Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Trip report the Canary Islands

Agatha Christi once wrote in a novel set and written in Puerto de la Cruz Tenerife Canary Islands Spain

“Mr.Satterthwaite passed on down the cypress walk to the sea. It was rather wonderful sitting there--on the edge of nothing--with that sheer drop below one.  But he found no inspiration there, and turning slowly he walked back along the path between the cypresses and into the quiet garden.”

I, however on that very same cliff WAS inspired.  Most of our trips or so it seems, are learning events.  We learn how to get through an airport, get a rental car, order food in a foreign language, how to find the birds and what unfamiliar calls are, or drive on the left.  We just spent 9 days in Tenerife on the Canary Islands and a day in Iceland after going for a week to Wisconsin and Minnesota for Christmas.  I have made some additions to "Olaf's Rules."

1) Never check in luggage.

This is an old rule, but recently we have forgotten.  Icelandair bullied us to check a suitcase in Minneapolis and we did not have to, and we checked one going home that we definitely did not have to, and it is still out there ...somewhere, carrying my tripod, two monopod walking sticks, a bathrobe, a pair of Crocs, a field guide, and an 800 camera part I just got in from losing it in Bhutan.

2)  Christmas trips are two long

being gone 17 days over the holidays is too much, thing need to be fixed in the future.

3) Why are we going to a place that is typically cooler than Florida when we have a house in

 Florida plus and RV spot?  The Canaries are nice but from Tampa we can be to Puerto Rico or Panama in 3 hours by plane, and almost any Carribbean Island in four.  Tenerife was 6 hours from Minneapolis plus another 6 to Tenerife.  The flight home was 6 plus 8 to Orlando with an overnight in Keflavik near a volcano that is ready to blow again, and possibly a closed airport.  

4) Do not eat squid ink, it is a little salty going in, but what comes out a day or two later is a little much

So with that introduction, we went to Tenerife, just off the African coast of Spanish Sahara, we met up with our son Allwin, his girlfriend and her parents.  We've known then for many years,  Allwin is a research Chemist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.  It is much easier to get to Tenerife for him.  a Four hour flight

We stayed in a nice VRBO and hung out on the tropical island.  The house was in the middle of a banana plantation
We had a nice view of the ocean, and of the city below us.  We went up to the volcano, Teide that last erupted in 1908 and could threaten the entire eastern US coast.  The barren landscape was used for the movie "Planet of the Apes."

The most common critter in this massive desert is the Gallot's lizard

We also saw endemic butterflies like the 

The Canary Speckled Wood Butterfly, and we also saw African blues

The beaches are down steep cliffs, wavy, black sand beaches and filled with shadows

Ancon Beach
Some impressive waves

We even saw a few surfers.

One (in)famous beach, the naturist Playa Patos, just below our house, had had its stairs eroded 9 years ago, then in 2023, they spent 30000 euros to replace them.  On December 24, five days before we arrived the cliff failed and blocked the beach.  The local city closed the access and put up a barricade fence. But intrepid souls climbed the fence and then went down the stairs and then in barefeet or flipflops crossed the fifty meter high pile of rocks.

We had an eight course meal at new years (see previous blogs) and hiked and saw a few sights including Agatha Christi's famous steps

The port, just another place to take one's clothes off for sun

red rock crab

Of course I drank lifer beers
I saw nine lifer birds for my world list and photographed 8 of them, six of those pretty good.  The Bolle's Pigeon went unphotographed, saw one and heard one.  Birder Neil Hayward was on the island but he was a day ahead of me in seeing birds and we never met up despite me reaching out.  Oh well.

Tenerife Blue Chaffinch, maybe a population of 5000 birds on the one island

(White tailed) Laurel pigeon, maybe 5000 on three islands having been split from the Madeira Laurel Pigeon and is near threatened

Island canary

Canary Island Chiffchaff

Canary Island chaffinch

Berthelot's pipit 

Barbary Partridge, here and North Africa

African Blue tit

Tenerife is not a birdy island. I also saw some avian creatures.

common buzzard

Common sandpiper

Eurasian blackcap

Eurasian kestrel

European robin

Gray wagtail

Little egret

The super skulky Sardinian Warbler

Yellow Legged gull, despite being an island, saw a grand total of just four gulls all were this species

  It was really a nice vanilla trip and then...we started for home. We got notified of a strike so we headed to the airport extra early but there was nothing looking like a strike, just long lines at the food court and a crowded airport.  We had a long wait.

Allwin's flight to Frankfurt and ours to Reykjavik were at adjoining gates, so we bid farewell and off we went to Iceland.
The six hour flight ended and my suitcase never came off the carousel  "Sir, your bag is safe and checked for Orlando."  So we went to the hotel and slept.  The Blue lagoon opened up that morning but many thought it was risky as another volcano eruption is imminent (has not erupted as of today) so we went to airport and I birded a little outside.

I picked up a nice redwing, have not seen one for a few years and after a hot dog we went through security.  Everything was going fine and then, it did not....I broke a zipper on my favorite jacket that morning, I have had the jacket for at least 25 years.  I love that jacket.  decided to throw it away before security.

It was very sad throwing away an old friend, 

So we went through customs and Silja got the random selection for extra screening.

Back at Christmas we have a newer tradition, we go to my uncle's place on Christmas eve to his gun range and shoot.

My daughter Lauren and Silja target shooting

Afterwards we ate Swedish meatballs with Grandma Lucille's recipe!  
Son Tyko with meatballs

So back to Iceland, they swabbed that jacket of Silja's for explosives.....and forty minutes later as I was wondering if she had been kidnapped.  She was finally released from her secret room.  She was mad and upset and vowed that Iceland was never going to be in our future again.  

So after more lines we got on a plane and 8 hours later aboard a 727 Max 9 (with a plug) that would be grounded a day later, we arrived in luggage however has never been seen again.......
Iceland(air) again is on my S#$$t list 

You know it was fun, it was nice, but was it real nice and fun.....?  Silja picked up a bug on a plane,  we have jet lag, my luggage is ....somewhere.  I am out a tripod a teleconverter some Christmas gifts, a kilo of prized coffee and a favorite hat.  I ruined a jacket and well, that is that.



Wednesday, January 3, 2024

What is in a Pipit's name


The Berthelot's pipit is a non-descript pipit with a short tail and a big head.  The pipit, found only on the Canary and Madeira Islands, was named after Sabino Berthelot by his friend Carl Bolles. Why name it after the preeminent botanist in this archipelago?  It just was.

Sabino Berthelot was the son of a Marseille merchant. He joined the French Navy and served as a midshipman during the Napoleonic Wars. After the war he joined the merchant fleet, travelling between Marseilles and the West Indies. He first visited the Canary Islands in 1820, where he taught at a school in Tenerife and managed the botanical gardens at Orotava for the Marquis of Villanueva del Prato.  The are schools also named after Berthelot and Harvard has honored him in publications for his Botany work on the island.  With his work as a midshipman during the French slave area, one wonders how long until someone will find that he was a crewman on some objectionable ship. 

 In Madeira, people in rural areas used to call it “Our Lady’s bird”, giving rise to the legend that the Berthelot’s pipit accompanied the Holy Family in their journey from the Holy Land to Egypt, with the mission of wiping out with its long tail their footprints in the sand to avoid being followed by King Herod.

On Tenerife, although seen by the sea on flat open fields, most of which have been made into banana plantations.  Luckily they are also seen up on the dry arid plains around the volcano Teide.  I did not find them an easy bird to find.  They seem to be parking lot birds.  Looking for them I struck out, dumb luck scored me three birds. 

We saw the pipits on Teide Volcano, a huge 12, 288 foot, active volcano that dominates Tenerife.

It last erupted in 1908 from the flank and was not a serious event, previously it erupted in 1798 and from 1704-6, and last from the summit in about 850 AD, some believe that it it erupts fully again, it could split the island and be a catastrophe causing a huge tsunami heading westward guessed it America.

The most numerous critter on the volcano is the Gallot's lizard, or Tenerife island lizard.  Named after an armature naturalist D. Gallot who collected the first specimen of this endemic lizard.  Found only here and on La Palma and a small island in between, the lizard is a good find for herpetologists, but was actually a pest where we were eating lunch as they tried to storm our lunch bags.  

The big bird on Tenerife to find is the Tenerife Blue Chaffinch. found only on Tenerife and with only 4-5,000 birds in existence, it was the go to bird for the trip.  Sadly, Tenerife had some serious forest fires recently and as an obligate pine forest bird, much of its habitat went up in smoke.  Even without that, they are up elevation and in the pines and there are not a lot of places to even stop to look for them.  Since I was  a tag along to a group that I was the only birder with, it is amazing that I even found one.  I saw two.  One in low light which I still had the camera on auto focus and it focused out of the bird and it flew away and then I got a second chance two hours later.  That bird would NOT come out of the pine tree.

I got a good look at the male in my first sighting. This female or immature male was not optimal but sometimes this is all you get.

This was the last of the Island endemics out here I had to see, but hoping for photographs of a couple I never got on camera.  I did not go over to Grand Canaria to see its blue chaffinch, I will leave that for another time.  I still have two days to photograph rather elusive pigeons, I see a fellow big year birder Neil Hayward saw a few hours after I did, but that is tomorrow mornings project.  I sent Neil an email, we will see if he sends me a response.  Who knows?



Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy New Year


Happy New Year from Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  All of us, including Leroy the "Redneck" Penguin were out celebrating last night.  I am not sure how he can put away so much booze but he always does.  We are not sure he ever stopped drinking yet.

We were out for a 8 course New Year's dinner and then we watched the fireworks at 0000 hour.

The food was great, the wine glass was never empty and the hangover lasts until January 2nd.

We have been learning to walk stairs here.  The beaches are down cliffs

It is a tough island to have acrophobia on, the fear of heights where roads and sidewalks are perched on cliffs by steel plates or carved into rocks has left me with some quivering legs and intestines.  Especially when we will be going to the volcano in the search of birds and views.

The trip has so far not involved being stuck on a rock, food poisoning, sudden cold snaps, nor finding out or room has been sublet to others.  The streets are narrow, and parking is by dumb luck.  Our friends from Sweden, Peter, Kajsa, and Camilla had their car towed within ten minutes of coming to the island.  I always say a few mishaps lead to better blogs but just the same, new stories is also a good trip. 

Bird wise, we have been slowly working on the island endemic (and near endemic) list, so far I have seen about half of the goal species

The African blue tit, not an endemic but a lifer bird.  Sort of a great tit looking like a blue tit in size

A bit harder to find than anticipated, but the Canary Island Chaffinch (male)

Canary Island chiffchaff, seen easily and everywhere

Island Canary, here and the Azores

  I have seen the elusive Laurel Pigeon and barbary partridge but they have remained elusive to my camera but we still have four more days until we go back to Iceland and hopefully get to see the volcano.  Just six lifers but heck, some of these are just here.

Will give a complete trip update, but just would like everyone to be wished a very Happy New Year from our temporary island retreat.


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...