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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Gran Canaria, 9 February – 2 March 2009,
Anne and I had previously avoided Gran Canaria, mainly because it only holds a few of the Canary Islands specialities; a greater variety of which can be found on other islands. This reason is also cited in The Birdwatchers Guide to The Canary Islands by Clarke and Collins as to why the island is not regularly visited by many birdwatchers. (Editors Note: this book is now very hard to get hold of and is largely superceded by "Birds of the Atlantic Islands" also by Tony Clarke and though this is much more of a field guide, it does have some site details.)
We have visited the other main Canary Islands and seen the endemics so we decided it was time to try Gran Canaria for some winter sun and to see what we could find.
We travelled on a package deal through Thompson Holidays, staying for three weeks at the Hotel Playa Meloneras Palace above the small beach of Meloneras Playa at the south of the island. During the middle week of our stay we hired a car from Europcanarias who have a desk at the hotel. A Renault Clio cost 160 euros for five days (with no insurance excess); lead-free petrol cost .59 cents/litre. The remainder of the holiday we spent around the resort and at places within walking distance of the hotel. At all times (during the day) we had our binoculars with us and I carried my butterfly net.
Many of the roads on the island have been recently updated and re-numbered. There are stretches of dual-carriageway around the island's capital, Las Palmas, and down the eastern and southern edges. The remainder is mainly twisty, single carriageway roads which, in the central mountain area, can also be vertiginous and in some places lacking crash barriers. With the added complication of few pulling-off places, this made birding from the vehicle difficult. During our five days with the car we covered 640 kilometers and spent 27 euros on fuel.
The island is almost circular and the central area is a collection of volcanic craters. Whilst some cloud did develop most days over the island’s centre, it was not to the same extent as Tenerife or La Palma, nor did it dominate the weather on the coast as on those islands. For our stay the wind was mainly from the south-west but for a few days it changed to the north east and brought through a low which had affected western Europe. The temperature was fairly even during our stay with day-time temperatures about 20/22 deg.C and night-time temperatures about 16/17 deg.C. In the sun the temperature rose to the high 20’s.
From a birding perspective we found our visit to be of two very different halves; the coast and inland. The central areas have plenty of low scrub coverage but birds were relatively scarce. There were two main areas of pine forest with the trees thinly spread letting much light through to the ground. We found few areas of heavy agricultural use. As a general comment, birding away from the resort was hard work with few sightings. Conversely we were very pleased with birding from the hotel and along to Maspalomas where there were more waders and other interesting sightings than we were used to on the coast of a Canary Island.
For research we used the aforementioned ‘A Birdwatcher’s Guide to The Canary Islands’ by Tony Clarke and David Collins. This has been a most useful book over the years for our visits to the Canary Islands but is now in need of updating. The book was published in 1996 and many things on the islands have changed over the last decade or so. For instance there has been much road building and road renumbering which makes some directions difficult to follow. Specifically for Gran Canaria there is a map on page 57 showing Oasis de Maspalomas. To the left of the lighthouse is an arrow pointing to Meloneras and the words 'Dry plains'. Now to the west of the lighthouse the new resort of Meloneras stretches to the golf course at Pasito Blanco and is lined with 5-star hotels, villas and apartments, with the associated shopping and cafe infrastructure. Sadly the dry plains are no more (having said that, there is birding interest which I will describe later). We also carried Collins Bird Guide by Mullarney, Svensson et al and Collins Butterfly Guide by Tolman and Lewington.
Our hotel was ideally placed at the extreme western edge of Meloneras. A lane down the side of the hotel and a small barranco (rain channel) separated us from the golf course at Pasito Blanco. Our room overlooked the sea and part of the golf course. The hotel grounds, although green, had few flowers but still attracted Canary, Canary Islands Chiffchaff, Spanish Sparrow, Monk Parakeet and Collared Dove together with Monarch, Painted Lady and Small White butterflies. Close by, in the barranco and from the hotel we saw Hoopoe (nest found with adults feeding young), Common Waxbill, Berthelot's Pipit, Kestrel, Whimbrel, Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls and Lesser Black-backed (graellsii) Gulls together with Small Copper, African Grass Blue, Bath White and Painted Lady butterflies.
Running from Playa Meloneras (the small beach infront of our hotel) to the lighthouse (Faro in Spanish) at Maspalomas, a distance of about 1.5 kilometers, is a wide pedestrian promenade, Boulevard El Faro. This pathway hugs the small cliff next to the sea which, at it's highest, is about 15 metres above sea level going down to a metre at the lighthouse. Regular interest along this walk were the gulls. In addition to Atlantic Yellow-legged and Western Lesser Black-backed gulls, on one occasion we saw a smaller gull flying towards us at eye level and just off the path. It turned out to be a Laughing Gull. We also saw Sandwich Tern and Little Egret at sea. On the rocky shoreline were Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Grey Plover. Punta Mujeres is an archaeological site next to the promenade containing the remains of an aboriginal dwelling. It is also home to a number of Gran Canarian Giant Lizards which posed nicely in the sun for pictures.
We visited a number of areas covered in the Clarke and Collins Guide. The references below relate to sections in the book.
Oasis de Maspalomas – The lagoon, La Charca, is now a protected area and a haven for birdwatchers in a heavily built-up tourist area. The main lagoon is open water but to the land-side the water becomes a shallow artery amongst dense tamarisk and reeds. The east side is out-of bounds, but a promenade down the west side gives good viewing opportunities of the open water and it is worth walking an extra 200 metres past the viewing platform to the entrance to the dunes camel rides, checking the dense vegetation. The lake regularly held Moorhen, Coot, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Common Sandpiper and Kentish Plover. Other interesting sightings included Southern Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler, Ruff, Little Stint, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and Greenshank. An area of gardens and palm trees runs alongside part of the promenade and we saw Monk Parakeet and Ring-necked Parakeet, and whilst checking the sky we regularly had both Pallid Swift and Plain Swift.
Los Palmitos – Whilst we didn't plan on visiting the park itself we thought the area sounded interesting. Our first challenge was to find the right road to it. We discovered later it was clearly signed when approaching from Playa del Inglis, however we were coming from the opposite direction. Eventually we found the right road. We had planned to visit the Ayagaures valley first only to discover that the road was blocked and closed due to roadworks. We carried on to Los Palmitos but stopping places were few and far between with many busses using the narrow lane. The track past the Park was also blocked-off. We did see Canary and Common Buzzard.
Pajonales – We had a pleasant drive into the mountains and down the road to El Juncal. After crossing the valley at El Juncal the road becomes a stony forest trail which had suffered with previous rains. We made a kilometer or so before giving up and walking about. Birds were in short supply and the forest was eerily quiet but we did see African Blue Tit, Common Buzzard, Goldfinch, Canary and Raven together with Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow butterflies.
The San Nicolas area – We arrived at this area from the direction of Morgan. Shortly before La Aldea de San Nicolas at Tocodoman we visited the Cactualdea Cactus Garden. This was not a birding site but the gardens and display of thousands of cacti was impressive (entry 6 euros). We then moved on to Puerto de San Nicolas and parked in the car park by Bar El Chozo. The short promenade was out of commission – it looked as though it had been partly washed away by the sea. It was blocked off. We walked through a picnic area to the lagoon and were disappointed by a newly scraped pond about 45 x 25 metres in size. There was a total lack of vegetation (and birds) and it looked as though the sea side stone divide had been recently redone. A large scrubby area lay behind it but most of the tamarisk bushes had been pulled out and were in the process of being cleared. The two brighter notes were firstly a check of the sea and 15 Kittiwakes were feeding just off-shore; and a visit to Bar El Chozo where the tuna steak sandwich was in itself worth the journey.
After lunch we drove up the Barranco de La Aldea. This was a beautifully scenic drive but not for the faint-hearted. The road, single carriageway most of the time, climbs over 1000 metres in a dozen or so kilometres. Most of the drive is in first gear around dozens of hairpin bends. Having said that, we were pleased to have done it for the views which were magnificent; wildlife was scarce. The first pond at Embalse Caidero de la Nina was full of green water and the second at Embalse de El Parralillo was black water. There was a single Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull on each. Near the first pool we found a small meadow of thistles in flower which were covered in Clouded Yellow butterflies. There were also Raven, Kestrel and Buzzard overhead and in the scrub the occasional Canary and Berthelot's Pipit.
At the second pool we turned right to cut the corner, passing though El Toscon then up to Ayacata.
Pinar de Tamadaba and Artenara – We passed through Tejeda enroute this area. Tejeda is a pretty village and worth a visit. It is built at the head of a valley with spectacular views from the cafes. In a small garden area was African Blue Tit. We continued to Artenara, the highest village on the island at 1270 metres where most of the homes are cave dwellings with 'house' frontages. Here we added Grey Wagtail to the list.
Moving on to Pinar de Tamadaba we drove around the one-way loop to the car park at the end but were thwarted by Marines on exercise in the woods. Without sight nor sound of birdlife we continued on and came to a collection of 2/3 closed buildings. We parked here and wandered round the back to find our only Blue Chaffinch of the trip. A Great Spotted Woodpecker could also be heard drumming in the distance.
Barranco de Guayadeque
This scenic barranco runs west from Aguimes, not far from the airport. It finishes in a dead-end at a cave restaurant, Tagoror, which made an interesting coffee stop. Canary and Berthalot's Pipit were found in the barranco, a Buzzard flew above the steep sides, and a Kestrel displayed well outside the cafe.
Caldera de Bandama – An interesting viewpoint at 574 metres over a volcano crater gave excellent views of the islands capital, Las Palmas, with Canaries in the surrounding scrub.
We are pleased we made the effort to visit Gran Canaria. The weather was the best we have enjoyed on a February visit to the Canaries with only three showers in three weeks, and sun most of the time. The wildlife around the hotel and La Charca kept our interest with signs of both breeding and of migration; and of course finding an american vagrant gull. In 3 weeks we found a new bird for the trip on 15 days.
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Systematic List of Sightings:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta – one or two seen regularly at La Charca and from Boulevard El Faro
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – up to three seen regularly at La Charca
Buzzard Buteo buteo insularum – seen in the island’s central area. Max 5 on 18th
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus canariensis – Seen regularly around island. Max 8 on 21st
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus – seen regularly at La Charca. Max 24 on 14th
Coot Fulica atra – seen regularly at La Charca. Max 21 on 14th
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius – Seen on 10th , 23rd , 24th ,25th ,27th , 28th and 1/3 at La Charca and from Boulevard El Faro. Max 12 on 24th at La Charca
Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula – Seen on 13th ,15th ,22nd ,24th , 28th ,1/3 and 2/3 at La Charca and from Boulevard El Faro. Max 20 on 13th
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus – Seen regularly at La Charca. Max 11 on 4 occasions
Ruff Philomachus pugnax – 2 seen at La Charca on 10th and one on 14th ,24th and 25th
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola – Seen regularly on the seashore from Boulevard El Faro. Max 10 on 28th
Sanderling Calidris alba – Seen regularly on the seashore from Boulevard El Faro. Max 119 on 22th
Turnstone Arenaria interpres – 1 on 27th and on 2/3 on seashore from Boulevard El Faro
Little Stint Calidris minuta – Seen at La Charca; 2 on 24th and 1 on 14th ,22nd and 28th
Dunlin Calidris alpina – Seen at La Charca; 2 on 25th and 1 on 14th ,22nd ,24th and 28th
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea – 3 seen at La Charca on 10th
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica – 1 seen at La Charca on 10th
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus – Seen regularly from the hotel, Boulevard El Faro and La Charca. Max 9 on 10th
Greenshank Tringa nebularia – Seen at La Charca; 3 on 23rd , 2 on 10th and singles on 22nd , 24th ,25th and 27th . 1 on 28th off Boulevard El Faro
Common Sandpiper Actites hypoleucos – Seen at La Charca and the seashore; 3 on 10th , 2 on 13th and 28th, singles on 22nd ,23rd and 27th
Western Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus graellsii – Regularly seen in coastal areas
Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis - Regularly seen both at coastal areas and inland
Laughing gull Larus atricilla – 1 on 15th off Boulevard El Faro. Report submitted to Spanish Rarities Committee.
Kittiwake Rissatridactyla – 15 on 21st at sea off Puerto de San Nicolas
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis – 1 on 11th and 22nd off Boulevard El Faro; 1 on 20th at Puerto Morgan harbour
Feral Pigeon Columba livia feral – Common and widespread
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocta – Common and widespread
Ring-necked Parakeet Psitacula krameri – 1 seen on 22nd and 23rd ,2 on 24th and 4 on 28th at Maspalomas near La Charca
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus – Seen regularly around Maspalomas and Meloneras, usually in a flock of about a dozen. Max 15 on 25th in hotel grounds.
Plain Swift Apus unicolor – Seen regularly around Maspalomas and Meloneras. Max 50+ with Pallid Swifts on 20th from hotel at eye level before a ‘low’ passed through.
Common Swift Apus apus – 12 on 21st from Cactualdea Cactus Garden
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus brehmorum – Small numbers seen regularly around Maspalomas and Meloneras. Max 50+ with Plain Swifts on 20th from hotel at eye level before a ‘low’ passed through
Hoopoe Upupa epops – 1 or 2 seen almost daily around the hotel and the adjoining barranco. Nest hole found in Barranco with adults feeding young
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major thanneri – 1 heard on 19th at Pinar de Tamudaba
Swallow Hirundo rustica – 1 on 28th at La Charca
Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii berthelotii – Small numbers seen regularly around the island. Max 4 on 17th
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea canariensis – 1 at Embalse del Mulato on 17th and 1 at Artenara on 19th
Blackbird Turdus merula cabrerae – Common and widespread
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala – Seen at La Charca, 5 on 27th ,2 on 14th and 1 on 22nd
Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita canariensis – Common and widespread
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus – 2 on 25th at La Charca
African Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae – 5 seen on 17th at El Juncal and Pajonales; 2 on 19th at Tejeda
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius pallidirostris koenigi – 1 on 1/3 at La Charca
Raven Corvus corax tingitanus – 2 on 17th and 1 on 21st near Ayacata
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis – Common and widespread
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild- 2 on 14th behind hotel; 2 on 23rd and 3 on 28th at La Charca; 2 on 26th in barranco next to hotel
Blue Chaffinch Fringilla teydea polatzeki – 1 on 19th at Pinar de Tamudaba
Canary Serinus canaria – Common and widespread.
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis – Seen regularly around island. Max 4 on 15th
Small White Artogeia rapae – common and widespread. Max 50+ on 17th
Clouded Yellow Colias crocea – 1 at Pinar de Tamudaba on 17th ;12 in Barranco de la Aldea on 21st
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas – Up to 15 seen regularly in barranco next to hotel
African Grass Blue Zizeeria knysna – 1 on 26th and 1/3 in barranco next to hotel
Canary Red Admiral Vanessa vulcania – singles seen inland on 17th ,19th and 21st
Painted Lady Cynthia cardui – 2 on 12th and 1 on 22nd and 1/3 at Meloneras; 1 on 21st at Cactualdea Cactus Garden
Monarch Danaus plexippus – 1 seen on 7 occasions around the hotel
Emperor Anax imperator – Singles regularly seen at La Charca
Scarlet Darter Crocothemis erythraea – female in hotel barranco on 26th
Gran Canaria Giant Lizard Gallotia stehlini – Resident at Punta Mujeres archaeological site on Boulevard El Faro. Max 12 on 11th . Also seen at La Charca and Hotel Barranco
Atlantic Lizard Galiotia atlantica – 2 on 21st at Cactualdea Cactus Carden
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus 1 on 18th at Barrance de Guayadeque
Dolphin sp. – pod of 7 some distance out from hotel on 20th
Black Crab Grapsus grapsus – common on shore rocks