Beautiful but deadly – Portuguese Man O’ War. Sometimes these drift north and I have seen them on the Scillies in October. Hell of a sting. Our guide found that out as he tried unsuccessfully to lift one from the water to show us.
One evening on Pico I walked out among dark lava fields; a black rough undulating volcanic landscape. It was important not to disturb the Cory’s Shearwaters that make their nests among the lava caves and tunnels so I did not leave the roads and tracks. These birds are already under threat here from cultivation and encroachment of civilisation. I saw several feral cats hunting the area on my walk and no doubt there were introduced Black Rats around that would also predate on Shearwaters eggs and chicks.
I saw and heard nothing until around 10:30pm; after that all hell was let loose. It was as though someone had flicked a switch. The shearwaters, that up until then had been loafing offshore, turned up big time. The call is without doubt one of the most haunting sound uttered by any living thing. It’s quite eerie having these large birds calling and flying around in the dark. One came close enough to make me flinch.
We saw seven species of cetacean in the Azores. It’s always difficult to be sure which animals we saw on more than one occasion but the following sums up numbers of sightings rather than individuals.
20 Sperm Whales over five days
Circa 100 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins over five days
Circa 10 Short beaked Common Dolphins on one day
7 Bottlenose Dolphins over two days
Circa 50 Risso’s Dolphins over three days
Circa 15 Short-finned Pilot Whales on one day
… but, perhaps best of all …
Circa 13 Northern Bottlenose Whales over three days.
Beaked Whales were the main reason why we went to the Azores so this was particularly pleasing.
We narrowly missed out on a pair of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and we may have had a Bryde’s Whale but all disappeared before we could get to grips. Sure makes the total of 24 hours at sea in a rather bumpy zodiac worthwhile.
The end of a good time is always in itself a sad thing but as we sat on the balcony of our last port of call on Faial I couldn’t help feeling what a wonderful, beautiful place we had chosen to spend a little time. From our high point in the village the evening sun was glowing red and cast a peach luminescence on Pico in the distance. As we sat there lenticular round clouds stacked themselves over the dormant volcano in a captivating formation. Below us a quail constantly called for him to ‘wet my lips’; a special quail this ‘conturbans’ is a sub species only found on these islands. Above us the also endemic Azores Noctule bats flew around the hillside.
Almost everything here is slightly different from those with which we are familiar; the Blackbirds, Buzzards, Grey Wagtails, Blackcaps, Chaffinches and even the Wood Pigeons are all endemic sub species. Special birds in a special place.
This Reed Warbler was exhausted. I felt for him. In between collecting insects for his four fledglings scattered around several bushes in the reed bed he was trying to collect enough food for himself, sing a bit of a song to attract his mate and provide a few enticing insects for her so they could raise a second brood; and you think you’re busy!