sábado, 30 de abril de 2011

Day 15 - The return

This day was certainly the most afflictive one; around 11 am more or less, the navy ship that would take us back to Madeira and bring the new team of guards arrived. With clouds in the sky and some waves in the sea but still a decent weather, we put the heaviest backpacks and materials in the ship, after some trips with the park’s boat. But, because there are some idiot friends of the navy’s commander who want to do pick-nicks in the Deserta Grande, we had to wait till the end of lunch time to leave the island. Meanwhile, the weather gets worse, the wind increases and the sea responds concurrently. Through the radio the captain of the ship ordered us to go to the ship before the weather gets even worse. To speed up this process the navy ship put their boat in the water. The first to go was the Park’s boat and I and Pedro followed in the navy’s boat. The waves were really bitchy and water was entering through everywhere, and it was only at about half the trip that someone realizes that we were sinking, the boat was cracked and was bending by the middle! We had to use the helmets of the navy boys to remove water in order to compensate for the water that was filling the inside of the boat, the worst part was that only I and Pedro had life-guard vests, given by the Park. Most of the idiots that were there for the pick-nick didn’t have vests, and there were children among them, they were stupid to go there like that and someone who let go in the island shared the stupidity! As for me, I was lucky enough not to take any high-tech device, or it would probably not survived this surrendering. Bottom line, nobody got hurt.

Then, the trip back to Funchal, what a torture! With the angry sea, I had to look for a windy place to avoid vomiting. I successfully managed to avoid this gross manifestation of the human body. We saw a bunch of pilot-whales in the way back.

As we reached Funchal, I could only think in the hot bath in the hotel and the thought that no more boat trips like this one would happen again soon!

For tomorrow, no great hikes, we would join Isamberto for a ride to some interesting spots in Madeira.

sexta-feira, 29 de abril de 2011

Day 14 - Packing

The last day in the island is the day for packing and cleaning the house for the next team of guards. Cleaning the floors and putting things together in the backpacks and material in the thermal container were the main tasks today. The lunch was some nice barbecue chicken with fried potatoes, outdoor, along with the Lisbon team. The feeling of job complete contributed for the good mood during the day.

quinta-feira, 28 de abril de 2011

Day 13 - South Plateau, last ascent

After the weather prediction advertised a rainy day in Madeira, we were left waiting for the big luck. Today I would have the help of Pedro and Isamberto, and the Lisbon team headed to Ilhéu Chão. We waited for middle of the afternoon to climb the Vereda, to set up the 48 pitfall traps and finish those 4 hours of night sampling. Right as I was preparing the combat meal to be used as dinner, *bollocks!* rain falling down… >:| I was cursing for quite a while, standing at the porch and looking at the clouds thinking that this cobra protocol couldn’t be finished for about an hour until, suddenly, a clearing in the sky approaches the top south of the Deserta Grande. I immediately suggested the climb at about 17:30 and there we went, at the fastest speed possible by me (always the slowest element when comparing to Pedro and Isamberto, it’s impossible to compete with these guys, they come from another planet inhabited by a special species of mountaineering people). After we reached the destination, it was “dig! dig! dig!” Isamberto did the holes, I set up the cup and Pedro prepped the “roofs” of the traps. We were done of this task at about 20:30 and we had 1 hour to have some food and rest till nightfall, and to hope that the rain wouldn’t spoil the 4 remaining hours left of fieldwork. But again, St. Peter didn’t turn on the sprinkler and we managed to do those last hours with no rain, and that was the last sampling to be done in the Deserta Grande! And one last nocturnal descent of the Vereda followed, with all the time of the world, as the night revealed a sky full of stars and Pedro stopped for a long exposure photo in Eira, capturing the “lava bombs” by night.

quarta-feira, 27 de abril de 2011

Day 12 - Cobra @ South Plateau

Today we split ourselves in 2 mixed teams, which would share sampling efforts according to both the teams’ priorities. I and Mário went to the South Plateau, guided by Clemente and the rest went on the boat to Bugio, a target for the Lisbon team. By the morning, we stayed by Eira, where I helped Mário to set up one transect. After lunch, there we went to the South Plateau and again I helped Mário to put a new pitfall transect. Afterwards, the time started to run short, because I needed to start the 4 hours of daytime direct sampling. I started by 16:00 and finished around 20:30, time when I was only accompanied by the sea gulls that inhabit this place. After this time, I started waiting for my nocturnal assistance, as Pedro, Isamberto and Pardal would join me for the night sampling to try to do the work in 2 hours (2 x 4 samples), after arriving from Bugio. However, today revealed to be an unlucky day. We started around 22:30 and, just 5 minutes before the first sample finished rain came down and wet the vegetation so that the 2nd hour of night sampling had to be cancelled. L We had to head down back to the Doca. The nocturnal descent was quite a nice moment, because a landscape that was starting to be familiar was suddenly changed to a new nocturnal sighting. After sliding and jumping down some hill tops, we even passed by some Calonectris diomedea borealis and almas-negras on the way back through the Vereda, that were nesting in some hideouts in the cliffs. The nocturnal cobra samplings always have their charm… J Too bad it’s not done yet.

terça-feira, 26 de abril de 2011

Day 11 - bye bye Hogna ingens

Before we bid farewell to our beloved tarantula, there were 48 pitfalls left to set up for the cobra protocol and 30 more for the Lisbon team. Pedro had the spirit to head to the northernmost part of the valley to set up 15 pitfalls for the Lisbon team, (he also needed to mark the spot with his GPS) and I and Isamberto were left with the 48 cobra pitfalls. With the help of a lovely shovel stored in Hotel Castanheira, we had an excellent productivity. We did the job, ate, and waited for Pedro to arrive back from the northern end of the valley to tell us where would he set up the remaining 15 pitfalls for the Lisbon team and we done it in no time!

One last thing before we go: Pedro took some great macros of the fearsome lady who owns this valley, Hogna ingens!

The walk back through the top was done with a natural satisfaction due to the feeling of a complete job, and I could even walk closer to Pedro and Isamberto (the fact might also be due to the extra 5,5 km done by Pedro in the morning and the effort he had to do to set up the pitfalls for the Lisbon team). As we arrived to the Doca, the Lisbon team was already installed and after greeting Serrano, Mário and Pardal, a nice bath and a couple of swims were done in the great sea that we had this day.

The rest of the day was spent planning the next days, in accordance to our needs and those of the Lisbon team. Our next target: the South Plateau.

segunda-feira, 25 de abril de 2011

Day 10 - Castanheira part III

Because this time the goal was to do that night sampling that we didn’t do the previous try, we left Doca after lunch, to optimize the energy intake. And what a nice lunch had we, with an outdoor “meat in the stick” Madeira style, intensely flavoured by laurel, along with some also traditional and home-made “Bôlo do Caco”. Congratulations to the chef, once again!

The walk, made for the third time, becomes familiar. When we turn each hill we know what we’re going to find, but not even because of that you can say that it’s a boring walk, because the rugged landscape is truly impressive, be it for the steep cliffs, or by the “lava bomb” fields, that look like giant dinosaur eggs planted there, or the brown canyons, where little clorophyl can find a support to be.

As we got to the valley, another combat meal for dinner and we were ready and waiting for the night to fall. By this time we feared the worst as some really low clouds were passing over us, but St. Peter was with us and the night turned out to be a very nice one for fieldwork.
The only not so good thing was that the diversity of spiders didn’t appear to be high in our sampling plot, but Pedro decided well that we should not put pitfall traps in the northernmost part of the island, where a larger density of H. ingens was found. As we had the precious help of Isamberto, by 1 am we were done with the direct sampling of this cobra protocol and ready to rest for the last time in Hotel Castanheira.

domingo, 24 de abril de 2011

Day 9 - Easter Sunday

We took the time to rest a bit before attacking the Castanheira for the third and last time.

Manuel José managed to provide us with lamb for the lunch.

In this day, a monk seal greeted us from the bay. The animal was there swimming for short minutes, and after it dived back into the ocean and we didn’t spot it again.

sábado, 23 de abril de 2011

Day 8 - Hogna ingens transect done!

So, in the morning, to start the day, we needed to head down to the north point of the valley where we made the last point of the Hogna

transect, so there we went, with one of the strongest winds that I’ve walked against. It was really hard to keep balance, but we had to do it. After sampling 100 points, only 1 of the 3 tasks of our assignement was complete. One last combat meal, and we were ready to head back, but not for the last time as we still needed to perform that cancelled night sampling and to set up 48 pitfalls for ourselves plus 30 more for the Lisbon team.

A bit frustrated for not completing the night sampling, we initiated the walk back from Castanheira. This time, Pedro wanted to take some pictures from the zone of Pedregal, and we went through an alternative route, leaded by Isamberto, that knows like probably no other every remote site of the Madeira archipelago. The passage through the mini-canyon was quite nice, but when we got the watch of Pedregal (a number of watchposts were built in this island in WW II to monitor german submarines and ships) rain and wind came again to spoil the hike. We speeded up the pace to try to get to Risco before it got really wet. We were lucky, as the rain stopped some minutes after we left Pedregal. Bottom line, we managed to end another extenuating expedition without any incidents, although the job was incomplete.

sexta-feira, 22 de abril de 2011

Day 7 - Castanheira part II

As there is still much to do to have everything done, a new walk to Castanheira was needed and in the morning there we went for that great hike. In this second edition of the most tiresome walk that I would do here, I felt a bit more confidant and fresh and didn’t fall back too much behind Pedro and Isamberto, also due to their stops for some photography of endemic flora.

As soon as we got there and had a combat meal, we performed the diurnal sampling hours of the cobra protocol and went down the valley to finish the H. ingens transect. Sadly, as we were starting the transect, we found out that both the camera and the GPS used for this assignement decided they all needed new batteries… L Back to Hotel Castanheira and wait for the night to do the night hours of the cobra protocol. We would deal with the Hogna transect the morning after.

Today revealed to be one of the most unlucky days for fieldwork. As we waited for the night to fall down upon the valley, there came the wind and the heavy rain and bye bye night sampling… L This time there were no Calonectris diomedea borealis to be heard but the wind took care of shaking everything metallic around the house and sleeping was, once again, barely possible, at least for me.

quinta-feira, 21 de abril de 2011

Day 6 - Rest

3 days in a row climbing the Vereda left some marks on me, so I needed this day to have some rest. So I wouldn’t die from boredom I went to lift some more rocks around the Doca, but basically this was a day for some relax.

quarta-feira, 20 de abril de 2011

Day 5 - Leaving Castanheira

The walk back in the morning was hard for me. We stopped by at Rocha do Barbusano to look for some spiders, and guess what? Isamberto found the 3rd confirmed species of Dysdera (maybe the fourth), a species of which he had only found 4 specimens in 23 years so far! Isamberto revealed himself as a very proficient spider collector! In this photo: Hotel Castanheira, from which we have left in this day!

After we reached Doca, time for hygiene, food and siesta.

terça-feira, 19 de abril de 2011

Day 4 - Vale da Castanheira

On this day we went for the first time to the hardest point of the whole Deserta Grande: Vale da Castanheira, the lair of the fabulous spider, Hogna ingens, which only inhabits this secluded valley. Of course that we needed to start this walk by the Vereda, and there we went, with the help of Clemente and Manuel José, who gladly helped us to carry material for pitfall trapping. After the Vereda, we headed for Risco, which is a path in the East side of the top of Deserta Grande. In this point you have some places where you have only few tens of centimetres to put your feet, and if you miss those centimetres, you have absolutely no chance of another try. If you suffer from height sickness, you shouldn’t walk in places like Risco and if you don’t, go slow anyway! There is quite an impressive point in Risco, in which you can easily look to the west side of the island from a totally vertical wall, I must confess that I only had a brief peek from it… Another point of interest in this long walk through the top of the island was the passage through the highest point in the island, the Rocha do Barbusano, with 479 mt; by this time we were reaching lunch time but just a bit more through Pedregal with some points full of lava bombs (later I got to know that these are not lava bombs strictly speaking but some kind of boring geological thing like spheroidal disjunction, according to Pardal, but I will continue to use “lava bombs” to designate these so-cool formations), there we were just about to get to the Valley. Nothing like a 8 km hike through cliffs and mountain tops to open the apetite!

After reaching the Valley, Clemente and Manuel José went back to Doca, and I, Pedro and Isamberto started the Hogna ingens assignement, which consisted on a transect starting from the house located in the southmost part of the valley (I should call this house Hotel Castanheira from now on) following the west side of the valley to the northern most point turning back from the eastern side of the valley. Presently, the spider is aggregated in the northern most point of the Valley, and this is due to the invasion of the valley by the herb Phallaris aquatica, which covers the ground around the rocks and obstructs the spider’s hideouts. In the central area of the Valley, you can barely see H. ingens. By the end of the afternoon, with only about half of the transect done, time to return to Hotel Castanheira. This piece was quite hard for me, since I just added 5,5 km to the 8 km done in the morning, and because I don’t reach even close to the mountain goats Isamberto and Pedro (in the good sense, of course), I achieved the needed rest many minutes after them.

The confort in Hotel Castanheira is scarse or non-existant, depending on the quality of your sleeping bag and mattress, plus at night many “cagarros” (Calonectris diomedea borealis) started to fly about the Valley, doing their distinctive call, that also didn’t contributed to get some sleep. But because you don’t walk in Risco at night, this was not a preference, it was a need!

segunda-feira, 18 de abril de 2011

Day 3 - South Plateau

On the 3rd day we went to know one of the sites where we would do a Cobra protocol (for those who don’t know it’s an acronym for Conservation Oriented Biodiversity Rapid Assessment): the Planalto Sul (or South Plateau). Up we went again in the Vereda, and after passing Eira, it was a relatively easy walk to Planalto Sul. Time to see the terrain and – of course – to lift some more rocks. Among other spiders, Isamberto found the second species of Dysdera, and according to him I might’ve caught the third one, but I would need to confirm this later in the lab. The weather was sunny and it was an almost perfect afternoon.

domingo, 17 de abril de 2011

Day 2 - The Vereda

After spending the morning turning some more rocks in the Doca, after lunch we went to know the Vereda. The climb demands a bit from you, especially if you are spending the last weeks or months shining a seat with your ass, either in the lab or in classes. But it sure is rewarding once you get to the top! Not only for the adrenalin of climbing such a cliff, or the great views you have while you are doing it, but also because the top reveals a different place, with a new landscape and – of course – new places for spiders to be hidden. :P

After we got up there, we stopped the nearby flat area called Eira, which was a place used by those who tried to colonize the island to plant cereals, and where you can still see some shallow rocky walls, made by those early settlers. Aditionally, as we got here we found another mark left by these guys: goats! The Natural Park tried to eradicate these voracious eaters of endemic flora, but with no success, and they proliferate now, as the attempt to eradicate them was abandoned some time ago. After I and Isamberto turned some rocks and Pedro took some photos, we initiated the way back to Doca. While we were there the fog made its appearance but it started to vanish before we went down. Isamberto found a Dysdera, fact that surprised me a lot, and after we talked a bit about it, I realized that there should be at least 3 different species in Deserta Grande, but not even one of those is so far described! Promising…

sábado, 16 de abril de 2011

Day 1 - The Arrival

By 9 am Pedro anda I arrived to the boat of the Navy that would take us to Deserta Grande for 2 weeks of arachnological fieldwork, from which I will retrieve the data to build my Masters thesis.

We left along with 3 vigilantes of the Natural Park of Madeira, Clemente, the team leader, Manuel José, the (great) cook, and Isamberto Silva, known madeiran naturalist that a special keen for spiders, of whom we requested to have the company.

The boat trip was great, with the flat sea during all time and a sunny weather. We even saw some dolphins on the way. Because there was some morning mist in the air, it was only after some time that we could spot Ilhéu Chão, Deserta Grande and Bugio. As we were approaching Deserta Grande, I could read a mentally built neon sign on the island saying “How many spiders can you find?” and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the rocks. After we transferred ourselves to the boat and then to the vigilantes’ house at Doca, we waited a bit to start to lift some rocks in the vicinities of the house. Meanwhile, a walk around Doca, the flat piece of land created by a gigantic landslide in the 1890’s, that, according to the vigilantes, gave birth to a big wave that washed some lives of the madeiran coast. The verticall wall of rock rising behind Doca reminds us of the volcanic nature of the island as well as the power of the erosion forces, as I spotted some rocks falling from above. I rapidly assimilated the idea that collecting spiders in other points of the island will require a good shape, because the ascent to the top of the island is done through a stairway dug in the rock. It’s a 380 meters climb through the steepest cliffs called “The Vereda”. I will initiate myself to it tomorrow.

Today, because the sea was so flat, we took the time to visit an erosion cave just some meters south of the Doca, the Gruta dos Roques de Castro, from where we grabbed 2 interesting species of spiders, an undetermined agelenidae (supposedly) and a species of Zygiella that appears different from the widespread x-notata. In the rest of the afternoon, we turned some stones in the Doca, and already with some interesting specimens.