Saturday, 12 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 8: Houbara Bustard and Waders

Female Houbara Bustard, Fuerteventura
One of the key target species of any birding trip to the eastern Canary islands is the local race of Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventurae. With a total estimated population of around 500 individuals, possibly less, it is also one of the most endangered bird taxa on the islands, and indeed the world. In truth, the division between the island birds and those on the mainland, nominate undulata, is slight – mainland birds are slightly larger and paler. More significant is the split between the birds in North Africa and those in western Asia – these have now been split as McQueens Bustard on the basis of different courtship  displays. As February is the start of the breeding season, seeing the amazing courtship display of the male was a key goal, and we were fortunate enough to see several displaying males on our trip.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 7: Seabirds

Cory's Shearwater
Oceanic islands are often famous for their seabird colonies, at least until introduced predators wipe them out, and before the arrival of humans the Canaries were surely no exception. Today almost all of the remaining breeding birds nest on offshore islands or inaccessible cliffs, but in the past they would certainly bred extensively on the mainland, especially as the islands had basically nothing that would prey on seabird chicks, not even the land crabs that are widespread in the tropics.  The only real limit would have been availability of food within reach of the nesting colonies.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 6: Waterbirds and Gamebirds

Ruddy Shelduck - Fuerteventura
With the lack of natural bodies of water on the islands, almost all the waterfowl we saw on the islands were associated with man-made reservoirs. The most numerous duck was Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea. Unlike the Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, which is widespread around the coasts of the UK, Ruddy Shelducks are mainly continental birds, with the bulk of the population ranging from the eastern Mediterranean across to south east Asia, which makes the Canary population the westernmost in the range.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 5: Mammals

Barbary Ground Squirrel (Fuerteventura)
Volcanic islands far from the mainland often have no native terrestrial mammals aside from bats, but the Canaries prior to the arrival of humans had several native terrestrial mammals, and were also almost certainly a breeding site for the Mediterranean Monk Seal, a few of which still breed on the North African coast.  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 4: Reptiles and Amphibians

Tenerife Lizard
Reptiles of various species are usually good at colonising islands, and the Canaries are home to a diverse range of endemic lizards. There are no native snakes, and at present no native land tortoises, although fossil; ones are known. It is probable that in the past various species of sea turtles also nested, but today they are only seen at sea. The most common of these is the Loggerhead Turtle, Caretta caretta, which also breeds in the Mediterranean. There are even a few reports of Leatherback Turtles beaching on some of the eastern islands, but no proof of nesting or nesting attempts.