segunda-feira, 20 de setembro de 2010

Faial (II)

Just some days after the expedition to São Jorge, it was time to go back to Faial to get the pitfall traps, with Pardal. We decided to head first to the Cabeço do Fogo transects. On day 1 we did these transects and on day 2 we did the Caldeira transects (ahh the Caldeira, what a nice hike again) and so, we had 1 free day to have a touristic tour around the island, with a lot of stops for geocaching - of course!
We visited Praia do Almoxarife and the North-East area of the island, where there were many wrecked buildings to the common earthquakes. According to Pardal, that area is one of the most unstable areas of the island and it is not recommended to live there.
Among the most interesting sites of Faial, the Capelinhos area is by far one of the most interesting as from one moment you are in a typical humid azorean area, with loads of green, and suddenly you see yourself in the desert! Very nice!
Not very far Capelinhos and Cabeço do Fogo there is Furna Ruim, where we stopped by to see the Furna and to log a cache.We took the time to go to Varadouro on our way back to Horta, where there were some natural pools. I didn't take my swim shorts, but maybe next time I visit the island I won't forget them because it was a nice place to swim. And yup - you guessed - another cache! After this stop, and still en route to Horta, Feteira had the next one, that was successfully found between Erica bushes guarded by a lot of Argiope bruennichi! Regarding geocaching, Faial contributed with 4 marbles to add to my marble collection.
A final note to the Horta marina, widely known for its paintings. I had the chance to visit this site previously, but since this expedition has a greater cultural and touristic component due to the interactions with Pardal, a great conoisseur of all the Azorean sites, and the absence of Paulo, so this is the the right post to insert a picture of the Marina.

domingo, 12 de setembro de 2010

São Jorge (I)

Right after the Faial expedition, and just after the weekend, off we were to São Jorge. The crew's itinerary was similar, with the difference that Kostas decided to take the plane, due to the traumatic experience of the last boat trip to Faial. This time we went on the Express Santorini (the ferry boat), which was slower, and the sea was smoother, so the trip was nice and not so long. In the photo: Cabras' Islets, south of Terceira.
We stayed in Casa do António hotel, in Velas. It was a very cosy place, as the place was more like a family home than an hotel. Here we could try to grab some araçás, a fruit from an introduced plant. It tastes a bit like a loquat (pt: nêspera). One very nice thing was the free cakes we could grab, when we got back to the hotel after a day full of fieldwork, especially the typical biscuits from São Jorge, "espécies" (see here), very nice! The field lab was located in a house that belongs to the Environmental Services (so I remember but not sure...).The first site we did was the Topo reserve, with 2 transects. After walking along some Cryptomeria plantations and pastures we arrived. It reminded me of Morro Alto in Flores or Graminhais in São Miguel, as the trees were very short. It was a very nice day here, as the sun was only intermittent with some foggy periods, especially in the morning. It was relatively easy to walk around here also, compared to other sites. The vegetation was the usual one, with the extra of some specimens of Euphorbia stygiana in one of the transects. Here I tasted the fruits of Vaccinium for the first time. Although a bit acid, they are quite good and juicy! Some extra food, organic and endemic!
The next day it was raining and we spent the day - or days, I don't recall - sorting in the field lab, like in Faial. The last site to be done would be the Pico do Pinheiro, with 2 transects on Erica dominated forest. We started off the days pretty well, with a shining sun above us. However, when we were finishing the last transect, one of the most huge rainfalls came down on us. We were only about 5 or 6 pitfalls from the end, so we decided to take it on. We were below tree cover, but still, there was no escape, as it was thick rain. Everybody was wet from head to toes. Sadly, there are no photos of this, but it was too stressfull for kodak moments here... Ironically, these were the last traps to be set in all the BALA II fieldwork, and this was the worst rainfall ever.
Later in the week, Isabel Amorim joined us to give an oral presentation to the locals on cave species of the Azores, but the whole staff but Paulo (who also had a presentation to give) returned to Terceira before that, as we finished the fieldwork in a good time. This was not a consensual decision but no big deal for me.

sábado, 4 de setembro de 2010

Faial (I)

After Sandra was with me the past 15 days, it was time to return to work (uhhh, I don't think I have left it in the past days, though... :/ ) and go to Faial, for another BALA II expedition.
This time, the team was upgraded to "International level" as François Rigal and Konstantinos Triantis (a.k.a. Kostas) joined me, Pardal and Paulo for the trip.

On the way to Faial, since - yet once again - someone had to take the propilene by boat, all of us except for Paulo (who else?) took a ride on the agitated sea of September 30th, with a stop in Pico and São Jorge. It was the most harsh boat ride so far, with many people in the Hellenic Wind barfing and seasick. Among the 4 of us, the only casualty was Kostas, who went to the bathroom 2 or 3 times. Gladly, there are no photos of this day...

We stayed at Hotel do Canal in Horta, and I must say that this was most likely the most luxuriant hotel that we have stayed in so far! And with a huge and diverse breakfast!
Our field lab was situated in the Botanical Garden of Faial, which was a nice place to see endemic plants of the Azorean archipelago. We decided to check the hardest site first, because of the unstable weather conditions latter on the week: the Caldeira! Its geomorphology is impressive, as it is large and all visible from its top. It is literally an island within an island, as there is no surrounding patch of laurel forest around it. The descend is more than the vertical 400 meters, it isn't much but the steepness is remarkable at some points (puff puff). Of course that going down is much easier, but if you consider that the ground is slippery because it's wet and you are carrying a load of materials for the fieldwork, you also gotta be careful because you can easily break a limb or something worse... As we started going down, we were greeted by the endemic tree species, like the Juniperus brevifolia, Erica azorica, Ilex perado spp azorica, Vaccinium cylindraceum and Frangula azorica, which is called "sanguinho" (small-blood) in portuguese, due to the red colour of the interior of the stems of this plant.
Once we reached the interior of the Caldeira, we needed to set up the first transect in an Erica forest, and after we were surrounded by spiny bushes (Rubus ulmifolis, les ronces, fait chier sa race!) we decided to relocate that transect closer to the margin of the Caldeira. After setting it up, with Paulo and Kostas doing the beating and the rest of us digging the pitfalls, we had a very nice and peaceful break to have some combat food, near a small water course.
The second transect was built as we started our way up, since it was in the path to and from the interior of the Caldeira. After we set up all the traps Paulo and Kostas had already finish the beating and the 3 of us started the climb up. It was a very sunny and pleasant day and when I and Pardal, the last ones of the whole crew, were reaching the top of the Caldeira and saw a lovely moment when the clouds literally invaded the Caldeira, in about 20 minutes, I never saw clouds moving so fast before!
And what a nice climb to finish the day! After this, only a bath, a nice free dinner and a good night of sleep would follow.
The next day, the weather got worse and he stayed in the Botanical Garden sorting some samples from the previous day. Right in the entrance of the Botanical Garden we could see some endemic Azorina (now Campanula, sorry Azores for losing its only endemic plant genus, according to Hanno Schaffer) vidali, a remarkable flower endemic to the Azores, which has probably named Flores when the first explorers stepped their foot in this island and saw the rocky shores covered by this beautiful plant.
After this, we were left with the final site to do, with 2 more transects to set up, and this was Cabeço do Fogo, some kilometers to the West side of the island. The place was filled with the usual invasive species, Pittosporum undulatum and Hedychium gardnerianum, and, therefore, more degraded than the Caldeira. The pitfall trapping of the upper transect was troublesome, as there wasn't many suitable places in the ground, due to the big rhyzomes of Hedychium. La forêt açoriaine est trés enmerdé, as François would say! On one side of the Cabeço do Fogo, the landscape was very nice, as the black rocky ground was covered by a species of gray moss, very soft and fluffy.After these 2 transects were done, François and Kostas went to see Capelinhos but I decided to join Paulo and Pardal for another Tarphius hunt; as I was supposed to come back here in 2 weeks with Pardal to finish the work, I thought that I could do this in another time. This was a very nice week in Faial but also very tiresome because the transects demanded some patience and some effort to be done. My next expedition to this island would certainly be less demanding...
In the flight back to Terceira, note for the clearest sky ever above "the triangle": Faial, Pico and São Jorge were clear, with no clouds above them! Remarkable!