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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
La Gomera 25th January - 7th February 2005,
Devon UK firstname.lastname@example.orgIntroduction
We aimed to get a bit of winter sunshine to help break up the long UK winter, and hopefully some good birding and walking. We had previously visited La Gomera in January 2003.
In 2003 we spectacularly failed to identify either of the 2 endemic laurel pigeons although we saw many, but not for long enough or close enough to be sure which was which. This time we hoped to put this right.Travel & Accommodation arrangements.
All travel arrangements were made by the Holiday Property Bond (HPB) travel office.
As members of HPB (Bondholders) we booked an apartment at the El Balcon de Santa Ana at Playa Santiago in La Gomera. El Balcon is HPB's flagship development in the Canaries. (Take a look at http://ww.hpb.co.uk if this in any way interests you.)
There is only a small airport on La Gomera, only light aircraft are allowed thus the island has resisted mass tourism - the contrast between La Gomera and Tenerife has to be seen to be believed.
We took an early morning flight (0700 and check in 3 hours before meaning a very early start) from Bristol to Tenerife, coach transfer from the airport to Los Christianos and then caught the Fred Olson fast ferry from Los Christianos to San Sebastian in La Gomera. A coach connection to Playa Santiago completed the trip- arriving around 1700 - and a long tiring day it was!
The Collins Bird Guide by Killian Mullarney et alSouthern Tenerife & La Gomera (Sunflower Landscapes Series) by Noel RochfordWalking in La Gomera by Lance Chilton (excellent map included)Fauna of the Canary Islands by Jose Manuel Mareno
Trip report: La Gomera, 1-8 December 2003, Niklas HolmströmCar Hire
Pre-booked through HPB, the company used was Cicar. We always book the most basic car available and usually find that we usually get a free upgrade. This was no exception and we received a four door Opel with only about a 1500 kilometers on the clock. So we can happily recommend Cicar!
La Gomera in General
The Island is only about 14 by 16 miles but very mountainous and split in all directions by deep ravines (barrancos) making long journeys out of very short distances as the "crow flies". It may not look far on the map but allow plenty of journey time. The are many different micro-climates here and it is generally quite a bit colder in the Garonhay national park compared with the coast. One day we noted a temperature of 3C at Igularera and 17C at Playa Santiago. We also had a day when it was clear in the National Park and cloudy and wet by the coast. At this time of year you need to take several layers of clothes no matter what the weather looks like when you start out.
The roads are in excellent condition, but be prepared for lots up and down hill driving with plenty of hair-pin bends.
We found that both this year and in 2003 that birds were few and far between, and that it was possible to drive for a long time without hearing or seeing any.
You could try the Garajoney Express ferry which connects San Sebastian, Playa Santiago and Valle Gran Rey - its a lot quicker than driving between them. Take your passport when buying tickets as for some reason the tickets have to have your name on them and scanning your passport barcode is the quickest way when the ticket clerks don't speak much English.
The locals have a greater affinity with South America than Spain and the Spanish spoken is the South American harder sounding variety than the more "lisping" sound of mainland Spain. Indeed the landscape bears more than just a passing resemblance to South America.
They also have a "whistling" language called Silbo used to communicate across the valleys - this is not a code like morse but is a phonetic Spanish consisting of four vowels and four consonants that can used to generate more than 4,000 words. It is whistled through cupped hands to enable the sound to travel up to 2 miles. Youngsters are now taught this as part of their heritage and they give demonstrations to tourist day trippers.
The ubiquitous mobile phone has not taken over completely!
There is little human activity in the countryside and hence the "noise floor" is much lower than we are used to and birdsong travels further and sounds louder than normal. In the barrancos you can hear a bird clearly but it may be the other side of the ravine.
The weather (Jan 25th - 7th Feb 2005)
It was much cooler than the same time in 2003 with day temperatures of 14-17 degrees and much cooler in the hills and national park. About 5 - 8 degrees was the norm in the hills and once it dropped to only 3 degrees. On the coast it was generally much warmer but we rarely took off our fleeces. We needed 2 layers of clothes by the sea and 3 or more inland. And after 1700 on all days we needed fleeces.
It was mainly overcast with some sun, we had several afternoons of clear sky and sunshine. If you are a keen walker the conditions were pretty much perfect.
You can check out the weather for La Gomera on the CNN site as follows:
Where to find birds
Our flight from Bristol departed at 0700 and we had to be there 3 hours before check in! We arrived in Tenerife at 1045 and then had a few long waits for connecting coach and ferry finally arriving at Playa Santiago in La Gomera at about 1700.
We managed a bit of birding on the way. There were several Kestrels, Canaries, Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves at Tenerife airport. At Los Christianos port there were lots of Yellow-Legged Gulls, Collared Doves and 4 Sandwich Terns diving into the harbour.
We saw nothing other than YL Gulls on the ferry crossing.
On our transfer to La Gomera we saw a Little Egret in the Harbour. But tiredness was kicking in - we got up at 01.30 this morning and by now were too tired to care!
We returned to San Sebastian a few days later, but it was raining and we didn't see many birds at all. A few Canaries and Collared Doves in the park and a Sandwich Tern in the harbour. However we did get an excellent fish lunch in the Restaurant El Cubito (something to do with Cuba) a small family run establishment in one of the side streets.
Take the road to the airport keep going past Los Trincheros and take a left turn signposted "Cemetery". Park anywhere along here and walk the whole of the area from the cemetery to the cliff follow the cliff path along to the Balcon de Santa Ana HPB development and back - with luck you will see the following:
Spanish Sparrows(in the cemetery)
Rock Sparrows (50+) (but quite shy and difficult to get close)
Collared Dove (in the cemetery)
Trumpeter Finch (40 or 50)
Hoopoe (only seen on one occasion)
Barn Swallow (single bird seen once only - thought this was a bit unusual for this time of year)
It may be worth taking a look around the Lemon and Orange groves in this area.
Blackbirds, Canaries, Kestrels, Blackcaps, Spectacled Warblers and Chiffchaffs were seen in numbers.
Take the Pastrana road from Playa Santiago, then take the track on the right past El Rumbazo. This eventually leads to running water and what looks like a pumping station. We had good view of the local variant of Blue Tit in this area - again on this trip these were very few and far between - this was only the second one we had seen. There was also a pair of Grey Wagtails, several Canaries and Chiffchaffs and a quite tame Kestrel that I managed to get some great digiscoped photos of!
At Guarimar the road was completely blocked by a large digging machine so we had to turn around and go back. We took the turning to Pastrana. In the village the road ends in a carpark. Park here and walk along the footpath that follows the Barranco. Here we saw a few more Blue Tits along with Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Two Ravens soared high above us.
This is the first village you come to after passing the airport on the road out of Playa Santiago. There are 2 small reservoirs here. We saw 2 Coots and a Moorhen here. There was also a flock of Goldfinches in the village. We also stopped in at the next village Targa but saw no birds here.
Take the top entrance to Alajero and follow the road around to the right, this leads out into the country on a tarmaced road that ends at a good viewpoint. Not many people know this, but there is an excellent view of the Dragon Tree to be had from here, which saves you walking down from Agalan. You will need a good telephoto or digiscope to get a photo, but at least it won't fly off just before you press the shutter!
Along this bit of road out of Alajero there are good views and photo opportunities of small birds and I had good pictures of Blackcaps, Canaries, Bertholot's Pipit, and Corn Bunting. We also saw the only Sardinian Warbler of our trip - there were more of these around on our 2003 visit and we were a bit surprised not to see many. I also failed to get a decent picture of a Spectacled Warbler but had good views nonetheless.
We visited this spot again later in the holiday and saw the same birds again.
There is a long winding road into Imada but it is worth a visit. Imada looks like a set for "the lost valley" you almost expect to see Dinosaurs wandering around! There were a few Grey Wagtails, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Canaries and Kestrels and a friendly little cafe bar.
On our 2003 visit we saw our only Hoopoe of the trip so we thought it might be worth a second look - it wasn't. It's a long drive down and we saw very few birds, no Hoopoe this time!
The culture club is on the road past the airport on the way to Alajero on the left hand side of the road. From the road it is not much to look at but surprisingly, it is an art gallery, cafe bar, dance studio and outdoor theatre and is quite interesting to look around. Have a coffee and sit outside and do a bit of birding at the same time. We saw a flock of 15 - 20 Goldfinches, a few Spectacled Warblers, Berthelot's Pipits and Corn Buntings.
There are several good viewpoints in this area for the Laurel and Bolle's Pigeon. The Miradors El Bailadero and El Rejo can both give good sightings and flypasts of both species.
Do not on any circumstances come this far and not visit El Cedro and the Restaurant El Vista - and don't be put off by the long descent on the "crazy paving" road down to the stream. If you keep your nerve and have some experience of driving on rough tracks, you can drive right up to the restaurant. A standard hire car will do this OK! If it worries you park the car near the stream and walk up.
Have lunch here but keep your binoculars close to hand! We saw several Laurel Pigeons whizz past while we were eating. There are plenty of birds to be seen in this area.
Chaffinchs (this was the only place we saw any)
Robin (the only one seen in the whole trip)
Park at the top and walk down to the small church. On arrival here we saw 2 Laurel Pigeons sitting in a tree quite close by, and through binoculars identified them as such, the white tail showing clearly. I quickly set up the scope and grabbed my camera in order to grab some digiscoped shots of them. Both flew to the ground out of sight as I was about to take the first picture - a normal event experienced by all digiscopers! Well at least we had seen a "lifer" even though I failed in the photography department.
We still had still not seen a Bolle's pigeon and yes that would be another lifer. Just then one of the pigeons flew up into the tree again so I fitted my digital camera to my scope (I use a bit of plastic tubing to cut out the vignetting) set the scope to x15 and the camera to x3 and started taking as many pictures as possible - trying aperature priority then shutter priority and automatic exposure and kept just clicking away like mad and hoping to get lucky - then the bird flew off.
When we returned to our apartment later in the afternoon I connected the camera to the TV and zoomed in on one of the pigeon photos and was amazed to find that the bird I had photographed was a Bolle's pigeon - a "lifer" so I had photographed it before I had even realised that I had seen it. Hmm funny how things turn out... does that count as a tick?
Places we visited in 2003 but not this time.
Valle Gran Rey is a long drive from where we were staying and produced few birds on our 2003 trip so we didn't bother this time. The best bet is to go by boat from Playa Santiago or San Sebastian and get a bit of seawatching in as well.
Chejellpes has reservoirs worth checking out, waders have been seen there. Our 2003 trip only produced Gulls, Coot, Moorhen and a Grey Heron. It would have been 3 hours driving there and back for us. Travelling that sort of distance to see a Grey Heron when you live near the Exe Estuary in Devon is pushing dedication a bit far!
The visitor centre near Rosas
We saw Tenerife Blue Tits near here but did not think it worth the drive this time.
Apart from YL Gulls and Sandwich Terns we saw no other seabirds despite taking several ferry trips a keeping a good look out. We also did a seawatch from El Balcon de Santa Ana clifftops. This was the same in 2003, so either we were consistently unlucky or this is not the time of year to be here if you are in to seabirds!
Kestrels by the dozen and only 1 Common Buzzard. Absolutely nothing else on both trips.
Best wishes and enjoy your trip to La Gomera!
Alan & Rose Saunders email@example.com
La Gomera List 2005
Barbary Partridge - Alectoris barbara - 2 in a lay-by near Imada, 2 in the Cemetery area at Plays Santiago.Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica - 1 near cemetery at Playa Santiago.Berthelot's Pipit - Anthus berthelotii - CommonBlackbird - Turdus merula - Fairly commonBlackcap - Sylvia atricapilla - 2 at Alajero, 2 at Imada and several at Playa Tapahuga.Blue Tit - Parus caeruleus teneriffae - 2 at Rumbazo and 1 at Pastrana footpath by the barranco.Bolle's Pigeon - Columba bollii - 1 at Chorros de Epina church, several overflying the Mirador El Balladero.Buzzard - Buteo buteo - 1 seen at Mirador Tajaque.Canary - Serinus canaria - Fairly common can turn up anywhere.Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs tintillon - Several near farm buildings close to the La Vista restaurant at El CedroChiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita canariensis - Loud and Common saw at least 50 in orange groves at Playa Tapahuga.Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocta - a few seen around Playa Santiago and some at San Sebastian not that common.Coot - Fulica atra - 2 at Antoncojo reservoirsCorn Bunting - Miliaria calandra - Fairly commonGoldfinch - Carduelis carduelis - Small flocks at Antoncojo and El Rosata Culture Club.Goldcrest - Regulus regulus teneriffae - Several at El Cedro, several heard calling by Mirador Tajacue.Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea - 2 at Imada, 2 on steam by track near El RumbazoHoopoe - Upupa epops - 1 near Cemetery at Playa Santiago,heard calling oop oop oop and later seen. 1 near Fred Olsen development just outside Playa Santiago - seen on separate days but could easily have been the same bird. .Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus - Very Common.Laurel Pigeon - Columba junoniae - 2 at Chorros de Epina, several at Mirador El Balladero.Linnet - Carduelis cannabina - Several often seen on telegraph wires between Antoncojo and Alajero.Little Egret - Egretta garzetta - 1 in the harbour at San SebastianMoorhen - Gallinula chloropus - 1 seen at Antoncojo resevoirPallid Swift - Apus pallidus - Several over El CedroPlain Swift - Apus unicolor - Several over El CedroRaven - Corvus corax - Several near the Airport and Mirador El Balladero also seen at Alajero and Iqualero viewpoint near the church.Robin - Erithacus rubecula - 1 at El Cedro (saw several in 2003 at Igulero)Rock Dove - Columba livia - CommonRock Sparrow - Passer petronia - At least 50 seen near the cemetery at Playa SantiagoSandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis - 4 in the harbour at Los Christianos Tenerife and 1 at San Sebastian La Gomera.Sardinian Warbler - Sylvia melanocephala - 1 on hillside track outside of Alajero. This was the only one seen - we expected to seen more.Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis - CommonSpectacled Warbler - Sylvia conspicillata - Fairly commonTenerife Goldcrest - Regulus teneriffae - several at El Cedro at the bottom of the "paved" hill on the way to El Vista Restaurant - several heard near the Mirador El Balladero. Saw none in 2003.Yellow-legged Gull - Larus michahellis - Very common