Sunday, 1 July 1979

CANARIES Tenerife & Fuerteventura June/July 1979

In summer 1979 I had a couple of spare weeks while doing an MSc dissertation.  I wanted to go somewhere where I could see some new birds but nobody I knew was free at that time so it had to be somewhere that wouldn't be too expensive to do on my own.  Return flights advertised to Tenerife for £49 caught my eye and a couple of weeks later I was on my way.  I took just hand-baggage, a change of clothes, light sleeping bag and plastic sheet.  I camped out the whole time (it was generally very mild) and spent £50 in two weeks including ferries.

This blog is part one of two and mainly covers a rather laborious visit to Fuerteventura.

On 26 June 1979 I arrived in Tenerife at 02:15 (the disadvantage of a cheap flight) and slept outside the airport until dawn.  I then got a bus to Santa Cruz where I waited an hour in a queue to get a return ferry ticket to Fuerteventura but as it made on progress I became impatient and left!  I caught a bus to Puerto de la Cruz ad walked to the botanical Gardens where I saw canary, Plain Swift and lots of Spanish Sparrows.  I then got a bus back to La Laguna and from there started to walk up the rad into the hills.  After 2km a bus came and I got a lift 6km to La Esperanza where it stopped.  I walked another 4kms and a car came past and offered me a lift.  They were a bit surprised when I said I was going to km 15 and got out in the pine forest in the middle of nowhere.  I waited until they had gone before climbing up above the road and finding somewhere to sleep out, but not before seeing a male Blue Chaffinch and several Canary Island Crests.  I would have slept better if I'd found a more level patch of ground!

Spanish Sparrow, probably an immature male, at Puerto de la Cruz Botanical Gardens
adult male Spanish Sparrow at Puerto de la Cruz Botanical Gardens
Canary at Puerto de la Cruz Botanical Gardens
On 27 June I saw 6 Blue Chaffinches and 7 Canary island Crests around km 15, I then walked down to La Laguna, in pines to km 9 seeing 8 Canary Island Chiffchaffs, 11 more crests, Canary races of Chaffinch and Blue Tit and Sardinian Warbler.  From km 9 down it was more open and dry with Hoopoe, Spectacled Warbler and 400 Spanish Sparrows.  In La Laguna I got a bus the short way to Santa Cruz, arriving at 13:40 to find the shipping office closed.  I waited around until dark seeing a Gull-billed Tern and 60 Yellow-legged Gulls and reading the Field Guide before finding a bench to sleep on.  It was very hard.
looking down on La Laguna from near km 15
looking down on Santa Cruz from above La Espernaza
I finally got a ferry ticket to Fuerteventura at 08:20 on 28 June.  I visited the market, bought some food, water and postcards but could not find a toilet anywhere (and wasn't desperate enough to ask, not at I knew any Spanish).  Never mind, it was only a 3 hour wait on the quay before the ferry sailed.  This time there were 3 Gull-billed Terns in the harbour.  The ferry sailed to Gran Canary being at sea from 12:00-16:30.  From the boat I saw 4 Maderian Petrels, two very well following in its wake.  Also 196 Cory's Shearwaters and 3 distant Bulwers Petrels. The boat was docked for 5 hours at Las Palmas on Gran Canary, setting off at 22:00 to sail through the night for Lanzarote.  I slept on deck.

Dawn broke off Lanzarote at 07:15 on 29 June.  I saw 18 Cory's Shearwaters flying north and a Grey Heron that flew east towards Africa before having second thoughts and returning.  At 08:00 we docked at Arrecife.  I had 6 hours to wait before the ship sailed and spent it around the harbour and salinas seeing 11 Kentish Plovers, 4 Hoopoes, 5 Berthelot's Pipit, 2 Great Grey Shrikes, and 75 Trumpeter Finches.  We departed Arrecife at 14:00 for the four hour crossing to Puerto del Rosario on Fuerteventura.  On this crossing I saw 48 Cory's Shearwaters and 10 Storm Petrels, 10 Dolphins, 2 Flying Fish and 3 Sharks.  Once off the ferry I walked 4 km to the Airport Barranco, a site found by Dave Willis.  Here I had good views of a male and two female Canary Island Stonechats, Hoopoe, 2 Spectacled Warblers, Great Grey Shrike and 55 Trumpeter Finches.  The last hour of daylight I spent on the flat desert plain to the west of the airport seeing at least two Black-bellied Sandgrouse (flying over and on the ground), 400+ Lesser Short-toed Larks and more Hoopoes, Great Grey Shrikes and Trumpeter Finches.  Unfortunately no Cream Coloured Coursers despite covering a fair bit of ground.  I slept on the middle of the  plain under an amazingly clear sky with loads of stars, easily my best night yet.
Berthelots Pipit on Lanzarote
Great Grey Shrike on Lanzarote
looking back to Lanzarote
male Canary Islands Stonechat in Willis's Barranco on Fuerteventura
female Canary Islands Stonechat
female or juvenile Canary Islands Stonechat
my camp on Fuerteventura
30 June was decision day.  I could either catch the morning's ferry back to Tenerife or wait 4 days for the next one.  Cream-coloured Courser was the main bird I could hope to see on Fuerteventura - Houbara might be difficult on foot - but neither were new. There were two pigeons still to see on Tenerife in an area renowned for bad visibility and perhaps some more seabirds from the Gomera ferry.  I decided to get the morning ferry back and have a final dash around the plain and Barranco first.  The Black-bellied Sandgrouse were still present, and 150 Lesser Short-toed Larks but I couldn't refind the stonechats.  I quickly returned to Puerto del Rosario, counting the distance between km markers as 1028.5 paces, one way of not being too distracted!  I managed to hassle my way onto the ferry and buy a ticket.  It was then 4 hours back to Lanzarote seeing 20 Cory's Shearwaters and an unidentified storm petrel on the way, another 5.5 hours wait at Arrecife where the Great Grey Shrike was singing and Kentish Plovers had increased to 19.  We set off for the overnight crossing to Gran Canary but came across floating gin palace that had lost power and had to tow it back to port. Frustrating for me as it cut short my counting a passage of 114 Cory's Shearwaters.  Another night on deck.

1 July.  We docked at Las Palmas on Gran Canary.  Four hours wasn't really long enough to get anywhere and back for the next ferry but I did not want to spend any longer on Gran Canary so hung around the quay again.  This was getting quite boring.  We left Gran Canary at 14:00 and arrived on Tenerife at 17:30 having seen a Little and 50 Cory's Shearwaters, 2 Bulwer's Petrels and 5 flying fish.  I caught a bus to Puerto de la Cruz and seawatched on the beach from 19:00 to dusk when I found somewhere quiet to sleep out.  45 Cory's Shearwaters were milling around offshore.
approaching Gran Canary
approaching Santa Cruz on Tenerife
to be continued ...

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