Fuerteventura November 2017

Fuerteventura November 2017

Tour Highlights:

Cream-coloured coursers before breakfast! Barbary Falcon harrying Ravens and superb view of another juvenile bird; Super views of Houbara Bustards; Some rare northern migrant birds – Hawfinch, Redwing, Siskin and Song Thrush and Desert Wheatear at La Oliva.

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Barbary Falcon flying low over the desert landscape on Fuerteventura
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Cream-coloured Courser
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Full moon Fuerteventura

Day 1. Monday 6th November 2017 With an early evening arrival from London, the sun had already set as we drove to our hotel in the north and after a welcome drink we took a meal before retiring for the night.

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Day 2. Tuesday 7th November We had an early start just before first light and drove to the outskirts of La Oliva, where Berthelot’s Pipits and a few Trumpeter Finches were present. In a bare, dried out field surrounded by mud walls, two Cream-coloured Coursers were standing just a few meters from the group. What a brilliant start to the tour! The birds took off and flew over the roadway right in front of us and we could see their lovely dark underwings. They landed a short distance away in a well-grazed field of alfalfa and began running around and feeding.

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Cream-coloured Courser showing cap

The sun was just rising slowly and more strands of dawn sunlight lit up the volcanic ridges and valleys across the red-brown landscape, where Ravens and Yellow-legged Gulls were flying. A few Hoopoes flew in and started feeding close to the coursers, then we spotted a very pale wheatear, flitting about in the undergrowth between the field and open ground.

The bird turned out to be a Desert Wheatear! We managed to get the bird in our scopes, although it was scurrying about on the ground without doing the typical wheatear perching on a rock or any other highpoint. It was obviously feeding as it dashed around and before long was lost from sight.

On a little pond we found Moorhens, Spanish Sparrows, White Wagtail, a small flock of eight Cattle Egrets, a single Grey Heron and another flock of Black-winged Stilts with a single Green Sandpiper.

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Black-winged Stilts
Spanish Sparrow FV web
Spanish Sparrow, male at our hotel
Onece Upon a Time in The So
Abandoned house, Fuerteventura

We walked for a while on the track around the agricultural enclosure and found some Common Linnets, a few Southern Grey Shrikes and a very smart looking Spectacled Warbler.

Driving around to the other side of the enclosure we found some local Corn Buntings feeding around a very white and almost statuesque Camel. Back at breakfast we were all quite elated at our wonderful birding start.

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Spectacled Warbler

Later we took a look around the coastal hamlet of Majanicho where the contrasting black volcanic rock has a horseshoe ring of white coral that serves as a beach with some houses close to a small, natural harbour.

Here in the receding tide we found several waders that include Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and Little Stint. Several Whimbrels were also dotted around the pools and three Little Egrets were seen further out near the surf.

Ingrid spotted a Rock Pipit feeding on the coral beach with a few Berthelot’s Pipits and, as we left the area to walk back to our minibus, Ade spotted an adult Barn Swallow that flew very close overhead.

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Little Egret
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Greenshank at Majanicho

We took a drive through El Cotillo and south across the dry and stony landscape, eventually coming through the barranco (or gorge) that leads to the Tindya plain.

Searching unsuccessfully for the well-camouflaged Houbara Bustards, we did better in finding more Ravens, lots of Berthelots Pipits and many Southern Grey Shrikes as we continued for lunch at Los Molinos.

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Ruddy Shelduck
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Trumpeter Finch

After our break we drove around Tefia, stopping often and finding more Trumpeter Finches, White Wagtails and a flock of over 200 Ruddy Shelducks, sitting on the ground close to where goats came for hay.

Five Common Buzzards were seen feeding on something unidentifiable at the far end of a goat farm, as four Egyptian Vultures flew across the landscape.

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Black-bellied Sandgrouse

Black-bellied Sandgrouse were seen sitting on a track and took to the air when we set up our scopes. Several more pairs and small groups of sandgrouse were seen and heard in the area as we stayed to watch the buzzards and vultures.

A Laughing dove was calling from the back of our hotel as we got ready for dinner.Day 3. Wednesday 8th November A quite windy start for our pre-breakfast look around the hotel gardens was fairly productive, with Canary Islands Stonechat, European Robin, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Collared Doves,

Raven and close views of an overhead pair of Common Kestrels and a male Spectacled Warbler in a neighbouring garden. A skulking thrush with very bold breast markings was seen at the base of a banana tree and could have been something very interesting, but it flew out the back of the tree and we couldn’t get a good look at it. More on this later.

Common Buzzard Fuert 1975
Common Buzzard, Fuerteventura

After breakfast we called in to look at the Cream-coloured Coursers once more and found them to be just as confiding as the previous morning – as were the Hoopoes!

Hoopoe FV 08

The wind was quite strong and we headed for the mountains above Betancuria. Stopping at a few miradors, or viewpoints, we found some very endearing and confiding Barbary Ground Squirrels, more Berthelot’s Pipits, Spanish Sparrow and lots of Ravens.

The wind was quite strong, but much calmer as we walked through the barranco at the town of Betancuria. Here we had great views of African Blue Tits calling from a flowering Bougainvillea bush.

Barbary Ground Squirrel 988

Great Grey Shrike pouncing Fuert w 2438
Southern Grey Shrike (Desert Grey Shrike)
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African Blue Tit at Betancuria

At a small pool we found a single Grey Wagtail drinking with Spanish Sparrows. A little further on we saw more Southern Grey Shrikes and a single female Black Redstart on the rocky slopes of the gorge.

Next on our list of birds was a male Sardinian Warbler which, although active, remained a bit shy. Some Common Blackbirds were seen at the potato fields further on.

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Blue Emperor Dragonfly in a sheltered sopt

Driving south, we stopped at Pajara and took a delicious home-made lunch at a local restaurant before heading down towards the coast, where we stopped at another restaurant to walk through a quiet wooded area, set aside for barbecues with lots of shade from a small plantation.

Several Rose-ringed Parakeets called from the palms near the hotel and a good number of Common Linnets were feeding with Spanish Sparrows. One Song Thrush was also seen in the company of a Redwing; both are good birds to find so far south on the Atlantic islands.

We drove along the coast and stopped to watch a juvenile Barbary Falcon that passed overhead and began to mob some Ravens high over a large mountain ridge.

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Several Common Buzzards came in to the fray and we eventually lost site of the Barbary Falcon as two Egyptian Vultures then came close by.

One of the vultures was a very clean looking adult bird and the other was a second to third year dark juvenile. Driving past Las Salinas we saw two Sandwich Terns with heads down, hunting close to the shore and then we headed back to our base to relax after an excellent day.

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Houbara Bustard Fuerteventura w 9195

Day 4. Thursday 9th November Our pre-breakfast trip involved an early morning search for Houbara Bustards at Tindaya, which proved successful, with great views of one bird very close to the track. The bustard seemed quite unperturbed and, although watching us closely, it continued to slowly walk off, feeding as it went.

The early dawn was lighting up the bird’s beautifully cryptic plumage and we could see amazing detail of the large feet with their padded toes, evolved to cope with extremely hot desert temperatures and sharp stones. A few Berthelot’s Pipits were also seen, as were Southern Grey Shrikes, some Trumpeter Finches in flight and Common Linnets.

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Close views of a juvenile Barbary Falcon was a great experience

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These large falcons are closely related to the commoner Peregrine Falcon

Driving back to La Oliva we spotted a large falcon very close to the town at the side of the main road.

Quickly we turned the minibus around and took a small track parallel to the road and slowly approached the bird that was on the very top of an electricity pylon.

We inched towards it and managed to get excellent and long views of this young Barbary Falcon that eventually took off and flew out of sight. Another special bird to get, especially before breakfast!

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Back at the hotel, some had a little tour of the gardens and some had good views of male Blackcap, European Robin, Chiffchaff and a Redwing.We then set off to check other birding sites and, sure enough, the two Cream- coloured Coursers were there with five or six Hoopoes, feeding in the first field very close to the track.

We had some wonderful long views as Trumpeter Finches, Common Linnets, Spanish Sparrows and Berthelot’s Pipits came and went. Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew past, calling their distinct bubbly call. At the little pond we found the usual Black-winged Stilts, Cattle Egrets, Moorhens and a single Grey Heron and, as we were scanning back from that corner, we saw a Northern Wheatear feeding in the rough grass.

From there we drove north to Lajares and on to Majanicho village on the coast. A Curlew Sandpiper was a new bird for the tour and Greenshank, Turnstones, Greater Ringed and Kentish Plovers showed well on the rocky pools. We drove south to Tindaya and took soup at a local coffee bar, where we had primed the owner that home-made lentil soup with chorizo would be most welcome for lunch. After a coffee we continued back north, checking some other sites, then returning for a rest from the strong winds.

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Houbara Bustard at dusk
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Light fading fast…

Later that evening we drove down to the open plains and searched slowly and quietly from the minibus for feeding Houbara Bustards. After watching Hoopoes, Southern Grey Shrikes and Trumpeter Finches we finally spotted a female walking slowly away from the side of the track. The bird walked across the road and started feeding again. We watched it for a while and then slowly drove on.

Houbara Bustard crossing road Fuert w 1225

On the way back we saw another bird, this time a male, on the other side of the road. This bird was beautifully lit up by the setting sun, its longer feathers and crest looking as though they were on fire!

Then we saw an unexpected bit of behaviour with the bustard suddenly opening it’s wings as if to take off, but instead it darted from side to side and puffed up all his feathers and had a good old shake, perhaps to rid himself of parasitic lice and other insects by shaking his body and wings vigorously.

After that, he slowly sauntered off, feeding as he went. As we continued back to our hotel the sun had set but we watched some Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly off in the glowing sky. Dinner at the hotel went down well and we talked about our great day in the field.

Day 5. Friday 10th November

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Southern Grey Shrike (Desert Grey Shrike) We had a leisurely pre-breakfast walk around the hotel gardens and the villa area to see if we could re-locate the Redwing, which fortunately happened to be there. Common Kestrel, Blackcaps, European Robin, Chiffchaffs and a rare Yellow-browed Warbler were also seen. A Southern Grey Shrike was watched going into a Spanish Sparrow nest in a drainpipe close to the hotel, searching for chicks one suspected, but came out empty-beaked, so to speak!
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Canary Islands Stonechat, male

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Fuerteventura Chat male w 7061

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Laughing Dove in flight
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Spectacled Warbler, male

After breakfast we managed to find the Laughing Dove that had been calling or indeed laughing at us each morning and evening. Tracking the bird down was quite satisfying and we had great views in the soft morning light.

Close by, a female Canary Islands Stonechat sat perched on an old aloe spike and a Spectacled Warbler flitted around the building plots and gardens at the rear of the hotel. The wind was pretty strong and the forecast wasn’t so favourable to find some of the birds that as yet had not been seen. Nevertheless, we headed to the sand dunes around the south-east of El Cotillo.

The area, like most of the Canaries and, indeed, Morocco and the Iberian peninsula, had had an extremely dry, extended summer with little rain for seven months. The wind and dusty sand made it tiring on the eyes and too difficult to walk and expect to see birds, so we drove around the dunes, seeing only Berthelot’s Pipits, some Trumpeter Finches and a few Ravens and Yellow-legged Gulls.

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Common Kestrel, Fuerteventura
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Canary Islands Stonechat, female
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Toston Lighthouse at Punto Ballena, Fuerteventura
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Raven over the sea

Undaunted, we drove to Punto Ballena and Toston lighthouse, where the dramatic coastline of orange sand on one side of the road and sparkling white coral sand on the other – with the red-and-white striped lighthouse sitting on top of black volcanic basalt – all set against a brilliant blue and azure crashing sea was quite spectacular.

Parking up at the lighthouse we watched a few lonely Whimbrels hunkered low on some small tidal pools, while close to the rocky shore, Sandwich Terns struggled to fly against the gale force winds that were whipping up Atlantic rollers that were crashing into currents coming round from nearby Lanzarote.

A huge surf was rolling in and splitting in different directions, with sea-spray flying all around. The scene was altogether quite spectacular and most impressive.

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Sandwich Tern with head down, hunting in gale force winds off the north coast

Deciding on an early lunch to get the best table at a local restaurant above the harbour at El Cotillo, we spotted Cory’s Shearwaters out at sea from our table, with one bird coming in close to the harbour wall.

More Sandwich Terns were watched and a single medium-sized passerine dropped in on the high rocks at the other side of the harbour which turned out to be a Common Starling, certainly not a common bird on Fuerteventura.After lunch, the wind was still blowing a gale and still with Barbary Partridge and the elusive, wind-sheltering Lesser Short- toed Larks in mind, we headed to the agricultural lands around Tefia.

Here, after much searching, bumpy tracks and a pretty uncomfortable journey for all, we finally managed to find a group of a dozen Barbary Partridge.

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Barbary Partridge

We watched the birds for a while before they took fright and flew off at speed over a nearby ridge. We headed over to the goat farm just west of Tefia and saw an adult Egyptian Vulture on the ground in front of the goat feeding troughs.

These vultures have a seemingly heavier build around the neck and shoulders, having adapted to tearing meat and sinew from the carcasses of dead goats thus this harder work to survive changed their physical appearance compared to that of the nominate nephrons.

Also feeding at the goat farm were Common Ravens and Common Buzzards and a huge flock of over 200 Ruddy Shelducks. These birds were quite rare 15 years ago but have steadily increased in numbers over the years on Fuerteventura.

Ruddy Shellduck 2008
Ruddy Shelduck taking off from a goat farm

The swirling red volcanic dust and strong winds limited viewing, but still we watched a few Lesser Short-toed Larks, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, White Wagtails, Trumpeter Finches, Berthelot’s Pipits and a few Southern Grey Shrikes in and around the farm buildings and surrounding tracks.

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On the main track out of the farm we spotted three Cream-coloured Coursers running close to where we were, then they took off and flew across the road. We drove over and slowly moved into position on the slope to get close views of them feeding. We decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel and rest before dinner.

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Rollers coming in at Los Molinos, Fuerteventura

Day 6. Saturday 11the November Our last full day in the field and our last chance to do a slightly longer pre-breakfast drive to look once more for desert birds, so we drove down to Tindaya and had a look along the tracks.

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Houbara Bustard with the start of breeding plumage, Fuerteventura

It wasn’t long before we found a single Houbara Bustard feeding at the side of the road. We stopped the vehicle, sat quietly and watched from inside. The young bird didn’t seem too bothered and continued feeding through the trackside bushes. After a while, the bustard slowly crossed the road and began to feed on the other side.

Not wishing to frighten the bird or put it under any pressure, we waited until it was a good bit off and then continued our slow drive along the dusty tracks. A pair of Cream-coloured Coursers was next up and we delighted in watching them running, stopping, feeding, repeat, before we headed back to La Oliva for breakfast. In the south of the island there had been reports of other migrant birds from the north dropping in to the greener areas in that part of the island, so we drove south to see what we could find.

At Lajita we found a Hadada Ibis calling loudly and flying into the zoo compound. At the Costa Calma we parked up at the top of the town and took a slow, quiet walk through the woodland strips on both sides of the road. Here

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European Golfinch, Fuerteventura. Very beautiful looking birds.
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Laughing Dove, Fuerteventura

Goldfinches and Linnets were watched and it wasn’t long before we saw Brambling, Siskin and Hawfinch. A pair of Red-vented Bulbuls were seen as we were walking back to the minibus. We drove back along the southeast coast, cutting inland to reach the hotel at La Oliva where we added more species to our bird list before dinner.

Day 7. Sunday 12th November A few of us had a quiet stroll through the gardens before breakfast, finding a lovely male Atlantic Canary, European Robin, Canary Islands Stonechat, Redwing and a Song Thrush. On the way to the airport, close to Puerto de Rosario we saw a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

As we had an early check-in time at the island’s airport, we headed south and arrived in good time for our flights home. Thanks to all who took part in this tour of a very special island.

It was made more enjoyable by the additional migrant bird species that landed on Fuerteventura, carried well south by strong northerly winds. Hopefully we’ll meet up on another Limosa Holidays tour one day.


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Stephen Daly

Stephen Daly

Stephen Daly, has been birding since he was eight years old in his native Scotland. After living in Germany and France he established Andalucian Guides the successful birding and wildlife tour company on The Strait of Gibraltar in Spain and has been living here since 2001. Photographing birds in flight is one passion and his photos can be found in many books, magazines and journals. Studying bird behaviour and bird migration are two other positive aspects of being based on one of the busiest migration routes on Earth.

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