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A Report from

A New Year on Fuerteventura,

Chris Hall

Sooner or later every birder needing to complete their Western Palaearctic list has to visit Fuerteventura to see the Canary Islands Chat, which occurs nowhere else on earth! Arriving on 29th December 2002, we discovered a whole lot more on this desert island.

The rocky north coast produced a selection of seabirds including Yellow-legged Gull and Kentish Plover as well as wintering Little Egret, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Grey and Ringed Plovers and Sandwich Tern.

Heading inland from El Cotillo, we found our first Black-bellied Sandgrouse, initially in flight and then pinpointed on landing in the stony desert landscape. Other ticks here included Berthelot's Pipit, Southern Grey Shrike, dozens of Lesser Short-toed Larks, handsome Spanish Sparrows, a pair of Egyptian Vultures at a goat carcass, Spectacled Warbler already full of the joys of spring, and luckiest of all an overflying Barbary Falcon, which came from nowhere before disappearing into the deep blue sky.

Early on New Year's Eve we began a long stake out for Houbara Bustard, using the car as a hide. Within minutes we were ambushed by one beside the track at unexpectedly close range. Its head swung back and forth as it walked slowly, pecking occasionally at green shoots, and then crossing the track right in front of the vehicle. What a lucky encounter, but there was more to come. Soon the scope picked out two Houbaras, displaying independently, by folding down their long necks and puffing out fluffy white breasts into a ball with long black neck tassels splayed to each side, while sprinting erratically to and fro like demented clockwork cuddly toys. In between these running bouts each bird would stop, throw its neck up and then back and hold the pose briefly before repeating the whole performance, a stunning show. In this same area we also had Barbary Partridges with blood red legs, eyes and beak and a mohican style crest and Cream-coloured Coursers with immaculate pale plumage and elegant long bleached legs. Three lifers before breakfast!

That afternoon, a visit to the reservoir at Los Molinos yielded a half expected Ruddy Shelduck and a Gadwall, which is a rarity here. The rocky barranco which feeds the reservoir, added Little Ringed Plover and Hoopoe to our tally and was the first of several sites for the chat, surely one of the world's rarest birds. This was also our best site for Trumpeter Finch, which looks as exotic as it sounds, with bright red beak, grey head, a lovely pink flush to the breast and a distinctive buzzing call.

Less than nine hours into the new year we have another posing bustard in our scope. It seems that a scan of any suitable semi desert habitat will reveal this species early in the morning or late in the afternoon. In fact later that day, at another location we had a Houbara and four Cream-coloured Coursers in the scope at the same time!

A walk through the palm trees and tamarisks of Las Peņitas brought excellent views of smart Sardinian Warblers and our first Blue Tit, looking strangely out of place in this arid environment. On this island, isolated from the mainland gene pool, they are in the process of evolving into a separate species, with a very attractive combination of navy rather than royal blue cap, a more striking black and white face pattern and a blue-grey rather than green mantle.

Camping wild on the island, we regularly heard Stone Curlew calling at night, but failed to connect with them visually until the last day, while checking one of our favourite locations near the village of La Oliva. By now we had notched up all the expected specialities which this special island has to offer, with Houbaras by the barrow load!

Next time we plan to go with a group, combined with a visit to Tenerife and La Gomera. Contact us on for further details.

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