• Ed Jenkins

Birding Tenerife: A trip report

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

I had the opportunity to spend a few days birding in Tenerife in January 2018 and finally got around to writing about the trip. One of the Canary Islands situated in the eastern Atlantic and part of Spain, Tenerife proved to be fascinating with incredibly varied habitats and wonderful endemic birds.

Tenerife blue chaffinch. © Ed Jenkins

The endemic blue chaffinch is the emblematic bird of the archipelago, and has been recently split into the Tenerife and Gran Canaria populations. The Tenerife blue chaffinch inhabits dry pine forests growing from 800-1,800 m, so on our first day we drove to the Las Lajas campsite near the village of Vilaflor high on the flank of Mt. Tiede, a site known for the species. The chaffinches were immediately obvious, feeding on the ground alongside Atlantic canaries, the progenitor of all domesticated canaries. Also present were ravens, African blue tits and the endemic subspecies of great spotted woodpecker, as well as the ever-present Canary Islands chiffchaff. This dull brown warbler is the only resident phylloscopus and can be heard all over the island.

Atlantic canary. © Ed Jenkins

Continuing up the winding road we left the pine forest behind at 2,000 m, reaching a moonscape of exposed rock and lava fields, entering the caldera of Mt. Tiede itself. Birds in the patches of low scrub here included spectacled warblers and the endemic Berthelot's pipit.

Berthelot's pipit. © Ed Jenkins

Continuing north, we began to descend down the northern side of the mountain, finding pine forest covered in dense fog and dripping with moisture. A short stop revealed a small mixed flock of more blue chaffinches, blue tits and our first Tenerife goldcrest, an endemic subspecies or species depending on who you read.

Some of the assorted habitats found on Tenerife. Clockwise from top: 1) the peak of Mt. Tiede, the active volcano that dominates the Tenerife skyline, 2) the barren caldera of Mt. Tiede, 3) the native lush laurel forest, 4) scrubby hillsides in the south-west, 5) northern pine forest with fog approaching, 6) the dry pine forest of the southern slopes.

The next day we explored the incredible native laurel forest, a dense, moist, temperate rainforest that exists in small remaining fragments on the wetter northern side of the island. Thick fog rolled up from the ocean in the morning dumping moisture on the landscape and explaining why such a lush forest could exist on the same latitude as the Sahara Desert. In the Monte del Aqua area we looked specifically for Bolle's pigeon, one of three endemic pigeons that can be found only in the Canary Islands, however the opaque mist made it hard to see further than a dozen metres. Endemic subspecies of European chaffinch, Eurasian blackbird and European robin breed in these forests and we saw and heard many, as well as the ubiquitous Canary Islands chiffchaff. Finally, while waiting at a viewpoint created by a fallen tree, a Bolle's pigeon flew across one of the steep valleys. Perfect. The hike back from the laurel forest through an area of scrubby agriculture revealed some vociferous Sardinian warblers, a species common throughout the Mediterranean region of Europe.

The other endemic pigeon found on Tenerife is the Laurel pigeon, and we drove to a well known stake-out for them which turned out to be a pull-out on a busy coastal road known as Mirador La Grimona. We did see a few of the large, deep purple pigeons, but views were distant and the surroundings were not amendable to enjoying wildlife. Here we also saw the endemic subspecies of common buzzard and kestrel.

On our last day we explored the arid lowlands of the south and the coast itself, enjoying the endemic subspecies of southern grey shrike as well as grey wagtails and hoopoes. Shorebirds and waders seen along the coast included whimbrel, common ringed plover, ruddy turnstone, red knot, black-crowned night-heron, grey heron, little egret and cattle egret, with atlantis yellow-legged gulls common around fishing boats.

Being a seabird biologist I was keen to look for exciting Canary Islands breeders such as Barolo shearwater, Bulwer's petrel and band-rumped storm-petrel, but was aware it was the absolute wrong time of year and indeed we did not see a single tubenose. We did however go out on a catamaran from the horrendous tourist sprawl of Playas de las Americas and enjoyed incredibly close views of a loggerhead turtle, short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.

Short-finned pilot whales with Playa de las Americas behind.© Ed Jenkins

Birding Tenerife was a real pleasure and I hope to return in the seabird breeding season in the future, and also to visit the other islands such as Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.

In total we observed 32 species, including the only true Tenerife endemic, the Tenerife blue chaffinch. Canary Island endemics in bold.

Rock Dove Columba livia

Bolle's Pigeon Columba bollii

Laurel Pigeon Columba juoniae

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Red Knot Calidris canutus

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor

Common Raven Corvus corax

African Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae

Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis

Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala

Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata

Goldcrest Regulus regulus

Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula

European Robin Erithacus rubecula

Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

Berthelot's Pipit Anthus berthelotti

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs

Tenerife Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea

Atlantic Canary Serinus canaria

By Ed Jenkins