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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk
Lanzarote (Canary Islands) 18th August – 1st September 2011,
After spending our summer holiday two years in a row in Scandinavian countries my family decided it was time to fly again to a sunny destination. Lanzarote was one of the Canary Islands we had never been before and looked very attractive in the brochure. We very not disappointed because the island has indeed much nice scenery and some very interesting attractions. Last but not least there was also a new bird for me on offer.
We stayed a fortnight in the ‘Apartamentos Santa Rosa’ in Costa Teguise, which turned out to be a good choice. Costa Teguise has all you need: not too big, clean, plenty of supermarkets and shops, nice beach (Playa Bastian), plenty of space to park a car and quiet at night.
We hired a car for 12 days (recommended) and visited most of the tourist places on the island like the Mirador del Guinate, Los Jameos del Agua, Cueva de los Verdes, Jardin de Cactus, Timanfaya Vulcanic Park, El Golfo, Haria, Montagorda-beach (Puerta del Carmen) and the beach east of Orzola.
I also used the car to visit the Teguise-plain early in the morning, from Costa Teguise this is a drive of about 25 minutes. The roads are in excellent condition and both car-hire and petrol is rather cheap.
The weather was remarkable: quite cold and cloudy in the morning but usually sunny after 11 am. There was also much wind which kept the temperature down to a maximum of around 29oC during the day, so very pleasant weather.
Systematic list of birds recorded
The following birds were recorded during this holiday. The taxonomy is according to the Dutch committee for avian systematics (CSNA).
Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea
Macaronesian endemic. Seen from the coast, but no big numbers. No other shearwaters or petrels were seen despite the fact that the Archipelago Chinijo (close to the northern part of Lanzarote) is one of the best sites for breeding seabirds in the whole of the Canaries.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis ibis
Quite common around Arrecife.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta garzetta
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea cinerea
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia leucorodia
One bird with several Little Egrets near Orzola on 24-08.
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus dacotiae
One of the Canary islands endemic subspecies. Common all over the island.
Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides pelegrinoides
One bird hunting pigeons near Orzola.
Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae
Canary islands endemic subspecies. All my efforts to see this bird in August 1990 on Fuerteventura failed and I felt a little anxious this would happen again on Lanzarote. There was no need to worry however because it turned out that these birds are easy to find on Lanzarote, even in summer.
On 21st August I went to the Teguise-plain early and took the LZ402 west from Teguise to La Caleta de Famara. After about 500 meter I took an obvious track on the left side of this road, going to Tao. Although unmetalled this track is safe to drive with a normal car.
I started scanning along this track and it didn’t take long before I had seen my first Houbara Bustard and I saw another 3 near the cultivations halfway between the LZ402 and Tao. Birds are feeding here in (the edge of) some green fields. In total I saw about 7 birds in 45 minutes of birdwatching so the statement by Tony Clarke that ‘the highest density of this species is probably on the plain southwest of Teguise’ still holds true.
On another visit on 29-08 with my son (10) we had about 4 Houbara Bustards in 30 minutes of birdwatching with one feeding in the same fields not far from the car. On the way back we also had a bird flying along the LZ408 close to Nazaret, so they are probably common in suitable habitat.
According to the ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey this subspecies is poorly differentiated from the nominate.
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus insularum
One of the Canary islands endemic subspecies. A common bird on the Teguise- and Famara-plain. I heard dozens of birds in the early morning while searching for Houbara Bustard and saw about 20. Also a single bird seen next to the road near Nazaret.
Turnstone Arenaria interpres interpres
Dunlin Calidris alpine alpina
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus phaeopus
Redshank Tringa tetanus ssp.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis ssp.
Rather common along the coast but nowhere large numbers.
Birds from the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Selvagens are usually separated as atlantis, but perhaps they should be included in the nominate michahellis, with only the birds from the Azores separated as true atlantis.
Rock / Feral Dove Columba livia livia / Columba ’domesticus’
Collared / Barbary Dove Streptopelia decaocto decaocto / Streptopelia ‘risoria’
Barn Owl Tyto alba gracilirostris
Canary islands endemic subspecies. This taxon is sometimes considered a separate species ‘Slender-billed Barn Owl’ and therefore I was very keen to see this bird but knew this was almost impossible without local knowledge.
I was busy for several months to contact local birdwatchers and finally managed to find the right person who I went out with on two separate nights. We visited several places where this bird is known to breed in the northern half of Lanzarote but, in order to prevent disturbance of these birds, I will not give any more details.
The first night I only glimpsed a bird, but on the second night we had much better and prolonged views of a bird near a breeding cave. Personally this was the ornithological highlight of this holiday, to see this secretive and rare bird with the sound of Cory’s Shearwaters on the background. The colour of the underparts of this bird was basically similar to a guttata. The size-difference however was obvious and it looked remarkably small.
In the Netherlands Barn Owls usually breed in man-made structures like barns, old buildings, churches, etc. but on Lanzarote they only breed in natural caves and crevices. This means a lot of suitable habitat for breeding is found and the available food probably determines their distribution. As I experienced, birds stay hidden in these caves and crevices during the day and only leave their shelters just before it becomes completely dark, so are very difficult to find.
My son and I found several feathers and pellets which contained the remains of mice, rats, lizards, a small gecko and large insects.
Plain Swift Apus unicolor
Macaronesian endemic. Small numbers were seen on most days above Costa Teguise, sometimes together with Pallid Swifts that could easily be recognised by their larger size, white throat, more contrasting brown upperwing and different voice.
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus brehmorum
Hoopoe Upupa epops epos
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens rufescens
Canary islands endemic subspecies. Common at the Teguise-plain where dozens of birds seen, often in large groups.
Based on genetic research it is now clear that the former subspecies polatzeki is a synonym of the nominate subspecies rufescens (‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey). As a result all birds in the Canary Islands should be assigned to the nominate.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica rustica
Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii
Macaronesian endemic. One of the most common birds in all kinds of habitat, all over the island.
Birds from the Canary Islands and Selvages are usually separated as berthelotii (and those from Madeira as madeirensis) but is considered monotypic here following ‘Pipits & Wagtails’ by Alström and Zetterström.
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
One migrant bird on a beach near Orzola on 24-08.
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis
Macaronesian endemic subspecies. Birds were seen or heard on various places on the island.
According to ‘Pipits & Wagtails’ by Alström and Zetterström this is a valid subspecies that occurs in the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands but the ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey states there is no genetic evidence to support this.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala melanocephala
Only a few birds heard or seen.
Birds from the Canary Islands are sometimes separated as leucogastra but are included here in the nominate melanocephala following ‘Sylvia Warblers’ by Shirihai, Gargallo & Helbig. The same conclusion was drawn in the ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey.
Ultramarine Tit Cyanistes ultramarinus ultramarinus
Several birds seen at the end of the valley (near a small bridge) west of Tabayesco.
Once the Blue Tits on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were assigned to a separate subspecies ‘degener’ or even a separate species ‘Fuerteventura Blue Tit – Cyanistes degener’. Further research however has shown that ‘degener’ is a synonym of the taxon ultramarinus, often regarded as a separate species: Ultramarine Tit.
Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans koenigi
Canary islands endemic subspecies. Rather common in different types of habitat and recorded both in tows, villages, deserts and along roads and seafronts.
The taxonomic position of this subspecies has switched back and forth, but now believed to be part of the ‘elegans-group’, consisting of the subspecies elegans, algeriensis, theresae and koenigi. Sometimes regarded as a separate species ‘Canary Islands Desert Grey Shrike’.
Raven Corvus corax ssp.
Only recorded in the northern part of the island near Mirador de Haria, Tabayesco and the windmills near Los Valles.
Birds from the Canary Islands are sometimes separated as canariensis, but the validity of this subspecies has been questioned and it is perhaps better to include them in the subspecies tingitanus that also occurs in North Africa. The subspecies tingitanus is sometimes considered a separate species (African Common Raven).
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis hispaniolensis
Common in towns and villages.
Canary Serinus canaria
Macaronesian endemic. Several singing birds heard and seen near Haria and Tabayesco.
Linnet Carduelis cannabina ssp.
Quite a common bird at most places visited.
Birds from Fuerteventura and Lanzarote are usually separated as harterti but based on genetic research this subspecies (and the subspecies meadewaldoi of the western Canaries is no longer considered valid following the ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey. It is now unclear which subspecies occurs in the Canary Islands but possibly mediterranea or the (undetermined) subspecies from neighbouring north-west Africa. (BWP).
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus amantum
Canary islands endemic subspecies. Quite common on the Teguise-plain where birds were heard far more often than seen. Trumpeter Finches also come to drink at the pools in the ‘Jardin de Cactus’ in Guatiza and we saw several birds at close range here.
Birds not seen
I did not see the following endemic (sub)species, that breed on Lanzarote. I saw all these sub(species) however during earlier trips to the Canary Islands:
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis
This new subspecies was descriped by Donázar et al (http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/jrr/v036n01/p00017-p00023.pdf) in 2001 and only occurs on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. I had no problems seeing this bird on Fuerteventura in August 1990 (up to 25 birds seen together) but we failed to find a single bird on Lanzarote. Probably Fuerteventura has a bigger population compared to Lanzarote or the population of Egyptian Vulture has decreased since.
Buzzard Buteo buteo insularum
A rather common bird on the western Canary islands, but apparently very scarce on the eastern islands. I did see two single ‘Canary Islands Buzzards’ on Fuerteventura however back in August 1990.
Long-eared Owl Asio otus canariensis
In 2011 several pairs of Long-eared Owl were discovered on Lanzarote for the first time and successful breeding took place. An article about this novelty is in preparation. The ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia’ by Garcia-del-Rey states that there is no genetic evidence to support this subspecies.
Lanzarote also has a remarkable number of birds that became extinct in the last century. These are:
Canary Islands Oystercatcher Haematopus meadewaldoi, Canary Islands Stonechat Saxicola dacotiae muriela (Archipelago Chinijo, just north of Lanzarote) and Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis exsul (sometimes regarded as a separate species - Lanzarote Chiffchaff).
For any questions, remarks, et cetera please contact:
E.J. Alblas, The Netherlands