Thursday, June 18, 2015

Birding with Gerby Michielsen

June 18: today Becky and I spent the day with a guide who literally wrote the book on Azorean Birds. We explored the eastern portion of Sao Miguel by van and by foot, climbing high into the cloud forest (over 3,000 feet) to find all the endemic birds.

Azorean bullfinch, blackbird, chaffinch, blackcap, wood pigeon, canary, European robin, goldcrest, grey wagtail, and buzzard. Most of these are subspecies of their European cousins. Becky will have some awesome photos, so hopefully I can add a link.

Leaving for our birding adventure

Driving through the eastern portion of Sao Miguel

Giant tree ferns native to Macaronesia

Carolyn finding an orchid

I'm pointing to our hotel, Terra Nostra

Nerdy Birders

Gradually restoring habitat so Formula One cars can race through in the sping
Most of the trek was through steep forests of Japanese cedar, planted for the wood, but utterly devoid of any biodiversity or native birds. Some portions of the Laurissilva forest are gradually being restored to habitat suitable for the rare bullfinch, but each spring the winding dirt roads are used as a Formula One course during breeding season! Crazy!

For dinner tonight we went to a local place recommended by our cab driver - Tony's Restaurant. We ordered one "Caldiera meal for two" which was more food than four of us could finish. It's a huge pot of meat - chicken, sausage, pork ribs, beef, potatoes, taro, and cabbage cootked in a volcanic steam vent for seven hours. They are served all over town and at the hot springs, different restaurants have their own "hole".

How they cook dinner

Thermal features at the edge of Lagoa das Furnas

Flying the Atlantic (from Jack)

We had a great flight yesterday from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada to Ponta Delgada in the Azores islands. Cold and rainy on departure from St. John's, but once we leveled out at cruise altitude it was essentially smooth and clear air the rest of the way.  Some photos from our friends of life enroute...

Final flight planning at the St. John's airport before departure...

Loading up...

The route when we were about one third of the way...

Co-captains Josh and Giuseppe giving Jack a break enroute...

The ladies alert and not so alert...

Final approach to Ponta Delgada (LPPD)...

Turning final at Ponta Delgada, Azores (LPPD)

Ponta Delgada, Azores (LPPD)

[Some technical stuff that can be skipped if you aren't interested in the aviation details...]

Flying long distances over water is a bit different than the normal flying we do at home in that both air traffic control (ATC) radar and normal very high frequency (VHF) voice communications with ATC only extend about 200 miles off the coast. Thus, the pilot and ATC have to use different procedures to communicate and assure separation from other aircraft (although there are a lot fewer aircraft to worry about!).

Instead of using radar for separation of aircraft, pilots regularly report their position and altitude to ATC via radio along with their estimate of the time they will reach the next reporting point. The ATC folks record these times and positions and use that information to keep aircraft separated. It is not a system that would work well in very dense air traffic environments, but it works fine for the handful of planes over any swath of the ocean at any given time.

For communications, pilots and ATC use high frequency (HF) radios which have the advantage of very long range via "skipping" the radio waves off the upper atmosphere.  The disadvantage is the communication has a lot more static than VHF and is more variable...sometimes it take a couple of tries to make contact.  But, the system is designed to allow for that and there are back-up methods of communication (sat phones and relaying through other airplanes) if you can't make contact with ATC via HF.

Next destination Bodrum, Turkey with a fuel stop in Girona, Spain along the way. We blast off at oh-dark-early Saturday.