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Butterflies of the Canary Islands, 2022-2023 (2 Viewers)

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Staff member
United Kingdom
Unfinished business. Despite the success of a multi-island butterfly/birding trip the previous winter that had notched up almost all the available endemic butterflies and birds, a couple of little niggles left a feeling of job not quite done - primary among them that I had only managed views of a female Gran Canary Blue Chaffinch. And to my way of thinking, a brown Blue Chaffinch is not a Blue Chaffinch :) On top of that, I had also failed to photograph a couple of the endemic butterflies, namely Canary Red Admiral and Canary Blue.

So with these points in mind and, even more, that the Canary Islands also offer just about the only mid-winter possibility to see a good range of butterflies in Europe, it was a return to the sunny Canary Islands for three weeks over Christmas/New Year. Visiting only Tenerife and Gran Canary this time, the basic plan was for a fairly relaxing mix of birds and butterflies on Tenerife, then a concerted effort on the chaffinch on Gran Canaria.
 
DAY LOG


17 December.


Evening flight Vilnius to Barcelona, arrived way after dark, not a bird or critter to note.



18 December. Tenerife.

Pre-dawn flight Barcelona to Tenerife-North. Arrived 10 am, picked up a car with the excellent Cicar car rental company, then out of the airport and into sunshine and 26 C. No time at all later was on the south coast at the Santa Cruz Palmatum, a quaint botanical garden set on a small hillock aside the sea. Cracking start to butterfly action - as well as plentiful Small Whites, an amazing number of African Grass Blues, an absolute minimum of 250 active on virtually every patch of grass and barren land. Strolled on round the gardens, Canary Island Chiffchaffs and Atlantic Canaries two-a-penny, then bumped into the main butterfly sought at this location - attending flowering bushes, a colony of Monarchs, perhaps 25 in all. Also five Lang's Short-tailed Blues, a fly-through Red Admiral, three Painted Ladies and a couple of Canary Island Speckled Woods, the latter the first of the endemic island species.

A few hours here, plus a largely birdless walk along the seafront (two Black-headed Gulls), then shifted to the south-west of the island, stopping for a walk down the barranco adjacent to Golf del Sur. Hot and arid, pretty uneventful from a bird perspective, but did add a few more butterflies - one Clouded Yellow, about eight Bath Whites and 20 Small Whites.

And that was it for day one, headed to Playa San Juan and checked into an apartment for the next eight days. Nine species of butterflies this day, above expectations.
 
19 December. Erjos.

Working remote this first week, excursions out and about in gaps between. Up to the laurel forests and the neighbouring scrubby fields at Erjos this day, pleasantly surprised to find it green and lush, supporting far better numbers of butterflies than on previous visits. One of my main goals on this trip was to photograph Canary Red Admiral, so l was particularly pleased to find on arrival an overgrown bramble field full of flowers that was proving a magnet to butterflies - not only dozens of Painted Ladies, but both standard Red Admirals and Canary Red Admirals! On my previous trip, I had only seen two Canary Red Admirals in three weeks, yet here were several together. Moderately photogenic too, bar the requirement to scratch legs to smithereens on the brambles. Wandering up towards the laurel forests, it was clear that butterfly numbers really were better than the year before. Most abundant, 80 or so Small Whites and at least 50 Long-tailed Blues, but also several more Canary Red Admirals, five Canary Speckled Woods, a couple of Southern Brown Argus, one Small Copper, a Clouded Yellow and, among the highlights of the day, one male Canary Brimstone and, a major prize, one Canary Large White, the latter unfortunately becoming an endangered species. Regrettably, both the Brimstone and Large White were highly mobile and I didn't get to see either settle, indeed the Large White simply vanished over laurel trees and down an embankment, never to be seen again.

Small White 80+
Canary Large White 1
Clouded Yellow 1
Canary Brimstone 1
Small Copper 1
Long-tailed Blue 50+
Southern Brown Argus 2
Red Admiral 3
Canary Red Admiral 8
Painted Lady 45
Canary Speckled Wood 5

Eleven species of butterflies, pretty good for Canary Island standards. Also several Bolle's Pigeons here giving excellent views, plus Tenerife Robins, Tenerife Blue Tits, Atlantic Canaries, Canary Island Chiffchaffs, etc.
 
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20 December. Playa de las Américas.

Short excursion into the tourist hole that is Playa de las Américas, manicured lawns, palm fringes, abundant boutiques and choc-a-bloc traffic congestion. Small park in centre did offer some relief - small colony of about 10 Monarchs, a dozen or so Small Whites, one Clouded Yellow and about eight African Grass Blues. Three Nanday Parakeets too. That was all for this day, worked otherwise.

Monarch 10
Small White 12
Clouded Yellow 1
African Grass Blue 8


21 December. Las Portelas-Masca.

A day hiking in the De Teno mountains, basically the same massif as Erjos, just a little to the west. Started above Les Portelas on a trail up into the laurel forests - both Bolle's Pigeons and Laurel Pigeon, plus Tenerife Goldcrests and other forest birds. Initially quite quiet on the butterfly front - plenty of Small Whites and Canary Speckled Woods, along with reasonable numbers of Long-tailed Blues, but beyond that, just a couple of fly-by Canary Red Admirals. Fortunately, stopping at various roadside patches between Las Portelas, diversity thereafter increased nicely - Small Coppers, Bath Whites and Painted Ladies all added, plus the first Geranium Bronze of the trip (on geraniums in Los Portelas village). Top butterflies however were two Canary Brimstones, one a very photogenic individual nectaring on flowers. Gorgeous deep oranges showing nicely in the sunshine.

Success continued later in the evening - parking the car in Playa San Juan, I noticed some butterflies flitting around a small shrub on a traffic roundabout. 'Hmm', thought I, 'they look like ….' Wandered over and indeed they were, three African Migrants preparing for roost. Superficially Brimstone like, this is a rare species in the Western Palaearctic, usually only in Sub-Saharan Africa, but with small numbers regularly on the Canaries. As with African Grass Blues, they are predominantly in urban areas, so a roundabout was not totally unusual.

Small White 100+
Bath White 2
Canary Brimstone 2
African Migrant 3
Small Copper 2
Long-tailed Blue 25
Geranium Bronze 1
Canary Red Admiral 3
Painted Lady 5
Canary Speckled Wood 20

Other birds this day included a pair of very cooperative Barbary Partridges, two Berthelot's Pipits and Common Buzzard.
 
Good to see a roundabout getting the recognition these under-recognised habitats deserve.

Any pix of the pigeons?

... and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Jos

Cheers
Mike
 
19 December. Erjos.

Working remote this first week, excursions out and about in gaps between. Up to the laurel forests and the neighbouring scrubby fields at Erjos this day, pleasantly surprised to find it green and lush, supporting far better numbers of butterflies than on previous visits. One of my main goals on this trip was to photograph Canary Red Admiral, so l was particularly pleased to find on arrival an overgrown bramble field full of flowers that was proving a magnet to butterflies - not only dozens of Painted Ladies, but both standard Red Admirals and Canary Red Admirals! On my previous trip, I had only seen two Canary Red Admirals in three weeks, yet here were several together. Moderately photogenic too, bar the requirement to scratch legs to smithereens on the brambles. Wandering up towards the laurel forests, it was clear that butterfly numbers really were better than the year before. Most abundant, 80 or so Small Whites and at least 50 Long-tailed Blues, but also several more Canary Red Admirals, five Canary Speckled Woods, a couple of Southern Brown Argus, one Small Copper, a Clouded Yellow and, among the highlights of the day, one male Canary Brimstone and, a major prize, one Canary Large White, the latter unfortunately becoming an endangered species. Regrettably, both the Brimstone and Large White were highly mobile and I didn't get to see either settle, indeed the Large White simply vanished over laurel trees and down an embankment, never to be seen again.

Small White 80+
Canary Large White 1
Wow thought large white was pretty much extinct on Tenerife now: +/- only on la Palma
 
Wow thought large white was pretty much extinct on Tenerife now: +/- only on la Palma
Extinct on La Gomera, still regular records on the northern slopes of Tenerife, though far from common. It was not a species I expected, though am also looking for them on the northern slopes near Puerto de la Cruz where there are more reports in the last couple of years, albeit usually a month or so later. No success here so far.
 
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22 December. Erjos.

Between remote work, pleasant strolls around the Erjos area again, once again a good selection of butterflies and birds. Much sought after, encountered my first Canary Blue of the trip too, not a cooperative individual however. Photographs would have to rely on finding another.

Totals for the day:

Small White 80+
Bath White 2
Clouded Yellow 1
African Migrant 2 (Playa San Juan roundabout at roost)
Small Copper 3
Canary Blue 1
Long-tailed Blue 35
Southern Brown Argus 1
Red Admiral 2
Canary Red Admiral 5
Painted Lady 40
Canary Speckled Wood 8

Pretty good for birds too, near continual Bolle's Pigeons at the laurel forest edge, up to 15 at once early morning, plus one Laurel Pigeon late afternoon. Also three Barbary Partridges, abundant Atlantic Canaries and Canary Islands Chiffchaffs, etc. Highlight however, alerted to look at the skies by a mewing Common Buzzard that took my eyes from butterflies, an impressive flock of about 70 Plain Swifts cruising across valley the early afternoon.
 
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23 December. Mount Teide & Playa San Juan.

After a few hours of work, Mount Teide was calling this day, I climbed initially to 2000 metres at the well-known Las Layas picnic area. Set in mature pines, this is perhaps the easiest place to see Tenerife Blue Chaffinch …and indeed it was, two pairs seen almost immediately, one pair at the small drinking pool, the other on a forested slope opposite. Tenerife Goldcrests, African Blue Tits, Atlantic Canaries and Great Spotted Woodpecker all seen in pretty short order.

Didn't expect much else here and certainly not any butterflies - generally butterflies are absent at this altitude in winter. As the morning warmed however, a butterfly I did spot … and not just any butterfly, but a cracking Canary Blue, number one species that I wanted to photograph. This species is common on Tenerife in the summer months, but rare even at low altitudes in winter - it certainly shouldn't be flying at 2000 metres! But a splendid butterfly it was, happily nectaring at flowers for as long as I was there.

Quite content with that, I then ascended to the crater area, saw zilch except Great Grey Shrike, so then decided to return to sea level and explore the town of Playa San Juan. Good move, not only were there at least five African Migrants on their favourite roundabout, but I found a scrubby gully running inland from the main beach area. And full of butterflies it was - at least 150 African Grass Blues, two Small Coppers and one very nice Geranium Argus.

Teide
Canary Blue 1

Playa San Juan

Small White 25
Bath White 2
African Migrant 5
Small Copper 2
African Grass Blue 150+
Geranium Bronze 1
Painted Lady 3
Canary Speckled Wood 1
 
24 December. Barranco del Rey, Punta de Rasca & Playa San Juan.
Attempt to find Plain Tiger. Arrived at Barranco del Rey way too early, the gorge still heavily shaded. Waited on the lip till 10.00 am, a couple of Small Whites flying by, otherwise just Rock Doves and African Blue Tits company. Still shaded, so wandered up the slope - hadn't expected much on the arid open slope, but in a shallow gully there flew exactly hat I was hoping to see in the gorge ....one splendid Plain Tiger gliding effortlessly from one clump of Canary Lavender to another! That was a bonus indeed. Also Small Copper, a couple of Southern Brown Argus and a Bath White at the same locality.

And doubly fortunate it was because, as the sun climbed and I then tried to explore the barranco, I found it not very accessible, blocked by steep rock walls and full of very thick vegetation! Gave up and walked along the ridge, several Small Whites and Bath Whites, a couple of Painted Ladies, one Long-tailed Blue. No further Plain Tigers.

A little bit later, down at the coast, I walked the barren volcanic headland at Punta de Rasca …scenic, lots of Bath Whites, several Clouded Yellows, a few Berthelot's Pipits, but pretty scant in the way of anything else. Still, at 25 C and continuing sun, a very pleasant walk. Then to conclude the day, returned to Playa San Juan, photographed the African Migrants on their roundabout as they came into roost, added one Monarch to the day tally.

Barranco del Rey

Plain Tiger 1
Small White 25
Bath White 8
Clouded Yellow 1
Small Copper 4
Long-tailed Blue 1
Southern Brown Argus 3
Painted Lady 2

Punta de Rasca
Small White 10
Bath White 25
Clouded Yellow 6
Small Copper 1
African Grass Blue 2
Long-tailed Blue 1
Painted Lady 3

Playa San Juan

Monarch 1
Small White 5
African Migrant 4
 
25 December. Mirador de la Grimona, Chanajiga, Pista la Bermeja & La Orotava.

Christmas Day and, if forecasts were to be believed, the last day of unbroken sunshine and high temperatures for a while - the promise was of an exceptional storm hitting over subsequent days.

So to celebrate, a day in the north of the island, starting at the well-known Mirador de la Grimona for the customary roadside stop to stare at the laurel and bush clad slopes above. Didn't take long for the desired birds to appear, first a fly-through Bolle's Pigeon and then, rather better, four Laurel Pigeons that flew in and landed in a couple of lofty dead trees centre stage.

From then on, it was butterflies all day - at Chanajiga, another well-known haunt for Bolle's Pigeons, a long walk produced an impressive haul of Canary Red Admirals, along with a Canary Brimstone and a number of other species, near on 200 butterflies in all. Next up, a trip a few kilometres east to Pista la Bermeja to search for Canary Blues at about 1300 m altitude. Needed to walk several kilometres, almost all devoid of flowers, then very much at the point I was about to turn back, I found a big flower patch on loose scree …and, along with Painted Ladies and Small Copper, there flitted two very much desired Canary Blues, both nice confiding individuals. Canary Red Admirals on the walk back to the car.

Concluding the day, headed down to the town of La Orotava and more specifically to the Jardínes del Marquesado de la Quinta Roja, ornate gardens close to the centre of town. Aside these, in a flower-rich gully, a wonderful collection of butterflies to round the day off - not only a bunch of Monarchs and plentiful Small Whites, along with yet another Canary Red Admiral and several Canary Speckled Woods, but two very nice Lang's Short-tailed Blues, only my second ones this trip.

Chanajiga
Small White 150+
Canary Brimstone 1
Red Admiral 4
Canary Red Admiral 15
Painted Lady 10
Canary Speckled Wood 25

Pista la Bermeja
Small White 10
Small Copper 1
Canary Blue 2
Red Admiral 1
Canary Red Admiral 2
Painted Lady 4
Canary Speckled Wood 3

La Orotava
Monarch 6
Small White 15
African Grass Blue 4
Lang's Short-tailed Blue 2
Canary Red Admiral 1
Canary Speckled Wood 5
 
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