Tuesday 16 January 2018

Four Days on Fuerteventura 11th January 2018

Day Four

So our last full day of birding on Fuerteventura dawned. Last night over dinner we discussed what we would do today. There had been two long staying Hoopoe Larks, a major rarity on Fuerteventura, residing on the furthest southwest point of the island at a remote spot called Punta Pesebre. Although they had not been reported for some time, someone claimed to have seen them a day or so ago although the report was not verified. As Badger had never seen a Hoopoe Lark we decided to take a chance and try to see them as there had also been a report from there of another rarity, a female Desert Wheatear, but again that was a few days ago and no further information had been forthcoming since our arrival on the island.

It was a long but pleasant drive on modern new roads that were relatively free of traffic as far as Morro Jable, a large town by the sea with huge hotel complexes set on the coast before the town and others forming a massive backdrop to the seafront, while the whole seafront itself had that bright busy air of cafe life,with boutique shops and even encompassed an open air market. 

A section of Morro Jable seafront
We drove down the wide boulevard with statuesque palms spaced evenly alongside, passing between the hotels and the seafront and then drove out of the town, climbing into the surrounding hills and moving from a tarmac road to an unsurfaced track that wound upwards in sinuous curves following the contours of the rising slope. It was truly spectacular on a day that sparkled in full sunshine.

To our left was a wide expanse of barren plain sloping down to the sea cliffs and the huge expanse of the Atlantic whilst to our right the land rose upwards into towering mountain tops and as we slowly ascended, the panorama became ever more rugged and spectacular. There were very few cars on the road but Badger noticed that we only had a quarter tank left of fuel. We were in a quandary as we did not know if there were any more petrol stations on the route to Punta Pesebre. We consulted the map and it certainly looked like there were no  more towns between us and Punta Pesebre, not even the occasional small village.

We could not take the risk of running out of fuel and so returned to Morro Jable to fill up the tank. This took a little time as we searched for a garage in the town but eventually we found one and all was well. We set off again and followed the now familiar dirt road as it wound ever onwards towards the end of the island. 

The unsurfaced road to Punta Pesebre through Jandia National Park
We were in Jandia National Park and from afar we could see the lighthouse that marked the furthest southern point of the island. Just a few kilometres west of there, along the coast, was Punta Pesebre.

We followed the stony dusty track out to Punta Pesebre which, when  we arrived, we had entirely to ourselves. An insignificant signboard was all that marked the point but this was the correct spot for the Hoopoe Larks, assuming they were here, as it was confirmed by the Google Maps app on my phone.

Punta Pesebre is a location that I can only describe as being a place of beautiful desolation, a wild and rugged juxtaposition of land and sea. The huge blue swell of the Atlantic pounded into the shore under the low cliffs, as great white crested waves rose up and rolled in swollen terrifying force towards the point. I become energised in locations such as this where the elemental forces, untramelled by human interference take on an existence and energy entirely unknown in more prosaic areas. I want to shout into the wind and yell to the sky above the roaring sea  as if becoming raw and elemental myself, throwing off  the restrictions and petty conventions of a human existence.

Punta Pesebre
The sun bore down dazzlingly white, the sky was blue and the wind beat against our bodies as we looked out onto the endless motion of the sea. A pure white seabird, tiny against the sea's heaving backdrop, lifted on the wind and we had seen our first and only Sandwich Tern. Away to the north the coastline consisted of huge mountains and cliffs, frilled at their base by white surf, that became hazed and indistinct with distance, while behind us lay a huge expanse of stony sandy desert with  many low growing knee high bushes of some hardy shrub growing all over it. This was where the Hoopoe Larks had been seen. It was daunting as the area to be searched was huge but we separated and quartered the ground as comprehensively as we could. It seemed to go on forever with the sun blinding as it reflected from the sand and stones but we persisted, undaunted. 

Hoopoe Lark habitat at Punta Pesebre
After an hour and a half we had to concede the birds were probably not here.  Badger however redeemed the situation by finding not the Hoopoe Larks but the female Desert Wheatear,  well inland from the track on which we had left the car and flying from low bush to low bush, using them as a vantage point to pick off prey from the ground. Its plumage almost matched the sandy terrain but was a more richer, golden colour. It was confiding to a degree and allowed me to approach quite closely but eventually tired of my presence and flew a good distance from me.

Female Desert Wheatear
We gave ourselves another half an hour of searching and then finally conceded defeat as far as the Hoopoe Larks were concerned. We were pretty certain they were not around as we had covered a very large area searching for them but there is always that small percentage of doubt. But we had done our best and could do no more and were content with our efforts.

Subsequent reports  by other birders after we had returned to Britain proved we were wrong about the larks. It seemed it was just luck if they could be found in the vast plain they were inhabiting with some birders being successful while others, such as ourselves, were not. 

So now we made the long journey back to Morro Jable, passing back through the spectacular scenery of Jandia National Park, home to the highest mountain on Fuerteventura, Pico de la Zarza at 807m. Thank heavens this area, declared a National Park in 1987, has been saved for posterity. It really is the most wonderful place.

As we proceeded back down the boulevard along Morro Jable seafront we decided to park and check out the wide expanse of dry bushes that separated the seafront promenade from the beach itself. There had been a report of Plain Swifts from here so there was a chance that they might still be around.

We got out of the car and watched two Gannets cruise past the beach. We crossed the road onto a grassed area and found three swifts flying low over what looked like a dry saltmarsh beyond. The problem is that both Pallid and Plain Swifts are present on Fuerteventura and in the strong sunlight it was very difficult to discern which species they were. In the end we settled for Pallid Swift which is by far the more usual swift found on the island. Just as we were watching the swifts some raucous cries came from the palms spaced along the seafront and a party of Monk Parakeets left a palm and swooped low and fast towards us as we arrived in a small play and seating area, adjacent to a long wooden boardwalk leading down to the beach.

Yes I know that the parakeets may have been introduced some time in the past and are not truly native but to all extents and purposes they are living wild, are very pretty birds and highly entertaining, as all psitticines are. They are very tame and people both local and visiting come to feed them sunflower seeds and peanuts. To feel their sharp claws grasping your skin and the gentle weight of their bodies on your arm is a charming and almost unique experience. What better way to introduce someone to birds, be they child or adult, than allowing them the experience of these parrots clambering up your arm totally trusting of your good intentions.

Monk Parakeets
Both Badger and myself indulged in the Monk Parakeet experience and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Spanish Sparrows helped themselves to left over sunflower seeds on the ground and another Berthelot's Pipit joined the throng of parakeets and feral pigeons at our feet.

Male Spanish Sparrow
After about an hour we decided to move on but the swifts were troubling us and after about 10km driving out of the town we turned back to see if we could make a positive identification of the swifts. Sadly, having parked the car roughly where we had before, we found the swifts had departed. So we would never know for certain what they were although I believe they were more likely to be Pallid Swifts. 

A subsequent report from another birder who saw them on the same day confirmed the three swifts were in fact Plain Swifts.

Crossing the grassed area we noticed a huge mounted skeleton of a whale and at first I assumed it was either a sculpture or an imitation but a display board informed us it was the genuine skeleton of a Sperm Whale that had washed up on the beach. 

Sperm Whale skeleton
Badger on the Boardwalk
This time we walked down the long wooden boardwalk as two Cattle Egrets were hunting lizards and insects in the saltmarsh by the boardwalk. We followed them as they assiduously checked each and every clump of vegetation and one finally caught a lizard which, with some difficulty, it swallowed whole, the unfortunate reptile distending the egret's neck as it slipped down.

Cattle Egret
Perhaps the most entertaining thing were the ridiculously tame and abundant Barbary Ground Squirrels, who obviously knew tourists were a soft touch for food and would approach you with careless abandon in the hope of some tit bit. They are not unattractive  and have the same superficial appeal as our Grey Squirrels but, like them, they are an introduced species, not native and are a threat to cultivation and the island's native fauna. They have colonised the whole of Fuerteventura, the entire population apparently deriving from two animals brought to the island as pets and released in 1965.

Barbary Ground Squirrel
Badger had a field day attracting them to his phone and getting all sorts of comical close ups as the inquisitive beasts snuffled around his phone and feet.

We had to go as there was one more really good area to check on our route home, called Costa Calma. There is a Facebook page called Rare Birds of the Canary Islands and we used this to alert us to any good birds that had been found on Fuerteventura. Today, someone posted a report of a Little Bunting and an Olive backed Pipit in 'Costa Calma Park.' We had little idea where this was as all the trip reports we had read referred to 'Costa Calma Forest' which runs along each side of the main road and is pretty obvious as it is the only extensive area of green for miles or should I say kilometres. It can hardly be called a forest either as it is just a strip of woodland no more than fifty metres wide on either side of the road and runs for approximately one kilometre.

Unsure of what to make of this we followed our instincts and found ourselves parking by the woodland on the southern side of the road. It was pot luck if we were in the right place or we were not. There was only one way to find out. Leave the car and start birding!

The woodland consisted of pines, palms and exotic shrubs such as bougainevillea, all artificially watered.There were tarmac paths to which most people kept but as birders we walked through  and under the trees as this is where the birds were most likely to be, due to the regular disturbance from people out for a stroll or using the woodland as a shortcut to a nearby shopping centre and housing.

Palms and Bougainevillea in Costa Calma Woodlands
Some Goldfinches were twittering in one of the trees and I found a couple moving near the top of a tree. Badger had wandered further and told me he had flushed a Song Thrush.These were the first of either species we had seen on this trip. I saw another small bird fly up from the ground under some pines but could not re-find it to identify. Some Linnets flew over calling but that was about it.

Badger, further down the woodland path, encountered two German birders who told him they had seen a Blackcap but also, and much more interesting, a Little Bunting and an Olive backed Pipit. They told us that they had seen these two birds in an area of close growing pines, where it was darkest, so we made our way back to the pines that consisted of a number of parallel and closely planted rows, their foliage intermeshing to create a gloomy understorey. I walked between two rows of the pines and five small birds, all the same size, flew up from under one of the trees just ahead of me. I alerted Badger and we waited for the five birds to descend but after fifteen minutes when they still had not re-appeared Badger went for a closer look and found a Little Bunting sitting motionless in a tangle of twigs and needles below the canopy of one of the pines. It was directly above where the five birds had flown up from and one had to assume that the other four were also Little Buntings and were also hidden in the foliage, as a few days prior five Little Buntings had been reported from here.

Badger went back for my camera and his video that we had left in the car while I maintained a vigil, trusting the Little Buntings would soon descend to the ground. On Badger's return, when we checked if the Little Bunting was still there we found it had disappeared. They had given us the slip and we never saw them again despite extensive checking.

We carried on 'walking the wood' finding at least two, possibly three Hoopoes, vigorously probing for prey around the bases of the trees and shrubs. 

We separated again and in an open area under a small tree Badger flushed three Olive backed Pipits. He called me to join him and we waited for the pipits to drop down from the tree they supposedly flew up into but they did not re-appear. Tired of waiting we moved along a little way and flushed two Olive backed Pipits which promptly shot back up into another tree!

We could hear them calling and one even descended again but just as it did a passer by spooked it and it flew back into the tree and that was the last we saw of it too.

There were at least half a dozen Chiffchaffs flitting around and I heard one singing which confirmed its identity as a Common Chiffchaff. We also heard but did not see a Blackcap, warbling a quiet sub song to itself in the trees.

We remained here until almost dusk and then set off for our accommodation at La Piramide. We treated ourselves to another Chinese meal in the huge complex of hotels, apartments and restaurants, cleared out the car in readiness for returning it tomorrow and then it was bed for the last time in Fuerteventura.

Tomorrow morning we were going home and back to the cold and grey skies of Britain. It had been a great four days but all good things come to an end and we were left with the distinct impression that Fuerteventura was a very good birding destination indeed and had a great potential for turning up some really rare birds.

The End


Ruddy Shelduck/ Eurasian Teal/ Eurasian Spoonbill/ Dwarf Bittern/ Cattle Egret/ Grey Heron/ Little Egret/ Northern Gannet/ Egyptian Vulture/ Common Buzzard/ Houbara Bustard/ Common Moorhen/ Eurasian Coot/ Eurasian Stone Curlew/ Black winged Stilt/ Ringed Plover/ Kentish Plover/ Common Snipe/ Common Sandpiper/ Green Sandpiper/ Yellow legged Gull/ Lesser Black backed Gull/ Sandwich Tern/ Black bellied Sandgrouse/ Feral Pigeon/ Collared Dove/ Laughing Dove/ Plain Swift/ Eurasian Hoopoe/ Common Kestrel(Falco t.dacotiae)/ Barbary Falcon/ Monk Parakeet/ Southern Great Grey Shrike (L.g.koenigi)/ Northern Raven/ African Blue Tit (C.t.teneriffae/ Lesser Short toed Lark/ Common Chiffchaff/ Blackcap/ Spectacled Warbler/ Sardinian Warbler/ Common Starling/ Song Thrush/ European Robin/ European Stonechat/ Fuerteventura Stonechat/ Desert Wheatear/ White Wagtail/ Spanish Sparrow/ Berthelot's Pipit/ Olive backed Pipit/ Trumpeter Finch/ Common Linnet/ European Goldfinch/ Little Bunting

54 species


Barbary Ground Squirrel
Brown Rabbit

1 comment:

  1. Looks & sounds a great place! Excellent blogs as usual....