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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Canary Islands

Sunday 15 September to Sunday 22 September 2024
with John Muddeman as leader
Tuesday 20 May to Tuesday 27 May 2025
with John Muddeman as leader

Price: $3,550* (09/2024)

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One of several endemic birds on the islands, the distinctive Blue Chaffinch. Photo: John Muddeman

The Spanish Canary Islands are in a remarkable location in terms of biodiversity. Their sub-tropical climate, ameliorated by cooling sea breezes, and volcanic origins have, over millions of years, enabled the evolution of a remarkably wide range of endemic fauna and flora. Dense clouds often shroud the precipitous north-facing slopes and peaks of the central and western islands. These are created by the trade winds bringing in moisture-laden air and have allowed for the establishment, diversification, and survival of ancient evergreen laurel forests rich in endemic species - the laurisilva – which are so special to these islands, and which come complete with a unique suite of associated birds and insects. In contrast, the eastern islands closest to the African mainland are much drier with desert-like habitats. During the tour we’ll visit both main parts of the archipelago to seek out the still rich and relatively well-preserved bird life present on the islands. In addition, given the limited variety (but high quality) of birds generally present, we’ll have time to also look at the commoner reptiles, butterflies and some of the flora and other fauna as we travel.

Days 1-2: The tour begins midday at the Lanzarote airport. Very different in nature to the Central and West Canary Islands, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are much older volcanic islands, and it will become immediately apparent that they are quite low and very arid, having eroded away over millions of years since their formation. Combining this with their closer proximity to the African mainland one can immediately understand their truly semi-desert nature. After dropping off our bags at our hotel, we’ll spend the rest of the first afternoon exploring the northern part of this island, particularly with our first looks at the open semi-desert areas here, home to roving flocks of Trumpeter Finch, Mediterranean Short-toed Lark and a few Great Grey Shrikes of the koenigi race (which is much commoner here than further west). We then drive to the northern tip of the island to see the views over La Graciosa and watch for birds from the clifftop, which can include Eleonora’s Falcons. Time permitting, the evening may be spent with a seawatch from a coastal viewpoint, where shorebirds such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey, Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers and ‘peeps’ also concentrate. The following day will be spent exploring different habitats on the island, starting again with a seawatch from close to the hotel, before we head over to one of the only areas with permanent water on the island to visit an area of working salinas to look for any shorebirds which may be around. After lunch in a local village, we’ll finish off by visiting the extensively sandy Famara area, famous for its Houbara Bustards and Cream-colored Coursers, but also holding a full suite of desert species. Nights on Lanzarote.

Day 3: This morning we will take the ferry from Lanzarote to Fuerteventura for a day trip to the island. Taking the earliest ferry over and the last one back gives us virtually all day to explore the island, including more chances for seabirds, such as Bulwer’s Petrel, and perhaps even cetaceans on the short crossing (both out and back). We’ll cover semi-desert, coastal and mountain areas in the north of the island looking for a variety of birds, plus a visit to the largest freshwater wetland which usually still holds water at this time of year. Raptors could include the endemic majorensis race of Egyptian Vulture as well as Barbary Falcon. Out on the more open plains we’ll be searching especially for the Houbara Bustard, if we missed it the evening before, but also for buzzing Trumpeter Finches and especially ‘bubbling’ Black-bellied Sandgrouse, which are only found on this island. However, the highlight of our visit to Fuerteventura will undoubtedly be the Canary Islands Stonechat, a dainty species now restricted to this one island. As on Lanzarote, we’ll also be on the lookout for the eastern islands’ races of various other species including Eurasian Stone-curlew, Spectacled Warbler and African Blue Tit, plus Ruddy Shelduck and Laughing Dove. With enough time, we also hope to visit the coastal cliffs where a tiny colony of Red-billed Tropicbird has recently become established, in the hopes of seeing a late individual. Watered gardens and parks around holiday complexes act as magnets to off-course migrants as well as providing habitats for interesting butterflies such as the incredible Monarch and its look-alike, the Plain Tiger. Good populations of the attractive Atlantic Lizard, diminutive Saharan Bluetail damselfly, and the introduced but often amusing Barbary Ground Squirrels will also keep us occupied during our searches for birds! Night on Lanzarote.

Day 4: After a final morning looking for any species that we may have missed, we’ll take an afternoon ferry to Gran Canaria. This relatively long journey takes us through the channel between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, then over open ocean to our destination. This affords us an unparalleled opportunity to look for any pelagic species which are at their most numerous at this time of year, aided by the excellent stability and comfort offered by this large ferry. Cory’s Shearwater should be abundant, but the real attraction of this ferry route is that it takes us over particularly deep water, and it is here where we stand the best chance of seeing the rakish Bulwer’s Petrel, while the gorgeous White-faced Storm-petrel is also regularly observed over the waters crossed by this route. Alongside the birds, a wide variety of possible cetaceans occurs and with luck we might also see Short-finned Pilot Whale, Bottle-nosed, Atlantic Spotted or Rough-toothed Dolphins or perhaps even a beaked whale, while Loggerhead Turtles, Sunfish and even Hammerhead Sharks are occasionally seen and flying fish are regularly observed. On arrival, after dark, we transfer to our hotel. Night on Gran Canaria.

Day 5: Today we’ll spend a full day exploring this impressive island. Not only is it worth it for the endangered endemic Gran Canary Blue Chaffinch, recently elevated to full species status and still slowly increasing in number and range following intensive conservation efforts, but also for the marionae form of European robin, recently proposed for elevation to full species rank, as well as to see the endemic bakeri race of Canary Islands Common Chaffinch and hedwigae race of African Blue Tit. It is also worth the effort for the remarkable scenery and also the presence of one of the remaining giant lizards on the islands, Gran Canaria Giant Lizard. We’ll look for the latter in the south near the island’s main freshwater body, with the hopes of finding stray avian migrants there, too. Night on Gran Canaria.

Day 6: We start with a short internal morning flight to Tenerife. The island is dominated by the massive volcanic peak of Teide, which rises to a lofty 12,198 feet above sea level. This is the highest mountain peak in Spain and the third largest oceanic volcano in the world, and is in some ways the crowning glory of the island, being literally ringed below the almost bare summit and caldera by the endemic Canary Pine forest. After arrival at the island’s north airport, we’ll take time to explore part of the island as we head to our hotel, perhaps even over the caldera. En route our first birds should include some of the islands’ most widespread, but still sought-after endemic species, ranging from the rakish Plain Swift to furtive Canary Island Chiffchaff and perhaps Atlantic Canary, a colourful, but still rather dowdy wild version of the familiar yellow cagebirds. The Canary Pine forest is home to several of the most range-restricted birds of the islands, including the emblematic Tenerife Blue Chaffinch, island races of African Blue Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, plus the furtive Canary Islands Goldcrest. In the afternoon and evening we’ll head to the north coast to a viewpoint to look for seabirds, particularly the rare and declining Barolo Shearwater. While difficult to see, it’s far from guaranteed even on pelagic trips and we have as good a chance here as anywhere of seeing one or two. Night on Tenerife.

Day 7: We’ll take our time here to explore the various habitats of Tenerife, but particularly those in the center and north, where the bulk of the island’s bird specialties occur in or close to the island’s forests. We’ll start by visiting the edge of the laurisilva, the rich laurel forest and its associated species. Several birds are all but exclusive to the habitat and we´ll search for flighty Bolle’s and Laurel Pigeons, the diminutive ‘Tenerife’ Goldcrest, colorful local races of Canary Islands Common Chaffinch and the Tenerife Robin, as well as the decidedly uncommon granti race of Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The flora in this forest is very diverse and if we have time, we’ll try walking along tracks and roadsides allowing us opportunities to investigate some of this variety, which in turn attracts butterflies, many of which themselves are endemic, including possibilities for Tenerife Brimstone, Canary Speckled Wood, Canary Island Blue and the rather rare Canary Red Admiral, as well as perhaps the rarer Canary Island Large White. With water constantly available in the reservoirs and irrigation tanks on these more western islands thanks to the sponge effect of these forests, a few interesting damsel and dragonflies are also present, including the endemic Island Darter, and the impressively large and colorful Blue Emperor.

A particular feature of Tenerife is the clear zonation of habitats. These range from the arid lowlands, through the more humid middle mountains in the north to the very dry high peak of Teide. A remarkable range of Euphorbia spurge plants are present, ranging from tall cacti-like species to the low, bushy fat-stemmed tabaibas, and with luck we may also see the stunning spikes of the Red Viper’s Bugloss, which may still be blooming in the Teide crater and is a member of another genus which has radiated into numerous species across the archipelago.

Depending on what we’ve seen previously, we’ll explore different areas and habitats. In the arid scrubby lowlands we can look for some widespread species including the local races of African Blue Tit, plus Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers among the extraordinary endemic flora. We should also see perky Berthelot’s Pipits and the long-established but still scarce Barbary Partridges, while a few of the koenigi race of Great Grey Shrike are very locally present. Man-made wetlands in more arid areas - we’ll visit one or two during our travels - attract resident and stray migrant birds, and should also reveal plenty of dragonflies, including the gorgeous ‘African’ Red-veined Dropwing and Broad Scarlet dragonflies, while the endemic Tenerife Lizard is also more abundant near these water bodies. Night on Tenerife.

Day 8: Time permitting, we’ll have a final look around Tenerife, before driving south to the airport where the tour concludes in time to connect with afternoon and early evening flights.

Updated: 08 February 2023


  • 2024 Tour Price : $3,550
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $520


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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size six with one leader.

** Please note that the exact timings of internal ferries and flights and/or the order of our itinerary may change according to operator timetable modifications. 

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