lunes, 23 de noviembre de 2009


Various images of Pandion haliaetus

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) breeds in small numbers on Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro, with only sporadic nesting elsewhere in the Canaries. On La Palma reproduction has not been confirmed, but the species is seen from time to time inland, and along sections of the coastline. The presence of old nests at certain points on the sea cliffs suggests that the species formerly bred on the island. (Atlas de las Aves Nidificantes, Ed. J.A.Lorenzo).

Inland, near Los Llanos and Tazacorte, the bird feeds on carp which have been introduced into some of the irrigation basins. From my enquiries, it would seem that some banana plantation workers have occasionally seen the bird fishing in their reservoirs, while others react with disbelief at the mere mention of the bird's name, "Fishing Eagle" in Spanish.

This year, I was lucky to spot an Osprey on 26/03, but unlucky not to have my camera prepared. It wasn't until 23/10 that I had another uncertain, distant sighting. Then Xabier Remirez reported and photgraphed an immature bird in Las Martelas on 24/10. On all three occasions, kestrels were mobbing the visiting raptor mercilessly.

Today, 23/11 I had a further encounter with the species and was able to get a few shots for the record. Close scrutiny of the photos above reveals that the individual was a juvenile, with traces of white on the back feathers and a finely cross-barred tail without the darker trailing band.

domingo, 22 de noviembre de 2009

Late November 2009

Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca). Male

Shoveler (Anas clypeata). Female

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)

Tringa erythropus

Tringa erythropus

On the evening of 21/11 I had my second sighting of a Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) on the island of La Palma.
A number of identifying features of this attractive wader can be clearly appreciated in the photos: the long bill with its subtly downwards tilting tip - the red being restricted to the lower mandible - and the species' obvious willingness to wade in relatively deep water. The irrigation basin where this scarce migrant was feeding is now being filled with water, so unfortunately this bird will be forced to move on.

22/11: The first ducks of the season! Usually arriving later than the waders, Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) are fairly common in winter. Small flocks of mostly females and immature birds often spend short periods on the island, moving around in search of suitable basins to dabble in. The flashy male Teal and the female Shoveler (Anas clypeata) shown above were sharing an irrigation basin with two Coots.

In the same area, Tazacorte, there were also three Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), a fairly regular visitor in winter.

martes, 17 de noviembre de 2009

Spotted or Common Sandpiper?

The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) is very similar in most plumages to the Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). There have been several recent records of macularia on the Canaries, including one (17/10/1996) at the Fuencaliente saltpans, precisely where I saw the bird shown in the photos.

This solitary sandpiper has been at its present location for several weeks and has been confidently reported as Actitis macularia by at least one visiting birder. I still haven't seen the bird in flight or heard it call, two important aids to clinching identification, but the general shape, length of tail projection and absence of dark notches on edges of tertials would seem to tip the balance in favour of the Spotted, rather than the Common Sandpiper.

Any comments from birders with experience of the two species would be much appreciated.

domingo, 15 de noviembre de 2009

Eurasian Spoonbill

Platalea leucorodia

The Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is described as "scarce on passage and in winter in the Canary Islands" in Birds of the Atlantic Islands (T. Clarke, Helm).

My own records of the species amount to 3-4 birds in mid-October 2008 at the Fuencaliente saltpans, and one bird in late November 2008 at the irrigation basins outside Los Llanos.

There have been several sightings so far this autumn on the islands of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Tenerife of up to 10 individuals (see for full details).

However, it wasn't until the evening of November 14 that I happened to be in the right place at the right time in order to see my first Spoonbill of 2009 on La Palma. The bird shown in the photograph flew straight over my head while I was checking the Moorhen population in an irrigation basin in the municipality of Tazacorte.

jueves, 12 de noviembre de 2009

Chats and Wheatears

A Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) discovered in an empty irrigation basin
On La Palma there are no resident species of chat or wheatear, the Canary Islands Stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae) being endemic to Fuerteventura, with sporadic records in recent years on the island of Lanzarote (Atlas de las Aves Nidificantes en el Archipiélago Canario, Ed. J. A. Lorenzo).

However, I have observed migratory Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) a number of times, a species described in Birds of the Atlantic Islands (T. Clarke, Helm) as a "regular passage migrant in the Canaries, with records from all main islands".

The three photos of a Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) were taken recently on 10/11. The bird, a male moulting into winter plumage, was perching and foraging from low vegetation in an empty irrigation basin on the outskirts of Los Llanos. The Helm Guide refers to the species as a " scarce and irregular winter visitor, more common on eastern islands, and not recorded from either La Palma or El Hierro".

A "first" for La Palma?

viernes, 6 de noviembre de 2009

Early November 2009

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

So far this month nothing unusual has been reported on the island. Small numbers of White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) can be seen in Las Martelas (see Observing Sites for birding areas), and the wintering Coot (Fulica atra) population has reached a total of 49 birds, all concentrated in a single irrigation basin. This figure compares favourably with winter 2008-2009, when less than 10 were present, but falls well short of typical numbers in previous years, such as the 109 birds in December 2004 (J.M.Castro, cited in "Atlas de las Aves Nidifcantes en el Archipiélago Canario 1997-2003", Ed. Juan Antonio Lorenzo). Although the possibility that some of these migrants may nest on the island cannot be discounted, conclusive evidence for successful breeding on La Palma has yet to be found.

There was a Redshank (Tringa totanus) at the salt-pans on 04/11, in addition to one Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), a Dunlin (Calidris alpina), and about 10 Turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Water levels are presently high, with very little sand exposed within the basins, and hence limited potential for waders.

I have spotted 2 Snipes in Las Martelas, plus two others in Tazacorte, photgraphed in a basin formerly occupied by a couple of Moorhens and their single chick.

jueves, 5 de noviembre de 2009

Rare migrants in October 2009

Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

Long-billed Dowitcher with Greenshank
(Limnodromus scolopaceus + Tringa nebularia)

Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybrida)

American Golden Plover
(Pluvialis dominica)

American Golden Plover
(Pluvialis dominica)

All photographs copyright R. Burton unless otherwise stated

Summary of sightings in October 2009

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)

October proved to be an exceptional month, with the presence of two national rarities on the island.

An American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica) was discovered in an empty irrigation basin, where it remained for several days (19-24/10).

In the evening of 26/10, a Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) was observed and photographed in poor light conditions. The bird was feeding in the shallow water and mud in the bottom of an almost empty basin. Unfortunately, this rare vagrant had flown on by the following morning.

A Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) was present throughout the month, and a group of three juvenile Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybrida) spent about one week at another basin (13-22/10).

On 24/10, a juvenile Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was observed and photgraphed by Xabier Remirez, who also saw the American Golden Plover in flight.

In the case of Pluvialis dominica and Limnodromus scolopaceus, the corresponding forms have been submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee for homologation.

All photographs copyright R. Burton unless otherwise stated

Uncommon species observed in September 2009

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

Pectoral Sandpiper and Ruff
(Calidris melanotos + Philomachus pugnax)

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)

All photographs copyright R.Burton unless otherwise stated

Summary of September 2009

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) at the saltpans

The second half of September saw the arrival of several uncommon passage migrants, including one rarity at national level.

There was a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) at the salt pans on 23/09, and another bird in an irrigation basin from 23-26/09, accompanied by a Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) 24-30/09, and a Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) 23-26/09. Another Pectoral Sandpiper was discovered at the salt pans on 29/09.

A Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) was seen and photographed by Daniel Martín, at an altitude of approximately 1,800m, halfway along the Cumbre Vieja ridge in the southern half of the island.

Calidris melanotos is a rarity at national level, and the corresponding form has been submitted to the Spanish Rarities Committee for homologation.

All photos copyright R.Burton unless otherwise stated.

lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009

Observing sites

The key locations for finding migratory birds on the island are:

1 The salt-pans at Fuencaliente, on the island's southermost tip
2 Fresh-water irrigation basins on the outskirts of Los Llanos and Tazacorte
3 Disused gravel-pits on the coast alongside the airport
4.Laguna de Barlovento reservoir (there are a couple of independent posts for this location; enter the words Laguna de Barlovento in the search engine)

A brief description of sites 1-3 follows, with a short list of species to be expected:

1. Fuencaliente salt-pans

A group of shallow, man-made pools where sea-salt is still produced in the traditional way. Access is at present unrestricted, but visitors are advised to remain on the track which runs round the outside of the complex. Water levels are artificially regulated and hence the amount of exposed sand inside the pools varies. Regular visiting waders include Dunlin, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper in small numbers, more numerous Turnstones, and, less frequently, Knot, Little Stint, Ruff, Redshank etc. Rare sightings in recent years have included Flamingo, Shelduck, Spoonbill, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper...
An easy-to-reach, scenic location on the southern tip of the island.

2 Irrigation ponds around Los Llanos/Tazacorte

Dozens of fresh-water storage tanks located south of Los Llanos de Aridane, in an area loosely referred to in the literature, and also in this blog,  as "Las Martelas". To access this laberynth, take the main road from Los Llanos to Puerto Naos, and after passing the new ring-road at a roundabout (visible immediately right of the LP-2 label above), take the next turning on the right (at the LP-124 label). Best to park at the main pond, and explore nearby side roads and tracks on foot.

Further south, between Montaña la Laguna and Montaña Todoque, in the Tazacorte municipality, are several other ponds of interest. (The 1:25 000 Mapa Topográfico Nacional de España, sheet 1085-1 shows all ponds, or, of course, Google Earth).

Many of the tanks are abandoned, and the water-level in those still in use varies considerably. Full or partially-full basins attract Grey Heron, Little Egret, Coots, Moorhens (small resident population) and Teal, with the occasional Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Spoonbill, Squacco Heron or Black-necked Grebe in recent years. Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, and Greenshank are also regularly seen in small numbers. In empty ponds containing a layer of mud or sand, and perhaps a shallow puddle of rainwater, the occasional Red-throated Pipit, Water Pipit, Pectoral Sandpiper, Spotted Crake or American Golden Plover might turn up, along with the regular Snipe.

Nearctic vagrants are often found during spring/autumn migratory periods.

The main pond in Las Martelas

Typical example of an abandoned pond, with accumulated rainwater

3. Disused gravel pits:

At present, not exactly an idyllic location due to construction work at airport, but worth checking for Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstones, Whimbrel ... and perhaps the occasional surprise. The former gravel pits are on the coast alongside the airport, immediately north of the wind generators.

The above notes are intended as a brief guideline only. Contact me at for further details. For information on past records, species status/rarities, or for submitting personal sightings:


Caldera de Taburiente National Park

"La Palma Birds" is primarily a birding blog giving details of my own sightings on the island, and information of interest to birders. But the island of La Palma has much more to offer than "just" its resident and migrant avifauna. For a brief overview, read on...

La Palma is the most north-westerly of the seven Canary Islands. Despite its relatively small surface area (c. 270 sq miles), the island harbours a huge variety of stunning landscapes. Among the various habitat types are five distinct vegetation zones, plus areas of rugged volcanic terrain in the south. One of Spain’s National Parks, the Caldera de Taburiente, is to be found here, and the entire island became a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve in 2002.  

Laurel Forest

Bird life:

La Palma’s well-preserved laurel forests are home to two endemic pigeon species: the Laurel Pigeon (Columba junoniae) and Bolle’s Pigeon (Columba bollii). Other noteworthy island endemics include the palmae subspecies of Chaffinch and the palmensis race of African Blue Tit. The large local population of Red-billed Chough is unique among the Macaronesian islands.

Detailed information on both  resident and non-resident birds can be found in the recent “Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia” by Eduardo García-del-Rey (Lynx, 2011), or in the earlier “Birds of the Atlantic Islands” by Tony Clarke (Helm, 2006).
Red-billed Chough

In spring and autumn, regular passage migrants can be expected at certain locations (see my blog post on “Observing sites”), including the occasional Nearctic and Palearctic vagrants. The latest study on rare migratory birds on the Canaries, covering the period 1980 to the end of 2011, is the highly-recommendable “Rare Birds of the Canary Islands” by Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas (Lynx, 2013). This book also contains a useful list of species classified as "rarities" on the Canaries, but not in the rest of Spain. 

Stone Curlew

Flora and Fauna

With its highest point at Roque de los Muchachos, almost 8,000ft above sea level, and its isolated oceanic location in the path of the NE Trade Winds, La Palma is a biodiversity hotspot. The current catalogue of vascular plants gives a total of 904 taxa, of which 177 are endemic (almost 20%). The iconic La Palma Violet, the Mocán, Juniper and Dragon trees, as well as several dazzling varieties of Echium (bugloss) all form part of the island’s abundant plant life, with various succulents and spurges adding an “African” touch to the landscape at lower altitudes. The lushness of the laurel forests stands in striking contrast to these drier areas.

Coastal vegetation in the south
Butterflies such as the Canary Islands Large White, Canary Speckled Wood and the Canary Red Admiral can be observed throughout the year, along with the more sporadic Monarch, Cleopatra and various Blues. Other notable insects include the endemic Robber-fly Promachus palmensis and the critically-endangered La Palma Stick Grasshopper (Acrostira euphorbiae), which is restricted to coastal scrublands in the west. Colonies of the endemic Canary Big-eared Bat (Plecotus teneriffae) breed and roost in a number of secluded caves.

Plain Tiger

Volcanic landscapes

La Palma has witnessed seven Stromboli-type eruptions in recorded history, and will fascinate volcano enthusiasts of all levels: aa and pahoehoe lavas, volcanic tubes, cones, craters, bombs and lapilli all provide evidence of this relatively recent activity. In the north of the island, pillow lavas and magma dykes provide clues into La Palma’s distant geological past.
Lava canal

Archaeological sites

The little-known prehistory of the Canary Islands concerns the autochthonous peoples who first colonised the Archipelago. Archaeological evidence of the Awaras (or Benahoaritas) - the Berber tribe inhabiting La Palma prior to its conquest by the Spanish in 1492/3 - ranges from formerly-inhabited caves and un-deciphered rock carvings, to astronomically-significant alignments of stones and ancient burial sites. Most of the serious literature on this fascinating subject is only available in Spanish.

North coast

Guiding services

As a permanently-resident, English-speaking guide with more than 15 years experience in the field, I offer private full- or half-day tours of La Palma tailored to suit individual demands and specific interests. Whether it be birding, plant and butterfly identification, or just general natural history, for further details on guiding services and rates please contact me at:

Aeonium nobile