BIRDING TRIP REPORT:
8 - 15 February 2014
This is an
illustrated trip report for a weeks holiday on Tenerife. This trip
follows other ones to the Canary Islands at almost identical times of year, with
the common objective of escaping
the British winter and getting a bit of sun and warmth!
Having previously visited
Tenerife way back in my pre-photography days of 2002, my birding ambitions
this time were
pretty limited. During that family
holiday, I had picked up most of the local specialities
but had missed Laurel Pigeon and Little Shearwater. Now armed with my
camera, I was also hoping to get a few photos, especially of Blue
Chaffinch that I remember as being quite tame.
Tenerife is larger than the other Canary islands and
we decided to divide our
overnight stays between Playa de las Americas in the south east, the high altitude
plateau around Teide and the greener (and wetter!) north at the capital
Santa Cruz. For this trip I was accompanied by my semi-birder wife,
which again meant substantially less than 100% dedication to birding and
increased emphasis on some albeit fairly limited walking.
We flew with
EasyJet on a flight from Gatwick which was supposed to leave around 2pm,
but was delayed somewhat by the
non-arrival of the incoming flight that had to divert to Stansted due to
bad weather on the approach! The result was we only just made it to our
hotel in time for dinner. The return flight was also slightly delayed by bad
weather in Britain earlier in the day.
This time we used Economy Hire car
whose local agent was Cicar. There was a bit of an issue over the model
of car we had booked but this was eventually resolved and we ended up
with an Astra that had plenty of leg room but a rather small boot for
all our luggage.
We had a 1:150,000 Marco Polo map of Tenerife that also covered La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro
from the 2002 trip. This combined with extensive use of a SatNav worked
well. For walking we had both the Sunflower Guide which seemed generally
clearer than the confusing maps in "Walk! Tenerife".
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 are many useful
trip reports to be found on the Internet, which describe a number of
good sites additional to those in "the book".
The weather was
mostly warm and sunny, apart from torrential rain in Santa Cruz on our
last morning which was too late to spoil our trip.
The highest temperatures were in the low 20's °C. Previously we have
found that the Canaries can be very windy in winter but this time this
was less of an issue, although it was quite breezy most days.
All the pics
shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS
7D with EF400mm/f4 DO lens usually with a 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.
Erjos Pools and Laurel Forest
In 2002 we had enjoyed walk 18
from the Tenerife Sunflower Guide, so this time we decided to give the
shorter variant another try. This started by parking by the roadside
near a cafe above the Erjos Pools (see above GPS co-ords). A track then
descends to the pools from the main road. As last time, we had several
Canary Island Chiffchaffs and Canaries
around the pools which were also popular with locals out for a Sunday
stroll despite the cool, windy and cloudy conditions at times. The path
then climbed up the slope beyond and into the laurel forest on the far
side of the ridge. Along this slope we had one of only about 2 sightings
on this trip of the
local subspecies of Goldcrest.
All around there were clear signs of
the 2010 fires but the amount of regeneration in both the pines and
laurels was very impressive. Following the path through the very quiet
forest we became somewhat confused by the path and the directions in the
Sunflower Guide. Not wanting to go on the detour up Montana Jala we
found we had overshot the junction we wanted to avoid going left at!
Retracing our steps we eventually found the junction but to our dismay
the path straight on we wanted to take was very overgrown and virtually impassable.
So we gave up and re-grouped by having
some lunch in the same place we had had views of Bolle's Pigeons
back in 2002 (just below the turn up to Montana Jala) at very roughly
28.318322,-16.823698 (estimated from Google maps on return - we were not
carrying a GPS). Again this was a good spot for pigeons. In about
3/4 hours we had distant views of at least 8 Bolle's Pigeon
and more notably a closer sighting of one definite Laurel Pigeon.
So one of my two targets acquired on the first morning!
Thereafter we managed to continue the walk more or less as planned by
taking the surfaced track to Los Bolicos which ran to the south of and
approximately parallel with the overgrown track. It was a good varied
walk which returns through a pine forest (green needles having clearly
re-grown from the blackened trunks) but with few further birds of note
until the downhill stretch back down to the pools. Here we had a brief
flight view of a Barbary Partridge. This walk made a good start to
this trip with one lifer and several of the local endemics seen.
La Gomera ferries
In order to try to connect with
Little Shearwater, we decided on a day trip to La Gomera, using the
conventional ferry operated by
Armas which is much better for sea watching then the fast boat
operated by Fred Olsen Ferries. The early crossing out (08:45) and late crossing back
(17:00) seemed best for birding and gave us plenty of time on the island
(too much as it turned out).
Always keen to book in advance online,
I encountered a couple of tiresome issues. Firstly, it is
impossible to book without first having the registration number of your
car - so it can't be done until on Tenerife. Secondly the confirmatory
e-mail appeared as gibberish when accessing my e-mails via webmail!
However by careful inspection of the raw text I was able to identify the
key booking reference number near the end of the e-mail. On arrival at
the port of Los Cristianos (at about 08:00 - nowhere could we find how
long before departure time you should arrive) we were directed to park
in one of ferry embarkation lanes and then had to go into the building
to get our actual tickets.
Installing ourselves in seats as recommended on the upper deck
(left/port out, right/starboard back) we spent the whole of each
crossing (only about 70mins each way) sea watching. On the way out, there wasn't
much wind and all we saw was some Pilot Whales and a
relatively small number of Cory's Shearwaters, most
very distant. On the way back, it was much windier, and we saw many more
Cory's Shearwaters, a few of which approached the ferry
reasonably close. However there was no sign of the hoped for Little Shearwater,
which has apparently decreased substantially in recent years.
||Cory's Shearwater (click to enlarge)
The weather in La Gomera on the
day of our visit was poor inland, with low cloud and a ferocious gale in
the mountains. Initially undeterred we headed the short distance from
San Sebastian up into the mountains to the derelict Bar La Carbonara
which is at
GPS 28.134553,-17.1941. Here we walked a short way along the
path past the bar to a viewpoint which even had a picnic table and
chairs. Unfortunately the cloud was generally obscuring the forested slopes
above us and beyond the road but the view down into the valley just
below was clear enough. However in about 45mins we saw no sign of any
pigeons of either species. In fact the only bird at all was one
Thereafter we tried a small roadside pull out further up towards
Monte El Cedro, near to the Mirador de El Rejo, at
GPS 28.12538633,-17.2088225. Here the wind was stronger and we were
firmly in the cloud, with no views in any direction!
Clearly this was not the day to up in the mountains, so we returned
to San Sebastian for a short walk along the coast prior to the departure
of our return ferry (the reverse of walk 2 from the Walk! La Gomera
book). This produced only Linnet and one rapidly
disappearing Barbary Partridge.
Chio Pinar picnic area
This picnic area is on the TF38
above Chio and was a pleasant place with some obliging birds. We visited
here 3 times in two days with probably the best being the last - in the
early evening when it could be combined with a stunning sunset over La Gomera, viewed from further up the TF38 towards Tiede
(where we found 3 coach loads waiting with the same idea!). By the time of
this third visit I had finally decided on the best strategy for
photographing the Blue Chaffinches: simply to
wait patiently by one of the many dripping taps for the birds to come
down to drink. Even so, I found some taps were more favoured than others for no
apparent reason, and the constantly changing pattern of light and
shadows cast by the pine trees was difficult. Elsewhere at this site,
although very tame, these birds tend to stick to the shadows and only
come out into the sun very briefly.
This site was also good for Canary Blue Tit, the
local subspecies of Great Spotted
Woodpecker, the odd Canary,
Bertholet's Pipit and numerous Ravens that
come down at the end of the day to scavenge the moment the last tourist
gets into their car to go!
|Blue Chaffinch (click both to
|Canary Blue Tit
Driving west from Puerto de la
Cruz, the dual-carriageway T5 becomes a busy single carriageway. The
road enters a series of short tunnels, after the second of which, there
is a small pull-off on the right for the viewpoint at La Grimonas.
Although a good way down the NW coast of Tenerife, it was only just over
half an hour's drive from Santa Cruz due to the fast motorway. From the
viewpoint, looking across the road and up the steep slope are patches of
remnant laurel forest. This is a quite well known site for
Laurel Pigeon that requires absolutely no physical effort -
just step out of the car and wait a short time! The atmosphere however,
with heavy traffic thundering past very close by, between you and the
birds, could hardly be more different from the Erjos walk described
above which produced my first sighting of this species!
We arrived around 4pm and had no difficulty in seeing the
Laurel Pigeons. One was even showing on arrival, perched way up
on the skyline silhouetted against the cloudy sky. The light was poor as
we were looking very much into the sun - it is probably much better on a
clear day in the morning. The views thereafter were only of birds in flight. We had
10+ sightings in no more than about 1/2 hour, although all were distant.
Other birds included Feral Pigeon (possible cause of
confusion for the unwary) and the odd Buzzard.
|Laurel Pigeon extreme record shot!
||Full frame image showing the mega distant
Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey, Santa
The gardens in this hotel were
something of a green oasis and had a few birds, including the
Chiffchaff and more notably our only sightings this trip of
Plain Swift - overhead at breakfast (spotted by the
wife)! There were also parakeets around but I only heard them.
|Dramatic sunset over La
Gomera (with El Heirro behind & to the left) from the TF38 at
H10 Gran Tinerfe, Playa de Las
||Large quite expensive seaside
hotel with extensive pools etc which we never used (the same one
we stayed at in 2002 but fortunately we only had 3 nights this
time). Nice seaview room with balcony & superb sunsets. Buffet
dinner and breakfast very crowded ("bear garden" atmosphere) but
much more peaceful eating outside for which it was just about
warm enough. Small parking area behind a barrier but never full.
No need for us to hurry back to this one!
Parador de Cañadas del Teide
||A complete contrast to the
Gran Tinerfe - an old style hotel high up on the Tiede plateau
at over 6000ft, but even more expensive. We had a good sunset
from our comfortable bedroom which also had impressive views of
Tiede. Star gazing should have been impressive with dark skies
and high altitude but was ruined by the nearly full moon.
Dinner was somewhat disappointing and let down by poor service -
the huge coach parties present both evenings we were there
seemed to get preferential service. Breakfast was more relaxed.
Gets very busy during the day with day trippers on coach tours
visiting the nearby rock formation.
Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey,
||A rather grand hotel in Santa
Cruz. Probably the best we stayed in on this trip. A refined and
relaxed atmosphere. Our room overlooked the pleasant gardens in
the middle of the hotel. We changed to half board on arrival,
and contrary to other internet reports enjoyed the fairly pricey
dinners (slightly cheaper as half board). Breakfasts were also
good and relaxed and could be taken outside in the garden. On
arrival it was difficult to find anywhere to park to unload - we
ended up in the taxi space. This was not popular with a taxi
driver on our return later to move the car to the underground
garage (additional charge). Be aware the weather in the green
north of Tenerife is less reliable than in the south - it was
pouring down on our last morning before our departure!
© All pictures
copyright Stephen Burch