Cruising the Canary Islands 7th-22nd Dec, 2011

The two weeks before Christmas I spent on m/s Katarina Regina (www.kristinacruises.com) visiting all of the main Canary Islands on two back-to-back birding cruises. The idea was to bird each island for as long as the boat was in the harbour, and at sea the group looked hard for anything moving. The main focus was on the island endemics, and apart from that hopes were not very high in terms of birding success.
This was my first visit to the islands ever (!), as I had decided already a long time ago to leave this relatively birdless corner of the Western Palearctic unvisited. However, as the chance appeared to visit all the islands in one go, I could not resist the offer.

But the Canaries are truly birdless! This was certainly not the best time of the year for a birding visit, the migration period in Sep-Oct or Mar-May would have been much better, but even so I could never have anticipated how void of birds these islands were. The habitat was superb and untouched in many places, but for ages not one bird, not seen, not heard. I have never been in a place like that before. There was not one species , which would have been numerous and found everywhere, on the contrary all birds were scarce and very sparsely distributed. For most species the daily numbers were counted just in singles, sometimes rarely in the lower tens, and occasionally a big flock appeared changing the picture, like 60+ Kestrels in one flock on Tenerife, 100 Linnets and 80 Lesser Short-toed Larks on Lanzarote, and so on.

Most birders probably visit the islands for the handful of endemic species/forms occurring here. We managed to see all the specials quite easily, although obtaining good views, or actually any views at all, of the Laurel Pigeon Columba junoniae proved to be hard work, but we managed in the end. Seeing Blue Chaffinch and Canary Islands Chat was great, as was looking for the two endemic pigeons in the laurel forests of the western isles. Personally I also enjoyed the local Chiffchaff, which is so different in structure, plumage as well as calls and song from any Chiffchaff on the continent –no doubt a good species! Also the two local forms of Kestrel, which were surprisingly common, and the Buzzard, were interesting to study, and I noticed some peculiarities, which I haven’t found mentioned in the current literature, but more about that in another context.

If the islands were void of birds, so was the sea, truly disappointing. We spent a total of some 15 hours on the deck per cruise seawatching, but rewards were few and far between. All in all we had 1+1+2 Cory’s Shearwaters, 1 Baroli’s, 1 Leach’s Petrel, 2 petrel sp, 1+1 kittiwakes, 1 Glossy Ibis (!) and 3 juv Gannets. I know that the time of year is not right for seabirds in these waters, but still you are always hoping for miracles to happen when you are on a big boat far out at sea.

Thanks to friends, clients and the cruise company for making the trip such a great experience!
All in all, glad I did it, but I probably won’t be going back.

Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotii, the most common and widespread of the endemics. Lanzarote, Dec17th,2011.

Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotii, the most common and widespread of the endemics. Lanzarote, Dec17th,2011.

Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata, one of the specials of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Lanzarote, Dec 17th, 2011.

Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata, one of the specials of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Lanzarote, Dec 17th, 2011.

Canary Islands Chat Saxicola dacotiae, male, Fuerteventura, Dec 9th, 2011.

Canary Islands Chat Saxicola dacotiae, male, Fuerteventura, Dec 9th, 2011.

Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea, male, Tenerife, Dec11th,2011

Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea, male, Tenerife, Dec11th,2011

Bolle's Pigeon Columba bollii,La Palma, 13thDec,2011

Bolle's Pigeon Columba bollii,La Palma, 13thDec,2011

Island Canary Serinus canaria, male, Dec 11th, Tenerife

Island Canary Serinus canaria, male, Dec 11th, Tenerife

teneriffae. Recently accorded species status, but even then may appear as either Cyanistes teneriffae or Cyanistes ultramarinus depending on source!? Tenerife, 11th Dec,2011. “]   Canary Islands Blue Tit Cyanistes [caeruleus] teneriffae. Recently accorded species status, but even then may appear as either Cyanistes teneriffae or Cyanistes ultramarinus, depending on source!? Tenerife, 11th Dec,2011.

Canary Islands Blue Tit Cyanistes [caeruleus

Tenerife Goldcrest Regulus teneriffae, Tenerife, 18thDec,2011. Form of Goldcrest, recently elevated to species level.

Tenerife Goldcrest Regulus teneriffae, Tenerife, 18thDec,2011. Form of Goldcrest, recently elevated to species level.

Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis, here feeding on an endemic "bluebell" Canarias canariensis. Gran Canaria, Dec 13th,2011.

Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis, here feeding on an endemic "bluebell" , the Canary Islands Bellflower Canarias canariensis. Gran Canaria, Dec 13th,2011.


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