Monday 29 August 2011


A seawatch this morning was good without hitting top gear. 150ish Manxies, 50ish Arctic Skuas, 4 Bonxies, c25 sooties plus invisible Whimbrel, 3 Sanderling, a few Arctic & Sandwich Terns amongst the commons. Pretty good. Shame about the two Balearics i missed and the Sabs that went through this afternoon. With the wind in the north west and sunny spells I checked the south side of Old Fall and bumped into Darren Ward where a male Redstart was flycatching with 3 Willow Warblers but little else. 2 Swifts frolicked overhead - my first since i went to cape verde.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Cape Verde Trip Report Final Installment

Day 10 was samey with a flyover Osprey in the pool the highlight so on Day 11 I ventured all the way to Ilheu do Curral Velho to get a better effort on the frigatebirds. Sadly a fail but I did manage 3 Cream-coloured Coursers on the stony desert plains prior to the sand dunes. Quality birds that I loved seeing that were like a cross between the Hoopoe Larks and a Lapwing. There were plenty of Brown Boobies doddering about on the islet but nothing else sadly...

Day 12 was my day out and I headed to Rabil lagoon - the premier wetland site in the Cape Verde Islands and the premier place for rare herons. En route I had a troupe of Helmeted Guineafowl , a lifer although Cat C on Boa Vista.This on recount was my 400th world lifer. Not too bad... Additionally a few more Coursers were noted as we traversed the morning desert.

At Rabil Lagoon plenty of waders were noted along with singing Spectacled Warbler. Sadly the birds were all the same sort of thing as on the lagoon with Sanderling, Turnstone and Curlew Sandpiper dominant with lesser numbers of Stilts, Kentish Plover and 2 Wood Sandpiper plus a single Greenshank and Ringed Plover. A juv Grey Heron overflew getting me excited for 7 milliseconds. A few Whimbrel were noted further up the lagoon and amongst them the big trip rarity - a Curlew. Curlew are a 3 star rarity apparently in Cape Verde with 7 records by the time birds of the atlantic islands was published in 2006. It looked to be a male, dwarfing the Whimbrels but without a very long bill of a female. After a couple of minutes it flew high out into Sal Rei bay.

Not a Black-headed Heron...
A few tourists on Camels ventured over the sand dunes as I headed back to the main road disatisfied with my return. An Osprey fished over the bay and a Little Egret had moved onto the lagoon when I got back to the top.

Overnight the heavens opened and Boa Vista received the heaviest rains in 15 years after a completely dry wet season last year. 13 Maids were put in hospital by newly sprung rivers overturning their vehicles and we were nearly flooded in our hotel room as water poured through the hotel flooding adjacent rooms. The pool was filled with mud off the gardens and looked like a sewer in the morning.

Im not swimming in that!

A wander down to the lagoon showed it had tripled in size and similar lagoons had sprung up behind the beach in several places. Waders had spreadout in this new haven and only a Ruff and 3 Black-winged Stilts were in evidence. A seawatch provided a passage of Shearwaters at c5/minute. These were all at 2km range and I could only identify Cape Verde Shearwater and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters. A few pteradroma-esque birds could have been fea's but who knows frankly... Sooties it turns out are pretty rare but I cant think of any other large shearwater that would show an entirely dark underside and upperside that would be more likely. Far too big for Bulwer's. A plan was hatched for an early doors seawatch from next to Ilheu do Curral Velho.

ABORT ABORT ABORT - my 2 year old decided that staying awake all night would be fun and alongside light rain caused the abandonment of the seawatch of dreams. GAH! Oh well - reason to head back to Cape Verde if not Boa Vista. The last sighting of interest was the only migrant passerines of the trip - 3 lucky juvenile Barn Swallows. This took the trip list to 32 species - not bad for August on a family holiday I dont think.

In addition 4 species of Butterfly were noted - a male Mimic, African Emigrant, African Grass Blue and an orange tippy type small white with green mottled tips.

Friday 26 August 2011

Trip Report part 2

Late afternoon on day 3 found me checking the waders again and a similar assemblage with additions of a moulting male Ruff and 2 Wood Sandpipers which are both considered scarce in Cape Verde - although that may be due to them passing through in August when there are few birders... An additional trip tick came in the form of a Greenshank that was in amongst the species from the day before. A Whimbrel skulked along the edges.

Ruff were seen on most days at the lagoon and also latterly at Rabil lagoon. A maxima of two birds at the lagoon between the hotel and Curral Velho with a male and a female present on and off. There is apparently a further lagoon east of Curral Velho which I did not visit.

Wood Sandpiper was perhaps the commonest passage wader encountered at the lagoon with a peak count of 4 birds, probably 5 although they were quite mobile and wary with several days at 3-4 birds.

Whimbrel were regular on the beach and lagoon with a max of 3 birds on the lagoon and several along the stretch of beach. In addition several were seen at Rabil Lagoon.

Movement was in evidence as numbers of the waders in situ from the previous day had altered although I had a hunch it was exchange with another local waterbody mainly as birds appeared to return (or identical individuals in the same stage of moult ;) ).

Day 4 produced no new species but a good view of a female Alexander's Kestrel on the deck and some new arrivals at the pool with two families of Black-winged Stilts taking the total to 13 adults and 3 juvs. A new Curlew sand was in with almost complete winter plumage. Due to the lacklustre lagoon I tried a seawatch which produced c20 Brown Boobies and 2 distant large shearwaters which were very likely Cape Verde Shearwater but seemed closer to Maio than Boa Vista. Meandering back to the hotel - 2 Ospreys passed overhead. They are a pretty common local breeder here and expected but always cool.

Day 5 produced a slightly tarty WP tick in the form of Spanish Sparrow - these guys behaved almost like Tree Sparrows, having a colony in the vicinity of the more urban area but yet avoiding it slightly letting the Iago's do their House Sparrow impersonation. That said this post breeding colony were very smart and it was a species I was chuffed to catch up with.

Some changes in numbers at the lagoon but no new species. Days 6 & 7 produced more of the same although by now both migrating family parties of stilts had moved on. It was getting a bit samey and I had a wander up to the Loggerhead Turtle refuge up toward Curral Velho.

Day 8 and I went for a wander with a couple of lads from the complex who wanted to see the Turtle conservation stuff and find out a little about them. A Bar-tailed Godwit was new in on the lagoon and was about for most of the rest of the holiday. Curlew Sandpiper numbers peaked with the original brick-red bird returning and an additional moulting bird. We marched on toward the turtle sanctuary and found some turtle remains. In discussion with the wardens it seems the remains are whats left after poachers kill the turtles for bush-meat & skins. 1,100 Turtles were killed on the beaches of Boa Vista last year from a laying population of 3,000 - that is not sustainable and is extremely worrying. Thankfully in conjunction with the hotel greater awareness is spreading and the wardens I spoke to were optomistic of success against the poachers.

Then the warden said the magic word. "FRIGATEBIRD". There up above us a male Magnificent Frigatebird circled in the face of oncoming cloud. I was joyously remarking to my compadres how it was the only male of the relict eastern atlantic population and that they bred less than a km from where we were. The warden then shows me how lucky I have been by telling me it was only the 2nd time in three months there that he has seen the bird. Absolute score.

There are many other similar photos and worse but I wont bore you! We wandered onto the sand dunes of Curral Velho where lots of swimming crabs were mating on the rocks below.

Scene of the frigatebird sighting

The walk back was quick as the three of us had been a very long time, and we didnt want to incure the wrath of those that must be obeyed. The way back produced further turtle remains and thousands of Red Locusts. Arriving back in the hotel a rather mundane trip tick appeared as three Rock Doves headed into the desert.

Day 9 was a morning of culture at the other end of the island as we visited the capital Sal Rei. I was hoping for Tropicbirds in the bay but it appears that I went at the wrong time of year as none were seen. I did manage a Little Egret as we crossed Rabil Lagoon in the coach and we saw lots of Alexander's Kestrels and Brown-necked Ravens. Sal Rei was pretty cool - poor but pretty with a lovely church and the old fish market is very West Indian with noise and colour.

The return journey saw an Osprey sat in the airport amongst the Ravens and Kestrels.

Part 3 tomorrow.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Boa Vista Trip Report

So my wife said - "the travel agent suggested Boa Vista in Cape Verde. Where is cape Verde?". I just said tropics and west coast of Africa and that sold it to her. For me it was the last breeding place of Magnificent Frigatebirds in the Western Pal. Little did I know that I would be 3km from the breeding place as well!

This was our first proper holiday as a family after a couple of practice jaunts to see relatives in Spain. A rather tricky 6.5 hours was negotiated although Angela and me were creamed trying to contain our nearly 2 year old bundle of fun...

Arriving in the airport on the 7th August the first lifer and Cape Verde endemic arrived in passport control (which has no roof). The smart Iago Sparrows were flitting about picking up morsels that were dropped by the recently arrived. These were an ever present during the holiday but were not particularly common in the hotel complex despite being present in plague like proportions further north.

We transferred to our hotel on the south coast - a mere 15km away from the airport. The road however only covered half that distance and this would cause issues later in the holiday. Brown-necked Ravens were a regular site on the journey and a treefull of Cattle Egrets was an expected site in the Ribeira do Rabil. I have previously had a very brief view of Brown-necked Raven from a bus in Egypt but on this trip they were regular on the beach - hoping to mop up turtle remains incase poachers had been active. A number of Bar-tailed Larks flitted beside the road and as we approached the hotel a Hoopoe Lark flushed. The former was an expected list padder and a little unspectacular although in nice light the rufous wings were cool. The latter was a much wanted bird with Boa Vista being one of the easiest places to see them. Both proved common throughout the holiday. After arriving at the hotel we decided to chill by the pool and no further birds were seen.

An early start to day 2 due to the two hour time difference led to some time on the balcony where the resident larks proved easy to see along with Iago Sparrows. Amongst the two species spied the previous day were large numbers of the diminutive Black-crowned Finch Larks, one of those charismatic species which only just enters the western pal but one which was common as muck on Boa Vista. They were easily seen only 50 yards from the balcony. Whilst watching I noticed a small falcon fly into the opposite block - it was a female Alexander's Kestrel. This distinctive subspecies is likely to be split and would be an island endemic.

As Isabelle was in the pool the whole time she needed an afternoon nap each day and this was a brucie bonus for me as my wife wanted to read on the balcony with her new present from me, a Kindle. Cunning, eh? So U went for a walk and discovered a small lagoon behind the beach about 0.5km to the east toward Curral Velho. Here I found c10 pairs of Kentish Plover and 2 pairs of Black-winged Stilt with three fledged young. Passage waders were very much in evidence with a single Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper plus 3 each of Sanderling & Turnstone in a variety of plumages. The Curlew Sandpiper was in almost full summer plumage. A Spectacled Warbler of the Cape Verdian endemic race was flitting in the bushes.

Day 3 produced the same balcony birds with all 3 larks and the Iago Sparrows in the flower beds. I noted a massive wasp which proved to be pretty common plus some jewel like beetles in the plants adjacent to the balcony. As I was watching these, a Brown-necked Raven fly past.

A walk on the beach provided a lifer in the form of 8 Brown Boobies. An incredible bird which is tricky to catch up with in the WP. These were seen in varying numbers everytime I went to the beach and bred on the nearby islet of Ilheu do Curral Velho.

To be continued...

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Premium Petrel

Some pretty poor record shots of a few of the 20+ Storm Petrels we have had this week. Fab birds and always bobbing round the outside of the feeding aggregations. I had a flock of 6 with a 7th fluttering about, all tripping on the sea whilst three intermediate morph Fulmars looked on. There were also a handful of Sooty Shearwaters seen plus 15 or so Manx Shearwaters with both Arctic and Great Skua hassling. Infact our 1st Sooty soon became an ex-sooty as a Bonxie drowned it. Very sad but cool to watch the skua doing its work.

Manx Shearwater, honest guv.
We also noticed very few auks aside from a plethora of Puffins. Gannets were in evidence with close birds giving good views.

Ugly Bonxie

Not a lot in the way of mammals with Porpoise and Seal about the extent.

Today on the way home I checked East Heslington and nearly drowned in the apocalytic rain that fell. Best birds were Stock Dove and 3 herons.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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