30 Apr 2018

30 Apr 18 - A Day Trip To Cape Verde (Part 3)

This is the final part of the trilogy for the day trip to Praia & Santiago Island. We had seen the endemic Cape Verde Buzzard, Alexander's Swift & Cape Verde Sparrow, along with the endemic subspecies of Kestrel and Purple Heron. Additionally, we had enjoyed good views of the endemic Cape Verde Warbler & a few other Cape Verde subspecies around the reservoir. It was time to head off to look for Black-crowned Finchlark & Cream-coloured Courser. The first stop was for another Alexander's Kestrel. They really look more Merlin, rather than Kestrel, shape to my eyes.
Alexander's Kestrel
It was around an hour drive back towards the outskirts of Praia. But first, there was an unsuccessful stop to look for some Bar-tailed Desert Larks on a more open stony plain. Still there was time to admire this superb Baobab tree.
A Baobab tree: This should become the official logo of McDonalds
A couple of locals with the lady showing the impressive way African women can carry things on their heads: Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The population is a mixture of European, Moorish, Arab & African heritage & numbers around 550,000. Most of the islanders we saw appeared to have had an African heritage
A lot of the houses on the island look like the owners haven't got the money to finish them off like the ones on the right: However, the ones on the left stood out as more finished than normal
A local village
We finally reached the Cream-coloured Courser site near the airport. This was just an area of dry scrub with more open sandy ground. A drive around failed to find any Cream-coloured Coursers, but did produce a small group of Black-crowned Finchlarks.
Black-crowned Finchlark: Female. This is the nominate nigriceps subspecies which is another Cape Verde endemic subspecies. Other subspecies occur from Southern Morocco to Somalia, Southern Iraq & Iran to Pakistan & NW India
Black-crowned Finchlark: Female
Black-crowned Finchlark: Female
Black-crowned Finchlark: Female
Black-crowned Finchlark: Female
Black-crowned Finchlark: Male. The males are very distinctive
Black-crowned Finchlark: Male
Black-crowned Finchlark: Male
We were just on the point of giving up, when a couple of Cream-coloured Coursers were seen flying over the more bushy area on the other side of the road. They landed & we drop back to roughly where they had landed. They were never close, but it was good to see this final interesting Wader. We had seen all my target species on Santiago Island, except for the Cape Verde Barn Owl. This is another endemic subspecies of Barn Owl, which has been proposed by some authorities for promotion to a species. They are difficult to see during the daytime. Steve had been lucky to bump into one during daytime on the previous day. However, it was a significant drive to revisit that site & we didn't have the time. As we were due to sail before dark, then there was no chance of seeing one around Praia in the evening. Overall, it has been a successful day.
Cream-coloured Courser: A habitat shot with the Cream-coloured Courser being the slightly paler speck in the distance 
Cream-coloured Courser: It was difficult to get close as it was steadily moving, but then it had Little John & Mrs Little John chasing after it along, with several other photographers. I tried to get ahead, so I could sit down & wait for it, but one of the photographers walked to close to me & pushed it away again. I gave up at that point & left the others to it. The only thing using good fieldcraft was the Treble C
Cream-coloured Courser: This is the excul subspecies which is endemic to Cape Verde. Other subspecies occur in the Canary Islands, North Africa, Turkey, to NW India, the Arabian Peninsula & on Socotra Island
Finally, it was time to rejoin the Plancius. About an hour later, the new passengers started boarding. I met my new cabin mates: two Dutch Birding lads, Ray & Jeroen. They proved to be pleasant company. It was a novelty for me to be nearly always first up & out of the cabin in the mornings. About 80% of the passengers were Dutch. There were a number of keen Birders & one or two on board specifically for Cetaceans. However, there were less Birders overall than on the Odyssey. At the introductory briefings in the Observation lounge we were introduced to the new Expedition staff, the Expedition Leader Morten & his deputy Nozomi. Morten & Nozomi had been passengers on the Odyssey & were now changing roles. Morten has run at least one previous Atlantic Odyssey in the past, as well as, having been on many polar trips: so, he was well suited to the role. Nozomi is based in California & while enthusiastic, she was still learning the Birds & Cetaceans of the North Atlantic. This was a private Birding Pelagic charter of the Plancius by Dutch Wildlife Tour company Inezia & we were introduced to Pieter who was their representative on the ship. We were told there were a couple of Bird-spotters on board, who were keen & competent pelagic Birders. This was quite important as none of the new Expedition staff knew a great deal about the Seabirds were were likely to be bumping into. Several would have been more at home in the High Arctic, but we were not going further North than Holland. One was a star gazer & while a nice character, like another of his colleagues, was completely wrong as an Expedition guide for a dedicated Birding pelagic in my opinion. One of the factors was for most of the Expedition staff to speak Dutch. But I'm surprised there aren't other Dutch-speaking Expedition staff who are also Birders. Hans would have been perfect for the role, but he had left as he had been at sea for weeks & had other land-based commitments. Typically, when there was something good seen, either Birds or Cetaceans, we had to ask the Expedition staff to broadcast the news over the radios. Experienced staff shouldn't need to be asked & asking for a radio shout, distracted from trying to get other people nearby onto the current goodie. My initial feelings were that that had I been an inexperienced pelagic Birder, then I would have been concerned about the lack of experienced Birding staff on the Plancius. However, having just spent a month at sea approaching Cape Verde, my confidence levels & knowledge felt well-honed. I knew where I wanted to stand on the Plancius & rarely left the bridge wings for long. There was still the questions of identification of some of the trickier Cetaceans, but fortunately, Marijke was still on board & in my opinion, she knew more about Cetacean identification than the rest of the Expedition staff & passengers combined. For any really tricky Seabirds we still had Bob Flood on board if we could get photos. It was going to be an interesting trip, but already I had the feeling it wasn't going to be as well run as the Atlantic Odyssey. Talking to a few of the Wildwings punters who had stayed on, I wasn't the only person with this feeling. By the time we had completed the introductions & safety briefing, it was dusk. We were sailing for Razo & our only planned zodiac cruise the following morning.

30 Apr 18 - A Day Trip To Cape Verde (Part 2)

We had had a good start to the day trip to Praia & Santiago Island where we had seen the endemic species Cape Verde Buzzard, Alexander's Swift & Cape Verde Sparrow. Additionally, we had seen the endemic Bourne's Purple Heron & Alexander's Kestrel which are regarded as subspecies of Purple Heron & Kestrel respectively, but have been split in the past. However, we still needed to see the endemic Cape Verde Warbler. This is another Acrocephalus Warbler that seems to have found a niche on a small island group & evolved into a distinct species. The Pacific has quite a few Acrocephalus Warblers including Tahiti Reed Warbler, Pitcairn Reed Warbler & Henderson Island Reed Warbler.
Cape Verde Warbler: There were several in the Acacia scrub. Despite the Acacia looking to be a fairly open tree, they were remarkable good at skulking in it
Cape Verde Warbler: They sit still & spend a lot of time looking for insects. This species is restricted to Santiago Island, but used to occur on Sao Nicolau & Brava Islands
Cape Verde Warbler: It is surprisingly short-winged
Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher: This species is also known as Grey-headed Kingfisher & is found on Cape Verde, in most of Sub Saharan Africa & along the Red Sea coast of the Southern Arabian Peninsula
Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher: This is the acteon subspecies which only occurs on the Cape Verde islands & is a nice Western Palearctic Tick
Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher: This widespread species helped to make Cape Verde feel more African than the Canary Islands & Madeira which have a more European feel to their Birds
Spectacled Warbler: This is the orbitalis subspecies which occurs on Cape Verde, the Canary Islands & Madeira. The nominate conspicillata subspecies occurs in the Iberian Peninsula, Italy & North Africa
Spectacled Warbler: I only saw a couple during the day
Spectacled Warbler
Blackcap: This is the gularis subspecies of Blackcap which is restricted to Cape Verde & the Azores
Blackcap: It was good to get these photos as I only saw a couple of Blackcaps during the day
There was also an African Monarch by the dam. The last ones we had seen were on St Helena.
African Monarch
Back on the dam wall, a few more Black-winged Stilts had joined the Little Egret flock. Overall, there were ten Black-winged Stilts on the reservoir bottom, but most were further back.
Little Egrets & Black-winged Stilts
Black-winged Stilt: This is regarded as a monotypic species with just one subspecies throughout its range
It was time to head off to look for some Larks & Cream-coloured Courser. As we were driving away from the reservoir, we saw this group of Helmeted Guineafowls feeding quietly near the road. A quick stop allowed a few photos from the minibus. This widespread Sub-Saharan African species are regarded as a self-sustaining population on the Cape Verde, so it was Cat C addition to my Western Palearctic List.
Helmeted Guineafowl
Helmeted Guineafowl

30 Apr 18 - A Day Trip To Cape Verde (Part 1)

The Atlantic Odyssey was going to be over in a couple of hours after first light. As I got arrived on deck soon after first light, we could see Praia harbour was very close. We we too close in to have much chance of any of the good Seabirds. So, there was just the chance for some initial views of Praia harbour. To be honest, it wasn't an attractive looking place. Especially, after the really interesting islands we had visited earlier in the Odyssey.
Praia harbour
Praia harbour
Everybody seemed to have accepted the Birding was over: Christian, Tony, Glenn, Geoff, Mike & John (left to right)
Fishing in the harbour: It looks like the number of fishermen outnumber the number of fish
Praia harbour lighthouse: This lighthouse looks like it is past its best. Later we were to discover that seems to apply to Cape Verde as well
Once the Plancius was docked, the officials were quickly onboard to sort out the passport & customs approvals. There were a number of different options for the day. There was a free Plancius organised tour of the island & a Wildwings organised tour which we had been charged for. Both of which were due to end with passengers who were staying on getting back on the Plancius around 16:00. I had arranged to stay in the same cabin, but I was moving bunks. Getting on before the new passengers would allow me to ensure this happened. For those passengers who were leaving there was a longer trip which would include looking for the Cape Verde Barn Owl in the evening. We had been told we would have a local guide for the day & the Wildwings trip was the one to book on & so had already paid our money. The Wildwings punters were quickly off the Plancius so we were on the quayside ready for our minibus to arrive. Well we didn't need to have been so keen as we were waiting for at least 45 minutes in the sun. There had been no message passed to Steve Holloway, who was leading the West African Pelagic section for Wildwings, to say when we would be ready to go.
Spanish Sparrow: There was a party of Spanish Sparrows on the quayside, but they had disappeared by the time we had the OK to disembark. This is the nominate hispaniolensis subspecies which occurs in Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Southern Europe & North Africa
We were on the quayside: But there was no minibus
Mike & the Plancius
By the time Steve & the minibus showed up, it became apparent that although it was a Wildwings trip, we would get the dubious delights of Little John & Mrs Little John. These were two of the most selfish photographers on board. Little John thought it was fine to walk in front of others & remain there so long as he get his photos. After this bad behaviour for the first few days, we had ensured that he wasn't going to be allowed close enough to us to continue to behave badly. All the Wildwings punters were ready to go, but the Little Johns were conspicuous by their absence. Surprising, as they were always pushing into the front of any zodiac landings. They finally bothered to wander off the Plancius just before the minibus arriving. Next, we learnt from Steve that there was no local guide, as the guides had been taken by the Wildwings party who were on the longer day trip & the ship organised trips. We were left with Steve's limited knowledge from a trip the day before. Somehow, we also seemed to pick up a local chancer who wanted to act as a guide. He had no idea of guiding, except for a certificate from the Arthur Daley school of guiding. Not surprisingly, he didn't contribute anything, except additional confusion when we ran into the Cape Verde Buzzard. Given what we now knew perhaps we should have saved our money & booked on the free ship's tour. However, I never asked what they saw so didn't find out which was the best option for Birds seen. But it wasn't a good start to the day from my viewpoint.
Cape Verde Sparrow: It wasn't a totally wasted time standing on the quayside as a party of Cape Verde Sparrows were found grovelling in a weedy edge by the quayside. That was the first endemic on the list
The plan for the day was to travel to a nearby dried-up reservoir as Steve had seen Cape Verde Warblers & the distinctive Bourne's subspecies of Purple Heron there on the previous day. We were told to shout if we saw any Swifts or Birds of Prey, as they would be the endemic Alexander's Swifts, Cape Verde Buzzards or Alexander's Kestrels. The first shout was for an Alexander's Kestrel. This is one of two endemic subspecies of Kestrel, both of which have been suggested as potential future splits. Alexander's Kestrel occurs on Santiago Island & some of the other islands in the South East end of the archipelago. The other subspecies, known as Neglected Kestrel, occurs on the Northern islands. A few of the group saw one around Razo the following day, but unfortunately, I didn't hear about this sighting until it was dark & we were miles away from Razo.
Alexander's Kestrel: Male. This Alexander's Kestrel appeared smaller & darker than the British race of Kestrel & they are less sexually dimorphic. This has a streaked grey crown so it is looks like a male
Alexander's Kestrel: Male
Alexander's Kestrel: Female. Later in the afternoon we ran into this female Alexander's Kestrel
Alexander's Kestrel: Female. It's a distinctive subspecies, but still regarded as a subspecies of Kestrel
Alexander's Kestrel: Female
Santiago was a hot, arid & rugged island
There was little in the way of cultivated land
About halfway to the reservoir, we picked up a handful of Alexander's Swifts flying along the edge of the road. The minibus was quickly stopped & allowed us to get some views of this small, pale endemic Swift. This is named after Captain Boyd Alexander (1873 - 1910) who was an African explorer & ornithologist.
Alexander's Swift: They have quite a forked tail & the pale brown colouration is just about visible in this photo
Alexander's Swift: As well as the small size, they looked shorter winged & tailed compare to a scarce migrant Pallid Swift
Alexander's Swift: All too quickly we were being loaded back into the minibus to get to the reservoir before it got too hot. In hindsight, we should have spent a few more minutes here to try & get some better views & photos as we had time in hand & these were the only Alexander's Swifts that I saw
Alexander's Swift
 Brown-necked Raven: Brown-necked Ravens occur from Cape Verde across Northern Africa to Western Pakistan
Brown-necked Raven: This Brown-necked Raven at the same location was a bigger & slower target to try to photograph
The next shout was for a large & distant Bird of Prey that looked a potential candidate for a Cape Verde Buzzard. This proved to be another frustrating incident for the day. We were near the start of a descent into a valley. A quick decision to stop should have been made to stop quickly. There were a couple of pull-ins we could have used, but the hopeless fixer said there were better places down in the valley. So due to dithering, instead of a prompt stop, the decision was left to a non Birder who had no idea why we needed to stop. The result we were in a poor position to view the Cape Verde Buzzard. While we saw it, the opportunity for better & longer views had been lost. We could have been dropped & if necessary, walked down hill to a better parking position as there wasn't a lot of traffic on the road. Obviously, it was the only Cape Verde Buzzard we saw. It left a number of us frustrated as we knew it wasn't a common species on Santiago & we needed to take advantage of any opportunity to see on. As it had dropped out of view & didn't appear to want to reappear, the decision was made to push onto the reservoir.
The initial view of the reservoir
The reservoir: I guess it was a reservoir once, but it looked in bad shape. Apparently, there hadn't been any significant rain for a couple of years
The reservoir bottom
Cape Verde Sparrow: It was good to see another small party of Cape Verde Sparrows on the dam walls, although they didn't hang around for long once the first people started racing across the top of the reservoir
Cape Verde Sparrow: The males are stunning when seen well
Initially, the reservoir looked like it would be devoid of Birds given it was dried up. However, there were a flock of Little Egrets standing around, along with a Black-winged Stilt & a roosting Common Sandpiper.
Little Egrets with a lone Black-winged Stilt: It was a depressing sight given there couldn't be much food in the reservoir for them. Although I guess the Little Egrets could be using it as a roost site & feeding along the coast
What we couldn't see on the reservoir bottom were any of the distinctive Bourne's Purple Herons. These are currently treated as a subspecies of Purple Herons, but they have been split in the past. Then one was picked up flying over & landing on the far hillside. Not brilliant views, but at least we had seen one.
Bourne's Purple Heron: It is surprisingly well camouflaged against the hillside & dead vegetation
Bourne's Purple Heron: Fortunately, it wasn't long before another individual flew over
Bourne's Purple Heron
Bourne's Purple Heron: Bourne's Purple Heron is restricted to Santiago Island on Cape Verde. There are only a couple of dozen pairs breeding on Santiago & given the recent lack of rainfall on the islands, the long-term survival of this cracking subspecies is concerning
Bourne's Purple Heron: A bit later another individual flew over, although it wasn't particularly close
Bourne's Purple Heron: However, it circled & came around lower on the second occasion
Bourne's Purple Heron: The distinctive kinked neck of a Purple Heron
Bourne's Purple Heron
Bourne's Purple Heron
Bourne's Purple Heron: It is named after Dr William Bourne who sent an early skin to the Natural History Museum. It was only after additional specimens were collected that it was realised that it is a distinctive subspecies
Bourne's Purple Heron: It looks deeper-necked than a Purple Heron in this photo
Bourne's Purple Heron
It had been a good start to the day on Cape Verde, but there was still the endemic Cape Verde Warbler to see.