· A three-and-bit day trip in mid November (15th – 18th) timed to recover from what I knew would be a very draining period at work. Simple goals of seeing the endemic and the sub-species, and then taking photos of anything that I could get close to. With the exception of Berthelot’s Pipits that were uniformly and incredibly tolerant of people, this proved harder work than I anticipated. Usually birding properly and taking photos properly are mutually exclusive, but with the small number of species on the island, this proved no barrier at all.
· Tenerife is a very small island, but even so I birded primarily the south and central parts, with one trip right through the middle and on to the Anaga Peninsula in the north-east. I also undertook a dismally bad for birding but very pleasant for lounging around in the sun pelagic to La Gomera one afternoon, during which I saw one seabird. Not one species, one individual.
· British Airways flight to Tenerife Sur (TFS) from Gatwick departed 0855 on Saturday morning, arriving at 1315; a four hour flight and there is no time change. It cost me around £300 because I flew business class due to the length of flight. I could no doubt have got it a lot cheaper economy as every budget airline under the sun flies there, but you know what, I’m worth it.
· Car hire via Avis was a dinky little 1.2L VW Polo, that coped admirably with every hill I threw at it (and there are loads), and only used half a tank of petrol in the three days I had it, which included a full round-the-island trip as well as loads of buzzing around the south. I can’t remember what it cost, but was in line with what you would expect.
· Accommodation was booked for three nights at the “Green Park/Parque Verde” in the middle of the Golf del Sur. Booked online prior to departure for £71.50 for three nights, it was very basic and a little tired, but it had a pool and I got a whole apartment with a little kitchenette. I therefore did a quick supermarket shop at a nearby Lidl, and as such my living expenses were £23 for my entire trip. It was like being a student again. Fully justifying my choice of green and verdant (and cheap) location were three Hoopoe foraging on the grass next to my car one morning. One downside was that the hotel was directly under the flightpath to the nearby airport.
· Research consisted of reading a pile of trip reports and so working out which sites to target for the endemics, and then arming myself with a copy of the “Clarke and Collins”. This is pretty out of date in places being nearly 20 years old, but nonetheless was pretty useful for ideas on where to go. My advice would be use it for directions to some specific out of the way places like Chanajiga, but not rely on it any longer for decent site information and instead go with more recent information on the web. Like here - I've provided coordinates for some of the more difficult places in blue.
· Sunrise at this time of the year is a fairly laid back 7.30am. On my first day I got up at 5am in a fit of enthusiasm and was up in the mountains staring at inky blackness at 6am for a full hour…..
Day 1: Birded around Amarilla Golf in the remaining three hours of light
Day 2: Early start up to the Corona Forestal for the pine forest specialities. Some sight-seeing through El Tiede NP, and then the rest of the afternoon devoted to the laurel forests in the North and North-east.
Day 3: A slightly less early start in the pine forests, then scrub birding in the south. Afternoon “pelagic”……
Day 4: Morning birding around the Golf Courses and wastelands in the South, mid-afternoon departure.
Main Sites I went to
Golf Amarilla – A dry gully immediately to the west of the course and alongside the stables was full of Barbary Partridge, and the area north of the clubhouse had a Stone Curlew. An area of scrubby waste ground just west of this gully, and south of a banana plantation had loads of Berthelot’s Pipits, and a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes. If you take the minor road that winds north from the club house, after about 1.5km you come to a small reservoir next to where the industrial estate starts. This has a variety of plastic, but also Spoonbills, Little Egrets, and a chance of a wader.
Golf del Sur – I never went on the course, but the scrubby area immediately north of the course, to the east of Avenida J M Galvan Bello and with three obvious water tanks, had millions of Barbary Partridge, at least two Shrikes, and lots of Spectacled Warblers and Berthelot’s Pipits. You can also peek into the ponds at this end of the Golf Course for various Egrets and the rare Moorhen.
Las Lajas Picnic area - 11km north of Vilaflor on the TF21 - 28.189417, -16.666071. Blue Chaffinches galore, Tenerife Crest, teneriffae Blue Tit, Canary Islands sub-species of GS Woodpecker, and Atlantic Canary. No need to go more than about fifty yards from the car in any direction, but the area on the opposite side of the road seemed to have more Blue Tits and Canaries.
Chanajiga – Laurel Forest area immediately south of Los Realejos. Difficult to find, but the simplest way seemed to be from the TF21 then TF326 descending from El Tiede, via Benijos but before you get to Palo Blanco. It's signposted Las Llanadas - if you put "Carretera las Llanadas, Los Realejos, Spain" into Google Maps it places you on exactly the final road you need to be on, and you drive west from that point, turning off the tarmac road right, and past a picnic area - 28.343957, -16.584146. Dump the car there and proceed on foot along the wide track past a playground on your left, before heading into the laurel forest. Bolle’s Pigeon during a break in the clouds, trillions of Canary Island Chiffchaff.
Mirador Lagrimonas layby - many previous trip reports mentioned this spot on the westbound TF5, immediately after two close together small tunnels west of Los Realejos, and marked by large bollards (28.392775, -16.608832), as the definitive place to see Laurel Pigeon. I had two within two minutes of arriving, it really is that simple. Park up (not much room) and simply look up the hill side for movement with the naked eye before gloriously resolving Laurel Pigeon in your scope.
Anaga Pensinula/El Bailadero – Clarke and Collins out of date for the key site near El Pijaral as the signposts are now missing, but it is roughly 1.5km past the bar on the minor road off the TF12, and in any event all the valleys in the area seem eminently suitable for the Pigeons. Naturally I didn’t see a single one. The spot is approximately 28.552055, -16.192199. The scenery is breath-taking however, especially from Pico Ingles.
Fraile/Las Galletas – another area of waste ground, replete with mounds of fly-tipping. Park at the walled five-a-side Football pitch on Calle Fuerteventura, off Avenida del Atlantico - 28.010880, -16.672226, and then walk towards the sea. Loads of all the regular birds you would expect in this habitat, including five Shrikes together, probably a family party. Also spectacular views of a Barbary Falcon eating a Pigeon on the wing. There are also some saline pools that hold a small number of waders immediately opposite Las Galletas beach and marina. Note that the Punta de Rasca area as described in C & C by turning right before the Repsol petrol station is no longer accessible due to ever more covered banana plantations, and seems completely fenced off now, including the concrete-walled reservoir that is noted as productive. I was able to view it from a mound of rubble, my reward being two Coots. Wow.
Los Christianos – San Sebastian La Gomera Ferry. Lovely, but a complete waste of 50 euros/41 gbp (return foot passenger), with a single Cory’s Shearwater seen on the outbound journey, and nothing at all on the way back. Do not bother at this time of year. Note that the ferry car park is extortionate, so try and park in town instead. Note also that you need your passport to book a ticket.
Day by day account
The flight landed at around 1.15pm, and by the time I was sat in my rental car it was nearly 3pm – TFS is full of geriatric travellers who don’t have the faintest clue how to do anything, as such it was carnage. With perhaps three hours until dusk, I elected to stay local to both the airport and my hotel. I went to the hotel first to dump my stuff, finding Canary Island Chiffchaff in the process (these were abundant) and also did a very rapid shop for provisions – water essential. And junk food, obviously, what else fuels birding?
With little time I went for a walk around the top end of Amarilla Golf, including walking a barranco (a dry gully) just to the NW of the clubhouse that tracked the western edge of the course. Merely by walking down the track I flushed at least 20 Barbary Partridge, and it wasn't long before I'd found my first Berthelot's Pipit, along with a Grey Wagtail, near the Stables. Whilst here two Hoopoe flew across the track, and a nearby Kestrel showed well. It being mid afternoon, the fairways were pretty busy, so instead I crossed the barranco and went up onto some scrubby waste ground near a covered banana plantation (which are abundant in southern Tenerife). This was excellent for birding, and I got my first photos of some very confiding Berthelot's Pipits, as well as finding a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes and a Spectacled Warbler. With the light fading I retraced my steps back to the car which I had left in the clubhouse carpark, and returned to the hotel for a spot of light cooking. I was asleep by half eight. Rock and roll.
I set the alarm for 5am, and was showered and out by half past. First stop was Las Lajas for the Blue Chaffinch, and it's about 45 minutes away up some incredibly steep and winding roads. I had completely misjudged sunrise however, and so was sat in darkness in the car for well over an hour before starting to investigate the site. I did get a Long-eared Owl on the way up though by way of reward. Birds everywhere is the bottom line, with the Chaffinches really easy to find. They much prefer shade, so getting a decent photo was next to impossible. They tended to really like being under picnic tables, which was obviously problematic for me. In addition to the Chaffinches there were quite a few Blue Tits, and I could hear though not see Great Spotted Woodpecker. Canary and Ravens here too. Chasing the Chaffinches around ate up probably two hours, and so it was only at 9.30am that I left, heading further up the mountain to check a few of the other sites mentioned in Clarke and Collins. Worth noting that at this time on a Sunday I was still completely alone at a site which apparently is very busy at weekends.
At the first fork in the road I stopped to admire the view of the volcano, at which point a Southern Grey Shrike flew across my view. Remarkably I managed to pish this in, but not expecting it to work I was massively under-prepared, and had left my monopod in the car. In deep shade I resorted to handheld, and such is my rock-steady grip that it all worked out nicely. Pleased with this success I carried on the right-hand fork, the TF21, towards Las Canadas. Amazing scenery, few birds that I could see, but to be honest I was focused on getting over to the laurel forests by this point, so drove past most of the sites mentioned.
I arrived at Chanajiga for around 11am in clear weather, but that did not last long. My impression of the weather is that it starts off quite clear, but that cloud builds up as the day progresses. That said, at the higher altitudes like the Chaffinch site, you're at 2100m and thus above the clouds. As most people stay on the coast, when they look up towards the centre of the island they could be forgiven for deciding to give it a miss, but it appears that the cloud seems to exist in a narrow band between say 800m and perhaps 1800m. This means you're all good for Chaffinches and the pine forest species, but is unfortunately prime Pigeon zone..... So what had been looking ideal for Pigeon-spotting soon became a cloud. I could hear Pigeons wing-clattering, but could see nothing. Luckily for me a flying bird coincided with a brief break in the murk after around an hour, but this was very flukey and whilst I did see all the endemics in a day, I wouldn't want to guarantee it. Buzzards called overhead.
With Chanajiga a write-off by this point, I descended to the coast to seek out the Mirador Lagrimonas, the no-fail site for Laurel Pigeon. This was very easy to find, and sure enough within barely a couple minutes of parking up I was onto one, and then two birds. Great scope views, but unless you have a scope it would be hugely unsatisfactory. The beauty of this site is that you're almost at sea level, and the slope where the Pigeons are is no more than a couple of hundred metres up so there are no issues with cloud formation. Bolle's can be seen at this site too, but I didn't manage that. If doing this again I would probably go to Lagrimonas early morning and try and clear up, giving Chanajiga a miss. Loads of lounging lizards here on the rocks the other side of the layby.
With the main birds done by now, I decided to explore the Anaga Peninsula, the north-east tip of the island. The Clarke and Collins mentioned several sites there that were reputed to be good for perched Bolle's Pigeon, and wishing to see one better I decided to give it a go. To cut a long story short, I barely saw a bird (though I did hear Yellow-browed Warbler!), and the whole place was heaving with people. Pigeons smigeons. Amazing views though, worth it for that alone really. Easy drive back down the east coast motorway and another gourmet supper with Easyjet and Ryanair shaking my room every few minutes.
I felt I could do better on the Chaffinches, and with the main birds done I was feeling a lot more relaxed. Learning the lesson of yesterday, I left a lot later and timed my arrival perfectly. More or less the same birds as yesterday, but decent views of the Tenerife Goldcrest, and amazing views of the Woodpecker. The Chaffinches refused to play ball again though, very frustrating.
I probably spent another three hours here, and then was caught in two minds as to what to do next. Either go up to the north-west tip, Punto del Teno, or return down south in order to catch the 2pm La Gomera Ferry from Los Cristianos. In the end I plumped for the latter, and got down to the Fraile area for around midday. With an hour or so to kill I tried the Punta de la Rasca area, but found that there were now so many more banana plantations that it was difficult to get to the right place as mentioned in the C & C book. I did however find a Barbary Falcon engaged in eating a Pigeon on the wing, which was sensational. Also here were more Berthelot's Pipits, Spectacled Warblers, and another Southern Grey Shrike. Pretty much any habitat of this nature held these three species - essentially open ground with low level scrub. Disappointing was the amount of fly-tipping in evidence, most places immediately adjacent to either agricultural or tourist development simply become areas where people dump unused building materials, or older interior fixings following refurbishment. Consequently close to hotels are huge piles of rubble, old tiles, decrepit poolside furniture etc, and next to covered banana plantations you find huge piles of rocks from levelling thr ground, and heaps of discarded fabric rolls that they've used and then simply discarded. So unnecessary, and ruins the landscape. There were plenty of birds, though whether there would have been even more had the habitat been treated with respect I can't say.
Anyhow, with an hour or so to go I headed for the ferry terminal at Los Cristianos, and jammed a parking spot very nearby, but not in the terminal car park which would have set me back 20 euros. The return crossing as a foot passenger set me back an eye-watering 50 euros, but given I was going to be seeing gazillions of Cory's Shearwaters at close range I figured it was still worth it. Two things birders should note - 1) you want the Armas Naviera "traditional" ferry, not the Fred Olsen Express catamaran. You can stand on deck on the former, but not on the latter. 2) You need your passport to buy a ticket.
At this point I really wanted to be writing about the most awesome pelagic I've ever been on, with Cory's at touching distance, Little Shearwaters and Bulwer's everywhere. Unfortunately it was utterly dire, with a single Cory's seen on the outward journey and not a single bird of any description seen on the way back. I had not done my research, and talking later to a local birder, November ain't the time. It was pleasant enough in the sunshine on deck, but not 50 euros pleasant. I consoled myself with a beer in San Sebastian, and didn't really bother looking too hard on the way back. Fabulous sunset as we docked back at Tenerife.
Final day, and I was sticking down south as the flight departed mid-afternoon. From dawn I started very close to where I was staying, birding the scrub immediately north of Golf del Sur, where there are three obvious water tanks. I'd put up 30 Barbary Partridge before I'd even got to them, and passed a really nice couple of hours seeing all the usual species in wonderful light. I probably saw 50 Partridges here as I ranged widely across the area. I then moved on to an area close to Las Galletas, where I concentrated on getting a few more Berthelot's Pipit images. Yet more Barbary Partridge here, as well as five Shrikes together, possibly a family group. I then checked out some saline pools near the harbour for a few waders to add to the trip list, before heading back to my hotel to have shower, pack up and check out. I ended up checking out late due to some Hoopoes feeding in the hotel grounds close to the car - wonderful.
My final hour was spent back at Amarilla Golf, where I found yet more Partridges and a Stone Curlew. Then it was off to the airport to catch my return flight. All in all a really productive three days, seeing all my target species and getting a few photos along the way. Photographing the Pigeons was sadly impossible, but I managed a few keepers of some of the other specialties.
Trip List - 41
Barbary Partridge - any suitable thicker scrub, tended to like gullies
Cory's Shearwater - at sea 15 minutes out of San Sebastian
Cattle Egret - 3 at Golf del Sur
Little Egret - 9 at Amarilla Golf
Grey Heron - rare, only one seen flying over Golf del Sur
Spoonbill - 3 at Amarilla Golf
Common Buzzard - above Chanajiga
Sparrowhawk - one seen off TF5
Barbary Falcon - one at Fraile
Moorhen - Golf del Sur
Coot - El Fraile reservoir
Stone Curlew - Amarilla Golf
Ringed Plover - 9 at Las Galletas
Turnstone - Las Galletas
Common Sandpiper - Amarilla Golf
Laurel Pigeon - Mirador Lagrimonas
Bolle's Pigeon - Chanajiga
Long-eared Owl - hills near San Miguel de Abona
Hoopoe around Golf del Sur
Great Spotted Woodpecker - Las Lajas
Berthelot's Pipit - any suitable open ground
Spectacled Warbler - any suitable scrub
Canary Island Chiffchaff - omnipresent in all habitats
Yellow-browed Warbler - Laurel forests on Anaga
Goldcrest teneriffae - Pine forests
African Blue Tit teneriffae - Pine forests
Southern Grey Shrike koenigi - any open area
Raven - high altitude
Blue Chaffinch - Las Lajas
Canary - Pine forests and on volcanic plateau