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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Canary Islands

2023 Narrative

IN BRIEF: The Canary Islands, lying quite close off the northwest coast of Africa, not only form part of the North Atlantic Macaronesian Islands group, but a fascinating archipelago of volcanic oceanic islands of markedly different ages in their own right. Their isolation has led to a remarkable degree of speciation and sub-speciation amongst the flora and fauna present, and this is well-represented within the birds, with almost all of Spain’s endemic species occurring here. Indeed, this taxonomic diversity is still the subject of research, with strong evidence recently put forward for splitting the Canary Islands Chaffinch group from European Chaffinch (along with Azorean Chaffinch, Madeiran Chaffinch and North African Chaffinch as well) reflecting a long and commonly-held belief amongst observers that they constitute a clearly separate entity. Further recent evidence also suggests that the two European Robin taxa on Gran Canaria and Tenerife, respectively, should also be split from European Robin and indeed, from each other. So along with the Macaronesian endemics, such as Berthelot’s Pipit and Barolo Shearwater, an interesting selection of more widespread seabirds, the best chances for seeing Houbara Bustard anywhere in the world, and the chance of off-course drifted migrants and vagrants (from either side of ‘the pond’), the combination of all these species and forms makes for an interesting tour.

July 27, Lanzarote: Haría area, Mirador del Agua, and Arrecife

With two of the group having arrived the day before, and the rest between mid-morning and early afternoon flights, we finally got out as a group mid afternoon and headed up towards the north of the island.

The rather scruffy and desolate-looking rocky plains and hillsides were indeed very quiet for birds, but even so, a couple of Common Kestrels clung to power lines in the strong north breeze and a surprise group of Barbary Partridges exploded in flight from a track above us as a group of off-road buggies buzzed their dusty track. So, the first endemic subspecies and the first established introduction, respectively, such a typical mix for island groups in general, kicked off proceedings.

Winding our way into the mountains near the lovely white town of Haria, we stopped on a sharp bend to try our luck at finding some more of the characteristic Canarian species. A little water had clearly enabled a few small orchards to be established and the trees and clumps of prickly pears on the steep slopes, in addition to the rather parched scrub, were clearly attractive to a few of the local specialities. Calling Berthelot’s Pipits gave us rather long-distance views, flitting up and down the valley at speed, but a pair of calling degener African Blue Tits were very much more obliging as they fed in the crown of a bush nearby and well worth the wait until they appeared in view. Another bird, which dropped quietly down to perch on the crash barrier on the roadside, was a lovely European Turtle Dove and it then proceeded to trundle around on the slopes for a while giving fine views in the scope. The rattling call of Spectacled Warbler then alerted us to two of these very flighty birds, but one scurried around on the steep banks and also crept through the Shrubby Launea bushes, giving good views as it stopped occasionally.

Higher up, with much stronger wind, we could a hear a loudly calling Great Grey Shrike, but it proved impossible to see in the much denser and richer native bushes eking out a living on some steep slopes where more moisture was being blown in on the trade winds. Not so the numerous Common Ravens, which were cavorting in the updrafts. Lower down it was calmer, with a Common House Martin wheeling around on a couple of occasions, but our attention was immediately grabbed by a small flock of flighty Atlantic Canaries in some figs trees and roadside bushes and a covey of half a dozen Barbary Partridges which headed off opposite uphill, on foot, again giving good scope views, as a Sardinian Warbler rattled from thick cover nearby.

We finished with the drive up towards the remarkable cliffs near the Mirador del Río. Indeed, a superb Eleonora’s Falcon accompanied us as we drove up, before passing overhead immediately after we’d arrived, plus another some time later, though we missed the latter’s arrival as we were enjoying a rather scruffy and partly moulted, but wonderfully noisy and rather confiding Great Grey Shrike in nearby bushes! A few groups of passing Yellow-legged Gulls kept us on our toes, but it was really the extraordinary views out to the north of the island over La Graciosa and various islets further north still that really made this so special.

Our arrival back at Arrecife was met with a mass fly-around by a surprisingly large number of Rose-ringed Parakeets bursting out from the Western Cattle Egret breeding colony in a clump of tamarisk and, after missing a turning in surprise, a single Plain Swift whizzing past the vehicle almost at eye level as sat in a little traffic as we negotiated our way through the streets to get to the hotel, was a welcome bonus!

July 28, Lanzarote: El Jable area, Muñique, Salinas de Janubio, Arrecife

After a normal breakfast we left to explore the extensive dunes and semi-deserts of El Jable in the north of the island. Lots of slow driving took us along rather sandy and seemingly lifeless tracks, sometimes through bare agricultural fields, but three groups of Barbary Partridges were good reward, with a stop for the first also turning up two Houbara Bustards strolling off into the low scrub. The drive out produced a fine Barbary Falcon flushed from a rock, but it flew higher up the slope to continue eating unknown prey, allowing us extended scope views. A Common Kestrel and a few Great Grey Shrikes also brightened proceedings and every single bird out here has special value!

We took time to approach a rather distant juvenile Cream-coloured Couser, though it was flightier than hoped and took off and headed towards the coast. A quick spot of eBirding then led us in the same direction and to a flock of 10 also very mobile birds, though these kept to the ground as they maintained their distance. Having seen virtually everything likely, we drove out along an old favourite track of mine, that returned brilliant rewards of a point-blank Houbara Bustard and then no less than 10 Eurasian Stone-curlews roosting amongst rocks on a rough slope quite close to a village.

A soft drinks break was called for in a nearby village with a small flock of Common Linnets as ‘by catch’, while a short drive to kill half an hour by the coast before lunch was interrupted by a fly-past Trumpeter Finch, leading us to then discover a lovely flock of 20-25 Mediterranean Short-toed Larks roving across the stony semi-desert at quite close range.

A tasty tapas-style lunch including papas arrugadas and queso frito, was followed by a drive through the extraordinary wine-producing landscape of La Jeria, where to boot, a mixed flock of Spanish Sparrows and Trumpeter Finches, complete with rosy adults feeding golden juveniles, required a good stop.

The Salinas de Janubio, despite a powerful constant wind making the scopes shake constantly, gave us a few new species in the form of almost 40 Black-winged Stilts, a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, three roosting Ruddy Shelducks and a few very distant Black-necked (AKA Eared) Grebes. We gave up quite quickly though given the conditions and headed down to the shop selling local produce and ice creams…

A coastal port produced no interesting gulls as hoped, but the luxury yachts were an interesting sight and far more so the abundance of colourful fish life in the rocks adjacent to the moorings, including some wrasse with colours to rival any tropical coral reef!

Back at Arrecife we ended with a short hot walk around the smelly Western Cattle Egret colony, but apart from the egrets, a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets and a fine Monarch butterfly floating back and forth, there was nothing else on offer and at nearly 30ºC, we decided to call it an early day.

July 29, Fuerteventura: Playa Blanca ferry, Embalse de los Molinos, Betancuria, Tindaya Plains, Corralejo ferry

An early start with packed breakfasts saw us reaching the ferry port still in the dark, at 0630h. And a good job it was too with a minor ID issue of mine needing to be resolved, thankfully well in time, and meaning that we were on deck and already watching for birds before leaving port a little after sunrise. A small flock of Plain Swifts and Common House Martins buzzing a hotel were the most interesting, though as we pulled out a single Grey Heron was noted on the rocks and the first of numerous Cory’s Shearwaters.

The rather different nature of Fuerteventura, without the white village architectural style of Lanzarote, nor such control on its development was immediately apparent, also in the large new road carving its way through the rugged lava fields helping us head south!

While driving through one of these villages, a small dove in a roadside Aruacaria caught my eye and after a quick U-turn we were mostly able to enjoy a perched Laughing Dove for a few moments before it flitted off through the houses and disappeared without trace.

Our first Common Buzzards, another resident subspecies on the islands, were noted in flight from the vehicle, but with limited stopping options, we continued, only to have to make another about-turn shortly afterwards when a fine male Fuerteventura Stonechat flew across just behind us! It seemed impossible that anything could hide in the sparsely vegetated dry slopes with rocky outcrops, but it actually took a little while to refind it, only to discover that this one was a female! A Spectacled Warbler put in a game of hide and seek alongside her for a bit, but then we noticed that there were actually not just two stonechats, but three, this apparently being a family party feeding mostly in a small rocky gulley. We rounded off by relocating the male, which finally flew towards us sufficiently to obtain good views, enabling us to enjoy the male, female and two well-grown juveniles.

Another car at the end of the access track to Los Molinos reservoir signalled the presence of three Spanish birders, the only ones we encountered during the entire tour (!), but also a great opportunity to check up on what was happening locally and for John to say hello to an old contact! A family of ‘Barbary’ Falcons and a wheeling flock of Pallid Swifts played in the air above us as we commenced a short walk out parallel to a narrow and rather dry reservoir, though it took a while to start seeing any other birds. Ironically, it was a North American vagrant, a long-staying male Lesser Scaup in the middle of the water that went next on the list! A couple of Ruddy Shelducks nearby, the first of a large mobile group were next, along with a family of noisy Black-winged Stilts, while a Common Moorhen sneaked across the open water, barely being able to hide for a while partially submerged under floating waterplants. Arriving relatively early also meant perfect timing of our visit for one of the true semi-desert birds, and, true to form, a small flock of “bubbling” Black-bellied Sandgrouse raced over towards an unseen water source in a gulley leading down into the opposite shore of the reservoir. Then another group, then another and more, and amongst the almost a hundred birds in total, a couple of lovely groups passed almost directly overhead, their black-and-white bellies and underwings offset clearly against the blue sky.

A few small birds also attracted our attention, including a couple of small flocks of Trumpeter Finches racing past, a fine Eurasian Hoopoe which crossed the water and then pottered about amongst the dead twigs close to the shoreline and even three or four Fuerteventura Stonechats, with two moulting males moving rapidly around us clearly trying to establish a clear boundary between their territories. Remarkably, another two or three stonechats were back by the vehicle as we returned, plus a fine adult Egyptian Vulture which circled quite low over, giving a good photographic opportunity, while a fine male Atlantic Lizard sunbathed on a broken wall, allowing excellent close-range views.

A drive to find a bar for a drink ended up frustratingly without success, so we high-tailed it to our lunch location at a lovely shaded bar-restaurant in the lovely mountain village of Betancuria. A pair of degener African Blue Tits called and fed above us on and off throughout to add variety to an excellent tapas-style lunch.

It was quite hot and time was rapidly running on, so we headed back and aimed for the Tindaya Plains. Mid-afternoon is clearly not an ideal time for the semi-desert, but much to our surprise and delight, we were rewarded with two remarkable sightings. First a flock of ten Black-bellied Sandgrouse were pottering around amongst a significant herd of penned goats, just a few metres from the road! Secondly, a shout from the back of the bus alerted me to a magnificent Houbara Bustard just off the side of the road, which once we reversed, simply continued to walk sedately off into the stony desert, seemingly completely unconcerned by the total lack of cover…

Reaching the cliffs, the north wind thankfully kept the temperature down and provided perfect currents for a couple of Northern Ravens and a single Barbary Falcon to cruise the cliff-top at eye level, while we picked up a large white bird working its way into the wind just over the waves, this being a very unseasonal adult Northern Gannet!

Despite the usual Cory’s Shearwaters, the seawatching refused to give up any more surprises, so with time running short, once again we headed early to the ferry port, despite the dreadful state of the road slowing us at the start (!), arriving spot on time and once again, once we’d finally boarded seemingly despite a boss’s wishes, as he let just about everyone else board first (!). On board, it was time again to enjoy the significant numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters cruising past the ferry as we headed back to Lanzarote to end the day.

July 30, Lanzarote: Arrecife, Guatiza and north of island, overnight ferry to Gran Canaria

This was something of an exceptional day. Walking out after breakfast to look at the local waders, with an excellent selection of Kentish, Common Ringed and Grey Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone and three very unexpected, but of course welcome, Sanderlings, seen, plus another Grey Heron and a couple of Little Egrets, numerous thoughts were running through my mind given that news had reached me that due to a medical emergency, our planned ferry departure in the afternoon had been delayed by 11 hours!

We came back to do our final packing and bring cases down to the reception for storage, while I went off to see what could be done about the vehicle, confirm the delay, etc. and consider the logistic options. Naturally this took quite some time, and being a Sunday, I was forced to visit the airport in the end, where I had to hand in the van and get hold of a different and smaller vehicle, but one which would at least get us round the island for the rest of the day!

After lunch in Arrecife, we headed off north, finally visiting a site I’d wanted to reach for some time, where despite the strong hot wind, numerous Berthelot’s Pipits were feeding around the penned goats, two Eurasian Hoopoes pottered about, hacking impressively into the seemingly baked ground for grubs –it never fails to impress me how such a long and apparently delicate bill can be used so effectively like a pick!– and even a Great Grey Shrike or two livened up the long and dusty access track.

Next stop was up at Órzola, where the immense cliffs to the north were once prospected by tropicbirds, though sadly not so now, but with just a couple of Berthelot’s Pipits and two Yellow-legged Gulls to keep us looking, a fine Eleonora’s Falcon passing N raised spirits. Indeed, no less than 5 more were seen cruising above the clifftop and passing into the cloud near the Mirador del Río, where it was pleasantly a touch cooler as well, and a family party of three Barbary Falcons also stormed past!

A fine dinner was taken with lovely sea views at Arrieta, where local fish were very much on the menu, and surprising numbers of Eurasian Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows were gathering to roost in the palms as we walked out.

The hills nearby at dusk were also interesting, with a Barn Owl roost discovered, though sadly with no bird in attendance, but the “squeaky gate” calls of a juvenile Long-eared Owl could be heard from some slopes where a Stone-curlew or two also called for a while.

We returned to the hotel where I dropped everyone off before heading to the airport again, dropped the vehicle off and caught a taxi back. We then either slept and/or repacked until 1 a.m. before catching a couple of taxis which took us to the ferry terminal where we finally boarded c. 2:15 a.m. and headed up to find the quietest and most comfortable reclining seats that we could. Others in the know, or those that were spending their second night on the ferry (which had come from Huelva) had already bagged the open floor areas and/or removable cushions, but we still managed to sleep or at least rest well for most of the journey.

July 31, Gran Canaria: Pinar, Jardín Botánico

Taking a ferry as a foot passenger means that getting off can take a while, and indeed despite having docked just after sunrise, we were led off last, after all the vehicles, including lorry trailers had disembarked, with a moderate walk to where the luggage also took a while to appear on the belt. There was then another delay as it transpires that the port is some way from the centre and taxis have to be summoned by phone… Fortunately, just as things seemed to be getting out of hand, we were finally able to get a large taxi to take us into Las Palmas to pick up the hire car and it wasn’t too much longer before we were on our way again, this time to rush to the hotel for a late breakfast, plus wash and brush-up, in addition to being able to leave the baggage behind. And what a hotel! A lovely restored old house buried in the edge of a small town, with spacious rooms and a couple of patios was a great delight to see as we arrived. And breakfast was just as good!

It was finally 11 a.m. when we set off up the volcano, with the rather narrow and very twisting road making our progress a little slower than hoped, and with it already being around 30ºC, we knew that it was going to be hot. A couple of granti Eurasian Sparrowhawks went past in front, with only one or two of the group seeing one of these birds, but as we climbed a little further round a couple more hairpin bends, so one reappeared very close overhead and off to one side, allowing most of the party views of this often tricky-to-see (sub)species.

The forest of Canary Pine at the top was our destination, though it was immediately obvious on arrival that it was hot, breezy and tinder dry, and seemingly lifeless! Not be deterred, we took a gentle stroll around, our hopes lifted a little as we came across a small roving party of Canary Islands Chiffchaffs and mainly juvenile hedwigae African Blue Tits in an area with a few shrubs as well. A thanneri Great Spotted Woodpecker ‘chipped’ off to one side, but there were no other birds to be seen. We looped around, seeing nothing, then a single call off to one side caught our attention so we stopped to try and hear it again. Nothing for a couple of minutes, until suddenly, a moderately large passerine flew in to the canopy above us, giving about half the group views of the rear end of a perched male Gran Canary Blue Chaffinch! Frustratingly, after just a couple of seconds of being sat still, it was off again through the canopy in silence and immediately lost for good.

We continued a little further to another area more frequented by people in the hopes that the picnic tables and even a little water available might attract a few more birds in. It still seemed extremely quiet (but this was not so surprising given the heat), but another thanneri Great Spotted Woodpecker, endemic to Gran Canaria, actually came down to try and drink from the drain hole under the water supply, giving good views. The area was still very quiet despite a few chiffchaffs and African Blue Tits high in the trees, so again we took a short walk under the pines to look for more birds. A wait ensued, finally broken when we noted a ‘chaffinch’ sat on a stone near some bushes. At first it was unclear what it was given the views, but it suddenly dashed off into some bushes in the deep shade and disappeared. A participant quite rightly had noted the lack of white wingbars and we realised that we’d seen and then lost a juvenile Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch! Arghhh! Fortunately, a flash of bright green then caught my eye under the bushes, and we discovered this juvenile bird devouring a huge vivid green bush cricket! Thanks to the size of the prey, it took some time, allowing us prolonged scope views of this critically endangered species! The rather dowdy colours enabled it blend perfectly into the shaded understorey and then it too was gone, just like the male earlier.

Given the heat and the general difficulty of seeing this species, it felt like ‘job done’, but we all felt that seeing a fine male would be best! We returned to near the water for a sit and wait vigil, and not long after, another small passerine flew across into a pine opposite, flashing white. This was a female bakeri Canary Islands Chaffinch, which also came down to the water, but very briefly, before vanishing into the forest again. Two or three European Turtle Doves then also appeared under the trees, walking about in the shade looking for food and giving us fine views, but it was slim pickings in the heat and we eventually had to move off to look for lunch! A short detour en route produced nothing new except a few fine plants in flower, including the lovely Canary Sage.

A fine lunch was taken at the first restaurant that we could find, which was in a lovely location and despite sitting outside at c. 34ºC, in the shade under the parasols and with a breeze blowing, it was a welcome break from being in the broken sun in the forest!

Hopes to see a male blue chaffinch were still high, so instead of heading on for the other main endemic remaining to try and see, we went back to the area with water source and waited patiently once again. This time, using a small trick, a few more were attracted down, including a male, then female and then juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker in series, while another juvenile Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch suddenly materialised, dropping down to the water and giving good views. Judging by the colour bands (part of the intensive monitoring project of this species), this was actually different from the one we’d seen earlier, but was also to be our last, and with time moving on fast, we headed for the next site.

It was just as hot lower down, but at least there was a little more breeze than higher up, making a wander round the extensive botanic gardens possible! Our principal goal, the endemic marionae subspecies of European Robin was quite quickly found, though seeing it at first was not so easy! At least we also had flighty Sardinian Warblers and Canary Islands Chiffchaffs to enjoy as we searched, and some calling European Goldfinches added variety. Recent scientific research has suggested that not only should the endemic robins of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, with their extensive blue-grey surrounds to the orange throat and breast, plus crescent eye-ring and different songs and calls, be split from European Robin as a different species, but not only to their ‘parent’ species and also from each other, rather like the blue chaffinches! How they will finally be considered taxonomically waits to be seen, but they are still an important element and example of the endemic avifaunal diversity present on the islands and well worth searching out!

A few more hedwigae African Blue Tits showed well, a heineken Eurasian Blackcap showed all too briefly despite singing well for a few moments and three Rose-ringed Parakeets speeding over in flight were noted by the group. Being a botanic garden, it was no surprise of course that there was a lovely selection of the endemic native plants, even though most were not in flower, but some pools had also attracted a number of colourful dragonflies, with most being the strikingly red male Broad Scarlets, plus a few Blue Emperors and even a very elusive immature Epaulette Skimmer. A few Monarch butterflies were also present, enjoying those flowers that were open.

Following a tough night and with the continued heat and not enough time to sensibly visit anywhere else, we headed back to the hotel for a decent break before walking the short distance down to a terrific dinner at a local restaurant and also in order to get ready for our departure the following morning.

August 1, Tenerife: Anaga Peninsula, Arona, Garachico area

A 7 a.m. breakfast was followed by an 8 a.m. departure and 30-minute drive, including refuelling, down to the airport. Our flight actually left also 30 minutes late, but being a short hop actually landed only around 20 minutes later than planned. The huge queues for vehicle rental were not expected though, so as the group sat and chatted over coffees, I waited it out and eventually, we got our van…

The strong trade winds pushing air onto the steep north-facing slopes of the C and W islands of the chain produce thick cloud and over eons have permitted the formation of significant areas of laurel forest. One such area is the Anaga Peninsula, not far from the airport, and indeed, the cloud was sometimes swirling down over the runway as we waited. In order to maximise our time, we headed straight to a few ‘easy’ spots not far away. A viewpoint enabled us to easily appreciate the dense cloud ‘pouring’ over the highest peaks then dissipating quickly as it dropped on the ‘rain shadow’ side to the S. A calling male canariensis Canary Islands Chaffinch dropped to feed on the edge of the viewpoint, but was unfortunately soon flushed by some other tourists who were seemingly not only completely unaware of our interest, but also in the bird. A large flock of Plain Swifts wheeled over the forests then sped, sometimes noisily, past, but there was little else to be seen.

Our next stop was at a very busy wooded viewpoint within the laurel forest with a teneriffae Goldcrest heard, a tantalising superbus Canary Islands European Robin for a few of the party, several Canary Island Chiffchaffs, teneriffae African Blue Tits and large numbers of canariensis Canary Islands Chaffinches, giving point blank views, very unlike on Gran Canaria! There were too many tourists though, so we headed down and into a much quieter recreational area, which was also good for canariensis Canary Islands Chaffinch and of particular note, a confiding teneriffae Goldcrest.

Our late lunch was taken not far away at a rather noisy but excellent bar, where I heavily over-ordered various dishes for our tapas-style lunch, but everyone did their best to help out! We finally continued across the N coast, stopping ‘on spec’ at a favoured location to look for a key bird. Thankfully, this turned out to be a very good choice, with a perched Laurel Pigeon almost immediately a great find! OK, so the bird was some way up the slope, but it sat quietly for some time, only then flying when another appeared in flight and they cruised across before vanishing into the depths of the bushes. A few more then appeared sporadically, flying across the cliffs above us, either to disappear into cover or round the back of the crags, though eventually another appeared and landed again in full view, even though it didn’t stay as long before diving into cover.

Our final destination was a small coastal promontory. The sea views are good here, with the NE trade winds typically seeing any moving seabirds coming in from the left and moving across right, with the light behind us for most of the time, so we stood and waited, fortunately happily in the cooling onshore ocean breeze. Cory’s Shearwaters were quite common, with slowly increasing numbers as we waited, though when a much smaller and blackish bird appeared, it was a relief to be able to yell out Bulwer’s Petrel! Most of us were able to get onto this rakish species in the scopes as it dashed up and down the peaks and troughs of the incoming swell, though it was far from easy. Another, later, again gave us another brief opportunity, though this one soon turned and fled downwind… With time running out, expectations were still quite high and indeed, when a small black-and-white shearwater appeared low over the waves, I couldn’t quite believe my luck to see that it was the hoped-for Barolo’s Shearwater. Given their rather small numbers, they’re always difficult to see, even on pelagic trips, but while most of the group got onto this bird as it tracked from left to right, it finally disappeared without trace, leaving us with hopes for another, though it was not to be.

Dinner was at a fixed time, so we finally headed to our hotel towards the south of the island and after negotiating the remarkably steep narrow roads for the final part to the hotel, it was marvellous to receive a wonderful greeting from the effusive Italian owner, as we stepped into our rooms in one of the oldest granaries on the islands, dating back to the early 1700s. A fine Italian dinner followed, rounding off a particularly memorable day.

August 2, Tenerife: pre-breakfast north coast, Teide, north coast evening

Another early start saw us heading towards the north coast in our quest for endemic pigeons. We reached the first site just after sun-up, not that it was really noticeable given the sea of cloud blowing in here and the temperatures having dropped to a very refreshing 16ºC! Small flocks of Atlantic Canaries moved around the scrubby slopes, a few Canary Islands Chaffinches popped out onto the edge of the car park and a Tenerife Robin appeared for a few seconds, but failed to reappear, despite calling from the depths of the bushes. And not a pigeon in sight!

We watched and waited for a while, before deciding to look for a nearby area with more tree cover. The slopes nearby however were of the thermophile vegetation with no laurel forest, and despite a Laurel Pigeon dashing into the slopes close by, it was only later noted as it shot out and over the ridge for a second as we walked along the road to try and see it.

We started the return journey, but detoured off to overlook an area of laurel forest at the head of a steep gulley. Numerous bare dead tops to tree heathers burnt in a serious fire some year ago crowned the steep slopes, offering perfect perching sites, but not a bird was seen. A harsh series of tack calls alerted us to a male Eurasian Blackcap which then flew into a stand of flowering Fennel, but it was only visible for a few seconds before dropping out of sight, though still loudly proclaiming its presence! We changed position, with time ticking away, but it was actually the Tenerife Robins ticking from some overgrown gardens and scrub as we watched that heralded a change in luck, as within a minute or so, the first of a small group of Bolle’s Pigeons raced up the steep gulley in front and veered into the dense crowns of some trees. A few more appeared or reappeared over the next tens minutes or so until finally, one flew out and perched on some bare branches in full sight, giving us all time to enjoy it in the scopes, until it too then suddenly dashed off and the show was over!

We arrived back at breakfast just in time, since some of it had to be brought out again for us and our grateful thanks went to the staff member who hadn’t been told we’d get back late! A very tasty breakfast it was too! With some of the pressure off, it was now time to go and look for the remaining island and indeed, tour endemics. We headed up towards the Teide peak, stopping at a rather noisy car park in the pine forest, where to cap it all, a group of quad riders were having instructions shouted to them in loud Italian!! It was very hot, but as we started to walk down one small trail, so I heard a Tenerife Blue Chaffinch sing from behind us, and then another! We reversed our steps and climbed up into the forest to a much quieter spot in general, where to our delight, a number of the chaffinches were calling and singing, as well as not only feeding on the ground, but also and mostly, visiting a dripping tap. This had clearly been set up to help them, with teneriffae Great Spotted Woodpeckers, teneriffae African Blue tits and a European Turtle Dove also coming down to drink, sometimes queueing for position with the occasional blue chaffinch. To cap this all, a lovely Tenerife Goldcrest sang from a huge pine just above us, and while doing so actually remained in the open, albeit in the shade of a huge bough for a couple of minutes, as it did so.

A couple of mobile Atlantic Canaries were also in the area, while a big surprise was a male Tenerife Brimstone butterfly, which bounced gracefully down over the road towards us, before almost brushing us as it then changed tack and headed off into the forest. An unusual species indeed to see here on the S side of the island where there is no laurel forest.

A recreational area higher up with even hotter temperatures -there’s often a temperature inversion once one goes above the sea of cloud band on the central islands and into the very dry Canary Pine forest crown- was unusually dead for birds, despite a Common Raven or two seen flying over as we approached. The open nature of the very impressive Teide caldera of course required a stop to enjoy the spectacular scenery and get a few photos, with a gentle breeze at least helping to keep the temperature slightly lower and a few of the endemic crater bushes were in flower, adding a little colour to the landscape.

A drinks break was called for, despite the crowds and queue, but was well worth it! It was so hot when we came out though that we decided to continue straight on and head for lunch on the edge of the caldera, which we took in a lovely restaurant. A tasty selection of tapas of traditional dishes again and a fitting last lunch for the whole group.

Working our way down the N side of the volcano we paused again at another recreational area, and despite no birds seemingly being present at first, again we heard a blue chaffinch which took us in the opposite direction, and after finding an adult female feeding on the ground, then discovered a whole agglomeration of birds in the pines around a small drinking pool. Several teneriffae Great Spotted Woodpeckers again accompanied them, giving excellent views.

A detour part way up the mountain on our drive down was now called for to try and see the island’s robin! One stop overlooking some precipitous slopes seemed to hold nothing at first, but we picked out a superb resting adult Barbary Falcon on an outcrop scanning the slopes below. No pigeons visible there was thus no surprise!

Our final stop was for a short walk down to a small natural spring, where birds often come to drink. It was now late afternoon, and little was moving, but suddenly, a couple of ‘ticking’ robins could be heard in the scrub above us. A tense wait then ensued, with the birds refusing to come out, though one fortunately stayed in the area and after a bit of toing and froing along the little path, we all finally managed to get views of it as it moved about in the dense vegetation above us.

We just had enough time to try a seawatch again at the same site as the day before, even though heavier traffic and very tricky entrance coinciding with two buses stopped in front meant that it required a U-turn further ahead and then some bold driving to turn again and head down the little access road. With 50 minutes available, it was perhaps no surprise that all we saw were increasingly large numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters, including at least three rafts, but suddenly a Bulwer’s Petrel again ‘danced’ into view and finally, those who hadn’t been able to see it the day before did get to see it, despite it being hard to watch as it dipped into the wave troughs as it progressed.

Back at the hotel we headed straight in again to another excellent meal of terrific Italian food to round off a highly enjoyable and successful tour!

August 3, Tenerife: El Fraile, Cabo Blanco, TFS, Cabo Blanco, Las Chafiras, TFN   

The day was heavily conditioned by two different sets of flights out, though for those wanting, we had just enough time for a pre-breakfast jolly down to the south coast before taking two for the party to the south airport.

Some significant changes have been made to the area since my last visit, meaning access was now only possible on foot from the local village and while this IS much better for protecting the coastal strip, it meant that we had to take a moderate walk out across the rather lifeless semidesert. However, numerous (unseen) sparrows calling in a roosting tree were an interesting start, with several Berthelot’s Pipits putting in an appearance, a typically noisy and mobile Canary Islands Chiffchaff giving views and a couple of calling Great Grey Shrikes finally appearing and looking good while perched on the native Euphorbia scrub. Lots of Cory’s Shearwaters were moving offshore, though getting closer to them would have required too much time and walking!

With a few minutes spare as we headed back towards the hotel, we dropped in to a small reservoir en route, though paused to look at a Laughing Dove on a wire as we went. A few birds were present, including a few gorgeous Black-crowned Night Herons, with one of these being a fine adult out in the open. A flash of yellow then caught my eye and our final new species for the tour made an appearance, with a Grey Wagtail feeding on a tiny area of wet grass and mud being our final new species for the tour.

Breakfast over, I made the TFS airport run, then after my return, the rest of us loaded up our luggage and we headed back to the reservoir, since two of the group had not come pre-breakfast. A few Little Ringed Plovers greeted us in addition to the night herons, though there were now four of the latter… But no wagtail, so we continued down to the main road and after another short detour, stopped to check a roadside pool. While sadly being in a foul state with some revolting run-off, it always has water and so birds! Indeed, a large group of domestic Mallard and a couple of domestic Muscovy Ducks were immediately visible, along with five little Egrets. A couple of scans appeared to show nothing more than a couple of Common Moorhens near the retaining dam, but then, to my delight, I noticed a small pale bird hiding in the shade of a tuft of grass, the dirty yellowish tones on the breast confirming that it was a Grey Wagtail, and the tour was complete!

It had taken quite a bit longer than anticipated to get back to the airport area, and in order to not take any risks with our flight, we decided on just returning the vehicle and checking-in early after a snack lunch here. This turned out to be a great idea, rounding off a very successful tour in relaxed manner.

This trip was a joy to lead, not because of the numerous logistic issues (and in this case complications) deriving from a multi-island tour, but because it was simply a pleasure to lead such a friendly, participative and, in the face of a setback, understanding group! Thank you all for having made this such a pleasure!

                                                                                                                                                                            - John Muddeman

Created: 11 September 2023