On the morning of Monday 7 Jul 14 Mrs T dropped me off at London Gatwick South Terminal. There I caught a TAP Portugal flight to Praia (Santiago Island, Cape Verde Islands), via Lisbon, to rejoin HMS PROTECTOR after an extended period of Watch Rotation Leave. When I left PRTR in Charleston (USA) on 20 May 14 I expected to return in Cape Verde for a final single rotation onboard. However, during my leave it had finally been confirmed that the trial post I had been assigned to onboard in Mar 13 was to be made permanent. Unsurprisingly, with such short notice there was no possibility of a relief in the short-term. Therefore, I had reluctantly agreed to extend onboard until the ship returned to the UK in mid-2015. Consequently, that last view I had of Antarctica, as PRTR left King George Island shrouded in mist bound for Punta Arenas (Chile) back in Mar 14, will not be my last.
However, before I return to the abundant, and now familiar, wildlife of Antarctica I had a couple of new locations to experience, the first being Praia and the island of Santiago. Back onboard Steve C had persevered with the limited Intranet facilities onboard and had the two free afternoons of the port visit planned out for me. Our first destination was the Botanic Gardens located twenty plus miles north of Praia. Once we had been dropped off in town by the ship’s transport we negotiated a price (5000 ‘dib-dobs’ – matlow speak for local currency) with a taxi driver for a whole afternoon of hire. Why Steve flagged down a dilapidated taxi that had to cut up a couple of pristine taxis to pull up at the curb beside us I’ll never know – it wasn’t like the driver could speak English! Luckily Steve had printed off a bird report from the Internet and our driver recognised the name, so we set off with Steve belted in at the front and me hanging on in the back. As I wondered if the suspension and wheel bearings of all the other taxis we passed were in such poor condition I observed my first ‘lifer’ – a Brown-necked Raven that flew off from the roadside with several Cattle Egrets. It turned out to be the only one we saw.
Beyond the city in the countryside I soon had another two ‘lifers’. Grey-headed Kingfishers, a species typical of dry rather than wet habitats, were regularly spotted perched on roadside telegraph wires whilst endemic Cape Verde Swifts flew around overhead.
The Botanic Gardens themselves, accessed from the road via a long gravel track that winds up a hillside, were not exactly what Steve and I had expected. However, two of the species we had hoped to encounter, Iago Sparrow and Cape Verde Warbler, were present inside the walls of what is a surprisingly small area.
Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)Good birding,