Wednesday 6 July 2022

Madeira May 2022 - Day 1

Getting the car was pretty fuss free, and we were on our way shortly after 11am. This was Mick's first trip to Madeira and I was keen to give him a bit of a tour of some the good birding spots. Looking upwards a thick layer of cloud covered the mountains which completely precluded birding up there, and as such we were restricted to the coast. There are a few good spots to try when this happans, and the first of these is Machico, specifically the river that cuts through the town and that is the best place to see the natuarlised Common Waxbills. After a quick stop to buy water and snacks we were soon peering over the edge (it is a concrete-lined channel this close to the sea) to try and spot the Waxbills in the undergrowth. We heard them before we could see them, but eventually could track their movements up and down the channel.

The main avian biomass came in the form of Muscovy Duck. I remember these from my previous visits, but they seem to have hugely increased in number - they were literally everywhere, lots of broods of youngsters as well. A Mallard looked small and lonely. If the trend continues the locals will have to start eating them. We spotted a Buzzard over the nearby hillside, and a Yellow Wagtail sang from a lamppost - both of these are endemic sub-species. Being around midday the light was harsh and neither of us felt as if breaking out the cameras would be a worthwhile exercise. Plenty of time for that later.

We carried on to the Ponta de Sao Lourenco, a popular walking spot out to a light house - this is the rocky peninsula that you often see on the flight in just before the plane turns and comes back into Funchal. There were huge numbers of people both setting out and coming back, but we jammed a parking spot fairly close to the trail head. Looking down the slope we were surprised to see a Hoopoe, not a bird I have seen on Madeira before - it kept returning to a particular spot so a likely breeding bird. Kestrels were plentiful, as were Plain Swift and Berthelot's Pipit. We also found several singing Spectacled Warblers, one of which looked like it could be worth an early morning visit, and several Canaries, and whilst we thought we heard Rock Sparrow we couldn't track it down.

Still on the island Tour our next stop was on the other side of Funchal, the Lugar de Baixo. This is a top rarity hotspot, a small lagoon right on the coast. Today it had a few Muscovy Ducks and another lonely Mallard, as well as a family of Coots and a Moorhen. We retired to the nearby café for coffee and ice-cream, a far better investment of our time.  

Sated we drove up the nearby valley to the other side of the island at Porto Moniz. I've previously sea-watched from here, albeit at a different time of year, and was astonished by the sheer numbers of Cory's Shearwaters. Thousands. Today was a different story with just eight, and the highlight was a Turtle eating sea-weed of a buoy. A small Common Tern colony was on an outer rock, something I had not remembered, and we also found a single Manx Shearwater cruising by.

And that was the end of the first day, well afternoon really. We had seen a few birds and acclimatised ourselves, but had not taken a single photo between us! That would all change tomorrow. For now we checked into the hotel back at Lido/Forum and went to find some food in Funchal.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Madeira May 2022 - Logistics and Itinerary

Madeira 20-23rd May 2022

This trip was organised by my buddy Mick S and he kindly invited me to tag along. I was at a low ebb after a tiring few months, had nothing planned, and the plane ticket for the flight he was already booked on was surprisingly reasonable. Why not eh? So about a week or so before departure he changed his hotel bookings to twin beds, got me booked on his whale watching trip (aka pelagic substitute), and arranged to pick me up in the middle of the night for a crazy-early departure from Heathrow. I provided all the camera equipment as just before the pandemic Mick liquidated all his, fortunately I have enough for two birders. We were off!

  • A four day trip in late May, departing London at the crack of dawn on Friday and returning early on Monday evening. This allowed for just under three and half days of birding.
  • Flights: Direct from Heathrow to Funchal on BA. I think this would normally be a Gatwick flight but post-pandemic things are still a little mixed up.
  • Covid logistics: a big fat nothing.  
  • Car Hire: A Citroen Cactus from Europecar. In Madeira you do need something with at least a medium-sized engine to get you up the incredible hills.
  • Accommodation: Two nights at the centrally located Lido district next to the coast, and then the final night in a great spot high above Funchal. This was the result of a screw-up rather than any pressing need to move, but it was a pleasant change!
  • Food: All I am going to say is don't travel to Portugal with vegans if you can possibly help it!
  • Literature: This was my fourth trip to Madeira so I knew a lot of the good spots. eBird seems to be barely used over there, but nonetheless I was able to find a couple of new places, both of which delivered the goods.


Day 1: Landed at 10.30am and were birding at Machico and out on the Sao Lourenco peninsula before lunch. In the afternoon we explored the Lugar de Baixo and drove across the island to Porto Moniz.
Day 2: Whale watching trip in Funchal bay in the morning, and the Palheiro gardens and Ribeiro Frio during the afternoon before watching the sun set from the Pico do Arieiro.
Day 3: Back to Ponta de Sao Lourenco for the morning, and then up to Santo Antonio da Serra via Machico in the afternoon. Early evening spent watching the evening passage of Shearwaters off Lido, at the Ponta da Cruz.
Day 4: Mick went out on a boat for a second go at Shearwaters, I piddled around at Machico and the surrounding area. In the afternoon we went for a non-birding wander around Funchal botanical gardens before heading to the airport.