Tenerife - March, 2004
TEXT ONLY VERSION
Destination for our business conference of 2004 was the South of Tenerife. Free time around the business sessions was limited to the first afternoon (9th), and the morning / early afternoon of the departure day (11th). This turned out to be sufficient time to see more or less all of the island specialities that can be seen at the time of year we were there. This is not too much of a stretch, since there are a limited number of species on Tenerife, and the distances required to be covered are not great. In addition to travelling for these sought after species, I also walked around the area of the hotel when time allowed (usually first thing in the morning and late afternoon).
We were based in the Mare Nostrum resort, which is located on a slightly more up market section at the eastern end of Playa de las Americas. The hotel is large and comfortable, but, surprisingly for its size, has very little vegetated ground. However, it is based on the seafront, so passage of Shearwaters can be seen from the doorstep, as well as some of the more common and expected birds. I had the use of a car for the two free periods available and this was essential to see the more remote species. Playa de las Americas is in the more barren and unwelcoming (bird wise) part of the island, but the roads are generally very good, with ample provision of petrol stations.
The two main locations I visited were:
Higher altitude Canarian Pine forest. This is unbelievably easy to both find and bird. I spent some hours at the well known Las Lajas picnic site, on the C821 ascending eventually to Mount Teide. It is only about 9km up from Vilaflor, and cannot be missed on the left hand side of the road. The benefits of this site are that the trees are not too densely packed, and the water taps act as a magnet for thirsty birds – plentiful numbers and easy to see. I saw all the birds that I hoped for here in close proximity – Blue Chaffinch, Canary, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and African Blue Tit. There is even a small café for the lean times!
Laurel Forests. There are one or two known locations for staking out birds in the laurel forests, which are only found in the rugged, wetter North of the island. I chose the most well known, which has a rough track leading from the village of Erjos. Again, this track is easily found, being on the left hand side of the road, opposite the first house in the village when approaching from the South. It has to be noted that this track is very rough in places. I took it very carefully first thing in the morning, taking about half an hour to cover 5km. A 4x4 is ideal. Another thing that needs to be known about the forest is that it can be very cold waiting for the pigeons to appear early in the morning. I spent some time at the well known rock (4.6km along the track from Erjos), but had a much better time 0.8km further on, where a small clearing on a bend in the road gave good views of the slopes behind. I had both the endemic pigeons from here, and that was up to leaving late morning.
I also visited the approach to Punta de Rasca. This track was very good, yielding Barbary Partridge, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Spectacled Warbler, and plenty of Berthelot’s Pipits. It is also quite ugly, which is certainly no bar if birds are to be found, but I also have a suspicion that the gates on entry (located next to the main road), are locked at some time, since there is a lot of working activity within the first open area, and the gate did have a lock hanging from it.
For reference, I found the trusty old Gosney guide to “Finding birds in the Canary Islands” still more than adequate, supported by one or two of the more recent Internet trip reports. The new Collins “Guide to the birds of Britain and Europe” (red and black edition) covers all the species of the Canaries, as well as descriptions of some of the subspecies. A good map is essential – I used the Rough Guide Map (1:120,000) which is detailed and durable.
Hotel area (Day 1)
First job of the day was to finalise all the details for the hire car, which was quite straight forward, since the conference agency had already organised the paperwork (Niza Cars was used – they seem to be a popular hire company on the island, and have an office on the opposite side of the road to the Mare Nostrum Resort). This left about 15 minutes before we met for the first work session of the morning, resulting in a quick walk around the beach-front boundary of the hotel. The first birds seen were actually as I was parking the car, with a male Blackbird on top of one of the palm trees, and a couple of Spanish Sparrows being eyed up by a subsequently chastised cat.
The hotel is predictably based right on the seafront, which is populated by teems of happy morning joggers. Even within this short morning walk, it was nice to see one or two Canarian specialities. Amongst the numerous Collared Doves was a female Blackcap, and singing Canary Islands Chiffchaff. The latter species is very easy to pick up, having the basics of nominate Chiffchaff song, but much more melodic, and not restricted to the repeated double syllable. There was also a male Blackbird here, supposedly a distinct subspecies, but it looks very similar to those seen elsewhere in Northern Europe. I was a little surprised to see up to 10 Cory’s Shearwaters over the calm sea, flying from West to East, and quite close to the shore.
Las Lajas picnic site
The morning business session ended a little earlier than expected, so there was even more time to head out for an afternoon birding slot. I left the hotel at around 1 o’clock, and it took about 50 minutes to ascend the winding roads towards Mount Teide, and to find the Las Lajas picnic site. This left hand turn was in the region of 9km up from the town of Vilaflor, and proved impossible to miss, sporting a large wooden sign on the main road, and small restaurant visible from the road. The pine trees here are abundant, but not too densely packed, leaving plenty of light and space to see the birds.
I parked the car in shade just beyond the restaurant, and as soon as I opened the car door, heard calling Great Spotted Woodpeckers and singing Canary. Not much work needs to be put in to see the birds here, and although there is only a limited variation in types of birds, these are either local species or subspecies in most cases. They are all also in good numbers, and in time relatively easy to see. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are the most noticeable, drumming and calling from all directions. Blue Chaffinch is one of the best known Canaries endemics, and this site lives up to its reputation as one of the best places in the world to see them. Some of the males are very vocal, as well as being very approachable – they are very difficult to miss. One of the drinking taps provided on the picnic site was found very quickly. One fascinating fact about these continental countries is that their taps are always dripping – no complaints, since they do attract the birds. Not only did Blue Chaffinches and African Blue Tits visit this, but the Great Spotted Woodpeckers were also less shy than expected, and invited themselves down for a drink. Canaries were heard regularly early on, but were quite difficult to see, but some individuals eventually displayed themselves at close quarters, with the tinkling call giving away their location. This elevation above the sea is also a lot more comfortable, with cooling winds keeping the temperatures down, despite the unbroken blue sky above. There were also only a few people around the picnic area (1-2 dozen), but they were somewhat swallowed up by the size of the site, and didn’t interfere with the birds.
Sitting a short distance from the drinking taps is a good plan, since many of the species are happy to visit despite human presence. As time passed here, the most common bird at the dripping tap turned out to be Canaries. About 20-30m from the tap, a pair of calling Turtle Doves eventually landed on the ground.
Punta de Rasca
The track to this headland is situated in what is actually a bit of a desolate shambles. When I first turned on to it from the main road, there were lorries plying to and fro on a working site, alongside some covered banana plantations – it didn’t look inviting at all! I drove to where there was supposed to be locked gate and a barrier, which both seemed to be absent, reaching some buildings, where a curious rotund Spanish chap wasn’t too happy for me to be around. I doubled back towards the entrance, and parked about 100m away from these buildings. A pair of Barbary Partridges appeared from the scrub in front of me before I even had a chance to open the car door, but took flight soon after.
Despite the unappealing look to the place, one or two more local specialities were present, including the Partridges. In fact, there is a much more picturesque area just to the West of the main track. The whole area is good for Berthelot’s Pipit, which were not as numerous as I had expected, but very easy to see nonetheless, calling almost constantly. Kestrels are equally as obvious, with ~6 birds flying to and from some small cliffs. Southern Grey Shrikes, at least 2 birds, were using lookout posts for their hunting forays, with one having a go at a pair of Berthelot’s Pipits. After a little walking and searching, Spectacled Warblers started to show themselves. They were generally quite elusive in the undergrowth, but occasionally found more exposed perches.
As if to emphasise that good birds can be found in the less luxuriant sites, a Hoopoe flew across me on return to the car, and landed in the open, this being just after I had been able to get within a few metres of a Southern Grey Shrike.
Laurel Forests to the West of Erjos (Day 2)
The journey from Playa de las Americas to this site was not particularly long in terms of distance (only 45km to the turn off the main road on to the forest track), but did take almost an hour due to winding roads and early traffic. Even finding the entrance to the motorway from the resort proved to be a little bit of a test. The track through the forest, all the way up to the large rock viewpoint, was predictably slow and tortuous, with some large rocks and ruts at regular intervals in the poor maintained surface. However, slow progress was the only way to proceed. The 4˝km took half and hour to cover.
Despite the sky being absolutely clear on the South of the island, progression on the journey to here became more cloudy as the higher elevation laurel forests were reached. However, arrival at the site revealed quite good visibility over the valleys and slopes. There was quite a wind blowing though, and the temperatures were very cool at this height. The calls of the abundant Canary Islands Chiffchaff are constant, with occasional calling Canaries. I ignored the more obvious large rock with the wind gauge on the top, and rounded the corner down below to a smaller rock, which looked as if it had better views of the forests. A Buzzard over early on was a cause for optimism. It only took a short time for a couple of Canary Islands Kinglets to be heard, and they eventually appeared next to where I was stood. They were very active, and passed through quickly. Next flyover was a female Sparrowhawk.
It took over half an hour of waiting and watching from the rocky outpost to see the first Bolle’s Pigeons, which flew from the side and above me in a group. The tail pattern was obvious and distinctive, as they flew on to a spot in the valley below. By this time, a group of forestry workers had arrived to clear the path down into the forest from the track – they were surely doing a good job in keeping the paths in good repair, but the intrusion and noise at this otherwise peaceful time of the morning was off putting. The decision was thus made to walk a little way up the track. I found an open corner about 0.8km along, and this had a good view of the slopes above. On the way to this area, it was evident that a good number of pigeons were perched in the branches just above, but they were usually seen as just a flap of wings and silhouette through the canopy. Chiffchaffs were continuing to call continuously, with additional vocalisations from African Blue Tits, Kinglets, and Canaries. A Robin was found, but it didn’t look any different from the more familiar British birds.
I set up camp at the open bend in the road for some time, since it felt as if it had good potential. There were more fly through pigeons here, and one or two seemed to have the darker underparts and white tail tip of Laurel Pigeon, but were usually too fast to identify. After yet another uncertain bird, a Laurel Pigeon landed in a quite bare tree which was against the open cliff face above. With a telescope trained on the bird, the characteristic long neck and dark plumage could be discerned. As the Chiffchaff activity increased, a few birds were singing and scrapping almost within arm’s length. More Buzzards were overhead, with a pair of Ravens circling over the tops.
It was shortly after 10am when I tore myself away from this very productive part of the forest, after having seen yet more flypast Laurel (~3) and Bolle’s (1) Pigeons. As I was packing the bag, I looked up to find that the clouds had totally disappeared from the tops of the hills, revealing spectacular views of snow-capped Mount Teide behind.
Cliffs West of Buena Vista
It was also now considerably warmer, being much more temperate rather than hot. Walking back to the car, I came across a local birder, who informed me of a good site for Barbary Falcon, just to the West of Buena Vista. He also reassured me of the state of the track further on, since this was the best direction to take. However, as I progressed towards the village of El Palmar, the track broke down almost completely. The inevitable puncture occurred at this point, but this was soon repaired, so I continued on towards Buena Vista, and turned off on the westerly road in the Teno direction. A short way along here is a three part tunnel, where I parked just after the end of the final tunnel. Looking back eastwards into what was a strong wind, a Kestrel was gliding past early on. However, it took some time for the Barbary Falcons to both show eventually. Looking very pale against the dark rock, one was seen to enter the nest chamber far below.
Amarilla Golf Course
journey back to civilisation along the western road to Santiago was incredible.
There were some very steep and winding parts of the road, and unfortunately a
lot of traffic, but with some spectacular scenery (the reason for the traffic
and tourists). I also managed to add a
new tyre to the car with some ease on the main road back. This left a little
time to visit one of the golf courses to the East of Los Cristianos. I plumped
for Amarilla, which is the usual luxuriant green surrounded by some very rough
scrub, which actually looks quite desolate. This area is supposed to be good
for larks, but I only turned up plenty of Berthelot’s Pipits, a pair of
Kestrels, and a couple of singing Spectacled Warblers near the 17th
green. Just as I was about to reach the car in the main golf course car park, a
trio of Iberian Yellow Wagtails popped their heads up above the rubble.