Friday, 16 May 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 13: Warblers and others

Canary Island Chiffchaff
By now it will not surprise readers that there are numerous endemic taxa of warblers on the islands, but at least today there is only one classed as a full species, the Canary Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis. We saw many of these on Tenerife, including in the middle of town, so any birders taking their families on a beach holiday should keep an eye out for it. They breed on the central and western islands, but a separate subspecies, P.canariensis exsul, was formerly found on Lanzarote (and possibly Fuerteventura) but is now extinct. Other Phylloscopus warblers on the islands are only passage migrants for the most part, but we were also lucky enough to see at least two wintering Yellow-Browed Warblers, P. inornatus. Yellow-Browed Warblers have increasingly wintered in western Europe (including even the UK) in recent years, but they do not breed closer than the Urals.
Canary Sardinian Warbler
The habitat on the Canaries includes a great deal of scrub-type vegetation ideal for various Sylvia warblers, and there are several endemic or near-endemic subspecies which we managed to see. Some of them are also found on Madeira, and in addition other species are found on passage or show up as vagrants. We saw all three of the resident subspecies – Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla heineken, Sardinian Warbler S.melanocephala leucogastra, and Spectacled Warbler S. conspicillata orbitalis. The latter is also found on the Cape Verde islands and Madeira, and the Blackcap subspecies is also found in North Africa and southern Spain.

Canary Blackcap
There is some debate around my next species, the Teneriffe Goldcrest Regulus (regulus) teneriffae. The debate centres on whether it is sufficiently different from the nominate species found on the mainland to be classed as a full species or not. At the moment it seems to be mainly classed as just a subspecies. It does look rather different however, and also sounds different. We did not get good views unfortunately – we saw them on La Gomera in the laurasilva forest, where they spent their time flitting through 8m high Tree Heather bushes.

Teneriffe Goldcrest
The most confusing situation however is the various local forms of Blue Tit. Fairly recently the Blue Tits of North Africa and the Canaries were split from those in Europe as African Blue Tit Cyanistes ultramarinus. This leaves the various subspecies on the Canary Islands in a debatable position. The consensus is that the birds on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, which we got good views of, are true African Blue Tits. The status of the birds on the other islands is less clear. They are currently all grouped as subspecies of Tenerife Blue Tit Cyanistes teneriffae, which we also saw, but they are quite distinct in calls and appearance, and some treat them as separate species in their own right. They seem to be doing well on the various islands, and are currently classed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

African Blue Tit
Next week – the penultimate post in this series, and we finally reach the finches of the islands, including the wild Canary.

(images from Wikipedia)

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