Madeira 8th to 15th of September 2008

Madeira 8th to 15th of September 2008

8th of September

The trip started when my father drove us to Helsinki airport and after some waiting our Finnair holiday-flight to Madeira left at 10 a.m. A long almost 6 hours flight showed that Finnish people can behave. The service was really good and finally at 2 p.m. we landed to Funchal.

We found our luggage soon and we continued to the hall where we should find an AutoEuropre officer with our name on plate as we had rent a car. But we couldn’t find anyone. After a half an hour waiting we called to the office and they promised to come to pick us up to their office. Another half an hour and nothing happened so we called again, and then one more hour and we called once again and I was already very angry! Finally after more than 2 hours waiting somebody came to pick us up and we continued to Santa Cruz to AutoEurope office where we still had to wait for a half an hour before we finally got our Toyota Yaris. We left as soon as possible and drove directly to Funchal. On the way we had the first tripticks Feral Pigeons, Kestrels and a Hobby.

We drove directly to Funchal harbour where it wasn’t very easy to find a parking place but after some waiting we managed to get our car just next to harbour. Soon we were looking at Yellow-legged Gulls (atlantis), some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Common Terns. Even though the variation of the plumage of Common Terns was huge we couldn’t find anything like Roseate Terns. Some Canarys were calling, Plain Swifts were flying high on the sky, a couple of Grey Wagtails were passing by and on the big jetty there were some Turnstones.

We went to eat to the restaurant near the harbour and we had excellent pepper steaks! So finally we started to feel like on holiday, I had been so angry because of the AutoEurope. I called to Hugo Romano (MadeiraWind) as we had planned to go to try to see and hear Zino’s Petrels but the weather was too windy and rainy so we decided to try some other night. Because we had organized a trip to Desertas for the next 1.5 days with Ventura do Mar we called to Catarina Alves who also told us a hotel in Funchal where to stay. We had to wait for a half an hour to get a taxi to Residencial Gordon (room was 50 €). Of course this taxi drove us to a wrong place (even though we had written the name of the hotel and the street to a paper) and we had to walk with our luggage to the hotel.

Soon we went to have a short walk in St Catarina park where we saw some Canarys, Plain Swifts and some Blackbirds. When we were back on the hotel I realized that we could drive to Ponto do Garajau where should be a colony of Cory’s Shearwaters and a possibility to hear Madeiran Storm Petrels. So we walked to our car that we had left to the park in harbour. Somehow the engine wasn’t starting easily but soon we were in Ponta do Garajau.

First we walked to a big Jesus-statue and then continued down to a rock but we couldn’t find anything. Several young romantic couples were disturbing our birding so we decided to drive down very steep and curvy road to a restaurant where we found beautiful cliffs. A Cory’s Shearwater was flying there around but only thing we called was a young Cory’s begging call – and we heard it only twice. Finally we decided to go back to Funchal but now our car wasn’t starting at all anymore! Finally on about 10th try it worked and we drove back to the harbour where we decided to leave our car as we were anyway leaving to Desertas from the harbour at next morning. It was already 1 a.m. when we finally went to sleep.

To Desertas

On the 9th of September we woke up before 8 a.m., had a breakfast that was offered in a garden of the hotel, where we saw the 1st Blackcap of the trip and then we took a taxi down to the harbour. We left our luggage in to our car and called to the AutoEurope once again and solved what was wrong with our car. It was a surprise for us that when starting the engine of Toyota Yaris also the brake must be pushed very hard! I was very angry once again to AutoEurope that they never told this when we rent the car! I’ll never use AutoEurope again!

We walked to the harbour where we found the Ventura do Mar office, we paid 140€ per person for our 1,5 days trip to Desertas and walked to our boat. (Normally the price of this trip is 120@ but we had found only 7 participans and normal minimum is 8.). We met the crew marine-biologist Luis Diasin and Marco Gamelas and soon German Ingo Weiss and Marcus Römhild, Hungarian couple Istvan Katona and Gabi Katona-Urban and a Swedish whose name we never asked came too. I had done a big work to find all the participants to join us to Desertas which we hoped to be the highlight of our trip. Big thanks to Niklas Holmstöm whose excellent internet sites helped me to contact to Germans and Hungarians and to Ventura do Mar that found the Swedish and organized everything.

I had really hoped this trip come true. I had been envious to the recording that Jarmo Pirhonen had managed to get of Cory’s Shearwater previous autumn and he had also heard several Madeiran Storm Petrels. Of course on the way to island all groups had seen lots of different seabirds and also other animals.

At 10.30 a.m. we left toward the Desertas. In the harbour a couple of Sanderlings passed us and on the jetty there were a couple of Kentish Plovers and a Ringed Plover with Turnstones. Soon we were at sea and found first Cory’s Shearwaters. I was a pleasure to watch these big seabirds becouse of the wind wasn’t too strong.
Soon Luis found whales and we joined a couple of whale-watching boats and went to photograph amazing flock of Bryde’s Whales! These whales let us go very close but always when they dived we lost them for some time and found them in some other direction than we’d thought. We were following these whales for some time and then continued towards the open sea.

Soon I found the first black long-winged and tailed shearwater – a Bulwer’s Petrel! The first lifer! The bird was flying in between the waves so it disappeared behind them and then rose back towards the sky surprisingly far again. It was really flying fast. Soon we found more Bulwer’s Petrels and we realized how difficult it was to follow their flight because of when they were behind the waves they often turned and flew to opposite direction until they turned again. Cory’s Shearwaters were now everywhere and the closest ones were coming very close to us. Some flocks were swimming and we tried to go slowly very close to photograph these amazing birds. Always they left when we were on 15 to 20 metres and landed again a little bit further. Our skippers were absolutely skilful and they really knew what we wanted! We had to just point the direction od only look to one direction a little bit longer with binoculars and we were heading towards the birds.

In the mid-way there wasn’t that many birds but soon we found the first Fea’s Petrel (actually these birds will soon be Desertas Petrels). These birds were flying uniquely, even more up and down than other seabirds. Also a couple of flocks of Manx’s Shearwaters were migrating fast on the sea.

In the afternoon we landed to Grande Desertas for an hour. There was only a small flat area where we were aloud to go. There was also the scientist’s house. Luckily we found a couple of young Bulwer’s Petrels that were still on their nests. On of these was just in the middle of 2 rocks so we could take some pictures. We also found some Berthelot’s Pipits and Yellow-legged Gulls were calling from the steep cliffs where they were breeding. Otherwise there wasn’t much to see so we went to seawatch with Germans.

In the evening we went close to island of Bugio where we found big flocks of Cory’s and some Bulwer’s and Desertas Petrels. We managed to get some pictures of also these species; there was even a flock with 3 different species swimming – 1 bird of each species.

During the day at sea we had seen hundreds of Cory’s, 50 Manx’s, 30 Bulwer’s and 15 Desertas Petrels.

The night on the boat

We parked our boat close to the house under the steep cliffs of Deserta Grande. While we were having a dinner the sun set and it came dark. We were very excited as we started to wait for the seabirds to come to their colonies.

After a couple of hours we haven’t heard anything but then a Cory’s Shearwater flew over us and shouted its nasal call just above our heads. But then it was quiet again. After a long wait we heard a Madeiran Storm Petrel calling a couple of times – the call was typical for summer breeding form. But then again it was absolutely quiet, only the hard wind made the waves hit to the cliffs very noisy. Finally we were too tired to continue and fell asleep.

During the night we woke up several times when some Cory’s were calling briefly while they arrived from the sea but mostly the calls were weak behind the wind and waves. Anyway in almost full moon light we could see these birds flying over us. It was amazing even though we had expected to hear much more birds.

And back to sea

On the morning of 10th of September we woke up a couple of hours before the sunrise but nothing was calling. Soon the gulls started to call and fly around the night was over.

After the breakfast we went close to Bugio again and found big flocks of Cory’s but only a couple of Bulwer’s and Desertas Petrels. The way back to Funchal was after all better: a couple of flocks of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins came to swim and jump in front of our boat. These funny animals were photographed even more than Cory’s that were again everywhere. We also found a flock of Pilot Whales and we managed to get good pictures of them again. We were already pretty close to Funchal when we found a couple of Desertas Petrels swimming and finally we managed to get pretty good pictures of this species too.

Very close to the harbour we found an Arctic Skua swimming and in the harbour we saw a Little Egret. Soon we parked our boat and it was good to have a stable ground under our feet again. We met Catarina briefly but soon we were on our way to Porto Moniz!

Through the island to west

On the way toward the western Madeira we found a big flock of Plain Swifts and just a few kilometres before Porto Moniz we stopped at Ribeira de Janela river-mouth where a Green-winged Teal male was found with a flock of feral ducks. We were photographing this small duck lifer for some time before we headed to Porto Moniz. We found our hotel Residencial Calhau easily (35€ per night for a double). We managed to get one of the rooms we had tried (the rooms 1 to 4 are the best) from the second floor and with a big balcony. From these balconies there was a perfect view over the rocky natural swimming pools to the sea and this sea is one of the best seawatching places in whole Western Palearctic!

At 4.30 p.m. we started seawatching and saw altogether 548 Manx’s Shearwaters migrating to west, 15 Bulwer’s Petrels, a Desertas/Zino’s Petrel and 7 Arctic Skuas that were flying either west or east much less straight than Manx’s Shearwaters, sometimes they even landed to the sea. We also saw a Whimbrel, a Sanderling and a Turnstone. Some of these waders were on the pools which were full of swimmers. Unfortunately the heavy Southern wind seemed to push all the birds pretty far to the sea. It has also stopped the migration of all other species than Manx Shearwaters as the Germans (that were having their last seawatch-evening on their balcony) had seen lots of Terns, more skuas and tens of Great Shearwaters and also 10 times more Manx’s Shearwaters.

In the evening we went to eat with the Germans and also to try to find Storm Petrels in Ribeira de Janela as I had got information from a Swedish birder that had seen and heard them a week before. But only birds that were calling back to our tape were a family of Barn Owls. It was again late when we went to sleep.

To find endemics

On the 11th of September we woke up a couple of hours before the sunrise and left towards the centre of the island to Rabacal and Risco levada. After some up to mountain roads we climbed to a foggy cloud. And after that we were driving only 40 km/h until the Paul da Serra where we realized we had missed Risco parking place for some time ago. The fog was so deep that we could see only some 20 metres. Once there was a cow sleeping in the middle of the road and we really had to break not to hit it.

When we parked to Risco the fog started to move but when we started to walk down to levada at 8.30 a.m. thee wind started to blow very strong. Luckily the mountains gave us some shelter so in Ribeira de Janela valley we could observe birds pretty well. Right away we found several Madeira Firecrests and after 5 minutes walking we found the first flock of Trocaz Pigeons that were drinking on a small waterfall. Also several Madeira Chaffinches were calling here and there.

We were walking down for an hour and found much more Madeira Firecrests and finally we headed to a high waterfall. There we found many Trocaz Pigeons, some of them were calling very low. Altogether we saw about 30 Trocaz Pigeons and some of them were close enough for digiscoping.

On the walk back up to our car the clouds had got thinner but it was still very bad light for photographing. Luckily the Madeiran Firecrests were so easy to get close by hissing that Hanna managed to get some good pictures. Tourists had also woken up and came to walk to this levada and a couple of hundred of Central-European tourists was now walking towards us. Luckily we had been there so early! Walking up was of course slowly and finally we were back to our car at 11.30 a.m. On the way we had seen also more Madeira Chaffinches, some Robins and a Sparrowhawk.

We continued to the westernmost point of Madeira to Ponta do Pargo, where the wind was now very stormy. On the way to Farol lighthouse we saw lots of Goldfinches and Canaries and some Linnets. On the lighthouse we were watching the stunning views and then walked to the meadows where we found 2 big flocks of Red-legged Partridges – about 50 birds. Other birds there were a leucorhoa Northern Wheatear and 2 Spectacled Warblers. The wind was so strong that it was difficult to stand so we left pretty soon. On the way back we still saw a flock of Rock Sparrows flying and some Common Buzzards and Kestrels.

We drove back to Porto Santo where we were in our hotel at 2 p.m. An hour later we started seawatching again but after a half an hour it started to rain. So we went to have a lunch.

The rain stopped finally and from 6.30 to 8.30 p.m. we were seawatching again from our balcony. We had missed the best migration that had gone right after the rain, but we also managed to see some good quality birds! We counted 222 Manx’s, 22 Great, 3 Bulwer’s and 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 1 Desertas/Zino’s Petrel, 4 Arctic Skuas and a Whimbrel.

Too much wind!

On the 12th of September we woke up at 6.45 a.m. and we had no plans for the day. The weather was till horrible. We planned to go first up from Ribeira de Janela to a starting point of a levada where was good place for Trocaz Pigeons. On the way we saw many Blackbirds on the road but also a Woodcock. When we reached the place we realized it was far too windy, so after we had seen a Trocaz Pigeon we drove back down to Ribeira de Janela and started to check all the terns we found. We stopped also at Seixal and Sao Vicente but found only Common Terns, Turnstones and a Grey Heron. A little bit east from Sao Vicente we saw a flock of 6 Trocaz Pigeons from the main-road. But nothing else was found so we drove to photograph the Green-winged Teal.

At 10 a.m. we drove back to Porto Santo. The harbour had plenty of Common Terns and a weak Manx’s Shearwater was swimming on the shore. The gulls were just waiting for to get it as a breakfast. Soon we went to our hotel where the pools were closed as the waves were hitting almost to the walls of the hotel.

We did seawatching from 10.30 to 12.00 a.m. but didn’t see much: 94 Manx’s and 1 Great Shearwater and now maybe some hundreds of Cory’s Shearwater than earlier – maybe close to a thousand birds.

After a short walk on the village we went to photograph the Common Terns that were in so many different plumages than in Finland. Then from 1.30 to 2.30 we seawatched again, but only 47 Manx’s and 1 Great Shearwater and a Grey Heron were seen. From 3.45 to 7.45 we saw 313 Manx’s, 3 Bulwer’s and 1 Great Shearwater, 2 Desertas/Zino’s Petrels, a Pomarine Skua and some waders.

In the evening we went to eat together with Istvan and Gabi to a restaurant nearby.

Again more seawatching

On the 13th of September the weather was still stormy. We decided to do seawatching as much as was possible. We started at 8 a.m. but it was very quiet. During the first hour we saw 34 Manx’s, then second 43 and third 47 – so altogether 124 Manx’s Shearwaters in 3 hours. A beautiful young Gannet passed us very close over the rocky shore and also 4 Bulwer’s Petrels and 2 Arctic Skuas were seen.

As it was so quiet we went to a Aquarium nearby and then do some shopping. Then we drove to Sao Vicente and checked again all the terns on the way back to Porto Santo. Luckily the storm wasn’t that bad anymore so the view-roads were finally open and cleaned from the stones that had dropped down on the storm.
In Porto Moniz we finally med my old friends from MadeiraWind Hugo Romano and Catarina Fagundes, that I had met in Andalucia 1,5 years before. We went to check a small water-reservoir a little bit up from Porto Moniz but all we saw were a couple of Grey Wagtails and a Trocaz Pigeon.
Hugo and Catarina continued to Ponta do Pargo and we went to Porto Moniz for an evening seawatch. From 5.00 to 8.00 p.m. we saw 230 Manx’s and 2 Bulwer’s Petrel, an Arctic Skua, a Great Skua, a good looking candidate for a Zino’s Petrel and finally a Little Shearwater!

In the evening we went to eat to the same good restaurant and after that we packed our luggage.

To the Eastern part

On the 14th of September we woke up already at 5.30 a.m. packed our car and drove to Ribeira de Janela to try to hear Storm Petrels. The weather was really good now, the moon was almost full and Barn Owls were calling again. Down on the river-mouth we managed to hear a Storm Petrel calling but only once but nothing else was heard.

We got gas in Sao Vicente and bought good breakfast from pastellaria and drove through the island to Ribeira Brava. After some driving west we found Lugar de Baixo pool where were a Little Egret, a couple of Ringed Plovers, 5 Moorhens and 12 Coots. After some searching also a flock of 20 Waxbills were found from the reeds.
In Funchal harbour we had again same gulls and Common Terns, so soon we headed to East. We decided to drive straight to the easternmost point to Ponta do Sao Laurenco, where we walked for 3 hours in levada that was in beautiful landscape. The wind was getting stronger again but Berthelot’s Pipits, Canaries and Rock sparrows were found easily. There was eve a pool for birds where Canaries were easy to photograph.

During the midday we headed to Canical harbour where in a huge flock of Yellow-legged Gull there were 2 Black-headed Gulls. Also a big flock of Common Terns were flying close to the jetty and we found also a young Arctic Tern that was really difficult to identify for 100% sure. So we took lots of pictures and the bird was identified at home later. From a reed-bed nearby we found some Spanish Sparrows too. Next we continued to Machico, but this place seemed to be so boring that we didn’t get up from the car at all. Maybe we couldn’t find the right place or then the river was just drier than normally?

In the afternoon we continued to North to Porto da Cruz for a short seawatch. The place was close to amazing high cliffs but there was really nothing on the sea. Of course some Cory’s Shearwaters but in almost 2 hours we saw only 7 Manx’s Shearwaters and 2 Grey Herons. So we decided to drive through the island once more but now along small curvy roads through the mountain-forests. The village Santo da Serra was absolutely full of cars and people so we were in a middle of a traffic jam. Somehow we managed to get through the village and getting down towards Funchal was again easier.

After all we drove until Ponta do Garajau where we had pizza and then went to a parking place near the Jesus-statue to rest. We tried to sleep in a car but it was too hot now. A couple of Pallid Swits were seen with several Plain Swifts. Anyway we spent an hour or 2 while waiting for the evening.

Finally to a Zino’s trips

At 9 p.m.we had arranged a meeting with Hugo and Catarina. Soon we were driving towards the highest peaks of Madeira to Pico de Arieiro. We left our car to a parking place of a restaurant in Poiso and continued by the Transit of MadeiraWind towards the 1800 metres high mountains. At 10 p.m. we started to walk towards the only breeding place of Zino’s Petrel. We were wearing all clothes we had with us but the flashlights weren’t needed, the moon was so bright. The wind was again very strong but only occasionally, but there were also calm moments. We knew we were also too late for the season for the Zino’s as they usually stop calling in the end of July. So we weren’t very optimistic, we also knew that a couple of groups had been there without any records.

About 10.30 p.m. we had walked to the cliffs where Catarina told we should watch straight down where it could be possible to see these amazing seabirds. There was only small wire-fence where to hold on while watching down. The cliff was so steep that I almost felt sick, but we had to start watching down – it was our last change to see Zino’s Petrels. All 80 to 100 pairs of Zino’s Petrels of the World were breeding here on the top of the highest peaks of Madeira!

First we couldn’t see or hear anything else than the wind blowing. Then a Barn Owl was calling somewhere – what a strange place for a Barn Owl! But then after a half an hour we first heard a couple of times wing-beats of a bird passing us very close, then we heard a couple of high cvik calls and then finally a long call of a Zino’s Petrel! We also managed to see one bird flying down in the cliffs on the moonlight and then we saw a couple of times either a bird or its shadow against the wall. Then after another half an hour it was quiet again even though we were watching up and down while our eyes were watering both because of the wind and a lifer! We had some hot tea and still tried to see something more for an hour. It was really cold so we gave up pretty soon and walked back to the parking place. After all we were back to our car at 1 a.m. there we said goodbye for Hugo and Catarina and went to sleep to our car.

Some relaxing on the last day

On the 15th of September we woke up at 7.30 a.m. and drove back to Pico de Arieiro to photograph the mountain views. From the hotel we could see what did the Zino’s Petrels breeding grounds looked like. Then we drove to see Ribeiro Frios forest-hills.

At 9 a.m. we were again in Funchal where we went to Jardim orchids, where we were for an hour before we continued to Jardim botanic where we spent an hour while watching plants and parrots and eating some snacks. On the parking place we packed our luggage and soon continued to the parking place where we left our car to a parking place with the keys inside. We had after all driven for 556 kilometres around this small island of Madeira. At 2.25 our flight left to Helsinki.
A boring flight was over at 10.00 p.m. and my father picked us up and we drove to Kirkkonummi to eat and sleep. On the next day we were going to Spain Andalucia…


During this week in Madeira we saw altogether 54 bird-species. Our main target was to do seawatching and of course to see all the endemic species of Madeira. We didn’t really concentrate to find any American or European vagrants. Anyway we tried to visit all the best birding places and check them carefully. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t good this week, the hard Southern wind stopped most of the migration and pushed the movements of seabirds far from the Porto Moniz coast. Altogether we seawatched for 21 hours, a couple of rainy days dropped the hours a little bit. Luckily we managed to find all our target species, we knew it was a little bit too late for Roseate Terns, Storm Petrels were even more difficult than we had thought, luckily a Madeiran Storm Petrel was heard. A possible new species Grant’s Storm Petrel wasn’t heard or at least identified but luckily we still managed to see and hear Zino’s Petrels outside the season. Other endemics Trocaz Pigeon, Madeiran Firecrest and Macaronesian endemics that were already familiar from Canary Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit and Canary were very easy birds to find. This time of the year it is a peak of Manx’s Shearwater migration and they can be seen almost in any time of the day but the evening seems to be the best time. Great Shearwaters can be seen in big numbers too but their movements are impossible to guess, but this time is the best possibility. Desertas Petrels are easy to see on the sea but some can be seen regularly from Porto Moniz – but positive identification is difficult from the land. Little Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Gannet and Skuas are then the gems for seawatcher.

Big thanks to Madeira Wind – Hugo and Catarina, Ventura do Mar – Catarina, Luis and Marco also Niklas Holmström, whose good internet-sites helped us to find participants to join us to Desertas and Jarmo Pirhonen and Sampsa Cairenius, who gave me good tips here in Finland. Of course big thanks to Ingo, Marcus, Istvan and Gabi who were really good company while birding.