Tenerife, Canary Islands September 2003

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


by Daniel Bastaja

I recently returned from a one week trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. In my haste to pack for the trip, I neglected to bring my driver's licence which meant that renting a car was out of the question. Fortunately Tenerife has a great (and cheap) public transport system. A comprehensive route map and schedule is available at most of the hotels. Here is a report of some of the species noted.

September 20th, 2003:

The hills above Playa de Fanabe (Playa de Las Americas) produced fantastic views of Berthelot's Pipit, Plain Swift, Sardinian Warbler, Whitethroat, Canarian Chiffchaff, Canarian Blue Tit, two very vocal Great Grey Shrikes, Kestrel, Goldfinch.

A walk along the shore in this area produced several Turnstones, a lone Curlew, a lone Lesser Black-backed Gull among the Yellow-legged Gulls, and a trio of very noisy Parakeets. I wasn't sure what kind these were.

September 23rd, 2003

The sand beaches, tidal shelf and golf courses between El Medano and Las Galletas (on the south coast near Reina Sofia Airport) produced a variety of shorebirds such as Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Whimbrel, Sanderlings, Turnstones, and a single Common Sandpiper. There were a few Cory's Shearwaters visible from shore.

Land birds included Berthelot's Pipits (fairly common), Spanish Sparrow (around the fringes of the golf course), Hoopoe, Kestrel, Great Grey Shrike and a treat of 9 Barbary Partridges (see below).

Barbary Partridges: some of the internet guides to birding on Tenerife speak of a dam and reservoir along Road TF-65, about a half kilometer north of El Abrigo. This reservoir (Embalse de Ciguana) is even shown on the map of Tenerife I bought. Try as I might I could find no dam and no reservoir. I scoured the area and found absolutely nothing resembling either, which I thought was kind of strange.

There is a small stone viaduct for Road TF-65 over the barranco, but it is not a dam. Moreover, there was no water to be found anywhere in the area. There is a dry barranco (ie: what we would call in North America a small canyon or gully or wash) that parallels the road just slightly to the east.

As I was walking along the edge of this barranco looking for the phantom reservoir, I had a group of  7 Barbary Partridges walk across the dirt track a short distance in front of me. They climbed the small hill to my left and, as I got a bit closer, took flight rocketing by in front of me down into the barranco. Later I flushed 2 more on the west side of Road TF-65 as I headed across a flat rocky area towards the golf course. If you are visiting Tenerife and Barbary Partridge is one of your target species, I would highly recommend this area. It is easily accessible by car or public transit and it is a short, easy walk to where I saw the partridges. Walk north from the edge of El Abrigo just slightly to the east of the road, and keep an eye peeled. Between the town and where the barranco is crossed by a small paved road is where the partridges should be. This is about a one or two km stretch

September 24th, 2003

There was a huge flock of Plain Swifts circling over the town of Erjos but try as I might couldn't pick out a Pallid or Alpine Swift.

On the south edge of town, on the west side of the main road, is a wide dirt track that heads up the hill into the forest. In the farm field right where this track starts, I saw 2 Serins, which I heard were rare on the Canary Islands. Is this a spot where they are found? I walked the dirt road although it is an easy drive for a regular passenger car. Once I got into the Laurel forest at the higher elevations, I saw several Canarian Kinglets (ie: Canarian Goldcrest), Canarian Blue Tit, Common Chaffinch, Canaries, a Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  

The real treat came after about an hour of walking when I was fortunate enough to get reasonably decent looks at both Laurel Pigeon and Bolle's Pigeon (see below).

Laurel/ Bolle's Pigeon: all the stories I heard are true. It is extremely tough to catch a decent glimpse of either of these two species. They stay high in the trees, are always in the dense leaves, and they always seem to detect your presence long before you detect theirs. The result is that you hear a lot of flapping of wings and, at best, a split second, partial view of an obscure, dark form blasting away from you through the trees.

After an hour of walking I came to a bend in the road that had a patch of red dirt. You can't miss it. It is the only curve that has this bright, rust colored earth. Right at this spot I could hear at least 3 separate groups of pigeons flapping around in the trees on either side of me. Not flying but just flapping around in the branches like they were feeding, fighting or mating. This was also the first spot I had seen where there was some decent visibility through the trees. So very quietly I just sat down on the shoulder of the road, stayed very still and just waited. Sure enough, within a few minutes, a Laurel Pigeon flapped into view. I gradually raised my binoculars and had a decent view of the head and shoulders. Then it flew to another branch a bit closer and, in another partial view, I could see the body and tail with the characteristic buff tail band. Then the bird flew directly over my head to the opposite side of the dirt track and landed in plain view. Of course this only lasted for a second or two, as when I turned around to look, it spotted me. It flew back the way it came, straight over my head for a second time, affording a great, albeit brief, view of the bird in flight. This was the only good view of this species I was to have.

Getting on towards evening, as the sun started to edge towards the horizon, the pigeons seemed to get a lot more active. As I trudged along the dirt path back towards Erjos, a pair of pigeons flushed and, uncharacteristically, one flew straight along the dirt track towards me and over my head. I was delighted to behold the black-grey-black tail pattern indicating a Bolle's Pigeon.

To improve your odds on these two species, my recommendation is to walk the dirt road rather than drive and (as applies to most bird species), try in the early morning or late evening when they appear to be a lot more active.

September 25th, 2003

The Las Lajas Recreation Site on the slopes of Mt. Teide about 10 km north of the town of Vilaflor affirmed it's reputation as the best place in the world to see Blue Chaffinch as it took me only a few minutes to find several of the birds.

Towards the back of the site (ie: farthest from the road) you will see a brown and white sign that reads "Campo de Futbol". To the left of this sign is a small stone building. Close to this small stone structure is a tiny pool of water sandwiched between the base of two pine trees. It is easy to miss because it is so small. That tiny pool was a magnet for birds in the area. There was as many as 4 Blue Chaffinchs drinking at one time and other species that came to drink included a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Canarian Blue Tit, and several Canaries.

September 26th, 2003

On the day of my departure, I decided to take a 4.5 hour boat trip on the catamaran 'Freebird One' out of Porto Colon. The trip was great but I wouldn't recommend it for someone who's main aim is to see seabirds. This is because the entire 4.5 hour trip was spent hugging the coastline. For seabirds, the inter-island ferries would be much better. Nonetheless Freebird One provided me with fabulous close-up views of several rafts of Cory's Shearwaters(20 to 80 birds per raft) and a distant view of a flock of 11 egrets flying a bit offshore. I presumed these were Little Egrets. They were too far away to tell if they were Reef Egrets. As well, we had incredible views of Pilot Whales, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and even a flying fish!

My only real disappointment of the whole trip was failure to find any Cream-colored Coursers. Despite extensive searching of the flat, sandy semi-desert near El Medano and the golf courses on the south coast (my rationale being what better place to find a Courser than on the course) I was skunked. Oh well. Next time.

I would like to end this report on a note of caution. Several checked bags on our flight from Tenerife to Budapest had their locks removed and appeared to be rifled. I suspect it was the junior baggage handling staff at Reina Sofia Airport in Tenerife. They probably target bags that are quick and easy to open, and just shove a hand in there for a quick feel around for small objects of value. So if you are flying out of the Canary Islands, I would not recommend putting anything of value in your checked luggage.