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Tenerife, Canary Islands

8 - 15 February 2014

By Stephen Burch

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.

Flights and car hire
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".

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 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 (GPS 28.317841,-16.804504)
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 Naviera 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.

Pilot Whale Cory's Shearwater
Pilot Whale Cory's Shearwater (click to enlarge)

La Gomera
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 miserable Chiffchaff!

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 (GPS 28.267308,-16.747447 )
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 Blue Chaffinch
Blue Chaffinch (click both to enlarge)
Blue Tit Great Spotted Woodpecker
Canary Blue Tit Great-spotted Woodpecker

La Grimonas (GPS 28.392797,-16.608839 )
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
Laurel Pigeon extreme record shot! Full frame image showing the mega distant bird!

Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey, Santa Cruz
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 about 28.238351,-16.69826

 Accommodation Details

Place Comment
H10 Gran Tinerfe, Playa de Las Americas 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, Santa Cruz 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 


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