Cape Verde Islands - Boa Vista - February 20th - 27th 2009

Published by Christine Booth (dmar77 AT

Participants: Christine Booth, David Marshall


The purpose of our trip was to have a week’s winter sun and see all the endemics and specialities of Boa Vista. We had previously looked into the possibility of covering all the Cape Verde Islands in one trip of two weeks as is achieved by some birding companies and certain intrepid birders.

We decided to cut out the stress of what we had read are uncertain inter-island flights, the possibility of missing an important species and to have a relaxing time by making the Cape Verde Islands two or three separate birding holidays. There were no other birders at our hotel, but this did not worry us: we simply ordered an early breakfast for 6am, got out by 7am, and birded every day from dawn to dusk, returning to substantial meals.

The best and the cheapest week we could find was at Hotel Riu Karamboa. This is a vast new international hotel complex catering for 1500 people, near the airport at Sal Rei/Rabil and which we booked through Thomson’s. The ‘package’ week on Boa Vista was about £800 all in. This included flights, all inclusive food and (luxury for us) 4 star accommodation all of which proved to be excellent value. At a future date it will be necessary for us to cover the island of Santiago (administrative centre of the CapeVerde Islands) which we’re told is less well covered by tourist hotels and the much less visited island of San Nicolau (necessary for the island of Raso). If we can’t get permission from the authorities to land on Raso, we would hopefully see the Raso Lark from the boat.

Getting around Boa Vista is expensive. There are 4 x 4 taxis – cost average 70/80 euros per day, and a minimum hire rate however short the distance, of 10 euros. We got around a lot by walking which is what the locals do in the main and hiring a taxi for the 2 long journeys. Late on in the week we met 2 German guys who had hired a 4 wheel drive Toyota for the day for 65 euros. If we go back, we would certainly hire a 4 x 4. Difficult roads but passable with great care.

We saw huge hotel developments. One vast hotel complex now under construction at Curral Velho will cater for 6,000 people along with a completely new village to accommodate the hotel staff of 1,500. To put this into context, we understand that the current resident population of the whole of Boa Vista is between 5/6000.

To our minds it will be environmental destruction of the ugliest form and this is just one hotel of many at various stages of construction. Areas that have been reported as substantial lagoons in the past, ie Rabil Lagoon, the southern coastal lagoons, and Monte Trigo reservoir are now dry. What little water remains is being drained/pumped out, and it was very depressing to see six sad spoonbills standing forlornly on dry gravel wondering why they are there. From the colour-ringed spoonbill we noted, we understand that it was a first year bird having migrated from northern Holland.

As might be expected, it was necessary to do a lot of pre-trip planning and great help was given by all we managed to contact whilst still in the UK, and particular thanks for information on Boa Vista are due to Tony Clarke and Stuart Piner of the Fylde Bird Club. The planning and excursion to Ilheu dos Passaros occupied a lot of time and here is a list of what we took with us for the island trip, all of which we used:

Binoculars / Polythene ground sheet / Gore-tex bivouac bag / Sleeping bag / Large poly bags to envelope the ruck-sacs / Fenix LD20 Torch with red -very useful- filter / Dry clothes / Strapping 5m (tie one end to ruck-sac, the other to one’s belt to save it being taken out to sea when wading ashore) and 2 karabiners / Food / Water / Cagoule / Shorts (for the boat trip) and dry clothes.

Throughout the week there was a constant North-easterly wind.

Useful reading:

Hazevoet, C.J. (1995) The Birds of the Cape Verde Islands. Pub: British Ornithologists’ Union ISBN 0 907446 17 5

Clarke, T. (2006) Birds of the Atlantic Islands. Pub: Christopher Helm ISBM 0 7136 6023 6 & 978 0 7136 6023 4

Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. Pub: HarperCollins ISBN 0 00 219728 6


Goldstadt Wanderkarte 1 : 50,000 Boa Vista, Sal, Maio (2004)


Friday 20th February 2009

London Gatwick – Boa Vista arrived 15.45
pm taxi (10 euros each way) to Melitour, owned by Rui Melo, opposite (hotel) Pousada Boa Vista, Sal Rei to arrange transport to Praia das Gatas and boat travel to Ilheu dos Passaros. Rui wasn’t there, works at the airport during the day, had to call back next day at 08.00!

Saturday 21st February

Taxi to Sal Rei (10 Euros)
08.00 called to see Rui Melo to arrange Ilheu dos Passaros trip, total cost 150 Euros.
am birded coast north to southern cliffs of Mount Vigra then walked beach route south back to Hotel Riu

Sunday 22nd February

Birded from hotel to Rabil airport, track to Fabrica da Chave - new hotel under construction - Rabil ‘town’, road route south to find Rabil Lagoon (unsuccessful) and then north to Estancia de Baixo and then back to hotel.

Monday 23rd February

Birded Boca de Salina, returned at noon to hotel to prepare for Ilheu dos Passaros trip.
16.00 collected from hotel by Melitours driver in 4 x 4 to Baia das Gatas, collecting boatman from Fundo das Figueiras, en route. Landed Ilheu dos Passaros 18.00.

Tuesday 24th February

Collected by boatman from island more or less on time, back to Baia das Gatas, returned to hotel 09.45 for cleaning-up and rest, stopping briefly at Rabil Lagoon (if you can call it a lagoon) on the way back.

Wednesday 25th February

Hired 4 x 4 taxi driver with reasonable English, stopping brieftly at Rabil Lagoon, then to Curral Velho, birding on the way. Walked to Ponta Pesqueiro Grande to scope Ilheu de Curral Velho. Continued to Santa Monica, Povacao Velha and back to hotel. (80 Euros). Southern lagoons were dry.

Thursday 26th February

Hired 4 x 4 taxi to Monte Trigo Reservoir (10 euros). Reservoir now baked dry. Walked to turn off for Curral Velho, birding a good 3 hours in the steppe/stony desert of the caldera. Hugely enjoyable and possibly the 2nd best part of the holiday (Ilheu dos Passaros being the 1st). Hitched lift to Curral Velho, returning via Porto de Ervatao and Fundo das Figuiras with 2 German guys in a 4 x 4 who were on a kite-surfing holiday but were having a day off to see the island – very good people but frantic driving over extremely rough roads.

Friday 27th February

Birded Boca de Salinas and area north of hotel. Ironically, but because by now we had covered much of Boa Vista, this was the most productive day in terms of numbers and species of the whole week.
Airport transfer at 13.00 for 14.50 flight back to U.K.

Species Lists

White-faced Storm-petrel (eadesi sub-species)
Ilheu dos Passaros
23rd February

The name of the island translates from the Portugese as ‘Island of Little Birds’. Arrived on the island from Baia das Gatas at 18.00 which was, on reflection, too late in the day as it is more or less dark by 19.00. Far better to have arrived on the island by 17.00 to ‘settle in’. Very difficult conditions with continuous Force 6-7 north-easterly winds which made for a cold night even with good sleeping bags. I noted with some concern that the waves were actually higher than the island but which broke on the reef before reaching land! Also, as the boat was unable to get land at the island either on the outward or return journey, it necessitated wading with gear (which we had wrapped in black polythene bags) through waist high waves on a stony/rocky sea bed. On the return journey the general sea-swell meant that while struggling to get into the boat a large wave came right over our heads. Cold and wet but very definitely the highlight of the trip.

First Storm-petrels arrived at 20.15 flying very low over the centre of the island, dropping almost vertically above the burrow and landing absolutely silently. The approach was always into the wind. Constant flow of birds until midnight. It was a great advantage to have a red filter on the torch as this enabled us to see the birds clearly without either disturbing the birds (they are distressed and disorientated by bright white light when at the burrows, and are attracted by and fly into white light which could cause them injury) or spoiling our night vision (it takes 20 to 30 minutes to fully regain night vision after the use of white light). Awoken by loud calls from the burrows around 01.00 and in red torch beam saw petrels fly towards the sound. This continued until 03.00 when no further activity was evident. Estimated number of returning birds at 50+. Next morning estimated a greater number of burrows than flying birds, possibly because not all birds returned every night. We noted that not all burrows had footprints outside. For obvious reasons it is essential to keep well away from the area of the burrows.

Red-billed Tropicbird (mesonauta sub-species)
Praia de Ervatao [(southern cliffs of Mount Vigra) 3km north of Sal Rei]
21st February 5 Flying around bay with evidence of nesting on the upper cliffs of Mount Vigra.

Brown Booby
Sal Rei
21st February 9 birds feeding in harbour
Boca de Salina (4km south of Sal Rei)
23rd February 5 flying over sea
27th February 9 on post in sea plus further 9 flying past
Ilheu dos Passaros
23rd February 5 flying past
Ilheu de Curral Velho
25th February 75 in colony nesting on island, some in pairs showing “sky pointing” behaviour
26th February Same colony seen from distance but not counted.

Magnificent Frigatebird
Ilheu dos Passaros
23rd February 1 briefly flew past behind the island
Ponta Pesqueiro Grande, Curral Velho
25th February 1 female circled ‘Ilheu de Curral Velho’ (Island of Curral Velho). Ilheu de Curral Velho has been protected as a nature reserve since 1990 and is the last remaining breeding site for these birds in the Western Palearctic. Excellent scope views for at least 15 mins. Other observers report that they nest on the seaward side of the island but have had infertile eggs for the last few years. The Mag Frig then headed north east towards village of Curral Velho, spiralling up in a thermal with an Osprey, came back over our heads finally flying off west towards Santa Monica.

Cattle Egret
Widespread throughout the northern half of Boa Vista, associated with cultivated areas.

Little Egret
Praia da Cruz
21st February 1 on rocks by Hotel Marine Club.
Boca de Salina
23rd February 2 on edge of lagoon
27th February 4 on edge of lagoon

Grey Heron
Rabil Lagoon
24th February 1 on gravel near Spoonbills
25th February Single bird still present

Boca de Salina
27th February 2 on edge of lagoon near road bridge

Rabil Lagoon
24th February 6 on gravel of dried up bed of lagoon
25th February 6 still present at same place, including 1 with colour rings (record submitted).

Egyptian Vulture
24th February 1 flying at southern edge of town, being chased by a Brown-necked Raven

Praia de Ervatao
21st February 2 flying north over bay
Praia da Chave (5km south of Sal Rei)
23rd February 1 flying north over sea
Fonte Vicente
25th February 1 flying near deserted town
Praia de Curral Velho
25th February 1 in thermal with Magnificant Frigatebird, and further 2 flew over headland.
Boca de Salina
27th February 1 sitting on branches of dead tree in centre of lagoon

Alexander’s Kestrel
Widespread, seen most days including a pair nesting on southern cliff face of Mount Vigra

Black-winged Stilt
Boca de Salina
23rd February 1 wading in centre section of lagoon

Cream-coloured Courser
Curral Velho
25th February 1 flushed on road to Santa Monica
26th February 1 flushed on road to Joao Barrosa

Ringed Plover
Boca de Salina
23rd February 2 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon
27th February 2 birds still present

Kentish Plover
Hotel Rui
22nd February 2 just off track by hotel
Boca de Salina
23rd February 50+ feeding on sandy edge of lagoon, including 3 with colour rings (record submitted)
27th February 36 feeding on sand edge of lagoon including 1 colour ringed (record submitted)
Ilheu dos Passaros
24th February 2 on sandy centre of island

Grey Plover
Boca de Salina
23rd February 32 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon
27th February 26 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon

Boca de Salina
23rd February 10 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon
27th February 25 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon
Praia de Curral Velho
25th February 8 running along shore line

Little Stint
Boca de Salina
23rd February 5 roosting on sand bank on central section
27th February 6 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon

Ponta Pesqueiro Grande, Curral Velho
25th February 1 flew along rocky shore
Boca de Salina
27th February 1 feeding on sandy edge of lagoon

Boca de Salina
23rd February 10 roosting in shallow water in central section
27th February 18 in upper section of lagoon, visible from road bridge

Common Sandpiper
Boca de Salina
23rd February 1 on sandy edge of lagoon in central section
27th February 4 in rocky area near road bridge

Praia de Fatima (near Hotel Marina Club)
21st February 10 on rocks
Boca de Salina
23rd February 10 at seaward end of lagoon
27th February 15 at seaward end of lagoon
Ilheu de Passaros
24th February 6 on rocks

Boca de Salina
23rd February 1 at centre section of lagoon – good scope views and we were very careful to check it out as it is recorded by Hazevoet as a rare passage visitor for Boa Vista.
27th February 4 at centre section of lagoon

Rock Dove
Widespread, seen most days, likely feral although 1(on its own) definite wild at inland side of bridge at
Boca de Salina.

Black-crowned Finch Lark
Track leading to Fabrica da Chave from airport road
22nd February 13 in flock on track and stony field
Area immediately north of Hotel Rui
23rd February 2 on stony ground
27th February 30+ in flock viewed from low ridge
Rabil to Curral Velho road
25th February 10 in rocky desert area
26th February 20+ in small flocks

Bar-tailed Desert Lark
Around Hotel Rui
22nd February 2 in scrubby area
27th February 30+ in flock on sandy area immediately north of Hotel Rui
Baia das Gatas
24th February 2 on track by buildings
Rabil to Curral Velho road
25th February 10 in rocky desert
Curral Velho to Santa Monica road
25th February 12 in rocky desert
Santa Monica to Povacao road
25th February 12 in flock plus further 6 individuals
Monte Trigo to Curral Velho road
26th February Too numerous to count

Hoopoe Lark (boavistae sub-species)
Around Hotel Rui
22nd February 3 flying over at dawn. It would seem that this species is particularly sensitive to disturbance as only 3 individuals were seen near our hotel and none in the Sal Rei/airport area where other observers have reported them.
Rabil to Curral Velho road
25th February 26 in rocky desert area
26th February 12 (including 4 in group) with males displaying
Curral Velho to Santa Monica road
25th February 4 in rocky desert area
Santa Monica to Povacao road
25th February 4 in rocky desert area
Curral Velho
26th February Pair in display flight over dried up bed of salina

Spectacled Warbler
Boca de Salina
23rd February Several in Acacia thicket (heard not seen)
27th February 7 in Acacia thicket

Brown-necked Raven
Common and widespread in all habitats

Spanish Sparrow
Common around habitation

Iago Sparrow
Very common in all habitats including dry stony desert areas