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A Report from

Madeira, January 22nd to February 5th 2007,


Nick Crouch


Madeira was chosen as a destination for some winter sun, giving me the chance of a few lifers, and my girlfriend, Laura, some sunbathing opportunities. Target birds were the two endemics, Trocaz Pigeon and Madeira Firecrest, plus Plain Swift, Berthelot’s Pipit and Canary, and also the endemic island forms of various other species. I hoped that there was also a good chance of seeing or finding some vagrant species.


We stayed for two weeks in a flat/cottage in Funchal, called ‘The Painters Cottage’, found at Overall, it was very nice, located on the edge of the Old Town (Zona Velha), but certainly much more expensive than a hotel. It had a pool, but we didn’t have a chance to use it. We flew with Thompson from Luton (suffering a 4 hour delay on the return due to low cloud and rain preventing landings at Funchal airport), and hired a car in advance from Europcar (an under-powered Seat Ibiza) which we picked up at the airport.


Overall, the weather was slightly disappointing. We had four decent days of more-or-less unbroken sun, when it felt hot, and one day of almost unbroken rain. The rest of the days were mixed, with promising-looking mornings often clouding over, and an average temperature of 15 or 16˚C. In the mountains it was decidedly cool at all times, down to 2˚C at Pico Areeiro (according to our car’s thermometer). We where both glad we’d brought proper jackets with us!


I printed off lots of information from Niklas Holmström’s excellent Birding Madeira website (, which provided up-to-date details of all the main birding sites, and a list of recent sightings. I also took several trip reports produced by others who had visited the island during the winter, namely Heikki and Sinikka Karhu (Madeira, 7-14/2/2004), Dan Mangsbo (Reserapport fran Madeira, 16-23/1/2006) and Stefan Cherrug (Trip Report Madeira, 22/2-1/3/2006). I also took a report by Niklas Holmström (Madeira, 23/8-6/9/2002), as it provided good seawatching details (not that I needed them in January…), and a tour report from Naturetrek (Madeira, 7-14 May 2006), as it had some information about plants. With hindsight, I wish I had got hold of a copy of ‘Madeira’s Natural History in a Nutshell’ by Peter Sziemer, as I think this would have augmented my trip. None of the bookshops visited in Funchal stocked it.

Itinerary and sightings highlights

Monday 22nd January

After picking up our car at the airport, we drove to Funchal, seeing several Kestrels en route. We eventually found our accommodation in Funchal, and from the cottage terrace, I noted several Canaries in the area, along with a few other species including Grey Wagtail, Buzzard, Blackcap and Goldfinch.

Tuesday 23rd January

From the cottage terrace in the morning, a similar selection of species was seen as yesterday. We then walked down into Funchal to explore the town and find some lunch, seeing  a pair of Mandarin Ducks on the Ribeira de St.a Lucia. We then walked down to the harbour and docks area, seeing Turnstones (c.20), Yellow-legged Gull (c.200 roosting on the dock platform), Lesser Black-backed Gull (1 amongst the Yellow-legs), Black-headed Gull (15) and Common Sandpiper. A Blackcap was calling from the cliffs behind the docks.

Returning to our accommodation in the afternoon, at least 22 Plain Swifts passed through in small groups, heading east.

Wednesday 24th January

Another day exploring Funchal, which included a walk down through the old town to the fort, then along the sea-front to the docks again. In the docks, the number of Yellow-legged Gulls roosting had increased to around 700, with at least 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls lurking amongst them. Elsewhere, a Barn Swallow was flying up and down Rua de Janeiro.

In the afternoon we took the teleferico up to Monte Tropical Gardens, which produced the first Madeira Firecrests of the trip, along with several Chaffinches, a Robin, and lots of Blackbirds. A Grey Heron was flapping about in the trees next to the lake, and to the west of the garden, 10 Plain Swifts were feeding over the eucalyptus woodland.

Thursday 25th January

We were meant to go on a boat trip to the Desertas today. Arriving slightly early at the marina, I scanned through a group of 18 Black-headed Gulls on the beach. Amongst them was a 1st winter Bonaparte’s Gull, which was something of a surprise! We then found out that the trip was cancelled due to rough sea conditions, allowing me time to photograph the Bonaparte’s Gull, and take a description. Also on the beach, a 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull was present in a small group of Yellow-legged Gulls.

In place of our boat trip, we decided to explore the south coast a bit, calling in at Calhetta, seeing a Little Egret in the marina, and then continuing on to Ponta do Pargo, where a pair of very confiding Berthelot’s Pipits were around the car park, and a single Barn Swallow was present.

Heading home, I tried to find Lugar de Baixo, but didn’t have directions with me, and after asking, ended up being shown a new swimming pool in the marina complex (not the sort of pool I was after, although I did see a Grey Heron…). Continuing on, a flock of 40 swifts, assumed to be Plain Swifts, were feeding over the motorway at Campanário.

Friday 26th January

I got up early to go back down to the marina to get some better photos of the Bonaparte’s Gull, which I succeeded in doing. A Little Egret was roosting on the marina wall, and in the centre of Funchal, 2 or 3 Barn Swallows were cruising up and down the rivers channels, as were 2 Plain Swifts.

In the afternoon, we headed east, calling in at Caniçal. A small number of Spanish Sparrows were found in the gardens of the small houses next to the harbour, and a Little Egret flew past. We then continued on to Ponta de Sâo Lourenço, to do the walk out along the peninsular. Just beyond the car park, large numbers of passerines were present, with c.40 Linnets and c.150 Goldfinches in flocks. Canaries were also abundant. Further on, 13 Whimbrel were feeding on the grassy slopes, and a couple of pairs of Berthelot’s Pipits were present. On the way home, I had a brief try for Rock Sparrow and Spectacled Warbler in the areas described on the Birding Madeira website, but failed - I didn’t try too hard as I didn’t want to push my luck and use up birding time on other occasions! We also called in very briefly at Machico, seeing a Little Egret on the beach, but didn’t have a look at the river mouth.

Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January

Two sun-bathing days, with no birding undertaken.

Monday 29th January

We arrived at the track to Faja de Nogueira, just beyond Ribeira Frio, mid-morning. After driving a short distance up the track, we stopped and instantly located 2 Trocaz Pigeons in the laurel forest up on our left. Further scanning revealed at least 6 more birds, including a couple much closer to us, although they disappeared into the canopy pretty quickly. Two Madeira Firecrests were also noted here.

We then took the short walk from Ribeira Frio to the Balcões viewpoint, which is a spectacular look-out point, and well worth doing. From the viewpoint a single Trocaz Pigeon was seen on the cliffs below, and lots of Chaffinches provided good photo opportunities. Also seen were several Madeira Firecrests, Blackbirds and Robins (although the latter was more often heard than seen).

We then drove up to Pico Areeiro, where two Berthelot’s Pipits were present, but the cold (2°C) soon saw us beat a retreat back down to the coast, heading for Lugar de Baixo, which I managed to find this time (exactly as described on the Birding Madeira website). This proved to be a highly productive little spot - amongst the first birds seen were a Spotted Sandpiper and a Sora! Both these birds had been found at the end of 2006 by other visiting birders (I knew about the Sora but not the Spotted Sandpiper, at the time). Also present were Dunlin (2), Common Sandpiper (1), Turnstone (22), Mallard (1 ‘pure’ male bird, with another hybrid and a lot of other ‘soup ducks’), Eurasian Teal (1 female), Coot (22), Moorhen (8), Cattle Egret (1) and Little Egret (6).

Tuesday 30th January

I got up early for another visit to Lugar de Baixo. The species present were the same as yesterday, with both the Spotted Sandpiper and Sora showing well (the latter often disappearing into the reedbed), and in one surreal moment the Sora chased the Spotted Sandpiper off its favourite patch of mud! The number of Cattle Egrets had increased to 3, and the number of Little Egrets to 10. Turning my scope around, I finally had a look out to sea, and in 30 minutes saw 18 Manx Shearwaters and 1 Cory’s Shearwater (distantly).

For the rest of the day, we explored in the car, heading up to the north coast, through Ribeira Frio, to Faial. Just short of Faial, we stopped at Lombo de Baixo to look at butterflies. In the gorge to the east of the road, visible from the ‘causeway’ just south of the ‘Casa de Chá’, 3 Trocaz Pigeons were seen, and 3 Plain Swifts were overhead. Turning west, we stopped at the Sâo Gorge viewpoint, seeing Robin and Blackcap.

Heading home, we called in at the Faial harbour complex. A single Common Sandpiper was at the river mouth. Back up the harbour access road, there is a promising looking wet area where the river is held back by a weir, opposite the karting track, but there were no birds here today. We headed on to Machico, seeing a Little Egret again, but nothing at all at the river mouth. We made no attempt to look for Waxbills.

Wednesday 31st January

Another early start, this time to try some seawatching at Ponta da Cruz. In just under 1 ½ hours, a total of 69 Manx Shearwaters passed (23 east, 38 west, 7 sat on the sea), along with 2 distant Cory’s Shearwaters (both heading west). Also seen were large numbers of Common Dolphins, with small groups going in both directions, some of which ’laid’ on the surface, and others put on spectacular jumping displays.

Most of the rest of the day was spent sunbathing, although a late trip down into Funchal found 2 stunning summer-plumaged Roseate Terns roosting on the marina wall, along with 14 Turnstones, 5 Black-headed Gulls and 1 Little Egret.

Finally, whilst watching TV back in our cottage, a Barn Owl landed on the tall pole sticking out of the wall at the end of our terrace. Unfortunately, it flew off as soon as I reached for my binoculars, and I got nothing more than a silhouette view.

Thursday 1st February

Another early seawatching session, for about an hour, produced a total of 26 Manx Shearwaters (10 east, 11 west, and 5 lingering to the west). A single Cory’s Shearwater also passed, much closer than yesterday’s birds, heading west. There were still some Common Dolphins offshore, but also in reduced numbers, with around 30 individuals noted. In addition, 3 Little Egrets flew past, and a Plain Swift allowed close inspection.

We then headed up to Curral das Freiras, but cloud and rain meant the trip was a bit of a wash-out, although a few Madeira Firecrests were seen and heard, so we headed back to the coast, to Cabo Girão. Two Little Egrets flew past, and a Buzzard flew along the cliffs at eye-level, but best of all were 10 Plain Swifts which zoomed past on repeat foraging passes just metres away from us. Another 30 or so Plain Swifts were also feeding just off to the west.

We continued on to Ribeira Brava for lunch, noting the ‘wild’ Dragon Trees, plus a single Grey Plover and 11 Turnstone on the breakwater. We then spent the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves on the ‘beach’ at Lugar de Baixo. High tide meant that there was no exposed mud on the pool, so fewer waders were present (and preventing the Sora from showing itself). However, the Spotted Sandpiper was still present (catching flies on the island), along with the Eurasian Teal and a single Dunlin. The highlight of this visit, however, was a group of c.50 Waxbills, which I suddenly became aware of perched on the wall at the western end of the pool. They then flew off in small groups, heading west, with only a single bird remaining by the time I had got my camera and scope set up! Scanning of the area then yielded a female/1st winter Black Redstart in the cultivated area to the west of the pond.

As the afternoon progressed, a Common Sandpiper appeared, along with 3 Turnstone, 5 Little Egrets and a Cattle Egret, whilst a quick look offshore produced small numbers of Manx Shearwaters passing in both directions, including one bird very close in, and a Cory’s Shearwater going west, which was also relatively close in to shore.

Friday 2nd February

Today we were finally making it out to the Desertas on board the Ventura do Mar, after a further two cancellations with Gavião. As we left the marina, the two Roseate Terns were sat on the marina wall, along with the Bonaparte’s Gull and 13 Black-headed Gulls.

As we sailed east out of Funchal, 7 Manx Shearwaters were noted, with another individual seen midway in the crossing. Two Cory’s Shearwaters were also seen, one about halfway across and another close to Deserta Grande, both heading in a southerly direction, and both fairly close to the boat. In addition, an adult Gannet flew north, again about halfway across.

On Deserta Grande itself, a Grey Heron was seen, along with a few Canaries and Berthelot’s Pipits, but nothing else (other than some translocated examples of the endemic ‘Rock Cabbage’).

The return voyage produced another 2 Cory’ Shearwaters, one mid-journey (heading south), and the other close to Madeira (heading north-east), along with 4 Manx Shearwaters.

Saturday 3rd February

Another sun-bathing day, with no birding undertaken, other than to note 2 Little Egrets flying east over the marina in Funchal at dusk.

Sunday 4th February

I got up early for a final look around Funchal harbour, seeing the Bonaparte’s Gull on the beach, along with 14 Black-headed Gulls. The pair of Roseate Terns were also still present. A look off Ponta da Cruz showed the sea to be almost devoid of shearwaters, with just a solitary Manx Shearwater heading east (and no dolphins), although 2 Plain Swifts and a Little Egret were seen.

We then headed up to Ribeira Brava for a last look at the laurissilva, walking part way down the levada that goes to Portela. Madeira Firecrest and Chaffinch were seen, plus 2 Trocaz Pigeons (one startled out of a tree just above our heads), and around 20 Plain Swifts feeding over the forest. Another 30 or so Plain Swifts were also seen about 4 kilometres north of Ribeira Brava.

Returning to the coast, I negotiated a final visit to Lugar de Baixo, but the tide was up again. However, the Spotted Sandpiper was still present, again sneaking up on flies as they sunned themselves on the rocks on the island, along with the Eurasian Teal, and single Dunlin, Cattle Egret and Little Egret.

Returning to Funchal, the final species of the holiday presented itself in the form of a male Sparrowhawk circling over the motorway at Campanário, a species I had given up hope of seeing.

Monday 5th February

A few Canaries at our cottage, and one or two Kestrels en route to the airport were the last sightings of the holiday.

Trip List

Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis
1 off Lugar de Baixo on 30/1
2 off Ponta da Cruz on 31/1
1 off Ponta da Cruz on 1/2
1 off Lugar de Baixo on 1/2
4 on the crossing between Madeira and Deserta Grande (2 there, 2 back)

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
18 off Lugar de Baixo on 30/1
69 off Ponta da Cruz on 31/1
26 off Ponta da Cruz on 1/2
<10 off Lugar de Baixo on 1/2
12 on the crossing between Madeira and Deserta Grande (8 there, 4 back)
1 off Ponta da Cruz on 4/2

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus
1 mid-way between Madeira and Deserta Grande on 2/2, heading north

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
1 at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, with 3 there the following morning, and singles also present on 1/2 and 4/2

Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Fairly frequent along the south coast, with a notable count of 12 at Lugar de Baixo on 30/1

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
1 in Monte Tropical Gardens on 24/1, 1 near Lugar de Baixo on 25/1, 1 on Deserta Grande on 2/2

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
1 pure male at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, 30/1, 1/2 and 4/2

Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
A female at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, 30/1, 1/2 and 4/2

Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
A male at Campanário on 4/2

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Frequent on the south coast, a maximum of 5 together at Calhetta on 25/1

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

Sora Porzana carolina
1 at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, 30/1; this bird was first reported in December 2006

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Present at Lugar de Baixo, with 8 there on 29/1

Coot Fulica atra
Present at Lugar de Baixo, with 22 there on 29/1

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
1 at Ribeira Brava on 1/2

Dunlin Calidris alpina
2 at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1 and 30/1, with singles there on 1/2 and 4/2

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
13 at Ponta de Sâo Lourenço on 26/1

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
1 in Funchal Harbour on 23/1, 1 at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, 30/1 and 1/2, 1 at Faial on 30/1

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia
A first-winter at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1, 30/1, 1/2 and 4/2 - presumably the bird seen here at the end of 2006

Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Frequent, especially at Funchal - the most notable counts made were 20 in Funchal Harbour / Docks on 23/1, with similar numbers noted there on other dates; 22 at Lugar de Baixo on 29/1; and 11 at Ribeira Brava on 1/2

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Only seen at Funchal, with between 10 and 20 (on 24/1) noted on each visit to the harbour area

Bonaparte’s Gull Larus philadelphia
A first-winter lurking amongst the Black-headed Gulls on Funchal Beach on 25/1 was a surprise find; also seen there on 26/1, 2/2 and 4/2 - a first for Madeira!

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
A first-winter on Funchal Beach on 25/1

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
1 adult with the Yellow-legged Gulls on the dock platform in Funchal on 23/1, with 3 adults there on 24/1

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis
Common all along the coast - peak counts of 200 roosting on the dock platform in Funchal on 23/1, and 700 there the following day

Roseate Tern Sterna dougalii
2 summer-plumaged birds in Funchal Harbour on 31/1, 2/2 and 4/2

Feral Pigeon Columba livia
Common, especially in Funchal; possible ‘pure’ Rock Doves seen at Ponta de Sâo Lourenço on 26/1

Trocaz Pigeon Columba trocaz
8 from the track to Faja de Nogueira (near Ribeira Frio) on 29/1, and 1 on the cliffs below the Balcões viewpoint at Ribeira Frio on the same date; also 3 in the gorge to the east of Lombo de Baixo on 30/1, and 2 in the laurissilva on the levada walk from Ribeira Frio towards Portela

Barn Owl Tyto alba schmitzi
1 briefly in the garden of our cottage in Funchal on 31/1

Plain Swift Apus unicolor
Fairly frequent, with notable counts of 22 in Funchal on 23/1, 10 near Monte Tropical Gardens on 24/1, 40 over the motorway at Campanário on 25/1, 40 at Cabo Girão on 1/2 and 20 at Ribeira Frio on 4/2; also seen on multiple occasions at Lombo de Baixo and Ponta da Cruz

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
1 in Funchal town centre on 24/1, 1 at Ponta do Pargo on 25/1, and up to 3 in Funchal town centre on 26/1

Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii madeirensis
Small numbers seen at Ponta do Pargo, Ponta de Sâo Lourenço and Pico Areeiro

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Frequent throughout

Robin Erithacus rubecula
Seen (but more often heard) in laurissilva areas, especially on the walk from Ribeira Frio to the Balcões viewpoint, and also seen in the Monte Tropical Gardens

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochrurus
A 1st winter or female was present in the cultivated area just to the west of Lugar de Baixo on 1/2

Blackbird Turdus merula
Seen occasionally in Funchal, and more frequently in laurissilva areas; very common in Monte Tropical Gardens

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Heard calling fairly frequently from areas of dense vegetation; lots noted in the ornamental flower beds of the hotel complex behind Ponta da Cruz

Madeira Firecrest Regulus madeirensis
Seen in Monte Tropical Gardens, and frequently encountered in laurissilva areas, especially around Ribeira Frio

Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
A handful in gardens of the small houses (next to where the river enters the sea) at the harbour at Caniçal on 26/1

Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Small numbers in Monte Tropical Gardens, and also seen frequently in laurissilva areas, with several tame birds (c.10) at the Balcões viewpoint at Ribeira Frio

Canary Serinus canaria
Common and widespread

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Occasional seen, in small numbers, the exception being 150 at Ponta de Sâo Lourenço on 26/1

Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Only seen at Ponta de Sâo Lourenço on 26/1, when 40 were feeding on seed heads

Waxbill Estrilda astrild
50 at Lugar de Baixo on 1/2

Other Wildlife

Butterflies were rather thin on the ground, but did include;

Small White Atrogeia rapae – frequent

Clouded Yellow Colias crocea – 1 at Lugar de Baixo

Madeiran Speckled Wood Pararge xiphia ­– small numbers in various locations, particularly the viewpoint at Ponta de São Jorge at Cabo Girão.

Monarch Danaus plexippus – 1 hanging over the road in Funchal town centre on our first day almost caused me to crash into the back of a truck. Another seen in Funchal along the cliffs behind the docks. Singles also seen in Ribeira Brava and over the motorway near Campanário

The only terrestrial mammals seen were Brown Rats (Rattus norvegicus). At sea, Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) were seen off Ponta da Cruz on 31/1 (c.100) and 1/2 (c.30).

Madeiran Wall Lizards (Lacerta dugesii) were seen at several locations, including Funchal.


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