Sunday, 1 March 2015

La Palma, Canary Islands - 21st - 28th February (Days 1 - 2)

Over the years I have been to most of the Canary Islands as they offer a bit of winter sun (to keep my wife happy), which is backed up by a variety of endemic species (to keep me happy). One Island that I have never been to is La Palma and the promise of lush forests and endemic pigeons made it very appealing. We based ourselves at Los Cancajos, staying in the Hotel Olas, we had a great sea view but were the southernmost room in the complex and therefore closest to the airport. As it turned out it was not an issue as there are relatively few planes each day, and we were often out when they were arriving or departing. We were told that the buses were very regular and reliable, but for the versatility and freedom we hired a car for the duration of our seven day stay. There were too many bits to put into one post and so I will summarise our trip over the next few posts.

Day 1 (21st Feb) - Flew from Gatwick to La Palma arriving after dark so no birding.

Day 2 (22nd Feb) - In the morning we spent the time getting familiar with our surroundings and walked around the resort and bashed the various bits of scrub. there were no real surprises to be found in the scrub, with Canary Serinus canaria , Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanochephala, Blackbird Turdus merula and Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis all very prominent. In fact the Chiffchaff was the most numerous species, or at least that’s how it seemed, but the fact that the species was so vocal must have had something to do with that. Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis were also very prominent with birds heading back and forth along the beach continually. As it turned out Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocta and Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove were probably the most numerous species, as we walked along the coast both species were present, either nesting on the cliffs or in every hotel complex.

Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis- La Palma
Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis - La Palma

The tide was out in the morning and therefore much rock was exposed, and in large numbers on every rock were some very striking crabs. I don’t recall having seen them previously, but am sure I must have, and have just ignored them..or forgotten. I took a few photos, which proved trickier than I thought it would as they spooked at a fair distance and ran for cover, but with a bit of patience I prevailed. As it turns out the crab has several names, Mottled Shore Crab, Red Rock Crab and Sally Light-foot, but from what I can work out the species appears to be Atlantic Rock Crab Grapsus adscensionis.  This species is found along the coast of West Africa and Ascension Island, the Red Rock Crab Grapsus grapsus is found along the Atlantic coast of South America and is common all along the Pacific Coast of Central and South America to Peru and on the Galapagos Islands.

Atlantic Rock Crab Grapsus adscensionis - La Palma, Canary Islands
Atlantic Rock Crab Grapsus adscensionis - La Palma, Canary Islands
Atlantic Rock Crab Grapsus adscensionis - La Palma, Canary Islands

As we continued to stroll around I began to notice a few lizards basking in areas of scrub and on stone walls. Initially I thought that there were two species, but again, with a bit of research I was able to work out that the individuals I was seeing appeared to be one species - West Canaries Lizard Gallotia galloti palmae. This species is referred to as the Canary Islands Wall Lizard and G. g. palmae is apparently a single island endemic, only occurring on La Palma. The male is a stocky lizard with blue spots and when sexually mature a blue throat, whereas females and juveniles are typically striped. I did encounter one individual, which was actually the first individual I saw that I suspect is a young male, but then again I am not an expert so maybe wrong.

West Canaries Lizard Gallotia galloti palmae - Presumed sub-adult male
West Canaries Lizard - Presumed female
West Canaries Lizard (Male) - This individual had at some point previously lost its tail, hence it being so short

Continuing on I picked up a few more bird species; a fly by White Wagtail Moticilla alba, a Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, a Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus, a pair of Kestrels Falco tinnunculus and a Red Admiral butterfly and then headed back to our hotel.
I took the opportunity to scan the sea a quickly picked up some Cory’s Shearwaters Calonectris diomedea heading north. There was a steady stream moving with reasonable numbers of Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus. In 15 minutes of scanning I recorded over 100 Cory’s and 30 Manx Shearwaters.

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