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Birding Maderia - White-faced Storm Petrel

Birding Madeira
Madeira has the reputation of having the best pelalgic birding in the Western Palearctic. The island boasts a couple of endemic species and plenty of endemic subspecies. Although I visited the island on a family holiday I did do the three day pelalgic trip run by Madeira Wind Birds - a trip for hard-core birders if there ever was one. The remainder of the time I did virtually no birding at all.

To see all the seabirds, and see them well, there is no real alternative to the three day pelagic trip (not actually three days at sea but three day trips returning to land each evening). However, birders unable to take the trip for whatever reason could take one or more "half day" whale and dolphin" trips - these produce at least some of the birds - Cory's, Bulwer's and Fea's Petrels are all possible on these trips. Indeed, it was on a dolphin trip after the three day pelalgic I obtained my best views of the Fea's - four birds in a fight with Cory's over a fish.

Very many of the hotels overlook the sea and if there is one regret other than taking the next pelalgic trip, when a Black-bellied Storm Petrel was seen, it is that I did not take a telescope. Seawatching from the balcony outside our hotel room was quite productive even with just binoculars. On the mornings I tried seawatching from the balcony I "only" had hundreds of Cory's - even when using the extender to turn my bins into a scope. With a bit more wind and / or effort both Fea's and Bulwer's Petrels would no doubt have been possible.

Zino's Petrel, Maderia
Zino's Petrel - one really has to go to Maderia to see this species

The trip I took was effectively from 03 August to 08 August 2011 (with one day travelling either side of these dates). Itinery was as follows:
03 August: No birding other than a 45 minute seawatch from the hotel balcony. Canaries, Little Egret, Plain Swift, Kestrel etc
04 August: Swimming in the morning. Pelagic Trip from early afternoon until late at night
05 August: Swimming in the morning. Pelagic Trip from early afternoon until late at night
06 August: Swimming in the morning. Pelagic Trip from early afternoon until late at night
07 August: Walk around Funchal Marina and one of the parks in the morning (late and with the family). Dolphin trip in the afternoon
08 August: An hour or so birding Funchal marina from 07:00 onwards. Late morning family trip on the cable car in Funchal

White-faced Storm-petrel, Madeira
White-faced Storm-petrel, 05 August 2011, Madeira

The Pelalgic Trip
The birding highlight of the holiday (and the only real reason for visiting Madeira) was the three day pelalgic trip run by Madeira Wind Birds. During this trip all the expected species were seen - and seen well. Zino's and Fea's Petrels were naturally the highlights. The supporting cast consisted of White-faced, Madeiran and Wilson's Storm Petrels with the latter species being seen daily.

The commonest species on these trips were Cory's Shearwater and Bulwer's Petrel which were seen in good numbers each day. Small numbers of Arctic Terns and a lone Arctic Skua were also seen.

White-faced Storm-petrel, Madeira
White-faced Storm-petrel, 05 August 2011, Madeira

Two essential books for Madeira:

Wilson's Storm Ptrel, Madeira
Wilson's Storm Petrel, 05 August 2011, Madeira.

Note that clicking on any of the images on this page will take you to more pictures of each species
Gyrfalcon Cory's Shearwater, Maderia
Bulwer's Petrel, August 2011 Cory's Shearwater, August 2011
Fea's Petrel Zino's Petrel, Maderia
The size of the beak on this bird indicates beyond doubt that this is a Fea's Petrel, Madeira, August 2011 Zino's Petrel, Madeira, August 2011

Maderian Storm Petrel
Above and below - record shots of Madeiran Storm Petrel
Maderian Storm Petrel

Madeiran Storm petrel bu Max Berlijn

Oceanodroma - the aptly named rib boat
The rib boat "Oceanodroma" used for the pelagic and dolphin trips


The marina and harbour at Funchal are a good place to bird - the area attacts huge numbers of gulls, which with some effort and / or a scope would no doubt produce results. All I saw in the very little time I spent birding the area were about 1000 Yellow-legged Gulls and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

The highlight here was the long staying but often elusive Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I got the bird at 07:00 before it was even light. Other stuff in this area were several Little Egrets, Turnstones, a few Common Sandpiper, Common Terns and the ubiquitous Grey Wagtails.

The parks produced the usual selection of Madeiran birds - Plain Swifts, Blackcaps, Canaries and Blackbirds.

For birders who still have families taking the cable car is a worthwhile trip - I spent about half an hour in the area around the top of the cable car route in the late morning and had plenty of birds including many Madeiran Firecrests, Robins, Chaffinch, Sparrowhawk and a larger raptor - probably a buzzard. Walking through the gardens there or taking a walk further towards the tops would no doubt have produced more.

Yellow-legged Gulls drinking on the shore Yellow-legged Gull with rat, Funchal, Maderia
Large numbers of gulls drink from the stream running out onto the shore near Funchal marina A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull with a dead rat, Funchal, August 2011
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Yellow-legged Gulls
Pre-dawn record shot of the long-staying but sometimes elusive Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Funchal marina, Madeira,August 2011
This is a species I haven't seen since Mobile, Alabama
Over 1000 Yellow-legged Gulls were present in Funchal harbour on my visit there. Surely worth working through for those with the 'scope and the time to do it, August 2011

Cable Car, Funchal, Maderia
View of Funchal from the top cable car station

Sao Martinho
Our hotel was in Sao Martinho (walking distance from Funchal but a taxi cost only 5 Euro). The coast was rather built up but even the walk along the promenade produced plenty of Canaries, Plain Swifts, Blackcaps, Kestrels, Common Terns and Yellow-legged Gulls. Small numbers of Blacbirds and Grey wagtails were also noted here.

Plain Swifts gathering to roost Canaries along the promenade
Plain Swifts gathering to roost, August 2011 Canaries along the promenade, Sao Martinho, Madeira, August 2011.
(Picture taken with a compact superzoom camera)
Swimming in the sea in Maderia Seawatching from the hotel balcony
There were various opportunities for swimming in the sea but this was my favourite Quite possible to seawatch from the hotel balcony - even with just binoculars.

Blackcaps are a very common species on Maderia
Blackcap are a very common species in Madeira
Picture taken with a compact superzoom camera.

Arctic Skua seen on pelalgic trip Arctic Tern
Arctic Skua investigates chum slick, Madeira, August 2011 One of several Arctic Terns seen on day one of the pelagic trips.

Publications, information and books

Links to other websites covering Madeira can be found below:

One of the best seawatching websites ever:
Birding Maderia

And of course the pelagic operators themselves:

Maderia Wind Birds

White-faced Storm-petrel, 05 August filmed by Max Berlijn

Other wildlife
Madeira is a great place for marine mammals - during my stay I didn't really look for them much. Dolphins were seen regularly (with binoculars) from the hotel room balcony and further pods of dolphins were encountered during the pelagic trips. The commonest species were Bottle-nosed and Spotted Dolphins.

Many species of fish were seen in the sea - the area seems a lot more productive than, for example, the Mediterranean. One of the trip highlights was an Ocean Sunfish seen during a dolphin trip.

The only other mammal I saw was a drowned rat (being eaten by a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull).

Madeiran Lizards are VERY common and extremely variable in both size and colouration.

Several species of butterfly were seen including the impressive Monarch butterfly which has colonised the island all the way from the Americas!

Maderian Lizards lined up on a wall
Madeiran Lizards are abundant and variable!

Maderian Lizard
Madeiran Lizard

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