Friday, 15 June 2012

Honeymoon Birding

Laura understood that with a Wedding ring was also attached binoculars and scope, so bird watching was always on the cards while away on Honeymoon. Although not renowned as a bird watching hot spot, with only just over 40 breeding species Madeira's bird life is rather special due to its isolation in the Atlantic many species or sub-species are endemic to the island. Arriving on Monday 28th May we had two weeks to explore the island and we had a day booked with a local guide on the 1st June. Before that trip however we found a few birds of our own walking around the islands capital, Funchal and while out and about on a few excursions.

My first new 'life' tick was a Canary on the 28th, a couple of pairs nested in the hotel grounds but up to 30 regularly flocked up nearby. 2 pair of Kestrel also nested nearby and regularly cruised past our balcony at close quarters. Walking along the sea front the only type of gull present were Yellow-legged Gull but nesting colony of Common and Roseate Tern, were nice to see nesting so close to the city, on a rock only about 100m from the promenade. Flying around with the Tern were a large number of Pallid Swift, and looking up into the mountains behind out hotel these were joined by Plain Swifts, a second life tick.

Madeira only had 2 common warbler species, Blackcap and Spectacled Warbler, but walking the suburbs near the hotel Blackcap seemed to be everywhere in a city where everyone seemed to have their own small banana plantation in the garden. We also found Greenfinch and lonely Lesser Black-backed Gull during our wanderings.

On Wednesday we took in an excursion exploring the west of the Island and this enabled us to add may on the commoner species that didn't venture into the city, these included Sparrowhawk, Red-legged Partridge, Linnet, Grey Wagtail and Rock Dove. But the find of the day was a migrant Alpine Swift at Cabo Girao, the site of the second highest sea cliff in the world. It was rather strange however to see such an environment not teaming with seabirds, only a few swifts and kestrel flew around. Thursday we found a group of Maderian Chaffinch in a local park along with Goldfinch and out first Monarch Butterfly of the trip.

Friday 1st was birdwatching day, and i was looking forward to finding the more elusive endemic species. Hugo our guide picked us up at 9am and we first look at a small fresh water pool for a migrant Little Bittern that had been around for a few weeks, the bird could not be found, and two trip later in the week failed to locate the bird. But a pair of Coot had raised 2 young on the pool, a rare bird on Madeira. Other Madeiran rarities in the area included Mallard and Little Egret. We next drove across the island to an area of Laurel forest to look for the endemic Trocaz Pigeon, which after a short while appeared, at a nearby site we then got cracking views of Madeiran Firecrest down to a couple of meters. Before lunch we visited another small pool this one home to a Green-winged Teal, now resident for 5 years. Stopping for lunch we viewed Cory's Shearwater and Manx Shearwater feeding off shore at Porto Moniz, before driving into the mountains to look for Berthelot's Pipit, Madeiran Quail, Rock Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler, but low cloud reduced visibility to nothing. Still we had a great chat and picked up all the information and locations to try to find the birds later in the week.

On Sunday we again met Hugo for a Dolphin/Whale watching trip. This brought the added bonus of close views of Cory's Shearwater and Manx Shearwater at sea, but sadly no Petrels as we stayed relatively close to the shore. During the trip we connected with 20+ Bottle-nosed Dolphin, and also a rare Monk Seal. A flying fish was also an unexpected sight. A Grey Heron another rarity on the island was perched on the fish pens as we returned to the harbour, and Rock Sparrow nested in the cliffs by the Quay, another life tick.

For the next few day we had a car on hire so explored the sites recommended by Hugo and the island in general, picking up most of the island specialities we had missed. On 4th looking for the Little Bittern again we came across a small group of Waxbill at Lugar de Baixo, we also found Spanish Sparrow, but failed to find the 6 Glossy Ibis that have been recently frequenting the area around Faial. On 5th we drive up to the top of Pico do Areeiro the third highest peak, the views were stunning and i also caught up with a very obliging Berthelot's Pipit. Madeira's only pipit. The last day we had the car the clouds finally cleared from the plateau area of the island allowing us to catch up with Spectacled Warbler, but also saw further Rock Sparrow and Buzzard, and heard Madeiran Quail we couldn't locate.

The rest of the holiday was more relaxing but i did again go out with Hugo for a late night visit to a site close to the breeding ground of the rare Zino's Petrel. Against a back drop of the clearest night sky I've ever seen, non-breeding birds circled around us playing and calling. The eiree calls and silhouettes an experience i will never forget and with only 75 pairs remaining an experience i can only hope to repeat.

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