Birding On Tenerife - January & February 2018

Compared with, say, Costa Rica, Tenerife does not hold that many bird species. According to Avibase, it is precisely 321, though that total includes 125 rare, accidentals or introduced. The attractions for a birder are: the 4 Canarian endemics specific to the island (Bolle’s Pigeon, Laurel Pigeon, Tenerife Goldcrest and Blue Chaffinch); the 3 endemics (Berthelot’s pipit, Atlantic Canary and Canary Islands Chiffchaff) specific to all the Macronesian islands (the 4 island groups of the Azores, Madeira, Canaries & Cape Verde); the 1 bird largely confined to Macronesia (Plain swift); and the several endemic subspecies of more common Mediterranean species (Robin, Yellow-legged gull, Greater spotted Woodpecker, Blue tit, & Kestrel).

In addition to these species, there are chances to see some species that are fairly uncommon in southern Europe (Barbary Falcon, Barbary Partridge, Trumpeter Finch & Southern Grey Shrike) and some interesting sea birds (such as petrels, shearwaters and migrant waders).

Our two weeks sojourn on the island this year was our third visit in the last four years. Where else, at this time of the year, after only 5 hours’ flight, and with minimal risk from terrorists, can you feel warm sunshine on old bones, view dramatic scenery, and see flowers in bloom?

For example, here is a photo of Plumeria (a native of the Americas) in bloom, which I took at the same time last year.

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Some basic facts. Tenerife is the largest of the Spanish Canary islands, lying some 180 miles to the west of Morocco just above the tropics. It is dominated by Mount Teide. At over 12,000 feet this quiescent volcano is the highest mountain in Spain. It is often covered with snow during the winter months. Such weather does not affect the coastal regions of course. So the island is reportedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, despite the generally black sand beaches (apart from those covered with sand imported from the Sahara).

Here is my latest atmospheric photo of Teide, taken from the coastal path on the western coast near Alcala. The palm trees in this image are being blown sideways. The weather this year was unseasonably windy and rainy on the coast (deep snow on Teide), such that flights on some days had to be diverted to land on La Palma island nearby. This did not make for good birding of course!

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Up in the Teide national park, in my hunt for the haunts of the Blue Chaffinch, Pipits, Ravens and Woodpeckers, I took this earlier close-up of the volcano, surrounded by the forests of endemic Canary pine trees. On most days you can ascend near to the top by cable car for stunning views – provided you don’t have breathing issues.

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As in previous years, I was there particularly to visit the Chio picnic site in the pine forest. Here you are almost guaranteed to see the local endemics of this habitat. They eat the crumbs left by the tourists under the picnic tables. Sure enough this year I saw Ravens (there are no crows on Tenerife), Blue Chaffinches and Berthelot’s Pipits. Here is my best photo of the endemic Chaffinch.

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And here is the Macronesian endemic, Berthelot’s Pipit, named after the French consul in the late nineteenth century. They are a much daintier bird than their cousins elsewhere and boldly scuttle around busily on bare terrain, even in car parks.

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Down by the western coast itself, the scenery is also spectacular - rugged black basalt rocks against a backdrop of Las Gigantes, sheer cliffs over 500 feet high which are the preferred nesting sites of the Barbary Falcon and the occasional Osprey.

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Whilst we saw neither of these raptors, we saw plenty of Kestrels and occasional Common Buzzards.

Although I have still not as yet managed to see the Barbary Falcon, the rocky coast proved a magnet for migrant waders. Here is a close up of one of a number of Whimbrels, far from their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Such good camouflage!

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And here is a solitary Muscovy Duck, strangely poised on a rock by the stormy sea, when in previous years we have seen them on golf courses and other ponds. This New World species is not of course native but appears to have become established on the island.

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This year we also saw Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and a Golden Plover on the coast, plus 3 Black-tailed Godwits and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers on a small pond in waste ground near Las Galetas. Here is an image of one of the Ringed Plovers (probably a juvenile) on the coast at Las Galetas, just outside our favourite restaurant there.

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Our hotel in Las Arenas proved an excellent spot for photographing Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows. These male sparrows are so much smarter, with their spotted waistcoats, than our House Sparrows. Here is a pair waiting to catch crumbs from the diners in the hotel restaurant. The dowdy female is much the same as a female House Sparrow.

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Overhead from our hotel balcony, periodically a small group of Rose-ringed Parakeets would screech past. Along the coast, at the Ten-Bell dilapidated development near Las Galetas, these parakeets, along with Monk Parakeets, have built enormous shared apartment nests in the tall trees on the main square. I wouldn’t think the human residents appreciate the regular noise. Here is a photo of the Rose-ringed from last year’s visit to the island. Attractive birds all the same - with a bright red bill, a rose coloured necklace, a lovely green plumage, very long tail, and a yellow undertail.

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In contrast, the Monk Parakeet is slightly smaller and less colourful. Here is my best photo of a pair in Torremolinos a few years ago. In the cities of the Spanish mainland coast, particularly in Barcelona, these parakeets have become a real pest.

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Just outside our hotel was a small tree lined square. Full of insects and some with berries, the trees attracted Blackbirds and many warblers – particularly Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers and Blackcaps. In particular this male Blackcap had a favourite perch in a palm tree, from whence it would blast forth its beautiful song. It could be heard half a mile away. Here it is looking at me as it sings, and showing an orange bib. That bib I can only deduce to be pollen acquired when taking nectar, or perhaps when nabbing insects on the flowers.

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Also posing in the square for a good photo was this Macronesian endemic, the Atlantic Canary – in full rich yellow breeding plumage. The basis of the caged canary, this pretty finch is a common bird throughout the island.

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Our trip to the local golf course and associated housing development at Abama produced, as usual, some excellent birds. A Grey Heron plucked a fish from one of the course ponds, Grey Wagtails patrolled the fairways near the ponds, Coots and Yellow legged Gulls splash-bathed in the fresh water of the reservoir, and this Kestrel flew low over the course before settling on an electricity post.

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But we were really looking again for the smart Barbary Partridge, spotted a few years ago on this site – see below.

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Alas, no sign of the birds this year.

But the disappointment was more than allayed by the appearance of a pair of Hoopoes foraging on one of the fairways and by this beautiful Southern Grey Shrike perched initially on an iron railing. Then, seemingly unconcerned by our presence, it flew to this tree close to our car. The so-called “butcher bird” takes insects and small birds. As is known, it sometimes pins its prey on sharp vegetation as a sort of larder. Note in particular the hooked tip to its bill. Apparently rare in Tenerife and a lifer for me, this was a highlight of our birding on Tenerife this year.

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Our final birding trip, to the Erjos pools near Masca, was disappointing as the water levels had shrunk alarmingly. A pair of Common Buzzards circled overhead and flocks of Canaries flew about the bushes. Only a few Coots could be seen on the open water. But at least one of my favourite birds, this Grey Wagtail, pottered about on the water’s edge.

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Notable too was an 8 strong group of Canarian Chiffchaffs on a flooded field, flitting from stalk to stalk and seemingly picking off seeds fallen on to the surface of the water. Although abundant on the island, never have I seen so many close together in one place. Now with its own Latin name, the species is slightly different from our Chiffchaffs - with a longer bill, longer supercilium, longer legs, and generally darker plumage.

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As a final image I remind myself that every year we see a few huge Monarch butterflies, floating about in flowering gardens and drinking the nectar. This year was no exception. Apparently, unlike their cousins in North America, the population here is non-migratory. I read that it is a successful butterfly on the island mainly, as elsewhere, because its caterpillars feed only on toxic Milkweed, a New World flowering plant but cultivated by islanders in their gardens. Thereby of course it makes itself toxic to predators.

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Peter M
March 2018

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