The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Europe & Surroundings

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS – Endemics & Seabirds of some remote Atlantic islands

Tuesday 29th March – Wednesday 6th April 2022

Leader: Birdquest leader to be confirmed

9 Days Group Size Limit 9

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Cape Verde Islands Birding Tours explore one of the world’s least-visited archipelagos (relatively few birders set foot here!), yet a great place to see endemics and other specialities. Our Cape Verde Islands birdwatching tour explores these arid but scenically dramatic islands and targets all the endemics and important seabirds. These include Cape Verde and Boyd’s Shearwaters, Fea’s (or Cape Verde) Petrel, Cape Verde Storm Petrel, Cape Verde Buzzard, Cape Verde Swift, the extraordinary Raso Lark, Cape Verde Warbler and Iago Sparrow, not to mention the remarkable ‘Neglected Kestrel’, the Mauritius Kestrel of the North Atlantic!

The Cape Verde archipelago lies some 450km off the coast of West Africa. This group of far-flung volcanic islands, towering up to 2800m out of the Atlantic, is considered a far-flung part of the Palearctic region, rather than the Afrotropical realm. Relatively few ornithologists have visited the islands, some of which are inaccessible except by boat.

Here are found some of the most important seabird colonies in the Western Palearctic, with breeding species including Cape Verde Shearwater, Boyd’s Shearwater, Fea’s (or Cape Verde) Petrel, Bulwer’s Petrel, Cape Verde Storm Petrel, White-faced Storm Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird and Brown Booby. Several of the tubenoses nest only in the Cape Verde Islands. (The Magnificent Frigatebird now appears to be extinct as a breeding bird in the Cape Verdes.)

The landbird fauna is also quite fascinating. Although relatively impoverished, as is typical with remote island groups, there are a number of endemic landbird species; Cape Verde Buzzard, Cape Verde Swift, Raso Lark, Cape Verde Warbler and Iago Sparrow.

There are also some distinctive island forms that have been proposed for full species status but not yet been widely accepted as such, including Bourne’s (or Cape Verde) Heron (a subspecies of Purple), Alexander’s and Neglected Kestrels (both subspecies of Common), Cape Verde Falcon (a subspecies of Peregrine) and Cape Verde Owl (a subspecies of Western Barn).

In addition, the islands hold the only Grey-headed Kingfishers in the Western Palearctic and the most accessible Helmeted Guineafowls, as well as Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Brown-necked Raven and Common Waxbill. The avifauna of the Cape Verdes is still rather poorly known, as relatively little work has yet been done here, and so ornithological surprises are still quite possible.

The islands were first discovered by the Portuguese in 1460 (or possibly 1456) and at that time they were entirely uninhabited, without any trace of prior human occupation. The islands were soon settled and by 1466 the inhabitants of Santiago had been granted the rights to purchase slaves in Guinea on the African mainland and supply the new colonies in Brazil and the West Indies. As a result of this unusual history, the present-day population of the islands is a ‘creole’ mix of Portuguese and African.

For most of their history these arid, drought-prone islands, which have little fertile land, have suffered from an impoverished economy. Farming has never been much more than subsistence, while local fisheries have never been developed. The situation became so bad that by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that many of the inhabitants were compelled to go to sea to earn a living or emigrate to the New World. Some islands are still uninhabited, whilst others are quite undeveloped, although this is now changing as tourism finally reaches even these remote outposts. Visiting the more remote parts of the archipelago is still a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort.

We shall start our Cape Verde Islands birding tour on the island of Santiago, by far the richest island for endemic landbirds in the Cape Verdes.

We will also visit the island of São Nicolau, our base for a boat trip to the island of Raso, the only home of the Raso Lark, and in search of pelagic seabirds.

Finally, we visit the spectacular volcanic island of Fogo, an extinct volcano, where we will have our second boat trip in search of pelagic seabirds and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

Birdquest pioneered Cape Verde Islands birding tours as far back as 1985.

In 2022 this tour can be taken together with: ATLANTIC ODYSSEY

Boa Vista & Magnificent Frigatebird: Note that the Magnificent Frigatebirds that once bred on islets off Boa Vista have now vanished.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels on Santiago is of a good standard. On São Nicolau we will be staying in a fairly simple but clean and comfortable guesthouse. Road transport is by coach, minibus, 4×4 or small truck with seats in the back (the typical mode of transport on the smaller islands). Roads are mostly poor (although distances are short).

Walking: The walking effort during our Cape Verde Islands birding tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: The weather will be predominantly warm or hot, dry and sunny. Although it may become overcast, rain is most unlikely. Strong winds blow up from time to time and it can get quite cool out to sea, or from late evening to early morning on land.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Cape Verde Islands birding tour are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Visiting some of the most remote and little-visited islands in the Atlantic Ocean
  • Watching rare 'Western Palearctic' endemics that few birders have ever heard of, let alone seen
  • Enjoyable birding on a very easy trip, with hardly any walking involved
  • An excellent mix of seabirds and endemic landbirds focusing on four islands of this rarely-visited archipelago
  • Enjoying good accommodation and excellent seafood dining in front of the sea almost every day
  • Fantastic pelagic birding on two separate boat trips, off São Nicolau and Fogo
  • Seabirds including Cape Verde and Boyd´s Shearwaters, White-faced and Cape Verde Storm Petrels and Fea´s (or Cape Verde) Petrel
  • Spending time photographing Red-billed Tropicbirds at very close quarters just five minutes from the airport!
  • Seeing the extraordary Raso Lark, one of the rarest birds in the world, endemic to a tiny islet
  • Very good chances of seeing American and African vagrants
  • Watching the endemics on Santiago, including the endangered Cape Verde Buzzard, Iago Sparrow, Cape Verde Swift and Cape Verde Warbler
  • Enjoying the only Grey-headed Kingfishers of the Western Palearctic
  • Searching for desert birds such as Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bar-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks, and Brown-necked Raven
  • Several endemic subspecies and candidates for splitting such as Bourne´s (Purple) Heron, Neglected and Alexander´s (Common) Kestrels and Cape Verde Barn Owl

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Praia on Santigo.
  • Days 2-3: Exploring Santiago. Overnights at Praia.
  • Day 4: Flight to São Nicolau. Drive to Tarrafal.
  • Days 5-6: Exploring São Nicolau, plus boat trip to Raso island.
  • Day 7: Fly to Praia and on to Fogo.
  • Day 8: Exploring Fogo, including pelagic boat trip.
  • Day 9: Morning flight to Praia where tour ends.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include the following flights: Santiago-São Nicolau-Santiago and Santiago-Fogo-Santiago.

Deposit: 10% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2022: provisional £1900, $2590, €2140, AUD3570. Praia/Praia.

Single Supplement: 2022: £170, $240, €190, AUD330.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Cape Verde Islands: Day 1  The tour begins this afternoon on the island of Santiago, where we will stay for three nights at Praia.

Cape Verde Islands: Days 2-3  Santiago is the largest of the islands and is certainly the most developed and prosperous. Praia, the small capital city of the Cape Verde Islands, is situated at the southeastern end of Santiago. As with all the islands, the inhabitants are a ‘Creole’ mixture of Portuguese and West African, but here African influences are strongest. Living standards are very low in the islands, but Santiago is blessed with more rainfall than most and has numerous small farms and plantations. The better-watered valleys of the island, with their comparatively luxuriant vegetation, are the habitat beloved of Grey-headed Kingfisher and the endemic Cape Verde Warbler. We will also encounter our first Iago Sparrows, a pretty endemic that was once lumped with the Rufous Sparrows of mainland Africa. In addition, these areas hold Spectacled Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Brown-necked Raven, Common Waxbill and Spanish Sparrow.

Overhead we should see the endemic Cape Verde Swift, whilst the scenically spectacular and very rugged mountains of the interior, which are reminiscent of mountain ranges in the more arid areas of the African mainland, harbour the endemic Cape Verde Buzzard, the endemic Alexander’s Kestrel (sometimes split from Common), the distinctive Cape Verde race of the Rock Dove and Helmeted Guineafowl. We will stay out until dusk in order to try and see the endemic Cape Verde Owl (sometimes split from Western Barn Owl).

Although there are few wetlands on Santiago, Bourne’s (or Cape Verde) Heron (sometimes split from Purple, and very different in appearance) is restricted to the island and Western Cattle Egrets are local residents. The heron is nowadays much easier to find than it once was, thanks to the construction of new reservoirs.

The endemic Cape Verde Falcon (sometimes split from Peregrine) is now either very rare or already extinct. (An additional endemic landbird species, the Cape Verde Kite, is now thought to be extinct, and indeed the pure population may have been extinct for some time, the current theory being that the more recently surviving birds were a hybrid population produced by interbreeding with migrant Black Kites.)

Some parts of the island are very arid and hold such species as Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark and Bar-tailed Lark. At a small lagoon, we should find Grey Heron, Little Egret and Common Moorhen, plus a selection of migrant waders including Black-winged Stilt, Common Ringed, Kentish and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Sanderling, Little Stint, Wood, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Greenshank and Ruddy Turnstone.

Nearctic vagrant shorebirds turn up here on a regular basis and vagrant herons, such as Black Heron and Intermediate Egret, have also occurred. Consequently, we shall be on the lookout for rarities.

Cape Verde Islands: Day 4  This morning we will take a flight to the island of São Nicolau. From the airport, we will travel through the rugged interior of the island until we reach the picturesque little harbour at Tarrafal where we will stay for three nights. We will have some opportunity for birding on the island later today.

Cape Verde Islands: Days 5-6  The beautiful island of São Nicolau is typical of the northern Cape Verdes, being a land of rugged, rocky ridges with steep, partly terraced hillsides and tiny villages. Here we will have opportunities to watch the aptly named Neglected Kestrel (sometimes split from Common and surely deserving of full species status owing to its remarkable morphological differences), which is fairly common. Virtually lacking sexual dimorphism in its plumage, neglectus has noticeably short wings and tail, giving it an appearance and hunting style very close to that of Seychelles or Mauritius Kestrels rather than Common.

Along the coastline, we are likely to see some Yellow-legged Gulls of the form atlantis, while Fea’s (or Cape Verde) Petrels and Boyd’s Shearwaters regularly pass by the island’s headlands. The western part of the island is a good place for Helmeted Guineafowl.

During our stay at Tarrafal, we will make a boat trip in search of seabirds and that most isolated of all the Cape Verdean endemics, the rare Raso Lark. From São Nicolau we will sail eastwards towards the small and remote island of Raso. Most Cape Verde tubenose species are only very sparsely distributed at sea, ranging over huge areas, but we should see plenty of Cape Verde Shearwaters and small numbers of Boyd’s Shearwaters and Fea’s (or Cape Verde) Petrels.

We may also see Bulwer’s Petrel, Cape Verde Storm Petrel and White-faced Storm Petrel. Flying fish are frequently to be seen and there is a good chance that we will encounter some dolphins.

After about two hours we will reach the ornithologically famous island of Raso (or Razo), which lies between São Nicolau and São Vicente. Here on this small uninhabited island, approximately 2.5 km in diameter, lives the entire world population of the little known Raso Lark – probably around 1000 individuals according to the latest study. In addition to the famous lark, which is unusual in showing marked sexual dimorphism, Raso possesses several pairs of breeding Western Ospreys and an important seabird colony. Boyd’s and Cape Verde Shearwaters, Cape Verde Storm Petrel, Brown Booby and Red-billed Tropicbirds all nest here, protected by the sheer inaccessibility of this remote island.

Important: Please note that we have two full days (three nights) on São Nicolau deliberately so that we have two windows for the Raso pelagic. Windy conditions are quite frequent in this area and sometimes cause cancellations, so, having come this far to visit Raso, we want to have a second chance should that happen.

Cape Verde Islands: Day 7  This morning we will take a flight back to Santiago and an onward short flight to the island of Fogo for a two nights stay.

Cape Verde Islands: Day 8  Our main reason to come to the spectacular island of Fogo, which is in effect a volcano rising from the sea (the highest point on the island is 2829m or 9281ft above sea-level), is to make a pelagic boat trip offshore in search of Cape Verde Storm Petrel, which is far more reliable here than off São Nicolau.

We are also sure to have good views of Fea’s (or Cape Verde) Petrels and Cape Verde Shearwaters, and other species, such as Boyd’s Shearwater and Bulwer’s Petrel, are also possible.

If we have time, we will drive up the mountain road to the caldera of the extinct volcano to admire the other-worldly landscapes.

Cape Verde Islands: Day 9  This morning we will return by air to Santiago, where our Cape Verde Islands birding tour ends.

 


Other Atlantic Islands Tours