segunda-feira, 28 de novembro de 2011

Goodbye Azores part 2: spiders, what else?

After the first seven months in the Azores my job was little more than fieldwork logistical tasks. After the sorting of samples belonging to the BALA II project commenced, I was finally getting in touch with the native fauna on the microscope, and soon realized that the diversity was so small that nearly all Azorean endemics and native spider species could be easily recognized and distinguished from each other.
In the field, it is similarly easy to distinguish the few Azorean endemics. At canopy level (bear in mind that I only refer to samples made in native laurel forest) you find Savigniorrhipis acoreensis (Linyphiidae), Rugathodes acoreensis (Theridiidae), Sancus acoreensis (Tetragnathidae), Gibbaranea occidentalis (Araneidae), Lasaeola oceanica (Theriidae) and Acorigone acoreensis (Linyphiidae), all of them, even the tiny ones, being sufficiently different to be distinguished in the field. Just above ground level in exposed areas, you can find the nursery webs of Pisaura acoreensis, the largest endemic spider of the archipelago, especially between July and September. At ground level, several cryptic endemic species are not so easily found, like the erigonines Porrhomma borgesi, Walckenaeria grandis or Minicia floresensis, the later of which can also be found at canopy level sometimes. The small jumping spider Neon acoreensis was caught only twice bye me by direct hand sampling near the ground level.
At soil level in shady places you can also find the delicate sheet-webs of the linyphiine spider Leptyphantes acoreensis. All the mentioned spiders were supposed to be spread throughout the entire archipelago, and that sticks at the truth for all but one.
Other endemics are single-island endemics, and of these there aren’t much. Aditionally, I investigated some of them in collaboration with other specialists and at least one of them seems to be a synonymy with a species present in the Mediterranean. Other of these single-island endemics are subject to a somewhat suspicious view, being described in the basis of very small morphological differences by an author widely known for being a careless “splitter” and others remain unquestioned like Meioneta depigmentata (Linyphiidae) from Flores, Acorigone acoreensis (Linyphiidae) from São Jorge or Turinyphia cavernicola from Terceira (Linyphiidae).
Now, the new stuff:
Since these are all unpublished species, I will not write relevant information regarding their habitat and location. Please understand this.

A new species, sister of Savigniorrhipis acoreensis, was found present in one island only. Incorrectly identified material was present from previous works. This new species, more than morphologically, is ecologically separated from S. acoreensis, because it is present at ground level, while the latter is present at canopy level. This finding   provides a new look on the genus Savigniorrhipis, and hopefully it will either be validated or synonymised, but with a better analysis that that provided in its original description. Here it is the new species, it has a name, but I can’t reveal it by now as this would unmask the location of this tiny erigonine spider (on the bottom, the previously known endemic species S. acoreensis, both are females):

Also in the family Linyphiidae, one endemic species is now separated into 3 different species, one in each group of islands. The scientific work regarding these 3 species will take some time to be prepared and by now I can’t even confirm their genus with certainty.

These last fellas will be one of the major concerns regarding manuscripts in the next months for me. For these spiders I need the help on a more experienced arachnologist. When that publication sees the light of day, I will post here some further info on these little guys.

quinta-feira, 17 de novembro de 2011

GOODBYE AZORES: PART 1, the wilderness

Not long now until my return to the mainland. My stay in the Azores will end in 2 weeks and although I know that I must be back in April and May and later again for my Masters’ viva, the bulk of my Azorean experience is done. I arrived in June 1st 2010, which accounts for 1 and half year in Terceira. I sense that it was a very positive episode in my life. I will write some thoughts, while I psychologically prepare myself to get back to base…

I feel that I had a great privilege, in the sense that my work allowed me to know much more than what the regular tourist does, like the last remnants of native laurel forest in the Azores, and many of the biological entities of this particular habitat. While the word “forest” is sometimes inappropriate to describe the shrub-like appearance of native forests, especially those in high altitudes, the singularity of this landscape is remarkable. It changes the concept of what we imagine when we think of the word “forest”. Plant diversity is not great, given the size and isolation of this archipelago (as well as most other groups of organisms), but several species give the native forest an especially different view of all the other forests present in the Portuguese territory. Twisted logs of Juniperus brevifolia, topped by a bonsai-like canopy give the Azorean forest quite the looks, in all the islands where it can be found. Usually, the ground is covered with Sphagnum mosses, and it’s very comfy to sit down in a natural pillow, considering you don’t care about wetting your butt! Other dominant arboreal endemic species or subspecies are Ilex perado azorica, Laurus azorica, Vaccinium cylindraceum, Frangula azorica, Erica azorica. I will always remember the day when to do beatings in Terra Brava Reserve in Terceira I, Sandra and François Rigal had to climb Ilex trees like we were kids, otherwise we wouldn’t reach the canopy and the task at hand would be left incomplete. It’s not easy to find places where climbing the Azorean native forest is a challenge, especially when you are many kilos heavier than what you were the last time you attempted this.

If you go to Pico look in the margins of the longitudinal road that crosses the island: you may find patches of another endemic plant that is seldom found in the other islands, Euphorbia stygiana. It should be the largest euphorb in Portugal. The dead twigs and logs of this plant are the preferred house of several species of endemic insects that either are xylophagous and eat the dead wood themselves (weevil Calacalles droeuti) or mycophagous beetles of the genus Tarphius that feed on the fungi growing in the dead wood.

Unfortunately, native forest patches are relics, occupying about 0,5% of the total Azorean area. These remnants exist mostly due to the hard accessibility and high altitudes, which rendered these sites free of the reach of cattle industry. In nearly all the lowlands the landscape is very dull, with green squares of herbs separated by walls or patches of Cryptomeria japonica, an exotic tree brought to the islands to produce wood. Speaking of which, the wood is not good, but in the past decades, the regional forestry services planted this tree carelessly throughout the islands, and in very rainy seasons it is common to see some of these trees down, especially in steep places. Also, very little plant life grows in Cryptomeria forest other than Cryptomeria itself, due to the great shadow that these large trees provide.

Besides this exotic tree, the native forest is now dealing with several other invasions, being the worst cases those of Hedychium gardnerianum and Pittosporum undulatum. Both of these plants came to the Azores due to its ornamental factor, and escaped from urban areas. The former came from Asia and the latter from Australia. Larges areas are now affected by these aggressive invaders and although some eradication efforts are being made, one is very pessimistic about the future of the Azorean native forest.

To finish this, I point out 3 “Natural Places You Must See in the Azores”:

  • Morro Assombrado in Terceira: one of the most spectacular patches of native forest. The rugged geomorphology of these volcanic ridges is amazing! You must take care here, you can get lost easily, take someone experient in these places with you and be careful not to fall down one of the many holes.
  • Caldeira of Serra de Santa Bárbara: this is the largest natural reserve in the Azores, and the Caldeira, its center. To be down there in the middle of this pristine site may not be easy in the future due to the upcoming restrictions and management by the Natural Park of Terceira. Hiking down there is also not easy! Watch out for holes.
  • Morro Alto in Flores: this is the Sphagnum paradise! Once you reach the top you soon realize that the ground is made of bryophites, even if you are just following the road, because sometimes huge Sphagnum “pillows” made of several colors hang just above the road, dripping large amounts of water. If you add the lagoons and waterfalls on Fajã Grande, you can spend one week wandering about this nice little island, and you have plenty of nature to see. Being able to take a photo in a workplace like this is a privilege (yes, I just finished working).

domingo, 1 de maio de 2011

Day 16 - Spiders through Madeira

We met Isamberto around 10:30 after some shopping for tomorrow’s Cobra50 protocol in the Ponta de São Lourenço.

The first stop was in the area of São Vicente, where we stopped in a road by the north coast, that goes around some massive rocks that house a couple of interesting spiders. Maybe the most remarkable sighting here was a subadult male of Hogna maderiana. For someone who is accustomed to find Hognas under rocks and in dry places, finding a large lycosid in a retreat at more than 1 meter high, in a damp habitat, is somewhat surprising!

After this stop we decided to have lunch in a nearby restaurant.

The next destination was a patch of spectacular laurel forest in Chão da Ribeira, with huge trees creating a shady forest (til e laurus). We didn’t see many spiders, as the weather was a bit rainy, but still some interesting specimens were collected, with the head of interest being the huge Dysdera specimens we found hiding in rotting logs in their cocoons. We held our grounds for a while here, but at about 16:00 we returned through the path and jumped from stone to stone to cross a river and reach the parking spot. Next stop: Fanal, also a laurel forest area, but very different from Chão da Ribeira because this was an altitude forest. In fact, if you discard the species of tree that you face you could easily think of this as a Mediterranean oak forest, but of course that once you see an arboreal Erica species and other genus as Ilex and Vaccinium you remember that you are in a laurel forest. Here, we spent most of our time going through the bark of Erica trees, as these housed many different spiders, from Drassodes, Cheiracanthium albidulum, Macaroeris, Clubiona decora, Enoplognatha, Steatoda, Scotophaeus to Dysdera! After the “Erica-stop” we decided to move to another spot, still in the Fanal area. We continued to go up, and Isamberto’s car thermometer pointed out 5ºC. We stopped in one of the places where another remarkable species of Hogna can be found: Hogna nonanullata. This species shares some of the habit of it’s close relative H. maderiana and takes refuge also in high places in ridges, not discarding other types of refuge like rocks or bark of trees. After 2 females of this species and another of Hogna heeri were captured, we were ready to head down. Because it was still early, we stopped by in another place, in an urban area, Campanário, where we could find some common araneoids, like Cyrtophora citricola, Argiope trifasciata, Uloborus walckenaerius and some jumping spiders.

Meanwhile, the afternoon was finished and what followed next was a dinner with good company and we were ready to return to heavy field work tomorrow.

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.