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A Report from

Cape Verde Islands, 3rd to 16th March 2003,

Rob Payne

General Information.

I found the Islands to be a strange birding destination, they have not got a large species list and even most of those are regarded as vagrants. The birds that are there though are either endemic species (including a number of phylogenic species) or endemic sub-species. Also they have the only Western Palaearctic occurrence of certain Species such as the Tropicbird.  I did not have the current checklist of species and their status, but using the Cornelis J. Hazevoet and the Dave Sargent books I knew what to expect. I got a kick out of what I saw that was either not mentioned or listed as vagrant. I would recommend a Lonely Planet guide or equivalent to help with background info and getting around.

Weather –The Sandstorms at the beginning of the holiday upset things, and gave a depressing brown haze to everything. These easterly winds moved around to the north for most of the rest of the holiday and became very strong at times. This constant strong wind can really be an annoying nuisance. The temperatures were comfortable around the coasts and inland where the wind gave a cooling effect. However in sheltered spots it became “rather warm” with the usual advise to use sun block.

Sal (From the 3rd to 6th and again on the 13th)

I had not intended to stay on Sal except for short duration stops during connecting flights between Islands. However upon landing from Paris I found that most internal flights were grounded due to a Saharan sand storm. After a whole day and one afternoon wasted waiting for flights, which were all eventually cancelled, I gave up on getting to Boa Vista and thus dipped out on Hoopoe Lark and Magnificent Frigate Bird. So I made the most of it and birded this flat brown island. I visited the two sites mentioned in the Sargent Report and also visited the coast at Palmeira. I stayed at the Hotel Atlantic in Espargos  (about 3,000$00 without breakfast), which was clean and generally a nice place to stay. The little café across the road did a good omelette and was handy for a cold beer. Having seen Santa Maria and talked to people who stayed there, Espargos seems a better place for a base with a bit of Night life without the high tourist prices.

Sites Visited on Sal

1)      Pedra de Lume Saltpans, these are located in an old volcanic crater and are quite spectacular. A walk around here produced amazing numbers of waders including Curlew sandpipers (about 100+), Black-winged Stilt, Grey plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Little Stint.

2)      Santa Maria Saltpans, the area around the football stadium - built after Sargent was published; was good for Turnstones, Coursers, Ringed Plovers, Barn Swallows and a Northern Wheatear. I actually only explored the dry parts of the salt pans due to the fierce sun at Midday and consequently the only birds I saw were a couple of Kentish Plover. The “Town” of Santa Maria itself held a lot of House Martins. The beach and the Cafes here make it a nice place to while away an afternoon swimming and relaxing.

3)      Palmeira, A walk along the deserted coast north of this village was very pleasant. A few waders in the form of Whimbrel, Tunstone and Kentish Plover were here along with the ever present Sparrow. 6 Ospreys all moving north at around 4.00pm made me wonder whether these were residents or migrants brought over by the strong easterlies.

4)      Espargos, I did a couple of early morning walks into the surrounding area, which abounded with Bar-Tailed desert larks. Iago Sparrows were common but tended to be replaced by Spanish Sparrow in the town itself. Cattle egrets were conspicuous around the outskirts of town and could be seen going to roost in large numbers from the hotel. Alexander’s Kestrel was present at the airport.


After Sal, getting out of the aircraft and seeing trees and hills again gave a great lift. I stayed at the Residencial Atlantic in Praia (1,500$00 inc breakfast) where I met up with Rob Poot a Dutch birdwatcher. We hired a car for a couple of days and visited a few sites:

1)      Ribeira de Banana Montanha, The main purpose of this was to try to get the Cape Verde Herons which nest in the large Mahogany tree located there. Unfortunately though we saw 5 nests, the bird had finished breeding. As they are very rarely seen away from the nests and thus dipped on this Phylogenic species. Spectacled Warblers, Blackcap and Grey-headed Kingfishers were nice but didn’t really make up for the Heron.

2)      Boa Entrada – This is no longer a breeding site for the Heron – the huge Kapok tree is now dead. However there were at least 3 calling Cape Verde Cane warblers in this well vegetated valley that led to good views. Common waxbills and Kingfishers were common here.

3)      Pedra Badejo Lagoons – Not a bad little spot, Greenshank, Whimbrels, Ringed Plover, Sanderlings and a common Sandpiper were present here.

4)      São Jorge dos Orgãos - this is a really nice little area, with some bigger trees and a botanical garden, there were Cane warbler, Spectacled Warbler and Cape Verde Swifts here.

5)      About 4.4Km after turning off of the Assomada road towards Pedro Badejo there is a quite impressive set of cliffs, Peregrine has bred here but we didn’t connect with them even though we put in a fair amount of time.

6)      Cidade Velha  – Though the only birds we saw here were swifts, a couple of sparrows and a few shearwaters and boobies. This is an enjoyable place, relaxing at one of the beach cafes are a great way to while away some time.

7)      Praia, There is some good birding here up on the cliffs to the east of the City by the Shell Oil Terminal. Make sure you go to the right (east) side of the big gully by the shell terminal, I went on the wrong side and had a run in with a couple of the local “street” kids who seemed to be picking over the rubbish heap. They can throw stone very accurately if you say don’t give them money) The cliffs themselves hold Red-Billed Tropic birds and the flat areas hold good numbers of Black-Crowned Finch-lark, Cream-coloured Coursers, Ringed Plover, a few turnstones. Cape Verde Swift is also present.  A surprise Barn Owl flew straight over the square outside the Hotel one evening as we were having a few beers – this was good.

San Vicente

A Flying visit only to this island, I stayed at the Residential Soldade in Mindelo, this is a fairly modern hotel, which is clean friendly, and there are good English speakers there. It is also pretty secure – Mindelo unfortunately has a lot of petty crime in the form of Pick pockets and burglaries from hotels; however I did not hear of any “violent” or “confrontational” crime and basic precautions will prevent loss. This hotel is a short taxi ride or walk from the Ferry terminal. Tickets for the ferry can be bought in advance from the office in town or from the lady who arrives about 5 minutes before the ferry departs.

Sao Antão

The Ferry Journey across is fun. However the only birds I saw were a few Cape Verde Shearwaters, but the flying fish that the boat scares are really cool. An aluger to Ponto del Sol cost me 300$00 but like all Alugers they drive round and round for a long time to try to get as many passengers as possible. The drive over the top is pretty fantastic as the scenery is constantly changing. It was a real pleasure to get into cool green pinewoods after the desiccated scenery of the previous islands. I stayed at the Residential Ponto de Sol in the town of the same name, it is a very modern and clean hotel and the owner again speaks good English ( 1,800$00 / Night including Breakfast ). The first afternoon I spent sea watching, there were plenty of Cape Verde Shearwaters and a few Cape Verde Petrels around and a close in Booby kept an Osprey company. The best seawatching place is the Trig point on the breakwater near the airfield – I just walked across the runway by the control tower. The town is very charming and is set against some very spectacular cliffs where Egyptian Vulture and Brown-Necked Ravens could be seen – there was also one raptor seen here which I am convinced was a Peregrine but I got my scope out just too late. The restaurants here are good and fairly inexpensive – there is even an Internet Café in the library building. The second day on the Island and I took a taxi to a spot about 10Km up the Porto Novo road and spent a long time walking back – clean air and good scenery. I saw quite a few Neglected Kestrels and about 6 Buzzards. An Egyptian Vulture was also seen. There were no kites seen, the latest reports say that these are now extinct in the wild and any remaining kite are hybridised with Black kites. I spent the rest of the afternoon seawatching from my balcony. The following day I caught an aluger from the hotel to Porto Novo to catch the ferry, you need an early start as they run fairly early – tell the staff at the hotel and they will advise you.

San Vicente ( 2 )

The ferry journey back was a lot rougher than the outward trip. A nice close-in Cape Verde Petrel was welcome as was an immature Yellow-legged Gull in Mindelo Harbour. I stayed at the Residential Soldade again. A trip to the Sewage Ponds at Mindelo was rewarding as there was a good number of waders present including some unexpected turn ups like 3 Red-Rumped Swallows, 5 wood Sandpipers, 30+Little Egrets, 2 Ring-Necked Ducks, about 150 Turnstone, 30+ Ringed Plover, lots of Grey Plover, a couple of Little Stints and a Redshank. Unfortunately this is a rather smelly place and with the very strong winds conditions did not make for a pleasant birding experience. Also I was requested not to do any photography here. Left very early the next morning to catch my flight to St. Niclao via Sal (A second visit to Pedra de Lume).

Sao Niclou ( Inc Raso )

The Journey from the Airport to Tarrafal is a delight, with the added bonus of “Guineafowl”. As you proceed up into the hills you find a few plantations and Dragon Trees scattered around. The bird species that I saw consisted of Iago Sparrows, a lot of Neglected Kestrels, the occasional Iago Sparrow and a lot of Brown-Necked Ravens. The Fishing village of Tarrafal is very relaxed and a great place to spend a few days relaxing at the end of the holiday it is also the place to organise the boat to Razo. I stayed at the Pension Alice, which was basic, but comfortable – sea watching off of the balcony was fun and a couple of Dolphins leaping was pretty good.

For the trip to Razo I took Robs advice and located Tony Santos who owns a sports fishing boat. This I hired for the trip. Note you can hire the small open fishing boats but this looks extremely dangerous, as the sea was rather rough. The whole adventure was expensive (around  €300) but was certainly a High point, which every bird watcher who goes to the Islands has to make (which the fisherman know and exploit – hence the price).  On the journey out we passed through a feeding flock of a couple of hundred Cape Verde Shearwaters with birds flying all around and over the boat I also saw a couple of sharks. Landing on Razo is a bit dicey as you have to jump from the boat onto slippery rocks, however once there I was immediately surrounded by about 10% of the entire world population of Razo Lark and a good number of Iago sparrow, some even landing on my kit and even on me when I sat still. The Lark looks obviously “different” and behaves differently but at the end of the day it is a “lark” i.e. brown, streaked, has a crest and hovers while singing……….. I found a few burrows, which didn’t have anything in, and an Ospreys nest (with one egg). The Ospreys were almost constantly in view around the Island and I certainly had three individuals, which gave some fantastically close views. The seabird colony here is pretty good with Brown boobies and Tropicbirds constantly flying in and out of the cliffs. Getting back onto the boat was even more exciting than getting off and resulted in a good thigh deep soaking – I borrowed a big polythene sack from the hotel to put all my kit into, this is a good idea. The trip back was uneventful except for the crew landing a smallish Tuna. I didn’t see any petrels or shearwaters except for the Cape Verde Shearwater.

This was really it for the bird watching part of the Holiday. In conclusion I would say that though the Cape Verde Islands are very interesting in various ways and the birds that are there are pretty fantastic and also essential to the dedicated Collector of Western Pal birds, It is not really suited to those in search of large trip lists or to those who want an easy birding holiday. However I will remember this holiday as  “quite an adventure”.

Special Thanks to:

Cape Verde Travel ( ) for helping me to organise my itinerary and doing all the running around.

Rob Poot of Holland, who had seemed to have done a lot more homework than I had.

Species Account

Soft-Plumaged Petrel     Pterodroma mollis feae
(Note – Phylogenic Species – Cape Verde Petrel Pterodroma feae)
Seen off Ponto del Sol (10+), and from the Mindelo-Porto Novo Ferry (1)

Cory's Shearwater         Calonectris diomedea edwardsii
(Note – Phylogenic Species – Cape Verde Shearwater  Calonectris edwardsii.)
Common off of all coasts, I ran through a feeding flock of these things going to Razo – unforgettable. Also seen off all coasts – sometimes close in.

Red-Billed Tropicbird     Phaethon aethereus mesonauta
These birds breed on the cliffs near Praia and on Razo.

Brown Booby                Sula leucogaster leucogaster
Off all coasts – breeds Razo.

Little Egret                    Egretta garzetta garzetta
Mindelo Sewage works - 30+

Grey Heron                   Ardea cinerea cinerea
2 were seen flying at dusk over Mindelo Harbour.

Cattle Egret                  Bubulcus ibis ibis
The common egret on all Islands visited, most numerous at Tarrafal, Sao Niclou; where about a hundred birds came to roost in one tree.

Ring-Necked Duck        Aythya collaris ( monotypic )
2 at Mindelo sewage works, not mentioned in Hazevoet!

Osprey                         Pandion haliaetus haliaetus
Common around coasts, highlight – 6 in 1/2 hour at Palmeira Sal, also nests on Razo (don’t disturb the nests).

Egyptian Vulture           Neophron percnopterus percnopterus
Not uncommon around Ponto del Sol/Vila da Ribeira Grande – I saw individuals on all days.

Common Buzzard          Buteo buteo bannermani
(Note – Phylogenic species Cape Verde Buzzards Buteo bannermani)
Common around Ponto del Sol/Vila da Ribeira Grande – I saw at least 4 individuals on all days. Including one being mobbed by Neglected Kestrel.

Common Kestrel           Falco tinnunculus alexandri/ Falco tinnunculus neglectus
(Note – Phylogenic species Alexander’s Kestrel   Falco alexandri)
Fairly common on Sal and Santiago
(Note – Phylogenic species Neglected Kestrel   Falco neglectus)
Fairly common on San Antão and Sao Niclou. This is probably the best candidate for “species” status.

Helmeted Guinea fowl   Numida meleagris spp
Introduced Species fairly common on Sao Niclou

Black-Winged Stilt         Himantopus himantopus himantopus
About 15 birds were seen at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal. Also 1was found at Pedra Badejo Lagoons.

Cream-Coloured Courser Cursorius cursor
4 birds seen at the tip at Santa Maria Saltpans near the Stadium wall, Sal. Also fairly common on the Cliffs near the Esso terminal near Praia on Santiago.

Grey Plover       Pluvialis squatarola
1 bird seen at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal.  Also 7+ at Mindelo Sewage works

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula ( poss ssp C.h.tundrae)
About 10 were at Mindelo Sewage works. There were also a couple on the Cliff tops at Praia, Santiago.

Kentish Plover       Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus
Common and widespread at saltpans and lagoons. Also frequent on the rocky coasts – especially common at Mindelo sewage works.

Whimbrel       Numenius phaeopus phaeopus
Common around the rocky coasts – very confiding. I had one at about 5 feet on Sal. Also 10+ at Mindelo Sewage works.

Spotted Redshank          Tringa erythropus
1 at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal – Hazevoet describes this as Vagrant.

Common Redshank       Tringa totanus totanus
3 were at Pedra de Lume Saltpans, Sal. Also 2 were at Mindelo Sewage works.

Common Greenshank    Tringa nebularia
2 (and then 6) at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal, Also 20+ at Mindelo Sewage works. Also 3 at Pedra Badejo Lagoons.

Wood Sandpiper            Tringa glareola
3 at Mindelo Sewage works

Common Sandpiper       Actitis hypoleucos
Not Common - 4 at Mindelo Sewage works.

Ruddy Turnstone           Arenaria interpres interpres
A common wader, seen on the coast and inland – a lot (20) on the “dump” at Santa Maria saltpans on Sal. Mindelo Sewage works held c100 birds of this species.

Sanderling     Calidris alba
There was about 15-20 at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal and a couple at Pedra Badejo Lagoons.

Little Stint     Calidris minuta
3 at Mindelo Sewage works and 3 at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal.

Curlew Sandpiper          Calidris ferruginea
70 – 80 birds were seen at Pedra de Lume Saltpans on Sal.

Yellow-Legged Gull       Larus cachinnans (complex taxonomy)
2 seen in Mindelo harbour

Rock (Feral) Dove        Columba livia
No Comment.

Barn Owl     Tyto alba detorta
Note – Phylogenic species Cape Verde Barn Owl  Tyto detorta
Amazingly one flew of Praia when I was drinking a few beers in the square.

Alexander's Swift  Apus alexandri

(Cape Verde Swift) Found in the more mountainous regions of Santiago and San Antao. Also 6 were flying around the cliffs at Praia, Santiago.

Grey-Headed Kingfisher            Halcyon leucocephala
Common on Santiago.

Northern wheatear        Oenanthe oenanthe (ssp)
One at Santa Maria Saltpans (on the Stadium wall) Sal.

Razo Lark       Alauda razae
Well get to Razo and they are there and nowhere else in the world! About 30 counted some colour ringed.

Black-Crowned Finch-Lark       Eremopterix nigriceps nigriceps
Fairly common on the dry desert areas of Santiago – the Cliffs near Praia are good.

Bar-Tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cincturus cincturus
Common on Sal – Find some desert and there they are. The area to the left of the road as you go from Espargos to the airport is a good place to see this species – especially just on the outskirts of the town.

Barn Swallow    Hirundo rustica rustica
Common at Santa Maria on Sal. Also 2 were seen at Mindelo sewage works.

Red-Rumped swallow  Hirundo daurica rufula
3 at Mindelo Sewage works.

Northern House Martin  Delichon urbica urbica
Common at Santa Maria on Sal.

Cape Verde Cane Warbler            Acrocephalus brevipennis
Only found on Santiago – common at Boa Entrada, also at São Jorge dos Orgãos, Santiago.

Blackcap       Sylvia atricapilla
Seen on Santiago – where quite common.

Spectacled Warbler       Sylvia conspicillata
Seen on Santiago – where quite common.

Brown-Necked Raven   Corvus ruficollis
Common bird of higher elevations Santiago and Sao Antao  – very numerous in the hills above Tarafall

House Sparrow             Passer domesticus
Only seen at Mindelo Sewage works.

Spanish Sparrow           Passer hispaniolensis
Common and Widespread

Iago Sparrow                Passer iagoensis
Common and Widespread on all Islands.

Common Waxbill           Estrilda astrild
Introduced species, only seen on Santiago

Besides a fair number of Cetaceans which I couldn’t identify, A dried body of a lizard on Razo was found. It was about 15cm long and resembled a chameleon! – must do research. Also there were plenty of Green Monkeys seen on Santiago.

R.Payne 16/9/03 – Email


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