Goodness knows I tried today. I set off at 11am and got to Backsands Lane at Pilling where I counted up the waders on the flood, 260 Dunlin, 65 Redshank, 28 Curlew and 33 Oystercatchers, before the rain and clouds arrived. In Lane Ends car park I grabbed a butty hoping that in the meantime the rain might stop but it didn’t, it just got worse and I was back home by 1pm.
So in place of the planned Pilling post, here’s an account of a sunny day in recent Lanzarote, an island which is pretty difficult to bird, where in January not much vegetation grows through the dry volcanic soil, with small birds proving difficult to find. At least it stays sunny, with blue skies throughout and not a drop of rain in our two week stay.
Walks from the hotel through residential streets and out towards distant volcanoes produced plenty of Southern Grey Shrikes. The shrikes seem almost a garden bird in the Puerto Calero area, a habitat they share with the ubiquitous Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves, small numbers of Chiffchaffs, together with ones and twos of difficult to see but constantly “tacking” Blackcaps. One morning I found a flock of 50+ Lesser Short-toed Larks, but this seemed to be a one off, unlike my occasional sightings of Linnets, but these in threes and fours only. I thought it rather strange that our common Starling is rather uncommon in Lanzarote with my sightings confined to three or four groups of 10/12 birds in 2 weeks on the island.
Often the shrikes seemed to be in pairs with the males singing from prominent perches, often TV aerials, and in late January the birds could be at the start of their breeding season. The Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis keonigi I saw on Lanzarote is closely related to the European Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, the species separated in 1997. A couple of the most noticeable features of the southern species seemed to be the darker grey colouring and larger head, with a few individuals I saw having a very narrow, often indiscernible white line above the black face mask, or a hint of a coloured flush among the breast feathers. With the shortage of small birds I imagine the shrikes feed mostly on small insects, a probability confirmed by the ones I saw spending considerable time either on lookout posts or searching the dusty ground below.
A sign on a well-worn track hinted I might find Houbara Bustard, but searching across the barren ground in several areas on a number of days produced none, just Berthelots’s Pipits and Linnets. A local tourist guide told me that the bustard is virtually extinct on the island, confined to a few places I never reached.
Coastal walks north and south from Costa Calero harbour could be more productive, with lots of gulls patrolling the shore, Sandwich Terns, more shrikes and pipits, and a chance of a wader or a passing Kestrel, the latter the only bird of prey I saw on the island. The Kestrels on Lanzarote, Falco tinnunculus dacotiae are noticeably paler than our UK nominate race, although I think migrant Kestrels occur here too.
In the harbour one morning we chanced upon a Common Sandpiper which posed quite nicely for my camera. This was the morning we found other Lanzarote birds posing for a fashion photo-shoot, the assembled yachts providing a colourful backdrop.
There, I just knew those sunny scenes would cheer everyone up.