Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Blue Chaffinch of Tenerife

 I often tend to flick through my well thumbed copy of Collin's Bird Guide, finding something exotic and fancifully thinking that one day I might get to record it. Seeing a bird is rewarding but I feel the need to capture it on pixels  - each to his own as they say. The Blue Chaffinch was one such fancy and not only that, it can be seen at a popular holiday destination - a plan was being hatched. Unfortunately the best laid plans can get waylaid and the Houbara Bustard and Wallcreeper jumped the queue. However, finally, last week I made the trip to Tenerife to record what I think is a stunning bird.
The Blue Chaffinch, Fringilla teydea teydea is endemic to Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands. This bird is also one of the natural symbols of the island. Blue Chaffinches are similar to our own Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs but are noticeably larger, particularly in  the bill. They are characteristically more uniform in their plumage, and they lack a dark cap. Females are a dull grey-brown, but can be distinguished from common chaffinches by their weaker wing bars. Breeding males are unmistakable, with largely blue plumage and a grey bill.
The only other site for the Blue Chaffinch is in Gran Canaria and is ssp Fringilla teydea polatzeki  and it is likely that the species will be split. A simple birder can't keep up with the scientists - eh? The species' primary habitat is mountain Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) forest. It is most common in coniferous forest areas and prefers habitat at around 1,100–2,000 m (3,600–6,600 ft).

The song is shorter and weaker than that of the common chaffinch, and the flight call is croakier. It primarily eats Canary Island pine seeds and given the size of the pine cones you can see why it has such a large bill.
Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) - cone
For the photographers  - I used a Canon 7d Mk II with a Canon 300mm f2.8 lens and the 1.4 ext, which, in hindsight, I should have removed - particularly at the Pinar Chio site - as the birds were happy to approach within the closest focus distance.

Las Lajas

The Las Lajas picnic site is well documented on the web and in Dave Gosney's excellent book "Finding Birds in The Canaries" so I have put the directions after the birds. The Google Maps location can be found here, The site is well signposted from both directions. A word of warning, at present, the main track is a bit rough, in fact sump busting in places - take care.

We visited early morning as, invariably, the sky was clear blue, the downside was that the air temperature was a cool 3.5 degrees C. The upside is that during the week you have it to yourself, in fact I met only two other birders, from Germany, apparently the site is also well known there.

Once the birds come in for a drink the action kicks off as it is not just Chaffinches that visit, African Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs, Canaries and the bullying Great Spotted Woodpecker all have a dire need for a drink and there is a distinct pecking order.



Very inquisitive bird - the sound of the camera shutter elicited this response.


Compared with a Canary it's a large bird.

The Las Lajas site. 

Looking up the main drive - very rough at present.

Drive down until you see the "football pitch"

Park by the rangers hut

The watering hole is at the base of the central pine tree - my camera on the porch shows where I sat.

The small "bowl" on the right takes about a litre and is favoured by the Canaries

At least you are sitting in the sun and it quickly warms up to around 8 or 9 degrees - air temp.

 Pinar Chio

We visited Pinar Chio twice, once late morning and again late afternoon, photographically the afternoon was better - the sun dropping down affords light under the trees and gives a less contrasting light. There are more Chaffinches here than other species, though there are a few woodpeckers and I did record a single Berthelot's Pipit. At the peak of the action I reckon there were twenty birds within the vicinity of the drinking water tap and at least another ten on the periphery.

Pinar Chio site can be found here

Well signposted on the TF38

This was my preferred tap, just fill up the sump and wait.


We also found quite a few birds in Vilaflor, both in the hotel garden and in a small picnic area adjacent to the football stadium across the road. Enter the car park and go as far as you can, in front of you will see some steps leading up to a secluded area. I reckon that we had at least four pairs in the vicinity, all of them fairly confiding. There was also a pair in the deep valley below the service area of the hotel, these two were definitely on a territory - odd that these birds were so much advanced in the breeding season than those further up the mountain.
We stayed at the Villalba Spa - great hotel. As well as the Chaffinch, the garden gave, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Chiffchaff and African Blue Tit - all Tenerife forms.

 Picnic area is  here


  1. Hi Dave

    Mission accomplished!!! Great set of photos. Not too difficult to find then, if you knew where to look.

    Is there a part 2 to come...always enjoy your travelogues.


    1. Hi Trevor
      thanks for the comment - yes - part 2 will be a bit of a pot pourri. Tenerife endemics and a bit of scenery. Managed to get 12 possibly 13 of the targets - dipped the Laurel Pigeon, just ran out of steam after driving all over the island. Just tossing up Madeira or Azores, have you been?

  2. No, but I would prefer the Azores!

  3. Super pics Dave...Love that Blue Chaffy mate.