Familiar in the Unfamiliar

I was recently lucky enough to have a short trip to the island of Tenerife, one of the group of islands known as The Canary Islands. This small Atlantic archipelago lies about 100km from the west coast of Morocco and nearly 3000km south of Britain. It’s always interesting when travelling anywhere to see and hear the local birdlife. As The Canary Islands are a popular holiday destination I suspect it’s a place that many garden birdwatchers from Britain have visited.

While on Tenerife I needed to get to a small town called Tamaimo about 515m above sea level in the mountains along the northern part of the west coast. It was about 8km from where I was staying so I decided on an early morning walk. Walking through the local town in the quiet of the early morning the first birds were very familiar, a pair of Collared Doves called from a TV Aerial above a typically white apartment block on a residential street. This species was the one encountered most frequently over the next couple of days. I was amazed at how tame some had become.  Whilst I sat in a beach-side cafe I watched as two landed and dropped to the floor of the cafe, foraging for crumbs on the open-roofed cafe floor.  They barely seemed to register the holidaymakers as you might expect a Feral Pigeon or House Sparrow to do in Trafalgar Square.

Manicured roundabouts invariably held a pair of Blackbirds as did the numerous Banana plantations bordering the winding mountain roads. A male House Sparrow was a nice surprise on a garden fence and seemed unconcerned as I walked past. I peered into many gardens but didn’t see any garden feeders which surprised me considering the number of migrant British that seem to have taken up residence along this coast. From one lush garden filled with palm fronds and flowering Bougainvillea the unmistakeable sound of a male Blackcap singing trickled out and small flocks of Common Swifts darted past, often at head height all morning.

House Sparrow near pool
Common Swift

Higher up as the roadside opened out into ‘scrub’ filled with cacti and hardy bushes two small birds flicked across ahead of me into a small bush. Lifting my binoculars there was no mistaking an adult and juvenile Blue Tit, another familiar bird from the back garden at home. However the Blue Tits on Tenerife are a different species to those back home, they are African Blue Tits with different islands holding slightly different populations. The main difference is a much darker, almost black crown compared to the birds back home.

What familiar garden birds have you found in unfamiliar surroundings far from home?


Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.