Day 2 |
Apr 26, 2012

La Gomera, Canary Islands 

By Chris Harbard, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: N 28º 05', W 17º 6'
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 18ºC
Wind: 10 knots

A fairly early start this morning meant that it was not quite light when I had breakfast but by the time I disembarked and joined the buses the sun was up. Silver Explorer was berthed at San Sebastian on the island of Gomera, one of the smaller islands in the Canary island group. Like all of them, it is volcanic in origin with towering peaks in the distance. Soon we were driving out of town, climbing ever upwards, past walls lined with purple and red flowers. The landscape was fairly barren with scrub-covered rocks and bare volcanic soil. In the distance clouds covered the far hills as the bright sun began to shine. As we climbed more of the landscape became visible, and we could see some small peaks, which our guide told us were volcanic domes, left behind millions of years ago.

The vegetation was interesting, with introduced cacti mixed with a variety of native Euphorbia plants. After a quick scenic stop to look down on a small village in a valley, we entered some tunnels taking us through to the next valley. As we emerged from these, the transition took my breath away, suddenly there were trees – conifers and laurel trees, and everything was so green! I couldn’t believe the fertile valley that now ran alongside us. The guide explained it was all to do with the prevailing weather and rainfall that benefited this valley but not the previous one. However as there had been no rain during the usual wet winter months, everything was drying out and the dams that usually held brimming reservoirs in spring held back little water. As we came to the town of Agulo, the vineyards and banana plantations looked parched.

The scenery of Gomera is spectacular and its volcanic origin is clear with huge pillars of basalt making up the rocky walls in almost any direction. We stopped to take photos at one view point that looked towards the neighbouring island of Tenerife and I suddenly noticed some slim black birds swooping overhead. With their pointed wings, streamlined shape and fast flight they could only be Plain Swifts, a special bird, found only on the Canary Islands and Madeira – fabulous! As we climbed up though terraces of crops, many of which had been abandoned, the vegetation began to change again with tree heathers now joining the other trees.

Soon we reached the National Park of Garajonay, our first destination and I was pleased to get off the coach and join the guests in a proper walk, through the lush laurel forest, so peculiar to these islands. Gomera, although a small island, holds one eighth of all of the world’s laurel forests so it was a privilege to be there. The thin trunks of the laurel trees stretched above me, and the leaves of this relative of the bay tree, shaded all of us from the sun. I could hear birds singing and calling and was able to identify, Canarian Chaffinch, Canarian Chiffchaff, and Canarian Blue Tit, which I managed to see. These are all species or subspecies that are peculiar to the Canary Islands. As we emerged into the light at a clearing in the park I noticed several wild Canaries, singing from the top of a nearby tree, and I was able to point them out to guests. These birds are named after the islands rather than the other way round, and are less colourful than their caged counterparts.

We left the park and continued our journey, which now took us round to the south of the island, offering fantastic views of the peak of Tenerife’s Mount Teide, emerging from some distant cloud. We descended to the Playa de Santiago where we stopped at the Hotel Jardin Tecina, originally established by Fred Olsen, renowned for establishing the banana trade from here, as well as setting up the first inter-island ferries. He purchased land on Gomera for this and also set up the botanical garden/arboretum in which the hotel now stands. After some refreshing drinks and biscuits, we were taken in groups around some of the paths and a hotel guide told us about just a few of the amazing plants and trees gathered from all around the world.

Then it was back to the ship for lunch, after which there was just time for me to quickly run through the talk I was giving, entitled “Birds of Macaronesia”, the group of islands which includes all of the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. The talk focused on some of the special birds of the islands we would be visiting and looked at their lives and conservation. A little later came the first Recap & Briefing, which gave us an outline of our day on Lanzarote tomorrow, as well as several short presentations about things we had seen and done in the last two days. Then it was time to get ready for the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner. Everyone dressed up in their finery for the occasion and we were introduced to some of the ship's senior staff before enjoying a sumptuous dinner.