Nature study excursion report: Gran Canaria 2015

From 22 April to 4 May 2015, a total of nine birders and nature-loving supporters and friends of the Brehm Fund were on tour to study Atlantic terrestrial biodiversity at its best. The target of the excursion was Gran Canaria, a sun-drenched island in the Canaries. In fantastic weather conditions and under the guidance of the profound connoisseur of Canaries, Dr. André Weller, the participants explored a variety of habitats with numerous rare or endemic animal and plant species. The island includes hot, dry habitats such as those in the south dunes of Playa del Ingles and the southern and central barrancos, but also wetter habitats such as the Lagoon of Maspalomas, the spectacular coastal cliffs of the Anden Verde and the relic laurel forests in the north. Gran Canaria offers a number of bird highlights, including own subspecies of Teide Finch and Tenerife Blue Tit. Moreover we found Macaronesian endemics like Eastern Canary Stone-curlew, Berthelot’s Pipit, Canary or the Great Spotted Woodpecker subspecies only known from only Tenerife and Gran Canaria. It is relatively common to find in the spread in the center of the island pine forests. Off the coast ocean-dwelling birds such as Cory’s Shearwater, cross the ship route and like to get close to whales. During a whale watching cruise of our group, as a special rarity even an arctic Great Skua could be observed. Incidentally, the Canary Islands are known worldwide as place with the highest diversity of marine mammals; up to 25 species of whales can be observed in the waters around the popular holiday islands.

The flora has to offer many endemics as well; no fewer than 120 forms can be found exclusively in Gran Canaria. From domestic balconies and gardens here are known especially Canaries daisies and Cineraria whose wild relatives colonize the Canary Islands, as well as bird’s-foot trefoil, rockrose and calamintha that mingle to a colorful spectrum. Much of the floral display is only shown in the spring, especially after wet winters (the latter not being true in our case). On the other hand, species with reduced leafs or strong succulence as the numerous Aeonium species or related Crassulaceae are predominating in dry habitats.

Overall, the participants had a great opportunity to get to know highly specialized species and habitats. At the same time the enormous risk potential for all of these natural wonders was drastically evidenced, whether anthropogenic causes such as urbanization, road construction, tourism development, grazing and deforestation and the problem of the water balance. In this context, it is important to note that each visitor of the island can contribute to save natural ressources, e.g. by reasonable water use and waste reduction. Such attitude, even being a single step, may help to ensure that future generations can still enjoy the unique biodiversity of the Canaries.