Sorry, this entry is only available in European Spanish.
These days we are enjoying our trips to Lobos Island from Corralejo’s Pier (Fuerteventura) in the pleasant company of one of the largest birds in the Atlantic, the gannet, which is in the process of migration in search of warm weather to spend the winter. Let’s look at them more closely.
Scientific name: Morus Bassanus.
The gannet, with a large wingspan, reaching up to 2 meters, is a true master of diving, able to dive into the sea, like a projectile, to catch prey (average size fish) 30 to 40 meters away and at high speed (100km / h) . It is found on both coasts of the North Atlantic and spends most of the time at sea only coming ashore to nest on cliffs and islands of the North Atlantic.
Adult birds weigh between 3 and 4 kilos. They have long narrow wings, with average wingspan of 1.80 meters and about 1 meter tall. Its plumage is white, with dark edges. They have a pointed and slightly curved beak.
Young pelicans are distinguished by the grey colour with white specks of their plumage. Because of the way they fish, diving into the water at high speed, they lack nostrils but they do have side nasal holes that can close when in the water; They have characteristic notches in the corners of their mouth, through which they breathe.
To cushion the impact of their dives, they have a pneumatic bag system under their skin (air bags under the skin of their face and chest, which protect them when they plunge into the water) acting as a buffer, their plumage becoming very compact.
To withstand the high temperatures they have a layer of subcutaneous fat and dense and overlapping feathers.
The colonies are very noisy, since these birds emit a characteristic cry when they approach although they are silent on the open sea. They emit guttural sounds of short syllables: ghaghag-hoghog.
In summer gannets nest on the shores of the North Atlantic (located mainly in the British Isles and Scandinavia). They gather in colonies of up to 20,000 couples where they make their nests very close together, with algae and marine plants.
It is when they are about 4 years old that they start breeding, laying a single blue-white egg which will be incubated for about 45 days. Both parents incubate the egg alternating periods of 24 hours, taking turns with a very peculiar ceremony, a greeting ceremony among parents.
The hatched chicks are fed by their parents for about 12 weeks, born naked and dark, and after some days their white feathers start to appear and they stop needing parental warmth. These chicks leave the nest and jump into the sea without being fully prepared to fly but with a good layer of grease (1 kilo more than their parents) that provides the heat they need while they remain floating for about 10 days until they finally begin performing their first flights and fishing.
They have aggressive behaviour in the nest, although the fights only take place among birds of the same sex. A female will only fiercely defend the nest from another female; if a female approaches the nest of another male, the latter grabs her by the neck and ejects her from there. The struggles between males occupying a nest for the first time can become quite intense. The fights are preceded by threatening gestures and males show their neighbours the property of a nest by gesturing with their head and beak facing down and erecting their wings.
Males are the ones that look for a place to breed and try to attract a single female, about 4 or 5 years old, flying over the colony several times before landing and showing the male, by stretching their neck, that they allow for the wooing; the males answer by shaking their head with closed wings.
Although couples separate after the breeding, they rejoin the following year, they are monogamous, breeding together their whole lives or for many years.
When winter comes, at the end of the breeding season, they travel south, they undertake the post-nuptial migration that will take them to the Gulf of Guinea. In Spain it is a common species during migration although they don’t nest here.
Currently the gannet is listed as “least-concern species”, as it has a very wide distribution area and the number of individuals is large enough and the demographic trend seems to be increasing.
Remain attentive to this time in Fuerteventura, as you may be lucky enough to come across one of these specimens and enjoy their peculiar way of fishing, a real show. We keep enjoying their company these days in our daily trips to Lobos Island.
Elsewhere it is known as “gran corifena”, dolphinfish or “llampúa”, golden dolphin, “lirio”, “perico”, amberjack or mahi-mahi.
“ Dorado” is a bony fish of the family of the “Coryphaenidae”, spread all over the globe, in tropical or subtropical waters.
They live in the sea surface, between 5 and 10 meters deep, and they make large migrations throughout their life. They live in shoals in the high sea, but sometimes they are also found near the coast to breed.
There is already evidence of men catching fish of this species from 2600 years BC, as it can be seen in the wall of the Minoan civilization of Crete.
It is very common to see them through the Canary Islands in summer and autumn seasons, so at this time of year it is an exceptional companion in our excursions.
This species is characterized by its size and colourful appearance.
The usual size is about 100cm long, although up to 200cm specimens have been recorded, weighing 50kgs.
They don’t feature thorns in the anal or dorsal fins, which have soft rays. The dorsal fin runs from the cervical region to the tail and the anal one is shorter, going from the middle of the body to the tail. The caudal fin is forked, and is attached to the body by a stalk, which allows it to swim very fast.
It’s a species created for speed, with very elongated and laterally compressed body. They’re very soft to the touch, as they have really small scales.
They have small, oval and strong teeth, in a big mouth, where the first set is curved backward.
Males have a prominent bulge on the forehead, so they have also been called horned.
But if something makes them truly spectacular to the sight is the colour they feature, ranking as the most colourful fish in the Atlantic: they have golden reflections on their sides, hence their name; blue and green foil on the top and sides, and their bottom is yellow or white.
They have a very vivid colour when they are just taken out of the water, and they seem to be lit on, hence the name of “lampga” (dolphinfish), which could be translated as torch. However this striking colour disappears after a while of being out of the water when they get a grey tone that has nothing to do with their colours in life.
This species reaches sexual maturity between 4 and 5 months old, and they are not very long-lived, since they usually die within six years.
Not much is known about their breeding habits, although it is presumed that they mate several times a year, especially in spring. Eggs are pelagic, and the young specimens remain in the coastal zone until they reach a certain size.
They feed on a variety of small fishes, squids, crustaceans and zooplankton. Horse mackerel, mackerel, anchovies and sardines are the main pillars of their diet, although they love flying fish, which they chase almost to exhaustion.
This species is quite coveted among anglers, and for a while it has been valued also for commercial purposes, sometimes still common in markets and fishmongers.
It is a species that in its juvenile stage is considered as blue or fatty fish, but adult individuals are considered white or lean fish.
If you want to get first hand knowledge about this amazing species, we recommend you come to one of our trips at this time of year.
Despite its delicate and appealing appearance, marked by dark colours and gleaming electric blue lips, which makes it look like the harmeless fish in an aquarium, it is one of the most aggressive, territorial and unsociable species that exist in the oceans.
This benthic species crosses the rocky sea beds, Cytoseira (algae) prairies and rocky areas in the Oriental Atlantic Ocean: Senegal, Cape Verde, Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira, always above 50m deep and more common less than 25m deep.
Its showy colouring and great ability to adjust to changing environments and abrupt changes of parameters, makes it a common fish in aquariums, where they can live up to 10 years in captivity, though, it is difficult to keep them in community aquariums, sharing space with other species, unless they have been introduced together while in their young stage. If a new Fula gets into an aquarium where there is already a group, the male leader, supported by the rest, will constantly attack it to death.
They quickly take control of the space they inhabit, confronting fishes even much bigger than themselves.
They are diurnal. They tend to move in fairly dense banks, dominated by the largest male. Males can also be found on their own or living with their breeding females.
A male can mate with several breeding females, spawning in summer (what is known as Spawn), in crevices or in nests composed of a group of several rocks, which the male will watch closely during the 3-day incubation period, even ready to kill another male approaching the egg laying area, less than 1 meter radio.
In the fighting, males increase their breathing rate, producing very distinctive sounds in combat; as they belong to teleost fish, which are those with specialized organs to emit sounds.
Robust and compact body on their sides, covered with large visible scales, with short and fairly rigid fins. Their eyes and mouth are small and they have a small bulge on their head. They have sharp teeth in both jaws.
The colouring which young specimens feature, up to 3 years old, is very striking. They are almost black, with electric blue stripes that sometimes create whimsical patterns. From the age of 3 their color changes from black to grayish brown, excep in their head and the dorsal and caudal fins, which take a very dark blue colour. In the adult specimens the electric blue stripes condense on the edges of their fins and head.
They are usually 8 to10 cm long and males, slightly larger than females, can reach up to 15cm.
An oddity of this species is that there are specimens that are pale orange in the back of their body to the tail, a phenomenon whose cause is scientifically unknown.
They feed mainly on small invertebrates found among the algae. The young fish are extremely sensitive to food, only eating marine plankton, so those which are bred in captivity tend not to survive unless they are given food of this type.
Those living in Europe fly over the coastal area each year from northern Europe to West and Southern Africa, in search of warmth in winter. In this journey, coasts and wetlands of the Canary Islands, are a must stop for these birds, although compared to the migration that exists in the African coast, in the Canary Islands we can say that this phenomenon is less relevant.
The Sandwich Tern belongs to the order of Charadriiformes, family Laridae, and it has an average size (41cm long and 94cm wingspan).
Its feathers are black, white and gray. Its round head has a kind of black bun (pileus), which in the mating season can cover almost its entire head. Its beak is long and black with yellow tip and its tail is forked.
The Sandwich Tern’s flight is similar to the gulls’, very agile and light, featuring longer and narrower wings though, which makes them more graceful.
They eat fish on the beaches and in coastal waters; also molluscs and marine worms. They don’t usually move beyond the continental shelf to forage, and once they have located their prey they pounce on it, plunging into the water.
The Sandwich Tern is a very sociable bird that usually creates dense colonies of thousands of individuals. Within the colony, each specimen with its partner lay their eggs (1 or 2) by the end of April or early May. They don’t build elaborate nests, they just use a hole in the gravel, sand or between two stones, and they usually cover it with vegetation.
Their eggs have a creamy colour with lots of black speckles, and they incubate them, both father and mother, for 22 to 26 days. 15 days after hatching chicks gather in groups that are watched by an adult, and 30 days later they fly the nest for the first time.
In Fuerteventura we find the Sandwich Tern in ponds, lagoons or lowlands, especially in the area of the beaches of Sotavento (Jandía), El Cotillo, Corralejo, Majanicho, and inland areas, like in Rosa Catalina Garcia, in Los Molinos Dam and in some ravines with permanent water.
Migration and presence on the islands
This bird is regular in this land, so we can find specimens on the islands in almost every month of the year, there are even some that spend the winter on our shores, but when we find the most of them is in autumn (August and September) when they come down to Africa searching winter warmth, and in spring (March and April), when they go back to northern Europe.
What determines how long these birds spend on our shores is the peace and quiet they find here and the availability of food to refuel and continue their journey. The manipulation of the environment by man, such as road building or construction, can modify the habitats of these species, by seeking best places to rest.
If you’ve been lucky enough to take a trip to Lobos Islet from Corralejo you’ll have noticed, when setting foot on land, some peculiar and very characteristic thin greenish bushes: the gorse (Launacea arborescens). It’s just now (March) when these plants begin to bloom, a period which expands until June.
These shrubs are characteristic not only of Lobos and Fuerteventura but of The Canary Islands in general. In Fuerteventura and Lobos these shrubs you can be seen almost all over their surface, probably less common in the highlands. It is a perennial plant, very abundant in the dry and arid lowlands in the Canary Islands. It can grow up to one meter, so they are not very high; their stems are thin, rounded and dull green.
It’s so abundant and representative in our island that the famous writer, Unamuno, who spent his exile in these lands, dedicated a few words to this plant in “Artículos y discursos sobre Canarias”:
“La aulaga majorera, de Fuerteventura —se llama majoreros a los de Fuerteventura— tiende su triste verdor pardo, su verduras gris, por entre pedregales sedientos. La aulaga no tiene hojas, la aulaga desdeña la hojarasca; la aulaga no es más que un esqueleto de planta espinosa. Sus desnudos y delgados tallos, armados de espinas, no se adornan más que con unas florecillas amarillas. Y todo ello se lo come el camello, el compañero del hombre en esta isla, su más fiel servidor (…). Qué lección de estilo y de lo más íntimo del estilo, esta aulaga de Fuerteventura, es la expresión de la isla misma; es la isla misma expresándose, diciéndose; es la palabra suprema de la isla. En la aulaga ha expresado sus entrañas volcánicas, el poso de su corazón de fuego, esta isla entrañable.” Unamuno
We chose the words of this great writer because they describe, with beauty and wisdom, this so abundant bush in our Islands. Throughout the years and being so abundant, this plant has had many uses, including the gorse yellow flowers which, on their own or in small bunches, were used in infusion for children suffering from jaundice. As already mentioned by Unamuno, it was also the favourite food of camels and goats.
Whether you inhabit these lands or are just visiting it, in the coming months you’ll enjoy the flowers of this shrub, which is “the expression of the island itself.” If you’re lucky enough to accompany us on our trip to Lobos from Corralejo you will see this blooming paradise. We’ll be waiting for you.
The arid, wild and pristine islet of Lobos —which we passionately show to the visitors who join our day trips from Corralejo— is one of the few places along with Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Graciosa, where one of the most unique bird in the Spanish wildlife lives, the Canarian Houbara. Its habitat are the arid landscapes, “jables” and “malpaís” characterizing the eastern end of The Canary Islands.
The Houbara or Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) is a species of “gruiforme” birds from the Otididae family, fully adapted to living in dry and poor lands; It is an omnivore, a terrestrial and lonely bird found from Mauritania to Egypt and from Sinai to Mongolia, the small settlement in The Canary Islands being unique in Europe. The subspecies inhabiting our islands is fuerteventurae, which is endemic to The Canary Islands.
Thin and elongated neck, grey and white shades, it features a comb or small bun of black and white feathers, usually flashier in the male. The chicks, more similar to males, have the duller plumage. Actually this bird seeks to go unnoticed, is easily scared and jealous of its privacy and it seeks to be relaxed for survival so its plumage usually blends in with the landscape except in the mating season. With 170 cm wingspan, it is the largest bird nesting in The Canary Islands. Their diet is varied both animal matter (beetles, grasshoppers, ants, caterpillars, snails and small lizards) and plants (flowers, sprouts, fruits and seeds).
Although the Canarian Houbara is sedentary it can act like the migratory birds, making journeys in search of similar habitats and even flying between islands.
Reproduction, wooing and breeding
Regarding the breeding season, although variable, we can say that it normally starts between February and March and it begins with a wooing which is most interesting since the male performs solo shows, a real dance in which their plumage become more attractive so as to draw the females attention; they spread out the white feathers on their crest and neck, moving in circles and straight; from a distance a flashiest white ball, which changes colour, can be seen, a spectacular wooing dance. Once the female is captivated , after copulation, the male ignores the upbringing and it’s the female that is in charge alone. It usually lays two or three eggs which she incubates for about 23 days, after which the eggs hatch and the chicks are able to move soon after being born and they will be raised by their mother for about 35 days; perhaps occasionally the male may cooperate, but not generally. The chicks usually remain with their mother until the autumn. This endemic bird of the islands, so special and of which we may have about 800 specimens in the archipelago, is listed as an endangered species, threatened with losing their habitat, their peace and quiet, as a result of urban and tourism development and, particularly in Fuerteventura , by the new highway that goes through the quiet and sparsely populated areas that have become home to these peculiar and solitary birds. For the preservation and survival of the species it is essential to protect their habitat.
Threats and preservation
The preservation measures started in 1985 with the drafting of a recovery plan and management programs, education and awareness and implementation of a captive breeding plan. Since 1993, SEO / BirdLife is carrying out preservation projects in Fuerteventura, subsidized with funds from the EU LIFE program. In 2005, this NGO acquired a 200-acre farm, El Cercado de El Jarde, aimed to protect this species, where 18 specimens have been living along with several other species of the “majorera” wildlife.
It ‘s a bird that could be classified as difficult to see despite being a terrestrial animal since, as we previously said, it’s very jealous of its privacy, but let’s not lose hope because it is common to see it in very quiet areas running around elusively among the gorse. If you are a respectful traveller and concerned about respecting the peace and quiet in these arid areas they inhabit you are much more likely to enjoy them. As for us, on our trips to the Islet of Lobos from Corralejo, we are very attentive when we set foot on the islet because although it is not the most common bird sometimes we are lucky to see them running around in this little paradise that The Islet of Lobos is.