I don’t speak Portuguese, but I guess what this sign means as I drive past. It’s a blue bird and that must mean a Madeira Chaffinch. I also know what binóculos are and I’m carrying my câmeras fotográficas. This language business isn’t as difficult as it seems, at least until you hear someone speak it. Who knew Portuguese sounds like Spanish with a heavy Russian accent?
There’s a picnic bench and I’m hopeful of seeing some local Madeira birds. A Chaffinch would be nice. I settle down with a cheese sandwich and wait:
A lovely male appears. He hasn’t ‘come to see me’. He isn’t ‘posing beautifully for me’. He hasn’t ‘heard I’d like to see him’, or “treated me to a display.” All of those over-used phrases are embarrassing delusions of reference common amongst birders.
This is the Madeira subspecies of the Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs madeirensis. It has a wonderful pale salmon-pink breast and an extensive blue head and neck.
As well as carrying as much photographic gear as is possible in hand luggage I’m also carrying a book:
It’s great because it has all the subspecies found on every island of this series of volcanoes strung out into the Atlantic. It’s also beautifully illustrated. Just look how fabulous the Chaffinch page is:
I don’t know why Charles Darwin bothered spending so many years at sea and going all the way to the Galapagos when he could have just come to Macaronesia by EasyJet.
I’m adoring the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia: Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde, by Eduardo Garcia-Del-Rey. It has every race of every bird in all the Macaronesian islands, with illustrations of plumage differences, distribution maps and all the recent DNA evidence of differences.
It’s superb. If you buy one from this link I get a tiny percentage. Welcome to the modern world. The key question is: how many of my readers will need a book on the birds of Macaronesia?
This Chaffinch looks crouched and ready to spring:
There’s a sign with the birds seen here. The Chaffinch is a Tentilhão.
Which reminds me, I’d like to see the Madeira subspecies of the Sparrowhawk, the Fura-bardos. This Chaffinch is definitely on the lookout for one.
And talking of crouched and ready to spring:
I’m at Ribeiro Frio. Probably the best translation for that is cold stream. The ability of Madeirans to channel water across the Island and cultivate precipitously steep slopes is phenomenal. I check and it’s part of Parque Natural de Ribeiro Frio, open: 00:00 – 23:59. How odd that they close for a minute every day.
It’s time to get some food from the supermarket. I get unreasonably excited in overseas supermarkets. I want to try everything, and particularly adore the fresh fruit and vegetables. Here, there’s no fresh basil, the tomatoes aren’t ripe and the whole place smells strongly of dried fish. It’s obviously a speciality, along with imported spicy sausage. I’m very pleased that I manage to find the porridge oats because I remember the Italian word is avena and that’s what it says on the cereal packet. It may have been the large branding saying Quaker which gave it away, though.
Now I’m off up a mountain to see the sun set.
Today I’ve been humming Cities in Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s a song I only discovered recently. How could I have missed it? It’s a song about the destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Mount Vesuvius. It’s only when I get back to my BoJack Horseman-style pad that I remember I’m on a volcanic island.
Extinct, I hope.