Monday 25 December 2017

Spotted sandpiper and other birds on Gran Canaria

On my way back to Nouakchott in mid-December I stopped off on Gran Canaria for a few days before returning to work.

Las Palmas on Gran Canaria is a popular place for weathly Mauritanians to visit and expats based in that country. It is well connected by air to Nouakchott and is less than two hours away.

I know I will be there again. So on this stopover, I stayed close to Las Palmas and enjoyed the food, drink and obtained a medical as well as doing some important shopping.

My birding was light and I went to just two local places. One was Doramas Park and the other was El Confital. The park is a large ornamental garden on a hillside while El Confital is the rocky coast just north of the city's western beaches. Both are within walking distance of my hotel (Hotel Dona Louisa).

El Confital gave me a notable success. I found a spotted sandpiper.

spotted sandpiper 1

This American rarity was a lifer for me.

spotted sandpiper 2

It is very similar to a common sandpiper in winter. Though it has brighter yellow legs, a shorter body and tail and, sometimes a few light spots remaining in the lower flank. This bird had these.

spotted sandpiper 3

It wasn't easy to pick it out but my observation benefitted from the fact that there were so relatively few birds down the coast that I gave each one special attention.

spotted sandpiper 4

I actually found two common sandpiper in very similar terrain in other places along my walks. 

common sandpiper 1

On inspecting the pictures afterwards, there appears to be at least one other difference between the species that I can use for future reference. The white eye ring is split quite comprehensively in the spotted sandpiper but barely notched in the common sandpiper.

common sandpiper 2

Elsewhere and on both days that I walked El Confital, there was a lone little egret.

little egret

Rocky coastal pools almost the world over are a magnet for ruddy turnstone. I was not surprised to see them here.

ruddy turnstone

Crabs are the favourite food of whimbrel. The coastline is covered in them. Nevertheless seeing 21 whimbrel one day and 25 the next day on the same rock was quite special. It is certainly the most I have ever seen in one place.

some of the whimbrel

On the inland scrub at El Confital, it is easy to find Berthelot's pipit.

Berthelot's pipit

This resident of the Canaries and of Madeira was another lifer. Also inland I found a common kestrel both days.

yellow-legged gull

There were very few other birds on the rocks. I found a lone whimbrel one day. On both days there were a pair of adult yellow-legged gull.

El Confitil comes to an end in the north at a restricted military zone. I could see several more yellow-legged gull resting there. I suspect this undisturbed area would be good birding.

There are no house sparrow on the Canaries. However, there are Spanish sparrow. I didn't see in the more urbanised areas. Nevertheless, in the trees on the edge of the city where it meets El Confital starts there was a small flock. They ventured onto the buildings there from time to time.

Spanish sparrow on building

I found them forming a mixed flock with Island canary at one place too.

male spanish sparrow in breeding plumage

The other place I visited was Doramas Park (Parque Doramas). The birds were quite different.

African collared dove

Tame African collared dove are among the most conspicuous.

common moorhen

Another tame bird was a solitary moorhen in one of the ornamental ponds.

male blackbird

The trees and bushes had a high density of blackbird.

canary islands chiffchaff

Canary islands chiffchaff are readily glimpsed but it took me a long time to see one well.

young canary

My first canary was probably a juvenile rather than a female. They look difficult to separate from juvenile serin. However the pink bill was a good marker.

Las Palmas from Paque Doramas

As I climbed up Paque Doramas, I found it easier to pick out island canary.

male island canary

I eventually got excellent views of a male. 

Canary island chiffchaff

I also had fine views of a Canary Island chiffchaff too. It has a darker and more olive back than a typical common chiffchaff and characteristic strong buff undersides.

The park was very noisy because of not only rose-ringed parakeet but also monk parakeet.

monk parakeet

This is the first time I have seen this introduced but now self-sustaining population anywhere.

grey wagtail

One of the pecularities of the Gran Canaria to me was a lack of white wagtail and yet I saw five grey wagtail in both the park and in El Confital. I am not complaining though.

After Gran Canaria I returned to work in Nouakchott. I managed some birding last weekend and finally added the first bird to my Mauritanian list for six weeks. I will blog about that next.

December 15th El Confital
Little Egret  
Common Sandpiper  
Spotted Sandpiper  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Common Kestrel (Canary Is.)  
Grey Wagtail  
Berthelot's Pipit  

December 14th El Confital
Little Egret  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Feral Pigeon  
Common Kestrel (Canary Is.)  
Grey Wagtail  
Berthelot's Pipit  
Spanish Sparrow  

December 14th Parque Doramas
Common Moorhen  
Feral Pigeon  
African Collared Dove  
Ring-necked Parakeet  
Monk Parakeet  
Common Chiffchaff  
Canary Islands Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Blackbird  
Grey Wagtail  
Island Canary  

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