Monday 5 December 2016

Desert Wheatear and Snow Buntings

Two birds that tend to occupy the beach when in the south of the UK. First up on Thursday 1st of December  was the very confiding Desert Wheatear that was feeding just above the shingle at Normans Bay in East Sussex. When we arrived the bird was happy to pose but soon shifted into a much more mobile mode. A bird that truly blends in with its habitat, we could have stayed longer to get the bird in a more isolated pose but numbers of birders and photographers were going up, therefore it was time to go.


This Black Redstart turned up just to see what all the fuss was about.

Today, the second bird was just as confiding, a Snow Bunting at East Head, Wittering. We started the day looking for the reported Stone Curlew at Ella Nore but it was the proverbial needle in the haystack. So, in pleasant sunshine we took a walk to East Head. Martin found the bird a couple of hundred metres back from the head on the west side of the spit. Another bird that truly matches its surroundings and is also difficult to isolate. Never mind, two year ticks in December and the weather remains clement.

To cap it all another bird turned up on my local patch - right next to Groyne No.4 so I just had to go and have a look.

Perfect camouflage

Thursday 24 November 2016

Fuerteventura Stonechat

There are tales, way back in birding folklore, of birders flying into Fuerteventura airport and getting a taxi to Willis' Barranco, seeing a chat and flying out again on the next aircraft. Well I guess you could still do that but parking at the barranco is now awkward and if you left post haste then you would be missing some cracking birds that inhabit this desert environment. I would describe the following two venues as certainties  and if you are on the Island and would like to see the chat then give them a go.

The Fuerteventura Stonechat, Saxicola dacotiae is a sedentary resident found only on the island of Fuerteventura. It has similarities with both the European Stonechat and the Whinchat   Its upperparts are generally coloured as the Whinchat, but more contrasting, dark brown with a blackish head and back streaks. It has a purer white supercilium reaching behind the eye and white neck sides, and a light orange/chestnut breast becoming duller and paler on the underside towards the whitish belly. The rump and tail are dark, the latter with a white pattern visible in flight. There is also a white wing band. The female is similar to a washed-out version of the male, with a brown, black-streaked head and no white neck patches.

Valle de Fimapaire

The track that enters the Valle de Fimapaire is called the Camino La Oliva Caldereta and you can drive it on Google maps - just follow the link. The entrance is on the left hand side of the FV102 road that leaves La Oliva  in a south east direction. In November 2016 the track was generally in good condition and certainly passable in a compact car. The only dodgy bit was on the left hand fork just after the dog kennels. This is a well documented area for the chat and we had to check it out.

We had success immediately after we entered the track, a male in the scrub on the left hand side of the track, after heavy rain there is a large puddle that forms on the triangular shape piece of land and it is worth checking for other birds - particularly Spectacled Warblers.

Further down on the left hand side of the track there is a small copse of trees, it is obvious that there is water here as the whole area is greener than the rest and there are patches of Great Reed, Arundo donax? here. The smallholding opposite has loads of iron poles and these normally have a male chat occupying one of them.

This one came to investigate me when I got out of the car.

 If you are doing photography then time of day can be crucial, I found the morning best but the birds will pose at some stage, unfortunately going off road here isn't possible - the dogs are large and mean.

They are happy to come close but not always down sun.
Next location is where the track divides

Where the track divides taking the left track - dog kennels in the middle.

The right hand track going to La Caldereta - oddly Caldereta is the local name for the bird.
Looking back up the track from the dog kennels
The most productive area - particularly the iron poles around the smallholding

Oddly enough we saw two females on the left side of the road and two males on the right side but never the other way round



Barranco de los Molinos

Getting to the dam at the Embalse de Los Molinos is a doddle - turn left off the FV221 just before you enter Las Parcelas - just take care on the track as it is rough in several places. When you have finished scanning the myriad of Coots and Ruddy Shelducks that inhabit the lake take a look back down the track. Approximately 100 metres back there is an obvious track leading down to the barranco, sometimes this gets washed out but the weekend activity of the 4x4 off roaders will normally flatten it out again. If you go down then be aware that it can get mighty warm at the bottom as you are in full sun and the wind disappears.Google Earth view

The first pair of chats occupy a territory half way down to the river bed, the male can be found singing from the dead tree shown in photograph 4. Another pair can be found about 100 metres down the barranco from the concrete cill shown on the far right of photo three.  Each time I have visited I have flushed the birds up into the barranco cliffs but sit quietly and they soon return.

1. The barranco from the dam wall - goes all the way to Puertito los Molinos

Parking at the restaurant at Puertito los Molinos and walking up the barranco can be productive, we didn't visit in November because when we arrived the car park was full - popular restaurant!

2. Start of the path - far right of picture

3. The concrete cill far right, easy path along the barranco but sometimes muddy

4. Favourite perch - dead tree

If you are going birding in Fuerteventura there are two things that I heartily recommend. The first is a copy of Dave Gosney's  "Finding Birds in the Canaries", - get it here. Easybirder. With its accompanying DVD it is without doubt the best value birding investment that I have ever made. It is worth its weight in gold as the information is spot on - don't travel without it!

The second required item is a mobile "hide" - we had a Citroen C4 (colour optional) courtesy of Avis, ours was diamond white and the birds didn't seem to mind. It will inevitably develop  a distinct "lava dust pink"  hue by the end of the week.

Secondly, the "Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia" by Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey is also a very handy book to have available.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Fuerteventura Birding

Last February we took a winter break of a week in Fuerteventura  and we enjoyed it so much that we booked a return visit. This time a holiday with birding bits rather than the previous birding with holiday bits. Last time I had a target list of 22 birds of which I found 19 - this time no target list, just a desire to improve some of the photographs.

So Wednesday the 16th November found us at Gatwick bound for Fuerteventura. Travelling midweek has its advantages, a half full plane meant we were boarded and ready to go early and so we took off a full fifteen minutes before the scheduled time.

The sun was up in a clear blue sky and as we crossed Sussex and Hampshire I could clearly see Pagham Harbour and the new breach in the shingle spit, at high tide Medmerry was easy to spot. I wondered about the birders below in the temperatures of winter and started to think of what we might see in the Canaries. We crossed the Bay of Biscay and over northern Spain, I could see that the Picos di Europa to the east of us already had a light covering of snow. Similarly, in Morocco, the Atlas peaks had a more dense covering, incongruous that as we passed over Marrakech you could see the desert and snow at the same time.

We arrived at least half an hour ahead of schedule - things were going too well. So it proved; I left Liz in baggage reclaim and I made straight for the car hire - all done and dusted but where was Liz? The upshot was that my luggage had gone missing - now the lack of clothes would be a bit of an encumbrance but my camera battery chargers and photographic stuff were in that case.

Nothing to do but make our way to the Casa Vieja in La Oliva - where we regained some composure after receiving text messages that my luggage had been found in Gatwick and would be on its way soonest. The worst consequence of this was that we had to go shopping in Corralejo - a place that I avoid like the plague.

Day 1 La Oliva and the Valle de Fimapaire

We awoke to the normal dawn chorus of Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows and after breakfast loaded the mobile hide for a gentle day out and about round La Oliva. The weather was exceptionally pleasant, twenty two degrees and sunny - perfect. Just as we were about to leave, a Spanish Sparrow came down to greet us. My impression is that there are fewer this time, they sit up in the date palms and create one hell of a din, this time just a few arguing the toss over the best nesting crevices in the lower leaves. He gave us a friendly chirp so I took a quick shot and we were off birding.

As we entered the tracks just behind the school it became apparent that impression of fewer birds was correct, still there were flocks of Linnets and Trumpeter Finches on the goat fences, some puddles remained from the last rainfall and the birds were taking advantage of water in what is a very dry environment. First bird to be recorded was the ubiquitous Berthelot's Pipit, its Spanish name - Bisbita caminero or running pipit being a far better description, as you get out the car they actually run towards you.

Next up was one of the ever present Kestrels, pretty sure this one was ssp dacotiae, the underwing shots being fairly convincing.


Plenty of Barbary Ground Squirrels or Ardillas have made their homes in the dry stone walls, these guys are not tame like those you find in Caleta de Fuste, where they are hand fed by the tourists. The local belief is that the whole population of the island stems from a pair introduced in 1965 - they are literally everywhere. I reckon it was a few more than that as the gene pool would have been severely limited.

At long last an opportunity to record the Barbary Partridge, one feeding on the track adjacent to the goat fence, it finally decided to cross the track and make its way to one of the soil berms to get a better view of us. Thank goodness for that, if it had gone the other way then I wouldn't have got any sort of record. This has been one of my bogey birds and I was happy to catch up with him, and delighted to learn that there were a pair.

Several Southern Grey Shrikes entertained us, watching the world from the goat fence vantage points.

Finding their favourite rock perches is easy just look for the white splashes. One we found and saw several times was a tailless specimen, happy to pose on a rock. In the scrub there were quite a few Spectacled Warblers, their scratchy calls giving them away but they were very reluctant to come out. Still we noted their territories so that we could return and park the hide in an advantageous position, in the hope that they would come out and pose.

Next up was the Valle de Fimapaire, a noted venue for the Fuerteventura Stonechat or Tarabilla canaria and so it proved as there was a male perched in the scrub immediately as we turned off the road and on to the track. I poked the camera out of the car window and snapped him, not the easiest of tasks as with the strong winds he was waving up and down.

We ventured further down the track, meeting up with another Brit birder at the point where the track divides. He hadn't managed to find a chat and was keen to see the one back at the entrance so departed - a bit unfortunate as when we took the left fork we found three birds, a male, female and a juvenile male within the first 100 metres.

I was keen to take a look at the water tank just beyond the dog kennels, some years ago another birder had reported a dripping pipe here and birds coming in to drink. The pipe continues to leak but no birds were taking advantage of the free water.

We then returned to the track through the cultivations where we found another posing Southern Grey Shrike and an almost visible Spectacled Warbler

Finally as the sun dropped we returned to the hotel to learn that my suitcase still hadn't left UK and that I couldn't dress for dinner. More to the point one battery down, only three fully charged ones left and a blue polo shirt was not the best drab clothing for birds and was looking somewhat "used".

 Day 2 Embalse de Los Molino and La Oliva


Day 2 started much the same as Day 1 - I was still wearing the same clothes - but no one had complained - yet!. If my case didn't arrive today then I would have to go shopping - something I dislike intensely.

We decided to start at the Embalse de Los Molinos with the intention of doing both ends of the reservoir - chats at the barranco end and the possibility of Black-bellied Sand Grouse at the goat farm end. Another glorious day - temperature twenty four degrees and hardly a cloud to be seen. As we entered the track at Las Parcelas we scanned the goat farm, just a few Berthelot's Pipits and some Sparrows so we made our way to the dam. As we arrived we were met by several Ravens and a couple of Buzzards. Out on the water and around the shore we had several hundred Ruddy Shelducks, plenty of Coots and of course the Black-winged Stilts.

 I loaded up with water and set off down into the barranco, it gets pretty warm in the shelter of the gorge and out of the constant breeze. I disturbed several pairs of Ruddy Shelduck and Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and two Little EgretsPlenty of Dragonflies, most of which were hyperactive but I did manage to record a Red-veined Darter and, so far, an unidentified damselfly.






It wasn't long before I was "bounced" by my first pair of chats. Normally, they are inquisitive and will come very close but these two eyed me from a distance.




I could hear another male singing, this one much closer to the dam, so I made my way back until I found a pair. The female sat on a rock watching me quizzically, so I sat down myself and observed the proceedings. An adult male and a juvenile were arguing the toss for the attention of the female, she looked unperturbed, the juvenile had no chance but the adult was freaked out.




 Finally they all seemed exhausted in the heat and disappeared down the barranco,
We then switched ends of the dam, on the way out we did as Dave Gosney's book advises and scanned the goat farm but all we could find was a pair of Ruddy Shelducks in with the goats. We parked at the blue containers at the huge goat farm, scanning the horizon for Black-bellied Sand Grouse, unfortunately none to be seen and no audible calls either.

First birds up were a couple of Hoopoes, nice to see as they weren't about in big numbers like before. In the barranco below the usual Shelducks, Black-winged Stilts and Ringed Plovers.


After a picnic lunch I took a stroll along the reservoir where I found plenty of Trumpeter Finches but could not get close to any, scanning the fields of goats revealed nothing but lots of shelducks. On returning to the car another Hoopoe posed with a large grub in its bill, so I obliged with a snap.

Just as we left the farmyard Liz spotted three brown lumps in the road but try as I might I couldn't manoeuvre the car to get a decent shot.

On the way back to the hotel we called in the cultivated area again and ended up with a SGS ridiculously close and some more shots of some shy Spectacled Warblers.

The bad news was that my case hadn't turned up so we had to go shopping for some fresh clothes - Corralejo isn't the nicest of places to visit.  Finally thanks to some really good work by BA Customer Services I managed to retrieve my luggage - flown out on an Easyjet flight.

 Day 3 Caleta de Fuste, Las Pocetas and Tindaya Plain 

A leisurely start to the day with a drive down to Caleta de Fuste, another tourist hell hole, but on the walkway north of the town the tourists feed the Barbary Ground Squirrels and Collared Doves. This in turn attracts Trumpeter Finches and you can get some very close views - not today however, SO we beat a hasty retreat out of the town via Costa de Antigua - hundreds of empty apartments  - a sign of the downturn of a few years ago; not a viable investment now by the looks of it. We made our way to Triquivijate to investigate the "camino rural" - another name for a dirt road that crosses to Las Pocetas. This is reputedly a good vantage point for seeing Egyptian Vultures, unfortunately none present today but we did see all the usual suspects including a calling Hoopoe.

Loads of butterflies; Painted Lady, Greenish Black Tip, Green-striped White and the odd Red Admiral of the ordinary kind.

Where to go next? I didn't fancy a drive south on a Saturday so we made our way via Antigua back to the Embalse de Los Molinos, I was hoping to get to the southern end, unfortunately the gate into the goat farm was locked so we made do with another visit to the northern end. This time the female Fuerteventura Stonechat posed but the male gave me a good ignoring.




Finally, to end the day we made our way north to Tindaya Plain, a couple of hours searching for desert birds before returning for a slap up meal at the Mahoh Restaurant. The tracks have undergone considerable repairs since last February, in fact the track leading to the Barranco de Ezquinzo had hardly one crater in it. Birds were in short supply but we managed to find a distant pair of Black-bellied Sand Grouse and half a dozen Cream-coloured Coursers - one hanging round long enough for a shot. Nary a sign of a Houbara Bustard but I wasn't really expecting to find one.

Tindaya Plain.

Tindaya Plain with El Cotillo in the distance.


Day 4 Valle de Fimapaire

 A quiet Sunday and the plan was to revisit some of the locations we had noted previously, I was keen to nail the Spectacled Warbler. We parked the hide on of the tracks and waited, when everything quietened down the birds came out to play.

We also revisited the Fuerteventura Chats and they were happy to pose very close, too close at times and I had to back away to keep focus.




After photographing a chat I was just about to get back in the car when I heard a familiar call, a Laughing Dove, but it sounded a long way off. Sharp-eyed Liz spotted it in a tree and close enough for a record shot - so I obliged. 

Day 5 Betancuria, Teguitar and Los Molinos

We had the earliest breakfast possible and left for Betancuria post haste. I wanted to arrive before the tourists, top of my list was an African Blue Tit. We had seen a juvenile on our last visit and I was looking for some improved photos, not to be I'm afraid. Lots of Sardinian Warblers, doing what they always do, pop out of a bush and then disappear before you can press the shutter button. As we were so early we had to sit around for the post card shop to open but very little birdlife was about, I did hear Canaries but I couldn't find one.

With picture post cards purchased and tourists arriving in numbers we did a runner to a spot north of Teguitar, km32 on the FV2 between Caleta and Morro Jable.  The turn off north west is obvious and a couple of hundred metres in there is an Egyptian Vulture feeding station and we had been tipped off that a deceased goat had been put out. When we arrived there were several birds flying and probably eight present on the cliffs above. The count is iffy as the juveniles are difficult to locate amongst the rocks. I reckon the goat carcass had served its purpose as the birds were not really interested in it and were slowly drifting to another spot where I guess there was better fare. Still I managed a couple of record shots which is more than I had before.

As it was on our way home I decided to give the Trumpeter Finches another go, unfortunately I managed to find plenty but they wouldn't let me get close.

Plenty about.

Blend in well with their surroundings.

Happy to sit with you - but not too close.

Day 6  And it rained

At home they had suffered with storm Angus and we had done well to miss it, unfortunately today we had our own dose of high winds and torrential rain. Localised flooding put a stop to any birding on the tracks so we sat around twiddling our thumbs. At least it gave me a chance to go through some of my photos on the tablet and I amused the hotel staff with some of my Spanglish. "En Inglaterra decimos que está lloviendo gatos y perros" raised a smile.

 Day7 The last knockings

The last day and nothing planned but as I sat on the hotel patio with a coffee just idling the time way, I was joined by a very friendly Southern Grey Shrike. He sat in a tree calling away and I just had to oblige him with a snap. Now I know there are plenty of SGS shots in this report but just one more won't hurt. Oddly enough my first day out after getting home was to see a Great Grey Shrike out on Waltham Brooks, birders were happy to have scope views of the bird at 100 metres - how odd.





We were joined by a friendly Spanish Sparrow, who just sat in a tree and chirped "hasta luego". I can't just sit and waste time, I have to be doing something, so I took a walk round the hotel gardens and discovered a host of small blue butterflies, African Grass Blue - a life tick! There were loads of them but they weren't inclined to pose so, in the warm sunshine, I did my best.

Then it was time to go - an uneventful journey home - we actually landed at Gatwick an hour before scheduled time - definitely worth travelling midweek.