miércoles, 13 de enero de 2016

Snapshot impressions

 Canary Island Palm (Phoenix canariensis)

Found in large numbers on the island of La Palma, either singly or in groups, the Canary Palm (Phoenix canariensis) can also be admired in botanical gardens the world over, and is often seen adorning parks and promenades in regions with a suitable Mediterranean-style climate. It is a close relative of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), but does not produce edible fruits. However, the large orange-coloured seeds were once fed to livestock, and the sap (guarapo) is still harvested by night on the island of La Gomera to produce "palm honey".

The Canary Palm is a typical member of the so-called thermophilous vegetation zone, growing at elevations above the coastal scrub, but below the laurel forest. Other representatives of this community include juniper (Juniperus phoenicia), wild olive trees (Olea europaea ssp.cerasiformis), and the emblematic dragon trees (Dracaena draco).

 Summit Bugloss, Echium wildpretii ssp. trichosiphon

The summit of the island, above the tree-line, is at its most colourful in May and June. Several endemic bugloss (Echium) species can be found there, such as the spectacular plant shown above. In an attempt to restore the landscape to its pristine glory, the Caldera de Taburiente National Park has been carrying out extensive re-planting of native flora within fenced-off areas to protect the seedlings from introduced rabbits and/or Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia). This well-intentioned project has unfortunately met with criticism from the island's most eminent botanist, who regards such heavy-handed interference with natural recovery processes as unwise. The work, and the debate, continue...

 An interesting climber, Semele androgyna ("butcher's broom")

In laurel forested areas, in addition to the larger trees and bushes, keep an eye open for the curious liana shown above, endemic to Macaronesia. The small white flowers, apparently sprouting directly from the leaves are, in fact, produced from nodes on what are really flattened stems or cladodes (also known as phylloclades).

 La Palma's own particular breed of goat

In addition to its endemic flora and fauna, La Palma also harbours autochthonous breeds of livestock... and yes, that really is an English word. It's an adjective meaning native or indigenous, and can be used for animals, plants or even people. La Palma's aut..., native breed of goat is particularly well-adapted to the steep, rocky terrain characteristic of many parts of the island. The animals are kept mainly for milk production, from which excellent cheeses are made.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) flocking near one of their roosting sites

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), and smaller numbers of Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) can be observed all year round, although, surprisingly, no-one has ever discovered a nesting pair. It is one of the birding mysteries of the island: do they actually breed here, or not? Considerable numbers of both heron species over-winter on La Palma, as censuses in previous years have shown. One of their regular roosting sites is located along the section of coastline shown above. Another is at an irrigation pond hidden among banana plantations. The census technique consists of waiting at such sites and counting birds as they fly in just before nightfall.

More impressions of La Palma coming up soon.