Wednesday 17 January 2018

Tenerife - January 2018 - Days One and Two

Tenerife 6th-13th January 2018 

Day One: 6th January 2018:

After an early morning flight from Gatwick we touched down on a rather warm South Airport runway in Tenerife at about 11am. A fifteen minute wait on said tarmac for a bendy bus to transport us to the terminal gave me the opportunity to start my Canary Island list...

Mmm... well not quite... not one bird of any sort was seen, not even an Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull. Thankfully, the lack of all things avian was addressed while picking up the car from outside the terminal with my first Canary Island Chiffchaff (CICCs from now on!) in song in the palms with Blackcap and Collared Dove following close behind.

From here we hit the TF5 north up the coast in our bright red Citroen Cactus passing alongside the coastal resorts through a generally dusty, orangey landscape and it was not until we reached Santa de le Cruz that things started to green up and with it came the rain. We had made good time and arrived at our accommodation on the outskirts of Bajamar just east of Tejina and at the base of the Anaga peninsular thankfully after the last quall had pushed through from the Atlantic spread out before us.

Our host, Miguel, appeared after a quick text and let us in to our home at Casa La Ladera for the next week. It afforded views down to the town below and the relatively new modern lighthouse at Punta del Hildalgo along the coast to the east where rollers were smashing against the rocky shore. The Anaga foothills rose steeply behind us and plantations of bananas surrounded us.

A quick explore to the end of our terrace gave me views down onto some small allotment plots and gardens and a large circular reservoir. CICCs were dotted all over the place and I counted 14 coming down to drink and search for insects inside the reservoir along with a smart Grey Wagtail with mostly white tertials (something I remember about the birds on Madeira) and 20 Atlantic Canaries.  A pair of Kestrels noisily chased each other and a bonus Barbary Falcon was up chasing Rock(ish) Doves while the second Barbary – the Partridge called from several spots around me.  Yellow-legged Gull, Blackbird, Buzzard and Tenerife Blue Tits with their Crestie calls got the list of to a very healthy start and what would turn out to be a third of the entire trip list!

Canary Island Chiffchaff

Canary Island Chiffchaff - flocks of the little things!

A Grey Wagtail will always make me smile

Tenerife Blue Tit - frustratingly flitty

Looking east towards Punta del Hidalgo

These are private residences one of which we were staying in

Anaga foothills behind the estate

A slight oversight and worth knowing if you heading out here and self catering is that the 6th January is Los Reyes Magos – a big post Christmas Twelfth Night public holiday so all the shops are shut and the restaurants are full.  Thankfully Miguel pointed us to the local mini-mart where suitable provisions were acquired for scrambled eggs on toast! Eating in style as usual!

We checked out the Bajamar sea front and became mesmerised by the huge waves pounding over the immense stone breakwater before retiring for our sumptuous dinner to the sound of the first in a succession of lively showers that rolled in off the sea.

Day Two: 7th January 2018:

No one was up early and with no rush to escape out there was time for a little look off the terrace once again. A Barbary Partridge exploded from below me and the CICCs and Canaries were showing closer. The former are funny little things that are quite obviously a Chiffchaff but with seemingly longer paler legs and a very fine, quite long pointed bill which reminded me more of some New World species or even a White-eye. As for the calls and song... no two sounded the same with some Chiffish calls followed by little peeps and even a Meadow Pipit like note while one singer almost became a Cetti’s Warbler. A male Sardinian Warbler popped up to scold a cat and I even heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling down the gully but I could not get to where it was although hearing one of these was not quite as unexpected as it might have been a few years ago with a smattering wintering across the archipelago most years now.

Atlantic Canaries

Sardinian Warbler

Using my SpazNav we wiggled back up to the TF5 and then west towards Puerto de la Cruz. We had been told that all the supermarkets were closed but noticing a busy Lidls, I threw myself off the motorway and wiggled back to find it to stock up on dinner and other provisions. All the locals and quite a few holiday makers had the same idea and the car park and inside were a proper bun fight! It was like visiting our local one in Strood... home from home!

The short queue back up to the main road was beneficial as a smart Hoopoe complete with erect crest was probing happily between two palms and was set off nicely by the purple Bougainvillea. This would prove to be the only one we saw all week.

West of the city I reached our first destination – the Mirador de la Grimona which was basically a tiny little layby with a view over the sea and more importantly a chance to scan a fragment of Laurisilva stuck onto the steep hillside. My goal with White-tailed Laurel Pigeon and I found my first in just a couple of minutes as it perched up the top of the highest tree with its creamy tail gleaming even from a distance. The scope was called into action and superb views were had of this plump purple pigeon with a tiny head and red and yellow bill. In flight they looked very dark but that tail tip glowed. Three birds were seen and I might have had a Bolle’s but it was too quick to be sure.

The neck craning view up the cliff to the tall Laurel stand below the escarpment

Spot the White-tailed Laurel Pigeon

White-tailed Laurel Pigeon

The view behind back east along the coast towards Puerto de la Cruz

Kestrels and Buzzards soared overhead and two Tenerife Robins sang either side of the road. A strangely broken version of ‘our’ own Robin song from a bird with a more stretched shape, big eye rings and almost as much grey on the breast as red. 

Tenerife Robin

From here I doubled back and headed off a junction 33 to find the TF21 up onto the high tops and through the cloud above us. We wound our way up through the lush foothills and into the deciduous Sweet Chestnut zone with as much bramble and bracken as palms and cactuses before entering the Canarian Pine forests.

Several scenic but birdless stops were made although Dad did see a Rabbit while I was off looking at the magmatic extrusion known as la Piedra de la Rosa.

la Piedra de la Rosa

Newly fruiting Strawberry Tree

I stopped for our picnic at LaCaldera, a large circular picnic area in the trees with parking around it and walking and cycling paths radiating in all directions. It was chilly and dank with cloud amongst the pines, Laurel, Tree Heathers and Strawberry Trees but I had a successful hour there that included my first local ‘tintillon’ race Chaffinches although the only one I got a good look at looked remarkably like a nominate European bird although I have been informed that local first-year males look like this.

I am still having trouble making this into anything other than a nominate Chaffinch but will bow to Eduardo's local knowledge about immature male tintillon race birds

Tenerife Blue Tits were the most numerous species but eluded my camera and are capable of a wonderful array of calls. The lack of a white wing bar separates them from those that I have seen in Morocco and Tunisia. Tenerife Goldcrests were moving with the Blue Tit flocks and gave typically brief stationary views although I could see the broad black forehead extension of the lateral crown stripe. To my eye they also looked slightly bigger that UK birds and the calls were deeper and more rasping. Blackbirds ‘tooked’ from cover and the calls of the Robins led me a merry dance until I found one as in no way could it be described as a tick being more of a peep with only the tempo of sounds being reminiscent.  A Raven kronked from the top of a pine and even that looked a little odd with a seemingly shorter, deeper bill like it had had a punch on the nose but that could have been my angle but when I then saw two in flight they even felt smaller and perhaps shorter tailed and the kronk was definitely a pitch higher. Is anything on this island just slightly skewed from the norm? It was certainly educational to be challenged by such familiar species. A rather stout cup of coffee at the little cabin cafe set me up for the afternoon.

Tree heathers

Tenerife Goldcrest

Tenerife Hidden Tit

Tenerife Fat Billed Raven
Tenerife Shortish Tailed Raven

We continued climb up through the cloud and pines watching them become more weather and wind sculpted and arrived at the junction with the TF24 which headed back down to Santa de la Cruz and as we drove past as collection of bars I saw a Blue Chaffinch flip into the gardens but I could not stop but another cafe about a mile up the road allowed me to turn around but not before almost treading on the first two Berthelot’s Pipits of the trip. Dinky little pale pipits with big heads and a Tawnyish call and gait. The views of the cone of El Teide were superb but it was only a few degrees above freezing so we did no linger and header back for a Blue Chaff hunt!

El Teide

Berthelot’s Pipit

Dad and I had a poke around and he found the Blue Chaffinches for me as I was about to give up and move on. Four birds were seen and two showed at just a couple of yards range before flicking back off into the pines. I did not expect them to be so chunky and have such a seriously big bill! Canary, CICC and Kestrel were all seen here and a quick glance round suggested that the weather was closing in so I headed for the still climbing TF24 and home.

Blue Chaffinch

Within less than half a mile we were in thick wind driven cloud coming up over the ridge from the north side and soon noticed that ice had formed on the vegetation alongside us. A side road up to the invisible observatory was taken and at a little over 2400m it was certainly the highest I had ever driven. The foliage was weighed down with wind shaped icicles and other knobbly icy protrusions and some photo opportunities were not to be missed. It was bloody freezing with the car reading 0c and the howling wind knocking it down a few more degrees – ‘let’s go to the Canaries for some winter sun said Howard’!  It was the best ever tasting ice though and a free snap off popsicle was just what my razorblade throat was after. 

The rest of the drive back down the TF24 was a little scary at times with almost no visibility at points with the cloud billowing past the car and when we reached the treeline it became apparent that a proper maelstrom had torn up the side of the mountain. The entire road for the next ten miles downhill was covered in a mat of pine needles, Spanish moss, lichen, eucalypt bark and small branches with water still running down the sides and with only the tyre lines pushing the debris to one side to follow. 

There was not much talking in the poor light and continuous bends until we reached the lights of La Esperanza.

A bleak wet evening back at Bajamar

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