This one-week birdwatching tour to the Canary Islands features a six-night stay on the island of Fuerteventura, one of the two easternmost islands of this fascinating Atlantic archipelago - and the most interesting for birds. Lying just 60 miles off the Moroccan coast, islands in the eastern part of the Canaries group are more strongly influenced by the proximity of North Africa and its hot, dry climate, and so present a very different flora and fauna to that which is found on the wetter and more westerly islands in the group (such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria).
On Fuerteventura, the rocky slopes of once mighty volcanoes have been sculpted by the wind into an endless variety of surreal shapes, and peculiar cactus-like Euphorbias and giant Lobelias can be found. This arid, semi-desert landscape is home to the unique Canary Islands Stonechat, an attractive endemic species that is found only on the island of Fuerteventura and nowhere else. Fuerteventura is also a vital stronghold of the endangered Houbara Bustard; indeed, it is probably the best place in the world to see this rapidly disappearing species. As we search for these two scarce and very special birds, we should come across a range of other desert dwelling specialists, such as Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Trumpeter Finch.
Being an island, the overall range of species is quite low (we can expect to see 50-65 species during the week), but this is more than made up for in quality. Three further Macaronesian endemics - Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit and small numbers of Atlantic Canary - also find a home on Fuerteventura, while the likes of Barbary Partridge, Egyptian Vulture, Laughing Dove, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Desert Grey Shrike, Spectacled Warbler and African Blue Tit are among an array of other possible treats in store. Cory's Shearwaters are regularly present offshore and waders we should see include Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover. Several pairs of Barbary Falcon now breed on the island and we might be lucky.
Another appealing aspect of any spring or autumn birding tour to the Canary Islands is the chance of encountering windblown migrants from Africa or even a trans-Atlantic vagrant or two from North America. November is a good month to search for these. We will visit the two small wetlands on the island, where we can expect to find Ruddy Shelduck (a relatively recent arrival to Fuerteventura, now well established on the island), and where 'waifs and strays' have included Marbled Duck and Ring-necked Duck.
Brian Small has a penchant for the Canary Islands, especially the island of Fuerteventura with its enticing resident birds and potential for turning up something unexpected on migration. Our 2019 and 2020 tours will be his third and fourth visits to the island.