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Canary Islands: Trip Report September 2014

John Muddeman
30/09/2014 08:59:34

Another superb, albeit very intensive trip in search of the endemic and iconic birds of the 'Fortunate Islands', including the two most wanted seabirds after I'd departed!

Posted in: Birds, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Canary Islands | Spanish Islands

Canary Islands private tour report

22 – 25 (26) September 2014 African Blue Tit - Cyanistes teneriffae © John MuddemanThe pretty African Blue Tit
Cyanistes teneriffae teneriffae
© John Muddeman

Unable to come on the longer summer trip, Richard W organized a private tour in order to try and see some of the endemics and other special birds of the wonderful Canary Islands. However, given a very short time frame and limited budget, we packed this in with the consequent risk of missing something…

The weather, as during the July tour was generally fine, being warm (to occasionally hot) and sunny, but with broken cloud on most days and islands. After meeting early morning at Tenerife N airport, we headed to a series of sites in N and then C Tenerife, before staying in Los Cristianos. We took the La Gomera return ferry the following morning, then after a couple of sites in S Tenerife flew to Fuerteventura, arriving at a wonderful hotel late that evening. The following morning after visiting a couple of sites in N Fuerteventura we headed over on the ferry to Lanzarote for the rest of the afternoon there, then birded a few different sites on Lanzarote the final day until 1 pm when I left Richard and headed back to Fuerteventura , where I had a couple of hours to bird before my late evening flight back to Madrid.

Desert Grey Shrike - Lanius (meridionalis)koenigi © John MuddemanDesert Grey Shrike
Lanius elegans koenigi
© John Muddeman
We covered the plains, gorges, golf courses, coast, laurisilva cloud forest and open ocean in the process, and given a late change of plan in Richard’s itinerary he was also able to pick up on the remaining seabird species he’d targeted, plus another remarkable sighting, we missed on the planned ferry journey.

We started by looking for Tenerife’s pigeons, though despite seeing several gorgeous Laurel Pigeons at a couple of sites, and although still good, we didn’t see more than a rapid fly-past by a Bolle’s Pigeon below us and until we made a return visit to one of the main sites midday. African Blue Tit, Atlantic Canary, canariensis Common Chaffinch, Canary Island Kinglet and abundant Plain Swifts and Canary Island Chiffchaffs were picked up at various sites as we moved to different areas of forest, along with a regular smattering of other species including a single Barbary Partridge, numerous insularum Common Buzzards and canariensis Common Kestrels, plus granti Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a couple of superbus European Robins, several canariensis Grey Wagtails and a few Spanish Sparrows around the towns and villages.

Taking longer here than hoped we headed for a very late lunch towards the Teide crater only to find the restaurant closed, but at least 5 Blue Chaffinches were searching for scraps around the tables and gave superb views almost without getting out of the car! So it was even later, but still very welcome lunch at the Parador! Little was left of the afternoon and evening and in preparation for the ferry journey the following day, we rested during what time was left once we’d checked-in to our hotel.

The weather was unusually still both before Beaked Whale sp. &calf - Ziphius sp. © John MuddemanBeaked Whale & calf
?Ziphius sp.
© John Muddeman
and while we were there, with the usual NE trade winds scarcely apparent. Despite this, cloud formed regularly over much of the island keeping temperatures down and the seas very calm. The return ferry journey to La Gomera, at a rather late time of the year to look for Bulwer’s Petrel and possibly Barolo’s Shearwater, was always going to be a risk, but plenty of cetaceans were good, though a Bulwer’s Petrel that got away without Richard being able to get onto it, coinciding with a Great Skua which passed over almost unseen were very frustrating. A short break in San Sebastián failed to produce views of any of the calling Blackcaps in the Canary palms, but a fine Hoopoe flew in and gave a lovely display. The return was very uneventful apart from more cetaceans, though plenty of practice with Cory’s Shearwaters was had!

Needing to be back in the N for our evening flight, we made a couple of quick checks at sites in the S, with numerous of Berthelot’s Pipits, plus Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers, a couple of Desert Grey Shrikes and also a single Northern Wheatear suggesting a few migrants might be on the move. We headed to the airport with plenty of time for the evening flight, reaching our lovely hotel in N Fuerteventura just in time for a late dinner and good sleep.

Male Houbara Bustard - Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae © John MuddemanDisplaying male Houbara Bustard
Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae
© John Muddeman
A pre-breakfast drive out on nearby plains was superb. Having struggled with Houbara Bustard in July, but eventually finding them at this same site, it was a very welcome bonus to find one on the road itself! OK, so we’d taken some time to drive down, with almost nothing else to see apart from a couple of Desert Grey Shrikes, but this was with another and we had further excellent views of another bird a kilometer or so ahead too. The return was also diverted to look for Eurasian Thick-knee, and we saw a couple of the particularly well-marked insularum race at very close range.

Unfortunately, after a fine breakfast we had to check out, and then started an unusually difficult search for our main target species, Fuerteventura Stonechat. A lovely barranco with flowing, though salty water was then walked, and turned up a fine range of species, including a migrant Pied Flycatcher, Common and Green Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers, Common Greenshanks and a couple of Ruddy Shelducks, as well as good numbers of Long Skimmer and Broad Scarlet dragonflies, and numerous tiny Sahara Bluetail damselflies. With rising temperatures and time running away we left this though and went to the Los Molinos reservoir instead. Despite being almost out of water, nearly 200 Ruddy Shelduck alone and an adult majorensis Egyptian Vulture en route made it well worth the visit. Another Barranco produced a small group of Little Ringed Plovers just yards from the car, no chat, but three Laughing Doves nearby were good. Our last chance was another famous Barranco, but with it being after midday, Eurasian Stone-curlew - Burhinus oedicnemus insularum © John MuddemanEurasian Stone-curlew
Burhinus oedicnemus insularum
© John Muddeman
the bird were hiding and our chances slim in the heat. But perseverance is a virtue, and at the very end of a long hot walk, there, just a few metres in front, almost as if by magic, was a fine first-winter Fuerteventura Stonechat.

We headed back to the car and then made a bee-line for the ferry, actually arriving with plenty of time and now with the pressure off. We decided to stick with our plans to go to the island and look for more birds, even though it was really a back-up site for the Houbara Bustard and Eurasian Thick-knee, though the interest was now focussed on looking for seabirds. A large area of salt pans produced a fine selection of waders, including Black-winged Stilts, Common Redshanks, single Dunlin, juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and a colour-ringed Kentish Plover of most note, while driving through the middle of the island showed how the volcanic landscape here has been crafted by man in a unique manner to provide water for grape vines and other fruits. We finished off with a watch from a strategic point on the coast in case anything went past. Several hundred Cory’s Shearwaters streamed N in a an almost constant procession, but apart from a very close Whimbrel on the rocks below us there was nothing else of note and we headed to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

Eurasian Dotterel - Charadrius morinellus © John MuddemanA very scarce migrant - Eurasian Dotterel
Charadrius morinellus
© John Muddeman
Our final morning was spent with a quick visit to a golf course, where a winter-plumaged Squacco Heron was present and a Barbary Falcon flashed past, then we took a slow drive across miles of miles looking for more open ground birds. A Eurasian Thick-knee crouched just metres from the road, a small flock of Lesser Short-toed Larks finally appeared, and then towards the end of the final track a couple of Houbara Bustard strolling around stopped us and we also found a split flock of no less than 27 superb Cream-coloured Coursers showing beautifully! And not just that, but just 100m ahead another flock of small waders turned out to be a migrant group of 9 Eurasian Dotterel, a totally unexpected lifer for Richard and just reward for the effort put in.

We started our return, detouring via the defunct Cocoteros Salt Pans to the port at Arrecife and having bought Richard’s ferry journey back to Tenerife, we went our separate ways at the hotel and I headed back to Fuerteventura. Adding 6 new species to Black-tailed Godwit&Ruddy Shelduck - Limosa limosa&Tadorna ferruginea © John MuddemanBlack-tailed Godwit & Ruddy Shelduck
Limosa limosa & Tadorna ferruginea
© John Muddeman
the overall list while there, I was a bit frustrated for Richard, but since these were Black-headed Gull, Common Whitethroat, Black-tailed Godwit, Common House Martin, Eurasian Teal and Ruff, it wasn’t so bad… But he replied saying he’d been down on the local causeway and seen Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Little Stint, plus, incredibly, a Fea’s-type Pterodroma petrel going past!!!

Richard’s ferry journey the following day turned out to be perfect. Almost 100 Cory’s Shearwaters, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Barolo’s Shearwaters & 2 Bulwer’s Petrels, plus a couple of large skuas (probably Great, but South polar has occurred in autumn) and a couple of grey whales with bulbous heads…

This resulted in an excellent final combined total of 81 species in 5 days, including all of Richard’s ‘wanted’ list and Eurasian Dotterel as a bonus!

Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara. Adult male Blue Chaffinch - Fringilla teydea © John MuddemanAdult male Tenerife Blue Chaffinch
Fringilla teydea
© John Muddeman

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, 250 minimum.
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca, 1 adult male leader-only.
Fea's Petrel Pterodroma cf feae 1 RW only on 25th.
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis.
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 7 RW only on 26th.
Barolo’s Shearwater Puffinus baroli 3 RW only on 26th.
Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, 1 JM, 2 RW only.
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, 14.
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, 2.
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, 1.
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis.
Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, 1.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus.
Canary Islands Buzzard Buteo buteo insularum.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.
Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides.
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae, 6 minimum. Cream-Coloured Courser - Cursorius cursor © John MuddemanCream-Coloured Courser
Cursorius cursor
© John Muddeman

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra.
Eurasian Stone-Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, 56.
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, 1.
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, 1.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius, 6.
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus, 1 colour-ringed double green on right, white on left plus metal above 'knee'.
Eurasian Dotterel Charadrius morinellus, 9.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, 3 juvs F leader-only; RW also on Lan.
European Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus.
Common Redshank Tringa totanus, 17.
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, 10.
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, 2.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, c.10.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres.
Sanderling Calidris alba Richard only.
Little Stint Calidris minuta Richard only.
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, 1 juvenile.
Dunlin Calidris alpina, 1.
Ruff Philomachus pugnax, 1.
Cream-colored Courser Cursorius cursor, 27.
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus, 1 adult moulting to winter Fue, leader-only.
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii. Desert habitat on Lanzarote © John MuddemanDesert habitat on Lanzarote© John Muddeman
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis, 21.
Great Skua Stercorarius skua, 1 leader-only; presumed this species. 2 large skuas seen by RW on 26th not identified to species.
Rock Dove Columba livia.
Bolle's Pigeon Columba bollii, 1.
Laurel Pigeon Columba junoniae.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto.
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis, 3.
Plain Swift Apus unicolor.
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops.
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis.
Eurasian Raven Corvus corax.
African Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae.
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens, 8.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, 4; plus 2 leader only Fue.
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum, 1 Leader only.
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Heard, seen JM only. Short-finned Pilot-whale pod - Globicephala macrorhynchus © John MuddemanShort-finned Pilot-whale pod
Globicephala macrorhynchus
© John Muddeman

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, 1 1st winter leader-only.
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala.
Canary Islands Goldcrest Regulus (regulus) teneriffae.
Common Blackbird Turdus merula.
‘Tenerife’ Robin Erithacus rubecula superbus, 2.
Canary Islands Stonechat Saxicola dacotiae.
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe.
European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, 1.
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea canariensis.
Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotii.
Canary Islands Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs canariensis.
Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea, 5 minimum.
Atlantic Canary Serinus canaria.
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, 1.
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina, 3.
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus, 4 in flight Lan leader-only.
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra, 4.

Atlantic Trumpetfish - Aulostromus strigosus © John MuddemanThe 'wacky' Atlantic Trumpetfish
Aulostromus strigosus
© John Muddeman

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