sábado, 23 de noviembre de 2013

Flora and vegetation

Aeonium nobile

Ever since the first expeditions by Victorian naturalists, the flora of the Canary Islands has maintained its exotic appeal . The English botanical artist Marianne North was among the first to depict the curious plants she observed on Tenerife, where, in 1875, she devoted several months of her prolific career. The results of her work can be admired at the  Marianne North gallery in Kew Gardens. 

Nowadays, with the advent of global travel, the flora of these islands is perhaps no longer quite so "exotic" as it once was, yet there are still various plants which have a distinctly "African" feel, and others which evoke tropical rainforests...

As a result of the climatic variations due to altitude, the vegetation on La Palma can be classified into five clearly recognnisable zones or belts... plus a handful of other ecological niches not strictly dependent on altitude (watercourses, rock faces, etc.). The five zones in this simplified system are, in ascending order: coastal, thermophile, laurel forest, pine forest, and summit scrub. On the leeward side of the island, isolated from the humid influence of the Trade Winds, the third zone (laurel forest) is absent, and pine forest consequently extends over a larger area.

The first photograph at the head of this post shows one of the most spectacular members of the Aeonium genus, A. nobile, a species exclusive to La Palma. These succulents are generally found at lower elevations, typically clinging to ledges on rock faces, especially on the arid, west side of the island.

Euphorbia mellifera var. canariensis

Laurel forests are particularly rich in endemic plants; one of the most unexpected elements in these subtropical woodlands - since most other spurges on the Canaries are confined to dry, coastal areas - is the Euphorbia species shown above, a plant with a very restricted distribution on La Palma.

La Palma Violet, Viola palmensis
Undisputed star among the island's endemisms, the "La Palma Violet" even features in a well-known local legend. These pretty little plants flower profusely on the summits of the island in May and June.

Summit broom, Genista benehoavensis
Above is another high mountain specialist, endemic to La Palma. In this particular broom species the golden-yellow flowers are tightly clustered, and the foliage is greyish-green in colour, making these bushes easy to differentiate from the more abundant codeso brooms (Adenocarpus viscosus) which dominate the slopes above the treeline.

All five of La Palma's five vegetation zones are still well represented on the island: why not consider a guided walk to identify the key species of each zone?

jueves, 21 de noviembre de 2013

Contrasting landscapes

The cascade of Trade Wind clouds spilling over Cumbre Nueva
Lying in the path of the NE Trade Winds, and reaching altitudes of over 2,000 metres above sea level, the island of La Palma has a drier, leeward side, and a wetter, windward side. Above is a typical landscape on the sheltered, west side of the island. The cloud cascade visible in the background is a well-known local phenomenon often associated with strong Föhn winds. The characteristic forest on the leeward side of the island is Canary Pine (Pinus canariensis).

An area of lush laurel forests in Cubo de La Galga
In striking contrast to the west, the generally cloudier east side of the island harbours some of the best-preserved laurel forests in the Canaries. These lush, subtropical woodlands are unique to Macaronesia, and are home to numerous endemic plants and various endemic bird species. Avian highlights of La Palma's laurel forests include Bolle's Pigeon (Columba bollii), the Laurel Pigeon (Columba junoniae), the palmae subspecies of Chaffinch, and the palmensis subspecies of African Bluetit.

Whilst finding the local Chaffinch in La Palma's laurel forests presents no difficulties - if you're eating, it usually finds you - getting good views of either of the two pigeon species is not so easy. Luck, as always, plays a role, but thorough local knowledge of the best locations at a given time of the year is a more reliable way to ensure good views of these attractive birds.

In a half-day tour, I can lead you to spots where both Bolle's and the Laurel Pigeon can be observed well.

Bolle's Pigeon (Columba bollii)


One of the commonest birds on the island, the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocepahala)

"La Palma Nature Tours" is the companion to "La Palma Birds" (http://lapalmabirds.blogspot.com), which is primarily concerned with migratory bird sightings on La Palma.

The present blog focusses mainly on the island's resident bird species, as well as on other aspects of local flora, fauna and landscapes. It is designed to highlight the attractions of La Palma not only for birders, but also for natural history enthusiasts in general.

The island is famed for its rugged mountainous terrain, criss-crossed by an excellent network of hiking paths, but there are also pine and laurel forests to explore, and picturesque rural areas seemingly caught in their own particular time warp.

If you are impressed by what you see in the following posts, or are planning to visit the island in any case, you might wish to consider a personalised full- or half-day tour of the island. I am a freelance guide with many years experience. Please feel free to contact me at: grajaland@gmail.com