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A Report from

Fuerteventura, 17th February to 3rd March 2009,


Tristan Norton, Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey, Tim Walker, Richard Facey and Rhyan Law-Cooper

A fantastic two-week trip to Fuerteventura, managing to catch up with all but one of the key bird species and do some important research in the process.

The first week was spent with the guys at a Government Research Station in La Oliva and included a couple of days ringing plus some birding, the second was more relaxed with my wife in a lovely house in the mountains at Rosa del Taro near Triquivijate.

Winter 2008/9 had been a wet one in Fuerteventura, with many days of rain and some cold weather. This had left the island looking extremely verdant and allowed us to do a great deal of botanising.

Weather was generally warm to very warm but with a chilly breeze and occasional rain.

17th February

After a hefty fried goat lunch, Eduardo and I headed to a small barranco at Casillas del Angel where the tiny stream and pools held a number of Little ringed plover, Common sandpiper, White wagtail, Grey wagtail and Moorhen. The tamarisk scrub held the ubiquitous Sardinian warblers in addition to several migrant Common chiffchaffs. Berthelot’s pipits are ubiquitous too. The entrance to the barranco is home to a large colony of Spanish sparrows, nesting in the cracks in a stone wall. Unfortunately, the area did not seem to be holding the usual pair of Fuerteventura stonechats. A small group of feeding swifts comprised both Plain swift and a few Pallid swift.

After collecting Tim from the airport we all headed to Los Molinos. Pulling in at the goat farm at the start of the reservoir track, we were greeted by very good views of flocks of both Trumpeter finch and Lesser short-toed lark feeding amongst the animals. More of a surprise was the group of five Ruddy shelduck standing out amongst the rocky desert. The reservoir was as usual with a couple of Greenshank, a Redshank, 2 Black-winged stilts, Coots, several Little ringed plovers, a Common sandpiper and a solitary Little stint. A small party of Plain swifts whizzed overhead.

18th February

An early start saw us drive through the village of Alcogida with a pause to listen to a singing Song thrush and a calling Stone curlew. Every telegraph wire held a pair of Collared doves.

Arriving at Barranco de la Torre, we unpacked the ringing gear and walked along through the tamarisks, flushing several Hoopoe and seeing the odd Southern grey shrike. A pair of Ruddy shelduck were flushed from a large pool, as were several Common snipe.

The aim of the ringing was to catch some Fuerteventura stonechats in order to take sperm samples for a study into sperm evolution by Sociedad Ornitologica Canaria. Setting up just a single 18m mist net, we then concentrated on setting several spring taps for the chats - we’d seen two pairs along the way. The taller shrubs at the gulley bottom were alive with Sardinian warblers and Spanish sparrows whilst the low thorn scrub was the home of surprising numbers of Spectacled warbler. To cut a long story short, we trapped only a single Sardinian warbler – and a retrap! It had been ringed there in 2008. The lively worms seemed to be very attractive to the chats – we had both male and female jumping around over the traps, tugging at the worms – but the traps were set too tight and didn’t work!

After packing up and heading off to the airport to pick up Richard and Rhyan, we headed to the very ugly municipal rubbish tip west of Puerto del Rosario to see what was about. Besides the many hundreds of both Yellow-legged gull and Lesser black-backed gull, we saw a circling group of five Common buzzard, two Grey heron plus a distant hirundine flock comprising Plain swift, Barn swallow, House martin and Sand martin.

After this we headed off for a Houbara hunt at Tindaya. The flat plains here are situated to the south and west of the ancient scared mountain of the Mahos, the original inhabitants of the island. Did they hunt Houbara?

An hour’s searching in the heat haze yielded very little except to distant Cream-coloured coursers. But then Eduardo spotted a bird on a nearby rise – sure enough a spanking Houbara! As we watched it suddenly flattened its head and neck backwards, puffed up its white ruff and started running madly in circles – an awesome sight. Seeing this first hand you can see why it happens – in this landscape the only colour to stand out over a distance is white – it’s like waving a bright flag. 

19th February

Another early start and another stab at ringing in the Barranco de la Torre – this time with more success. Setting five mist nest over the stream and several spring traps in the chat territories we struck gold almost immediately with a pair of chats in one of the nets. Processing the birds at base, we delicately extracted a sperm sample from the male before releasing the birds unscathed.

No sooner had we process this pair than we trapped another in the spring traps – both pairs! Again, having ringed, measured and taken the samples the birds were released. Besides the chats we also trapped several Sardinian warblers, several Common chiffchaffs and a few Robins.

Packing up about midday, we headed off to Salinas del Carmen for a seafood lunch and some relaxed birding. Scanning the coastal pools and sea yielded Grey plover, Redshank, Little egret, Ringed plover, Whimbrel, Sandwich tern and several Kittiwake – apparently there has been a mini invasion of this species in Canarian waters this winter.

Stopping off at the Casillas barranco we managed to add a pair of Laughing dove, Barbary partridge, Common kestrel and a solitary sub-adult Egyptian vulture. Before heading back home to La Oliva, we headed out to Los Molinos and Las Parcelas where, amongst the hordes of Muscovy ducks we managed to trap a single Berthelot’s pipit. We also saw a very troubling site – a chicken ‘forcing itself’ onto a duck...most unnatural and disturbing. Seawatching produced a good number of Cory’s shearwater plus several Manx shearwater.

20th February

A relaxed day today. After a late breakfast we headed we dropped in on the open fields close to the college in La Oliva. The irrigated grassland here held abundant Lesser short-toed larks, plus We then headed west to the Betancuria massif in search of two of the island’s most tricky to see species – Fuerteventura Blue tit and Atlantic Canary. The village of Betancuria is very picturesque, found nestled within a green valley after a steep climb over mountains with fantastic panoramic views. Climbing up along an overgrown water channel, through dozens of new plants and bagging two new butterfly species – Greenish black-tip and Green-striped white – we arrived at a scrubby gulley. Several Turtle doves were purring and soon enough a single male Canary flew into view and perched on a dead tree. Linnets were plentiful. The origin of Canaries on the island is unclear and current opinion seems to be that they arrived under their own steam. Who knows? Having said that I did come across numerous wild-type Canaries in various aviaries all over the island. I also was appalled to see three unringed Trumpeter finches in a shabby cage at Bar Cofete – no doubt they were wild-caught.

The walk back along a rough track found us face to face with a pair of nesting Blue tits, using an old nest box from Eduardo’s studies eight years ago.

Moving on from Betancuria we drove up to the mirador overlooking Las Peñitas, where some white staining on the opposite rock face gave away the location of an old vulture nest site. The mirador is a popular location for tourists to feed the bloody Barbary ground squirrels and therefore the piles of peanuts and bread attract Ravens. A pity that the reservoir here is totally silted and dry – apparently this is due to conservationists insisting that local farmers stop de-silting this and other waterbodies in case nesting waterfowl are disturbed – end result, no birds! Clever.

Moving on past Pajara, and lunch, we headed off to Rosa de Catalina Garcia where, unbelievably, the bird hide is locked – we had to get it opened (reluctantly) by a jobsworth guard. Why does a hide that nobody ever visits need to be locked?

Anyway, from the relative comfort of the hide we were able to view many Coot, several Moorhen, a pair of Spoonbill, Greenshank, Little ringed plover and Black-winged stilts.

Moving north, we turned right after Tiscamanita to take a look at the vulture feeding station way out on the flat expanse of rocky plain. Sure enough, the festering goat carcasses seem to do the job and we logged about 30 or so birds wheeling overhead, with more birds sat on pylons in the distance.

Late afternoon saw us at the eastern end of the Barranco de la Torre. After about 1km we came to a sign showing that the route was closed during the vulture breeding season. Going no further, we watched a pair of chats buzzing around. I was watching a lone shrike when I noticed it acting strangely – following it again I saw it drop down into a spiny bush. Sure enough a quick peek into the bush revealed a nest containing four beautiful eggs (a week late the nest contained four newly-hatched chicks!).

Before Eduardo headed off to the airport to go home, we dropped in at the horrific golf course at Costa Antigua (why would you fly thousands of miles just to play bloody golf??). Anyway, the greens held no birds (probably pesticides) but the odd pool held Ruddy shelduck and Coot.

21st February

Exploring the north of the island, we drove west from Corralejo along the very rough coastal track. Tim managed to find a dead raptor on the beach. Initially identified as a buzzard, it became clear that it was an immature Barbary falcon – oddly, both of its feet had been severed. Continuing the dead bird theme, a Kittiwake corpse was found near our parked car.

Birding from the rocky shoreline yielded a couple more Whimbrel, as well as several Ringed plover, Turnstones and a gorgeous pair of Kentish plover. I managed to watch these two birds very closely over the next hour or so and they were very obliging.

A beer stop further down the coast at El Cotillo gave us more foraging Turnstones plus two clockwork Sanderlings moving about amongst the naked sunbathers.

An evening jaunt back to Tindaya saw a Houbara at close distance plus four coursers and two vultures.

22nd February

A bit of an epic drive to Punta de Jandia. Stopping at the horrifically cheesy Costa Calma on the way we strolled through the planted woodland and had flocks of Linnet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, plus migrant Chiffchaff, Song thrush and a single Blackbird. A White wagtail was also there. The last 16km to the Punta are over a very winding, very rutted dirt track and by the end you feel as if your teeth are loose. Having got there, the Punta is a great spot to enjoy – rugged, black coast full of huge rockpools. The larger pools are crammed with gobies and small mullet, plus the occasional crab and plenty of shrimps. Bird life here was limited – the coastal plains supporting the usual larks and pipits plus a flyover vulture. The rocky shores held Whimbrel and Ringed plover, the Faro de Jandia had a dead Kittiwake and seawatching produced just a single Cory’s shearwater.

23rd February

Spent the morning at Betancuria again, driving up the planted pine forest just south of the village. Deserted except for a picnicking family, this site is well worth an explore as it provides a real treat for botanists. The steep barranco stretching upward to the radio masts is a riot of colour, with the acid-yellow of the abundant Euphorbia obtusifolia offset perfectly against the deep red soils and the various blues, yellows, purples and oranges of the multitude of flowering plants – a wonderful sight.

Walking a little way up the gulley yielded a pair of nervous Barbary partridge, a singing male and a nest building female Canary, several Ravens, a few Blue tits, a pair of Buzzards and two vultures. I was half hoping to blunder across a Long-eared owl – the first confirmed successful nesting attempt took place here in 2008. ON the way down the gulley Tim and I managed to catch an Essex-Y moth.

Just before dusk we wandered down the road from our house in La Oliva to try and see the Stone curlews we’d been hearing all week. After a short wait a lone bird flew in not 50m from where we were sitting and starting calling – we had amazing views of this superb bird, a real treat at the end of the day.

24th February

Changeover day, with Tim departing and my wife arriving. After Tim left in early afternoon, we headed to our accommodation at the beautiful Atalayita Rosa del Taro, just north of Triquivijate. The house is nestled in a small valley, overlooked by stony, green hillsides. A quick walk around the local area in the early afternoon yielded a pair of chats plus shrikes, linnets, pipits and ravens.

25th February – 3rd March

Most of the following week was spent doing typical holiday stuff like swimming and visiting museums, ut there was opportunity to do a bit of birding and botanising. I managed to get to grips with nearly 50 plant species, most of them Canarian endemics. Highlights had to be the numerous yellow spikes of Cistanche phelypaea breaking the dry earth around the north-western coastline and the bizarre cactus-like Caralluma burchardii seen in the lichen-clad malpais west of La Oliva.


Birding highlights included success with a Houbara hunt, having a lone bird mooching about not 20 yards from the car; a party of four coursers feeding not 10 yards away; getting to within 2 yards of a pair of chats; plus adding Black redstart, Starling, Barbary falcon and Spotted redshank to the list.

Another treat was bumbling across a female Kentish plover with two tiny, pom-pom chicks feeding in the dunes south of Corralejo and the stumbling across a nest, wit the female trying her utmost to convince us she had a damaged wing – sights to remember for sure.

All in all a fantastic trip – Fuerte is a magical island away from the trash resorts (and even they’re not that bad). Take time to explore the little villages and archaeological sites and you’ll get a real taste of the true Canarian vibe – great wildlife, stunning landscapes, savage coasts, fascinating history and delicious food.

Systematic List

Cory’s shearwater

Calonectris diomedea

Several of most coastlines

Manx shearwater

Puffinus puffinus

Several off Playa de Los Molinos


Morus bassanus

Immature seen off Salinas del Carmen

Little egret

Egretta garzetta

Regular at coasts and all inland waterbodies

Grey heron

Ardea cinerea

Occasional at several inland sites

Eurasian spoonbill

Platalea leucorodia

2 at Catalina Garcia

Ruddy shelduck

Tadorna ferruginea

Max. 78 + 9 young at Los Molinos. Regular at water all over island

Common teal

Anas crecca

2 birds at Los Molinos

Egyptian vulture

Neophron percnopterus

Regulat all over island. Largest flock 30+ at Tiscamanita feeding station

Common buzzard

Buteo buteo insularum

Regular across island

Common kestrel

Falco tinnunculus dacotiae

Regular across island

Barbary falcon

Falco pelegrinoides

Single male at La Puertita, nr Costa Calma

Barbary partridge

Alectoris barbara

Pairs seen at Casillas del Carmen, Betancuria and Rosa de Taro

Common moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

Regular at all large waterbodies

Eurasian coot

Fulica atra

Regular at all large waterbodies


Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventurae

2 birds seen well at Tindaya

Black-winged stilt

Himantopus himantopus

2 each at Los Molinos and Catalina Garcia

Stone curlew

Burhinus oedicnemus insularum

Occasional across island. Seen well at La Oliva

Cream-coloured courser

Cursorius cursor bannermanii

Seen often at Tindaya

Little ringed plover

Charadrius dubius

Frequent in all wet barrancos

Common ringed plover

Charadrius hiaticula

Frequent on western coast

Kentish plover

Charadrius alexandrinus

Occasional on western coast. Nest and chicks seen in dunes at Corralejo

Grey plover

Pluvialis squatarola

Single at Salinas del Carmen


Calidris alba

2 birds at El Cotillo


Arenaria interpres

Regular along all coasts


Calidris alpina

Single at Catalina Garcia

Little stint

Calidris minuta

Single at Los Molinos

Common sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos

Regular at freshwater

Common redshank

Tringa totanus

Occasional at coast and inland water

Spotted redshank

Tringa erythropus

Single at Los Molinos

Common greenshank

Tringa nebularia

Regular at Los Molinos and Catalina Garcia


Numenius phaeopus

Regular on all coasts

Common snipe

Gallinago gallinago

Several flushed at Barranco de la Torre

Yellow-legged gull

Larus cachinaans atlantis


Lesser black-backed gull

Larus fuscus


Black-legged kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla

Several seen offshore at Salinas del Carmen. Dead birds found at two coastal locations

Sandwich tern

Sterna sandvicensis

Regular on all coasts

Rock dove

Columba livia


Eurasian collared dove

Streptopelia decaocto


European turtle dove

Streptopelia turtur

Common in quieter valleys

Laughing dove

Streptopelia senegalensis

Occasional  - Betancuria, Casillas del Angel

Nightjar sp.

Caprimulgus sp.

Unidentified bird flushed from road at night near to Alcogida

Pallid swift

Apus pallidus

Several seen over Casillas del Angel

Plain swift

Apus unicolor

Frequent across island

Eurasian hoopoe

Upupa epopos


Ring-necked parakeet

Psittacula krameri

Single at Corralejo

Common skylark

Alauda arvensis

2 birds at La Oliva fields

Lesser short-toed lark

Calandrella rufescens polatzeki


Sand martin

Riparia riparia

Single bird at rubbish tip

Barn swallow

Hirundo rustica

Occasional birds across island

House martin

Delichon urbica

Many over Costa Antigua Golf

Berthelot’s pipit

Anthus berthelotii


Meadow pipit

Anthus pratensis

5 birds at La Oliva fields

White wagtail

Motacilla alba

Occasional across island

Grey wagtail

Motacilla cinerea

Occasional in wet barrancos

European robin

Erithacus rubecula

Several at Barranco de la Torre and Costa Calma woodland

Black redstart

Phoenicurus ochruros

Single in Tindaya village

Fuerteventura stonechat

Saxicola dacotiae

Common in barrancos and hillsides

Common stonechat

Saxicola torquata

Single male at La Oliva fields

Song thrush

Turdus philomelos

Common at Costa Calma, occasional elsewhere

Common blackbird

Turdus merula

Single at Costa Calma woodland


Sylvia atricapilla

Regular across island, many at Costa Calma woodland

Sardinian warbler

Sylvia melanocephala

Common in taller vegetation

Spectacled warbler

Sylvia conspicillata

Common in low spiny scrub

Common chiffchaff

Phylloscopus collybita

Occasional across island, many at Costa Calma woodland

African blue tit

Cyanistes ultramarinus degener

Uncommon at Betancuria

Southern grey shrike

Lanius meridionalis koenigi

Common across island

Common raven

Corvus corax tingitanus

Very common across island

Common starling

Sturnus vulgaris

4 birds over Villaverde

Spanish sparrow

Passer hispaniolensis


Common chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

Common at Costa Calma woodland

Common linnet

Carduelis cannabina harterti

Regular across island

European goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis meadewaldoi

Common only at Costa Calma woodland

European greenfinch

Carduelis chloris

Occasional at Costa Calma woodland

Atlantic canary

Serinus Canaria

Uncommon at Betancuria

Trumpeter finch

Bucanetes githagineus amantum

Abundant in right habitat

Corn bunting

Miliaria calandra

Abundant at La Oliva and Tindaya

Total = 78 species


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