Not all of us were prepared for the cold and wet weather that greeted us as we arrived in Fuerteventura at midday on the first day of our two-and-a-half day short break. Despite lacking in adequate clothing and the cold and wet weather continuing for the next day and a half, the birds put on a real show and we had great views of all our main targets.
Day 1 - Saturday 18th January Flight: Departed London Gatwick 07:20, arrived Fuerteventura 11:40
Getting into our hire car at the airport, the first birds of the trip, 5 Berthelot's Pipits were foraging at our feet. This Canary Island endemic proved to be the commonest bird of the trip and could be found at almost every site we visited. A short distance south from the airport was our accommodation, a no-frills though adequate self-catering cottage in Costa de Antigua. Dropping off our small amount of luggage at the cottage we added Eurasian Linnet of the eastern Canaries race harterti, Spanish Sparrow, Collared Dove and Feral Pigeon in the accommodation compound, while Atlantis Yellow-legged Gull passed overhead.
Just a couple of kilometers further south was our first site - Barranco de la Torre. 'Barranco' is the Spanish for ravine and it is these ravines that are the habitat for the only Fuerteventuran endemic the Fuerteventura Chat, it was here we had our first of the trip. We found two pairs in the barranco, one pair in the earth-mound surrounded cultivation compounds and a second pair alongside the track leading up the northern side of the barranco. Also in the barranco were at least 10 Spectacled Warblers, 2+ Sardinian Warblers, 1 Common Kestrel, 1 Hoopoe (carrying food to cliff hole nest), 2 Common Buzzard, 2 Northern Raven, 2 Trumpeter Finches, 1 Southern Grey Shrike, 1 Chiffchaff, 4 Greenfinches, 6 Linnets, 200+ Spanish Sparrow, Berthelot's Pipits, Collared Doves & Feral Pigeons. One of the team had 5 Cream-coloured Coursers fly over and 1 Sandwich Tern was offshore.
Two species of mammal were seen in the barranco, European Rabbit and Barbary Ground Squirrel, both introduced species, the latter in 1965 when two squirrels brought in as pets, were released, bred and colonised the island. Insects seen at the site included Blue Emperor, Scarlet Darter, Clouded Yellow and Desert Locust.
From here we travelled northwest towards Los Molinos reservoir with a lunch stop on the way in Antigua where we enjoyed a selection of Tapas in a local café, from here we saw our only Grey Heron of the trip flying over. On the way to Los Molinos is a goat farm where we found several new species for the trip. A flock of 60 Lesser Short-toed Lark fed restlessly between the goat pen and road while in the enclosure we found 2 pairs of Black-bellied Sandgrouse showing very well as they fed around the goats before taking flight. 2 Ruddy Shelduck, 15 Trumpeter Finches, many Spanish sparrows, Berthelot's Pipits and a Southern Grey Shrike also fed in the pens while a Fuerteventura Chat was on the back fence and a couple of Ravens flew overhead.
Los Molinos reservoir is the largest and often only large fresh water accumulation on the island and therefore holds a number of resident and winter visitors. Time was short, as we wanted to get to our next site for late afternoon, so we had a quick scan of the reservoir from the dam. On the water were many Eurasian Coots, 4 Ruddy Shelduck and a single Teal. Waders feeding on the muddy edges included 4+ Common Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 20 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Snipe and 5 Little Ringed plover. On the stream below the dam were 2 further Little Ringed Plovers and a Green Sandpiper. A pair of Fuerteventura Chats and several Berthelot's Pipits fed on and around the dam.
Continuing on towards Tindaya, our next planned stop, we were rudely interrupted when our first Houbara Bustard of the trip flew across the road in front of us! We turned the car round and found not one but three Houbaras not far from the road. We watched them for the next 35 minutes feeding and squabbling before running off back up the road, we followed them to find a fourth bird had now joined them. After 10 more minutes of even closer viewing they flew off to a spot distant from the road so we continued towards Tindaya. While watching the bustards we had a further 7 Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly by, 2 Southern Grey Shrikes were singing by a small dwelling and 40 Trumpeter finches were feeding nearby. A dead Algerian Hedgehog was in the road.
It was now fairly late in the afternoon and we did not have much light, however when we stopped to scan the plains near Tindaya we immediately found a pair of Stone-curlew right next to the track and two distant Houbaras. We were able to follow the track to approach one of the Houbaras and got some great views, though in the fading light. As we watched it another Houbara appeared nearby and again we got great views of this bird. Also on the plains we saw 4 Linnets, 1 Kestrel, 2 Ravens and a Southern Grey Shrike. A brief look at the sea before the light completely went produced only a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls. We returned to our cottage for a well deserved rest.
Day 2 - Sunday 19th January
Alarms had been set for an 07:15 departure however once on the road we soon realised that our sunrise time was out and we should have left about 45 minutes early. Not that it mattered as the heavens had opened and it was pouring down and very dull. Our plan was to return to the plains near Tindaya and hopefully find a displaying bustard, however, despite the rain largely clearing by the time we reached the plains, it was still cold, windy and dull, not exactly ideal displaying weather.
We soon found a distant Houbara and were able to approach it along one of the tracks. It was still rather distant and really wasn't doing a lot, so keen to find a displaying male, we left this bird and continued along the track. A few hundred meters down the track and we found another bustard, very distant and again not doing anything, we moved on. A little further down the track we stopped for a scan and found a distant Cream-coloured Courser which ran over a ridge in the desert and out of site. We approached the area and refound the bird and three others, they were all still distant and wary, moving quickly away so we did not pursue any further. While watching the Coursers we picked up a distant falcon, it was our first and only Barbary Falcon of the trip, it was hunting but a long way away and not getting any closer. This was the only species of the trip that left us wanting for better views. Back in the car we continued to search for displaying bustards. While searching we saw 15 Lesser Short-toed Larks, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Common Buzzards, 1 Spectacled Warbler, 2 Kestrels and a few Linnets and Berthelot's Pipits. The sun came out briefly when we were near a small semi-cultivated area with some grass and flowers, here we found a Clouded Yellow and a Long-tailed Blue butterfly and 2 Vestal moths. Failing to find any more bustards and with more poor weather we decided to abandon the bustard search and headed off to Betancuria, our next site.
The winding road was slow as we made our climb up over the rain-shrouded mountains towards Betancuria. As we arrived in the village the rain briefly stopped so we pulled over and checked the first vegetated garden we saw. A small amount of pishing and out came our first pair of African Blue Tit (which may be further taxonomically split) with some Spanish Sparrows and a female Sardinian Warbler. A Goldfinch was singing nearby. The rain started again so we jumped in the car and drove a short distance into the village where we found a small café to grab a drink and cake while the rain passed by. A short time later, refuelled and with the rain stopped, we walked from the café to the vegetated dry streambed nearby, here we found another pair of Blue Tits, a Chiffchaff and a Sardinian Warbler. A Canary was singing nearby but it appeared to be coming from the houses nearby so we presumed it was a cage bird.
As we worked our way down the valley south of the village we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler, now a fairly regular winter visitor, and a short time later we found it feeding in the tamarisks with another Sardinian Warbler. A little further down the valley we also found 8 Song thrushes, 2 Hoopoes, 1 Southern Grey Shrike, 1 Black Redstart, 2+ Goldfinches, hundreds of Spanish Sparrows and a few Berthelot's Pipits and Collared Doves. The temperature was quickly rising and 2+ Kestrels, 2 Buzzards and several Ravens were now thermalling above.
Continuing south towards Vega de Rio Palmas we stopped a couple of times briefly en route firstly to check out a raptor which proved to be a Buzzard but fortunately it was being mobbed by a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, our first of the trip. Our second stop was when a large orange butterfly flew across at the side of the road, this would have been either a Plain Tiger or Monarch but unfortunately we could not find it again. While looking we did find a Green Striped White. From the car we also saw a couple more Southern Grey Shrikes and several more Kestrels and Buzzards were making use of the first thermals of the day.
We failed to find our main target Saharan Bluetail Damselfly by the spring/stream in Vega de Rio Palmas however another pair of Blue Tits, a Chiffchaff and a Sardinian Warbler were in the vegetation around the stream. After hearing them calling, our first 2 Barbary Partridges were found on the hillside above the stream, while overhead were a couple of pairs of Ravens. In the village were Berthelot's Pipits, Collared Doves, Spanish Sparrows and a Southern Grey Shrike.
Working our way south, we stopped at a high viewpoint over the dry lake and mountains, this is a regular site for Egyptian Vulture, however none were on view. Another Eurasian Sparrowhawk shot down low over the hillside while extremely tame Ravens, Berthelot's Pipits and Ground Squirrels hopped around our feet hoping/begging for scraps of food. A Buzzard drifted over the near hillside.
We stopped for another tapas lunch at Pajara before heading off east towards Tiscamanita. Just east of the village along a dirt track leading out onto the plain is a vulture feeding point. Although you cannot directly see the feeding point we saw 15+ Egyptian Vultures of varying ages around the area, some nearby on the ground and others flying in and over. A Buzzard and a Vulture sat alongside each other on a fence showing the incredible size difference between the two. 10+ Ravens were also in the area, 2 Ruddy Shelduck flew by, as did 2 Hoopoes. 40 Pallid Swifts passed overhead. Nearer the village were Collared Doves, Spanish Sparrows and a Southern Grey Shrike.
With all but one of our main targets, Plain Swift, which could be seen anywhere, we headed back to the east coast to check out the golf courses near Caleta de Fuste. We had news of a female Ring-necked Duck which we found still present on the small lake in the north-east corner of Salinas de Antigua, the southern of the two golf courses. Also present were 10 Teal, 6 Coot and 2 Ruddy Shelduck. A Barn Swallow flew over.
On the southern side of the northern golf course, Fuerteventura Golf Club, we dodged golf balls and golfers and saw 3 Wigeon, 8 Mallards, 3+ White Wagtails, 6 Ruddy Shelduck, 1 Common Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, several Muscovy Duck, Coots, Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves. In the storm drain running through the golf course we found a single female Scarlet Darter, Spoladea recurvalis (a migrant micro moth) and Banded Garden Spiders Argiope trifasciata (very similar to Wasp Spider).
Just off of the golf course the storm drain continues under the road to the beach, to a small freshwater outflow adjacent the Elba hotel. Here we found 2 Ringed Plovers, 1 Greenshank, 1 Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Sandpipers, 1 Snipe, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Grey Wagtail, 8+ Linnets and a Black Redstart. On the rocky seashore behind the Elba Hotel was 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Whimbrel and 2 Turnstone. A Sandwich Tern, a few Yellow-legged Gulls and a Flying Fish flew by offshore.
As the light faded we moved the car to the north-east corner of the golf course, however on the way we pulled over as a group of 20 Pallid Swifts and 5 Plain Swifts were feeding low over the road. The small lake on the in the north-east corner of the golf course was alive with birds. Most notably a Eurasian Spoonbill roosted on the side of the lake before feeding after a few minutes and 4 Red-throated Pipits fed on the grass at the edge of the lake before flying off presumably to roost. Also on and around the lake was a pre-roost of 80 feeding White Wagtails, 3 Little Egrets, 1 Greenshank, 1 Common Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 20 Yellow-legged Gulls, several Ruddy Shelduck and 7 Muscovy Duck. The nearby Pallid Swifts and Plain Swifts could still be watched from here.
Day 3 - Monday 20th January
As we had now seen all the target species the aim again this morning was to get better views of anything, in particular we were still aiming for a displaying bustard. With appropriately adjusted alarm clocks we were up and out in time to be back on the plains near Tindaya for sunrise. Thankfully the weather was on our side the sky was fairly clear and the wind had dropped. Fairly quickly we found our first Houbara, however it was very distant so we moved on. A bit further down the main track we found another two Houbaras, they were distant and not doing a lot so we turned around to check another track. Another Houbara on the opposite side of the track was again distant however the first Houbara we had seen looked like it was nearer to one of the tracks so we headed off in that direction. As we approached it began displaying! It wasn't particularly close but it was a great experience to watch it run round in circles like a headless chicken, with all its feather plumes puffed out. After watching it for a while we decided to carry on but before we'd got out of site of the displaying bustard we came across two Cream Coloured Coursers right next to the track. Carrying on a little further and a group of 6 Houbaras, presumably females or young males from their plumage, crossed the road in front of us and proceeded across the plain, briefly feeding around the two Cream Coloured Coursers. We continued on towards one of our earlier, presumed male, bustards which had moved much closer to the main track and gave us our best views yet before walking off behind the car and away. Presumably the same two Stone Curlew as the first day were seen again near the main track. With our fill of Houbara we decided to go and watch the sea for a bit. However as we approached the sea we couldn't help but find our 11th Houbara of the day! Quite a way from all the others and again was very close to the track.
A half-an-hour check of the sea was extremely disappointing with 2 Kittiwakes being the only species added, a few Yellow-legged gulls passing by were the only other sighting. During the morning we also saw 10+ Lesser Short-toed Larks, including some singing, 2 Kestrels, 1 Spectacled Warbler, 3+ Southern Grey Shrikes, 2+ Ravens and several Berthelot's Pipits.
We then moved to a new site, Puertito de los Molinos, this is where the Los Molinos barranco meets the sea and there is a small mostly deserted village. On the way we stopped near the goat farm as we saw 2 Barbary Partridges next to the road, while stopped we found 2 Stone Curlews in the same area, one of them hassling a Southern Grey Shrike that was on the deck. Our main target at the Puertito was the Saharan Bluetail damselfly which we found only one of at the side of the stream.
Birds here included a pair of Fuerteventura Chats, Berthelot's Pipits, Ravens and Muscovy ducks. A Whimbrel was on the beach and several Yellow-legged Gulls flew by while we ate lunch at the seaside café.
Further up the barranco we stopped again at the briefly at the goat farm where we saw 5+ Trumpeter Finch with the Spanish Sparrows, a Southern Grey Shrike, Berthelot's Pipits and a pair of Ruddy Shelduck. At the reservoir a Black-necked Grebe was a surprise find out on the water with Coots. On the muddy edges were again a selection of birds including 1 Common Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 4 Common Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, 4 Teal, several Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and Ruddy Shelducks.
A small number of Yellow-legged Gulls were coming and going from the reservoir. Around and below the dam were a Green Sandpiper a pair of Fuerteventura Chats, a Hoopoe, several Berthelot's Pipits and 4+ Trumpeter Finches, several small Haria Lizards scurried about the loose rocks and a Buzzard called overhead. A genuine-looking Rock Dove flew around the dam before flying off.
Back at the goat farm, 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse had flown in however were soon flushed by some birders/photographers who had entered the goat compound, thankfully they didn't fly far and landed in the nearby desert where we could see them well once more.
With little else to do we headed back to the golf course, on the way we saw a Barn Swallow near the airport. We had hoped to get better views of Red-throated Pipit, unfortunately the gold course was crawling with golfers and the lake where we had seen the pipits had many fewer birds. Ruddy Shelduck numbers though had grown to 37, while 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Common Redshank, 2 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Little Egrets, 3+ White Wagtails fed around the edge of the lake. 20 Yellow-legged Gulls roosted around the lake and a Southern Grey Shrike was on the fence.
Back to the outflow ditch next to Elba hotel, the previous days cast were mostly still present - 1 Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Sandpipers, 1 Snipe, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Grey Wagtail and 8+ Linnets with the addition of 1 Whimbrel. The sun and warmth also brought out the insects with 2 male Emperor Dragonflies, 1 female Vagrant Emperor, 1 Darter sp., several Spoladea recurvalis (micro moth), 1 Clouded Yellow, 1 Long-tailed Blue and 20+ Common Blue butterflies around the pool. On the shore was 1 Little Egret and 1 Common Sandpiper while passing by were 2+ Sandwich Terns, several Yellow-legged Gulls and 4 Dolphin sp. seen by one member of the group.
With limited time left we had one last stop at the Saltpans near Barranco de la Torre. On the saltpans were 11 Ringed Plover, 1 Greenshank, 1 Common Redshank, 2 Common Sandpipers and several roosting Yellow-legged Gulls. On the adjacent rocks were 2 Grey Plover and 3 Ringed Plovers while offshore were 5+ Gannets, 5+ Sandwich Terns and several flocks of feeding Yellow-legged Gulls.
As we drove to the airport to fly home we got our last addition to the trip list with 2 Cattle Egrets on a roundabout next to the airport.
Flight: Departed Fuerteventura 19:15 arrived London Gatwick 23:30
Mammals & Reptiles
Butterflies & Moths