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A Report from

Cape Verde Islands 24th February-7th March 2005,

Chris Batty

The Cape Verde Islands are situated in the extreme southwest of the Western Palearctic, south of the Tropic of Cancer and only around five hundred kilometres west of Senegal. The archipelago consists of twelve main islands but on a comprehensive birding tour it is only necessary to birdwatch on four islands (Raso, Branco, Santiago and Boa Vista) but to reach these will require visiting a least Sal and São Nicolau, and probably São Vicente.

Following a conservative approach to taxonomy the Cape Verde Islands hold six species of Western Palearctic endemic - Magnificent Frigatebird, Cape Verde Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Raso Lark, Cape Verde Warbler and Cape Verde Sparrow. However, If the phylogenetic species concept is employed the islands hold a further eight Western Palearctic endemics - Cape Verde Shearwater, Cape Verde Little Shearwater, Bourne's Heron, Cape Verde Buzzard, Alexander's Kestrel, Neglected Kestrel, Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon and Cape Verde Barn Owl. Sadly, Cape Verde Kite is now presumed to be extinct (if it ever existed) whilst Bourne's Heron and Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon are both endangered. Additionally, highly sought after breeding seabirds in the Cape Verde Islands include Fea's Petrel, White-faced Storm-petrel, Madeiran Storm-petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird and Brown Booby. In the past the islands have produced some exceptional Western Palearctic vagrants including White-tailed Tropicbird (1999), Red-footed Booby (llhéu de Cima, August 1986), Black Heron (Boa Vista, February-March 1985) and Broad-billed Roller (Maio, November 1897 and Santiago, April 1924).

Michael Hoit, Andrew Holden and Tom Lowe accompanied me on an eleven day visit that produced all the hoped for endemics except for Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon. A longer trip may be advisable given the unreliable reputation of the internal flights; previous birding trips have been hampered by strong winds and resultant dust storms causing planes to be cancelled.


The cost of the whole trip, including visas, flights, taxes, booking fee, vehicles, drivers, fuel, accommodation and food, came to - an expensive - £1,340 per person.

I could not find details of TACV flights on the internet and, not being able to speak Portuguese, did not contact TACV direct. Consequently I booked all the flights (except the two Easyjet flights) and accommodation through Yorkshire based travel agents Cape Verde Travel. Here, Ron Hughes and Lisa put together an excellent itinerary (based around my requests) and the subsequent trip ran smoothly. The total cost of this was £920.

A main meal costs around £5, a bread roll 10p, a 5 litre bottle of water £2, a small tin of tuna 65p and a litre of petrol 78p.

The essential guide for any birding trip to the islands is Dave Sargeant's 'Cape Verde - A Birder's Guide to the Cape Verde Islands'. This extended trip report includes details of almost all the sites (including good maps), an annotated checklist and practical information. This is a must and can be purchased from Birdguides for £9.99. I have referenced this guide throughout this trip report.

In addition to this two trip reports of past Birdquest tours were helpful and I used to locate trip reports by Janne Aalto, Nico Geiregat, Erling Krabbe, Rob Payne and Pedro Tavares.
Arnoud B. van den Berg, Leo Boon, Andy Clifton, Tommy Frandsen and Roy Taylor provided helpful information.

An overview to birding the islands was given by Andreas Noeske and Setfan Pfützke in Birding World Vol.7 No.4: 152-160 'The Cape Verde Islands: tropical birding in the Western Palearctic'. Immediately after our return from Cape Verde, Arnoud B. van den Berg published an update in Birding World, 'Birding the Cape Verde Islands' Vol.18 No.2: 80-81.

As a general guide to the islands I used 'Cape Verde Islands' The Bradt Travel Guide for £9.06 plus postage.

A tourist entry visa costs Euro 45 (= £32.40) and is available on arrival at Sal Airport. Your passport must have at least six months left to run beyond your intended return date.


24th February
flew Luton to Amsterdam with Easyjet departing 06:00 arriving 08:10 (for c£31.90)
flew Amsterdam to Sal departing 11:10 arriving 15:25
hired a car for 24 hours from Sal Airport (Euro 58 = £41.80)
birded Pedra de Lume until dusk
stayed overnight at Hotel Sobrado, Santa Maria

25th February
birded Santa Maria then Pedra de Lume
flew Sal to São Nicolau departing 15:20 arriving 16:00
hired aluguer from São Nicolau Airport to Tarrafal, stopping briefly in Fajã Valley (CV Escudos 2,000 = £13.10)
stayed overnight Pensao Alice, Tarrafal

26th February
chartered fishing boat to Raso (Euro 300 = £216) organised through husband of Alice at Pensão Alice
birded Raso until 14:00 then collected by chartered fishing boat and taken to Branco
camped overnight on Branco

27th February
collected by chartered fishing boat at 08:00 (Euro 300 = £216)
hired auluger to Punta de Barril and seawatched (CV Escudos 1,300 = £8.50)
stayed overnight Pensão Alice, Tarrafal

28th February
hired auluger to Punta de Barril and seawatched (CV Escudos 1,000 = £6.50)
hired auluger to São Nicolau Airport (CV Escudos 2,500 = £16.40)
flew São Nicolau to São Vicente departing 17:50 arriving 18:20
birded São Pedro lagoon until dusk
flew São Vicente to Santiago departing 22:10 arriving 23:10
taxi to Praia (CV Escudos 500 = £3.50)
stayed overnight Residencial Paraiso, Praia

1st March
hired car for 48 hours from Alucar (located near Shell garage by harbour and TAP building) (CV Escudos 9,500 = £62.20 plus CV Escudos 10 per/km after 100km/24 hours)
birded Liberão, Ribeira de Praia Formosa, São Jorges, Boa Entrada, Tarrafal until dusk, São Domingos
stayed overnight Residencial Paraiso, Praia

2nd March
birded Praia, Ribeira de Praia Formosa, João Golo, Rui Vaz, Liberão, Pedra Badejo until dusk
stayed overnight Residencial Paraiso, Praia

3rd March
taxi to Santiago Airport (CV Escudos 200 = £1.30)
flew Santiago to Sal departing 11:35 arriving 12:25
flew Sal to Boa Vista departing 14:45 arriving 15:15
courtesy taxi to Sal Rei
hitched to and from Rabil Lagoon
stayed overnight at Residencial A Paz, Sal Rei

4th March
hired 4x4 with driver arranged through Rui in Sal Rei (CV Escudos 5,000 = £32.70)
birded Curral Velho then dropped at Baie das Gatas
chartered small fishing boat to llhéu dos Pássaros (CV Escudos 2,000 = £13.10)
birded llhéu dos Pássaros into night
camped overnight on llhéu dos Pássaros

5th March
chartered small fishing boat to Baie das Gatas (CV Escudos 2,000 = £13.10)
collected from Baie das Gatas by hired 4x4 with driver arranged through Rui in Sal Rei (CV Escudos 5,000 = £32.70)
birded Rabil Lagoon
hitched to Sal Rei
stayed overnight at Residencial A Paz, Sal Rei

6th March
courtesy taxi to Boa Vista Airport
flew Boa Vista to Sal departing 07:20 arriving 07:45

7th March
flew Sal to Paris Charles de Gaulle departing 01:35 arriving 09:15
flew Paris Charles de Gaulle to Luton with Easyjet departing 15:00 arriving 15:15 (for c£31.90)

All flights were with TACV unless stated otherwise. In general all TACV inter-island flights left between 30 minutes and one hour after their scheduled time. Our return flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle landed over two hours behind schedule, worth bearing in mind when booking a connection to the UK. One change in schedule by TACV was communicated to our hotel. As such it is worth informing the TACV office in Sal Airport of your accommodation and contact details.

On reflection changes we would have made to our visit would have been to undertake the trip one week later, flying out from Amsterdam on 3rd March instead of 24th February. This would have improved our chances of seeing greater numbers of seabirds, in particular the late arriving Cape Verde Shearwater. However, this later arrival would have necessitated visiting Santiago first (followed by São Nicolau and Boa Vista) to maximise the chances of the Bourne's Herons still being present in the nest at Liberão.


Sal has the only international airport on the Cape Verde Islands and as such is a necessary stopover en-route to other islands. We visited the two recommended birding sites on the island; Pedra de Lume (Sargeant p25) where a selection of common waders were present and Santa Maria (Sargeant p26).

São Nicolau
São Nicolau is the gateway to Raso. It is necessary to visit the west coast town of Tarrafal where a fishing boat can be chartered to reach Raso. Elsewhere on São Nicolau we birded the immediate vicinity of the airport, the Fajã Valley (Sargeant p22) en-route to Tarrafal, where Helmeted Guineafowl were seen and Punta da Barril for seawatching.

Reached by chartered fishing boat from Tarrafal, São Nicolau, Raso (Sargeant page 24) is the famous haunt of Raso Lark as well as breeding Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies.

Following collection from Raso by our chartered fishing boat we were deposited on Branco for one night. The precipitous island of Branco is a breeding site for four nocturnal seabirds: White-faced Storm-petrel, Maderian Storm-petrel, Cape Verde Little Shearwater and Cape Verde Shearwater.

São Vicente
Only visited as a connection en-route from São Nicolau to Santiago. São Pedro lagoon (Sargeant 22) was visited at dusk.

Liberão (Banana de Riberia Sargeant 16) is the only remaining colony of Bourne's Heron (the colony at Boa Entrada (Sargeant 24) has been deserted). South of Pedra Badejo, Milho Branco is a former breeding site of Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon. São Jorges and João Teres (Sargeant 15) is a reliable site for Cape Verde Buzzard and Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon has been seen here in the past. Boa Entrada (Sargeant 14) is a good site for Cape Verde Warbler. Farmland south of Tarrafal proved reliable for Cape Verde Barn Owl. São Domingos is a (former?) breeding area of Fea's Petrel but we found Cape Verde Little Shearwaters here. The town of Praia (Sargeant 13) produced Black-crowned Finch Lark but little else. Pedra Badejo (Sargeant 17) produced Cape Verde Shearwaters on an evening seawatch.

Boa Vista
Sal Rei (Sargeant 26) produced little of note other than Red-billed Tropicbirds though nearby Rabil Lagoon (Sargeant 26) held a vagrant Purple Heron. Curral Velho (Sargeant 28) is the favoured site for locating Magnificent Frigatebird. llhéu dos Pássaros (Sargeant 28) is a tiny island off the east coast to which an overnight visit, reached by chartering a small fishing boat from Baie de Gatas, produced excellent views of White-faced Storm-petrel.

Additions to Dave Sargeant's trip report

CV1 Praia, Santiago
The small sewage farm near the Ceris brewery no longer seems to exist.
São Domingos is a (former?) breeding area for Fea's Petrels but we found Cape Verde Little Shearwaters here

CV2 Boa Entrada, Santiago
The kapok tree is now dead and Bourne's Heron no longer nests here. It is possible to drive the majority of the way to the kapok tree in a standard hire car. Cape Verde Warbler seems commonest by the track just northwest of the kapok tree. Boa Entrada is accessed off the main road between Assomada and Enacol petrol station along a minor road with a 'give way' sign.

CV4 Banana de Riberia Montanha, Santiago
This site is called Liberão. It can be reach with a conventional hire car

CV12 Tarrafal and the Fajã Valley, São Nicolau
c5km north of Tarrafal is Punta de Barril where you can seawatch by the lighthouse.
We saw at least 16 Helmeted Guineafowls north of the road on the second bend northeast of Cachação.

Additional site not featured in Dave Sargeant's trip report

After birding Raso it is possible to be collected by your chartered fishing boat and taken to the nearby island of Branco. You will be dropped off on a beach on the south side of the island. From here walk east along the shore until you reach a peninsula at the southeast end, Ponta Delgada. Behind the easternmost beach an area of sand holds many White-faced Storm-petrel burrows. Do not walk on the sand as the burrows will collapse. The White-faced Storm-petrels return to their burrows in darkness, we only saw one briefly at c00:30. However, we may have missed the main period activity whilst we were searching for a singing Cape Verde Little Shearwater on the rocky slopes between the landing beach and Ponta Delgada, and 2+ Madeiran Storm-petrels in the same area. We found several Cape Verde Shearwater skulls, evidence of the continued persecution of this species, but we were too early in the year for them to be returning to their colony. We camped overnight and were collected by our fishing boat at 08:00.

Target birds

Common Quail (endemic form conturbans)

São Nicolau
At least five singing along the approach road to the airport terminal building

São Vicente
Previously seen at Mindelo sewage works

Has been heard south of Tarrafal near the sewage works

Boa Vista
In the past has been heard at Tiberia do Norte (between João Galego and Norte), Sal Rei, Rabil and Rabil Lagoon.

Helmeted Guineafowl

An introduced species to the Cape Verde Islands.

São Nicolau
16+ in the Fajã Valley on a vegetated hillside by the second bend north of Cachação (see Sargeant p22 for further sites). Previously recorded near the airport, near Carvoeiros and above Cabecalinho).

30 Ribeira de Praia Formosa northwest of the road to Pedra Badejo c4km north of the junction near Ribeira Chiquerio. 3 southeast of Rui Vaz north of the road viewed from a layby on the ridge. Previously recorded at Liberão.

Boa Vista
Apparently a more recent introduction to this island than to others. 60+ in scrub behind the beach between llhéu dos Pássaros and llhéu de Balaurate. Previously seen nearby at Riberia de Norte.

Fea's Petrel

São Nicolau
Perhaps as many as 30 were lingering distantly off Punta de Barril. Previously seen passing near Estãncia Brãs.

At least 10 seen from the Tarrafal boat crossing both to Raso and from Branco. All birds about one hour out of Tarrafal.

São Vicente
One distantly past São Pedro

Two distantly off Pedra Badejo. Previously (?) bred in São Domingos valley.

Cape Verde Shearwater

We recorded unidentified Calconectris shearwaters distantly off several islands.

São Nicolau
Past reports include birds passing Tarrafal and Punta da Barril

One from the boat c45 minutes out of Tarrafal. Past trips have recorded as many as 150 from the same crossing. It appears that our trip to Raso and Branco (26th-27th February) was too early for any number of this species to have retruned from their wintering grounds; this was confirmed by the fisherman.

Too early in the season for them to be returning to their colony the only evidence of their past presence was several skulls.

São Vicente
Previously seen off São Pedro

Four north past Pedra Badejo on an evening seawatch. Previously seen off Praia and Tarrafal.

Boa Vista
Previously seen off Curral Velho and llhéu dos Pássaros.

Cape Verde Little Shearwater

São Nicolau
Previously recorded off Tarrafal

Breeds on this island and previously recorded from the boat crossing

At least one singing on the southern scree slopes from 20:00 well into the night

At least two were singing and seen in flight in the valley running southeast from São Domingos around 23:00. Audible from the layby on the south side of the road 700 metres west of the road junction north of Riberia Chiquerio.

White-faced Storm-petrel (form eadesi)

Although burrows littered the small flat sandy area behind the easternmost beach towards the southeast end of the island only one was seen briefly at c00:30. Past reports suggest we were either unlucky or did no do justice to this colony; spending time with Cape Verde Little Shearwater and Madeiran Storm-petrel may have meant we missed the main event. However, our experience on llhéu dos Pássaros suggests this colony is less active

llhéu dos Pássaros
Although difficult to estimate the exact number involved, birds had returned by 19:45 and were still active at 03:45 with as many as seven birds together over the sandy centre of the island.

Madeiran Storm-petrel

Previously reported from the boat near Raso with large numbers breeding in the mountains there

At least two seen by the easternmost beach from 22:00

Boa Vista
Reported to breed on islets off the east side of the island

Red-billed Tropicbird (form mesonauta)

São Nicolau
One distantly off Punta de Barril

40+ on the southern cliffs and offshore

At least one at Praia around the cliffs east of the port

Boa Vista
9+ northeast of Sal Rei at Ponta de Sol on cliffs in the valley

Brown Booby (nominate form leucogaster)

One west past Santa Maria

São Nicolau
Seen off Tarrafal and Punta de Barril

c160 estimated on the southern cliffs

Present offshore

Has been seen off Praia and Pedra Badejo

Boa Vista
Singles at Sal Rei, Rabil Lagoon with several off llhéu dos Pássaros and colonies on llhéu de Curral Velho and llhéu de Baluarte. Has been seen off Riberia Grande in the past.

Magnificent Frigatebird

One offshore in March 2000

Boa Vista
One male circling high of the beach to the east of llhéu de Curral Velho. A pair were present here in March 2004. In April 2003 a male was seen over Praia da Cruz and Rabil Lagoon. Also in April 2003 six (four males, two females) were on llhéu de Baluarte with at least one female being seen off nearby Ponta do Rife. Our 4x4 driver failed to access Ponta do Rife due to the poor state of the tracks.

Purple Heron

Boa Vista
A vagrant to the Cape Verde Islands, we saw a subadult at Rabil Lagoon.

Bourne's Heron

The only remaining colony of this species is in a mahogany tree at Liberão (also known as Banana de Riberia Montanha). We saw 11 birds including eight juveniles in nests. Local conservationists reported that three juveniles had died recently; two killed by children and one falling from the nest. It is possible to drive to the tree in a conventional hire car. The Bourne's Herons are reported to commence breeding in August/ September with, in wet winters, a second brood in January/ February. When not breeding this species is very difficult to find, with the interior mountains pf the Serra do Pico da Antonia suggested as a likely feeding area. One was seen in flight near São Domingos in April 2003. At Liberão birds were feeding in dry gulleys on valley sides amongst stands of canes. At Boa Entrada the famous kapok tree is now dead and no longer holds a colony.

Cape Verde Buzzard

Three were seen over the northeastern slopes of Pico do Antonia viewed distantly from both the road west of São Jorges dos Orgãos and the road south of Picos. The other site for this species on Santiago is Serra Malagueta. The only other island supporting Cape Verde Buzzard is Santa Antão

Alexander's Kestrel

Common and widespread

Common and widespread

Boa Vista
Common and widespread

Neglected Kestrel

São Nicolau

Two seen over the south side

São Vicente
Reported to be common

Cream-colored Courser (form exsul)

Three north of Santa Maria on semi-desert east of the road near the first roundabout. Has also been seen near Pedra da Lume.

Boa Vista
Widespread in desert areas, common near Curral Velho.

Cape Verde Barn Owl

São Nicolau
Apparently occurs

Soon after dusk one showed very well south of Tarrafal near the sewage works, over farmland by the farm buildings. This appears to be a reliable site. Access along minor roads west from the main road. Further birds crossed the main road c9km south of Tarrafal and just west of Boa Entrada. Based on previous reports this species appears widespread on Santiago with sightings at Liberão, São Jorges dos Orgãos, Residencial Sol Atlantico in Praia (situated on the raised plateau just south of the TACV office and adjacent to the main square) and near the mouth of the river at Praia.

Cape Verde Swift

São Nicolau

São Vicente


Grey-headed Kingfisher (form acteon)

Common and widespread, particularly in the interior e.g. 25 seen between São Domingos and Liberão.

Black-crowned Finch Lark (nominate form nigriceps)

São Nicolau
Reported to occur

Four just east of Praia on waste ground behind the Shell depot with a further male in Praia near the lighthouse. Previously seen just south of Tarrafal near the sewage works.

Boa Vista
Common and widespread

Bar-tailed Desert Lark (nominate form cinctura)

Common in arid areas

São Nicolau
Common in arid areas

Common in arid areas

Boa Vista
Common in arid areas

Hoopoe Lark (endemic form boavistae)

Boa Vista
Common in arid areas

Raso Lark


Cape Verde Warbler

São Nicolau
Reported to be local

At least 7 at Boa Entrada in trees by the track northwest of the dead kapok tree. Also occurs at São Jorges (in the valley below the village), at Liberão with odd records from Pedra Badejo, São Domingos and in Praia at Residencial Sol Atlantico.

Brown-necked Raven

São Nicolau


São Vicente


Boa Vista

Cape Verde Sparrow

Common on all islands visited.

Common Waxbill

Common and widespread, e.g. 100 Liberão

Target birds missed

Bulwer's Petrel

São Nicolau
Previously recorded off Punta da Barril and from a chartered boat to Boa Vista

An uncommon breeder

Western Reef Heron

We recorded a possible white morph at Tarrafal on rocks by the beach immediately north of the town. This rare but regular visitor to the Cape Verde Islands has previously been recorded at the sewage works south of Tarrafal, at Pedra Badejo and in Praia (at Praia the pools by the brewery no longer exist and we could not find an egret roost).

Boa Vista
Previously recorded at Rabil Lagoon

Intermediate Egret

A vagrant to the Cape Verde Islands.

São Vicente
In the recent past this species has been seen roosting with Cattle Egrets at Mindelo sewage works.

Boa Vista
Previously recorded at Rabil Lagoon

Cape Verde Kite

Sadly, presumed to be extinct, if indeed it ever existed as a species. In 2002 The Peregrine Fund located and captured five kites (of six birds present at that time) on the island of Maio and, following genetic analysis at the University of Michigan, it was determined that they were Black Kites and not Cape Verde Kites, as had been hoped. Furthermore, analysis of historical specimens of Cape Verde Kite collected between 1897 and 1924 (including the original specimen) suggests that Cape Verde Kite is not a species, but a Red Kite. Therefore, four kites reported on Boa Vista in March 2003 were presumably Black Kites.

Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon

Described as 'widespread but very rare' by Sargeant.

São Nicolau
One was seen between the airport and Tarrafal in March 2000

Until 2004 a pair nested on a cliff at Riberia da Praia Formosa, north of Milho Branco, by the main road to Pedra Badejo, c4km north of the junction at Riberia Chiquerio. The other site where this species has been seen are the northeastern slopes of Pico do António viewed from near São Jorges dos Orgãos and the cliffs east of Praia.

Complete trip list

52 species (following taxonomy and nomenclature used at
Western Palearctic Birds)

Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix conturbans
Helmeted Guineafowl, Numida meleagris
Fea's Petrel, Pterodroma feae feae
Cape Verde Shearwater, Calonectris edwardsii
Cape Verde Little Shearwater, Puffinus boydi
White-faced Storm-petrel, Pelagodroma marina eadesi
Madeiran Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma castro
Red-billed Tropicbird, Phaethon authereus mesonauta
Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster leucogaster
Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis ibis
Little Egret Egretta, garzetta garzetta
Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea
Bourne's Heron, Ardea bournei
Egyptian Vulture, Neophron percnopterus percnopterus
Western Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus
Cape Verde Buzzard, Buteo bannermani
Osprey, Pandion haliaetus
Alexander's Kestrel, Falco alexandri
Neglected Kestrel, Falco neglectus
Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus himantopus
Cream-colored Courser, Cursorius cursor exsul
Common Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula
Kentish Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus
Grey Plover, Pluvialis squatarola
Sanderling, Calidris alba
Little Stint, Calidris minuta
Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea
Dunlin, Calidris alpina
Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus phaeopus
Common Redshank, Tringa totanus
Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia
Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos
Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres
Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis
Little Tern Sterna, albifrons
Rock Dove, Columba livia
Cape Verde Barn Owl, Tyto detorta
Cape Verde Swift, Apus alexandri
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Halcyon leucocephala acteon
Black-crowned Finch Lark, Eremopterix nigriceps nigriceps
Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Ammomanes cinctura cinctura
Hoopoe Lark, Alaemon alaudipes boavistae
Raso Lark, Alauda razae
Cape Verde Warbler, Acrocephalus brevipennis
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia, conspicillata orbitalis
Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla gularis
Brown-necked Raven, Corvus ruficollis ruficollis
Spanish Sparrow, Passer hispaniolensis hispaniolensis
Cape Verde Sparrow, Passer iagoensis
Common Waxbill, Estrilda astrild jagoensis

Chris Batty March 2005

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