After some misgivings and misapprehensions about visiting one of the Canary Islands, we chose Gran Canaria for a walking based holiday after some research revealed some excellent potential for this, and also the finding of an excellent base in Puerto de Mogan. The birding option was never part of the decision process, due to the importance of the hiking, or a better option in the islands would have been Fuerteventura. Indeed, Gran Canaria is probably one of the sparsest of the islands for variety of birds and also endemic mix. Having already seen some of these Canarian endemics on an earlier visit to Tenerife, I didn’t feel the need to trudge around the island chasing ticks, and with most of the holiday being based around hiking, I was happy to limit specific birding to a couple of mornings, and to see what popped up while trudging the countryside.
We were based in the small fishing town of Puerto de Mogan. This is geographically one of the poorer locations to be based, since it is on the far South-western coast of the island, but the decision was driven by the wont for charm rather than distance. This is one of the few tourist spots along the coast which still retains some character – no high rise, no brash manufactured activities or loud bars, and no McDonalds! Result. For convenience, somewhere like Maspalomas is somewhat nearer the main arterial roads, and also the lagoon near the beach, but it all depends on the type of base that is required. We also booked our flights and accommodation separately, rather than a cheaper package, which gave us the benefit of a very comfortable and well located apartment. There is a good bus service around the island, but a car can be hired for a more than reasonable price (we paid £150 for 2 weeks on the internet beforehand). The roads away from the main coastal carriageway can be very winding and narrow which makes for a longer journey than would be predicted. It is worth getting hold of the Kompass 1:50000 map of the island – a German legend, but probably the best one available.
There aren’t a huge amount of birding specific sites on the island, and correspondingly not too many site guides. The most complete is the “Birdwatchers’ Guide to the Canary Islands” by Clarke & Collins, although its publication date of 1996 does mean that many of the locations have changed in character (such as the lighthouse at Maspalomas). There are one or two endemics on the island, and many of the species are a distinct subspecies, yet are well covered in the more recent editions of the Collins Bird Guide (Mullarney et al).
The main objective of the trip was to cover some of the many walking trails in the mountains, which in itself should then uncover birds on the trails. We initially bought a copy of the Sunflower guide to Gran Canaria car tours and walks. This isn’t a bad guide, but we found what we felt was a much better publication from the website of the self styled Rambling Roger (at www.ramblingroger.com). He has produced a detailed and straight forward book outlining 25 mainly circular walks on the island, almost exclusively based in the interior. The book is apparently loose leaf, so that only the current walk needs to be carried. Of even more practical value is the PDF form which can also be purchased, and from this, again single routes can be printed off.
The Canaries are well known as having a warm and temperate climate all year round. We chose November in the hope of still warm but not too hot temperatures, and also a minimum of rain. Both were found – temperatures ranged from 14-28oC during the day (lowest was on one of the higher mountain walks), and with only the odd smattering of rain. Rain gear should still be packed for the higher altitudes in particular, since clouds seemed to threaten during the afternoon on many days.