Working for birds in Africa


Sun, 01/13/2013 - 23:29 -- abc_admin

Ponta do Barril, Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde

Image Credit: 
Rubén Barone Tosco

Cachaço mountain range, Sao Nicolau, Cape Verde

Image Credit: 
Rubén Barone Tosco

São Nicolau

At Campo da Preguiça and surroundings near the airport, there is a small population of Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis breeding in the terminal building, one of the very few present colonies on the island. Apart from this, there are other species including Common Quail Coturnix coturnix, Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata and Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis, and even some records of Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark Eremopterix nigriceps which probably breed there. Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis is common and there are records of several Palearctic passerines, viz. Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, White Wagtail Motacilla alba and Northern Weathear Oenanthe oenanthe.

Tarrafal is one of the best sites for birding in the whole island. Its situation on the coast and the existence of sandy beaches, rocky platforms and a port area implies that there are normally several waders like Sanderling Calidris alba, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres and Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, but only in small numbers. There are also records of “rarities” like Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus, and more or less regular observations of gulls and terns, e.g. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis, Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus and Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis. The terraces of the buildings close to the coast are good sites for seawatching, it being possible to see Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris (diomedea) edwardsii, Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus and Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, among others. These species come most probably from Raso islet, which is relatively close to Tarrafal and where they have breeding colonies. In the cliffs around the village it is possible to see Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus neglectus (the local subspecies of the most northern and western islands), Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis and Cape Verde Swift Apus alexandri, while in the coast Osprey Pandion haliaetus is frequent and there are records of Barn Owl Tyto alba detorta hunting at night in the village. There are also two species of egret regularly present at this locality, Cattle Egret and Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Finally, in the recent past it was possible to find Egyptian Vultures Neophron percnopterus in and around Tarrafal, but it seems that they have disappeared locally.

Ponta do Barril, situated west of Tarrafal, is one of the best sites for seawatching in this island and in the Cape Verdes in general, especially in the area of the lighthouse. From there it is possible to see in the appropriate seasons breeding pelagic seabirds like Cape Verde Shearwater and Fea’s Petrel Pterodroma feae, and some others less pelagic like Brown Booby and the migratory Great Skua Catharacta skua. Between the terrestrial birds are Cream-coloured Courser (probably breeding there), Bar-tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cinctura, Brown-necked Raven and Iago Sparrow. Around this site is easy to see Ospreys and Common Kestrels, and there are also records of some Palearctic migrants like Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla, Common Sand Martin Riparia riparia and Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis.

Another good site for seawatching is Ponta Trabuz, situated more to the north and before Ribeira da Prata. As some of the breeding grounds of Fea’s Petrel are close to this point, it is easy to find the species with a telescope in the appropriate season as well as Cape Verde Shearwater. Other breeding birds present are Brown Booby (not breeding at S. Nicolau but with an important colony on Raso), Little Egret, Osprey, Common Kestrel and Iago Sparrow. The scenery from there is particularly impressive.

The area of Cachaço – Monte Gordo – Fajã valley and surroundings is in part protected by the “Parque Natural de Monte Gordo”. This mountainous range is one of the best places to find Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris which is locally common, as well as other breeding birds like Common Kestrel, Common Quail, Cape Verde Swift, Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, Brown-necked Raven and Iago Sparrow. There are also records of Fea’s Petrel and Cape Verde Little Shearwater Puffinus (assimilis) boydi, as their breeding sites are nearby. Finally, from time to time migrantszuch as Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica and Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus are found. Cattle Egret are observed frequently.

The cliffs between Morro Brás and Juncalinho, in the north coast, are good for Osprey, Common Kestrel, Brown-necked Raven and Iago Sparrow. There are records also of some Paleartic migrant passerines including Willow Warbler.

Finally, in the areas of Ribeira da Prata and Ribeira Tucudo (western half of the island) there are small populations of Cape Verde Warbler Acrocephalus brevipennis which is an endangered and very local species on São Nicolau. This bird was overlooked for more than 25 years in the island before its rediscovery at the end of the 90s.



Saltpans of Pedra de Lume, Sal Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


There are a number of good sites for birdwatching on this island. The saltpans of Pedra de Lume ("salinas de Pedra de Lume") are one of the best sites for aquatic migrants, especially waders, and a breeding area for Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus and Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus. Alexander Kestrel Falco (tinnunculus) alexandri, Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura and Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis have all been seen here. The saltpans of Santa Maria ("salinas de Santa Maria"), in the south of the island is another good site for waders, and the surrounding beach together with the saltpans is one of the best sites for breeding Kentish Plovers. Ospreys Pandion haliaetus have been found here and the local sand dunes and plains are the best place for Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes on this island.


Saltpans of Santa Maria, Sal Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


The temporary lagoon in the mouth of Ribeira da Madama, close to Baia da Murdeira on the west coast of the island (very close to the paved road between Espargos and Santa Maria) is one of the best sites for aquatic migrants. Herons, waders, ducks and even spoonbills have been seen here. The best time to visit is at the beginning of the monsoon rains from August to November.


Cultivations at Terra Boa, Sal Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


Migrant passerines can be found in the Terra Boa cultivations in the north of the island. Swifts, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra, pipitsswallows and martins have all been seen here and there are records of Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor, Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura, Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis and even Cape Verde Peregrine Falco (peregrinus) madens. This last species is very rare on Sal and the rest of the Cape Verde Islands.

The west coast between Palmeira and Baia da Murdeira has flat coastal plains and some sandy beaches. Many migrant waders have been found here in the appropriate season e.g. September-October and Ospreys Pandion haliaetus and Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura can also be found. The Ilhéu de Rabo de Junco on the east coast is practically the only good site for breeding seabirds. Brown Booby Sula leucogaster, the very rare Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus and the rare Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris (diomedea) edwardsii, seen mainly in the late afternoon, have all been found here.

Santa Maria coast and village has hosted some rare migrant passerines e.g. Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides with only one record for the islands and it is easy to find Alexander Kestrel Falco (tinnunculus) alexandri and Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis. On the beach there are some migrant waders, herons, gulls, terns and a few breeding Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus.


Boavista island is one of the best in the archipelago for migrant birds, but it is also interesting for some rare and endangered breeding species.

The cliffs of Praia da Fátima – Ponta do Sol, close to the capital Sal Rei are important for a small colony of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus and for several raptors such as Osprey Pandion haliaetus (a frequent breeding site) and Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus alexandri. Some years ago there was at least one pair of Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus but it now seems to have disappeared.

On the outskirts of Sal Rei there is a small temporary lagoon, occupying the former area of saltpans, where there are many waders in some month but especially in autumn, the season when it has more water. Between the species seen are Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (a local breeding species), Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Sanderling Calidris alba and even vagrants such as White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis which was recorded in November 2010 for the first time for Boavista. Moreover, in the buildings and rock formations close to the lagoon two species of sparrows are common, Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis and Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis.


Ilhéu do Sal Rei, and in the background the village of Sal Rei, Boavista Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


Ilhéu de Sal Rei is a small islet not far from the coast which has old Osprey nests and it is possible to find several breeding passerines like Bar-tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cinctura and Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata. In addition, bones from old pellets of the local race of Barn Owl Tyto alba detorta,have been found reportedly and the place is visited by some migrant waders.

The coast of Boa Esperança in the extreme north of the island is a very good area for waders like Kentish Plover which breed there. In a partially sunken ship, called “Cabo de Santa María”, there are several Osprey nests and apparently, one of Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis. In the area of sand dunes around the beach it is possible to find Greater Hoopoe-Larks Alaemon alaudipes, a common bird on Boavista.


Rabil lagoon, Boavista Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


Rabil lagoon (or Ribeira de Água lagoon) is one of the best sites in the Cape Verde Islands for aquatic birds (herons, ducks, waders, terns, etc.). It is one of only two known breeding places for Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus in the archipelago (interior part of the “ribeira”), and holds several pairs of Kentish Plover. There are records of some “rare” migratory species such as Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis, Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla, Royal Tern Sterna maxima and Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola. On the other hand, this is a more or less regular site for Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Little Tern Sterna albifrons etc. Finally, it is normal to see important flocks of Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis and Little Egret Egretta garzetta, especially in the late afternoon.


Rocha Estância, Boavista Island, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


Rocha Estância o de Povoação Velha is a remarkable mountain surrounded by desert-like landscape, very close to the village of Povoação Velha. There was a breeding pair of Egyptian Vulture there some years ago (which it seems are no longer there) and an Osprey pair. Other species present are Common Kestrel, Barn Owl and Brown-necked Raven. In the plains around the mountain it is possible to find the three breeding lark species of the island, viz. Black-crowned Sparrow Lark Eremopterix nigriceps, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Bar-tailed Desert Lark.

On Ilhéu de Curral Velho, situated in the extreme south of the island, the highlight is undoubtedly Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens. This species is highly endangered here (only four birds in 2009) and this rock or Ilhéu represents its last breeding site in the Cape Verde Islands and the entire Western Palearctic. There are reasonable possibilities to see this species from the opposite coast, but it may be necessary to spend several hours there. The Ilhéu also holds an important colony of Brown Booby Sula leucogaster and several pairs of Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii. Additionally, there are old breeding records for Cape Verde Little Shearwater Puffinus (assimilis) boydi and Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro. There are recent observations of Red-billed Tropicbird which most probably breeds here as well. Rarities observed in the Ilhéu and in the nearby coast include Masked Booby Sula dactylatra and Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca.

At Curral Velho, close to the old fishermen's houses is a big, temporary lagoon which is very good for migrants, especially for herons and waders. In the bushes and trees around it several Palearctic migrants including different species of warblers have also been recorded. Spanish Sparrow and probably Iago Sparrow also breed here.

The plains and small valleys near Curral Velho, in the southern half of the island, are very good for desert-like birds such as Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor and the three lark species mentioned previously. There are also good populations of Spanish Sparrow and Iago Sparrow, some Common Kestrels and Brown-necked Ravens patrolling the plains for food, and even Common Quails Coturnix coturnix.

Ilhéu do Baluarte was a former breeding site for Magnificent Frigatebird but only Brown Booby breeds here now.

There is a very large, temporary lagoon at Ponta do Rife do Baluarte (Antigas Salinas) on the east side of the island. When this site has plenty of water there are many waders such as breeding Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Common Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres.

Ilhéu dos Pássaros is well known for the important colony of White-faced Storm-petrel Pelagodroma marina, one of the few colonies in the Cape Verde Islands, but there is also an interesting record of vagrant African Crake Cecropsis egregia. In the past it was a breeding place of Madeiran Storm-petrel but there are no recent records.


From north to south, there are several good places for birdwatching on Santiago.

On the marine cliffs north of Tarrafal there is a small breeding colony of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus as well as some pairs of Alexander’s Kestrel Falco (tinnunculus) alexandri and small numbers of the endemic Cape Verde Swift Apus alexandri and Rock Dove Columba livia which also occupy some of the interior mountains. On the rocky coast it is possible to find migrant herons and waders, such as Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. On the plains and small slopes there are other species like Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata, the endemic Iago Sparrow Passer iagoensis, Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild, Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris and even Common Quail Coturnix coturnix. At night it is possible to find the Cape Verde Barn Owl Tyto (alba) detorta in Tarrafal village and the surrounding open fields and small woodlands.

The coast between Tarrafal and Chão Bom is good for migrant herons, waders and other aquatic species, with records of some rare or vagrant birds like Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia and Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos. Sometimes it is possible to see Osprey Pandion haliaetus, and in the nearby plains there are several steppe birds like Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark Eremopterix nigriceps. Other breeding species present here are Spectacled Warbler, Iago Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis, Common Waxbill and Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala.

In the area of Serra da Malagueta - Ribeira Principal, Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla and Brown-necked Ravens Corvus ruficollis can be found and this is a very good site for Alexander’s Kestrel, Cape Verde Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Spectacled Warbler and Common Waxbill and there are records of Cape Verde Barn Owl even in the higher mountains.

On Boa Entrada, around the famous “poilão” (big Kapok Tree Ceiba pentandra), a former breeding place of the highly endangered Cape Verde Purple Heron Ardea (purpurea) bournei up to 1999, there is good habitat for the endemic Cape Verde Cane Warbler Acrocephalus brevipennis which is locally common. It’s also a good place to see or hear Blackcaps, Grey-headed Kingfishers, Spanish Sparrows, Alexander’s Kestrels, Common Waxbills and other typical birds of cultivations and woodlands, and it is sometimes possible to find Cape Verde Barn Owl at dusk.

The mountainous area of Rui Vaz - Serra do Pico da Antónia is one of the last strongholds of the Cape Verde Buzzard Buteo (buteo) bannermani, as it’s a very rare and endangered species confined actually to Santo Antão and this island. Other raptors present here are Alexander’s Kestrel and Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon Falco (peregrinus) madens as well as Cape Verde Barn Owl. This is also a breeding place for Brown-necked Raven and Cape Verde Swift.


Botanical Garden at São Jorge dos Orgãos, Santiago, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco

In the cultivations and gardens of São Jorge dos Orgãos there are good populations of some breeding passerines including Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Cape Verde Cane Warbler, Spanish Sparrow and Common Waxbill. A place of special interest is the “Jardim Botânico Nacional Grandvaux Barbosa” (National Botanical Garden Grandvaux Barbosa) which has some drinking places for several passerines. Other relatively common birds in this area are Cape Verde Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Iago Sparrow.

Liberão, a locality situated on Ribeira Montanha valley, is actually the only breeding place of the Cape Verde Purple Heron. The number of pairs is so low than this (sub) species is highly endangered, being the object of a special conservation programme developed by Wetlands International and the Cape Verde government. Despite the continued presence of local people in the surroundings, ornithologists and birdwatchers must remain some distance from the colony in order to avoid disturbance during the breeding period. Other breeding species include Alexander’s Kestrel, Common Quail, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Verde Swift, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Cape Verde Cane Warbler, Brown-necked Raven, Iago Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow and Common Waxbill, many of them locally common.


Barragem de Poilão, Santiago, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


The recent construction of a dam in the São Lourenço dos Orgãos area, called “Barragem de Poilão”, has resulted in Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus breeding there (the last breeding places of this species in the Cape Verdes were on Pedra Badejo lagoons, Santiago, and on Rabil lagoon, Boavista, up to the 1960s) and the observation of several ducks, herons and relatives and waders, some of them very “rare” in this archipelago, e.g. Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes. On the other hand, Cape Verde Purple Herons visit this site from their single colony.


One of the lagoons of Pedra Badejo during the rainy season, Santiago, Cape Verde, Photo: Rubén Barone Tosco


Not far from here are Pedra Badejo lagoons which in the appropriate season, especially in the rainy months, hold good numbers of migrant waders, herons and other aquatic birds. At the same time this is one of the few breeding places for Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus on Santiago Island, and it is possible to find Cape Verde Cane Warblers in the cultivations and groups of trees. In the last few years, the poor quantity of water in the lagoons has resulted in a reduction of avian interest but in wetter years, it can be an important spot for migrants.

Praia city and its surroundings constitute a good birding area. On the marine cliffs situated to the north, there is a small colony of Red-billed Tropicbird. Other interesting species found here are Alexander’s Kestrel, Cape Verde Peregrine Falcon (very rare and difficult to see), Cape Verde Swift and Iago Sparrow. In the plains situated between the cliffs and the airport there are good populations of Common Quail, Bar-tailed Desert Lark Ammomanes cinctura and Black-crowned Sparrow Lark as well as some Cream-coloured Coursers and Brown-necked Ravens prospecting for food. In the vegetated areas of the city, even in the main squares and parks, is possible to find Grey-headed Kingfishers, Blackcaps, Common Waxbills, Iago Sparrows and Spanish Sparrows. The low coast holds some migrant herons and waders, including sometimes “rare” species like Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis, but more commonly Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Common Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks Tringa nebularia, Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus, Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres, gulls Larus spp. and terns Sterna spp. In the port area and close to the cliffs Brown Booby Sula leucogaster sometimes pass although they do not breed here but in distant places like Baia do Inferno situated in the southwest part of the island. Finally, there are several observations of Cape Verde Barn Owl in the western half of the city.


An April 2009 trip report included sightings of Raso Lark Alauda razae with decent views from the boat of several birds along the low cliff-tops of Raso (it is now difficult to obtain permission to land on the island).

The following comment was received subsequently from the Principal Conservation Scientist of the International Research Team. " I would really like to encourage other visitors to Cape Verde to follow your excellent example in viewing Raso Lark from the boat, rather than breaking Cape Verde law and landing without permission. Raso is coming under increasing pressure through illegal landings and RSPB is helping the Cape Verde authorities and NGOs to develop an action plan for this extremely sensitive island. I hope others follow your responsible behaviour."

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