Punta Hidalgo under the rain

19 04 2012

“We’ll invite the neighbours in
And seagulls by the score”

– I want to marry a lighthouse keeper, Erika Eigen

I go to Punta Hidalgo mainly because it’s a good point for seawatching, but sometimes it’s worth to look also at the waders, specially during low tides. Most of them seems not to be worried about human presence and that brings you the chance to get good views. You can study the moult, try to age them, heard them calling, taking care of their plumages, feeding and even mating.

Last week, there were at least 5 grey plovers, 12 whrimbrels and more than 20 turnstones. Some ringed plovers had also arrived and they were feeding together with the ubiquitous common sandpipers. The place was not crowded as usually, maybe because it was raining. The light was special and the waders looked even more attractive than usual. I looked at them as I look at most of the birds of the island: integrated in their habitats, interacting with each other and with the rest of the environment, specially with the ocean.

When you do so, the next step is to raise your head and look at the mountains. This picture shows the obvious link between both habitats, extremely noticeable in that moment.


La Gomera power!

11 04 2012

Nothing in nature could be studied in isolation. All phenomena is connected”

– Alexander von Humboldt

There are a few places in the world that impact you more than la Gomera. When you cross the tunel in the way to Hermigua, you enter into a big being composed by milions of trees, bushes, birds and insects. Everything is connected and shares the same history, present and destiny. The branches of the laurels have their own trunk, but the same branches and roots.

In the middle of that mess, birds (and specially pigeons) have found a perfect place to breed. When you look from el Rejo, you can see them singing, eating, taking care of its plumage, don’t worried about your presence at all. The former name of the island was Junonia, does it remind you about something? Yeah, the latin name of Laurel pigeon. They are at home and you suddenly get aware of that. The day you spend at la Gomera, you become a part of that and then, late in the afternoon, it’s hard to leave the island. Fortunately, the perspective of seeing interesting seabirds from the ferry between la Gomera and Tenerife makes the goodbye a bit less sad.

Laguna Grande offers to the visitors the possibility of seeing the commonest species of the island at a close range. Chaffinch (what a beautyful subspecies!), Tenerife goldcrest, Canary serin, Robin, Blackbird, Tenerife blue tit, Canary Islands chiffchaff and even the enigmatic Woodcock. They all feed on the bread let by tourists. The only problem is that most of them are ringed…

In my next visit I hope I would know more about plants and invertebrates and enjoy even more the treasures hidden in the rainforest. For the moment, the flowered Pericallis steetzii settled the road sides.

Swimming a lot for dying on the shore

10 04 2012

“Energy in an isolated system remains constant over time”

– Law of conservation of energy, Isaac Newton.

The population of Tenerife is increasing and, as energy, it can’t disappear, just move from one place to another. When people left the middle heights, they colonized the coasts and, while pigeons were tooking profit of that, seabirds suffered the consequences. The gulls succeed in adapting to human presence and even found new sources of food such as rubbish dumps, but tubenoses were not able to do so. The Macaronesia is an extremely important breeding point for Little shearwater Puffinus baroli, Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulweri, Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus and some stormpetrels such as White-faced Pelagodroma marina and Madeiran Oceanodroma castro. The destruction of their breeding  grounds is not only due to new buildings, some mammals introduced by humans are also dangerous: the rats have settled the coast and its hungry doesn’t know limits and the cats, instead of erradicating the rats, are preying on tubenoses’ chicks. However, maybe the main problem is the artifitial light. Each year, lots of chicks and some adults die disorientated when trying to leave the nest or even during migration. They fall into the streets, always under a strong focus of light. Some others can be rescued thanks to the help of sensible people.

More or less one thousand Cory’s shearwater and 35 Bulwer’s petrels are found grounded each year in Tenerife. The Barolo’s shearwater deserves special atention since it’s one of my favourite birds and maybe one of the more threatened species of the island. The graphic below is made out of data from Rodríguez & Rodríguez, Ibis 2009, 151, 299-310. It shows the distribution of shearwaters found per year from 1998 to 2006. The situation is quite dramatic and some measures must be taken the sooner the better.

I had never seen Barolo’s shearwater from the shore until last saturday, when I saw 4 of them. The following days, I’ve seen 2 more Barolo’s and 8 Manx. What will I see tomorrow?

Ode to a Pigeon

6 04 2012

“That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees (…)”

– Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

The history of Laurel pigeon Columba junoniae is a history of hate and love. Before the Spaniards reach the island, the mediterranean warm forest occupied a huge range at the middle altitudes of western Canaries. That habitat was composed mainly by Dragon trees Dracaena draco, Canary Islands Palm tree Phoenix canariensis, wild Olive trees Olea europaea, Savins Juniperus sabina and a great diversity of bushes such as 2 species of Pistachoes and Bully trees Syderoxylon marmulano. The Laurel pigeon used to live in that singular habitat, while Bolle’s pigeon Columba bollii inhabited the laurisilva rainforest.

Unluckyly, those mediterranean areas were the most fertile grounds and humans took profit of that fact turning them into crops and intensive cultivations. The Dragon trees were almost erradicated because its sap was useful for varnishes and dyes. As soon as new species of palm trees were introduced, they hybridized with the endemic ones and it can be hard to find a pure exemplary nowadays. The habitat was near to disappear and the asociated pigeons seemed to share the same destiny. Some of them managed to breed in the laurel forests and Bolle’s pigeons were forced to take in the refugees in their house.

A few years later (in an evolutionary sense), the Canary Islans dwellers were fed up with agriculture. They just can’t compete with the extensive plains of the continent. The ships started to transport products from what seemed an inexhaustible source of cereals, fruits and even technology. It was hard to move the water through the mountains, recovering from rocks, ravines and cliffs. Suddenly, they noted it was always sunny in his island. Beaches were beautyful and the sea was clear as if it comes from the snowy lakes of the highest mountains. Tourists didn’t take a lot of time to discover the wonders of the Atlantic Islands and the cities moved from the middle altitudes to the coasts. Hotels, golf courses and sportif harbours were build as fast as the crops were deserted.

Laurel pigeons look at each other and decided to set up the reconquest of the mediterranean slopes. They found a present let by humans:  Medlar trees and Avocadoes. The fruits tasted wonderful, there were lots of rocks to breed behind and humans seemed to be happy with their new emplacement. The result was an increase in the Laurel pigeon population even it is still endangered as most of endemics.

Fortunately, nowadays it’s not as difficult to sight a purple phantom flying from one tree to another, or from one tree to a rock, or to a medlar… They have become and they are here to stay.

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