Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fuerteventura - Day Three

Up early again.  Maybe this time, but where to look.  I decided to head back up to the El Cotillo plains.  I had stopped at this particular location on the first day but decided against it on my second.

Thought I would try my luck again.

Leaving the car behind, I took a walk across the arid plateau where yellow flowers were incongruously in bloom against the parched landscape.  I made my way up stopping and scanning.

Further on, stopping and scanning.

Finally!  A CREAM-COLOURED COURSER, distantly gliding across the barren surface.  Just a single bird and a bit of a relief having searched across three days for it.  I crept further on over the plain, but no sign of any more - a little disappointed not to have captured it on film.  Would like to have spent more time there.  But I was done.  A few Trumpeter Finch were in the area as I headed back to the car.

What did I say about relaxing.  This was now the time to relax - to the beach or something.

Mission completed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fuerteventura - Day Two

What a slog.  Whoever said you can just turn up to a place, see everything and leave is fundamentally misguided.  A dawn start, a dusk finish, lots of driving, and lots of walking.  Lots of beautiful scenery too particularly on the west side of the island from El Cotillo south towards La Pared.

Not knowing the specifics of finding my target species, I essentially searched suitable habitat and got one reasonably early.  And what a belter.  One of many excursions onto the rocky/sandy tracks, opportunistically sensed that something may be lurking within an area of dunes that were fragmented by clumps of vegetation.  A large bird disappeared behind a tussock.  Concentrating on the spot, a HOUBARA BUSTARD appeared, neck low, ponderously navigating the sandy tracks.  It disappeared again.  There were small trees for which to hide behind.  Out again and better views until it hopped up onto one of the sandy mounds, extending its neck and posing modestly in the morning sun.

The bird eventually disappeared and turned out to be the only one I saw on the trip.  They are very elusive - I appreciate others have had more prolonged views, but I was thrilled with mine.

Another of my main targets is a gem of sandy/desert landscapes.  The track from La Oliva to Tindaya is said to be a traditional location.  Some of the tracks are particularly rocky in places, I apologised prefusely to my hire car,  The full insurance purchased in advance gave me peace of mind.

I searched the area - I searched till my eyes bled.  There was a lot of land to look at, gratifying landscapes, in a barren environment.  The silence deafened but for the soothing melodies of territorial Larks and Pipits.

Lesser Short-Toed Lark

Following tracks and scanning, I picked up a male Spectacled Warbler on its breeding ground, Hoopoe flew around in pairs, Southern Grey Shrikes sat on wires, and a distant Barbary Squirrel dashed between the rocks.

Southern Koenigi Grey Shrike 

Travelling south, I headed to Embalse de Los Molinos, a reservoir that attracted at least 60 RUDDY SHELDUCK boisterous and gregarious in their behaviour, they were constantly on the move flying up and down the water course.  Also there were two Black-Winged Stilt, single Greenshank, three Little Ringed Plover, and a Common Sandpiper.  At the entrance to the reserve, two TRUMPETER FINCH landed in front of me, the prominent red bill and the distinctive call giving it away.

Ruddy Shelduck

The endemic was the big draw.  Scanning away from the reservoir and down a ravine there was plenty of avian activity.  Sliding my way down the rocky facade past the dam, CANARY ISLAND STONECHAT were present, at least three active males and a vocal female.  A lovely little bird, looking more like Whinchat at first, particularity in posture.  A prominent pale supercilium, the clean white collar, and the ochre-tinged neck.  Pure joy. 

I spent a bit of time with the these charming birds, watching them fly between the rocks, actively calling.  Full of character.

On the move again and down to Vega de Rio Palmas.  It took a little bit of time to pin down the AFRICAN BLUE TIT.  They were present maybe six in number, and recognised initially by the familiar call of the Blue Tit, with a slightly different flourish and tone.  To see them, well, they are gaudy.  Much darker than the race that we are familiar with, as if ours have been faded out my far too many machine washes.  An adult was observed feeding young just off the main road in the centre of the village.  Also there was my first ever Monarch butterfly.  A Chiffchaff (Canary Islands Chiffy?), and a male Blackcap in sub-song.

No time to linger.  Heading further south.  The challenge was still there.  A concentrated search in the semi-desert of La Pared didn't yield what I had hoped for, but two bubbling Black-Bellied Sandgrouse flying directly over my head illuminated by the last hour of sunlight was a real bonus - stunning birds these.  I hadn't expected that right here.

Time was up.  Enough searching and with the sun about to set, it was time to head back. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fuerteventura - Day One

A quick turnaround, an easyJet flight back into Gatwick on Sunday evening and re-pack for the first flight out of Heathrow to Madrid on Monday morning.  The connection onto Fuerteventura was seamless - muy facil!

The 03:30am start was not going to deter me from birding straight from the airport.  Straight into the hire car and off into the semi-desert in search of my trip targets.

I've been to Fuerteventura before, back in the days when lounging around on the beach doing something called relaxing with the odd excursion out of the resort to a local attraction.  No purposeful inclination to explore further than the restaurant or the poolside bar.  Maybe not to these extremes perhaps but the point here is about relativity.  This wasn't going to be relaxing.

The first day was a reconnaissance mission, a familiarisation exercise of the roads to navigate and the sites to target - these birds can be extremely elusive.

The afternoon was frenetic, trying to see as much as possible and charging from site to site.  With only two and a half days on the island, scoring early was the intention.  The more common island birds were relatively easy to see.  Plenty of Berthelot's Pipit and Lesser Short-Toed Lark on the rocky/sandy plains.  Raven croaked overhead in conjugal partnership, and Spanish Sparrow were locally present in good numbers.  A couple of BARBARY PARTRIDGE were flushed out as the hunkered low behind the sparse vegetation.  One down.

Berthelot's Pipit 

 Barbary Partridge

Spanish Sparrow

Friday, February 6, 2015

Harlequin Duck and Stonehaven

This is the second year running when I have been able to travel up to Scotland to observe the presence of a nationally rare bird.  Last year was American Coot, a moment of self indulgence after a brief spell in hospital monitoring closely the long staying american vagrant.  It made sense.  A quick trip, no fuss or bother at modest expense.

This time round, with a full bill of health, and plans to escape the vagaries of East London my dearest suggested Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire as a weekend break destination.  The flights were booked in nanoseconds.

So onto Aberdeen, driving around the North of the city adjacent to the River Don where the bird had been loitering for the past five weeks, it was no surprise that I could not find the access road that led down to the river.  This was partly due to a road closure near to the site, but seriously, I could get lost in an empty room.

Eventually made it, negotiating a slippery slope that was quite literally that and onto the bankside of the river.  The 1st winter male HARLEQUIN DUCK was located close to the pathway within some vegetation on the edge of the rapids looking relaxed and comfortable in its' Scottish surroundings and showing signs of moult into adult plumage - subtle blue hues on the upperparts.  Such a joy to see this rare vagrant - thankfully a long stayer that made travelling up a little less stressful.

The river also held around a dozen drake Goldeneye and at least three male Goosander, white gleaming flanks with that salmon-pink tinge piercing the gloomy conditions.  The walk through Seaton Park and along the river was particularly agreeable.

Stonehaven is a lovely little town set against the North Sea coastline around 20 miles south of Aberdeen.  The area around the harbour is particularly pleasant, the air was still and a mysterious half-light underneath high layers of cloud strata.

Out on the sea, there were plenty of Common Eider in convivial communities, some of the drakes looking really dapper.

A must see in Stonehaven is the Dunnottar Castle that is within easy walking distance of the town.  Steeped in history, the castle ruins overlook the sea and much of the buildings remain impressively intact.

Within the lodgings were Fulmar preparing for the breeding season and many courting couples were observed.

The final day was spent walking round Loch Kinord within the Cairngorms National Park in glorious winter weather.  Clear blue skies and snow underfoot, much of the loch had frozen due to plummeting night-time temperatures.  There were plenty of duck on the water, Goosander, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, with other more common species.  A single vocal Greylag Goose flew over the woodland, and a pair of Common Buzzard quartered the idyllic landscape.