Well, I would have gotten home today at a reasonable time (about 8 pm) until I got an email message from United Airlines that our flight to IAD (where I was supposed to change for Chicago) was delayed for 2.5 hours. (It involved something about giving the crew proper rest time.) This means I’ll miss my scheduled connection and have been rebooked to arrive in Chicago at midnight. And then I have to decide whether to try making it home at that late hour (it’s a long way) or waiting at the airport till the trains from O’Hare start running at about 5 a.m.
At any rate, I was relieved to pass my covid test (a rapid test) when we left the ship, as I didn’t want to quarantine in Lisbon until I tested negative. (We had was no covid on our small ship, though two prospective passengers tested positive in Tenerife and couldn’t go on the trip.)
So, in honor of Portugal and its thriving sardine canneries, producing a product I can’t abide, here’s a store at the Lisbon airport that sells only duty free sardines. It’s a pity I can’t abide this malodorous fish.
We are at harbor in Portimão, Portugal, near the southwestern tip of the country (red circle). Tomorrow I fly home around noon:
We had a fine day up in the mountains, consuming a lovely lunch in a country restaurant, touring a museum that used to be a sardine canning factory (the sardine story is fascinating!), and seeing some wildlife. I’m in a rush for our Final Dinner, but here’s some of the wildlife I saw.
Matthew will identify this: I can’t, but he’s a fan of swifts and swallows. Or, readers can tell us:
OMG. Stork City! I have never seen white storks (Ciconia ciconia) so close, or so close to the ground:
Cork oak (Quercus suber). The “6” means it was stripped in 2016; they leave 9-12 years between successive peeling of bark. A cork tree first yields cork at about 25 years of age, but the first two harvests after that yield inferior cork. You don’t plant cork for yourself, or even your children1
The cork bark:
And our own favorite mammal, Felis catus tuxedosis:
and visited a small underground archaeological dig from Phoenician times. There I saw remains of a cat from the 8th century BC:
Here it is below. I believe the earliest evidence for cat domestication is about 10,000 years ago from Cyprus. This one is considerably younger, and these don’t look like cat bones to me, but I assume the experts know what they’re digging up.
Finally, I found a gorgeous stray tabby kitten on the streets of Rabat, Morocco, and couldn’t resist petting it. It promptly crawled into my lap and, purring, fell asleep. I was very sad that I couldn’t bring it home with me (“Rabat” would be a great name for a cat). And I couldn’t do what Muhammad was reputed to do: cut off the sleeve of his robe when the call to prayer came but his favorite cat, Muezza, was sleeping on it.
This afternoon we’re off to Jerez for a sherry tasting (most other folks are in Seville, but I’ve been there.)
Our schedule on and off the ship is packed, which leaves me little time to post either prose or photos. I am, however, saving stuff up for when I return. But I realize it’s not the same as coming along on a real-time trip.
We get up early, rush to breakfast, and usually leaving the ship between 7:45 and 8:15. a.m. Most days we are gone all day up to “cocktail hour”: 7:15. Dinner is at eight and lasts about two hours.
This leaves only time to get ready for bed and sleep, and I feel the want of free time to relax and write.
Yesterday we were in Marrakech, a city that has changed tremendously since I first hitchhiked down here as a hippie in 1972. Now the city is surrounded by newly-build suburbs, and the famous medina, or old town, is a shadow of its old self. It’s crowded with tourists and the grungy but fascinating old shops have largely become small boutiques. I realized just now that this is the 50th anniversary since I came.
Yesterday we rushed through three museums and a botanical garden (15 minutes each!) and had a guided walk through the souk.That’s because it was 2.5 hours by bus each way from the ship to the city, leaving little time for sightseeing and none for wandering. Here are a few photos:
Below: Yves St. Laurent’s home, set in a huge garden, now in the center of the new city. There is also a YSL Museum. Everybody noticed that the visitors were largely beautiful young women (someone speculated that they hoped to be “discovered” as models there, which seems unlikely).
Some of YSL’s sketches, showing the influence of Moroccan dress on his own couture:
Man and woman on motorcycle (taken from bus):
Tiles in a cultural center Note that there is no grout: the white bits are themselves hand-cut tiles:
Jerry has long insisted–quite rightly, to my mind– that biogeographic evidence was critical in leading Darwin to accepting descent with modification, and that to this day it is among the most pedagogically effective tools in teaching about evolution. Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands is the most heralded of his encounters with island biota, and I would argue that his visit to the Falkland Islands was also quite formative of his views. It is less well known that HMS Beagle also called at Tenerife in the Canary islands but that, much to Darwin’s disappointment– for he had long wished to visit the island– the crew was not allowed to land, due to a cholera scare. Despite Darwin’s disappointment, many of the phenomena of island life that so impressed him can be observed in the biota of the Canaries; and we can look forward to Jerry’s return, when he’ll be able to share more photographs of the islands and their biota.
As Jerry has already noted, these are volcanic islands which emerged from the sea and have never been connected to the African mainland to the east. They are thus, biogeographically speaking, oceanic islands: they have received their biota via what Darwin called occasional means of transport— floating, flying, or swimming. The vertebrate fauna of the islands thus consists of birds, bats, lizards, a few now extinct rats/mice, and a single species of shrew. There are no native large land mammals, no snakes, and no amphibians. Endemism (species found only in the Canaries) is quite high, especially among the lizards and land mammals.
The lizards include skinks (Chalcides), geckos (Tarentola), and “true lizards” (Gallotia; they are in the family Lacertidae, lacerta meaning lizard in Latin, and thus are the “true” lizards). All of these have their closest relatives in North Africa and the Mediterranean region, from whence they came. The most interesting lizards by far are those of the genus Gallotia.
This genus is endemic to the Canaries, and is found throughout the archipelago. Some species/populations are endangered or already extinct. There can be up to three species on an island– small, medium, and large– thus coming closest of any to an adaptive radiation; most endemism in the Canaries is of representative forms on each island, rather than a genuine splitting of lineages leading to multiple related species sharing the same island (as Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos do).
The Canaries fall in the Palearctic zoogeographic region, the affinities of most of their fauna being with North Africa and Europe. The Mediterranean Sea is only a partial zoogeographic barrier, and North Africa lies in the Palearctic region (which extends to Japan and Siberia), rather than the Ethiopian region, which comprises sub-Saharan Africa. Within the Canaries, there’s quite a bit of ecological and climatic variation. The eastern islands are dry and desert-like, while the western islands are wetter, with a vegetational zonation of scrub on the coasts with pine forest and the distinctive laurel forest at higher elevations, with an alpine scrub at the very highest elevations.
The following is an annotated bibliography for those who might wish to learn more about the Canaries. It is somewhat idiosyncratic, reflecting my own interests and what I happen to have in my own library, rather than any comprehensive review of the literature.
Books for a broad audience
Bannerman, D.A. and W.M. Bannerman. 1963-1968. Birds of the Atlantic Islands. 4 vols. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at a copy, but this is a classic, with some beautiful plates and a comprehensive account of the avifauna as known at the time. The Canaries are volume 1.
Bowler, J. 2018. Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. The only general guide to the Canaries I’ve seen, but fairly disappointing. The field guide illustrations are photographs, many of which seem inadequate for identification; scientific names are relegated to an appendix; the author misunderstands concepts of island biology; and there is no overall appreciation of the islands’ biodiversity and its origins. Nonetheless, I think it is a must have if you ever make a visit.
Garcia-del-Rey, E. 2018. Birds of the Canary Islands. Christopher Helm, London. I have not seen a copy of this, but the available extracts online show it to be a well-done modern bird guide by a Canarian with fine illustrations. Although general European field guides sometimes include the Canaries, you’d want to have this book with you if visiting.
More technical articles
Most of these, depending on your library access, will be paywalled. Discreet inquiry may yield a copy.
Böhme, W., and R. Hutterer, eds. 1985. Ergebnisse des 1. Symposiums “Herpetologia Canariensis.” Bonner Zoologische Beitrage 36(3-4): 233-606. Zoologischen Forschunginstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn. (Biodiversity Heritage Library) A collection of papers in German, Spanish, and English that focuses on herps, but has more general articles as well. This was published shortly after some of the exciting discoveries of living giant lizards; see Maca-Meyer et al. (2003) for some more recent work.
Boulenger, G.A. 1891. On Simonyi’s Lizard, Lacerta simonyi. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1891(1):201-202. (Biodiversity Heritage Library) A technical description, with illustrations, of a specimen that had been in the London Zoo.
Grant, P.R. 1979a. Ecological and morphological variation of Canary Island blue tits, Parus caeruleus (Aves: Paridae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 11:103-129. On some of the Canaries, blue tits, in the absence of the pine-dwelling coal tit, have shifted into pine forest, and their beaks have become adapted to this foraging substrate.
Grant, P.R. 1979b. Evolution of the chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs, on the Atlantic Islands. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 11:301-332. Presents morphological evidence for ecological character displacement between common and blue chaffinches in the Canary Islands, and that Azores common chaffinches have evolved a more generalized, intermediate, morphology.
Illera, J.C., J.C. Rando, D.S. Richardson, and B.C. Emerson. 2012. Age, origins and extinctions of the avifauna of Macaronesia: a synthesis of phylogenetic and fossil information. Quaternary Science Reviews 50:14-22. Reviews recent molecular phylogenetic work on the birds of these islands, finding that most extant birds are recent (<4 Mya) colonists, even though the islands are much older (ca. 30 Mya).
Lack, D. and H.N. Southern. 1949. Birds on Tenerife. Ibis 91:607-626. A classic paper pointing out many interesting problems of ecomorphological adaptation and distribution, particularly in chaffinches and tits, which have been studied by later workers, e.g. Grant (1979a,b). Less technical and quite readable.
Maca-Meyer, N., S. Carranza, J.C. Rando, E.N. Arnold, and V.M. Cabrera. 2003. Status and relationships of the extinct giant Canary Island lizard Gallotia goliath (Reptilia: Lacertidae), assessed using ancient mtDNA from its mummified remains. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 80: 659-670. Uses ancient DNA to investigate the relationships of the Canary-endemic genus Gallotia.
Here are more photos from my half day in Madeira. This included a visit to the local market and the Palheiro Gardens, acquired by the Blandy (wine) family in 1865.
A wine shop selling Madeira. I missed the Madeira tasting in the afternoon, but they tried only two small tastes (of Blandy’s, I recall):
The market, fish section. Identify the fish. The long eel-like one is a local favorite:
What is this evil-looking fish?
Fruit and veg. Identify the fruit:
Closeup of the purple fruit:
The flower sellers dress in traditional women’s costume for Madeira:
Both the Canaries and Madeira seem big on potatoes, and I love them. The market in Funchal had many types of potatoes. What are these gnarly tubers?
I think these are small red peppers:
Sugar cane, grown locally and used in drinks, as I noted yesterday:
Several varieties of bananas and plantains were on sale:
. . . and many spices:
On to the Botanical Gardens up on the hill. I tried to photograph plants that I was told were endemic, but I can’t be sure of these, and some of them aren’t endemic. Identify, please.
Endemic flower, or so I was told:
Non-endemic tree. The picture below it shows the leaves (needles), which I’m sure some reader can identify:
The Blandy mansion, where the descendants still live. It’s smack in the middle of the botanical gardens, which they own, I think, but hard to photograph because of the trees around it:
Tiny pebbles are laid down by hand in patterns to make a sidewalk. This hand-work is found in many streets in Funchal:
Two species of endemic flowers, or so I was told. I’ve forgotten their names, and I’m not so sure our guide knew the meaning of “endemic” when I told her to please point out to me the endemic plants. These don’t show up, either, when I do a Google image search for “endemic plants Madeira”:
We will have two posts on Madeira based on our one-day visit. This one gives a brief overview and then shows the artistic doors of the island’s capital city.
We have landed in Funchal on the southern part of the island of Madeira, which itself is Portuguese. (With a population of about 100,000,, a cute town, a market, and access to a lovely botanical garden, Funchal is the island’s largest city and its biggest tourist destination.)
Here’s Funchal from the Botanical Gardens about 500 m up the mountain (more on the plants in the next post). The Gardens also houses the still-occupied mansion of the Blandy family, which got rich making Madeira wine (If you’ve drunk Madeira, you’ve undoubtedly had their wine.)
See our ship way below? (Go to next photo)
Our ship (arrow) which is dwarfed by a regular cruise ship:
We were told that when the city was seedier and a haven for sailors, prostitutes, and other such trade, the city fathers decided to encourage people to paint their stores and houses as a way of restoring respectability. Funchal is now plenty respectable and prosperous, and the doors are lovely. Here are a few:
A restaurant with a well fed customer. Can you spot the cat?
Also on a restaurant: a traditional drink for returning sailors made with rum, honey, and sugar. We were told it was served warm, so it would be a hot toddy.
A Berber, presumably from Morocco:
Cats are in many of the door paintings:
A DUCK STORE! I would have gone in, but we were on a tour:
The Duck Store had two duck doors:
A salacious mail slot:
A bookshop with book-y doors:
Can you spot the cat?
These are my two favorites. There were many more doors, but no time to photograph them!
I almost forgot dinner last night. Le menu:
I didn’t feel like eating baby cow, and I’m not much of a piscivore, so I did what one reader suggested the other day: ordered the sirloin steak, which is always available. First, though, a spinach salad:
Sirloin steak ordered rare but cooked medium rare, or even a tad more. It was okay but next time I’m going to order it “mooing”. It’s hard to cook such a thin steak rare on the inside and cooked on the outside.
Sticky date pudding with spun sugar ornamentation. As usual, this was the best course:
[NOTE: Day 1 has not been fully documented yet, though I did show photos of the Botanical Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz.]
These pictures are going to be a bit messy for two reasons: I am using two cameras: my regular Panasonic Lumix and my iPhone camera, and below are mostly the iPhone photos, which are easy to transfer to my computer because I can email them. But I prefer using my regular camera, and you’ll see more from that equipment later. Further, once I get behind on a daily posting—as I am no—then it becomes confusing because I forget stuff and have to look it up.. So bear with me.
Our ship (photos below) is the M/V Sea Spirit, registered in Madeira but owned, I believe, my a British company, Poseidon. It holds only 114 passengers so it’s much smaller than any ship I’ve been on, and very comfortable. It was built in 1991 and then modified later for Antarctic cruises, so it has an ice rating of, I think, 3—smaller than the Amundsen’s, which is the highest for a cruise ship (6). I believe the Sea Spirit does Antarctic trips, but much less often.
You can see our position at any instant at this site: right now we’re heading north away from the Canaries and toward Madeira, which is Portuguese (the Canaries are part of Spain). Then we head east again to Morocco.
The ship from the bow: (Click on all photos to enlarge them)
And from the side:
The dining room, with great views, fantastic service and generally excellent food (they flubbed with the paella, but most dishes are great):
Omelet man! I am eating an abstemious breakfast (and skipped dinner completely last night), but tomorrow I plan to have an onion and smoked salmon omelet for breakfast. Will it match the perfection of Barney Greengrass in Manhattan? (Their scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and onion are ethereal.)
The two-page breakfast menu. It is easy to pig out at breakfast, but I resist. If you want espresso or lattes or other fancy drinks, there’s 24-hour espresso/latte/cappuccino machine in the bar. I get my usual: cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, and bring it to breakfast,
Breakfast today: Salmon eggs benedict. It was good. But who was Benedict:
I see I am writing mostly about food this morning, but I have tons of sightseeing photos which I’ll work in as I get time. Time for posting is very limited on this trip as we’re either eating or gone all day traveling on a bus and walking.
Yesterday we visited the volcanic island of Lanzarote. All the Canaries are volcanic, but this one is almost all volcanic, with almost no vegetation. The locals are mainly engaged in tourism, and were hit hard by the pandemic
Lanzanote in the Canaries:
Lanzarote (UK: /ˌlænzəˈrɒti/, Spanish: [lanθaˈɾote], locally [lansaˈɾote]) is a Spanish island, the northernmost and easternmost of the autonomous Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. It is located approximately 125 kilometres (80 miles) off the north coast of Africa and 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the Iberian Peninsula. Covering 845.94 square kilometres (326.62 square miles), Lanzarote is the fourth-largest of the islands in the archipelago. With 152,289 inhabitants at the start of 2019, it is the third most populous Canary Island, after Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Located in the centre-west of the island is Timanfaya National Park, one of its main attractions. The island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1993. The island’s capital is Arrecife, which lies on the eastern coastline. It is the smaller main island of the Province of Las Palmas.
We first visited Jameos de Agua, an auditorium, swimming pool, and restaurant designed by the local artist César Manrique, who is much revered here. The entire complex is set in lava tubes and is underground. It also harbors a tiny, blind, and endemic “squat lobster” in a salt pool inside the tubes. That species is the site’s symbol.
The bar, in a lava tube:
The auditorium, which seats 600, in a lava tube. The acoustics, I’m told, are wonderful:
A panorama of the auditorium:
A few lights make things dramatic:
Before you enter the auditorium, there’s a natural pool where the blind lobsters live (see below):
Reflection in the natural pool:
More photos of the caves later, except that one pool before the auditorium contains a blind lobster. They are tiny. From Wikipedia:
Jameos del Agua is ecologically important as it is home to a unique and endemic species of squat lobster: The blind lobster Munidopsis polymorpha, a yellow-white and blind crustacean that is hardly one centimeter in length. These squat lobsters are very sensitive to changes in the lagoon (derived from sea water), including effects regarding noise and light. They are also very sensitive to oxide, which can even kill them, and therefore, it is forbidden to throw coins in the water.
A photo, also from Wikipedia. Endemic, tiny, blind, and unpigmented, they show typical features of many animals that live in caves.
This is what you actually see in the cave. The white dots are the animals. Try seeing them! No dice, and photographing them is impossible!
The pool complex past the auditorium, also below ground level but now open to the sky. The water is natural, and is probably seawater as there is little fresh water on the island. They have a desalinization plant, but before that water was brought in or collected by the locals as condensate on the outside of the island’s many volcanos.
The obligatory selfie:
Like all the Canaries, Lanzarote is volcanic, formed successively as the tectonic plates moved over the Canary Hotspot, a gash in the earth through which hot magma arises. (See here for more information about how the islands were formed.) Volcanoes on this island are still active. At 15 million years old, Lanzanote is both the youngest and most active of the islands. Everywhere you look there is lava or volcanoes.
The epicenter for observing the calderas and lava is Timafaya National Park. I have more photos; these were taken from the bus with an iPhone From Wikipedia about the park:
Timanfaya National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional de Timanfaya) is a Spanish national park in the southwestern part of the island of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. It covers parts of the municipalities Tinajo and Yaiza. The area is 51.07 square kilometres (19.72 sq mi), and the parkland is entirely made up of volcanic soil. The statue El Diablo by César Manrique is its symbol. It is the only Natural Park in Spain which is entirely geological. Timanfaya National Park represents a sign of recent and historical volcanism in the Macaronesian Region. The last volcanic eruptions occurred during the 18th century as well as on the 19th century
Before the tour we had lunch in the park’s only restaurant, El Diablo, where the meat is actually grilled over a volcanic vent. This must be nearly unique
Small boiled potatoes with red (hot) or mild (green) sauce, are a local specialty. I love them.
A huge salad (for two!)
Beef, pork, and chicken, with more potatoes and veggies. This is for ONE PERSON. I couldn’t eat it all, and even had to skip dinner that night. The magma-grilled chicken was fantastic. Note the boiled potato with yet a different sauce.
And dessert, consisting of ice cream on top of some delicious granular pudding. It must be a local pudding as well, but I have no idea what it is. Perhaps some local can comment below:
Later we visited the home (now a museum) of César Manrique. That is a post in itself, but do read about the man.
All the houses on the entire island are low and white, with one exception that I may mention later. All the villages look like this. Lovely, no?
Tenerife is one of the seven large Canary Islands, all of which are volcanic in origin and thus formed with no life on them. They are what we biologists call oceanic islands, whose origin means that indigenous species must have derived from ancestors introduced by birds (poop contains seeds), wind, or organisms floating at sea. Such islands are usually rich in indigenous insects, plants, and birds, all of which can get to the island and form new species. Such islands have almost no indigenous amphibians, reptiles, mammals, or freshwater fish, though they can be introduced by humans. (Read the biogeography chapter in Why Evolution is True.)
We have some indigenous plants below, but also many introduced plants that grow like gangbusters here, for the climate is wet, salubrious, and not too hot. I’ll show some of the plants I photographed in the lovely Botanical Garden in Puerto de la Cruz, the second oldest botanical garden in Spain. I didn’t take notes, and can’t identify many of these, but I hope readers can.
First, the volcanic origin of Tenerife. Looming over the island is Mount Teide, a big volcano. It stands at 3,715 m or 12,188 feet. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
If measured from the ocean floor, its height of 7,500 m (24,600 ft) makes Teide the third-highest volcano in the world, and is described by UNESCO and NASA as Earth’s third-tallest volcanic structure.[b] However, as Teide was formed just 170,000 years ago due to volcanic activity following a catastrophic landslide, Teide’s base is actually situated in the Las Cañadas crater (the remains of an older, eroded, extinct volcano) at a height of around 2,190 m (7,190 ft) above sea level. Teide’s elevation above sea level makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world. Teide is an active volcano: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the northwestern Santiago rift. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns, of which the closest are Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz. Teide, Pico Viejo and Montaña Blanca form the Central Volcanic Complex of Tenerife.
A view from near Puerto Cruz;
From Wikipedia: “This 3D panoramic view of Mount Teide was created using SRTM data (160% elevation).”
Puerto de la Cruz, where we stayed the first night at the Hotal Botanico, which is right by the gardens:
And plants. First, the famous Canary Islands “dragon tree“, Dracaena draco, endemic to the archipelago and other nearby areas. I didn’t know of it, but it’s plenty weird. From Wikipedia:
. . . a subtropical tree in the genus Dracaena, native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira, western Morocco, and is thought to be introduced in the Azores.Its closest living relative is the dragon blood tree of Socotra, Dracaena cinnabari.
It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1762 as Asparagus draco. In 1767 he assigned it to the new genus, Dracaena.
Other stuff. Great gobs of Spanish moss, which grows well here.
I’m not sure what this is, but the locals make maracas out of it. Pick the gourd, poke a hole in one end to dry it, and then after a while, when it’s dry, you can shake it and use it as a maraca since the seeds rattle around inside.
A young pineapple (bromeliad):
This is some kind of weird epiphyte, and I have no idea what it is. I hope a reader can identify it:
The flower of a bromeliad:
Below is a strangler fig, Ficus macrophylla, which was represented to us as endemic to Lord Howe, a remote oceanic island between New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand, but it’s found other places as well, notably Australia, where the Lord Howe ancestor undoubtedly came from. I don’t see that this tree from Lord Howe, which has a high proportion of endemic species, is given subspecies status.
But it’s one impressive strangler fig–a killer tree! Look at those roots!
Closeup of incipient palm leaves (I think)
Common blackbird (Turdus merula) singing in the cool of day. I think this is the first one I’ve ever heard, and oh, what a lovely song!
I have no idea what this is, but it isn’t endemic:
A “conch flower”, because it resembles a cowrie. You tell me what it is!
Everyone’s favorite flower, the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), native to South Africa and first described by Joseph Banks (Darwin’s pal):
This looks like a species of Datura, all of them poisonous (“jimson weed” in the U.S.) Lovely flowers, but don’t eat them or the seeds!
I’m not sure what this flower is, but it was gorgeous.
. . . and especially gorgeous when backlit:
Pollinated by bees:
And my obligatory “art shot’: water in a fountain:
More soon, but I have to steal time from sightseeing to post. Today I saw enough sights and left the tour a couple of hours early to wash up, do laundry, and post these photos.