Before lockdown began in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, Sam and Dan ventured on a small birding holiday to the Canary Islands, with the goal of seeing the colourful and charismatic endemic birds of the sunny island of Tenerife.
Tenerife is a fairly small island and it really doesn’t take long to get around to the opposite side of the island or the northern and southern ends. Arriving late on Monday, we had the whole afternoon left to visit some of the sites closer to our accommodation. We went to a series of small reservoirs in the hope of seeing Muscovy Ducks – a species which is recognised as being a self-sustaining introduced Category C population on the island, the only such population in Europe. Immediately on arrival were greeted by a number of Mallards, domestic varieties, and hybrid Muscovy Ducks. We decided to hang around for a while before noticing another pool to the left of the one we were looking at, where we noticed a lone female Muscovy Duck! We found our first Atlantic Canaries of the trip here, with several singing around the perimeter, as well as a number of Canary Islands Chiffchaffs. Spending some time taking pictures and admiring this bird, we chose to check out some other small concrete pools nearby, where three American Wigeons had been overwintering in the weeks before our arrival. Visiting these pools left us in awe of just how many Muscovy Ducks there were! We totalled around 20 birds on the pools, as well as spotting the delightful lone male American Wigeon. Calling it a day, we headed back for some food and a well-earned early night.
Our second birding day on the island was another quiet one, but one nevertheless filled with exciting birds! We began the day by driving some cliffs by the main road in the north of the island in the hopes of seeing some pigeons. The birds would be relatively distant from the layby so a quick catch up with some key ID features was a must; we then parked up and began scouring the cliffs. With no luck in the first few minutes, attention quickly turned to the swarm of Cory’s Shearwaters passing on the sea along with Azores Gulls, the local subspecies of Yellow-legged Gull. A flock of Feral Pigeons quickly brought our attention back to the main targets – pigeons. Two Kestrels passed over the cliff-face and a number of white tails were flushed from the treetops – score! We watched nine Laurel Pigeons perched out on exposed branches and flying around before noticing two Bolle’s Pigeons, actually the more common of the two, with both species often in the same scope view. Next checking out another pigeon site to see whether the conditions would be better for viewing given the trees are somewhat closer, this only resulted in two further Laurel Pigeons. It was nice to see other passerine species including African Blue Tits, Atlantic Canaries and Blackcaps. We also had excellent views of Tenerife Robin here, the locally endemic subspecies with strong potential for species status in the future.
After the enthusiasm of pigeons passed, we set ourselves the challenge of venturing up the mountain to reach a good site for Tenerife Kinglet, currently treated as a subspecies of Common Goldcrest, and Tenerife Chaffinch, the local race of Common Chaffinch that is rather distinct from those we are used to back home. Although the road up was winding in all directions, it was the last part that really tested us and our desire to see this species. There was one stretch of road, barely 100m long that we could not get past. It was a good road, tarmac, nice view, but our car just would not go up this tiny stretch of road. The thin air being so far up the mountain, our car was overheating, leaving the options of either giving up and going home or finding an alternative road. We opted for the latter and headed towards the alternative route which turned out to be perfect and with easy access! Having finally reached the site, we had lunch and a short break, before splitting and looking around in search of the Kinglets and Chaffinches. African Blue Tits, Canary Islands Chiffchaffs, and Tenerife Kinglets were easily found and filled the air with calls and songs but alas, no chaffinches until we re-merged together and spotted a small group of eight feeding on a picnic table. We sat there watching them and taking photos for an hour or so before the fog came rolling in and it was time to leave the mountain.
Like any trip, we chose to have a relatively quiet day and enjoy some snorkelling, having heard so much about the colour array of fish found in the small pools on the north-west beaches. Naturally, we couldn’t stay too far away from birds and decided to make a few pit stops along the way. The first was an impromptu stop near a busy roundabout where we spotted a group of Plain Swift overhead. We pulled up and watched the birds feeding in the air, counting a total of 45 with some coming very close. The usual suspects where also calling around us; Canary Islands Chiffchaff and Atlantic Canary. After this quick stop, we went to check the pigeon site again to see whether it was, in fact, the better of the two and counted seven Laurel and two Bolle’s Pigeons. A number of smart West Canaries Lizards were along the roadside here too! The afternoon was filled with snorkelling around the semi-deep rock pools and enjoying our time in the sunshine.
Thursday saw a last-minute decision to take a ferry to see a very interesting and colourful character! An Abyssinian Roller had been found wintering on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria and was not an opportunity we could pass up on. On our way over to Gran Canaria via ferry, we were hoping to catch some early morning seawatching or see some cetaceans, however Dan spent the whole journey feeling rather queezy – the sea was rough and the boat did not help! Luckily we arrived safe and sound and began our walk to La Minilla. The site itself was small and once you climbed the steps to the wasteland above, there was very little area to actually search; that being said we saw seven Eurasian Collared Doves and a very good candidate for a Barbary Dove, the feral race of African Collared Dove (although they are a tricky species interbreeding with the plentiful Eurasian Collared Doves). We finally located the main target for this island hop – Abyssinian Roller! This beauty was perched on the wires between two houses, we spent quite some time just watching and photographing this bird as it was completely unfazed by the neighbourhood cats and those passing by. Other highlights for this little patch of wasteland were five Plain Swifts, two Subalpine Warblers, one Northern Wheatear, five Spectacled Warblers, eleven Bethelot’s Pipits, and nine Island Canaries. We then made our way onto our very nice ferry ride home to Tenerife.
A very brief entry for this day as we decided to visit one of the world’s best water parks – although we did, of course, look for birds as we queued for some of the rides. Totals included thirteen Eurasian Collared Doves, nine Yellow-legged Gulls, five Nanday Parakeets, seven Canary Islands Chiffchaffs, an Eurasian Blackcap and six Eurasian Blackbirds (which are another endemic island subspecies).
Continuing with the theme of water, the day before we headed home we decided to do a whale and dolphin watching trip. We’ve done plenty of these elsewhere in the world and our native Wales and it’s a brilliant opportunity to get close to some seabirds and have a whole other perspective on sealife. This includes cetaceans, which are always a crowd-pleaser but also very interesting to be around! While waiting in the harbour, we watched a flock of six Eurasian Collared Doves with an African Collared Dove just bouncing around the ground. While watching the Collared Doves, we then heard the classic shrieks of Parakeets – a flock of seventeen Nanday Parakeets flew straight over us! Finally, after enjoying an ice-cream before embarking on our trip, we were delighted with a flock of eight Spanish Sparrows just bouncing around the harbour rocks.
Out on the water itself, the boat trip was absolutely fantastic! Bird-wise we spied numerous Azores Gull flocks totalling 30 or more individuals, with 35 Cory’s Shearwaters flying over the boat as well as rafting on the water with a Manx Shearwater thrown in for good measure. Cetaceans were by far the highlights of the trip. First, we arrived at one location where another boat was at a distance just watching the sea, and then we noticed the fins appearing – a fin we all know and love here in Wales – Bottlenose Dolphins!
We sat and watched these for around 20 minutes before turning and heading into deeper water in search of whales. Although there are a number of species in these waters, Tenerife and the Canaries are well known for their Short-finned Pilot Whales and we were definitely hoping to get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures. It wasn’t long until we saw some fins appearing out of the water, tall and dark and unmistakable of this diminutive whale species – we found them! We watched a group of 20 or so including mums and calves swim and pass below our boat and then gracefully swam away from us – the moment itself was truly magical! There was one final species which we hoped to see, the skipper seemed confident in finding this species at speed, it seemed a confusing concept at first but as we began to pick up pace we began to notice we were being followed. Absolute success! We had a small group of Spotted Dolphins leaping and bounding their way along the side of our boat in perfect timing – it was such an enthusiastic and humorous way to finish our boat trip and cetacean watch.
The final day had arrived. Despite all that we had seen, there were still some targets missing and we wanted to check some additional sites to ensure we always had a primary site and a backup option in case the first did not succeed and provide results. The day began with an early start and a trip back up the mountains in search of a picnic site – sounds familiar right? Yes, Chaffinches! But not any ol’ Chaffinch, we were in search of the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch, the island’s only endemic bird and the true avian icon of the isles. We sat down near a drinking hole and waited, delighting in no less than four Canaries Great Spotted Woodpeckers and twenty-five or so Atlantic Canaries before our primary target finally gave itself up and came down for a drink and a feed. We watched in awe as four female Tenerife Blue Chaffinches came down for a drink. After a while, they were joined by a further four males. It was a true delight to watch all these Canary Island endemics all enjoying each other’s company – we thoroughly enjoyed theirs!
Although we had great success at our main site for Tenerife Blue Chaffinch, we decided to check out another spot for species and a renowned spot for photography, as well as other birds and reptiles. We arrived at a visitor centre near Cañadas del Teide and headed over the rockery gardens to a drinking pool. Once we had set ourselves up next to a bush and waited, we were almost immediately greeted by six Atlantic Canaries coming down for a drink before hearing the familiar cackle and laughter of a blue tit. Two African Blue Tits of the Tenerife subspecies teneriffae appeared next to the drinking hole! It was a great chance of us to get our best views of the species of the trip so far, but the excitement was rather surpassed when three Tenerife Blue Chaffinches came down for their turn alongside the blue tits, providing great views of these two iconic species together.
There was time for a quick pit-stop before heading back to the airport; just enough time to search for our last target of the trip. Walking out onto the wasteland near a golf course in search of Barbary Partridges, we’d barely left the roadside before we noticed two birds dart from the bushes and into a gulley on the other side of us. After a short wait, we heard rustling and watched the two birds leave the gulley and run further into the wasteland. Result! With only a few hours before our flight, we decided that would be enough and headed to a small reservoir nearby, just around the corner from the airport. The reservoir was little more than 50 metres in length, but was still full of interesting birdlife. We came across a few more Muscovy Ducks plus our first chicks of the trip, Azores Gulls and some lazy terrapins. As fate would have it, a Ruddy Shelduck flew in from down the valley right as we were about to leave! We sat for a little while just admiring one of our favourite species of birds – and our poster bird! – just floating around the pit, before departing just in time for our departure and flight home.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and racked up a good number of species and nailing all our main targets. The more relaxed nature of our trip allowed us to scour a number of sites off the beaten track, allowing for some magical experiences with the Canarian specialties.
Want to join us on a private bird and cetacean tour of Tenerife? Please contact us to discuss!
Tour Guides on this trip: