TRIP REPORT, HIGHLIGHTS OF A WEEK ON LA PALMA, CANARY ISLANDS, 2 - 9 February 2013

 

The idea was to find some winter sun and as many of the La Palma/Canary Island endemics as we could in the space of one week. The small group consisted of Teresa Farino, David Dennis, Neil Thompson and myself, Peter Bygate. Accommodation had been booked for the week in the medium-sized town of Los Llanos on the western side of the island.

 

La Palma is a small, tear-drop shaped island formed around the dramatic Caldera de Taburiente rising to 2,421 metres lying in the path of the north-east trade winds which give rise to frequent rain on the east coast and in the north, whereas the western and southern aspects tend to be sunnier and drier. Indeed, this was very much our experience on this trip, often found out the hard way!

 

Pieris cheiranthi ssp. benchoavensis, Canary Islands Large White

This species was seen in several locations in the northern 'half' of the island including sites near to Santa Cruz and around Los Llanos in the west. The habitats it occupied were varied, ranging from the deep, dry Barranco de las Angustias and the more lushly vegetated Barranco del Jurado to the south of Tijarafe in the west, to the barrancos leading down to the north-east coast. Our experience in the north-facing wet barrancos containing Laurisilva forests seemed to redefine this 'classic' relationship between cheiranthi and this habitat as none were seen, but the species was present in the more open deciduous woodlands immediately below the laurisilva belt. Another association perhaps to be redefined concerns the larval host plant for cheiranthi: Teresa had watched and photographed (see above) a female cheiranthi apparently trying to oviposit high up on a clump of Descurainia millefolia - a hitherto unknown foodplant - but was this crucifer being used instead of the apparently more favoured Crambe strigosa, not a trace of which had been seen since we arrived? (Teresa has subsequently witnessed the same attempted behaviour in Tenerife and, more unexpectedly, believes to have seen cheiranthi in the Juego de Bolas botanical garden on La Gomera where it has been absent for the past 30 years. Crambe was also present although no eggs or larvae were found). Finally, we discovered that Rumex lunaria, a medium-sized shrub with highly reflective leaves, was favoured as a resting place by cheiranthi (and also Pieris rapae) affording them superb camouflage.

Cyclyrius webbianus, Canary Blue

This species was encountered throughout the island, the highest altitude being around 1,000 metres at the Ermita Virgen del Pino in the centre of the island.

 

Gonepteryx cleobule ssp. palmae, Cleopatra

The north-east barrancos produced most sightings of this butterfly although it was by no means a regular sight with perhaps no more than six individuals being seen across three separate locations. Photography was also difficult as they stopped rarely and then only fleetingly but David managed to rattle off a few shots of a male nectaring on yellow Jasmine in the barranco to the immediate south of Los Sauces.

 

Parage xiphioides, Canary Speckled Wood

A common butterfly of open woodland and hillsides though not seen in the southern part of the island.

 

NEW TO LA PALMA

Cacyreus marshalli, Geranium Bronze

Apparently not previously recorded on the island, a single individual was seen and photographed by Peter in the shallow Barranco del Carmen on the north-western outskirts of Santa Cruz. Pelargoniums grew locally both as occasional naturalised hedgerow plants and more abundantly in a cottage garden on the LP101 no more than ½ kilometre from the sighting. Confirmatiion of the record was duly given by the 'Species Champion'.

 

Other species seen:

Pontia daplidice, Bath White, only 2 or 3 sightings

Pieris rapae, Small White, common

Colias crocea, Clouded Yellow, a singleton in the north-west spotted by Teresa

Lycaena phlaeas, Small Copper, seen at four locations mostly as singletons

Zizeeria knysna, African Grass Blue, seen at, and just inland from, Puerto Tazacorte in the west

Aricia cramera, Southern Brown Argus, at a single location near Las Tricias in the north-west

Danaus plexippus, Monarch, in Los Llanos suburbs and the nearby Barranco de las Angustias

Danaus chrysippus, Plain Tiger, three sightings, all in flight, around Los Canarios in the south and in the vicinity of Puerto Tazacorte

Vanessa vulcania, Canary Red Admiral, occasional sightings on the east: the first butterfly of the trip spotted by Neil nectaring on tree-heather

Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady, not common seen mostly on the south-west coast

Vanessa atalanta, Red Admiral, just one, seen by Teresa

This article was previously published in the Newsletter of the European Butterfly Group