Madeira and Desertas Islands, Pelagics and endemics 28 June-3 July 2010

Click the link for a selection of images from this trip and the 2009 outing.

Little Shearwater off Madeira 1 July 2010


Bryde’s Whale
This beast was feeding close inshore off Funchal on 1 July.

Bulwer’s Petrel

Bulwer’s Petrels

Loggerhead Turtle
One of four seen on the 1 July 2010 from the Ventura do Mar

Pilot Whale

Madeiran Petrel at sea 1 July and Manx Shearwater 28 June.


Canary, Deserta Grande

Grey Wagtail Santa Cruz

Madeira Endemics and Pelagics 28 June to 3 July 2010

Summary; This tour was almost of repeat of the very successful 2009 visit but with an added six hour pelagic. A group of eight including me travelled to the island with seven of us taking part in all events and tours with one opting to do ‘her own thing’ partly because of having already done it in 2009 and partly wanting to explore Funchal and enjoy the sun. We all did the evening pelagic from Funchal on the 28 June going straight from the airport to the quay to steam out and off the island to find where the wind was and follow it offshore. We returned to port at dusk, ate in a harbour side restaurant before checking into our accommodation.

29 June
Our first full day, it was time for us to sail for the Desertas Islands, we left at 1000 and headed out and across the sound. The wind was blowing through and provided some good seabird watching. Once in the waters off Deserta Grande we tried a chumming session eventually heading into the little harbour and landing ashore. A guided walk around led by Rita was followed by a swim (for some), a rest or digiscoping, basically whatever took anyone’s fancy.

A barbecue was organised by the crew (Jorge, Rita and Jose) and we all settled down for a sunset dinner, the meat and fish were very popular. As it turned dark we watched the seabirds arrive and took another walk around the island, after this the crew returned to the boat and after 30 minutes or so I led another walk around the trail and to the beach taking in all the wonderful calls plus views of petrels and shearwaters on the path. Our crew had set up a tent with ‘bedrooms’ which most opted for but the crew slept on the boat and three of us including me slept outside under a wooden picnic shelter.

The shearwaters became quieter from about 0200 and a few began calling again around 0400. We got up early to transfer back to the boat for breakfast and to sail again back to Funchal arriving at lunchtime. The afternoon was spent differently for all, some taking the cable car to the botanical gardens, some taking a taxi there after a rest, others walking along the seafront. We had an evening meal at a nearby restaurant but had to depart and head to meet our guide Joao at our accommodation. Seven of us set off for the drive up the mountain for a sunset above the clouds and then a walk along the ridge to get into position and await the Zino’s Petrels arrival. Our guide shared his knowledge of these rare birds and tea and biscuits when the birds began to arrive. After enjoying them and the tea and biscuits we returned home at got back to our rooms tired for 0100.

1 July
Up for breakfast at 0745 and down to the boat for another pelagic, this time c6 miles offshore and all took part. We were out from 0830-1430 and it was very calm sunny and filled with wildlife. We tried some chumming and attracted Bulwer’s Petrels and Cory’s but no Storm Petrels it was quite calm out there today. Back on shore I said my goodbyes as did Bettie because were returning home leaving Duncan, Becca, Keith, Richard, Dave and Steve to have another afternoon in and around Funchal. I walked from the airport to Santa Cruz c2 miles to explore some more and got a taxi back before leaving for home.

Richard Tyler has kindly written up the last two days as follows……

2 July 2010

We were picked up by Joao our guide at 08.15 for a day’s exploration of the western section of the island. We drove NW from Funchal to Lombo do Morro. A pair of Trocaz Pigeons were seen in flight as was a Madeiran Buzzard. At a roadside stop with some spectacular views Joao pointed out several species of endemic flowers including one particular orchid. Further along this route we saw some impressive spreads of a large blue echium species known as The Pride of Madeira. A little further west we stopped in an area of pine forest (introduced). There was some good bird activity. We had some close views of a pair of Madeiran Firecrests. Some of the party (myself not included) had good enough ears to hear others calling and singing. Siskins were very apparent and a couple of Chaffinches (madeiran race ) were in full song. In a clearing amongst the trees we saw several species of butterfly including Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, several Graylings and an Indian Red Admiral recognised without hesitation by Keith.

Travelling a little further west we found ourselves on a high plateau with natural vegetation (heather, bilberry and a type of broom). Here we looked for Spectacled Warbler a couple of the party having only brief views. Blackcaps were here as they are in every type of habitat on Madeira. A pair of Berthelot’s Pipits put in an appearance as did a group of Linnets. Moving North and West to Fanal found us in area of Laurel forest with the understorey grazed by cattle.

The views from this area can be quite spectacular but we were hindered by low cloud. The ancient Laurels were impressive some of them covered in lichens and epiphytes. Madeiran Firecrests were seen and heard and we gave close examination to a pair of madeirensis Chaffinches. It was interesting to note that the male in this subspecies seemed to be intermediate between those found in NW Africa (africana) which have an all green back and those in the Canaries (tintillon) which have an all blue back. The madeirensis had an area of green over the upper part of its mantle the rest being blue.

Next we travelled North to the coast at Porto Moniz. Just before our stop here Duncan picked out a Barn Swallow amongst several Plain Swifts. On the coast there were a good number of Common Terns with young. We stopped a little further East for lunch and then travelled inland to a beautiful steep wooded valley (Laurels) near Seixal. Eventually we all got good views of Trocaz Pigeon. We saw at least six birds all in flight apart from one which perched for an extended period giving good scope views. Madeiran Firecrest and Grey Wagtail were also present in this valley as were Monarch butterflies.

From Seixal we travelled back along the cost further East to Sao Vicente. A good number of Common Terns with youngsters were present on the shore. Steve picked out one individual which looked very pale although the light was intense. It did have long tail streamers and a large amount of red to the bill base. We debated as to whether it was a Roseate or not. It then did the honourable thing and flew around with the Common Terns and called which clinched the identification. Once we all got our eye in we could see it had faster wing beats than the Commons. The terns would circle around over the sea and then come and land on the shore again.  It soon became apparent that the one Roseate was a pair, a presumed female begging for a fish from a male who decided to eat the catch himself. The pair then turned out to be four birds when Duncan and Dave realised that they were looking at two different pairs.  A good way to end our day’s birding before travelling back to Funchal.

3 July 2010
Various members of the group did different things on our last morning. Shopping, sightseeing and walking. There were no additions to our birdlist although a second Sparrowhawk of the trip was noted as were several Kestrels and a few more Goldfinches between sightings of the ubiquitous Canary.

 We were picked up from our accommodation by Catarina (Ventura) and taken to Caso do Sardinha the Eastern point of the island looking out to Ponta de Sao Lorenco. Here we made two quick stops. This was quite a dry barren area. From one point we could see both the North and South side of the island. A quick search for Rock Sparrow was unsuccessful. Two Berthelot’s Pipits were seen both with bling.  A kite put in an appearance briefly joined by a buzzard. The kite provided for good discussion and in conclusion we were all happy that it was Black and not Red. Although the bird was well marked on its upper wings and at times the tail looked quite rufous the fork in the tail was always small compared to a Red (at times almost square). It did have a light window in its primaries but it was not “white” as in a Red so compared to a Red there was less contrast to the under wing. With hindsight the bird did not have that long winged elastic flight of a Red Kite. I can’t understand now why some of us (including myself) did not see it as a Black Kite straight away! A final stop at Machico before heading for the airport did not produce any Rock Sparrows or Waxbills but we did see more Common Terns, Grey Wagtails and six Turnstones.      

Species list with comment

Cory’s Shearwater; seen in large numbers perhaps 400 on 28th where rafting and general gathering prior to heading onto the island for the night. Thousands noted en-route to, actually on the Deserta Grande and return route to Funchal. On the island we located a few on the ground, some calling from rocks others on the path. I had one ‘shear’ my head with its wingtip. We found one obliging bird in a sheltered spot where the bin was kept! These birds were vocalising in large numbers after the sun went down, hundreds flying low over us and past us calling as they went. The crossing to the islands provided different conditions for viewing them, the stronger wind allowed them to climb very high above the waves, the calm conditions seeing them flap and glide low and their appearance was of a more marked dark and white bird when there was cloud cover. This species was also seen on the 1 July pelagic with c 200 noted.

Little Shearwater; after thinking we could not improve on a Maderian Petrel at sea I noticed a bird behaving in a untypical fashion in my experience, it was disappearing underwater, plunging, in a flying action before reappearing again, when on the surface I could see it was a Little Shearwater and not a Flying Fish. I shouted to Luis to slow the boat down and bring her around which he did and we all got spectacular views as it peck fed around flotsam and jetsam, plunge dived and mad short flights between feeding bouts. Again it was another quality birding experience. Luis Dias managed to get some decent shots and I got a few which were useful for reference.

Manx Shearwater; during our evening pelagic on 28th June at least three were seen loitering offshore, perhaps waiting to go into their forest nest burrows high up in valley above Funchal. The breeding season is at its end or close to it hence the few sighted.

Bulwer’s Petrel; on the evening pelagic we logged 250-280 on them passing us all heading purposefully toward the Desertas, lots of close views. The crossing to the Desertas gave us 50-60 in total. On the daytime walk we had a look at one nesting in a wall but it was at dusk and at night that we experienced something very different. They began flying around our picnic area as it got dark, we saw them on the ground whilst following the trail on Deserta Grande and watched them dropped directly if somewhat clumsily into their crevice nest sites just a foot or two in front of us.  A few caused us to stop in our tracks and let them waddle off the path, one or two fluttered onto us. I slept outside where they were flying around my sleeping bag bumping into the shelter roof looking for holes and scurrying about on the table. I did not mind being disturbed in this way. The return boat crossing on the 30th June saw us log over 200, the day pelagic on 1 July c230-250 were seen. There were lots of great views of this smashing little bird including some large rafts of up to 24.

Deserta Petrel (Fea’s) On the 29th June we saw between 7-9 individuals in flight from the boat, at least two were very close giving excellent views. Most sightings were in the sound or near to Bugio during the afternoon, I watched two look at our chum slick, passing over a few times and then heading off again. On the 30 June we logged one or a Zino’s on the return crossing which was not far from Madeira island. On the day pelagic of 1 July we logged another Deserta/Zino’s as it flew by again close to Madeira Island and Funchal.

Zino’s Petrel; we were guided to the Pico de Areerio site with Joao and got in position to wait for them. A starry sky and pretty calm conditions allowed us to hear the calls of this bird clearly as they became bolder with time. We could hear their wings as they swooped lower and lower until a pair? fluttered low over our heads on the edge of the cliff, this time the silhouette of the birds could be seen clearly.

Madeiran Petrel; on the evening of the 29th we waited in the dark listening to them calling at the base of the cliff on the Deserta Grande. They seem to be flying higher and following the top of the landslide slope where they are thought to nest. A few silhouettes were probably of this species but we did not use torches to follow them to avoid gulls predating them. Once the Cory’s and Bulwers had quietened down the Madeiran Petrels could be heard easily giving the ‘fingers squiggled rapidly on a window pane’ double note. The day pelagic on 1 July saw us all delighted to see on cross the bow fairly close and in full view as it was so calm, it joined a Bulwer’s Petrel for comparison, great stuff.

Little Egret; one seen in Funchal Harbour on 28th.

Black Kite; an unexpected bird was found by the team that remained on the island on 3rd. This is a rarity for the island and appears to be the 3rd for the island.

Buzzard; seen near Funchal and on the full day tour.

Kestrel; seen commonly around the towns and countryside.

Turnstone; one in Funchal harbour on 30th.

Common Tern; dozens seen around Funchal harbour and a few pairs on Deserta Grande.

Roseate Tern; four found among a tern flock at Machico on 2nd.

Yellow-legged Gull; common around Madeira Island and dozens noted on Deserta Grande.

Trocaz Pigeon; seen by all on the day out around the island on 2nd.

Barn Owl; one was perched on roadside wires as we descended from the Pico back to the villages above Funchal at 0015 on 30 June.

Plain Swift; seen commonly over the towns and Funchal, Keith spotted on coming in off the sea on the 28 June evening pelagic.

Berthelot’s Pipit; a few pairs were seen on Deserta Grande, some coming to drink at a pool.

Grey Wagtail; seen around the town and on most freshwater streams.

Spectacled Warbler; seen on the full day tour on 2nd.

Madeiran Firecrest; seen on the full day tour on 2nd.

Canary; seen commonly around Madeira Island especially in the gardens and also noted on Deserta Grande in small parties.

Also Blackbird, Blackcap, Siskin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a parakeet sp. The resident birds were mostly island races.

Other species

Bryde’s Whale; two were seen very close inshore near to Funchal Harbour as we returned to port on 1 July. One allowed some close views showing for about six minutes at a time on and off on the surface and then making a deep dive for about ten minutes, a brilliant end to the boat trip.

Pilot Whale; a pod of c 30 were seen at close range basking on the surface during our crossing on 29th June.

Striped Dolphin; two were seen leaping some way out of the water at distance on 1 July day pelagic.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin; a pod were seen close to Funchal on 29 June as we left for the Desertas a few others were noted whilst crossing and on 1 July day pelagic.

Common Dolphin; a large pod was feeding near to Funchal on 29 June we got close views of them which included a calf. It was unusual to record them at this time of year as they are normally further north.

Loggerhead Turtle; four recorded on the 1 July pelagic, one was spotted by Rita very close to the boat but dived, Keith spotted another which again dived but two together which were picked up by Richard stayed on the surface for us to watch at leisure, yet another brilliant wildlife experience.

Madeiran Wall Lizard; very common everywhere.

This was a very good trip, thanks to all who attended for your company I enjoyed birding with you, congratulations on the ‘find’.

Martin J McGill

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