Wildlife photography around Lanzarote, a few of my findings.
I’m not one of those people that loves to go abroad just to lie in the sun until I frazzle. Don’t get me wrong I love to have a change from the unpredictable UK weather, which tends to air on the side of wet but I need something to occupy my mind other than a sun lounger. Obviously having 2 boys occupies most of my time but when I can, I enjoy nothing more than looking for some of the local wildlife.
So as we did last year, during the June school half term holiday we packed our suitcases and travelled to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Isles. We stayed in Playa Blanca, which is the largest resort on the island and at the same hotel as the previous year. For those that know this area we were right on the western edge of the resort near Papagayo Beach. It was on the headland at Papagayo that I managed to photograph the Atlantic Lizard (above), which you can find in good numbers on Lanzarote. Sometimes known as Purpurarian Lizard or Haria Lizard, if you venture out into the scrub you shouldn’t find them too difficult to locate. There are some really impressive males with azure blue flank patches.
The hotel was great, all-inclusive so you can eat your weight in food whenever you wish…and drink and be merry from dawn ’till dusk. They also have a ‘kids club’, the 2-3 hours in which the kids have a great time and the adults are free to frazzle to their hearts content. Not me though, these are the few hours that I venture out and try and photograph some of the local wildlife.
With Lanzarote being a volcanic island it doesn’t have a huge variety of wildlife, but it does have a few speciality birds that I’d love to see. On my daily ventures out I wanted to stay relatively close to base, to allow the longest time at the location to see what I could find. I’m certainly not an expert naturalist, mediocre at best but love nothing more then wandering around in an area that I think might be productive and see what I find.
I love finding wildlife but for me managing to take a photograph is the ultimate challenge. I’d say I have 4 rankings in terms of my bird images;
- ‘I did see one…honest’ – basically zoomed/cropped to the maximum but I’m happy that it leaves little doubt of the species in question.
- ‘Screen Ready’ – These images are zoomed in less but still a large crop. I’d be reasonably happy to show someone online but they wouldn’t stand up to being printed.
- ‘Nearly but no cigar’ – Little or no crop, sharp but usually bird at wrong angle or something obscuring the bird. Maybe a cluttered or annoying background…etc
- ‘Happy with that’ – Not often I say it, but when I do I must be ‘happy with that’. Little or no crop, sharp where it needs to be, well composed, nice angle/pose and complimentary background.
In situations like these with no pre-planning and with little experience of an area I usually expect to come home with mainly Rank 1 images. If I can get some Rank 2 for showing online that’s great, any Rank 4 would be amazing. I don’t like Rank 3 because they just annoy me!!
My holiday ‘local patch’.
The main place that I visited was the salt pans at Janubio, this is just over 10 minutes by car from the hotel and I thought offered a good chance of a few species.
Most of the time I parked at the north end as there is a large car park. It was only when I viewed Google Maps that I realised I could park by following the rough track off the LZ-2 and park at the southern side. So what did I see at Janubio? As with most of Lanzarote, on initial inspection it seemed sparse of birdlife but with a bit of perseverance there are things to be found.
Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt (20+), Berthelot’s Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Grey Heron, Kestrel (pair) and my first ever Trumpeter Finch.
I found the most productive area to be around the rocky outcrop near the south car park, where on the map you can see the water forms a small outlet from the main lake.
Lanzarote Eco Insider – A great birding day out.
Lanzarote in terms of a birding ‘hit list’ for me would be Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser and Barbary Falcon. These 3 birds I looked for last year (not that hard) but had no luck at all. So this year I thought I would have a look and see if there were any local guides that might be able to point me in the right direction. So literally two days before we were due to travel I booked a morning group trip with Lanzarote Eco Insider. This turned out to be the best decision I made. Carmen collected me from the hotel at 8am and we met met up with the others in the group. They have 2 large Land Rovers and make sure that all guests have a window. Most of the trip was spent in the desert part of the island, in the area near Sóo, leading out to the coast and believe me Land Rovers are a great choice, there is no way they could have taken us to some of the areas without them.
There were 3 of us plus Carmen in our vehicle, a gent from Leicester and a lady from Leeds. Neither were birding experts, they just fancied seeing the island and seeing a few birds. Carmen was so knowledgeable about the island as well as its wildlife. I learnt a great deal and it gave me ideas for days out with the family for later in our stay. We had so many laughs and there was never a dull moment.
As a side note. I had very low expectations in terms of photography on this excursion, it wasn’t advertised as a photographic trip and I was purely there to hopefully see one or two of the species on my hit list. As it happens we got much closer than I had expected and I think if the wind had been a little calmer I would could have got some really good shots.
So what did we see? Within the first 5 minutes we were being asked to look for a very inconspicuous bird motionless in-between the grass and rocks…Stone Curlew. I’d seen Stone Curlew many years back in the UK at Weeting Heath but at a great distance. These were much closer and through binoculars very clear. Stone Curlews are great in that they think if they keep motionless then they somehow become invisible. So once you have found them you’ve got plenty of time to observe them.
Next we ventured into territory fit only for a good 4×4. Obviously sticking to tracks as opposed to driving across potential nesting grounds we were on the lookout for something even more exciting. Target bird was the Houbara Bustard, which is the size of a small Turkey. Now with this in mind you’d think it would be a fairly easy bird to see…not the case!!! The total population for the whole of Lanzarote is approximately 400 birds, so the best way to increase your chance is to hook up with an expert local guide. I think we managed to spot 4-5 separate birds, which was fantastic.
So after being incredibly chuffed to add a new species of bird to my Life List the challenge was on to try and add a second bird…Cream-coloured Courser. Again another Lanzarote speciality, the Canaries being one of the few places to see this great looking bird. Again they are surprisingly hard to spot as they blend in really well to their surroundings.
As you can see the tones on the bird match very well with its surroundings. Once we got into the correct habitat we probably saw 15 Cream-coloured Coursers, again new for me.
Whilst driving through the desert area we spotted a fair few other great birds, Lesser-short Toed Lark (another 1st), Barbary Partridge (1st), Hoopoe, Berthelot’s Pipit and a good number of Southern Grey Shrike. It was this later species that I was lucky enough to get some good close-up encounters with during my visit. I even managed to film a short clip which I was happy to allow Carmen and the team at Eco-Insider to use on their stunning new promotional video. My clip might only be small but see if you can find it 🙂
Whilst we were driving around Carmen was constantly giving us information about not only the wildlife but also the history and other interesting facts regarding Lanzarote. One of the main attractions of Lanzarote are the volcanoes and there are many organised trips to the most famous Timanfaya. Chatting on the trip I told Carmen that my 2 boys would love to see a volcano but I was concerned about the amount of walking involved for Ollie, who was only 4. Carmen recommended a much smaller but easily accessible volcano, the Volcán del Cuervo, that she thought would be better for Ollie, you could even walk into the crater.
This sounded great and I took note for later in the week, she also told me that there was possibly a pair of Barbary Falcons nesting along the rim of the crater, so now this was definitely a trip we’d do. I’ve left the location image above a little wider so you can locate easier. You turn off the LZ-30 onto the LZ-56 and there is a small car park (top of the picture). It’s then a fairly leisurely 20 minute walk along a defined footpath which leads straight into the crater of the Volcán del Cuervo. There are even a few information boards along the path. To make things even better it’s all free of charge.
So 2 days later we decided to go and explore Volcán del Cuervo. It was a lovely walk and fortunately it wasn’t a scorching hot day, which made the walk even easier. As we were approaching the crater I could hear the call of a Falcon, as I looked up I could see 2 birds flying away from us at a great height. As we finally walked into the crater, again I could hear the birds, their calls echoing in the skies above.
It became clear that there were at least 2 falcons in the crater, I presume a breading pair. The size of the crater meant the birds were very far away but still great to see. You can see on the image below the rufous crown, clearly different to the dark crown of a Peregrine.
Visiting the volcano was fantastic, we all enjoyed it. Ollie, my 4 year old even managed to point out ‘a Lizard’, in fact what he had seen was a Lanzarote Gecko or Eastern Canarian Gecko. Unlike the closely related Moorish Gecko, which you often see around the lights on balconies or Villas when holidaying in other parts of Europe. The Lanzarote Gecko is much more conspicuous, hiding under rocks and in crevices. On this instance I was too slow to get a photo as I was looking up at the Falcons as he was looking down at the Gecko…typical!
We all had a great holiday and for those interested in Wildlife photography, Lanzarote can seem baron, it is a challenge but there are potential great rewards. A couple of other great birds, seen at a distance though, were Canary and African Blue Tit. There are other species that I missed, Eleonoras Falcon and Egyptian Vulture, to name two that I would have loved to have seen. Maybe next time!
Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you enjoyed a few of the photographs.