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.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great read Howard, and I can vouch for the island being amazing