Friday, 28 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 5: Mammals

Barbary Ground Squirrel (Fuerteventura)
Volcanic islands far from the mainland often have no native terrestrial mammals aside from bats, but the Canaries prior to the arrival of humans had several native terrestrial mammals, and were also almost certainly a breeding site for the Mediterranean Monk Seal, a few of which still breed on the North African coast.  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 4: Reptiles and Amphibians

Tenerife Lizard
Reptiles of various species are usually good at colonising islands, and the Canaries are home to a diverse range of endemic lizards. There are no native snakes, and at present no native land tortoises, although fossil; ones are known. It is probable that in the past various species of sea turtles also nested, but today they are only seen at sea. The most common of these is the Loggerhead Turtle, Caretta caretta, which also breeds in the Mediterranean. There are even a few reports of Leatherback Turtles beaching on some of the eastern islands, but no proof of nesting or nesting attempts.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 3: Insects

Canary Speckled Wood - Tenerife
With the huge variety of endemic plants and habitats on the various islands, it is not surprising that there is an even greater variety of endemic insects. On my trip the weather was not usually sunny enough to bring out a large variety of butterflies and dragonflies, but we still managed to see five species of dragonfly and eight species of butterfly.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 2: Plants and habitats

Tricholaena sp, Teneriffe
The Canaries are famous for their flowers, and although as our visit was in February there was not a great number in bloom, the endemic plants are of great interest to botanists. One might expect the plants to be the same as you would find in Spain or North Africa, but when the islands first appeared above the sea the Mediterranean did not yet exist. Instead, the western end of the ancient Tethys Ocean still separated Africa and Eurasia, and the Atlantic was much narrower. The native flora of the islands, or at least the oldest elements of it, trace their origin to the vegetation that once grew on the northern and southern shores of the Tethys, which has since been obliterated by the northward movement of Africa and India.
Map of Miocene Europe as the Tethys was closing

Monday, 3 March 2014

Quest for the wild canary - part 1: Landscape and geography

Mt Teide, Teneriffe - inside the caldera
The canary is such a common cage bird that I expect hardly anyone ever thinks about where they come from, and I very much doubt that the word “canary” conjures up images of large explosions or the possible devastation of much of the seaboard of the east coast of the United States. However, I hope that by the time these posts are finished, you might have a better picture of the back story of one of the commonest cage birds in the world.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

New year, new births

This week Bristol released the news of the first successful birth of a pigmy hippo here at Bristol for many years. Names Winnie, she has just turned 1 month old and is the daughter of Sirana and Nato.