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.

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