Sunday, 30 August 2015

You Bustard You.....

I'm just back from a week long family holiday in Fuerteventura, my first visit to the area. As always i was looking to fit in a spot of birding along the way especially as i needed Fuertaventura Chat and Houbara Bustard, since its split from the birds i saw in Israel years ago.

I always go birding from first light on holiday and meet the family for breakfast and that's just what i did along with a couple of excursions. My walk out of Corralejo south through the Dunas de Carralejo Parque National to Riu Oliva Beach became a daily routine allowing me to get a 5 euro taxi back from the Riu hotel to breakfast and still have enough energy left to play in the pool with my Granddaughter Aimee.. Birds were thin on the ground but Berthelot's Pipit and Desert Grey Shrike were not hard to find so that was a good start. Also recorded were Raven, sometimes groups of 5+, Kestrel and Hoopoe. The shoreline held a few waders and i recorded Whimbrel, Grey Plover and Little ringed Plover.  Atlantic Yellow legged Gulls were common along with the odd Lesser black Backed and Audouin's.

A free flying Budgie added to the exotic flavour of Ring necked and Monk Parakeet. I saw a few Linnet, House and Spanish Sparrows but didn't connect with any Trumpeter Finch on the whole trip. It became obvious that i was going to need a buckets full of luck to find my target birds or a change in strategy.
So I booked a day trip on a Jeep Safari off the beaten track and it paid off....

We (6 jeeps) set off on a route around the north and north west of the Island. It could be best described as a hit and run event with a number of sites to be visited and little time at each site to be enjoyed, in fact some were 5 minute photo stops. We headed off west into barren volcanic Dessert and i soon had my first reward for the change in strategy with a Barbary Falcon overhead.

The first stop was to look into a volcano close to Corralejo. We trekked up a steep narrow stone path to a viewing area and many of the 6 jeeps passengers who were wearing sandals and flip flops and had young kids with them were struggling on the rough and sharp volcanic rock...
I was scanning the hills id seen the Falcon over when someone asked if id seen the Barbary Ground Squirrels that were coming very close at the viewing area, i hadn't so turned around to take some photos, a couple of small birds were feeding on the rock and i was overjoyed to see they were a pair of Fuerteventura Chats!
Fantastic but brief views were given as they quickly headed out of view. Sadly it wasn't safe to follow away from the platform. Lots of peanut kernel's were on the ground at the platform due to tourists feeding the Squirrels and i wonder if the Chats were feeding on them.

The break neck tour continued but our driver had little interest in birds so mentioning a Buzzard on a wall or a Desert Grey Shrike yards away did not bring the vehicle to a halt. We visited an Aloe Vera Museum in La Oliva, i did not enter the building but birded around and found Barbary Partridge on the wall.

It was frustrating to be very near the site at La Oliva that historically held good numbers of Bustard as described in the Gosney finding birds in the Canaries guide but our convoy had to move off at speed again.....

Realising how close La Oliva was to my hotel i decided another visit was required. I bribed the family and booked a Taxi the next day and got dropped off near the Rosade los Negrines at 2ish and told my driver Phillipe to pick me up at 6 o'clock
I never stopped scanning and working the area but had little of interest, certainly no Bustards so headed back in my Taxi and drowned my sorrows in cold beer. It cost circa 20 euro's each way, well worth it for the experience of birding this unique habitat

Next day was an Atlantic Adventure to Playa Blanca in Lanzarote with my family we had good views of Cory's Shearwaters and flying fish

I called for a taxi on my penultimate day and headed to Tindaya to continue my quest for the Bustard. It was close to the former site but had produced birds more recently. Antonio my driver stopped in Tindaya to check we were on the road to Punta Paso Chico as we had seen no sign posts. We called at the Los Podomorfos restaurant and chatted with the owner who spoke perfect Spanish and was English. Our route was confirmed and we agreed to meet back here for my return journey to my hotel.

As i approached the copse of fig trees mentioned in the Gosney guide i scanned the terrain and nearly fell over when the first bird i saw was an Houbara Bustard. It was a little distant and heat haze was unreal but i managed some record shot photos and video. I birded the area for a few hours in the hope of finding Black bellied Sandgrouse and Cream Coloured Courser but could not. After a few hours i decided to head back to my rendezvous point and try to get an earlier taxi before the heat took me.

My bilingual host rang the taxi company for me as my mobile phone had drowned in the swimming pool at my Hotel,  and managed to arrange an earlier pick up, phew and thank you
Much beer, Sangria and Rum and Coke was drank in celebration. My family were happy as i would stop being grumpy, job done you Bustard you...

A big thanks to Dave Gosney and Richard Howard who's 2015 report i used. This is not a full report i did see Plain Swifts and a few other species, its more a description of my quest