of photo's of the bird to Tony on the Lizard - Tony suggested that it is a potential eastern willow warbler, yukatensis type? e.g. See:

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Fuerteventura Trip Report - Part 1: Oct 18th - Oct 22nd 2015

Sunday 18th Oct Caleta de Fuste

We checked into FuerteSol Apartments at Caleta de Fuste on Saturday evening, so our first day was spent in local orientation.

The first birds of the trip? A pair of raven cronking over the apartments, quickly followed by collared dove (although whether African or Eurasian, I never worked out the entire trip?). A party of six plain swift over, and the loud chups of Spanish sparrow.

An afternoon walk along the promenade, and we found a pair of Berthelot's pipit on the foreshore - a species we were to see on an almost daily basis thereafter; Yellow-legged gull, and a distant sterna sp. 

At the beach bar on the man-made spit we were amused by the flock of ruddy turnstone - eye-level on the sea wall - competing with the doves for scraps from the diners. A quick look through the Sheraton Hotel fence gave a single hoopoe, and the adjacent waste ground produced our first Southern grey shrike - another bird we would be become very familiar with over the following fortnight. A juv. great black-backed gull, sandwich tern and little egret were added to the list at Puerta de Castillo along with Barbary squirrel "meerkatting" with metres of the promenade.

Down on the beach before sunset, a mixed flock of roosting waders comprised 25 Kentish plover, a similar amount of ringed plover; 2 each of whimbrel, little egret and greenshank; singles of dunlin and common sandpiper; 10 sanderling, and sev. turnstone. The Kentish plover included 2 colour ringed individuals of which I managed to get record shots. Yellow-legged gull and 11 sandwich terns completed the haul. A grey heron was on the waste by the Sheraton Hotel.

Mon 19th Oct El Cotillo

From El Cotillo we walked east on the desert tracks to the "mountain pass" at Majada de la Pila quickly finding, a highly mobile flock of linnet, a pair of Southern grey shrike, and a flock of rock dove (without a feral looking bird amongst them). Berthelot's pipit were frequent, and flyover lark - which looked good for lesser short toed lark - a bird we then completely failed to see for the rest of our time in Fuertaventura?

30 minutes in and Alison spotted a group of 4 cream-coloured courser, who proceeded to beat a hasty retreat across the hedges ahead of us; I managed only 2 before they disappeared.

This excitement was quickly followed by sightings of a fem. Sardinian warbler, a cracking pair of spectacled warbler, and later raven and kestrel. In total we had at least three pairs of Southern grey shrike in the 4km of desert we covered, and the very best of a shelter for a well earned siesta in the pass!

A cola break at El Cotillo gave us yellow-legged gull, rock dove and sandwich tern, and prompted the groaning comment from my esteemed companion "does a pair of sandwich terns make a round?".

Tues 20th Oct Barranco de la Torre

Rain showers today and the start of the holiday's descent into a fortnight of uncharacteristically prolonged rain. At Puerta de la Torre, on the rough road south out of Las Salinas, we walked up the Carre de la Torre and the dry river bed of the Barranco de la Torre.

Grey heron, Sardinian and spectacled warbler, raven, trumpeter finch, Southern grey shrike, rock/feral dove and Berthelot's pipit were seen, as well as the highly mobile flock of Spanish sparrow who colonise the shoreside derelict building.

Alison spotted "a large white bird" over the distant houses, that turned into a group of 4 Egyptian vulture, 2ad + 2juv, the family group spiralled in the thermals before heading high over the hillside. Thrilling!

Thurs 22nd Oct Tindaya

Armed with some timely "local knowledge", we drove out of Tindaya, in search of Houbara bustard. Having taken the wrong track we arrived in the Barranco de Tebeto and had brief views of 2 cream-coloured courser as I wrestled the car down it's treacherous road surface. Realising our mistake, we returned to Tindaya, and found the right track.

Driving stop / scan to the coast, we saw a pair of stone curlew, several Southern grey shrike, berthelot's pipit, a common buzzard, kestrel, spectacled warbler, willow warbler, and a small passerine, quickly chased off by a Southern grey shrike. I only realised what it was the following morning.

Four hours searching to and from Tindaya, we finally located a Houbara bustard on the horizon through the heat haze, the curl of it's head and neck, in silhouette against the bright hills on the horizon. The bird showed for an hour, distant but active, preening, feeding, and partial displaying, before settling down between the rocks and scrub. We drove away very chuffed. Cheers Tony!