Week Holiday with 4 Madeira Wind Birds nature tours

Madeira Trip Report by Paul Gaffan (UK)

Monday June 11th

"Madeira Wind Birds had arranged a trip to As Ilhas Desertas for us onboard the motor yacht “Gaviao”. So after another super breakfast we sauntered down to the marina and boarded the yacht. Miguel the captain introduced himself and after another six guests boarded we set sail in a south easterly direction. The weather was stunning, sunny and hot but of course the cool sea wind made the temperature feel perfect.

After leaving the sanctuary of the marina we soon got into small flocks of Cory’s Shearwaters and managed to pick up on one Little Shearwater (of the Atlantic sub-species baroli which some experts give full species credit as Macronesian Shearwater). Several Bulwer’s Petrels sliced their way over the wave crests, a very evocative experience to see.

We anchored in the small haven on Deserta Grande for lunch and some of our shipmates took the opportunity to land, Pat and I stayed on board and watched a pair of Common Tern lazily cruise the anchorage. The return journey showed the same birds again as the outward but we added Manx Shearwater to the list. We were a little disappointed that we did not get nearer to Bugio to enable us a better chance of seeing Fea’s Petrel and also a little surprised that we were the only birders on the voyage. The crew of the “Gaviao” were excellent and Miguel was a super chef as well as a good captain but a greater knowledge of the birds would have been a help.

Back in Funchal several Goldfinch tinkled in the Sao Francesco Gardens. We ate espada in a little back street restaurant before retiring for the night.

N.b. Espada is this most ugly fish you have ever seen but tastes wonderful.

Tuesday June 12th

After another pleasant breakfast Hugo arrived at the hotel to take us on a full day’s tour of the best birding spots in the western part of the island. We picked up a further six participants as we left the city. Two people were regular birders and the other four were interested in birds and potential birders of the future. Our first stop was at Lugar de Baixo near Ponta do Sol which has a reputation for turning up unusual vagrants. We found Little Egret, Moorhen, Coot and many Common Waxbill continuing their march westward on the island.

Moving on we arrived at Ponto do Pargo, high cliffs with grassy tops which attract some good birds. We managed to see Red-legged Partridge (scarce), a pair of Red-footed Falcons, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, a very obliging Berthelot’s Pipit and a fly-by Barn Swallow (scarce migrant). After lunch in Porto Moniz (espada again) we headed along the northern coast to Ribeira da Janela and a first for Madeira in the shape of a Green-winged Teal which had taken up residence during the last few weeks. Just outside the village we entered an area of Laurel forest called Chao Ribeira and eventually we were rewarded with views of Trocaz Pigeon. Two separate birds gave excellent flight views whilst four others gave quick sightings albeit definitive ones.

The trip had been a great success and Madeira Wind Birds managed to blend experience and beginners with style.

Wednesday June 13th

We awaited the arrival of Catarina and Hugo for our night trip to Pico do Areeirio. Punctually they arrived and we drove inland and higher to the peak before embarking on the trek along the ridge to the “sofa”, a piece of the mountain that you can sit comfortably on. Catarina was well stocked up with very welcome hot tea as we waited. Soon eerie calls could be heard and the first of the Zino’s Petrels put in an appearance right in front of us, a further two were actually seen in the moonlight which was a fantastic result. The calls are made by non-breeding birds and Catarina documents the numbers of calls to monitor the numbers of birds on the mountain. The calls were described by Madeiran shepherds as the cries of the souls of nuns as they departed this earth, they certainly are weird. The figure given for the population of this very rare and most enigmatic of sea birds is between 250-400 so we felt justly privileged to have seen three!

Friday June 15th

A lazy morning mooching around the marina before an afternoon trip with Madeira Wind Birds.

Catarina and Hugo collected us from the hotel and we made our way to Ribeiro Frio in the company of a couple from London. Once at the Ribeiro we walked the levada to a viewpoint opposite Pico do Areeirio, a magical experience. At the viewpoint we also had excellent telescope views of Trocaz Pigeons actually feeding on laurel. The picnic area also produced the inevitable Chaffinch and Madeira Firecrest was common on the levada walk.

We returned to Funchal and later met Catarina and Hugo for dinner. We took dinner in an Italian type restaurant serving pasta and pizza which was very good. Taking our leave of Catarina and Hugo we thanked them for their efforts on our behalf and wished them every success."

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