Planning and Timing:
Many people visit the Canaries in the winter but we chose to go in March for breeding species and in hopes of seabird activity, and it was great to watch displaying Houbara Bustards. We originally planned to visit two islands but the distances and logistics involved proved not to be worthwhile, although you could split your visit between Lanzarote and the neighbouring Fuerteventura as the least difficult and expensive option. We felt that a week on Lanzarote was about right, with plenty of time to see the whole island and visit the best sites more than once, and even do a bit of sight-seeing (don’t miss the volcano park).
Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Barbary Partridge, Laughing Dove, Barbary Falcon, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Berthelot’s Pipit, Spectacled Warbler, Canary, Trumpeter Finch. We were successful in finding them all. The only breeding pair of Red-billed Tropicbirds eluded us, but one pair isn’t much of a target!
“A Birdwatchers’ Guide to the Canary Islands” by Tony Clarke & David Collins (1996) – covers all the islands with eight sites on Lanzarote and nine on neighbouring Fuerteventura. Inevitably a bit out of date but still extremely useful. Check recent trip reports for updates on current conditions.
“Crossbill Guides: Canary Islands – I” (2014) – a good overview and general guide but we found it less useful in the field, covering fewer sites. It’s expensive too.
We had copies of several previous trip reports which proved extremely useful, and a good laminated road map of the island.
We flew with TUI from Heathrow since we were restricted to weekend flights for our trip, but we thought the price was exorbitant for their Easyjet-type service. If you check which days of the week the cheaper carriers fly from your nearest airport before you book your accommodation, you may save quite a bit of money. The best bet is probably a flights-and-resort package with a self-catering apartment.
We stayed at Costa Teguise though many birders have chosen to stay at Playa Blanca in the south. There is more greenery in the southern resort which may give you a better chance of finding passerine migrants. However, Costa Teguise is very well situated for multiple visits to the desert area of El Jable and excursions to the north of Lanzarote. Also, short evening visits to the local shoreline came up with shearwaters, terns and a nice daily selection of waders. (La Habana is an excellent restaurant.)
We hired a nine-seater Citroen Jumpy ‘multispace’ minibus at an extremely good price (165 Euros for the week) from Autoreisen who were far cheaper than other suppliers. It was comfortable with plenty of room for nine occupants and enough space for all of our luggage as well. Petrol was slightly more expensive than at home but the island is small enough for this not to matter.
Logistics and weather:
Surprisingly chilly on some days with brisk winds on most. You’ll want warm windproof jackets and gloves in the spring, with options on lighter clothing if it does warm up. No rain. Two people braved the swimming pool; I didn’t.
The local language is Spanish but English is widely spoken. Some excellent dinners were on average a bit cheaper than in the UK. To keep costs down we had breakfast and many lunches in our apartments, and kept the fridge full of excellent local beer.
Driving was (I’m told) easy. There are plenty of petrol stations and they take credit cards. The island is 37 miles x 16 miles with excellent modern roads, though care must be taken along the desert sand tracks where there may be deep soft sand.
The ones you won’t miss:
Lesser Short-toed Larks are all over the desert areas. In the volcanic lava areas and most of the rest of the island the dominant species is Berthelot’s Pipit. Southern Grey Shrike (n.b. NOT Iberian, but there seems to be some confusion over the split) is ubiquitous, you won’t miss it, and Spanish Sparrows are everywhere. Also common: Cattle Egret, Yellow-legged Gull, Kestrel, Hoopoe.
Our trip total of 53 species may not sound very impressive, but a lot of ‘common’ species are missing from these islands and the quality of what we did see was amazing – a most enjoyable and productive trip.
This is the prime desert site in the NW of the island where we easily found all the desert specialities. We enjoyed coming across them one by one over several days of exploring the Teguise Plain around Soo and Tao, but if you want to tick everything as quickly as possible, try the sand tracks just south and east of Munique for flocks of up to 11 Coursers, breeding Stone Curlew with young, and displaying Houbara Bustards. Our only sightings of Egyptian Vulture and Marsh Harrier were near Soo.
SALINAS & LAGUNA DE JANUBIO
This excellent location has extensive working salt pans and a large beach-side lagoon where most of the waders were. Black-winged Stilts were all over the pans, with Ruddy Shelduck pairs and a few Black-necked Grebes. The waders perching on the stone blocks around the lagoon included Ringed, Kentish and Grey Plover, a Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Turnstone.
The restaurant overlooking the pans from the north is worth a mention.. After a long and unproductive walk at El Rubicin we stopped there for coffee and excellent cake, then returned after birding the saltpans for a late lunch which was one of the best meals we had on Lanzarote – highly recommended.
TEHICHE GOLF COURSE
The classic stake-out for Barbary Partridge and we found them without leaving the car-park; a courting pair were running around on a dry stony area beyond the fairway. Also here: Cattle Egret and Hoopoe.
TIAS GOLF COURSE
An excellent area owing to the irrigation and grass lawns. Be sure to drop in at Reception to ask permission to bird there; they are very obliging but they definitely want to know who is out there at all times. We visited twice in a fruitless search for a reported Baillon’s Crake on the main pond but were rewarded with a Woodchat Shrike, Ruddy Shelducks, Common and Green Sandpipers, Hoopoe, Yellow Wagtail and Trumpeter Finch.
MIRADOR DEL RIO
Little visibility of the cliffs from here, it’s mainly a paying-entry museum to showcase the work of the artist and architect Manrique, including the look-out he created.
MIRADOR DE GUINATE
This was much better, producing Barbary Falcon and – for someone else – Red-billed Tropicbird. We also birded the hillside north of the Guinate valley where we found Turtle Doves, Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers.
ROAD UP TO HARIA (past TABAYESCO)
This was a useful stake-out for Canary and African Blue Tit. We also had Spectacled Warblers, Ravens and a flyover Barbary Falcon.
This area NW of Playa Blanca was bleak and rather birdless with a lot of dog-walkers.
LOS COCOTEROS SALT PANS
Very small with little water and no waders. I think the old recommendations pre-dated recent development, so if you are short of time, give this location a miss.
COSTA TEGUISE BEACH
We found a useful car park on the north side of the resort with access to a rocky beach and breakwaters. Hundreds of Cory’s Shearwaters were passing offshore every evening, with Gannets, Yellow-legged Gulls and Sandwich Terns. The sand and rocks held a selection of waders including small flocks of Ringed and Kentish Plover, and singles of Dunlin, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and Turnstone on most visits.
UGA (a village near YAIZA)
This was a handy stake-out for Laughing Dove which had eluded us until we parked in the centre of the village and wandered around the market square. No problem!