July – Canary Islands endemics

In early July, I travelled to Tenerife in the Canary Islands to look for some of the endemic birds on the island and to spend some time seawatching. The Atlantic islands are interesting because years of isolation have resulted in a number of species which are found nowhere else in the world. Even some of the birds more familiar to us have local subspecies, some of which are more distinct than others. Several of these could even arguably be candidates for full species in their own right – where the dividing line lies is somewhat arbitrary. A chance to look at speciation in action!

A few of the highlights are below:

Atlantic Canary Tenerife 2014-07_1

Atlantic Canary – the name says it all, endemic to Canary Islands and Madeira

Blue Chaffinch Tenerife 2014-07_1

Blue Chaffinch – another endemic, breeding in pine forests at higher altitude. Stunning birds!

Canary Islands Chaffinch tintillon male Tenerife 2014-07_2

Chaffinch – at lower altitudes in the laurel forest, the Blue Chaffinch is replaced by the local subspecies tintillon of Common Chaffinch. It looks and sounds rather different to our birds so perhaps a future candidate for full species rank?

Laurel Pigeons Tenerife 2014-07_1

Laurel Pigeons – the other key endemics to see are the two species of pigeon, Bolle’s and Laurel, both residents of the native laurel forest. Easy enough to find, but hard to see well in the dense trees

Canary Islands Chiffchaff Tenerife 2014-07_1

Canary Islands Chiffchaff – this one has recently been given full species status by many authorities. Rather short-winged compared to our Chiffchaff, and vocally very different

Tenerife Goldcrest 2014-07_1

Tenerife Goldcrest – the black band across the fore-crown distinguishes it from ours. Another subspecies which could be upgraded in the future, and already has by some

Canary Islands Great Spotted Woodpecker Tenerife 2014-07_1

Great Spotted Woodpecker – the local race canariensis, only found on Tenerife, looks and sounds similar to ours

The real highlight of the trip for me was the seawatching. I had particularly wanted to see Barolo (Little) Shearwaters but the population has crashed over the last 10-15 years and they are now very hard to see (some commentators have even suggested they may be on course for extinction in the not too distant future). Historically best seen from the short ferry crossing over to the island of La Gomera, they are not seen with any regularity there any more (we tried without success). However, we were staying on the coast on the north of the island, overlooking the sea, and while seawatching from the balcony on our first afternoon, I was amazed to pick up a Barolo Shearwater feeding offshore. On subsequent afternoons, I saw at least 3 birds feeding and more moving west with the Cory’s Shearwaters in the late evening. It was a real privilege to be able to watch them at length, and the series of sightings is significant enough to be of interest to researchers studying the species.

Cory's Shearwater Tenerife 2014-07_10

Cory’s Shearwater

As well as the Barolo Shearwaters, there were hundreds of Cory’s Shearwaters and smaller numbers of Bulwer’s Petrels (my maximum count was 13 on one evening). The latter is also surprisingly seldom recorded from land-based seawatching on Tenerife, but I found them relatively easy to see in the evening, presumably as they returned towards their breeding colonies.

All in all, it was a very rewarding trip and I would heartily recommend it as a fascinating birdwatching destination.

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