A lizard, but no ordinary one, plus a gecko, a chiffchaff, a pipit and a canary – the last bird being a clue, for I am writing this piece on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, where the hand of nature has evolved unique species due to the archipelago’s isolated position in the Atlantic Ocean.
I adore such places as they underline the wonderful ability of nature to craft individuality to suit a particular environment.
The Galapagos Islands of Charles Darwin fame are most renowned for the propensity of species to evolve in isolation, but the Canaries are the same, and even in Scotland, St Kilda has a wren and a wood mouse that show differences from their mainland cousins.
Around a third of the plants in the Canaries occur nowhere else on Earth, and the islands hold many endemic reptiles and invertebrates.
The lizard population in particular represents an excellent example of island evolution.
The Canaries are the equivalent of a biological cookie jar, full of wonderful surprises at every turn.
Here, on La Gomera, the power of evolution is quite striking to a naturalist’s eye.
Chiffchaffs are common summer visiting warblers to Scotland, but the Canary Island ones exhibit a perceptible difference in their pitch of song and the wings are shorter.
The Bertholet’s pipit has a purity of plumage lacking in many other European species, including the meadow and tree pipits found in Scotland.
The Boettger’s lizard, on the other hand, is gentle in its nuance, and looks like the wall lizards found in Continental Europe.
Yet, it is different, and that is what matters.
La Gomera even has a gecko species not found on any other of the Canary Islands.
It occurs here and nowhere else on the planet.
I find that incredible, and my mind spins with questions about evolution, mostly why and how, and if I am being honest, whether there is a guiding hand from above.
Not very scientific I suppose, but as I get older, such thoughts increasingly course through my mind.
The isolated nature of the Canary Islands and the small overall land area results in huge environmental pressure by humanity that leads to its endemic wildlife being vulnerable to extinction.
Sadly, this has already happened for several species including the Tenerife giant lizard.
Fortunately, conservation has become a high priority on all the islands in recent years and there are glimmers of hope for the future.
The wild canary bird is, of course, the star of such evolutionary processes (it also occurs in Madeira and the Azores), and on one walk in a spectacular gorge in La Gomera it was a sheer joy to stumble upon a flock of these dazzling, golden jewels.
Not so long ago, canaries were often kept as pets, penned up in tiny cages. Thankfully, this happens much less often nowadays.
The canaries of La Gomera were true wild spirits, and as they sang and twittered amongst themselves, my heart surged with buoyant joy at their celebration of life on the open wing.