This was a 1 week family holiday, which was intended as a "first flight" holiday for my children aged 7 and 5, to get them used to being "restrained" on an aircraft before we embark on a long haul trip to Florida, hopefully next year.
The flight from East Midlands Airport was 4 hours, which was just about bearable for them, so the holiday was already a partial success. Could I get out to do a bit of birding in between making sand castles though?
We went with Thompson to Caleta Gardens at Caleta de Fuste, just south of the airport. This is a good place for children as they have clubs that take them off your hands for a couple of hours every day, giving you time to relax (or bird watch). It is also a good base as it is in the middle of the island, and all areas can be reached within an hour. Unfortunately I was only able to grab a couple of hours birding in the mornings, because the sun rose about 6:45am, and it is my duty to sort breakfast when we go away. However, I was only 5 minutes walk from the sea, the countryside and the birds.
I hired a car for 2 days late in the week. The Sunday we wanted to visit the sand dunes in the North, and I had got my pass stamped for a morning's birding on Monday. I wanted to give the Houbara Bustards a "seeing to."
The car was an Opel Corsa 100. A 16 valve 5-door motor with air conditioning hired from Hertz just up the road, and cost 8700Ptas, for the 2 days. Other companies were offering basic 3 door Opel Corsa's without air conditioning for 3 days for 9000Ptas. That is about £35, including insurance. The petrol cost me 2000Ptas for 20 litres, (about £8, which is cheap for us British drivers) with which I was able to travel a total of 285 Km.
I spent the first morning getting my bearings, not actually birding at all, but was surprised to see 2 Collared Doves flying over. My Canary Island checklist didn't have them on! I heard and then saw a pair of Spanish Sparrows, just across the road from our hotel, which I did see every time I went onto the balcony. A very pleasant life tick for me. Other birds seen were several Yellow-legged Gulls and maybe 35 Cory's Shearwaters. Whilst we were rock pooling by the beach my daughter found a small colony of what I assume were hermit crabs. They were only 5-12 Melton Mowbray long (the shells that is) and were orange-red legged creatures. They were quite happy to crawl along your wet fingers, and were also a first for me. I hope to find out what species they were after a visit to the library. It became dark at about 9:00pm so I had a beer or two, made a few notes and went to bed.
Spanish Sparrow at first light - nice, Yellow-legged gull over the sea, nice too, then... a new bird... Feral Pigeon. These cannot be Rock Doves any more than our coastal birds, as they have more colours and varieties than the birds on my local church. However it's an island tick and brings my total so far to 5.
I took a walk from Caleta westwards up a hillside, where I eventually found a small group of birds containing 5 different species. The first birds that I saw I couldn't identify. I saw 2 birds fly by quite low, they were light - fawn brown colour, but I noticed a rusty reddish brown rump. They didn't call so I ignored them, assuming I'd see them again later (I did).
I then saw 1 Hoopoe feeding on the harsh, sandy covered black lava ground. I couldn't make out what it was picking up, but it fed quite happily for about 10 minutes whilst I was there. Several Linnets flew into the area with these other fawn-coloured birds. I saw them well this time, and heard them "toot" like a toy trumpet, they were indeed Trumpeter Finches, and another life bird for me. I watched juveniles being fed by their parents for a while before they quickly moved on leaving me elated. Then a Grey Shrike flew by and landed just where the Linnets had been. It also moved on quickly but I did notice the lack of an eyestripe. It was probably of the Southern Grey Shrike species (Lanius algeriensis), which was proven on other days' sightings. So I was able to report for breakfast duty well satisfied with my morning excursion and quite hungry too.
I had coerced my clan into an evening walk along the main road that leads to the track at the bottom of the hill to the west of Caleta, hoping for something to fly by. We had just reached the end of the road, where it turns to a dust track, and my kids found a play park. At the same moment I heard the call of a Spanish Sparrow and went to observe it. I found a water tap that nearby builders had been using, and the sparrow was taking a drink. By my good fortune and luck, there were 2 more birds very close by waiting their turn, these turned out to be Chats, 1 adult, 1 juvenile Canary Islands Chats, or maybe as they should be known now: Fuerteventura Chats. I was able to grab a few shots on my camera before they flew away. Once again I was over the moon with the birds that I had seen, and went back to the kids and had a go on the roundabout with them to celebrate.
I started early again, determined to go further west and north from where I had previously been, heading towards a ridge at 45 degrees to the big hill. I saw a Common Buzzard slowly flapping and soaring quite low over the ground, and then a Kestrel, which took exception to having its patch invaded, mobbed it. I soon found an area of very green but low-level bushes (I do not know what they are called). They were being watered by a split water pipe, and birds were using it as a drinking and bathing place. I sat down about 20 metres away and watched as various species came in to drink and bathe. The Trumpeter Finches were most confident, there being a group of about 15 coming and going into the spray, and then onto the rocks nearby to preen. Some Linnets joined them, and then best of all, a Hoopoe, a Southern Grey Shrike, and a Spectacled Warbler all came within 2 minutes of each other for a quick drink. When the Trumpeter Finches flew away, I moved off back towards the hotel for breakfast, seeing a Sardinian Warbler flitting along a line of almost bone-dry bushes. I hadn't seen this species well since 1993, so I was well pleased with my "find" today.
I chose to have a look over the sea this morning, and as I expected saw Cory's Shearwater c300. I followed the coast North for about 500 metres, then turned inland and back towards Caleta, I came across the same species as previous days here: Several Berthelot's Pipits, 2 Spectacled Warblers, and 2 Southern Grey Shrikes. Nothing really special but a pleasant walk anyway.
I was to see a swift sp. Fly over the hotel in the evening, but was not able to identify it, although I would guess at Pallid Swift on size and jizz etc.
I picked up the hire car at 9:15am, and we set off for Correlejo, which was about 35 minutes away. A few birds were sighted on the way including more Collared Doves and Feral Pigeons, and also at least 1 species of swift, which I was not able to positively identify whilst driving. The sand dunes near Correlejo were quite amazing, giving us a very small-scale idea of what the mighty Sahara desert would be like. Birds seen in and around Correlejo were: Plain Swift -5, Spanish Sparrow, Yellow-legged Gull, House Martin -2, and another Southern Grey Shrike.
Back at Caleta de Fuste I added Barn Swallow to the list and also Swift (Apus apus).
I was up before dawn and out on the road to Trinquivijate, which has produced Houbara Bustards, Cream-coloured Coursers and Black-bellied Sandgrouse on past trips for other birders. Unfortunately for me I did not see any of these species, but I did not have my telescope which would have helped me to scan the more distant areas, possibly with more luck. I was lucky enough to see 7 Barbary Partridges fly into view just after I had parked up on the rough track, just off the main road at the top of a hill. These were a lifer for me, and I was able to watch them for a short while before they disappeared from view into the rough vegetation. As I drove slowly along the roads around this area I saw at least 5 Hoopoes, 8 Ravens, 6 or 7 Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Turtle Doves, 1 Common Buzzard, and several large flocks of unidentified finches, but probably Linnets as they were bouncing along as Linnets do.
I also visited the area known as Los Molinos, which should be full of water! It wasn't, it had long since been reduced to a mere stream, and did not hold any egrets or Marbled Duck. It did however hold a colony of House Martins, maybe 3-400 birds, and several dozen of both Pallid and Plain Swifts were screaming around.
I had a lay-in this morning as we were due to fly back home, so my list for the day was very short, containing only Spanish Sparrow, Collared Dove and Yellow-legged Gull.
I finished the week with a grand total of 24 species, 7 of which were lifers, so considering it was a family holiday and not a birding trip I was very pleased. I would like to have seen the missing desert species, but it means I may have to take a birding holiday at some stage in the future. I can recommend the island for a very enjoyable break, every body speaks English, money is easily changed, and food is fairly cheap as is the wine and beer.
Look out for my trip report from The Gambia due to take place in December 2000 that should be filled with goodies. I am also trying to put a report together of a 9 day trip to Southern France in 1988, which should be posted to this website as and when I get around to it. Happy birding.
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