Trip Report: Canary Islands, March 26 - April 6, 1999

Ady Gancz, Israel;

Traveling with non-birding members of my family, this was not strictly a birding holiday, nevertheless I did manage to see all of the endemic species and some, but not all of the endemic subspecies. I also managed to find a few interesting non-endemic species (e.g. Barbary Partridge). I did not see many seabirds with respect to what was mentioned in other reports. I suspect this may be due to the time of the year.

During the 11 days of our stay in the islands, we were based at Puerto de la Cruz at the northern part of Tenerife. For transportation we hired a car. I made some day trips to the other islands but always returned to sleep on Tenerife. This was not ideal, as I would have liked some more time for Gomera and Fuerteventura Islands.

I took the Los-Cristianos (Tenerife) - San Sebastian (Gomera) ferry twice, and the Santa Cruz (Tenerife) - Agaete (Gran Canaria) once. To Fuerteventura I got by plane.

General information and some 'getting around' tips

Car rental is relatively cheap in the Canary Islands. There are literally hundreds of small 'rent-a-car' companies everywhere. Prices start at about 115 US$ per week for the smallest models. We got an Opel Astra (station wagon) for about 150 US$ from "CICAR" (a relatively large company which has offices at all Canary Islands airports - recommended!). It is probably best to hire a car at the airport, as the rates in the cities seem to be higher. During the 11 days that we had the car, I drove about 2200 km (!) most of it on Tenerife Is. We also took the car with us to Gomera and Gran Canaria Islands (It's cheaper to take the car on the ferry rather than to hire a car for a day on the other side). One's local driver license seems to be enough for the rental companies, for the police I don't know (but generally they do not bother tourists). Fuel was about 0.5 US$ per liter for unleaded (= sin plomo).

Getting around on the islands is easy. The roads are new and well marked, and nothing is really very far. We bought a map (1:150,000) which included all the islands, and which was generally sufficient for getting us to most of the sites. Knowing a bit of Spanish proved very helpful, especially away from the tourist centers.

The question where to stay on the islands is much a matter of personal taste. Most tourists at Tenerife stay either at the Los Cristianos - Las Americas complex, in the southern part of the Island, or at Puerto de la Cruz in the north. The south is much hotter and also more crowded, but is also closer to some of the birding sites and to the ferry to Gomera Island. Whale watching boat-tours leave both from Los Cristianos and from Las Americas. The north on the other hand can be cool and even rainy, but is generally nicer, more scenic, less crowded and closer to Santa Cruz, from which the ferries to Gran Canaria leave. Flights to Fuerteventura leave/arrive from/to the northern airport.

Ferries are not only a nice way of getting from one island to the other, but also a great opportunity to do some pelagic seabird watching. There is much more activity in the late afternoon, so it's better to catch the late ferries (6 pm onwards).

The two main companies which operate ferries are "Lineas Fred. Olsen" and "Transmediteranea". Both have also 'express' or 'Hydrofoil' boats, which are too fast for birding (and much more expensive). For Gomera Is. and Hierro Is. the ferries leave from Los Cristianos (South Tenerife). For Gran Canaria, Lanzerote and Fuerteventura they leave from Santa Cruz (NE Tenerife). Price lists and timetables are available from the offices at the ports or by phone. With Fred. Olsen the trip Tenerife-Gomera takes 1.5 hours and costs about 27 US$ (return trip for one person) or 100 US$ (return trip for 3 persons + car). The trip Tenerife-Gran Canaria takes 2 hours and is about 120 US$ (return trip for 3 persons + car). The ferry to Fuerteventura takes 16 hours each way, so most people prefer to go by plane.

There are two airports on Tenerife Island (a large one in the south and a small one in the north). It is therefore very important to find out in advance where your flight is going to (it should be printed on the ticket). Going by car from the south to the north should take about 1-1.5 hours on the highway. The flights to Fuerteventura go from Tenerife Norte everyday at 10:15 and return at 20:15. The flight takes 50 min. and costs about 140 US$ for the return trip. They are operated by 'Binter-Canaria' (which belongs to 'Iberia').

Detailed birding information can be found in:

Unfortunately I had neither of those (as they cannot be bought in Israel, and I didn't have enough time to order them through the Internet). I did however get a brief look at both when I met an English birder at Las Lajas (the famous Blue Chaffinch site, Tenerife). Other then that, I was relying on reports which I downloaded from the Internet, mainly the reports of

As to field-guides, I only took with me:

Finally, taking a telephoto lens is a good idea, as some of the birds are very tame (e.g. the Blue Chaffinches at Las Lajas, the Canary Island Chats at Barranco de Rio Cabras and the Berthelot's Pipits everywhere).


In this report I will try to provide some basic site information which should be helpful to those looking for the endemic species (mainly the two Pigeons the Blue Chaffinch and the Chat, as the other endemics are common and can be found everywhere). It should be noted that only some of the main sites are described here, so for more information try to get the literature mentioned above.


Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. Most of the endemic bird species can be seen here, but not the Canary Island Chat, which is restricted to Fuerteventura.

The El Teide National Park is not strictly a 'birding site' but is definitely worth seeing. The volcano rises to about 3700m above sea level, and the scenery around it is spectacular. Driving to the park from Puerto de la Cruz on the C-821 road, I saw Chaffinches (ssp. canariensis) in the dense pine forest at an altitude of about 1300m. Further up at about 1800m (just below the timberline, where the forest is very open) I saw one female Blue Chafinch (ssp. teydea). Birds seen around the visitor's center (at about 2000m) included: Berthelot's Pipit, Wild Canary and Blue Tit (ssp. teneriffae). I also saw Pallid Swifts along the cliffs inside the park.

Las Lajas

Located on the continuation of the C-821 from the park towards Villaflor, this is by far the best place to find Blue Chaffinches of the Tenerifean ssp. teydea. The word 'find' may be a bit exaggerated, as the birds seem to be all over the place. In each of the two times I visited the place, I saw at least 15 individual birds. On both times I got there around midday, when it was hot and there were lots of people around, but this did not seem to matter.

Las Lajas is a popular recreational area and a campsite, set in an open pine forest. There are several small buildings, one of which is a restaurant. The finches can be seen anywhere within this area, but the two improvised drinking spots seem to be the best spots.

To get there take the C-821. Coming from the north, pass the park and then the junction at Boca Tauce (do not turn to the C-823). Keep driving and look for a camping site just beside the road on the right. It's marked by a wooden sign with the words Las Lachas and Zona recreational; the restaurant is visible from the road. If you are coming from the south pass Villaflor, drive up the mountain for some minutes and look for it on the left.

Other birds seen at Las Lajas included Great Spotted Woodpecker (ssp. canariensis, common!) Berthelot's Pipit, Blue Tit, Wild Canary and Raven. I also heard the local Firecrest/Goldcrest (its systematic position seems to be a matter of debate).


The Laurel forest of Erjos is one of my favorite sites on this trip. At this site both White-tailed and Bolle's Pigeons may be seen, but it is probably best for Bolle's Pigeon. There is a dirt road that goes through the forest for some kilometers, and it is quite pleasant to bird along this way. Walking through the forest you will flush the pigeons every now and then, but getting a good look will be difficult. For better sightings it is best to drive to the small rock 5 km down the road (see map) from which there is a relatively good view, and the pigeons are often seen flying. The road is a bit rough, but driving slowly you should be able to get there even with a small car.

Walking (and birding) the road takes its time, and so I probably got to the rock too late in the morning. Later, in the afternoon of the same day, I returned to the spot (by car this time) and had better sightings of Bolle's Pigeons. Other birders have reported seeing the pigeons just after sunrise. Note that the afternoon is more likely to be cloudy and rainy. I did not see White-tailed Pigeons at Erjos.

Many of the common species mentioned before can also be seen at Erjos, and it is particularly good for Chaffinches and Firecrest/Goldcrest. There are supposed to be some ponds nearby, but I did not visit there.

To get to Erjos take the C-820 to the NW part of the Island. The village is on the road, in between Cruz Grande and Santiago del Teide. Coming from the south the dirt road will be on the left side just opposite a sign 'Erjos' on the right, next to the first houses of the village. Turn left and stay on the main track which will go down for a 100m or so and then up next to a planted forest (there are two minor turns which should be avoided). Coming from the North it is probably best to pass the village, make a U turn and return from the south (this way you see the sign and are sure you take the right turn). The dirt road to the ponds starts about 200m south of where the 'forest road' does, both dirt roads are on the same side of the C-820 road (west of it).

Sites for Barbary Partridge

I had three sightings of Barbary Partridges on Tenerife, all of which were of birds crossing the road. All together I saw 5 adults and 9 chicks. None of the sightings were at known sites (at least I didn't know them to be such). This either means that I was lucky, or that Barbary Partridges are fairly common on the Island (probably the later is true). People have mentioned the road between Arona and Escalona (at the southern part of the island, SW to Villaflor) as a possible site, but I did not see any Partridges there. Instead, I did see them at:


The Island Gomera is much smaller than Tenerife. The Laurel forests covering the higher mountainous parts of the Island are probably the best place to see White-tailed Pigeon. Bolle's Pigeon can also be seen here.

From the Ferry

The ferry line Tenerife/Gomera has been reported to be particularly good for sea birds. From the 18:00 ferry back to Tenerife (which was late and left only at about 18:45) I saw thousands of Cory's Shearwaters, one Little Shearwater and one Great Skua. However, on the second time I took this ferry there were strong winds, and I saw very little. Other birders have reported seeing White-faced Storm Petrel as well as Bulwer's Petrel from the ferry.

Pilot Whales and Dolphins can also be seen from the ferry. The whales seem to be easier to see in the morning (I saw about 30 of them from the 9:00 ferry to Gomera).

El Cedro

There are several pigeon sites around this area (see map). Getting off the ferry (at about 10:30) I first tried to see the pigeons at the site mentioned by Dave Gosney (no. 1 on the map), but it was too late in the morning, and I wasn't sure that I was at the right place. I spent there over an hour and saw nothing. Later at about 14:00 I went to the Mirador El Rejo where birders have reported seeing both species of pigeons. It was hot, and although I could hear some pigeons from the forest above, I did not see them. At this point I had to return to San Sebastian, and when I returned to the Mirador it was already 16:00 and still hot. I only had till 17:00 as It takes about 30 minutes to drive to San Sebastian, and I wanted to catch the 18:00 ferry back to Tenerife. I stood there for about 20 minutes without seeing much when a pigeon suddenly arrived flying above my head. The white margins of the tail were easily seen. In the next 40 minutes I had 11 more sightings of White-tailed Pigeons, some of which where seen in display soaring with wings and tail spread. I even managed a quick look through the telescope at a perched pigeon. There must have been at least 7 birds. I also saw during this time 3 Bolle's Pigeons and a pair of Buzzards (ssp. insularum) in display.

To get to the Mirador El Rejo take the road that goes NW from San Sebastian to Las Nuevitas, Hermigua etc. Drive up this road passing several tunnels (do not turn to El Atajo), and after 15 minutes or so look for the junction with the road that goes left to El Cedro (there is a sign at the junction). Turn left and drive for another 4.2 km till you get to the Mirador (which is Spanish for viewpoint). Just before the Mirador you will pass a sharp bend to the right; this is the best place to stand and wait for the pigeons. Look for the pigeons above head rather then below and mainly to the left of the bend (when facing the mountain).

Site for Barbary Partridge

I saw 2 Barbary Partridges flying over the San Sebastian - Las Nuevitas road about 3-4 km from San Sebastian.

Gran Canaria:

This Island seems more heavily populated then the others, and with a lot more agricultural areas. I knew of only one site of interest, where it was supposed to be possible to see Blue Chaffinches of the rare ssp. polatzeki. I did not see the Finches and generally found this island less interesting, compared to the 3 others I visited.

From the Ferry

I took the 08:00 ferry from Santa Cruz (TF) to Agaete (GC). Although it was early in the morning (sunrise was only at about 07:45) I did not see much. One White-faced Storm Petrel was the only highlight of this trip. Two Pilot Whales, a Dolphin and a turtle were also seen.

Pinar Pajonal

This is the Blue Chaffinch (ssp. polatzeki) site, mentioned above. I only gave this place a few minutes as I was in a hurry. Others have reported spending here more time and still not finding the Finch.

To get here take the C-811 road south from Tejeda (In the middle of the Island) and later turn right just before Ayacata to what was marked on my map as 'Casa Forestal de Pajonales' and later El Pie de la Cuesta. The road appeared light-green on my map as if still under construction, when in fact the first part of it (up to Pinar Pajonal and further for a few km) was paved and marked also as C-811, while the other half was a rough dirt road. The site is clearly marked by a sign and is on the right hand side. The dirt road goes downhill for a further 7 km or so before reaching the paved road again near El Pie de la Cuesta. It is possible to drive down this road and then reach Agaete via the C-810, however this takes a long time, and we missed the 16:00 ferry because of it (the next one goes only at 21:30...).


The meaning of the island's (very appropriate) Spanish name is 'Strong wind'. Fuerteventura lies close to Morocco and has a dry climate, which make it a desert. It is the only large island on which the Canary Island Chat can be seen, and also home to some desert species (Hubara Bustard, Cream-colored Cursor, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Trumpeter Finch). Unfortunately I was only there for a few hours (I did not want to leave the Canary Islands without seeing the Chat). Birding there was very pleasant, and I was sorry to leave so soon.

Barranco de Rio Cabras

Located comfortably 1 km north of the airport, this is a safe site for Canary Islands Chat. Heaving read the reports of other birders, I kind of expected it to be a boring place in which there is little to be seen, besides the Chat that is. Happily I was wrong, and I ended up spending nearly 3 hours in this place.

The Barranco is what we would call in Israel a 'wadi' (a dry ravine). The highway to Puerto del Rosario crosses the Barranco obliquely about 1 km north to the airport. The road then makes a turn to the left, passes a service station to the left and continues more or less straight. It is better to continue to the first interchange and come back on the other side, where there is more space to leave the car. For those without car, walking from the airport is also possible. In the Barranco there is a track that goes west (upstream) for about 1.5 km until it reaches a dam. The reservoir is about 300 m long and was still full at this time of the year. There was also some water in several spots along the ravine. Beyond the reservoir there are some Tamarisks.

I started walking up the Barranco at about noon. I saw some Berthelot's Pipits and a Spectacled Warbler before reaching a cliff (probably an old quarry) on the right hand side, about 1 km from the road. There was a pair of Buzzards (ssp. insularum) nesting on this cliff. I saw two nests, one of which was in use. I didn't try to see what was in it, as I didn't want to disturb the birds. By the cliff I also saw about 15 Trumpeter Finches, some of which were singing males. There was a bit of water in the ravine below the cliff, and the Trumpeter Finches were drinking just next to me. Looking with the telescope I spotted a male Canary Islands Chat in the area above the cliff. It came as a surprise to me that the bird perched on rocks rather then on bushes. (Later, on my way back to the road I discovered it was in fact a family of Chats with at least 2 young). At this point I also heard and then saw 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying above head. I carried on up the Barranco and got to the reservoir, where I saw Hoopoes, Great Grey Shrikes and Turtle Doves which were all probably nesting nearby. Passing the reservoir on the right slope I reached the Tamarisks, where I found another family of Chats, this time with three young. I spent some time watching them at close range and then started walking back to the road.

La Oliva - El Cotillo

This area in the north of the Island has been mentioned as a good site for Hubara Bustard and other desert species. The area is about 30 km from the airport and can be reached easily within half an hour. To get there from the airport, drive north and watch for the La Oliva signs, just before reaching Puerto del Rosario. It is also possible to enter Puerto del Rosario and join the same road from the NW part of the town. Follow this road and just before reaching La Oliva turn left to El Cotillo and Roque. The dirt road where the Hubaras have been seen starts soon after the junction (maybe 1 km away) as a narrow paved road to the left of the main road. The road then carries on more or less parallel to the main road, and there are a few connections between the two.

I did not see the Hubaras, but I must admit that I was not looking very hard. In Israel the Hubara Bustards are quite difficult to find during breeding season, and I imagine the same applies for Fuerteventura. I did see many Lesser Short-toed Larks and 5 more Trumpeter Finches, but otherwise nothing much.

Returning to the main road I drove towards El Cotillo. When I came back from El Cotillo I noticed after a few km a sign to Tindaya to the right. It turned out to be a dirt road that went through excellent Hubara and Courser Habitat. I followed it for a while but did not see anything.

Species List

TF: Tenerife
GC: Gran Canaria
GO: Gomera
FV: Fuerteventura

A: Abundant
B: Common
BC: Fairly Common
C: Uncommon

  1. Little Shearwater - Puffinus assimilis
    From the 18:00 GO/TF ferry (1).
  2. Cory's Shearwater - Calonectaris diomedea
    In the waters around all Islands (A-B).
  3. White-faced Storm Peterl - Pelagodroma marina
    From the 8:00 TF/GC ferry (1).
  4. Little Egret - Egretta garzetta
    Agaete -GC (1).
  5. Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis
    TF (1).
  6. Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus
    Masca -TF (1).
  7. Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo insularum
    TF (1), El Cedro -GO (4), Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (2, a breeding Pair).
  8. Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
    TF, GC, GO (BC).
  9. Barbary Partridge - Alectoris barbara
    Villaflor-Arona Road - TF (3), San Andres-El Roquete road - NE TF (1Ad. + 9 chicks), San Andres- Taganana road - NE TF (1). San Sebastian - Hermigua road - GO (2).
  10. Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (1).
  11. Coot - Fulica atra
    Water tank near Arona -TF (1).
  12. Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
    El Cotillo FV(1).
  13. Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
    Water tank near Arona -TF (1).
  14. Great Skua - Stercorarius skua
    From the GO/TF ferry (2).
  15. Yellow-legged Gull - Larus cachinnans
    TF, GO, GC, FV (B).
  16. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis
    Los Cristianos - TF (1).
  17. Black-bellied Sandgrouse - Pterocles orientalis
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (2).
  18. Rock Dove - Columba livia
    B on all Islands.
  19. Bolle's Pigeon - Columba bollei
    Erjos -TF (20), Mirador El Rejo - GO (3).
  20. White-tailed Pigeon - Columba jononiae
    Mirador El Rejo - GO (7).
  21. Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto
    TF, GO, GC (B).
  22. Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur
    TF (1), GO (2), GC (BC), Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (10).
  23. Plain Swift - Apus unicolor
    TF, GO, GC, FV (B).
  24. Pallid Swift - Apus pallidus
    Teide N.P. - TF (40),
    Arona - TF (20).
  25. Hoopoe - Upupa epops
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (5).
  26. Great Spotted Woodpecker - Dendrocopus major canariensis
    Las Lajas - TF (B), Pinar Pajonal - GC (1).
  27. Lesser Short-toed Lark - Calandrella rufescens
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (1), La Oliva -FV (B).
  28. Berthelot's Pipit - Anthus berthelotii
    TF, FV (A-B).
  29. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea canariensis
    TF (3), GC (1).
  30. Great Grey Shrike - Lanius excubitor
    Teide N.P. - TF (1 was hit by a car at 2000m), Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (3), La Oliva - FV (1).
  31. Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
    Puerto de la Cruz - TF (1).
  32. Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala
    Near Icod de los Vinos - TF (1).
  33. Spectacled Warbler - Sylvia conspicillata
    Arona-Escalona Road - TF (2), San Sebastian - Hermigua road - GO (1), Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (2).
  34. Chiffchaff - Phyloscopus collybita canariensis
    TF, GO, GC (A).
  35. Tenerife Goldcrest - Regulus teneriffae
    Las Lajas - TF (1 heard), Erjos - TF (BC).
  36. Canary Islands Chat - Saxicola decotiae
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (2 families one with 3 young and one with 2 or more).
  37. Robin - Erithacus rubecula
    TF, GO (BC).
  38. Blackbird - Turdus merula
    TF, GO (B).
  39. Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus tenerrifae
    TF, GO, GC (B).
  40. Corn Bunting - Milaria calandra
    La Oliva - FV (1 singing).
  41. Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs tintillon
    Along road C-821 from Puerto de la Cruz to Teide N.P. - TF (3 at about 1300m), Erjos -TF (BC).
  42. Blue Chaffinch - Fringilla teydea teydea
    Las Lajas -TF (15), Road C-820 North to Teide N.P. (1 at about 1800 m).
  43. Greenfinch - Carduelis chloris
    Near Puerto de la Cruz -TF (3).
  44. Trumpeter Finch - Rhodopechys githaginea
    Barranco de Rio Cabras - FV (15), La Oliva -FV (5).
  45. Canary - Serinus canaria
    TF, GC (B).
  46. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis
    TF, FV (B).
  47. Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus
    Agaete -GC (2).
  48. Raven - Corvus corax
    TF, GO, GC (BC).

Other Wildlife

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; April 21, 1999; updated January 31, 2000