We flew from Birmingham International to Tenerife South with LTE – a Spanish airline that I had not heard of before. We were crammed in sardine like with barely enough room to lower the table for our expensive and poor meal. To add insult they were charging an extra £17.50 each for the seats next to the emergency exits as they had ‘extra log-room’.
We took with us copies of ‘A Birdwatchers Guide to the Canary Islands’ by Clarke & Collins – a somewhat annoying book as the drawn maps within it are completely at odds with conventional maps i.e. north is up, ’ Finding Birds in the Canary Islands’ by Dave Gosney and the relevant updates from the Birdguides website, Collins Bird Guide and the excellent ‘Flight Identification of European Seabirds’ by Blomdahl, Briefe and Holstrom. I also downloaded the few available trip reports from various websites. We used the Freytag & Berndt 1:75000 map for getting about and finding the noted sites. Navigation was provided by my wife Jane, who is much better than any GPS, while I drove the hired Hyundi Getz around the tortuous mountain roads.
We were based at the Royal Tenerife Golf Club, a complex surrounded by the Golf Del Sur golf course which promised to be good according to Clarke & Collins (C&C) but proved to be, on the whole, disappointing unless you like plane spotting as it’s situated on the flight path to the south airport. The aircraft were low enough to be able to read their fuselage registration numbers unaided!
After much hassle at the hire car office, we finally arrived and after checking in, we dumped our stuff and headed for the poolside bar. Only birds seen before it got dark were Collered Doves and Yellow Legged Gulls flying overhead.
I got up at 6.30 am to find it still pitch black outside so I went back to bed. It got light at around 7.45 so I went to see how much of the golf course I could access. Luckily a wide track runs between the complex and the course fence, allowing good views across the fairways etc. If you are not staying at the Royal Tenerife, this track is off limits, so birding is limited to the roads around the course which don’t provide many good views due to various shrubberies or an area of wasteland at the northern end of the course. This latter area was to become my ‘local patch’ during our stay.
Anyway, a walk up the track had my first new birds in the canariensis form of Chiffchaff. Looking a little more yellow than ours, it’s the song that’s the give away, sounding a little like Cetti’s Warbler until I got used to it. Further up the track I came upon some Blackbirds and the first of many Berthelot’s Pipits. A Sparrowhawk glided past in search of a Chiffchaff breakfast. On rounding a kink in the track, I could see a very dark bird sitting in the top of a distant tree. Assuming it to a Blackbird I paid little attention until it flew. “WHAT THE *!*% WAS THAT”? Said bird was indeed very dark but had a bloody great long tail. Definitely NOT a Blackbird. Hoping it would return, I quickly made my way to the end of the track. The tree it had been in was about 25 meters away. While waiting, more Chiffchaffs sang all around and some species of fly tried to bleed me to death. Note: DEET based anti mosquito products proved useless against these nasty critters.
After some 15 minutes my patience and blood loss were rewarded as the ‘long-tailed one’ returned to its former perch. This was all well and good because I now had a really good view of the bird but I still didn’t know what it was. It certainly was not in my copy of Collins. I made the following notes: Large Blackbird to Magpie sized but sleeker. Large, all dark bill. Vivid yellow eye with dark pupil. Plummage all irid. black but green/blue in light. V long tail at least as long as body.
I tried to photograph the beast using my phone through the bins but at that point it flew off due to the attentions of several Collered Doves. B****R!
Walking further around the track produced some Plain Swifts hawking low over the freshly watered fairways and more Chiffchaffs. On my return I could hear all sorts of weird whistling and clanging going on. This turned out to be someone feeding the birds on an ornamental lake over on the other side of the course (‘Small Dam’ in C&C p.18). From my vantage point I could see several Muscovy Ducks (with young), a Moorhen and 30+ Collered Doves. A better view of this lake looked possible from the road so I decided to try this later.
The presence of the Moscovy’s planted doubt in my mind. Was the ‘long-tailed one’ some sort of free flying golf course pet or a true vagrant?
The rest of the day was spent at a boring welcome meeting, deciding on plans for the rest of the week and watching team GB’s excellent performances at the Olympic Games.
‘Up with the lark’ as they say, this time armed with full digiscoping gear and hoping that the ‘long-tailed one’ was still around. Went to the end of the track and waited. Same birds and vampire flies as yesterday but lots more swifts which I checked through for anything unusual without success. After about 90 minutes and a pint of blood I decided to give up. I packed the camera away etc and was just about to return when the ‘long-tailed one’ appeared at the top of a tall palm tree on the other side of the lake – a distance of at least 400 meters. I broke my own personal best for setting up the scope and camera. The light was excellent so lots of zoom could be used and a 12.1 Megapixel CCD allows a lot of cropping. It was a long shot, a record shot (are you as excited as I was at this point?). I was just about to press the shutter release when the bird dropped down out of sight never to be seen again. B****R x 10³. On the way back to the apartment I got my first bird actually on the golf course – a Hoopoe, this was quickly followed by a decent sized flock of Spanish Sparrows that were feeding in a bunker. On my return I sent a text message to a friend describing the bird. He sent back Green Jay. Not knowing any better, I left it at that. On our return to the UK I had a check on the web to see where Green Jays come from. It was immediately clear that the bird I had seen was not a Green Jay. My friend lent me his copy of Sibley. Great Tailed Grackle was close but the tail was not long enough nor did it ‘flare out’ in flight. More Googleing produced the answer, my bird was a Long Tailed Glossy Starling from Africa – Hurrah!
Later we went ‘down town’ to check the place out for evening dining/entertainment. Wish we hadn’t bothered – lots of English/Irish pubs selling English/Irish beer and food. A fine selection of Chinese and Indian restaurants and lots of pizza joints give it that really authentic Canarian? flavour.
In the evening we went into San Blas and found an excellent tapas bar. It was a bit expensive but the food was really good with a massive list of dishes to choose from.
Both of us up early to check out some of the sites as listed in ‘The South’ in C&C as they were all close to our location. Firstly the Guargacho Dams - all completely dry and mostly surrounded by building sites and rubbish. Birdless. Next we moved on to Las Galletas where the harbour held a few Yellow Legged Gulls and many tourists. Not too disheartened yet, we moved onto the Punta de La Rasca area. Following the directions from the Repsol garage in C&C is a waste of time as there is no longer any access to the area beyond. Indeed, the Banana plantation is now massive and extends nearly to the coast. A close study of the map showed that access might be gained via El Fraile. This turned out to be the only vehicular access to the area. On the TF66 heading towards Las Galletas, turn right at an island into El Fraile. Go all the way down the main street and take the last turning on the left which is next to some sort of sports stadium. Turn right at the end and follow the tracks which lead to the coastline. From there the extent of the Banana plantation can be appreciated. The main track is marked by roughly painted red arrows on large rocks etc., and was fine even for our Getz. Some of the lesser tracks were decidedly rough though. The area itself was pretty much bird free (it certainly wasn’t rubbish free) apart from the usual Berthelot’s Pipits, a couple of Hoopoes and a Kestrel. Sea watching produced lots of close in Cory’s Shearwaters and Yellow Legged Gulls. Disappointing to say the least. From here we moved onto the El Medano area which is close to the airport. Things have obviously changed here since C&C was written. A lot of development is taking place and there seems to be an infestation of banana plantations all over the south eastern corner of the island. Also, the place was heaving with people going to the nearby beaches – god knows why as it was blowing a gale by now, so we didn’t even bother getting out of the car. Taking the TF64 out of El Medano back towards the motorway we came across a gull roost. Nothing very interesting there you might think, but this roost was actually on top of one of the banana plantations – most of which are covered with a Hessian like mesh, and contained a couple of very dark (Skua dark) individuals which made us stop. Trying to scope this lot in a hurricane was ridiculous and to make it even more difficult both dark birds hunkered down in an attempt to avoid the breeze. They went down as juvenile Yellow Legged Gulls.
Up early again and back to the Punta de la Rasca area to try and find some sort of vehicular access to this lighthouse etc. No luck. Also, the sump on the Getz held a little less oil after this foray. Came across a Southern Grey Shrike sitting atop a discarded fridge/freezer – this really is a top quality site. Went back to Golf Del Sur. Parked as marked in C&C and walked along the fence as far as the water tanks. Berthelot’s Pipits, Hoopoes, Chiffchaffs and a third lifer in the form of a lovely male Spectacled Warbler which spent a good ten minutes foraging in low bushes not twenty feet away and allowing excellent comparison to our Whitethroat.
Also from the fence you can see some more of the lake and on it could be seen some small reddy-orange geese that I remember seeing at Slimbridge WWT a while back but as they were tame I couldn’t be bothered to identify, a Moorhen with young, a very dodgy Mallard, a Bar Headed Goose and two Common Sandpipers.
I went back to the apartment to watch some people being athletic.
Getting bored of the relatively birdless south, we took a trip to the Erjos Ponds and Monte del Agua in C&C hoping to see the two endemic pigeons. It took about ninety minutes to reach this location from our base. On arrival it was clear that the ponds were almost completely dry, only a single shaded area held any water. However, there were plenty of birds around, most abundant of which were Canaries which was a lifer for us both. There were dozens of them. Also present were Turtle Doves, Chiffchaffs, Bert’s Pipits, a pair of Kestrels, a least eight Common Buzzards, a Sardinian Warbler, two Blackbirds and a Moorhen. There were no French Hens or Partridges in fruit trees.
We now decided to see if it was at all possible to access the track through the Laurel forest for the pigeons. As noted in the Gosney update, due to construction work, you still can’t even walk up the track let alone drive it. So, having noticed two signed walking tracks at the ponds, one of which appeared to lead to the radio mast where we needed to be to overlook the Laurel forest, we went back. It took us over one hour to reach the radio mast. During the climb we had some good views of at least four Bolle’s Pigeon, a single Canary Island version of Chaffinch, two teneriffae Goldcrests and three African Blue Tits – four more life birds. Interestingly, the pigeons were seen in an area of partially burnt trees on the hillside overlooking the pools rather than in the Laurel forest. The latter three birds were all easily distinguished from our resident species. Viewing from next to the radio mast, stood atop a large mound of earth, overlooking the forest, we scanned and scanned and saw absolutely b****r all! We braved the frigid blast and drifting cloud for about thirty minutes until we started turning blue then gave up. Still, five life birds in a morning should not be sniffed at so we left well pleased.
Note that there is a tarmac road that leads to the radio mast from the main road before you get to the ponds site. It is signed ‘no access to unauthorized vehicles’ or something of the sort, after about one hundred meters where there is a small area to park. It does not say keep out. Walking this road would be much easier than the track we used but we would have missed the pigeons and the Chaffinch if we had done so.
On our return to Golf Del Sur, a Grey Heron was seen flying across the road towards the lake.
A leisurely day spent mostly watching fit people do their stuff in China. I did venture out fairly early to the lake end of the golf course where six Hoopoe provided good entertainment for a while. The Common Sand’s were still there too.
Got a bit drunk last night so I only ventured out mid afternoon as it was rather cloudy and not too hot. I birded a track off the Palm Mar road just before you enter the resort which looked like another route to the lighthouse area. It’s signed as a nature reserve. It was very quite indeed with only Southern Grey Shrike, Kestrel and the ever present Bert’s Pipits seen. A bonus however was seeing several Pilot Whales just offshore. The various tracks that crisscrossed the area would have given access to the lighthouse area but as it was so quite I gave up. There’s nothing like dedication I’d say.
We did nothing except read and watch Olympics. Hey, this was a supposed to be a holiday after all.
An early morning start to Chanajiga – supposedly, the best place to get both of the endemic pigeons. As noted in C&C it is quite an involved journey to get there but fortunately, the site was marked on my Freytag & Berndt map. From our location, going via the TF21 past Pico del Teide, it took two and a half hours to get there. Weather-wise, we could not have picked a better day for it was beautifully clear and still all the time we were there, ideal conditions for pigeon spotting you’d think. Well, you’d better think again, because we saw not a single pigeon in the two hours we were there. Not a sniff. We had great views over the forest from various spots along the track that heads north, away from the picnic area from were we watched and scanned until our eyes bled. In fact, it was quite bird-less, with only Robin being added to the trip list. Also seen were a couple of Buzzards, a Kestrel, a Blackbird and a few Plain Swifts. Perhaps it’s better to go when the weather is not so good. If, however, you are into butterflies and dragonflies, then this place would be a winner because the place was heaving with both. We returned the way we came so that we could visit Las Lajas for Blue Chaffinch. By this time the roads were much, much busier so we stopped several times in the area of the volcano to take some photographs. We eventually arrived at the Las Lajas picnic site at around 2pm. Note that the entrance track off the main road is a car wrecker if you are not very careful indeed. It has been deeply rutted by running water and gets worse the further down it you go. Anyway, we parked up and went to one of the many tables scattered around the place. On it I crumbled a Hob-Nob biscuit – an irresistible tit-bit to any bird, and went to the next table and waited……for about fifteen seconds, before three cracking male Blue Chaffinches descended from the surrounding trees – Result! To be fair, when we looked around, there were lots of them under most of the benches so I’d wasted a precious Hob-Nob. There were also a few Canaries about and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker that was heard but not seen.
We went to Los Cristianos to catch the 08:45 ferry to La Gomera but found that all parties need to carry photo id so no go there then. We birded a likely looking site discovered on the way back from Las Lajas yesterday. It turned out to be a country park very similar to Las Lajas but without birds. Only a single Turtle Dove and a solitary, very pukka looking, Rock Dove seen. We returned to our complex as it was getting too hot for birding.
Armed with suitable id, we went to catch the ferry again. Due to joining a ticket queue that allows tour rep’s priority and to just push in, we only just got on in time, being boarded via the car deck. A note here, we went on as foot passengers as we planned to come straight back on the return ferry due to being prohibited from taking our car off the island. This exercise cost in excess of fifty, yes FIFTY euros each on the Naviera Armas ferry which is the only one that travels slow enough to allow a bit of sea-watching. Deals were being offered at the ferry terminal where two people and a car could travel for one hundred and twenty euros return which I thought good value, and in hindsight, wished we had risked, as La Gomera is an excellent place for the endemic pigeons.
As it was too crowded on the upper decks we had to settle for a vantage point that only gave views of one side of the ship – which, incidentally, is quite posh.
Anyway, the outward journey straight away started with good numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters, some at very close range. After about thirty minutes, I got onto the first of four Little Shearwaters although all of them were a bit distant. Of the target Bulwer’s Petrel, there was no sign. Still, not to worry, it’s a game of two halves as they say. Three probable Sandwich Terns were also seen.
We had a coffee and a snack at a café at the ferry terminal and a wonder around the marina which was absolutely teeming with fish – Grey Mullet mainly but many others as well.
On the return journey, we went back to the same vantage point as the wind had increased dramatically since our arrival. For the first twenty minutes or so, we saw nothing and I was becoming a little anxious. I should not have worried for the wind died away and birds started to appear again. Finally, a result, starting a scan at the bow, I saw several birds on the water which took flight. It was immediately obvious that two of them were not Cory’s. Alerting Jane, we both got superb close views of two Bulwer’s Petrels as they zipped about alongside the ship for about fifteen seconds before disappearing round the stern. After that, the five more Little Shearwaters seen were a bit of an anti-climax. We also saw small numbers of Pilot Whales but they were never close enough to cause any great excitement
Off to Los Gigantes with the hope of seeing a raptor or two around the huge cliffs. We were a little too late in getting there and had a great difficulty in finding a decent vantage point. In the end we got tired of doing battle with traffic and gave up, a couple of Kestrels being our only find. Not to be downhearted we drove inland to Santiago del Teide, a really lovely small town and good for Rock Sparrows sitting on wires, where we took the TF436 and stopped at various points. Again, too many tourists and not many birds, a solitary Raven being the highlight.
On the recommendation of a colleague at work, we made a trip to Loro Parque, a water park/zoo at Puerto de la Cruz. It has the largest collection of parrots in the world apparently and there certainly was quite a few, the vast majority of which were being completely ignored by the masses of people also present. Most of them looked miserable except some macaws that seemed to like having their stomachs tickled while clinging to the wire mesh of their enclosure. A large, free-flying area is under development which should be a whole lot better for the birds.
It also has, behind a glass wall, an indoor Antarctic region on which various species of penguin live. Unfortunately, it was ‘winter’ when we were there so you couldn’t get any decent photos but it was a least different. In fact, there were quite a few birds present around the park and we even decided to add one to the trip list – a Grey Wagtail, taking insects from the moat surrounding the Tiger enclosure.
Well, that was that. Only dipped out on one of the targets for the trip – Laurel Pigeon, but had the bonus of the Glossy Starling. Was it an escape though? The African coast isn’t a million miles away from Tenerife; therefore, I’m ‘having it’.