Norfolk Birders

Norfolk Birdwatching and beyond!

Madeira July 2008

Madeira Trip Report


July 9th – July 12th   2008


Lee Evans

Robert Fuge

Sue Bryan

Joan Thompson




                                                                                      Lee, Rob and Joan enjoying a relaxing drink





At the start of the year, Lee had sent had sent an E-mail to some of us that he knew that might be interested in joining him on a few trips that he was organizing to various part of the Western Palearctic in his quest to record as many WP birds as possible in the year. I had responded with an E-mail highlighting some of the trips I thought I might be interested in. Besides my passion of birding I also have an interest in volcanoes and have visited some of the islands on the mid-Atlantic ridge, that combine my two interests well. One of the short trips he mentioned was a short trip to the island of Madeira which I was keen to do as it meant a visit to the Pico do Ariero a volcano of 6000 feet high for Zino’s Petrels that breed there. However this walk was to be at night in the dark!


Lee is a phenomenal birder both in his knowledge and his ability to pick birds out and identify them with ease. I have enjoyed his company along with Robert Fuge and Joan Thompson and so was very keen to make the most of the opportunity.




9th July      Gatwick to Funchal  

10th July    Pelagic to Desertas Islands plus an evening walk to Pico do Ariero

11th July    Machico- Canico- Ponta de la Lorenco-Ponta Moniz – Lugar de Baixo

12th July    Funchal




Lee arranged the flight and car hire. Cost of the flight, and share of the car hire and petrol came to about £450. We flew with Easyjet from Gatwick to Funchal and hired a car locally a couple of miles from the airport.




We had a night in a hotel at Porto Moniz that we did not pre-book costing around £25 each and two nights in a hotel in Funchal that we also did not pre-book costing around £25 a night each.




I took Euros. We had our evening meals at a range of tourist restaurants and since I was on a diet I ate very little else!




It was very hot during the day except when we up at altitude when it was cooler.




Madeira is situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean 630 km west of the Moroccan coast and 900 km from Portugal. It has an area of about 794 sq. km. Madeira (57 km long by about 22 km wide) is a very dramatic island with deep gorges and high remnants of volcanoes 1800 metres high. The islands of Desertas, 20 km south-east of Madeira is a designated nature reserve. The Desertas consists of three islands; Deserta Grande, Chão and Bugio and is an excellent place to sail to watching sea birds en-route.















Wooded ravines in Madeira






Daily Log


9th July


After driving through the night I arrived at Gatwick early in the morning. At the Easyjet check-in desk I was met with enormous queues and wondered where my fellow travelers were. A quick phone call established that one of them had overslept! However after a mild panic and some re-packing due to Easyjet’s rules and regulations about size of hand luggage (we had no hold luggage) we were on our way.


Arriving at Funchal on a runway built out into the sea we were met by a man from the car hire firm and taken to the car-hire depot a couple of miles from the airport. We were soon loaded up and made our way up to the hills above Funchal. I was impressed by the scenery of the deeply indented forested gorges, remnants of former volcanic activity that the island was made up from. I was hopeful that with the good weather we would soon be adding birds to our list. The weather was hot and sunny but as we added birds like Plain Swift whirling overhead we soon encountered cooler weather up in the hills. We searched the wooded areas and soon heard Madeiran Firecrest calling. Two birds were seen flitting in the trees as we also watched Madeiran Chaffinches that were in good numbers. Robins were also clicking away as Blackbirds were searching for food.


Making our way around the island Madeiran Berthelot’s Pipits were evident in many fields as a Common Buzzard flew overhead. We stopped at Ribeira de Janela and looked down over the ravine of wooded slopes. Trocaz Pigeons flew below us but frustratingly would not settle on any trees within view for us to get a good view in the scope.

We found a hotel at Porto Moniz and watched Cory’s Shearwaters from the hotel balcony. As we made our way to a local restaurant for an evening meal, a Blackcap and Linnet flew into a few bushes at the side of the road.










Madeiran Berthelot’s Pipit











10th July


This was to be the day that I had been looking forward to as we were booked on to a pelagic today and in the evening we were to be taken up to the top of  the Pico do Ariero volcano to look for Zino’s Petrel. We were all hoping for a fine day.


The weather could not have been kinder as it was hot and sunny. After meeting up with Catarina from Madeira Wind Birds  in Funchal we followed her to Canical where we boarded the boat. We were disappointed to find that we were being loaded on with ordinary tourists and this was not a dedicated pelagic. (Apparently the boat the company usually use was undergoing repair.) We were too late for an early morning passage of seabirds. However in the first few minutes of leaving the harbour the captain spotted a Fin Whale and we were delighted to be able to follow it to obtain some views of it breaching the surface. It was accompanied by Bottlenose Dolphins which kept us entertained as they swam by the boat’s side as well as underneath us.


However they soon disappeared and we set course for the Desertas Islands once again. We began our seawatching in earnest and we all picked up a Fea’s Petrel skimming the surface of the water. Common Terns also flew in the boat’s wake.


After a couple of hours we arrived near the shore of the Desertas islands and I was keen to make it to shore. Unfortunately my keenness to get into the zodiac that had pulled up by the side of the boat to take us to shore, was to be my undoing as the captain had other ideas. We had to put up with the general tourist wanting their lunch and swimming time. It was extremely frustrating wasting such valuable time. I am sure the other birders on board felt so too! After an extremely long wait, I was first into the Zodiac with Lee, Rob and Joan. When we made it ashore we managed to persuade a warden to show us a Bulwer’s Petrel before the general tourists swamped the island.























                                                                                                              Bulwer’s Petrel


We were delighted with such good views and after admiring the bird we set off with the warden and soon located other nests. A Berthelot’s Pipit made a welcome distraction before taking other photographs of a Bulwer’s Petrel sitting in a nest cavity.























                                                 Bulwer’s Petrel                                                    Me holding a Bulwer’s Petrel


It was lovely to have the privilege to be able to hold a Bulwer’s Petrel; its plumage was so soft!




Sue with Bulwer’s Petrel

(photo courtesy of Jan van der Laan)



All too soon we were asked to make our way back to the boat moored offshore. Lee, Joan and I were last to do so as we wanted to make the most of our time on the island.



































  Lee waiting in the Zodiac for our trip back to the boat moored offshore of the Desertas Islands























                                    Joan, Lee and Rob aboard our boat to the Desertas Islands 


The captain was not amused at our tardiness and was determined to sail back to Madeira in the quickest manner quite unbecoming of a pelagic trip. Although the weather was still magnificent and the prospect of birding excellent, the captain had no idea of how a pelagic should be run and would not slow down enough to get good views of the passing Fea’s Petrels. We had a Bulwer’s Petrel in flight as well as Cory’s Shearwaters. Lee thought he had a Zino’s Petrel but the speed of the boat made it difficult to view anything well for diagnostic purposes for the rest of us. We were disappointed that there was no communication from Catarina who was supposed to be taking control of the pelagic and the captain. We were back several hours too early for the evening passage of seabirds.


Back at the hotel we were hopeful of  our good fortune weather-wise would continue because the evening trip up to the top of Pico do Ariero was dependent on it being clear at the top. The last two trips had had to be cancelled due to low cloud and we did not have spare days to play with. Luck stayed with us and Hugo and Catarina picked us up in their new van to take us to the top of the volcano from our hotel. On the journey up we passed through some cloud but soon found ourselves above it where it was exceedingly clear. We arrived at the start of the pathway just as the sun was setting. WOW what a spectacular sight! AWESOME!


Joan and Lee both had their doubts whether they would make the trip because of various problems but they both overcame their difficulties and all four of us donned our head lamps and set off with guides along the narrow pathway up and down the mountainside. This trip is not for the feint-hearted! Sheer precipices on both sides with exceedingly long drops at night time made all our hearts flutter a little on occasions as well as stopping now and then to regain one’s breath back from the exertion of steep climbs on the uneven pathway. However with care in the dark, (and a little moonlight when it came up) I think most birders will make it with a little determination! After shedding a little weight we finally made it to a precipice and sat down in anticipation in the dark. Shadows from something could be seen going over our heads and we decided that it must be bats. After being served tea from flasks we carefully made our way a little further along the path and were afforded stunning views of Zino’s Petrels flying in close to the rock face where we were stood. It was surreal in the dark as we watched in awe. It will certainly be added to one of my ‘birding moments’ that I shall remember for the rest of my life!


I think we were all a little reluctant to leave as the birds were stunning and we all knew more effort was going to be needed for our walk back to the van. Rob and I set off at a steady pace and managed to keep going (well with a few breathers here and there). Lee overtook us and was first back to the van to his huge relief! Joan took a little longer but she did extremely well considering her poorly knees. We finally made it back to the hotel for 1.30am. The trip was well organised by Hugo and Catarina from Madeiran Wind Birds for which I thank them.


11th July

We drove to Garajau by the statue of Christ (Christo Rei) where we managed to see a Spectacled Warbler down the steps to the promontory. Pallid Swifts were also in flight here. Moving on to Machico we stopped and walked a stream where there was a small wetland area. Common Waxbills flew in and out of the reeds as a Little Egret waded in the stream near the shore. Monarch Butterflies were fairly common here. We also added Goldfinch to our trip list.  At Canico we watched a small colony of Spanish Sparrows in a rundown house and garden.


Christo Rei in the evening


Moving on to Ponta de la Lorenco we had heard about a claim of a Pallid Harrier. I soon located a harrier species flying low over a hilltop and we all watched it before deciding that we needed closer views. We were concerned about its identification as its jizz did not seem right for Pallid Harrier and Lee was concerned about some of its plumage features. Luckily Vaughn Ashby had taken some photos and it is now considered to be a Montagu’s Harrier. We also saw Rock Sparrow here on the rocks!


We heard about the exact location of the Green-winged Teal that had been resident on the island for some time and its location had been very near where we had spent the night in the far north-west of the island. So….back we went and had a very uninspiring view of an eclipse Green-winged Teal feeding in the river by the power station near the beach.









Rob and Lee cooling down in the river after watching Trocaz Pigeons and Madeiran Firecrests.



At Lugar de Baixo we added Moorhen and Coot to our lists sat down in the sun by the small wet land area betwixt a café and the shoreline, before taking a break for lunch in the searing heat in a small café. Back in Funchal we climbed the steps to the harbour wall where we had some discussion about Common and Roseate Terns breeding on the harbour wall. At Machico for the late-afternoon sea-watch Lee picked out a Little Shearwater amongst the Cory’s Shearwaters which we were all delighted to add to our trip list. We returned once more to the statue of Christ but failed to connect with the Barn Owl that another birder was watching as we were all stood in the wrong place at the time. It did not return after some time of watching before we called it a day.





12th July
























                                                                                                 Views of Funchal


Back to the harbour in Funchal we all had good views of Roseate Tern before heading to the airport after returning the hire car to its depot, for our flight back to Gatwick. It had been an excellent trip with our thanks to Lee once again for his excellent organization, cheerful company and driving and to Joan and Rob for their fantastic companionship and humour.


Systematic List



1.      Madeira (Zino's) Petrel (Pterodroma madeira) Pico do Ariero, Madeira, Portugal 10/07/2008

2.      Feae's Petrel (Pterodroma feae )     Desertas Islands, Madeira, Portugal      10/07/2008

3.      Bulwer's Petrel (Bulweria bulwerii)  Desertas Islands, Madeira, Portugal      10/07/2008

4.      Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portugal 09/07/2008

5.      Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis baroli)   Machico, Madeira, Portugal      11/07/2008

6.      Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)           Machico, Madeira, Portugal      11/07/2008

7.      Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis)         Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portugal 11/07/2008

8.      Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)           Ponta de la Lorenco, Madeira, Portugal 11/07/2008

9.      Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)     Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

10.  Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis) Funchal, Madeira, Portugal            09/07/2008

11.  Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)     Lugar de Baixo, Madeira, Portugal        11/07/2008

12.  Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) Lugar de Baixo, Madeira, Portugal        11/07/2008

13.  Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)          Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       10/07/2008

14.  Western Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans (atlantis )Funchal, Madeira, Portugal 09/07/2008

15.  Roseate Tern Funchal (Sterna dougallii) Madeira. Portugal 11/07/2008

16.  Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)       Desertas Islands, Madeira, Portugal      10/07/2008

17.  Trocaz Pigeon (Columba trocaz)     Ribeira da Janela, Madeira, Portugal     09/07/2008

18.  Plain Swift (Apus unicolor [apus])   Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

19.  Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus bremorum)         Gara Hugo, Madeira, Portugal 11/07/2008

20.  Madeiran Berthelot's Pipit (Anthus berthelotii madeirensis) Funchal, Madeira, Portugal 09/07/2008

21.  Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea schmitzi)    Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

22.  European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)           Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

23.  Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

24.  Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla heineken)          Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portugal            09/07/2008

25.  Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata)    Gara Hugo, Madeira, Portugal 11/07/2008

26.  Firecrest (Regulus madeirensis)       Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

27.  Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis [domesticus])  Canico, Madeira, Portugal 11/07/2008

28.  Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia madeirensis) Ponta de la Lorenco,Madeira, Portugal        11/07/2008

29.  Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)   Machico, Madeira, Portugal      11/07/2008

30.  Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs madeirensis       Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

31.  Island Canary (Serinus canaria)       Funchal, Madeira, Portugal       09/07/2008

32.  European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis parva)       Machico, Madeira, Portugal      11/07/2008

33.  Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina guentheri)       Porto Moniz, Madeira, Portugal 09/07/2008






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