Wildlife photography around Lanzarote

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. Therefore 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.

Photograph of Atlantic Lizard
Atlantic Lizard near the hotel

Playa Blanca – Papagayo Beach

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.

Photograph of a Southern Grey Shrike bird
Southern Grey Shrike

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;

  1. ‘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.
  2. ‘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.
  3. ‘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
  4. ‘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.

Car Park locations at Janubio
Car Park locations at Janubio

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.

Photograph of a Trumpeter Finch
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.

Photograph of a Black-winged Stilt bird
Black-winged Stilt on the Janubio salt pans.

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.

Stone Curlew on Lanzarote
Stone Curlew on Lanzarote

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.

Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulate in the Sóo desert Lanzarote.

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.

Photograph of a Cream-coloured Courser bird
Cream-coloured Courser

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.

Picture of Hoopoe Bird
Hoopoe are a fantastic bird.

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.

Location of the accessible Volcán del Cuervo with parking at the top.

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.

Photograph of a Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret picking scraps at El Rubicon

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.

Photograph of a Barbary Falcon
My first ever Barbary Falcon

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.

A distant but amazing Barbary Falcon

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!

Photography of Berthelots Pipit bird
Berthelots Pipit

We all had a great holiday and for those interested in Wildlife photography in Lanzarote, it can seem baron. It makes for 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.





Eagles and Otters and Hares…oh my! – Wildlife Photography

Isle of Mull Wildlife Photography Holiday

It’s been a busy time of late in the world of Vivid, and I apologise for the lack of blogging. Hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll have a ‘blogfest’ and be back on track!

We’ve been working on a lot of different Vivid projects but thought I’d do a quick blog from my recent trip up to the Isle of Mull. My friend and I went with my mate Pete Jones to try and photograph some of the local wildlife.

I’d visited Mull about 13 years ago with my then girlfriend, now wife Dawn and it’s somewhere I always wanted to return to to try and photograph some of the wildlife, especially the White-tailed Sea Eagle, which is one of the rarest and certainly most impressive birds you’ll see in the UK…..if you’re lucky.

Me with my big lens!

It is Remote

After about a 9 hour journey we arrived at where we were staying, in a cottage on the Ross of Mull, 5 minutes walk from where the above photograph was taken. We were in the middle of nowhere but with great views and hopefully great wildlife photography opportunities close by.

So lets cut to the chase and show you a small selection of my favourite photographs from my week.

Common Sandpiper
Curlew, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella

Mull’s Wild Flowers

Mull has a great selections of wild flowers, and numerous species of Orchid’s can be found at this time of year.

Heath Spotted Orchid by Graham Ella
Fragrant Orchid, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella

My Favourite Finds

The two main species that I really wanted to try and see and if possible photograph were Otter, which I had previously photographed on the Shetland Isles a couple of years ago, but only managed a few frames, and to be honest wasn’t completely happy with my results. The second, and top of the list was White-tailed Sea Eagle….. so here you go.

Otter, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella
White-tailed Sea Eagle, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella
White-tailed Sea Eagle, Loch Na Keal by Graham Ella

Landscape Photography

When not searching for, and photographing the wildlife, there’s time for a little bit of landscape photography too;

Pennyghael Shore, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella
Sunset over Scoor, by Graham Ella
View from the headland by Graham Ella

For those of you with young kids, like me, then you may not know where Mull is but there’s a pretty good chance your kids will recognise the main town of Tobermory or as they’ll know it Balamory. When I got home, all excited about the wildlife I’d photographed, my 3 year old’s eyes lit up with excitement when he saw….

Tobermory….I mean Balamory by Graham Ella

Enough of Penny Pocket and Archie the Inventor… back to the wildlife. Not a brilliant photo but you’ve seen Eagles and Otter so here’s the Hare.

Mountain Hare by Graham Ella

Ticked off

In the middle of the week, I managed to take a photo of a creature that I hadn’t planned on photographing, we actually became quite close for a day or so… as I found it eating me!! A Tick. Being from Manchester, I thought my days were numbered, my life flashed before me. Apparently they are pretty common, and the Nurse laughed that my cure for the Tick was to cover it in Savlon and stick a plaster on it! Isn’t that how we sort out all accidents?

Tick by Graham Ella

Yes, I know it makes me cringe when I look at it too!! It was my leg after all. Typical photographer though, make sure you get a photograph before thinking about how to get it out!

Lapwing by Graham Ella
Meadow Pipit, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella
Snipe, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella

One of the birds I’ve never seen and certainly wasn’t expecting to see was a Corncrake, so I couldn’t believe my luck to find this male ‘calling’ in the grass. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time! Again not the closest of views but as I said seeing one of these birds in the open is pretty rare.

Corncrake, Isle of Mull by Graham Ella

Final Thoughts

Mull is such a great place, and I’d recommend it to anyone that wants peace and quiet, great wildlife and friendly people. A few shots to finish off and thanks for looking at my ‘non work’ blog.

Swallow by Graham Ella Isle of Mull
Swallow by Graham Ella
Juvenile Wheatear by Graham Ella
Juvenile Wheatear by Graham Ella

A final shot of the moment the Sea Eagle swooped and took a fish.

White-tailed Sea Eagle by Graham Ella
White-tailed Sea Eagle by Graham Ella

Now back normality. If you would like to find out more about more about Vivid’s commercial photography offering, please visit Vivid’s corporate photography page.