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.

This is a very young population, as they only began to breed in the Canaries on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote around 15 years or so ago. Other ducks we came across were Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, and on the last day a solitary female Ring-Necked Duck Athya collaris. The last is actually an American species, but is a fairly common vagrant in the Canaries. There are a large number of vagrant ducks known from the Canaries, both transatlantic visitors and wanderers from Europe and Africa.

Barbary Partridge
The only galliform we saw on the islands was the Barbary Partridge, Alectoris barbara. The main range of these is North Africa, with a few across the other side of the Mediterranean on Gibraltar. Barbary Partridges are closely related to the Red-Legged Partridge, which is introduced as a sport species in many places around the world, including the UK. Red-Legs are also breeding on Gran Canaria, where Barbary Partridges are absent. The other gamebird to be found on the islands are two races of Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix. There are two populations, a migratory one on the eastern islands and a small resident population living at altitude in the western islands. Both of these are now classed as the nominate subspecies. A second species of quail known only from subfossil remains, C.gomerae, was found on several of the islands and probably died out as a result of predation by cats or rats after humans arrived.

Sacred Ibis at nest - Fuerteventura
We saw three species of heron on the trip. A single Cattle Egret by the side of the road on Fuerteventura gave good views, and both this and Little Egret Egretta garzetta are now breeding on Lanzarote at least. Grey Herons Ardea cinerea were seen most days around reservoirs, but apparently are only winter visitors to the islands. As with the ducks, numerous vagrant species of heron from Africa, Europe, and the Americas show up fairly often on the islands as vagrants. On Fuerteventura we also managed to see Eurasian Spoonbill on a couple of days. It is a bit debateable as to whether the Sacred Ibis we saw count – they are breeding on Fuerteventura but they are feral birds from a (now closed) zoo.

(Barbary Partridge from Wikipedia, rest my own photos)

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