To Cape Verde!!!
After four days birding in Portugal (where we had seen for example Great Bustard, Little Bustards, Azure-winged Magpies, Calandra Larks, Black-shouldered Kites… and totally 118 bird species) we had a flight to Cap Verde which left at Lisbon 9.45 p.m. The flight left one hour late, because capeverdians had far too much baggage. Most of the passengers were locals, who had left to other countries to work, and they were now going home for Christmas. So they had a lot of presents like micro-ovens and televisions with them. Check-in took much longer than normally. Only good thing was that now we hadn’t any problems with our big baggage.
We landed to Sal international airport at 7.30 (local time). We found our baggage after long waiting. Then we went to bank to change escudos (1€ = 110 CVE =$= Cap Verde escudo). After that we tried to make us as comfortable as possible and sleep because we had thought to spent a night at the airport.
It was almost impossible to sleep at all. Locals were very noisy and there were many flights at night. Hanna managed to sleep some hours but Janne didn’t even try.
Pedra de Lume saltpans
At six o’clock we were full of sitting at the airport and we took a taxi to Pedra de Lume saltpans.
Perda de Lume is a small village at the eastern part of Sal Island. Saltpans are North-West from the village inside a volcano. Crater is about one kilometre big and its walls are only 50 meters high at highest. So the place is pretty difficult to recognize from the village. On the bottom of the crater there is plenty of saltpans. Ones with less salt attract a lot of waders especially at winter and migration. Cap Verdes only breeding pairs of Black-winged Stilts are also there. Saltpans are also one of the only tourist resorts n Sal, so be there before other tourists, when the sun rises.
We reached the saltpans through the hole in the crater wall just when the sun was rising. Right a way we saw a lot of waders, but it was still too dark to recognize the species. So we walked closer and waited some minutes, that the sun rose behind the walls. Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling were the most common birds. Kentish Plovers, Turnstones were about ten. Black-winged Stilts little less. Soon we found a weird looking wader which was anyway easy to recognize as a Lesser Yellowlegs. It really had very yellow legs.
After some photographing we continued with counting waders. Finally we noticed that, even we had seen some Redshanks and Greenshanks, was Lesser Yellowlegs the most common “Tringa” on the saltpans. We found four birds. We had some problems to recognize one voice which was like a cow’s voice. First it was impossible to find out where the voice was coming from, but after all we found out that there was a Feral (Rock) Dove calling very strangely inside one old wooden building.
Other birds at the saltpans were Ringed Plovers, Grey Plovers, Cattle Egret and a pair of Alexandrine Kestrels which were flying very close to us many times.
At 9 a.m. we began to walk to the village, because we had told the taxi driver to come get us back to the airport at 10 a.m. From the village we found the first endemics, Iago Sparrows. These nice Sparrows were sitting over one roof. Soon we found out that there was a family of them. While waiting the taxi we heard a strange voice behind us and we saw three Cream-coloured Coursers flying. And of course they landed pretty close to us so we could get some pictures of them too.
These beautiful birds were surprisingly easy to photograph when they were mostly standing on the arid rocky desert.
Our taxi came on time and we were at the airport soon. Our flight to Boavista was more than half an hour late. Even there was problems with electricity etc., it was only the officers which made everything too slowly.
Our TACV plane landed to Boavista 1 p.m. The airport was very tiny! The baggages were given from a hole on the wall! Residential Bon Sossego had transportation to hotel. Already at the airport and on the way to the city of Sal-Rei, we noticed that Iago Sparrows were now everywhere.
Bon Sossego hotel lays at the city of Sal-Rei which is the biggest city in Boavista. Hotel is really comfortable! The owner is a former sailor and he has visited also Finland several times. He speaks English very well and he is really kind and helpful. It was really easy to organize our trips with him.
At midday we walked more than five kilometres trying to find a Rabil lagoon, but it was now dry. Anyway many birds was found: 20 Brown-necked Ravens, 10 Red-billed Tropicbirds and Spectacled Warblers, 6 Alexandine’s Kestlers, some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Spanish Sparrows, a couple of Whimbrels, Ospreys and Little Egrets and a gorgeous Brown Booby. Of course plenty of common waders which we had seen already at Sal was seen too.
After short daydreams we had a nice lunch with a Catalan couple which we had met in hotel (surprise the mans name was Oriol!). We also planned to rent a 4 wheel drive car to reach some places next day. The car was Bon Sossegos, so it was easy to organize.
Searching for Frigatebirds
After early meal (organized with owner), before 8 a.m. we begun our jouney with Catalans and our driver Alvis. First we drove towards the Praia de Curral Velha sandbeaches and a small Ilheu de Curral Velha island, which had had a breeding pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds at past.
First good birds that we found were after the village of Rabil, a Green Sandpiper was standing on the river. Soon after Rabil landscape dried a lot and it was a perfect Lark-biotope with a lot of rocky sand, half desert. And there was Larks! We stopped some times to watch and photograph Bar-tailed and Black-Crowned Sparrow-Larks with some Hoopoe Larks. Soon we found also several small flocks of Cream-coloured Coursers.
After an hour driving we reached a huge sand-dyne. We thought we have to walk over the dyne to the beach, but Alvin changed the 4 wheel drive on and drove up to the dyne. It was only a short walk to the beautiful beach. These beaches was what Catalans wanted to see, but we begun to walk closer to the island of Curral Velha.
We watched more than an hour to the island and to the sea but we couldn’t find any Frigatebirds. There was a big colony of Brown Boobies on the island but after all we were little disappointed when we walked back to the car and continued towards the Ilheu de Baluartes, which had had two breeding pairs and two other males at spring.
Again we drove a long way around the mountains. The roads were really small and in bad condition (soft sand or hard rocks), the skills of our driver were really tested. But Alvin was a really good driver and we reached the beach from where we could see the island. On the way and on the beach we saw again some birds: a couple of Egyptian Vultures, Grey Heron, a hundred of Cattle Egrets and some other birds we had already seen but again we couldn’t find a Frigatebird even we watched a couple of hours from Ponta de Porto Ferreira.
To Ilheu de Passaros
At afternoon we had already muscles tired because of a jumping car, but anyway we wanted to try to stay in our plan to get to Ilheu dos Passaros. Passaros is a tiny island and we wanted to spend next night there. Catalans were also interested to see some more new views (and possible to see what the hell we were going to do), so we continued our way again.
Our problem was that it was a Sunday. We had to find fishermen who could take us to the island and also pick us up again at next morning. Alvin was helping and guiding and Catalans were translating, so we managed to find a way to small harbour where were some fishermen who could take us to the island.
Alvin bargained the price from 5000$ to 4000 (which was still too much for him, but we really had to pay that) and soon we (of course just Janne and Hanna) were sitting in a small wooden boat and on our way to Ilheu dos Passaros! The island is only one kilometre from the coast and locals called it Ilheu de Netherlander or Netherlanders island. Locals also were calling Ilheu de Baluarte as Ilheu dos Passaros – So be careful where they are going to take you! Maps have these names what we and all other trip reports are using.
It was windy and it was really difficult to reach the island. And we realized it’s always impossible to go to the rocky beach by boat, so soon we jumped to the sea even it was still one meter deep! It wasn’t easy at all to walk to the island. It was good we had prepared to this and we had wore sandals and all our optics and everything were packed waterproof.
It was pretty weird to look our boat driving back to the coast and we were standing on a 200 square meter small island. And we were just waiting the sunset to come. While waiting we walked around the island and collected some shells. We also had a last look to Ilheu de Baluarte which was lying far away but visible. (Also one of the fishermen had seen Frigatebird there almost every day.) When it begun to get dark, we settled in to that part of the island, where there was small holes in the sand. In these holes there are breeding White-faced Storm Petrels, which we were come to wait, and they are coming only at night!
Night with Petrels
The darkness came but anything happened. Janne begun to frustrate a bit if this won’t work either. But after a long wait we first heard some Turnstone -like calls which we weren’t able to identify (but many years later we have learned that they must have been Cape Verde Storm Petrels!). Then after some more waiting we once again put our flashlights on and suddenly we saw a small petrel flying fast around us. We put the light off again and waited. But again it was just quiet. When we again used the light one petrel was flying straight towards the light. We knew to turn the light off before the bird hit us. After that we just lied on the ground (over our sleeping bags) and saw some more White-faced Storm Petrels coming to search for their holes. They were flying around the pale sand area and sometimes they flight really close to us. When we lied totally still in our sleeping bags one of the birds almost landed to our faces! It was really amazing birding experience to see these small petrels, which are far a way at sea at daytime, flying above us.
A couple of these White-faced Storm Petrels were still circling over us when one of the birds started to call koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo, koo-koo, from its hole only 15 metres from us. (The voice was something between Oriental Cuckoo and Hoopoe.)
At last we fell asleep while the last of these (maybe 5 birds – it wasn’t breeding time yet) birds was still flying above us. The waves were hitting to the rocks and the voice was like a far thunder.
We woke up very salty 5 a.m. to see if the birds were leaving to the sea again. 5.15 we saw one very shortly and that was is. The Petrels were again on their way to the sea where maybe no-one ever sees them.
Fishermen came even too early! We had to be quick to pack everything waterproof again. Our trousers were still wet from last sea walking when we had to do it again.
On the “harbour” we had time to do some seawatching because Alvin was coming to pick us up 9 a.m. Hanna was watching very keen to the Ilheu de Baluarte, and this time we got a price – Magnificent Frigatebird came somewhere from South and landed to the island. When it was flying Brown Boobies seemed to be really small. And only five minutes later we saw Alvin coming.
Way back to Sal-Rei was pretty fast. Rocky road had 80 km/h speed limit and Alvin was driving that speed. We think it can’t be possible to drive any faster than that! After all renting the car with driver cost 9000$ (2000$ was this way back). We think this is for sure the best way to reach all the best beaches. It’s possible to rent a car too, but roads are really bad, they all aren’t in maps and in some places there is no road at all, but you can drive there anyway. So I think you can forget this opportunity and use a local driver.
At midday we had a few hours walk North-West from the city. There is a mountain edge with a Red-billed Tropicbird colony. We didn’t walk to the colony but we could see these amazing birds better than before. We also saw three times a male Magnificent Frigatebird flying high in sky and following the coastline. This bird had some kind of rope hanging on its leg. This bird had been seen also in spring.
Other birds on the walk were Iago Sparrows, Brown-necked Ravens, Kentish Plovers, Turnstones, Sanderlings, a pair of Egyptian Vultures and one Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Desert Lark and Spectacled Warbler.
At the evening we checked our next flights, paid our bills to Bon Sossego (7500$/3 nights) and had a lunch in the same Italian restaurant. (Normal lunch was usually about 600-900$.)
Too much Sal
On the 23th of December we had early breakfast and took a taxi which Bon Sossego offered to the airport. While waiting for our flight to Sal we saw a Grey Heron. Iago Sparrows were breeding at the airport building.
This flight to Sal was 10 hours earlier than in our ordinary schedule, so we had plenty of time to spend in Sal before our next flight to Sao Vicente at the evening.
So we left our biggest baggage to baggage room (100$/bag) and took a taxi (700$) South to Santa Maria saltpans.
We jumped out little before Santa Maria city and walked to the football stadium which direction we knew the saltpans are. It was awfully hot.
We had an awful couple of hours in this dirty and dusty place. Of course there was some birds but in Cap Verde (and even in Sal) it’s possible to see some waders, Cream-colored Coursers and Bar-tailed Desert Larks in more comfortable places. In one ditch we saw five dead big sea turtles. They had maybe stuck there when they had come to lay eggs far from the sea?
We continued to Santa-Maria city, which wasn’t much better place. There weren’t many tourists but too many of them were Finnish. Sun was shining much too hot and it was 27 degrees. So we found out that the city’s most comfortable place was an internet bar which had air condition. It was nice to send some messages to relatives and birder friends to snowy Finland.
3 p.m. we were already totally bored to Sal. So we took a taxi back to the airport. While waiting some hours for our flight we were thinking what an Earth were those tourist doing in this flat and sandy island. I think nothing, if they weren’t surfers.
To Sao Vicente
Our flight to Sao Vicente was again more than an hour late. There was in five minutes a flight to Boston, two to Praia (a capital of Cap Verde) and our flight, so it wasn’t a surprise the flight was late. Of course even our check-in was ready first, we left last.
9 p.m. we landed to Sao Vicente airport. First we couldn’t find our baggage anywhere, but Hanna found them lying from one corner without any kind of guarding. They had come by earlier plane. We just took the bags and walked out. It wasn’t a surprise that Janne’s shaver was stolen. (In airports nothing is in English, you have to just keep asking and following the locals.)
We couldn’t first get the taxi. Finally we found one driver who wanted to drive us to Mindelo (1000$). (Mindelo is the second biggest city in Cap Verde, and even Santiago’s Praia is the capital and much bigger, Mindelo is the place where you should go if you want some action.)
We asked our driver to drive to Recidential Sodade, where many birders had stayed before. Sodade’s cheaper rooms (3150$) were full, but the owner, older lady, promised us a better one (4560$) in cheaper price. She was a wise woman – it’s better to have someone staying than keep a room empty. The hotel was really good and comfortable. Lady and his older sons spoke good English too.
Upstairs there was a restaurant which was full of French tourists. There was live capeverdean music and really good atmosphere! We took just something cold to drink and went to sleep to our big apartment.
Day before Christmas
We woke up 6.20 a.m. packed everything and went down to ask about ferry to Santa Antao. Surprisingly we found out that it was wisest to go straight to harbour to buy tickets to eight o’clock ferry. Receptions boys thought there were so many people going to spend Christmas to island that they thought we had to be quick. So we walked 15 minutes hard walk down to the harbour.
On the way we saw some rarities – House Sparrows. When we reached the harbour, we were totally sweat. We got the tickets easily and we bought also back way tickets to 26th day’s 10 a.m. ferry.
At Armas-boat we had to leave our big bags downstairs. Then we climbed up to the deck to find good places to do seawatching. Surprisingly the ferry left in time! There was plenty of Finnish tourists which had came to Sao Vicente by Kristina’s Cruises ship. We met even one birder. On the way to Santa Antao we saw only one Manx Shearwater and one another similar kind of Shearwater which was too far to identify. Flying fishes were also funny, but we had waited little more because many birders had seen good species from the ferry before.
At Porto Novo harbour we took an aluguer to Ribeira Grande city which is at the Northern end of the island. When our Hiache-aluguers driver thought that the car was full enough, we left. Cars roof was full of Christmas presents and other baggage.
The way through Santa Antao was really spectacular! The road goes through high mountains and the edges are REALLY steep! It was nice to see also some forests after Sal and Boavista. The way from Porto Novo to Ribeia Grande took an hour and 20 minutes (600$, notice this was an aluquer, not a taxi). Views were really something amazing! There was also many birds on the way: 15 Alexandrine’s Swifts, hundreds of Iago Sparrows, many Brown-necked Ravens. We also saw shortly one Neglected Kestrel and Cap Verde Buzzard.
We stayed at Residential Alincia (2000$/night/2 persons, owner speaks English). Soon we took a taxi to Ponto del Sol.
At Ponto del Sol we walked to old airports beach. We had to crawl under the wall to reach the beach. We watched to the sea for four hours. Weather was really nice, no wind and sun was shining, but not too hot. There were a lot of birds: more than a hundred Shearwaters flying on the sea, but they never came closer. It was really difficult to identify the species, at least with our experience. We could recognize that some were Manx’s Shearwaters but most of them weren’t. They were some kind of Mediterranean Shearwaters, but were they Balearic Shearwaters or what? We also saw a couple of Yellow-billed Shearwaters, but we couldn’t say if there was any Cap Verde Shearwaters amongst them. It was good there was still some easy birds: Fea’s Petrels were pretty easy to identify. We saw about five of these.
On the beach there was a plenty of Turnstones, some Whimbrels, Ringed Plovers and Little Egrets. On the sea we saw also one Brown Booby and young atlanticus-Lesser Black-backed Gull. Behind us, over the mountains, we saw a couple of Egyptian Vultures. On the rocky beaches small water pools there were many kind of funny small fishes, and we found one ugly-green sea snail. On the rocks there were many crabs waving their scissors.
It was already dusk when we took an aluguer (100$) back to Ribeira Grande. After a long day we still walked a little in the city and had lunch downstairs. Pretty soon we were ready to spend the Christmas night sleeping. We let the locals celebrate without us.
Christmas day in beautiful views
We had a promising beginning for the Christmas day: we saw 12 Alexandrine’s Swifts from our balcony. 8 a.m. we took an aluguer towards Porto Novo. After 15 minutes it was full and on a way.
We jumped out when we reached the highest places up on the mountains at Aquadas Calderas.
Janne had telescope on his shoulder, and we walked more than eight hours, about 20 kilometres, downhill. The road was made from stones so it wasn’t very easy walk. Good we had good shoes. Views were of course now even more beautiful and scary than from aluguer. It was really good that we were walking on the road on a Christmas day, because there wasn’t a lot of traffic.
Up on the mountains is a planted pine forest with eucalyptus, cypresses and many other trees. It’s of course also colder there. Most common bird in the forest area is a Blackcap which is singing everywhere. Next, down from the forests, it begins to be farmlands. There are the most bird species. Neglectus Kestrels were more than 30 also Brown-necked Ravens and Alexandrine’s Swift were common like Spectacled Warbler too. We found also six Egyptian Vultures and a couple of Cap Verde Buzzards. At lower altitudes it begins to be drier and there is less plants. Only common bird species there is Iago Sparrow, which is common everywhere in this island. Down in Ribeira Grande and Ribeira Torre there is again some green with banana and coco plantations.
At the evening we ate again downstairs and wondered the locals Christmas partying. Everyone was outside and Christmas songs were playing from players whole night and too loud.
Rarities at Mindelo sewage ponds
26th day we woke up before 7 a.m. packed everything and went out to find an aluguer (try to find an aluguer which is as full as possible, it leaves sooner, and driver can’t cheat you). We wound one soon and left to Porto Nono.
The ferry was again in schedule and 11 a.m. we landed to Mindelo harbour. We walked again with all our baggage to Recidental Sodade, where we had took a cheaper room already.
After a short break we took a taxi to Mindelo sewage ponds. We walked last one and half kilometre from the cross to the gate. We asked from the workers if we can come to watch birds and it was OK. Of course they couldn’t speak English but they were just smiling, so we thought it’s OK.
All workers we saw showed us not to photograph in the area, so we kept our cameras in the bottom of our bags. The first pool had a good number of waders. Greenshanks, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Turnstones, Sanderling, Common Sandpipers and again a Lesser Yellowlegs. Soon Janne noticed that in next pool there was on long-necked and billed Egret with Cattle Egrets – Yellow-billed Egret! This bird has been at the pools for several years. Soon the Egrets got afraid of one worker and flight outside the fence to trees. A little bit later Hanna found an interesting looking Sandpiper, and it was a Spotted Sandpiper! It was great to compare this rarity in straight comparison to Common Sandpiper. They were close so they filled the whole telescope picture, you can guess it was difficult to keep camera in the bag. But workers were watching for us all the time and they had started to be not so nice anymore. They were shouting something for us all the time.
While we were counting the waders we found on interesting looking bird flying over us. It landed soon, and it was really difficult one: It was a Pratincola which really was difficult in this kind of winter suit. Again the cameras were burning in our bags, but soon the bird flight a little and we could see its red underwings, it was a Collared Pratincola.
While we were watching Alexandrine’s Swifts drinking from the pools when flying we found again one local rarity: a Pied Wagtail landed close to one pool. We also saw two young Lesser Black-backed Gulls and two Black-headed Gulls before we continued to the last pools.
Next pool had again that Yellow-billed Egret standing between Cattle Egrets. Now the workers were that far away from us that Janne had to take some pictures from at least this one of the rarities of this place. Soon we found another Spotted Sandpiper, but again there was workers asking money or shouting for us to come to do some shitty works with them.
When we thought we had seen everything we left the sewage ponds and begun to walk back to Mindelo city. We found a better way. There was a new rocky road through former golf resort straight towards to the city. (This may be the best way to the ponds in future?) We walked about three kilometres to our hotel. Weather was really hot! So we were really tired when we reached our hotel. We had been walking little too much in last days.
After two hours naps we had a little walk in Mindelo. At the evening we ate at upstairs and paid our accommodation and went to sleep.
To the capital, Praia
We slept badly. Insects were very noisy. We woke up after 6 a.m. and 7 o’clock we were in a taxi going to airport (1000$). We waited more than an hour with many other passengers before the crew even came at work. Soon we heard that the flight time had changed two hours later. So we waited again another two hours and it wasn’t a surprise that our plane hadn’t even came when it was supposed to leave in new schedule. Finally our plane left at 11.20 and we were flying to our most Southern island, Boavista and to a capital of Cap Verde, Praia.
Cap Verde islands are in two groups: Barlavento (Norhern islands) and Sotavento (Southern islands). Santiago was only of these Southern islands that we visited. Birds are pretty different in these Southern islands than in Northern ones. Also most of the endemics can be found in Santiago.
We landed to Praia airport 12 o`clock. We found our luggage very easily and we took a taxi to Praia (400$) with one French couple. We stopped at Recidental Sol Atlantico, which we had chosen a place to stay. Like all other trip story tellers had written the hotel didn’t look out a hotel. But when we climbed up there was a reception behind a locked gate.
At Praia hotels are expensive, so even Sol Atlantico was 3000$/night. The room was clean, there was space and it was really in a centre of the city. Bathroom was really awful: no warm water, which wasn’t a big thing, but the pipes weren’t working either; there was mud on the floor and white small worms crawling. But we didn’t mind.
At afternoon we walked around the city and had shopping. Of course we saw some birds too: two Grey-headed Kingfishers, some Alexandrine’s Swifts and one Alexandrine’s Kestrel (which was again this islands Kestler) flight over us.
At late evening we stayed at balcony and watched a football match, cats which were one stairs below us and people doing their toilet rituals anywhere and whenever. The real reason why we were at balcony was a local Cap Verde Barn Owl, which almost all bird trip writers had seen from this hotel before. After one hour staying, 7 p.m., Hanna saw an Owl landing to one pole. It was almost impossible to see the birds shape in dark, but when it flight again, we could see this detorta-Barn Owl better.
Otherwise useless mobile phone alarmed us up 6 a.m. Less than an hour later we were walking towards Sucupira, the place where aluguers left. We took an aluguer towards João Teves. On the way we saw a brand new Mercedes 4 wheel driver upside down in the middle of straight road. How on Earth someone could have managed to drive that kind of car like that?
After some driving we started to wonder why our driver didn’t take anyone else to the Hiache aluguer. Little later we understood he wasn’t even in right road. We realized the driver had decided to be a taxi driver and he was driving even longer route to get more money. When we took the driver we did ask if the car was an aluguer. So we stopped the car and talked a little with our driver. We decided to cheat him and told him to drive us there where we were going. First we had planned to use several aluguers because there wasn’t straight connection to the place. So we managed to reach Banana de Ribeiro Montanha-road much faster than we had planned. When we were there our driver asked us to pay 1500 escudos! That was far too much – five times more than an aluguer. It wasn’t our problem that he hadn’t taken anyone else to the car. When we offered him some money, we found out that he hadn’t any changes. So we had to give him our smallest money and it unfortunately was 10 Euros. It was still far too much, but at least we were now in good birding place, so we were pretty happy anyway.
While we had been arguing with the driver we had already seen a lot of Common Waxbills and a small flying flock of Helmeted Guineafowls.
We soon found out that we weren’t in exactly right place, but we asked some help from locals which showed us the right way to Banana de Ribeiro Montanha road.
Banana de Ribeira Montanha
Banana de Ribeira Montanha is one of the must places in Santiago because it is the only breeding place of Cap Verde Purple Heron in the World. This place is difficult to find and at least in our map it was called Liberão (in Montanha Valley) and there was many different villages called Banana but not this one.
The rocky road climbed first 400 meters over a ridge and then went down to the village. On the way there was plenty of Grey-headed Kingfishers. They are very beautiful but also pretty loudy birds.
At the village, on the bottom of the valley, there was many tiny reservoirs, which had many Iago Sparrows, Common Waxbills and Blackcaps drinking and bathing. While walking through the village we saw first Cap Verde Purple Herons flying high above the hills. Grey-headed Kingfishers were everywhere.
We had read from older trip reports that the colony was in a big mahogany tree which was behind a football pitch. But we couldn’t find anything like this. When we had walked a couple of kilometres after the village, we were pretty sure that we had somehow passed the right place. So we walked back to the biggest tree which we had passed and now we could hear already far how young Herons were begging for food. They had just been quiet and hiding when we had passed the tree before. Now there were three adults which had just arrived with food. And there really wasn’t that football pitch anymore, just field.
We tried to see how many adults and already big youngsters there were but the tree was too dense and really big, so we could just say there was about five nests.
Birding in Banana (or Liberão) village was really exciting. Local people let us be, of course they all said Bonjour or Buenos dias and all children were shouting Hola, waving their hands, whistling or hissing for us. Also weather was really nice, maybe little too cloudy. What best, there was really a lot of birds: 30 Grey-headed Kingfishers, hundreds of Common Waxbills and Iago Sparrows, some Spanish Sparrows, six Alexndrine’s Kestlers, 40 Blackcaps, 10 Spectacled Warblers and 6 Alexandrine’s Swifts. Only bird which we couldn’t find, even we really tried, was Cap Verde Cane Warbler. There was also (too) many huge wasp-coloured spiders.
And the next endemic
We walked back to the “main” road and got an open model aluguer which took us to João Teves. We had planned to try to see a Cap Verde Peregrine which had been seen sometimes soaring above Pico de Anatania, but the weather was very foggy. So we decided to walk in a green valley near the road to Jorge. The bird species were pretty much the same than in Banana, but not as many individuals. We walked just one kilometre and then back to the main road.
Sometimes it is good if you have some experience. We didn’t really know anything about the Cap Verde Cane Warblers habits, but we do have some experience with some other Acrocephalus-Warblers, so we went to search some green bushes in the bottom of the valley. Actually Janne said:” If I would be a Cap Verde Cane Warbler, I would live in that bush!” And when we reached that bush we right a way heard some mysterious voices from it. The sing was something that we hadn’t ever heard before. Soon we saw a brown nothing-looking pretty ugly small bird which was started to sing very beautifully something between a Nightingale and a Great Reed Warbler. There it was, a Cap Verde Cane Warbler!
We were really happy to our day when we took an aluguer back to Praia (400$, and the taxi driver wanted 1500$!). This was our first real aluguer trip. There were 18 persons in a Hiache.
From Sucupira we walked to our hotel, where we relaxed…until 8.40 p.m. we heard an awful screaming just outside our window. Cap Verde Barn Owl was screaming continuously while flying a circle just above our hotel room. Even all people which were walking down in a street stopped to look at it! Good ending to really good birding day!
Relaxing at Praia
Maybe our first birding day in Santiago was little bit too good. Next morning we slept long. Our hotel room had been too hot at night, so we had put a propel which was in our roof working. And believe or not, Janne got cold!
The rest of the day we just relaxed. I think we had earned that! We were shopping, at internet bar etc.
At afternoon we visited mouth of the river nearby, which had had a Western Reef Heron in many years and at spring some American waders, but we could find just Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper and Little Egret and a lot of funny waiving crabs. There were also some Red-billed Tropicbirds flying behind the harbour, where they have a breeding cliff. Actually this river place was much worse than it has been. There was now asphalt road both sides of the river and the area was really covered with rubbish. The place was like a rubbish tip. But many that kind of places are also good birding place, so maybe it’s worth of checking anyway?
At evening we ate at Avis-restaurant which a reception boy told to be good. And like normally, we went to sleep already 9 p.m.
The second last day of the year we woke up 6.30 a.m. Soon we were walking to the place where we thought the aluguers were going to Cicade Velha. After some waiting one aluguer stopped and it took us friendly to the place where the aluguers really were going to that direction. Soon we had one and we were on our way.
At Cicade Velha there is ruins of an old Portuguese city. There is also a fortress on a high hill. The area is pretty dry, but down in the valley grows green palm forests. Anyway the place hadn’t many birds: 50 Alexandrine’s Swifts were living in a edge behind the fortress. Surprisingly we found also one Lesser Yellowlegs walking in a rocky coastline. It was already sixth of this trip!
Down in the village (which has been a capital of Cap Verde one day, but is nowadays really small village) we spent some time and feed some funny goats and chickens, before we took an aluguer back to Praia (200$).
The midday was too hot, and it has begun to wind really strong. So we were just relaxing. At afternoon we had a look again to the mouth of the river. There we heard some really unfamiliar bird singing. But we couldn’t find the singer from a dense tree before it just disappeared. It was some kind of passerine we had never heard before. Was it from a cage or from Africa?
Later we lost our nerves because our bathroom wasn’t working at all anymore. So we changed to another room, which was just a little smaller. We ate again at Avis.
New Years eve! After some too easy days we decided to have still one more real birding day in Boavista. Even Janne’s flu was worse, we took an aluguer towards Assomada and Boa Entrada (600$).
Boa Entrada is a place where still about ten years ago was the another breeding colony of Cap Verde Purple Herons. And that colony tree which is still there is not just a tree, it’s a huge kapok-tree. The place is also otherwise pretty similar bird place than Banana de Ribeira Montanha. Cap Verde Cane Warbler is just much easier to find there.
9 a.m. we jumped out from aluguer and begun to find a way to the small Boa Entrada village which lays down on the bottom of the deep valley. We asked some help and found a small track which begun behind a white church and landed down to the valley. The track was really small and for a while it went really close to the houses, but we reached the bottom of the valley really fast. The right place is really easy to find because the huge kapok-tree can be seen really far!
In the valley there was again very many birds: Grey-headed Kingfishers, Common Waxbills, Blackcaps and Spectacled Warblers. When we reached the kapok-tree, we right away heard several calling Cap Verde Cane Warblers. About 50 metres west from the tree there was at least eight Cane Warblers singing shortly. One of these stuck to do something to one branch, so Janne managed to get some kind of pictures of it.
We climbed back to the main road by the village road. This was the right way (which was in all trip stories) to the Boa Entrada. But the cross to this road had changed totally different than it has been. Formerly there had been some store, but now there was many bigger houses and the cross was really difficult to find. Anyway we think our track was much faster way down to the valley. And it is easier to climb up by road. (The road was about 400 meters before the church.)
The year changes, but we have to continue
Next we took an aluguer to Assomada (100$) and from there another one to João Teves. We jumped out in a place where was a good view to Pico de Anatania’s northern slopes. After one hour watching Hanna found a Cap Verde Peregrine which was chasing a Brown-necked Raven. We saw the bird very shortly before it flight behind the mountain but we thought that was enough. With numerous Brown-necked Ravens there was also eight Alexandrine’s Kestlers and one Cap Verde Buzzard.
Aluguer to Praia was only 150 escudos, because there was an American couple which were working as Peace Corps and they told us the right price. They had come to teach English for children for two years. So now we paid the right price first time! But the tourist-prices weren’t bad either. So anyway it’s much cheaper to use an aluguer than a taxi. Of course you can loose some time, but you will have many funny experiences, if you use an aluguer. This time we had 20 persons in a car!
After short naps we visited the river mouth again where was no birds at all. After that we were just waiting for a New Year in our hotel. Locals begun to celebrate just at midnight! And when they begun to celebrate, they really celebrated! Everyone was screaming and cars had their horns on. There were also pretty nice fireworks, but locals hadn’t many own rackets.
We thought the horrible noise will stop soon and went to sleep, but no! The closest apartment from our window had a music (which really was something horrible local music) as loud as possible. So we couldn’t sleep a blink before we had to wake up 4.30 a.m.
When we walked downstairs with all our baggage, the music was still as loud (or even louder) tan at midnight!
Five o’clock our taxi, which we had asked from reception, came. And we drove to the airport (300$).Then we started our year 2004 while whiting for our next flight.
Finally it seemed that everything is going to happen in schedule! But maybe only because there was only three other passengers! But no! We think that they weren’t ready for that TACV plane could ever leave in time, because we had to wait (but only 10 minutes) for the sun! It wasn’t safe to land to Sao Nicolau before the sun had risen.
Beginning of the year at Sao Nicolau
We landed to Sao Nicolau in schedule. Luggage were found easily, and we took a taxi to Ribeira Brava (500$, which was too much). At Ribeira Brava we tried to find an aluguer to Tarrafal, to another side of the island.
We really had luck again, in half an hour we got a full aluguer. In aluguer there was a young man who spoke good English.
On the way we found out that the car was full of young people who had been partying all night in Ribeira Brava. So it wasn’t a surprise that we had a short stop in one local bar which was on our way. The way to Tarrafal was really funny and the views were again really amazing! So we really liked about this island right a way! There was also some birds: 20 Alexandrine’s Swifts, some Neglected Kestrels (again in this island), Brown-necked Ravens, Egyptian Vulture and totally 40 Helmeteduineafowls.
Even it’s only nine kilometres from Ribeira Brava to Tarrafal by birds way, it’s 26 kilometres by car. The road goes through high mountains, so the way took 45 minutes! The views up on the mountain were again really beautiful.
At Tarrafal we stayed in Pensao Alice, which is REALLY comfortable! Its owner couple is very kind. They can’t speak English, but everything is really easy there anyway.
At midday we had a short seawatch from the hotel roof and we saw a lot of two kinds of Dolphins. We also waited some seabirds, but we couldn’t see any.
At afternoon we ate downstairs where Alice offered really good New Year lunch. At evening we also washed some clothes on the roof, we had three weeks clothes to wash.
Some relaxing days
The morning seawatch was again little boring: a Brown Booby and some other sea animals. The best animal was a big flat Manta which Janne saw jumping amazingly high in a telescope picture. At midday we tried to do some shopping, but all shops were closed. Only some smallest shops were opened, so we got luckily something to drink. (There really was nothing to eat in the bigger shops either.) We washed the rest of our clothes.
At afternoon we tried to solve out our trip to Razo. And we found out that one Swiss man, George, could get us to this small island. Only problem was the wind which was much too hard. So we couldn’t even think about going to Razo very soon. But we had time. This was why we had one week there in Sao Nicolau.
We also had a little walk to the nearest black beach. From the balcony we saw same birds than every evening seawatch: two Ospreys, Turnstones, Sanderlings, Whimbrel, Alexandrine’s Swifts, Neglected Kestrels, young Lesser Black-backed Gull and some Cattle Egrets which really had some problems with flying in that wind.
3th of January we took an aluguer high to the mountains. It was again much greener there than in deserted Western side of island where Tarrafal is. We walked about five kilometres back, but we couldn’t find a lot of birds. Some Helmeted Guineafowls were calling and we also saw some flocks. Cattle Egret was really common like Alexandrine’s Swift too. Spectacled Warbler was also really common, Blackcap not so common. Iago Sparrows were again everywhere. More than 10 Neglected Kestrels were also seen and also some Brown-necked Ravens.
At afternoon Hanna felt herself little sick, so Janne (which felt already a lot better) had time to write some trip reports. When Hanna woke up we visited an internet bar and we also met George, who thought the weather was getting better soon. So we would get to Raso soon! Evening seawatch was again boring.
4th of January we had a short walk in a valley behind the city. The most interesting thing that happened was when we saw one boy climbing up to the mountain and coming back with a goat. It took about 4 minutes, when normal Finnish person would have used some 20 minutes to only climbing up!
At midday seawatch we saw again some Dolphins and one flock of some kind of Whales. Biggest one was swimming first and smaller was following. Only birds were some Brown Boobies and ten some kind of Shearwaters or Fea’s Petrels which were too far.
At night we tried to find George from the closest bars, but there was a football match between Benfica and Sporting, so all bars were extremely full. One bar had even a big screen on its yard! When the match ended we found George, his wife and some Frenchmen. After some drinks we arranged a meeting for next morning 8.30 o’clock. The trip to Razo was going to be true!
Finally to Razo
Razo is seven square kilometre small dry and pretty low island. From Tarrafal it’s 30 kilometres boat trip to Razo. Razo is very famous because it has so many birds. The most famous bird is a Razo Lark, which lives only in this island in whole World. There are also big colonies of Brown Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds. Also some seabirds are breeding in the island mostly in spring and they are visiting the island only at night. Behind Razo there lies a sharp Branco island which is still better place for seabirds. We had decided to pass Branco, because it wasn’t the right time of year to see seabirds. Only possible bird would have been a Cape Verde Storm Petrel.
Birdwatchers have visited Razo and Branco with local fishermen or nowadays usually with sport fishing boats like us. The sea can be very rough (like it had now been) and the way can be pretty dangerous. So we really think it’s wise to use a sport fishing boat. The price to Razo is normally 250€ (independent of participants), and if you want to stay at night in Branco, it is double price, because the boat must make the trip twice. There is no possibility to land on either island by boat.
After visiting a bakery (which was open!) and bank we met George, who showed us his boat and told us that he wasn’t leaving with us. George’s wife, one Frenchman, Phil, and our local captain were leaving with us. Others would do fishing while we would stay in Razo, four hours.
About 9 a.m. we began our way with a small sport fishing boat. Other started to fish while some flying fishes were flying close to our boat.
The weather was now really good, like George had been thinking. When Razo was getting closer the waves came bigger and then we found also birds. We saw totally 50 Fea’s Storm Petrels. Closest birds were flying just over our boat.
The way to Razo took more than two hours! At 11.15 we jumped to the wet rocks at the only possible place on the whole island. We got all our optics and other baggage one by one from the boat, and climbed over a small cliff to the flat island. (On the shore there is right away several meters of water, so you really have to jump to the island. And it can be difficult in harder wind.)
Razo – really amazing!
Right away on the beach rocks there were a lot of Iago Sparrows welcoming us to the island. Actually they came to watch if we would have some fresh water for them, because there is no fresh water in the whole island. After climbing to the grass area, the first Razo Larks were found directly. We found easily more than 30 Larks (more than 20 % of whole population). They were really fast! They were digging something pretty deep from the sand, when we could see just the tail. Other birds were running fast on the ground and disturbing other birds digging all the time, or they were flying and singing pretty simple song like almost all Larks are doing.
All old Razo Larks had colour rings, but we saw also some young birds which weren’t ringed – yet. Pretty soon we had to leave these too fast birds and continue to the colonies to East because our schedule was tight.
After some hundred meters walk we found first Red-billed Tropicbirds flying under the edge. Hanna begun to photograph, but for Janne the birds were too fast. So Janne continued another 200 meters where first Brown Boobies were found sitting. Most of these birds were of course under the edge but luckily there was one family over it. Soon Hanna came there too and we both got good pictures of these amazing birds.
Time ran too fast and we had almost out of time and Janne hadn’t got any pictures of Red-billed Tropicbird. After some thinking Janne decided to climb down under the edge to see if it’s possible to photograph these birds from there. He could find a place to climb down and soon he saw one Tropicbird flying to its nest hole. Luckily the bird stayed visible, and Janne managed to get his photos!
When Janne climbed back up Hanna was there already waiting. Then Hanna saw a turtle swimming under us, but Janne couldn’t find it before it dived. Then suddenly one Tropicbird started to fly just over us and shout like the Terns are doing. Suddenly it landed just in front of us to one cliff. When Janne tried to sneak closer it flight away, but there was still something screaming on a cliff. Then Janne saw there was still another adult Red-billed Tropicbird laying in a nest hole. It was far too easy place! Local fishermen are catching and killing these birds and also all other seabirds for food – a lot.)
We left the Tropicbird and rushed to the “harbour” where others were already waiting for us. Soon we jumped back to the boat.
Our friends had had a good luck with fishes. They had four big tuna kind of fishes on the boat. Biggest fish was 27 kilos (and just fillet). They could have got much more fishes but they had left them back.
The first half of our way back was really stormy! Near Razo there is always a zone with big waves and now the biggest ones were hitting over our boat! Our captain was very good, so we could stay calm.
The way back took two and half hours. We saw only some Fea’s Petrels and Dolphins. George was already waiting for us in a harbour, and soon we were sitting in a bar with something to drink. The day had been really hard for us all! We stayed little longer with Phil, which had been travelling already two years! He was travelling around the World using cargo ships and other unusual ways.
At Alice we went to eat, and there we met an Australian guy, Paul, who had been travelling already more than four years by bike! He had been biking already in Asia, Middle-East and Africa! We talked very late and went to bed just before the midnight.
At night we woke up because it was raining a lot! This wasn’t the time of year for rains at least not in Sao Nicolau. (Sometimes it has been 18 years without rains in Cap Verde!) At morning we walked in the village trying to find a bakery, but they were all closed, again. We also sent some postcards wondering when would those be in Finland?
At midday we had one more must thing to do: We hadn’t been swimming yet! We didn’t want to do swimming too easy, so we walked one and half hour (one way) to the best beach of the whole island. The beach was really beautiful with both black and white sand. Even it was cloudy it really wasn’t too cold for swimming. The swimming was as wet in Atlantic Ocean as everywhere. On the ways we saw in rocky deserts some Bar-tailed Desert Larks, Osprey and Greenshank. We also collected some shells, found some death turtles, Sea snail and different kind of interesting sea plants. When we were back in Alice we were extremely tired and we went to sleep, then to eat and then again to sleep.
Everything is done
At night it rained again! We were happy to know that Razo Larks got something to drink.
We slept long, packed our baggage, paid our bills for Alice (6 nights and 5 lunches, 14500$) and took an aluguer to Ribeira Brava (400$). At Ribeira Brava we checked our flights in TACV-office and found a bakery, finally! We also changed most of our Escudos back to Euros and begun to search for an aluguer to the airport.
After couple of hours waiting we realized there were no planes leaving before ours. So we had to take a taxi to airport (400$). Near the airport we found a flock of 20 Helmeted Guineafowls, which Janne managed to digiscope even they were already escaping fast to the bushes (locals are hunting them). The airport was still closed, so we couldn’t check in our baggage. So Hanna had to visit a nearest crater alone. Janne left to guard our baggage, take sun and play with a funny cat to the airport yard.
Check-in begun in time 2.30 a.m., but the locals had again too much baggages, that the flight was 15 minutes late. In Sal we were anyway in time. We had then 12 hours long night in the airport. So we went to upstairs and slept over our sleeping bags there in airport.
Once again – Sal
We had another noisy night again. In 20 minutes periods we managed to sleep enough. After 6 a.m. we backed everything and put the biggest baggage to baggage room and took a taxi to Pedra de Lume again (600$).
There were as many birds as in our first visit. We now counted all the waders better because we had now time, three hours. So we saw now 14 Black-winged Stilts (3 young) and 9 Greenshanks. There was still four Lesser Yellowlegs, but now it wasn’t the commonest Tringa anymore. We also saw one really weird looking dirty Cattle Egret flying over us. It had black head, throat and leading edges of the wings!
Our taxi should have come to get us back to the airport 11 a.m, but it never came! While waiting it to come we heard and saw again one Cream-coloured Courser flying over us. Little later we finally got a ride. Two American mormon guys came by taxi to see a beach near Pedra de Lume village, and we shared a taxi back to Espargos. The driver left us to buy some bread to Shell and after he had driven the guys to their place he came to get us to the airport.
At the airport we waited still a couple of hours for our flight to Lisbon. We tried to find some souvenirs from the airport but there really was nothing to buy! Te locals aren’t doing anything! Everything is from Portugal or elsewhere. We also changed the rest of our money. Our flight was late only 15 minutes, and 2.55 p.m. we said goodbye to Cap Verde. Our last birds were two Bar-tailed Desert Larks which we saw from the plane when it was already moving really fast.
About 8 p.m. we landed to Lisbon airport where we spent again one horrible night because our next flight to Madrid was in next day. From Madrid our journey continued to Tenerife, Canary Islands, but that is a different story!
To be continued…