This blog is intended as a guide to some of the wildlife Lanzarote has to offer, particularly birds but also marine wildlife, dragonflies, butterflies and reptiles. We encountered practically every bird species we hoped to see and the exact location for each species seen can be found in an embedded map at the end of the blog. Information on the wild side of Lanzarote on the web is a bit patchy so we hope this blog is useful in finding some of the natural gems Lanzarote has to offer. Below is a video we made showcasing the landscapes and fauna of Lanzarote.
Three of us decided to go on a short holiday in November to escape to a warmer climate, see some cool animals and make a little video of our destination. I’m a Zoologist, Peter is freelance cameraman and my brother, Brian is an ecologist/lab monkey. We eventually decided upon Lanzarote, the most eastern of the Canary Islands. It’s a popular destination for sun seekers and the island is heavily reliant on tourism. While it does get its fair share of eco-tourists it’s not a particularly popular wildlife destination. There is very little information available online and the first hit on google for the wildlife of Lanzarote talks about cockroaches, goats and camels! Not inspiring stuff. We had heard good things from friends though and, after a bit more online probing, managed to find interesting information from bird reports on BirdForum. I printed off every report we could get our hands on and made a hit list of things we wanted to see. The Birds of the Atlantic Islands field guide also helped fill in the gaps (I had a copy from a couple of months work I did on the Cape Verde Islands researching the Cape Verde Warbler). There are local field guides specifically for Lanzarote and the Canaries out there which have detailed maps but we didn’t think they were necessary after reading all the second hand information online. Our main goals were to see pretty much all the resident desert specialist bird species and to get a look at as many of the under-water creatures as possible. Unfortunately it was a bad time of the year for the flora the island as most plants had already flowered. Lanzarote doesn’t have a huge variety of mammals, reptiles, dragonflies and butterflies, but our main focus was birds; Canarian Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuertaventurae, Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius cursor cursor, Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides, Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii, Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis koenigi, Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus insularum, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, Canarian Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis, Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris borealis, African Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae degener (lots of synonyms for this one!), Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara koenigi, Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Hoopoe Upupa epops epops and Canary Serinus canaria were at the top of our list. We managed to see all of these, bar the Egyptian Vulture (shakes fist), in five action packed days. We picked up some other interesting species along the way. We didn’t sample as much of the marine environment as we would have liked but we did see Angel Sharks Squatina squatina, Giant Rays and some large Whales without going on a dive so not bad at all! Our search for wildlife brought us to every corner of the Island; from the spectacular Famara cliffs in the north to the active volcano in Timanfaya National Park to the south. This blog gives a day by day account of our trip, highlighting the best places to see wildlife on the island based on our experience and from the collective wisdom of the wildlife reports we had.
Day One 7/11/2014
Dublin – Arrecife – Puerto del Carmen – Playa Blanca – El Rubicon – Janubio
We landed in Arrecife at 10:25am so we had plenty of time on our first day to explore. We collected our rental car at the airport. We rented a five door Ford Fiesta for five days from Goldcar that cost us a whopping £54.35! There are also buses to most of the locations mentioned here. We headed straight for the Tisalaya apartment complex in Puerto del Carmen where we had booked a one bedroom apartment (with three beds, well two beds and a couch). We booked this through alpharooms which gave us a discount on the rental car. Cheap, cheerful and clean: sorted! Our first bird was a mighty Feral Pigeon Columba livia domestica and we saw a pair of Kestrels Falco tinnunculus dacotiae on our short drive to Puerto del Carmen. We were pretty wrecked from our early flight so we decided to head to Punta Pechiguera lighthouse in Playa Blanca. We navigated through Lanzarote with an OS map and our sat-nav. As our sat-nav was a few years out of date (Europe 2013 map installed) it was missing some of the new roads but Lanzarote is pretty small so it’s not hard to figure out where you are. On our way to the lighthouse we spotted some Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis just outside Puerto del Carmen and Brian caught a glimpse of a solitary Southern Grey Shrike from the back seat. We heard the lighthouse was a good spot for Cory’s Shearwater and sure enough we saw over 100 of them on arrival. This was a new species for all of us (the joy of living in the landlocked county of Carlow) so it was a good start to the trip. Without a scope the views would have been rubbish but, to be fair, it was in the heat of the day. We found the scope extremely helpful but not absolutely essential for Lanzarote. Peter spotted a pair of Bertholot’s Pipit shortly after, feeding around the rocky shore. Bertholot’s Pipit was one of the most common species on the island and can be quite easy to get close to. We counted about a dozen Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis amongst the Shearwaters but nothing else. Atlantic Lizards Gallotia atlantica seemed to be common here and we saw Painted Lady butterfly Vanessa cardui and some Red-veined Darters Sympetrum fonscolombii.
There wasn’t anything else stirring at the lighthouse so we decided to move on to the nearby Rubicón desert plain. This isn’t the best desert habitat on the island and most birdwatchers head to the Teguise plains in the centre of the Island. However all the desert specialist species are found in Rubicón and it was close to the lighthouse so we decided to give it a go. It isn’t as a very scenic plain and at the start of our exploration we didn’t see a thing. We thought this might be a cruel omen for what was to come; desert wildlife really makes you work! The ground was rock, not sand and hard under foot. We could see more welcoming habitat with some vegetation ahead, so we carefully walked for about half an hour or so to get to it. As we neared the oasis (petrol station visible across the road on the other side) our patience was quickly rewarded. We saw five Cream-coloured Coursers and two Houbara Bustards almost simultaneously. Lanzarote is perhaps one of the best places to see Houbara Bustard in the world so I didn’t think we would have any trouble finding them but I was a little less optimistic about Cream-coloured Coursers, a species that eluded many people in the bird reports. We got excellent views of both and were pretty happy. A couple of the ever present Bertholot’s Pipit were also hanging around as well as a colourful grasshopper Dericorys lobata.
Incredibly we still had some time to play with and we moved on to the nearby Janubio Salt Lagoons (Salinas/Laguna de Janubio). The locals collect sea salt here for export and it is probably one of the best sites on the island for waders, grebes and duck with a real chance of an oddity. We parked at several different locations along the road looking down on the lagoon. We spotted a huge flock of Black-necked Grebes Podiceps nigricollis, 35 Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus, 12 Redshank Tringa totanus, 5 Greenshank Tringa nebularia and 2 Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. Undoubtedly the highlight was a pair of Ruddy Shelduck at the far end of the lake. The view was horrendous, two red dots, but it was still a thrill to see such a rare bird. The light was fading fast so we headed down to the black volcanic sand beach, Playa de Janubio, to catch the sunset. It was stunning. Not a bad way to cap an excellent first day. In our excitement we did not eat anything the whole day so we rushed back to Puerto del Carmen. We headed to the nearest restaurant of which the most notable feature was a projector screen playing Coronation Street (?). The food was a bit expensive and we were met with confusion (which was to become normal) by our waitress who couldn’t wrap her head around what we were doing in Lanzarote. We ate out the odd time but we had a kitchen in our flat so we cooked most of our meals.
Day Two 8/11/2014
Muñique – Sóo – Haría/Tabayesco Famara cliffs
On our first full day in Lanzarote we decided to check out the more well-known desert plains on the island. We were up at 6 and arrived to our destination, just outside Muñique, at about 7. We walked along the dirt track from the main road (which you can drive on). We saw at least 7 Houbara Bustards and got terrific views of them in flight. We also encountered a large flock of Linnets Carduelis cannabina and Lesser Short-Toed Larks Calandrella rufescens which were difficult to approach. We got another view of a Courser and we all got to see Southern Grey Shrike. There were at least 5 Shrikes and they seem to be very common on Lanzarote. Three Ravens Corvus corax tingitanus flew over and a lone Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus which was a nice surprise. We strayed a good distance from the car here so after getting back we decided to drive on and check out another part of the plain. We headed north past Sóo towards La Caleta de Famara and parked on the side of the road. A short walk and we saw a pair of Bustards, Cattle Egrets and a Kestrel. Birdwatching in the desert can be a little tedious; we had enough of looking at sand, so we topped off the afternoon by heading to the spectacular Famara cliffs.
The Famara cliffs are the best place to see Barbary Falcon, Eleonora’s Falcon and Egyptian Vulture. The higher altitude has more vegetation as well so it’s good place for passerine species. On the way to the cliffs, just before Haría, we pulled in at a Conifer plantation that is noted for Canary and African Blue Tit. We didn’t have much luck but connected with (classic bird report term) Robin Erithacus rubecula and Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (not the endemic species found on the other Canary Islands). Frustrated we headed further north and stopped at another Canary/Blue Tit site on the road between Haría junction and Tabayasco. It’s not much too look at and we didn’t see a thing. I saw a lone Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata that Brian and Peter missed, they had never seen one before so the dipping continued. We continued on to the last site before we got to the cliffs. I wasn’t sure if we would make it back to this part of the island and I was becoming wary we would miss a few of the island specialities. I was the organiser so it was my burden! We stopped on the other side of Haría junction and went for a short walk next to some farmland. We saw 4 Spectacled Warblers which was some consolation. On our way back to the car I saw a small flock of passerines, chased them down and saw that they were Canaries. Boom. Probably about 10 or so in a fig tree, we all got a good look and we were pretty happy to see a Canary on the Canaries.
Dusk was approaching so we made a dash to get another evening in at the Famara Cliffs. We parked at Mirador del Rio and walked south along the cliffs. The view is insane. We walked along and saw some Ravens and a Kestrel. Brian found a falcon in the scope, initially we couldn’t make out if it was a Peregrine (also found on Lanzarote) or a Barbary. Brian confirmed it to be a Barbary just before it flew off (typical) as he could see the rusty colour on the back of the neck. It was dark by the time we got to the car and we were all pretty happy to have seen the falcon despite the poor views. The view from the Mirador is worth the trip alone. Happy with the day’s efforts, but Stone Curlew and African Blue Tit had slipped through our fingers.
Day Three 9/11/2014
Costa Teguise golf club – Teguise plain – Puerto Calero – Haría/Tabayesco – Famara cliffs
The next morning we tried something different, we didn’t want to spend/waste the whole trip on a wild Stone Curlew/African Blue Tit chase. We headed for Costa Teguise Golf course to see Barbary Partridges. We weren’t that keen on entering the golf course without permission so we pulled in at the side of the road before the entrance. No sooner had we hopped out of the car than I saw a small group of them (5+) and we got decent views. At least 3 or 4 Painted Lady butterflies were spotted also – a species we saw many of throughout the trip. A quick look around and we hopped in the back of the car to hunt for Stone Curlew! We checked out the main Teguise plain, it was pretty windy so we didn’t stay long but saw more Larks, Bustards and Shrikes. We decided to head to Puerto Calero to go on a submarine trip I had read about (link below). It was booked out so we booked it for the next day. The lads saw Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis for the first time so they were happy enough. We walked along the coast between Puerto Calero and Puerto del Carmen and picked up Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus , Turnstone Arenaria interpres, Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, Common Sandpiper and more Shrikes. BE CAREFUL. The sight of three guys with binoculars, cameras and scopes next to a beach at a sun destination can arouse suspicion!
We picked up some lunch and made the longish trek back to the cliffs. We took a different route that brought us back on to the LZ207 (for some reason this road is called the LZ206 on the OS map). We decided to hop off at the same place I saw the Spectacled Warbler the previous day to have a quick look for African Blue Tits. All the bird reports mention that they love palm trees so we walked along the main road towards a prominent palm tree on the side of the road. We could hear some suspicious calls as we approached the tree. The three of us stood around it listening to what we knew was an African Blue Tit. It jumped out for a couple of seconds giving us all good view before it hopped out of sight. We were pretty satisfied so we moved on pretty quickly. We returned to the junction where we saw the Canaries and we picked them up again as well as a Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros and a few Spectacled Warblers. We also came across a lone Small Copper butterfly.
We opted to go to a different point along the Famara cliffs to see if we could pick up Egyptian Vulture or Barbary Falcon. We ended up at Mirador de Guinate. Seriosuly good views but we only managed a few Ravens, a lot of Yellow-legged Gulls and not much else.
Day Four 10/11/2014
Sóo/Nazaret – Sóo/ Muñique – Puerto Calero – Puerto del Carmen – Janubio Salt Lagoons
We allocated this day for the submarine and for some snorkelling. We had booked the submarine trip for late morning so we thought we would start our day with another go at the Stone Curlew . We headed for the Teguise plains and walked a track between Sóo and Nazaret and another track between Sóo and Muñique. We nailed an incredible 18 Bustards in total and had a group of 5 Courser on the Sóo/Muñique track which kept us very happy. Stone Curlew eluded us for another day but we were delighted to get excellent views of a Hoopoe along with the Coursers.
We raced back to the Puerto Calero for the submarine and got more views of Spanish Sparrow and Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto. The submarine trip is quite tacky it has to be said! Don’t get me wrong it was brilliant and amazing for young families. You can’t argue with the wildlife you see underwater. The submarine is Yellow (and they play the song as you submerge) and they take your photograph and give you a dive certificate. I would have loved that dive certificate as a child! We didn’t really mind all that and it was a bit of a laugh. The trip lasted about an hour and we were thrilled to see some huge rays, a couple of Angel Sharks, Barracuda and a lot of really cool fish. We’ve never gone diving before so it was a real treat seeing such large creatures under water. This was a highlight of the trip for me and definitely worth doing, especially in the morning. We grabbed lunch in Puerto Calero and then headed for Puerto del Carmen (where we were staying) to snorkel. I read about this snorkelling spot as being a great place to see fish, sharks, cuttlefish and seahorses. It was hard to find any other information about snorkelling in Lanzarote and a lot of beaches are off limits or not suitable for snorkelling. It’s in the middle of Puerto del Carmen on a very small section of beach which was pretty full of sunbathers (despite it being a cloudy and relatively cold day). We snorkelled for an hour or two and really enjoyed it. The place is full of fish. We didn’t see any sharks, cuttlefish or seahorses but it wasn’t the calmest day and there were a lot of snorkelers and divers about. We brought the GoPro 3 Black with us into the water and it was good to get away from the sand for a couple of hours! We also picked up Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis and some feral Mallard and Muscovy Ducks.
We didn’t have long left in the day after snorkelling se we decided to take a spin up to the Janubio Salt Lagoons. We followed the same route as last time and parked in the same place. This time we walked around the edge of the lagoon parallel to the beach. We got excellent views of Stilts and picked up Red and Greenshank, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Black-necked Grebe and Whimbrel. We kept walking south and followed the lagoon around a little corner to the end. In this little corner Brian found 2 stunning Ruddy Shelduck. We got excellent views and to top it off we saw a single Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta among the Stilts in the same corner. An excellent end to the day!
Day Five 11/11/2014
Nazaret/Tao – Cueva Los Verdes – Jameos del Agua – Famara cliffs – Timanfaya – El Golfo
This was our final full day in Lanzarote and we were determined to go out with a bang. We decided to start the day looking for; you guessed it, Stone Curlew! I was rampaging through all the reports on the lookout for new places to see these elusive birds. We opted to walk a track between Nazaret and Tao. It was a beautiful morning and a slow one! We didn’t see much of anything except for a single Bustard followed by a cracking Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus. Feeling a bit dejected we returned to the car and drove further down the track, stopping every so often to have a scan. We pulled in next to some irrigated fields and had another laborious look for the blasted Curlews. Brian was in charge of the scope and scanned relentlessly every day for us. We were about to give up and move on to something else, all had been lost, until Brian finally spotted a Stone Curlew. It was right in front of us, perfectly still and perfectly camouflaged. YES. 5 days of ruthless searching and we reaped the rewards. We noticed another two Stone Curlew hiding in the low vegetation. They are very unusual birds and you can see from the video how strangely they move, like a burglar tiptoeing through a house. We were buzzing and enjoyed some calling Shrikes and foraging Cattle Egret before we left.
We decided to head up to the north of the island to see the infamous endemic Blind Albino Cave Crabs Munidopsis polymorpha. Passing through Teguise we saw a Hoopoe in flight. We weren’t exactly sure where to go. I thought the crabs were in Jameos del Agua but when we got there all we could see was a huge complex and lots of cars. Not the kind of place you would expect to find crabs! We saw a sign for some caves nearby (Cueva Los Verdes) so we thought that was a good shout. Before we knew it we were on the tour. The cave was nice and ended with a superb optical illusion (which I won’t reveal) but there were clearly no crabs! I really wanted to see them because I love seeing endemic, specialised creatures and the crabs were more unusual than any bird, butterfly or fish we encountered. Brian and Peter were less excited and after going to the wrong cave they were not very excited and wanted to go look for more birds instead. I quickly called my producer/girlfriend (Féaron) in London and she confirmed that the crabs were in fact in the complex of Jameos del Agua. I convinced a reluctant Brian and Peter to pay another entry fee into the complex and our decision was aided by some well-timed rain. It was a bit pricey but I thought it was worth it. They have built a complex of shops, a museum and a restaurant around a pool in the cave. The island born artist and architect Cesar Manrique created the complex in the 60’s. He wanted to give Lanzarote a new kind of attraction by combing nature and art, the result being Jameos del Agua. It’s quite unnatural looking really with mood music being played, lights and loads of people peering into the water but I thought it was great that so many people were interested in seeing the tiny blind, albino cave crabs. It was a unique experience but after not long there we were hit by the familiar pangs of hunger so we didn’t hang around too long before heading off for some lunch.
After lunch we headed for Mirador del Rio at the Famara cliffs. We thought it would be nice to chance for Egyptian Vulture and Barbary again and we knew the views were worth going for alone. We walked south from the Mirador and it wasn’t long before Brian found the Barbary Falcon in the scope. It was quite distant once again and took off pretty quickly towards us. It disappeared from view as it approached and didn’t reappear. I had a notion that it might be visible just below our feet. I walked toward the edge (not getting too close) and peered tentatively over the edge and there it was looking back at me only a few metres away! Not believing my luck I signalled Brian and Peter over and we all got a good view. We saw another two falcons, Sandwich Terns and Ravens before we decided to move on.
We decided to finish off the afternoon at Timanfaya National Park. Most of the postcards for Lanzarote show this park and we thought we had seen everything else on offer so we might as well see everything! More than 30 volcanic craters are found here. Unfortunately when you are driving through the park there are very few places to pull in, the road is raised and the only place you can park is at the park centre where you have to pay an entrance fee. We paid in but because it was late in the day there were no more tours or walks we could do. We watched some demonstrations of the power of the active volcano we were standing on. The gravel was warm, they had a fire pit and a pipe going underground. By dropping some water down the pipe a huge jet of steam would fly back out of the pipe. It was nice to see all the volcanic rock but we probably should have set aside more time to walk around. This part of the island looked completely devoid of wildlife as there was very little vegetation around. Badlands. We didn’t spend as long at the park as we had planned so we had time for one last stop-off; the beach in El Golfo which is just north of Janubio. We were drawn to the site because it was close to the National Park and we could see what looked like a small lake on the OS map.
We walked down to the lake (Charco de los Clicos) which is next to a beach and were surprised to see an unusual green colouration in the water and a rope blocking off entry. The lagoon is an old volcanic crater. The area around here was used as the backdrop for the classic film One Million Years B.C. starring Raquel Welch. There was no real wildlife present but it was cool to see such an unusual feature and we watched another exceptional sunset from the beach so no complaints here!
Day Six 12/11/2014
Arrecife – Dublin
Our flight home was late morning so we didn’t want to go too far out of the way, but didn’t want to leave without using every minute of our time in Lanzarote! Staying near the airport, we went for a walk along the promenade in Arrecife. We picked up Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus, Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Turnstone, Greenfinch Chloris chloris, Sanderling Calidris alba, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Sandwich Tern, Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Spanish Sparrow and Collared Dove. Nothing out of the ordinary but it did bring our trip list to an infuriating 49! Before we hopped into the car Brian spotted blow-hole spray from large whales on the horizon. There were at least 6 whales but probably much more. If we had an extra couple of days we would have gone on a whale watching trip. A friend of mine saw Long-finned Pilot Whales on a boat trip a few years back and said it was excellent. We didn’t really regret it though, in 5 days we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. It was a trip of military precision with a bit of luck thrown in.
The ones that got away
We saw practically everything we wanted to see which was great considering we were there for only 5 days. We didn’t see Egyptian Vulture (I spent 6 months in Egypt and 2 months in Cape Verde without seeing them) but they are now very rare (fewer than 5 pairs) in Lanzarote. We also missed out on Eleonora’s Falcon. Eleonora’s Falcon breed on the islets north of the Lanzarote but they can be seen at the cliffs between May and September. We didn’t see Pallid or Plain Swift but we didn’t go after them, Tahiche and Costa Teguise are supposed to good spots for them. If we had an extra couple of days we probably would have booked the catamaran trip to try and see whales/dolphins or got the ferry to Fuerteventura for a day trip (Canary Island Stonechat).