Trip Report: La Gomera, La Palma and Tenerife (Canary Islands), September 3-15, 1999

Hans van Oosterhout and Michiel Visser, The Netherlands;

This summer we decided to go to the Canary Islands for our holiday. Wanting a little peace and quiet, a friend suggested we should go to La Gomera. La Gomera is one of the smaller Canary Islands with lots of nature and not so many tourists. Being afraid of becoming too isolated, we decided to go to La Gomera for the first week, and to La Palma for the second week. La Palma is bigger than La Gomera, and since there is an airport on the island, there is more tourism on La Palma. The bigger islands, Tenerife and Gran Canaria, are well known for their tourism industry, and not being the "All day lying in the sun and going out late at night"-types, La Palma was a good alternative.

Our main goal on the islands was to relax and enjoy the scenery on several walks on the islands, and of course, try to see as many endemic birds as possible, since this was most likely the only time we would go this way.

Since the decision where we would go was made quite late, we didn't bring any Canary Islands specialist books. We only had the Lars Jonsson with us, and some trip reports we got from the Internet. These trip reports appeared to be very helpful in our quest; some species would not have been found if it weren't for these trip reports.

La Gomera

On September 3rd, we arrived on the airport of Tenerife South at 10.30h. Only recently an airport has been opened on La Gomera, but there are not many planes going there (yet). The "old" way to get to La Gomera is by taking a boat at Los Christianos Harbour, a 20 minutes drive from the Southern airport of Tenerife (a taxi costs Pst 2.500). I must say, it was a very pleasant thought being stuck on a boat for 1 1/2 hours after a 4 1/2 hour flight. There are regular boats going from Los Christianos, being undertaken by two companies. The bigger company is "Lineas Fred. Olsen". This company goes from Tenerife to La Gomera and back at very regular times. The other company "Mediteranean" goes between more islands. This boat comes from Gran Canaria, goes to Tenerife, then to La Gomera and finally to La Palma, from where it returns on the same route. Going from Tenerife to La Gomera by "Mediteranean" is therefor only possible once a day. There are also some quicker boats going, from both companies, but these boats do not offer you the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, and I do think that was the most enjoyable part of the trip. We took the "Fred. Olsen" from 12.00 h. and so we arrived on La Gomera at 13.30 h. During this crossing we saw several groups of dolphins, being too far away to see what kind they were, and one large group of Shortfin Pilot Whales; both species are said to be very common in these waters. There were also lots of Cory's Shearwaters flying above the water, some coming very close to the ferry.

In the harbour of San Sebastian, the capitol of La Gomera, there are a lot of Rent-a-cars that seemed to be open all day, but since we had rented a car with our trip, we had to wait for over two hours, because our Rent-a-car seemed to be the only one on the island that did not have an office in the harbour and that decided they would close for the siesta. On all the Canary Islands siesta is from 13.00 h. until 16.00 h. Usual opening hours are therefore from 08.00-13.00 and from 16.00-20.00.

After we had collected our car, we had to drive to Vallehermoso on the northern part of the island, where the Casa Rural was that we had rented. This is about 40 km, but since La Gomera is made up of volcanic mountains, and therefore has a lot of steep, narrow, and curved roads, it took us 1 1/2 hours to make this trip. Our Casa proved to be magnificent, in one of the gorges around Vallehermoso, about 3 km from the village, between banana plantations, and with one of the most spectacular views that we had ever seen. We would stay here for 6 days, using our Casa as a resting place for our explorations around the island.

First thing we noticed was that there were not many birds. The birds we saw around the Casa were mainly Canarian Chiffchaff, Canary, Blue Tit, Grey Wagtail, Kestrel, Buzzard, and Plain Swift. There were some other species that we saw in the area, but there was no abundance of birds. On the first Sunday we found out why. On Sundays, it seems that all men take their guns and go to the mountains. While I was enjoying my morning coffee, watching the pair of Kestrels displaying nearby, a car stopped on the road about 100 m. away. Three men got out the car, shot "our" male Kestrel, got in the car again and drove off, leaving me totally flabbergasted. Nice start of a day. The rest of the day the air was filled with gunshots; they were all over the place. The main game was rabbits, but really everything that moved was being shot. Horrible sight. There were even small boys, around 10 yrs old, walking around with shotguns. At the end of the day we found out that the family of Barbary Partridge that was coming to the fields around our Casa, had at least partially survived. Like other evenings we heard them calling, and even the other two families, further up the mountain, were calling back again. This way of living is something we, in modern times, cannot understand, and my suggestion is that on a Sunday on La Gomera, you have to go to the National Park, where hunting is forbidden. Go early and return late, so you will not be shocked by the hunting. You can also look for signs that say: "Caza Controlada". This means that the hunting in this area is being done by professionals, and locals are not allowed to hunt there.

The time we visited, La Gomera was very dry. There had not been any rain for a long time. The "Fog Forest" in the National Park, Parque Nacional de Garajonay, in the center of the island, was therefore barren and dry. Here too, there were very few different kind of birds. The best places to be were the Miradors, where you could see a large part of the area, and some of the many different, well signposted, walks through the park. Laguna Grande in the center of the park is a place where lots of people go to relax, have a picnic and just lie in the shade. It is a large open field in the thick forest, and you can observe things like Berthelot's Pipit, Raven, Canary, Chaffinch and Tenerife Coldcrest here.

The coastline of the islands is hard to reach. Because the slopes are so steep, it is almost impossible to get a good view of the birds that live there, or even fly by. The best place to find shorebirds is the coastline of Valle Gran Rey, in the western part of the island.

Some of our highlights on La Gomera were:

Barbary Partridge. Not uncommon. Best traced by their calls. We saw some large groups, some of which contained more than 10 birds.

Bolles' Laurelpigeon. In the National Park there are some "Miradors"; these places are higher and are the best places to find these pigeons.

(White-tailed) Laurelpigeon. The best place for these birds is "Mirador El Rejo," only a 10 min. drive from Hermigua. Just sit down at the Mirador and wait. We stayed there for about 30 minutes and had 5 sightings of these Pigeons flying by. Bolles' Laurelpigeon is also quite common on this spot.

Long-eared Owl. Since it gets dark around 20.30 h. and the area of Vallehermoso is absolutely quiet at night, the calling of this owl was heard several times. I guess there must have been a pair in the area.

Barbary Falcon. On several occasions a smaller Peregrine Falcon flew over our Casa. This bird was smaller than other Peregrines we had seen, and was much lighter, with remarkebly light barring on the underside of the tail. After seeing a "real" Peregrine on La Palma, we think this must have been a Barbary Falcon.

Alpine Swift. Amidst the Plain and Pallid Swifts above the northern part of the National Park, we saw a few Alpine Swifts, one on the 6th and two on the 7th.

La Palma

On September 9th, we took a ferry to La Palma. The ferry left La Gomera at 10.15 h. and took us to La Palma in 4 hours. The weather was fine, sunny and very windy, thus we could work a bit on our tan, while watching lots of shearwaters and even 2 Bulwer's Petrels. We arrived at Santa Cruz de la Palma, the capitol of the island, collected our car and drove to our next Casa Rural, in the suburbs of El Paso. On the east side of the island there were lots of clouds, but once we had passed the large tunnel and got to the valley of El Paso on the west side, the weather was much better. The roads on La Palma were excellent. After La Gomera, this was a big improvement. And, instead of small local shops, there were lots of Supermarcados in the towns, and even for a gas station you didn't have to look far. This island was much more used to dealing with great flocks of tourists.

The most remarkable bird of La Palma must be the Red-billed Chough. They were all over the island, sometimes in groups of more than 100 ind. Very funny birds who were not all that shy to people.

As already said, the roads on La Palma are excellent, so we have seen the entire island. The main road to the south takes you to Fuencaliente. In 1971 there has been a large volcano eruption, and the landscape is still very moon-like. There are some inactive volcanoes in the aria, and also a few beaches, from where you can see things like shearwaters flying by. There were also some small waterholes, where we saw some waders.

The northern half of the island is a bit like La Gomera, only much greener. On La Palma there is also a National Park, and when you take the road from Llano Negro to Barlovento, a small road will take you through the most beautifull part of the park, with spectaculair views. On this road we found some Echiums in a small gorge. This plant has flowers of up to 6 mtrs. high, very impressive. After Barlovento you have to go to San Andres, one of the most elusive villages we have ever seen. This was also one of the only places where we saw large groups of Spanish Sparrows.

Attracted by the large pool that was visible on our map, we also visited Laguna de Barlovento. This was however a large water-containing tank, the biggest one we had ever seen, and there were absolutely no birds in the area.

La Palma is much greener than La Gomera, but bird-wise they don't differ that much. Some kinds are abundant (e.g. Canarian Chiffchaff, Plain Swift, Rock Dove, Blackcap, and even Kestrel), but there are not many different species. La Palma is also much more developed than La Gomera, and we didn't notice any hunting on the island.

Some of our highlights on La Palma were:

Red-billed Cough. Large groups of these birds are all over the island. You can find them at all elevations, even on the coast.

Montagu's Harrier. On the 7th we were admiring the spectacular cloud formations that rolled over the mountains like avalanches, when we noticed a juvenile slowly hunting over the valley near El Paso.

Waders. Near the beach "La Playa Nueva" (the one near Fuencaliente) was a small pool with brackish water. There were some Turnstones, 1 Dunlin, 1 Common Sandpiper and 1 Red Knot in this pool.

Lesser Short-toed Lark. Looking for the mountain houses in Jedey, we saw 1 Lesser Short-toed Lark, the only one of our entire trip.

In El Paso, a bird park has opened not that long ago. We visited this bird park and noticed that there were a lot of birds who had escaped from the newly built cages. We saw Glossy Starling, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Cockatiel and several other species flying around. Nice way to improve the number of species on the island!


Since we had to take our return-plane to Holland at 19.00 hrs., and the ferry from La Palma would arrive at Tenerife at 19.00-19.30 hrs. we were forced to take the return ferry a day earlier. Thus the last day we had to spent on Tenerife. This island was a big culture shock for us. We had never seen so many tourist accomodations. Having spent two weeks in almost isolation and now seeing this many tourists, restaurants and shops made us glad we had chosen La Gomera and La Palma for our destination.

The only sensible thing for us to do on Tenerife was to try and look for the Blue Chaffinch. As we were told, they would best be found at Las Lajas, in the mountains near Vilaflor. Vilaflor is about 45 min. drive from Los Christianos; first follow the signs Arona from the main highway, and than follow Vilaflor. In Vilaflor you have to follow the signs to Naturpark El Teide. After a drive that took us about 30 min. because the roads were very bad, we came to the sign "Las Lajas, Zona Recreational". This area proved to be an excellent place for Blue Chaffinch. When we got out of the car, they were flying all over the place. We must have seen around 50 ind. including more than 10 adult males, escpecially their parakeet-like call was very distinctive. After walking around a bit, we found out that the best place to see them up close, is to sit close to one of the plastic drinking containers for the dogs, which are located around the (only) restaurant. Being patient we were lucky to see several males drinking out of one of these containers, while we were sitting only 2 mtrs. away. They were really beautiful, and it was very easy to take pictures of them. There were also several Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around.

On our way to the airport we stopped of at the water reservoir, just north of the Amarilla Golf Club. In this not all too big pond, 22 Little Egrets and 2 Cattle Egrets were standing. We also saw a big group of Spanish Sparrows, with one Red-billed Quelea. This proved to be an excellent ending of this day, and more sadly, of our vacation. We had seen all endemic birds, except the Fuertaventura Chat, for obvious reasons.

Pelagic Trips

Since all the trip reports that we read were very positive about the boat trips between the islands, we decided to go from La Gomera to La Palma, and also from La Palma to Tenerife by ferry. On our way back, we could have taken a plane, but since the first trip was very nice, we decided to take the 6 hrs boat trip again. The boat from La Palma leaves at 13.45 h., every day, except on Saturday. It goes first to La Gomera and than, after a short stop, directly to Tenerife, where we got off; after that, the boats continues for Gran Canaria. We arrived at Tenerife early, around 19.00 h. because of very high winds. The cost of this trip was 6.000 pts. for 2 persons.

Tenerife - La Gomera (3-9-99, 1 1/2 hrs)

La Gomera - La Palma (9-9-99, 4 hrs)

La Palma - La Gomera (14-9-99, 3 1/2 hrs)

La Gomera - Tenerife (14-9-99, 1 1/2 hrs)

Total List of Species Recorded

Used abbrevations:

Number of birds: A = 1 bird, B = 2-3 birds, C = 4-5 birds, D = 6-10 birds, E = 11-25 birds, F = 26-100 birds, G = 101+ birds

Island: G = La Gomera, P = La Palma, T = Tenerife

English Name             Dutch Name               Scientific Name          G P T

Bulwer's Petrel          Bulwers Stormvogel       Bulweria bulwerii        B - -
Cory's Shearwater        Kuhls Pijlstromvogel     Calonectris diomedea     D D F
Little Shearwater        Kleine Pijlstormvogel    Puffinus assimilis       E - -
Manx Shearwater          Noordse Pijlstormvogel   Puffinus puffinus        A - -
Balearic Shearwater      Vale Pijlstormvogel      Puffinus mauretanicus    A - -
Cattle Egret             Koereiger                Bubulcus ibis            - - B
Little Egret             Kleine Zilverreiger      Egretta garzetta         - - E
Grey Heron               Blauwe Reiger            Ardea cinerea            C B -
Montagu's Harrier        Grauwe Kiekendief        Circus pygargus          - A -
Sparrowhawk              Sperwer                  Accipiter nisus          C B -
Buzzard                  Buizerd                  Buteo buteo              D B -
Kestrel                  Torenvalk                Falco tinnunculus        F F D
Peregrine                Slechtvalk               Falco peregrinus         - A -
Barbary Falcon           Barbarijse Valk          Falco pelegrinoides      A - -
Barbary Partridge        Barbarijse Patrijs       Alectoris barbara        F B -
Moorhen                  Waterhoen                Gallinula chloropus      D - -
Coot                     Meerkoet                 Fulica atra              D - -
Turnstone                Steenloper               Arenaria interpres       - D D
Red Knot                 Kanoet                   Calidris canutus         - A -
Dunlin                   Bonte Strandloper        Calidris alpina          - A -
Curlew                   Wulp                     Numenius arquata         B A -
Common Sandpiper         Oeverloper               Actitis hypoleucos       - C A
Pomarine Skua            Middelste Jager          Stercorarius pomarinus   B - -
Yellow-legged Gull       Geelpootmeeuw            Larus cachinnans         F E F
Great Black-backed Gull  Grote Mantelmeeuw        Larus marinus            - A -
Sandwich Tern            Grote Stern              Sterna sandvicensis      - E C
Common Tern              Visdief                  Sterna hirundo           D - -
Laurel Pigeon            Laurierduif              Columba junoniae         C - -
Bolle's Pigeon           Bolles Laurierduif       Columba bollii           E - -
Rock Dove                Rotsduif                 Columba livia            F F E
Collared Dove            Turkse Tortel            Streptopelia decaocto    D C F
Turtle Dove              Zomertortel              Streptopelia turtur      D D A
Long-eared Owl           Ransuil                  Asio otus                B A -
Alpine Swift             Alpengierzwaluw          Tachymarptis melba       C - -
Pallid Swift             Vale Gierzwaluw          Apus pallidus            D D A
Plain Swift              Madeiragierzwaluw        Apus unicolor            G G F
Hoopoe                   Hop                      Upupa epops              A A -
Lesser Short-toed Lark   Kleine Kortteenleeuwerik Calandrella rufescens    - B -
Berthelot's Pipit        Berthelots Pieper        Anthus berthelotii       F E C
Great Spotted Woodpecker Grote Bonte Specht       Dendrocopos major        - - D
Grey Wagtail             Grote Gele Kwikstaart    Motacilla cinerea        E D D
White Wagtail            Witte Kwikstaart         Motacilla alba           B - -
Blackbird                Merel                    Turdus merula            D E B
Blackcap                 Zwartkop                 Sylvia atricapilla       D E -
Sardinian Warbler        Kleine Zwartkop          Sylvia melanocephala     E B -
Spectacled Warbler       Brilgrasmus              Sylvia conspicillata     A - -
Canarian Chiffchaff      Canarische Tjiftjaf      Phylloscopus canariensis F F E
Tenerife Goldcrest       Tenerifegoudhaan         Regulus teneriffae       F E D
Tenerife Blue Tit        Tenerife Pimpelmees      Parus teneriffae         F F F
Raven                    Raaf                     Corvus corax             E - -
Red-billed Chough        Alpenkraai               Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax  - G -
Spanish Sparrow          Spaanse Mus              Passer hispaniolensis    D C F
Red-billed Quelea        Zwartmasker Roodbekwever Quelea Quelea            - - A
Chaffinch                Vink                     Fringilla coelebs        D E D
Blue Chaffinch           Blauwe Vink              Fringilla teydea         - - F
Canary                   Kanarie                  Serinus canaria          F F F

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