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Lanzarote, Canary Islands

29 January - 5 February 2012

By Stephen Burch

This is an illustrated trip report for a weeks holiday on Lanzarote, which is one of the north eastern, desert like Canary Islands. The main birding specialities are similar to those of Fuerteventura which we visited last year - Houbara Bustard, Cream Coloured Courser, Trumpeter Finch and Barbary Falcon. We mainly chose Lanzarote for its winter sun, not as a birding destination. In fact my birding ambitions were limited to Barbary Falcon (which would be a lifer) and hopefully some closer views of Cream-coloured Courser than we had last year. To see how I got on with these objectives, see below!

Although this island is quite compact, we decided to divide our time between Costa Teguise on the east coast, and Playa Blanca to the south. For this trip I was accompanied by my semi-birder wife, which meant substantially less than 100% dedication to birding and increased emphasis on walking.

Lanzarote has some very interesting volcanic scenery, with a huge lava field dating from only a few hundred years ago. A coach tour which can be accessed by turning west off the LZ 67 south of the Timanfaya NP visitor centre is strongly recommended - you pay 8 euros each at the small building by the barriers at the start of the side-road and drive a few km to connect with the coaches which depart at regular intervals.

Views of craters from the coach trip in the Timanfaya NP (taken through the coach window!)

Flights and car hire
We flew with EasyJet on the early flight from Gatwick. The outward flight was fine and bang on time, but we had a 6 hour delay on the return due to the cold weather in Gatwick - apparently the ouward plane had waited almost 5 hours to be de-iced! So another unimpresssive response to bad weather by the Gatwick airport authorities. Spending upwards of 8 hours at Arrecife airport was not much fun!

As last year, Holiday Autos provided an OK and quite cheap hire car via Hertz.

The 1:40,000 Lanzarote Tour & Trial map was incredibly detailed for a holiday destination and useful for walking. The associated book "Walk! Lanzarote" was also very good for walking; the Sunflower guide much less so.

Birding information
The key book is "A Birdwatchers' Guide to The Canary Islands" by Tony Clark and David Collins. Although this dates from 1996, it was still useful and describes well the main sites. In addition, there were a number of trip reports to be found on the Internet, but this appears to be a less popular birding destination than Fuerteventura - and having visited both I can understand why! We never came across any other birders, unlike last year.

The weather was mostly reasonably warm with a mixture of cloud and sun. The highest temperature was around 21C, but it became increasingly windy towards the end of the week. This was a significant issue for some of the walks we did in the steep and vertigo-inducing volcanic hills, one of which had to be aborted and another became challenging because of the gale force winds.

Having no mountains high enough to disturb the prevailing NE trade winds, Lanzarote is an incredibly dry place, and there was no sign of any recent rain. All the island's drinking water comes from desalination plants. It was much drier than the pictures in the walking book, with only sparse greenish vegetation. The only standing fresh water we saw was an artificial pool on the Tias golf course! Large areas were almost completely birdless and many of our walks produced only the inevitable Berthelot's Pipits and perhaps a few wary Trumpeter Finch.

All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D with EF400mm/f4 DO lens and x1.4TC. All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.

I now describe the main sites we visited, in approximate chronological order.

Tias Golf Course
A vagrant Allen's Gallinule had been present in December and earlier in January at this site, and so a visit seemed worthwhile on the off chance it was still around, especially as this site was very close to the airport. So shortly after arriving on the island, we spent some time viewing the golf course from the surrounding roads, but saw only Southern Grey Shrike and Trumpeter Finch. We then spotted a distant pool in the middle of the course, which seemed worthy of closer investigation. We asked for permission to enter the course at the club house (no problem). Dodging golfers and golf balls, we came to the pool quite quickly but there was no sign of the Gallinule - the closest match being one miserable Coot! Also present on or around the pool and associated "stream" were a few waders (the only ones I think we saw) - Black-winged Stilt (1), Black-tailed Godwit (2) and a Common Sandpiper.

There was some compensation on our return, with this remarkably approachable Southern Grey Shrike by the path - it must have been very used to golfers!

Southern Grey Shrike
Southern Grey Shrike at Tias GC (click right to enlarge)

Riscos de Famara
According to the Clark book, these cliffs are the best in the Canaries for Barbary Falcon - my only possible lifer on this trip, given that the Allen's Gallinule seemed to have departed.

After having a pleasant circular walk from Haria, which included a short section along the cliffs, without any Barbary Falcons, we tried the viewpoint (mirador) past the Tropical Park at Guinate. This had good views of the cliffs, some tame Berthelot's Pipits but no signs of any Falcons.

The Mirador del Rio further to the north has been turned into a tourist trap, and we reluctantly paid an entry fee of about 5 euros each. However, the views were splendid, but initially there was no sign of any falcons. I then did a careful scan of the cliffs, and picked up a very distant but promising looking falcon. Without the 'scope, I resorted to the next best thing - long range photography with the DO, which beats 10 x 40's by some margin!

Close Raven Ultra distant Barbary Falcon!

Later inspection back at the hotel of the resulting "ultra record" shots confirmed it was indeed a Barbary Falcon, and not a wintering Peregrine which can also occur according to the book. See the pic above - others though similarly poor show more clearly the rufous areas on the nape. So a successful first full day of our holiday.

The view of the island of Graciosa from the Mirador del Rio

Teguise Plain/El Jable
This is a well known site for desert species, and was within easy reach of our hotel in Costa Teguise. A late afternoon visit proved to be very successful for Houbara Bustard. I saw the first from the LZ 408 through Nazaret, before even reaching the area described in the book. The tracks to Tao and Tiague were easier to find from the LZ 402 on the eastern side of the plain than from the LZ 20 to the west. Both these tracks produced more views of Houbara Bustards. With 2 in flight over the main LZ 30 just as the sun was setting, my total number of sightings was about 7. Not a bad score!

However on the downside, none were at all approachable unlike last year's splendid displaying male at dawn on Fuerteventura. Most also appeared to be either juveniles or females. In this area there were also some most annoying microlights and even a gyrocopter type thing buzzing around - clearly disturbing and flushing the bustards from time to time. This has been mentioned in other trip reports, but at least there still seem to good numbers of bustards present at this site. Perhaps surprisingly, I saw no other notable desert species here - only several more Southern Grey Shrikes. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough.

Playa Blanca
We spent the last four nights of our stay at this resort at the extreme southern end of the island. I went on a number of late afternoon and early morning searches for desert species in the immediate vicinity of the town, with varying amounts of success. The map below shows the locations of most of my sightings.

Google map of Playa Blanca showing locations for Cream Coloured Courser (CCC) and Houbara Bustard (HB)

The track left off the Femes road at the large roundabout near the cement works was quite good for both Cream Coloured Coursers and Houbara Bustards, but both were wary. Our best views of Cream Coloured Coursers were in some surprising habitat in undeveloped areas in the town itself (the two areas marked on the map close to the roundabout at the southern end of the LZ-2). These four birds were remarkably tame, and came right up to the car in the splendid late afternoon light - the undoubted highlight of this trip. This was probably a very lucky sighting though, as there was no sign of these birds on a later visit to these areas, and other suitable looking areas in the general vicinity.

Cream Coloured Courser Cream Coloured Courser
Cream Coloured Coursers in Playa Blanca! (click both on top row to enlarge)

Berthelot's Pipit

Berthelot's Pipit (click to enlarge)

In this general area, I also had a single Houbara Bustard sighting at dawn on the metalled road that runs down to the desalination plant by the sea, west off the old road to Yaiza. Heading out of Playa Blanca, you can see a petrol station on the new LZ-2 where this side road goes off, and at the same time the rectangular desalination plant. Unlike another trip report, I didn't see any Coursers on this road, though.

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
Gran Melia Salinas Hotel, Costa Teguise A good but pricey hotel. We had a nice room with a sea view. The half board food and general ambience was good. The bill was eased by a generous 20 euros per head per night discount on additional expenses.
Dream Gran Castillo Hotel Resort, Playa Blanca An enormous warren of a place well to the east of the town centre. We never had the time to explore the whole place! Somewhat less expensive than the Salinas hotel, with a more spacious room and balcony which had a stunning sea view including Fuerteventura in the distance. However the food wasn't nearly as good, and was generally more downmarket (all inclusive options were apparently available - not a good sign in our limited experience of Canary Island hotels!). Again we received a useful discount.

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 


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