Monday, 15 January 2018

Four Days on Fuerteventura 10th January 2018

Day Three

It rained overnight. Not that we would have noticed, being dead to the world during the night due to our dawn to dusk birding exertions. The tiles outside, between our room and the pool, were slippery with rain as we left at 7am, in the dark, for another trip back to Tindaya Plain. There was still a few spots of rain falling but the skies were clearing and soon it would be dry and sunny.

I am getting used to the Fuerteventura weather now, where it clouds over in the evening, gets colder and the wind increases and then in the morning the clouds mainly disperse, the wind drops and the land warms again. Probably it is not always like this but it has been a consistent pattern during our stay.

We followed the now familiar route back to El Cotillo and the Tindaya Plain, the mountain tops on the way shrouded in the dispersing clouds that had brought the rain in the night. By the time we were venturing out onto the main track through the plain it was sunny, the land being suffused with a soft golden light that is only ever evident in the early morning as the rising sun just clears the mountains and before it gets too high in the sky.

Badger stopped the car shortly after we had headed out on the track, as four small waders were running ahead of us. Pale fawn above and white below, they ran like miniature clockwork toys, their black legs a blur of motion, as they sped along the sandy track. They were Kentish Plovers, four of them, impossibly cute and a little uncertain about the car, running off the road a little way to stop, look at us and bob in anxiety. We stopped too and slowly they regained confidence and returned to the track. Beautiful little things, the male especially attractive with his pale ginger crown, a black smudge across his forehead and black stripe from bill to eye.

Female Kentish Plover

Male Kentish Plover
We drove on deeper into the plain and stopped at the small ruined building by the track that marked the best place to scan for bustards. We scanned  and at first it was another depressing blank but off to our right between the car and the beach I could see a number of Yellow legged Gulls wandering about in the stones and low vegetation and then further to their left, a larger and taller shape with a long neck and legs became apparent. It was a Houbara Bustard, a little distant but unmistakeable. We watched it moving quite rapidly, feeding as it went, stooping to the ground to catch I suppose some form of invertebrate prey.

We followed a track running off into the plain in the bustard's vague direction but it got us only marginally closer so we gave up and returned to the main track. A Lesser Short toed Lark was singing loudly from a stone by the track but moved off a little way when we stopped to look at it.

Lesser Short toed Lark
We took another track leading into the other side of the plain and Badger by some miracle of detection found a beautifully camouflaged Stone Curlew, standing in that somnolent inscrutable way of theirs by some bushes. A couple of the inevitable Ravens flew over. No day would be complete without them putting in an appearance.

We returned to the main track once more and commenced another scan for bustards but there was no sign. 

The main track across the Tindaya Plain
I cannot recall how many times I scanned, but always in vain, then just on the point of giving up two sickle winged birds flew fast and furiously across the skyline. At first I though they might be swifts due to the erratic course and speed of their flight and the difficulty of relating size of bird to the vast contours of the landscape but it almost immediately became apparent these were not swifts at all but distant raptors, one being pursued by the other, with the one doing the chasing larger than the one being pursued.The chasing bird broke off the pursuit and proceeded to fly in our direction and still relatively distant came past us in a long, fast and continuous glide, coming lower and lower to the ground before finally pitching up to perch on a cairn of stones someway off across a shallow and dried out barranco. Although distant we could discern from its paler plumage and small size that it was very likely to be a  Barbary Falcon.

It certainly looked very much like a Barbary Falcon to me and we were ninety nine percent convinced it was. I thought the other bird might have been a Kestrel, but frankly all our attention was now fully focused on the perched falcon on the other side of the barranco as this would be a real find but we had to be absolutely sure. There was no other choice but to head over the barranco and try and get as close as possible to confirm the identity.

Adult Barbary Falcon
We walked down into and up out of, the dry and shallow barranco whilst the falcon thankfully remained perched on its pile of stones. 

Badger walking the edge of the barranco
We got reasonably close and I took as many photos as possible, reasoning we could check on them to see if our assumption that the raptor was a Barbary Falcon, was indeed correct. We edged slightly closer but this was too much for the falcon which took to the air and in a wide upward sweep passed back around us, high in the sky and disappeared back towards the distant hills from which it had originally come.

Back at the car, we looked at the images on the back screen of my camera.The first were inconclusive as the range they had been taken at made them slightly blurry. My heart sank and then immediately leapt, as up came an image sharp enough to show that, clearly visible was some rusty brown colouring on its head, and also there was finer and less extensive barring on its flanks. All concerns about Peregrine Falcons were banished. Here was incontravertable evidence that we had seen a Barbary Falcon. 

The distant mountain beyond our hire car is where the Barbary Falcon emerged
chasing a Kestrel
This had made my day and also Badgers. An unexpected delight and more than adequate compensation for our lack of bustards. After this minor triumph we decided to head back to El Cotillo and as we drove along the track I saw a movement out on the plain. A quick request to Badger to halt the car resulted in my confirming I was looking at the distinctive profile of another bustard. Still a little distant but closer than the previous one. It was close enough to be able to discern all its plumage features and to watch it for a few minutes before it too, like all the others, headed deeper into the plain and away from the track.

Houbara Bustard
At my request, and after a brief stop at the supermarket, we headed back to the goat farm at La Parcelas. I was hoping to get a better photo of the Black bellied Sandgrouse, as the morning light would be better and the sun behind us. My hopes were dashed however as there was only one sandgrouse present and that was away over the other side of the goat enclosure. However the Trumpeter Finches were still on the fence wires closest to us so I concentrated on them instead and latched onto a beautiful male, all pink of breast and with a sealing wax red bill. 

Male Trumpeter Finch
A Berthelot's Pipit put in a guest appearance as did a small flock of Spanish Sparrows. The males when seen close are really quite special with a lovely chestnut crown, white eyebrow and pure white cheeks contrasting with a broad black bib on their chin and rows of black chevrons on their breast and flanks. They are so much brighter in colour than our lowly male House Sparrows in Britain. The females conversely are virtually identical to female House Sparrows.

Berthelot's Pipit

Male Spanish Sparrow
While watching these birds a Southern Great Grey Shrike arrived, literally out of the blue, and proceeded to give us wonderfully close views as it hunted  insects and beetles on the ground from its perch on the wire fence. Its black bill and highwayman's mask gave it a formidable presence as it swung its long tail to balance on the thin wires and poles it preferred to hunt from.

Southern Great Grey Shrike Lanius e.koenigi
Half an hour had now passed and we discussed where to go next and thought we would try Caleta de Fustes which was near where we were staying and is mostly famous  for its golf courses which contain some small lakes and where Plain Swifts had allegedly been seen recently. The less said about our attempts to get into the golf course the better. We just could not find the entrance although admittedly we were not that enthused about dodging golf balls and golfers so did not try that hard and decided we would give it another go  tomorrow. We did however manage to see many Ruddy Shelducks taking advantage of the greenest grass for miles around.

So then it was off to the nearby Barranco de la Torre, where, from the reports we had read there would be good birding. We drove through a pleasant and small seaside village called Las Salinas and accessed the barranco from the beach end where there was ample space to park by a rocky bay with a couple of Yellow legged Gulls and a Little Egret standing on the black rocks. On the way in a confiding Hoopoe allowed us to get very close to it by using the car as a hide, as it fed by the side of the narrow road. Sadly a truck coming the other way spooked it just as Badger was about to take some video of the bird. It does get frustrating sometimes when just as you are enjoying looking at a bird something or someone comes along to disrupt matters. It's no one's fault in this crowded world of ours but it is a pain nevertheless.

For me the barranco was a little disappointing although it extends for some kilometres and we only walked inland about a kilometre. You could spend a day here easily as there is some very good habitat over its entire length. Initially it had a lot of greenery in the form of dense bushes, tamarisk trees and palms but it was bone dry and there were not that many birds about apart from Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows. Badger found a male European Stonechat but it almost immediately flew off and we never saw it again. Next up was a handsome male Sardinian Warbler  which gave us the runaround in some palm trees although we went on to find that there were two pairs here.

Barranco de la Torre
Spanish Sparrows, as I said, were present in good numbers, flying in noisy and excitable flocks to perch on the folded tops of the huge palm fronds above and look down on us, chattering to themselves. Collared Doves constantly crooned their monotonous calls, calling from their perches in the palm trees and from the overhead wires around some seemingly deserted farmsteads but then a different dove call, faster and more melodic came from the rocky wall of the barranco and we found our first Laughing Dove. Much darker and slightly smaller than the Collared Doves, the first one we found was being chivvied by its larger cousin. In the end we found three, possibly four Laughing Doves. Whether they can be regarded as truly native or are the result of earlier escapes or releases is open to debate but it was still nice to see them.

Two Southern Great Grey Shrikes  were using the sun dried, dead fronds of a palm tree as a vantage point to survey the ground below and I found three Linnets, which are of a different race here, and which promptly fled as a Common Buzzard flew over.

One last stop was on our agenda and entailed a reasonably long drive to a place called Vego de Rio Palmas. A trip report said this was a good location to find African Blue Tits which,  in the Canary Islands, have their own sub specific status and differ to those in northern Africa in that they lack a white wing bar.

The drive required another spectacular and winding ascent through a mountain range of yet more extinct volcanos before we descended down into the small and pleasant village of Vego del Rio Palmas and, following the directions in the trip report, we found ourselves parking just by a bridge over a small stream that ran though some comparatively luxurious green habitat.

Getting out of the car Badger immediately heard and saw a pair of African Blue Tits feeding on some seeding plants about fifty metres away from us. We approached them slowly and managed to get more than reasonable views of them before they flew further off into the greenery and were lost to sight.They are smaller in size than our Blue Tit and to my mind brighter coloured, looking almost exotic.Their crown is darker, almost blackish blue and their back is greyish blue without any of the green tinge that is seen on British Blue Tits

African Blue Tit  Cyanistes.t.teneriffae
We followed the small track by the stream that wound through the vegetation and came out on a slope overlooking the stream. 

A rare sight of greenery by a stream at Vego de Rio Palmas
Collared Doves were again prolific but there were also some Laughing Doves here. I counted up to four but there could well have been more. A pair of Sardinian Warblers skulked and scolded, as is their custom, at the  base of the thick vegetation and at least four Chiffchaffs were flitting around catching insects. Much to my surprise a Robin then popped out of the greenery to be followed by another a little later.

We spent an hour here and then it was time to go as the sun begun to slowly settle.There was just time to see a couple of Hoopoes perched on a telephone wire by the bridge and catch up with another or maybe the same pair of African Blue Tits, calling to each other and not sounding like a British Blue Tit at all but to my mind their call was similar to the tinkling notes of a Goldfinch. 

We returned to Puerto Rosario and our apartment by the same way that we came, stopping at a, by now, very windy and cold mirador (viewpoint) high up in the mountains and overlooking a  great sweep of land that panned away to a range of extinct volcanos, the craters clearly visible. 

Unfortunately it is our last day tomorrow and it has all seemed to have passed so quickly

To be continued.....................

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