We enjoyed a week staying at the wonderful La Palma Princess Y Teneguia hotel, Fuencaliente in South West La Palma. It is located above the impressive sea cliffs and below an even more impressive steep mountain side amidst intensive banana plantations. Although remote, a two hourly bus service stops at the hotel for trips to Faro lighthouse and saltpans as well as up to Fuencaliente and San Antonio volcano. Like most of my holidays I intended to relax, explore and do some birdwatching. The bird list for La Palma is not very long. What it lacks in quantity of species is balanced by the volume of birds which actually reside on this westernmost Canary island - next stop America!
The road to Playa La Zamora and beyond.
This is well worth exploring. Starting at the hotel the numerous Canaries announce their presence straightaway, singing, calling and flitting around constantly. So too another prolific species,the Blackcap. A Little Egret was seen every day, flying amongst the banana plantations. Common Kestrel were obvious as well as another local prolific bird, Grey Wagtail. The Kestrel have an abundant number of lizards to prey upon, hence the large number seen here all week.
The first notable stop is Guanches Banana Co-operative on your right. Every day one or two Berthelot's Pipit were seen either on the car park or opposite, hopping on the wall of the water tank. There were also a pair of Grey Wagtail hereabouts.
As the road descends there is a walled off area of maquis on the left. This held a pair of singing or calling Blackcap, Canary, Chiffchaff and Blackbird. Carrying on the road to La Zamora beach is on your left. Another Berthelot's Pipit was on the wall most days. There is a good area of the original, pre-banana plantation habitat on this road with Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Canary, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. I saw three Grey Heron on a rock at La Zamora as well as a few Yellow-legged Gull.
Returning to the road carry on north. You soon find a lovely bungalow with wonderful terraced gardens. On each side there is extensive natural habitat full of Canary, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Blackbird and Chiffchaff.
It is worth walking further on, to the area where the wide bay beyond La Zamora opens up. This was excellent for seeing and hearing another La Palma speciality, Red-billed Chough as well as Rock Dove. The Red-billed Chough would either be swirling above the steep mountainsides or landing around the sea cliffs. Not a visit passed without seeing them here. Common Kestrel were regularly hunting around here. On your right there is a huge area of low lying shrubs which rises steeply up to around 1800 feet.
Faro Lighthouse and Saltpans.
The bus drops you off here. Every two hours,costing 1.31 euros. They have now built a lovely café which blends into the wild environment. We visited three times during the week. The most interesting species was a probable Little Ringed Plover, a bird thus far, not on the La Palma list. I say probable but more likely definite. Sitting in the café I met a formidable, very knowledgeable birdwatcher from the hotel. I trusted his sound judgement implicitly. He had previously given me lots of sound information about the birds of La Palma. He had just seen a small plover with a yellow eye ring which was clearly not one of the two resident Ringed Plovers. He observed the eye-ring clearly enough when it briefly landed. None of the Ringed Plover's obvious wing bars neither! We went off in hot pursuit and sure enough there was a plover skittishly flying around. We could not see the obvious Ringed Plover wing bars but it did not settle long enough to give us decent views. It sure looked like a Little Ringed Plover in shape and size. The saltpan Ringed Plovers were still settled in the top pan. This was clearly a new nervous newcomer which had not been seen on my previous two visits.
Another long distance traveller was a 'way off the beaten track' first winter Dunlin carrying green and yellow tags. Where did it come from? How on earth did it end up here on the edge of the Altantic Ocean? I saw a Sanderling here on my first visit, as well as up to 6 Turnstone and the two aforementioned Ringed Plover. A Berthelot's Pipit was hopping around the walls of the salt pans and there were always a few Yellow-legged Gull around. Cory Shearwater passage varied from the odd few here and there to up to 40 passing on the 5th March. A Grey Heron was around on the 3rd March.
Fuencaliente and San Antonio Volcano.
The bus takes you up here from the hotel-every two hours[2.10 euros]. It is worth the two hour walk down to Faro Lighthouse through the weird volcanic landscape:stunning! The area around the church was full of Blackcap, Canary, Chiffchaff, Blackbird, all singing, calling or flying around. A Common Buzzard was seen one day as well as my only Collared Dove. Around the impressive volcano there were the inevitable Red-billed Chough, Kestrel and Canary.
The hotel grounds
It is well established with lush gardens surrounding the apartment blocks. Canary, Blackcap, Grey Wagtail, Common Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Blackbird, Chiffchaff all made their presence felt during the week. A pair of Red-billed Chough briefly landed on the edge of the hotel one day. The best two areas were the waterfall garden and the sewage treatment works just outside the perimeter. A pod of Dolphins briefly appeared off the hotel cliffs heralded by a flock of excited Yellow-legged Gulls.
It was a lovely week away from the grotty English weather. It may have only been the end of February/beginning of March but the birds were in full throttle throughout a glorious week of beautiful, sunny weather.