Sunday 18 March 2018

Winter birding in Tenerife

Seems like a long time ago now but at the end of January Polina and I headed off to Tenerife for some winter sun.
We were staying on the northern part of the island at the charming town of Puerto de la Cruz. The northern part of the island gets less sun than the south and therefore it is a lot greener and less arid. We were really unlucky with weather and hit just about the only wet week there had been all winter in Tenerife. It didn't bother me too much (though Polina wasn't too pleased), I was just happy to be somewhere else other than cold, grey and rainy Norfolk, the evenings were bright until around 7pm and when it didn't rain the temperature got up to about 18oC.
It wasn't a birding trip but I did have one day to myself to go birding. I really wanted to see Blue Chaffinch so that had to be my number one target in the time I had available. Laurel Pigeon and Bolle's Pigeon would be nice too.
I didn't bother to hire a guide and instead bought a copy of David Gosney's 'Finding Birds in The Canaries' and sorted out car rental with the nearby tourist office.
The nearest spot to where we were staying that was covered by the Gosney guide was a place called Ladera de Tigaiga (sometimes called Chanajiga). This spot had a picnic site where it would be possible to see Tenerife Robin, Tenerife Goldcrest, tintillon Chaffinch (which I had seen in 2015 in Madeira and a very smart bird they are too) and teneriffae race of African Blue Tit. What the Gosney guide didn't say (although its obvious when you get to Tenerife), is that the thirty minute drive to Chanajiga from Puerto de la Cruz goes along some very narrow and steep little mountain roads. I had a Ford Ka and it really struggled on those little roads, often lacking the power to get up - once or twice I had to roll it back and then make a run at it - especially if there was a hairpin on the incline. Anyway I got to Chanajiga and within an hour I had seen all of the above species plus Canary Island Chiffchaff and Canary.

Canary Island Chiffchaff

Canary Island Chiffchaff

Tenerife Goldcrest

African Blue Tit (race teneriffae)

Tenerife Robin

Tenerife Robin
The next bit of the plan was to walk the track to the laurel forest and look for Laurel and Bolle's Pigeon. The habitat was good, plenty of ravines and decent views across them from the path but after spending about an hour and half there all I saw were Blackbirds, a few Blackcaps and more Robins. I needed to allow enough time to drive from Chanajiga to Las Layas which was one hour and twenty minutes away so I had to forget about the pigeons and get back on the road. Las Layas is the other side of Mount Teide and the number one spot in the world for Blue Chaffinch. However, I was a little worried that my Ford Ka wouldn't handle the roads and wasn't too sure about my own nerve on those steep hills and narrow switch-backs. Anyway, weather intervened and having travelled for about half an hour, the road to Teide was blocked due to snow and ice! I saw signs for a place called Las Calderas which looked like a picnic place. I figured that the best bet would be to look in areas with suitable habitat and I might find them myself. In the end that's what happened, I had walked all around Las Calderas and was on my way back to the car feeling somewhat dejected at not having seen Blue Chaffinch or any Pigeons, I took a slight detour to use the gents and came across three birds feeding on the deck just in front of the toilet block - bingo!

Male Blue Chaffinch

Female Blue Chaffinch
After that I headed back with the rental car to Puerto de la Cruz. In the town itself I did have a few other species, Yellow-legged Gull, Kestrel, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Spanish Sparrow, Plain Swift (love to see swifts in January!), Collared Dove and a singing Canary Island Chiffchaff (which to me sounds like a House Sparrow impersonating a Chiffchaff!).
Obviously there's a lot of stuff I missed having just one day. Apart from the Pigeons I didn't see Barbary Falcon, Berthelots' Pipit (although I have seen them in Madeira) and had no time for any sea-watching. Still, I have a reason to go back though :-)           

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