For birders all over the world
THE BIRDS OF FUERTEVENTURA - the chat, the bustard, the courser and the sandgrouse.
Text and video grabs by Brian J Small
Most birders when visiting Fuerteventura probably have a "hit list" of four key species: Fuerteventura Chat, Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Alongside these may be placed Marbled Duck, Trumpeter Finch, Ruddy Shelduck, Plain Swift, Stone Curlew, Berthelot’s Pipit, the degener race of Blue Tit (treated as a separate species by some authorities), and Barbary Partridge. A series of recent winter visits by myself and my father to Fuerteventura on three occasions (and Lanzarote, four occasions) has enabled me to observe these species and to assess the best places to look for them indeed the best birding sites on the island.
Descriptions of the ‘best’ sites to see each species will be given for those who visit with a hit list, and throughout I will refer frequently to the so-called ‘bible’ of birding the Canary Islands, ‘A Birdwatcher’s Guide to the Canary Islands’ by Tony Clarke and David Collins (published in 1996) however this is by no means a perfect guide.
I will start with the big four, Fuerteventura Chat, Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, then go on to describe sites to see other ‘specials’.
Access is from the main coast road about one km from where it turns inland from Salinas del Carmen. Turn left off the main road on a track by a white building; park immediately and follow the track that leads to the valley bottom. The chats were easily located on the northern side of the valley by the rows of date palms and scrub around them. They may be located by the behaviour of Sylvia warblers, Sardinian and Spectacled Warblers, in the area that follow them vociferously in a similar manner to that of Dartford Warblers following Stonechats in Britain.
Along the barranco there are pools of water and these attract a number of species: in Jan/Feb 2001 they held a pair of Ruddy Shelduck, Spoonbill, various warblers and waders, whilst Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Barbary Partridge were noted in the area, no doubt using the pools to drink and bathe.
Turn north towards La Pared near Km63, drive north up the hill to the white sign, branch off left up a track, then turn left along another track to park after about a kilometre by the fence. The best way to find Houbara Bustard is to look NW down the slope towards the sea. On two occasions this year I found Houbaras using this method - on the second there were nine.
There are other sites, indeed the north is actually said to be better, but despite searching I couldn’t locate any at La Oliva or on the plains near Los Molinos reservoir although they have been noted at these sites on previous visits. In the ‘Guide’ the area near Caleta des Fustes is given, but disturbance here, due to construction work on holiday complexes and a golf course, is so great that you would be lucky.
Again, the best method is to find a vantage point on the ridge on the plains near La Pared and scan the area looking NW towards the sea. Sometimes, by sitting still, a group may run up the hill towards you and go right past you, giving great views. However, usually I found them to be pretty elusive.
On the first visit, mid-morning, I had a large number (over 100) flying onto the plains from the NW, presumably having been drinking or bathing; on the second occasion, early in the morning a few were noted on the ground, but most were flying towards the NW. I presumed that these were going to drink and so drove to La Pared, finding groups flying in to drink and bathe in the gullies containing fresh water near the beach car park.
Rather than visit briefly, these birds stayed to preen until at least 1100hrs, before leaving. At any one time up to 100 could be seen. Once they had flown off, I went to find how long the site might have been used and the amount of droppings would suggest that it was a regular site. Care needs to be taken not to disturb them, but excellent views may be obtained.