Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sal, Cape Verde, Jan 2012

Cape Verde is not usually considered as one of the brightest stars in the bird watching firmament, but this archipelago of 9 inhabited islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of West Africa has a unique place as the most south-westerly landmass to be included in the Western Palearctic region and is thereby able to claim a number of breeding birds that would normally be considered as part of the Afrotropical region’s avifauna.

I made a quick 48 hour visit to the Island of Sal and only had the opportunity for a couple of brief outings, but without walking too far from the tourist town of Santa Maria in the south of the island, I managed to find a selection of birds that included three lifers.

The islands also boast a number of endemics and sub-specials, but a thorough and wide ranging tour of the chain would be needed to find them all. One endemic that is easy to find is the Cape Verdean (or Iago) Sparrow. It can be found on all the islands and is commonly seen in towns. Compare it to a House Sparrow and you will see that the Cape Verdean Sparrow is smaller and more slender. The male’s crown is black to the House Sparrow’s grey; he has a much reduced black bib on his breast and shows a rufous rump.


This one is a bit curious. The Islands use the marketing motto,“No Stress”, yet this individual has turned prematurely white.

Stroll from the town towards the south-west and pick up the road heading north between Hotel Rui and Villa Verde. Desert and short scrub on either side of the road make this a good place to find Greater Hoopoe-Lark

I had missed this bird on my previous visit and was following directions from a trip report found on the internet. It was exactly in the spot described by John Lee, just beyond the pile of rubble on the left hand side, travelling north (Google Earth ref; 16 36 05N 22 55 21W).

The Google satellite photos of Sal are very old and need up-dating. There has been a lot of tourist development at either end of the road as well as the road that reaches there from town.

Bar-tailed Larks also like this habitat and were seen on a few occasions. They were loathe to fly and show off their tail which would have been the clincher. Despite their reluctance to display their most characteristic feature, the identification was straightforward due to the lack of choice.

A flock of Black-headed Sparrow-larks waited for me on the way back to town. The males reminded me of the Ashy-crowned Sparrow-lark and I had to wait until I got home to confirm that the red crayon was required.

There are a few tracks that cut through the dunes to the shore and the popular beach at Ponta Preta. Here you can find the Cape Verde Kite (-surfer). A few waders were seen along the shore line and a Whimbrel posed well as the sun began its fall towards the ocean.

Birds seen;
Whimbrel 2, Common Kestrel 1, Sanderling 6, Ruddy Turnstone 4, Greater Hoopoe Lark 3, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark 9, Bar-tailed Lark 6,