Tuesday 30 January 2018

Car Trouble... 30th January 2018

The first half of my day involved dropping my Roomster off in Harlow at 8am for some flashing and non flashing dashboard lights to be investigated (under warranty thankfully) although the car was otherwise behaving just fine. I knew that I would have a wait on my hand and so stuck my boots on, said good morning to a Grey Wagtail and headed off through the industrial estate that is the north side of town to find my way down to the River Stort for a pleasant amble in the cold. 

It took about a mile and a half to get to a spot where I could get across and I descended from the noise of the road into a damp piece of woodland called Marshgate Spring and despite the alcoholic detritus of nocturnal visitors, it was obviously looked after and even had boardwalk across the wetter areas. Jackdaws quarrelled and Woodpigeons clattered from the treetop and I very quickly added a selection of normal woodland denizens including a couple of smart Coal Tits in a Larch. Three Song Thrushes sang and were to become the sound of the morning and a Cetti’s Warbler called as it fed furtively along the reed and willow stand by the railway.

I veered a little further west and found the architecturally odd footbridge over the railway which managed to crossover itself twice in the course of its route. It was also standing in water for the most part which gave off some weird reflections.

Anyway, I was soon in the water meadows alongside the river and started to head back east. Song and Mistle Thrushes were belting out in the frosty air and the ground was crunchy with underfoot frost and all the puddles were well frozen. I added a calling Water Rail and five Siskins to the list and three Jays and a Green Woodpecker fed on the main grassy path in front of me. I was surprised at the lack of people and only a single dog walker and a jogger passed me by.  

Stock Doves ‘ooo-wa-wooo’d at me from the top of the huge Alders and Poplars and some were already performing lazy display flights while a female Kestrel eyed the ground for breakfast.

Crossing over the Stort gave me the option of a little deviation inland and although it was only a couple of hundred yards of muddy frozen meadow it did add nine Lapwing, seven Meadow Pipits and a pair of Stonechats that were feeding from the frozen tops of last year’s umbilifer heads.  I retraced my steps by stayed on a completely frozen path adjacent to the river in the hope of finding a Snipe or Woodcock but to no avail although a pair of Bullfinch were having fun working their way through the seeds on a long dead trail of Hop growing through a Blackthorn hedge and looked especially vibrant in the low winter light.

Hazel catkins

The field behind this rose up and away from me and I spent some time watching a big fluffy dog Fox stalking small rodents with measured steps, long pauses but no successful pounce. He was watched all the time by several Carrion Crows and Magpies while a dark Buzzard kept look from the wings and made his own hunting sorties.  A courting male Pheasant doing the whole spread, fanned tail look-at-me thing seemed oblivious to the close proximity of Reynard as much as the object of his affection seemed equally disinterested in him. Thankfully the Fox was more interested in the invisible rodents.

A day of reflections

The Stort itself was very quiet but Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen and some fishing pits just to the north held 14 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall and both Little and Great Crested Grebes.  I passed two working locks before reaching the road by the old Harlow Mill (now a Beefeater) and ambled about quarter of mile further east from here into the countryside proper where another Buzzard hunted and a Brambling was seen with 25 Meadow Pipits and three Reed Buntings before retracing my steps to the pub after about four miles of yomping to meet up with my parents.

With my car being unlikely to be looked at till mid-afternoon, Dad decided to whisk us off up the M11 to Anglesey Abbey just north east of Cambridge for a wander around the already blooming gardens. I must say that it was actually very pleasant and despite the almost full car park the gardens themselves were relatively quiet allowing you to enjoy the sights and scents on offer. 
You are greeted by the heady smell of Sweet Box (quite unlike its cat pee smelling relative) and soon it was the different spicy Wych Hazels with their odd flowers and highly perfumed Mahonias and Vibernums that tickled your nose. The Snowdrops were spread in white mounds amongst the rich green leaves of the already flowered Cyclamens and early Helebores and Winter Aconites added colour. 

Winter Aconites


Wych Hazel

Wych Hazel

Stinking Hellebore
Viburnam - Scratch and sniff photos required

With all these scented blooms on offer it was not surprising that there were insects to be seen with many Honey Bees on the move and even entering a nest in the main building. Amongst them I found singles of Eristalis tenax and Episyrphus balteatus ,so two hoverflies for the list already this year and January is not even over! Bluebottles lazed around sunning themselves and a Red Admiral became the first butterfly of the year. 

Butchers Broom

The Lode Mill

The Abbey

Pollarded Willow

Paper Birches

Cyclamen leaves

The Lightening Strike Sequoia

Both Red Kite and Buzzard soared in the blue above and a Grey Squirrel serenaded us from high in a beach tree before we ambled back for a spot of lunch. Meanwhile back in Harlow there had been no progress on my car due to the increasing magnitude of the task at hand – replacing a sensor that has become firmly conjoined with the car - but as it technically is making no difference to the actual performance, I picked it up and drove home with a new appointment for two weeks time... oh well... at least the sun was shining and I made the most of the day. 

Apparently I will get a courtesy car for two days next time....I wonder where I shall go?

Friday 26 January 2018

Tenerife - January 2018 - Day Eight

Day Eight: 13th January 2018 

What to do on a last full day? Like all holidays they have to have an end and so we spent couple of hours pottering around and packing up before consuming an epic absolutely non-continental style fry up of almost everything we had left in the fridge.  A brief moment for digestion and looking at those Pointy Chiffchaffs, Sun-ripened Canaries and Ultramarine Tits from the corner lookout and then it was off once more with a car full of luggage and poorly family. 

I was completely torn as to where to go as we did not have to be at the South Airport till 5pm and so headed down to the seafront at Punta del Hidalgo to get closer to the modern lighthouse and the rocky foreshore. Being a Saturday it was busy with dogwalkers, cyclists, fishermen and various enthusiastically energetic exercise types but there are always birds and I soon picked up a little selection of waders searching the crevices for crustaceans and such like. Five Turnstone scuttled on short orange legs around the feet of a man with a rod while two Greenshank and a very well marked (but definitely European) Whimbrel went about things in a more sedate manner. A single Common Sandpiper bobbed and weaved between outcrops and a very bleached first winter Grey Plover dozed throughout but was keeping an eye on proceedings. This added three new species to the exhaustive list which had now reached the heady heights of 40...




Grey Plover

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper & the two Greenshank

Two Little Egrets were patiently fishing closer in and were deliberately waiting for small mini-waves to bring things out of the pools and to their eager daggers.

Little Egret

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull

Punta del Hidalgo - the 1992 lighthouse

And so we left the coast and climbed back up the hill to the TF5 where I decided to continue upwards for a final indulgence in the grand landscape we had found the day before. I made for the TF24 and followed this up through the trees offering a different perspective to the journey down the previous evening.

The views were no less special but once again different with less low cloud and a better appreciation of how far ‘down’ was.  There was more traffic on the road that day with superbikes adding to the tarmac challenge but it was still safe and leisurely to be honest. 

La Palma for the final time

Two different angles and backdrops on the same female Kestrel

Re-crossing the highlands through the Canadas caldera was awe inspiring once again but there were no spaces to stop and lunch was a no goer so I decided to head back to La Paz for a lighter meal with the sound of melodic Canaries once again, ‘chicking’ Great Spots, thundering motorbikes and whirring lycra clad cyclists actually frantically peddling downhill rather than up. The sun was shining and warm, the food was great and the service delightful and with all four of us under the weather to some degree it was a pleasant way to while away some time before continuing our decent through Vilaflor to the airport below.

A South Devon Lava Field

This was all new territory and it was, at this time of year, bone dry and dusty with tiny terraced fields of vine trunks dotting the landscape and not a fleck of green vegetation to be seen. A single Southern Grey Shrike was practically the only bird I saw and I was so glad that we chose to stay up at Miguel's place in Bajamar on that lush and verdant coast with the fresh air and mists and changeable cloudscapes.

The airport beckoned and after an easy Cactus drop off back to Autoreisen we settled ourselves into the usual airport routine and although our flight was delayed for an hour it was still a trouble free flight back to a cold and chilly Gatwick.

Would I go back to Tenerife? Absolutely.  For the birding? No, not necessarily although Blue Chaffinches are magnificent.  I managed to see almost everything I could expect to see including all the island endemics and races of the familiar species and yes, seeing both pigeons closer would be great but to be honest it was the landscape itself that sold the island. 

I apologise if I have repeated myself in my somewhat verbose descriptions of what I experienced but I began to run out of superlatives.  Having now seen images of the high tops in bloom I would go back again just to see the red flower towers of Echium wildpretii pointing skyward against the backdrop of El Teide...

The List:

Barbary Partridge
Common Sandpiper
Sardinian Warbler
Night Heron
Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull
Canary Island Chiffchaff
Little Egret
Rock Dove
Yellow-browed Warbler
Grey Heron
White-tailed Laurel Pigeon
Tenerife Goldcrest
Common Buzzard
Bolle’s Laurel Pigeon
Tenerife Blue Tit
Collared Dove
Southern Grey Shrike
Plain Swift
Barbary Falcon
Spanish Sparrow
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Canary Island Chaffinch
Berthelot’s Pipit
Blue Chaffinch
Grey Plover
Grey Wagtail
Atlantic Canary


40 species

Thursday 25 January 2018

Tenerife - January 2018 - Day Seven

Day Seven: 12th January 2018

Breakfast a Bajamar was supplemented by a singing aerial Blackbird welcoming the dawn, subsequently sunlit Canaries, calling Barbarys and at last an obliging Chiffchaff.  

Canary Island Chiffchaff - look at that pointy bill!

It's what aerials are for...

Atlantic Canary

It was our day for the high tops with a stop of for the Blue Chaffinches above Vilaflor being the goal and so we started the steady climb up the TF21 once again but just before reaching La Caldera we hit the back of a stationary queue of traffic caused by roadworks that had closed the road until 11am but with nothing coming the other way down the mountain you were able to stop the car, get out and enjoy the fresh air. Typically quiet birdwise although buzzing Blue Tits and the odd Goldcrest could be heard and the views back down to Santa de la Cruz were superb with no cloud cover.

Santa de la Cruz

Bang on eleven we were let through and convoyed up the hill only to find another closed section and one on this road there are no alternatives so we waited patiently to be let through whilst admiring the huge view and the pointy top of El Teide. 

Once we go past this section I stopped to let the traffic go before continuing at a more sedate pace and once up onto the plateau by the cafe where I saw the Blue Chaffinches it became apparent that every tourist on the island had had the same idea but we pushed on into the crater and stopped at one of the main car park areas and had an explore. 

Once again the island managed to knock me out with the scale of the landscape before me with desert Mars-scapes of granulated volcanic Tuff and fall out surrounding boulders of ejected larva and various extrusions. 

It was all quite surreal. Up above us towered the remaining 3000 feet of El Teide stretching up to 12,198feet while a couple of miles away rose a shear curved wall of successional larva deposits and it was at this point that I suddenly twigged that everything was the volcano and that we were actually driving through the original ancient caldera with the current cone only being the modern (in volcanic terms) active visible area.  

The dark areas middle and far left are lava flows showing up over everythign else which is also larva!

The rim of the Las Canadas caldera with a lava field encroaching from the north...

Las Canadas caldera seemingly collapsed in on itself about 220,000 years ago and the last subsequent major eruption from El Teide was as recent as 1909. The geological history of the island is a story of birth, the merging of several shield volcanoes around a rift and its subsequent violent destruction. I will be reading up more on it but the wikipedia page is a good starting point.

The growth of Tenerife

Lava flows that looked recently solidified flowed down the mountain and cascaded in frozen ripples over escarpments while massive slides crossed the road and descended into the basin. The edges were neatly defined and it looked like a giants ploughing match had taken place in some rich red south Devon soil while others were black like the peats of the Fens and shone with gleaming obsidian.

Bethelot’s Pipit

It mattered not that it was a near birdless zone with only the odd inquisitive Bethelot’s Pipit to keep us company as seldom has a landscape so captivated me with a story so obviously laid out for the interpretative and inquisitive mind to read. 

We popped out through a gap in the old caldera wall and suddenly the sea was visible once again through sparse Canarian Pines to La Gomera in its cloud blanket.  I was aiming for the picnic area at Las Lajas which is the spot to go and search for Blue Chaffinches amongst the pines.

Gomera to the left and La Palma to the right

The setting for Westerns...

It was easy to find and within a few minutes I had found the drinking taps that I was told attract all the thirsty birds that inhabit the forest and over the next half hour I enjoyed the company of up to 20 each of the big billed Blueys and green and gold Canaries as well as several Canary Island race Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  

Blue Conehead

Blue Chaffinch with Canaries

One of the drinking taps had also attracted a rather large southern mountain race of the Wall Lizard - Gallotia galloti - that I had been seeing on the north coast and it seemed equally appreciative of the dribbling tap.

Wall Lizard - Gallotia galloti

The delays on the way up had thwarted lunch so we did not linger too long and headed on down the mountain and thankfully found a great little cafe called La Paz on the outskirts of Vilaflor. Dad had a great stewed goat dish and the pizzas and burgers were just what we needed and all the while we were entertained by the local posturing pigeons while Canaries sung from the pines. I even added four inverts to the list with a Vagrant Emperor dragonfly, what turned out to be an Island Darter (thanks Roy) a Geranium Bronze and a Red Admiral.

Look into my eyes...

Island Darter - Sympetrum nigrefemur
Geranium Bronze
After eating enough to last past dinner I retraced our steps back up to Las Lajas for a more relaxed time with the birds. Some of the Blue Chaffinches showed exceptionally well and seemed to change shade depending on the intensity of the sunlight but as a rule they hopped from shady patch to shady patch. 

Blue Chaffinch

Blue Chaffinch

Blue Chaffinch - a female

Blue Chaffinch - a female
Atlantic Canary
At least one of the Great Spots was especially bold and came down to check out the picnic tables and she allowed me to get incredibly close. The dirty grey underparts were the only feature that I could see that was different to our own birds back home. I also watched her drilling bore holes into the nearest pine where she then used her tongue to lap up the sap that then exuded from the wound and you could see other old sap sites around the trunk. I have never seen this before in Great Spot.

Great Spotted Sapsucker

From here I double backed again into the crater where the crowds has dissipated and was able to stop and take some more pictures before branching off onto the TF24 back to base. Unlike Sunday where there was no view only cloud, wind, ice and tree debris it was now over 20c, windless and blue skied all the way up and the views off either side of this spine road were spectacular.

We were so far above the cloud which had drifted in from our morning climb and it felt quite unreal to be looking down on a bed of immobile fluffiness that was pressed up against the island like an ice sheet that had suddenly encroached from the Atlantic leaving you marooned from civilization encased inside it but at least leaving you with the option of now walking to the twin peaks of La Palma some 80miles to the north west or if you looked the other way to Gran Canaria visible about 50miles to the west.

La Palma in the distance - Santa de la Cruz somewhere below

And from the other side of the road - Gran Canaria...

I still had an ornithological treat in store as at one viewpoint I was just settling back into the car when a Southern Grey Shrike of the local koengi race appeared right outside the window. I asked Andrea to take some shots as I had just put my camera in the boot but amazingly it let me get out of the car, retrieve my gear and merrily snap away!

Southern Grey Shrike

I do like a good shrike. A second bird was seen just up the road as we continued on our way and six Plain Swifts zoomed over the ridge.

I was hoping to find a spot on the way down where we could stop and have our heads above the clouds and the rest immersed – now that is where a selfie would be cool – but we were in the trees as we reached that altitude and the moment eluded us.  Gloom enveloped us as we dropped towards the airport stopping only to pick up a couple of spuds from the Hiper Dino in Esperanza to rustle something up for a light dinner after an exhausting day amongst the geology of this amazing island.