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Birds on Madeira and Porto Santo, 29 Aug-5 Sept 2002,
Gido Davidse, Noordweg 17, 4333 GA Middelburg, The Netherlands (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peter L. Meininger, Lisztlaan 5, 4384 KM Vlissingen, The Netherlands (email@example.com) [compiler]
Erik Sanders, Westerzicht 152, 4385 AR Vlissingen, The Netherlands (firstname.lastname@example.org )
Thursday 29 August. We finally departed from Schiphol (Amsterdam airport) at 16:00, with a delay of over eight hours. We had already departed at 11:00, but the plane returned to the airport after half an hour, because one of the engines showed “vibrations”, probably due to a bird crash during take-off. Landed at Funchal airport after a flight of 03:20, at 18:20 local time (one hour earlier that in the Netherlands). We picked up our rented car and quickly found our way to our hotel (“Imperatriz”) in the centre of Funchal, after a 18 km drive on the excellent new highway. During the last hour of daylight we noted our first Madeiran birds: a Buzzard, four Kestrels, many Plain Swifts, several Canaries, a Grey Wagtail and >50 Cory’s Shearwaters from the hotel balcony.
Friday 30 August. Seawatching from Ponta da Cruz, the southernmost tip of Madeira (07:45-09:30, NE1, clear visibility, calm sea). We watched from a small concrete platform next to a row of palm trees, near a parking lot in front of a supermarket. This site is mentioned by Moore et al. (1997) and in several trip reports as the best site for seawatching. However, most seabirds we observed were rather distant. Other disadvantages are the generally unfavourable light conditions and the position of the observers: quite high on a cliff.
We saw our first (distant) Fea’s Petrel, 11 Bulwer’s Petrels and counted 264 Cory’s Shearwaters. Seawatching at Porto Moniz (11:30-13:15 and 15:15-19:00, NE 1-2, calm sea), the northernmost tip of Madeira, proved much more productive with many birds passing much closer and under better light conditions. This day (and during subsequent visits) we watched from the low concrete wall next to the coach parking lot, overlooking the natural swimming pools. During 5.5 hours of seawatching we counted a Fea’s Petrel, 135 Bulwer’s Petrels, 558 Cory’s Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater, a Balearic Shearwater, 74 Little/Manx Shearwaters and three Arctic Skuas. Also 12 Bottle-nosed Dolphins were seen. We agree with several recent trip reports that Porto Moniz is probably by far the best seawatching site on Madeira, and well worth the 55 minutes drive from Funchal. A short visit to Fonte da Pedra (1022 m) did not produce many observations.
Saturday 31 August. In the morning visit to Machico, where a tiny “estuary” attracts small numbers of waders. British and a French birders had independently found an adult Spotted Sandpiper here on 27 August, but we failed to relocate this bird (at least not today...). In addition to a nice variety of waders we saw at least 10-15 Monarch Butterflies. A visit to Ponta de Sao Lourenço, Ponta do Rosto and vicinity produced 25 Berthelot’s Pipits, but not the expected Spectacled Warbler (perhaps more chance in spring) and Rock Sparrow (apparently declining on Madeira). From Ribeira Frio we had a nice walk to the watchpoint at Balcões, overlooking an impressive landscape with hillsides covered with Laurel forest. At least eight Long-toed Pigeons were seen from the viewpoint (flying and sitting in the distance), and heard several others during the walk. At Pico do Arieiro (1810 m), close to the breeding sites of Zino’s Petrel (which can be heard at night with some luck; we did not try...) we observed a Pallid Swift and two Bethelot’s Pipits. The dramatic mountain scenery alone makes this area well worth a visit! Seawatching at Punta da Cruz (17:30-19:45; ENE 2-3, clear visibility) produced 867 Bulwer’s Petrels and 616 Cory’s Shearwaters, all flying east and almost without exception very distant. At dusk we visited Ponto do Garajau, ca. 5 km east of Funchal. Just before entering the parking lot near the large statue of Jesus Christ, there is a small, steep, more or less paved road descending to the foot of the 180 m high cliff. Several teams of Dutch birders had heard and sound recorded Madeira Storm Petrel here during August in previous years. We stayed until 22:30, but only heard several Cory’s Shearwaters and a Barn Owl.
Sunday 1 September. After brief visits to the port of Funchal, Machico “estuary”, Canical, Ponta de Sao Lourenço and Faial (northwest coast), we drove the long and winding road along the north coast. This took several hours due to the crowded, narrow roads. When we finally arrived at Porto Moniz (seawatching 16:30-19:15, E 2-3, cloudy with occasionally light rain) , it immediately became clear that we should have arrived much earlier... It was by far the best seawatching of the trip, with 12 Fea’s Petrels, 44 Bulwer’s Petrels, 250 Cory’s Shearwaters, 191 Great Shearwaters (to our great surprise!), one Sooty Shearwater, 221 Manx Shearwaters and 16 Little Shearwaters. A Swedish birder, Niklas Holmström, whom we met just before we left, told us that he had seen 1393 Great Shearwaters the previous day, and 58 this morning! In addition we saw two large (presumed Sei) Whales and ten unidentified dolphins. We found out that a direct drive between Porto Moniz and Funchal takes less than an hour.
Monday 2 September. A short visit to the port of Funchal (to arrange tickets for the Porto Santo ferry) yielded a nice record of an adult Ring-billed Gull, perched on a lamppost near the marina. Seawatching at Porto Moniz (11:00-13:00 and 15:15-18:45; NW 2-4, no clouds, clear visibility) was less spectacular than previous day, but still rewarding: two Fea’s Petrels, 72 Bulwer’s Petrels, 172 Cory’s Shearwaters (no Great Shearwaters), one Sooty Shearwater, 507 Manx Shearwaters, 66 Little Shearwaters and a Great Skua. Again a whale was seen. A visit to Ponta do Pargo, the westernmost point of the island, produced a pair of Red-legged Partridge and a Turtle Dove. The cliff (295 above sea level) seems unsuitable for seawatching.
Tuesday 3 September. We had great expectations from the ferry crossing from Funchal to Porto Santo (08:00-11:15) and return (19:00-22:00, the last hour in the dark) (€ 51.40 return ticket). Many trip reports mentioned excellent and close views of many seabirds. We found a good spot on the upper deck at the rear of the ferry and continuously watched the sea with binoculars. The results were a little disappointing: six Fea’s Petrels, 46 Bulwer’s Petrels and 335 Cory’s Shearwaters, and only rarely close views. Several sizeable groups (35+10+60+30) of Common Dolphins, mixed with a few Bottle-nosed Dolphins, came very close to the ferry.
After arriving at Porto Santo, we first walked the few kilometres to the village, and then followed a small stream bordered by lush vegetation (looking like a potential spot for vagrants to turn up), upstream to “Tanque”, a small (few ha) freshwater reservoir just to the east of the airport). Spanish Sparrows were common all the way. At Tanque we observed a Little Egret, a Coot, a pair of Moorhen with three large chicks, two Ringed Plovers, a Ruff, an adult Temminck’s Stint (possibly a “first” for the Madeira archipelago!), a Hoopoe and four Rock Sparrows. In addition, there were at least ten Monarch Butterflies.
Wednesday 4 September. Seawatching at Porto Moniz (09:30-12:30, 14:30-17:00; wind NNE 4) was not as good as during previous days: 10 Bulwer’s Petrels, 132 Cory’s Shearwaters, one Sooty Shearwater, 228 Manx Shearwaters, 10 Little Shearwaters and three unidentified skuas.
Our ultimate effort to relocate the Spotted Sandpiper at Machico on our last evening was successful! Within minutes after arrival we found the bird, feeding among the rocks in the mouth of the small stream. Between 18:15 and 19:00, we managed to photograph the bird and to make a video recording. After a huge pizza in Garajou, we visited the foot of the cliff again between 22:00 and midnight. The Cory’s Shearwaters were less vocal than during the first visit, and again we did not manage to hear Madeira Storm Petrels. It was a dark night, and a torch was useful when walking down and up the road to the foot of the cliff (don’t try this with a car!).
Thursday 5 September. Flight Funchal-Amsterdam, now perfectly in time.
We observed 57 species on Madeira and Porto Santo (excluding the introduced Common Waxbill), which is a high total compared to other trip reports.
Fea’s Petrel Pterodroma feae
Total 23: 30/8 one distant bird Ponta da Cruz, one Porto Moniz; 31/8 one Ponta da Cruz; 1/9 12 Porto Moniz, including several giving excellent views; 2/9 two (together) Porto Moniz; 3/9 six (four in the mourning, two in the afternoon) Funchal-Porto Santo ferry.
Given the extreme rarity of Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira (a world population of 20-30 pairs, all on Madeira; Snow & Perrins 1998), we assume that all gadfly petrels observed were Fea’s Petrel. Considering the small breeding population in the region (150-200 pairs on Bugio, Desertas; Snow & Perrins 1998), and compared with other trip reports, the number of Fea’s Petrel observed by us is substantial.
Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Total 1185: 30/8 11 Ponto da Cruz, 135 Porto Moniz; 31/8 867 E Ponta da Cruz (17:30-19:45, and passage continuing); 1/9 44 Porto Moniz; 2/9 72 Porto Moniz; 3/9 46 Funchal-Porto Santo ferry; 4/9 10 Porto Moniz. The breeding population in the Madeira archipelago is estimated at 7500 pairs (Snow & Perrins 1998).
Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris borealis
Total >2500: 29/8 50 E Funchal; 30/8 264 Ponto da Cruz, 558 Porto Moniz; 31/8 10 off Ponta de Sao Lourenço, >10 off Canical, 16 off Faial, 616 E Ponta da Cruz (17:30-19:45, and passage continuing), several calling at night Punto do Garajau, first calls at 21:45; 1/9 250 Porto Moniz; 2/9 272 Porto Moniz; 3/9 335 Funchal-Porto Santo ferry; 4/9 132 Porto Moniz, several calling at night Punto do Garajau. The breeding population in the Madeira archipelago is estimated at over 16 500 pairs (Snow & Perrins 1998).
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis
1/9 191 flying W at Porto Moniz (16:30-19:15). Groups of up to 12 birds, some allowing excellent views from within a few hundred metres. Easily distinguished from Cory’s, even at large distances by smaller size, shorter and more pointed wings, different flight (reminding Sooty Shearwater) more contrasting plumage (dark brown above, white below), with distinct dark headcap, pale neck, white U on the upper tail. Dark smudge on belly and dark spot on the breastside only visible in nearest birds. More powerful flight than more “ flapping” Cory’s, wings held less lowered, dark bill.
Just before we left Porto Moniz on 1/9, we met Niklas Holmström, who counted the previous day (31/8) the astonishing number of 1393 Great Shearwaters, with another 58 in the morning of 1/9.
Mentioned as occasional by Zino et al. (1995) and as accidental by Moore et al. (1997). Holmström (2000) mentioned 219 passing Porto Moniz on 7 September 2000.
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus
30/8 at 18:15 one, together with a Balearic Shearwater (in one scope-view), flying W Porto Moniz. Distance 500-700 m. All dark, heavy-bodied shearwater, with striking pale area on underwing, long and pointed wings, flying in classic bows. Clearly larger than the Balearic Shearwater. 1/9 one W Porto Moniz; 2/9 one W Porto Moniz; 4/9 one W Porto Moniz.
Not mentioned by Zino et al. (1995) or Moore et al. (1997). Holmström (2000) mentioned five Sooty Shearwaters passing Porto Moniz on 7 September 2000.
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
Total >1000: 30/8 64 small shearwaters, probably mainly Manx, Porto Moniz; 1/9 221 Porto Moniz; 2/9 507 Porto Moniz; 4/9 228 Porto Moniz.
Many trip reports mention Little Shearwater as the most common small shearwater to be observed at Madeira. We originally assumed almost all small shearwaters passing Porto Moniz to be Little Shearwaters: the birds appeared small, with fast wing beats, pale faces and with a pale wash on the upperwing. After lengthy discussions (also with Niklas Holmström), re-examination of the literature available, and careful observations of the small shearwaters under various light conditions, we had to conclude that the great majority of small shearwaters actually concerned Manx Shearwaters! All these birds (usually flying in flocks of up to 10-20 individuals) had relatively long and pointed wings, dark hoods (but in bright, low sunlight appearing pale-faced), and the apparent white wash on the upper wing was clearly caused by sunlight. We also realised that we are used to seeing Manx Shearwaters in The Netherlands during stormy conditions, when they show a very different flight action (flying in bows) than during the calm circumstances at Madeira, when they were flying more actively. All Manx Shearwaters seen at Porto Moniz flew westward and probably concerned real migration rather than movements from feeding areas to colonies. The breeding population of the Madeira archipelago is estimated at (only!) over 500 pairs (Snow & Perrins 1998).
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus
30/8 at 18:15 one, together with a Sooty Shearwater (in one scope-view), flying W Porto Moniz. Distance 500-700 m. Smaller than Sooty Shearwater (in one view!), brown upperparts, pale brown underwing, brown flanks and undertail. Zino et al. (1995) mentioned only one record (based on Jepson & Zonfrillo 1988). Mentioned as “accidental” by Moore et al. 1997).
Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis
Total >100: 30/8 10 Porto Moniz; 1/9 16 Porto Moniz; 2/9 66 Porto Moniz; 4/9 10 W Porto Moniz.
The Little Shearwaters identified always flew close inshore (sometimes with ca. 150 m), singly or in very small flocks, had clear white faces with a “loose” eye (the latter only rarely visible), relatively short and rounded wings, a white wash only on the arm of the upper wing, a rapid, fluttering, auk-like flight, and frequently held their heads in a lifted position. The breeding population of the Madeira archipelago is estimated at over 1300 pairs (Snow & Perrins 1998).
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
31/8 two Machico, 1/9 one Machico, two Canical, one Faial (near the bridge); 3/9 one Tanque, Porto Santo; 4/9 two Machico;
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
31/8 one Ponta de Sao Lourenço; 1/9 one Faial; 2/9 one Punta do Pargo; 4/9 one Funchal airport.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus [granti]
31/8 one Funchal, one Punto do Garajau.
Buzzard Buteo buteo
Not noted systematically. A few dozens were seen, up to seven per day. 3/9 two Porto Santo.
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Not noted systematically. A few dozens were seen, up to ten per day. 3/9 three Porto Santo.
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
2/9 a pair Punta do Pargo.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
On 3/9 a pair with three almost full-grown chicks (still incapable of flight) at Tanque, Porto Santo. Moorhen is mentioned as “accidental” at Madeira by Snow & Perrins (1998) and as a rare passage migrant by Moore (1997). It is not mentioned as a breeding bird by Zino et al. (1995). We are unaware of previous breeding in the Madeira archipelago.
Coot Fulica atra
1/9 two Machico; 3/9 one Tanque, Porto Santo. Mentioned as accidental (but annual) at Madeira by Snow & Perrins (1998) and as a rare passage migrant by Moore (1997).
Great Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
31/8 and 1/9 two Machico; 1/9 one first-winter Canical; 3/9 two Tanque, Porto Santo. Mentioned as occasional by Zino et al. (1995).
Sanderling Calidris alba
31/8 three Machico; 1/9 two Funchal harbour, four Machico, two Porto Moniz; 4/9 four Machico;
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii
One 3/9 one adult was seen, heard well and photographed at Tanque, Porto Santo. We are not aware of previous records from the Madeira archipelago (cf. Zino et al. 1995, Barone & Delgado 2001), and this may well be the first record.
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii, Tanque, Porto Santo, 3 September 2002 (Peter L. Meininger)
Dunlin Calidris alpina
31/8 and 1/9 one adult in summer plumage Machico
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
3/9 one Tanque, Porto Santo.
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
1/9 three flying E Ponta de Sao Lourenço. Mentioned as occasional by Zino et al. (1995).
Bar-tailed Gowit Limosa lapponica
31/8, 1/9 and 4/9 one Machico (steel ring right tarsus, ending ..37). Mentioned as occasional by Zino et al. (1995).
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
30/8 seven + one passing E Porto Moniz; 31/8 five E Ponta da Cruz; 1/9 one Canical, one Porto Moniz; 2/9 two E Porto Moniz.
Redshank Tringa totanus
4/9 one at Porto Moniz. Mentioned as occasional by Zino et al. (1995).
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
31/8 and 1/9 one immature Machico; 1/9 two Canical.
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia
British and a French birders had independently found an adult Spotted Sandpiper at Machico on 27 August. On 3 September we relocated this bird, feeding among the rocks in the mouth of the Ribeiro Machico. Between 18:15 and 19:00, we managed to photograph the bird and to make a video recording and a field description. It was still in full summer plumage. The birds was still present on 7 September (Niklas Holmström in litt.). There is one previous record from Madeira: one observed at Funchal on 26 April 1960 (Bannerman & Bannerman 1965).
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
31/8 16 Machico, including a colour-ringed bird that had been ringed as a breeding female (Washington 1313-59626) on 29 June 2002 at Alert, Ellesmere Island, Nanavut, Canada (82.30 N, 62.20 W) (Guy Morisson in litt.); 1/9 five Funchal harbour; eight Machico, six Canical; 2/9 eight Funchal harbour, three Porto Moniz; 4/9 15 (including the colour-ringed bird) Machico.
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus
30/8 one sub-adult E, two light-phased adults W Porto Moniz; 4/9 three unidentified “smaller” skua Porto Moniz. Mentioned as exceptional by Zino et al. (1995).
Great Skua Catharacta skua
2/9 one flying E at Porto Moniz. Mentioned as exceptional by Zino et al. (1995).
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
1/9 one first-winter at Canical (photographed).
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
On 2/9 we found a fine summer-plumaged adult perched on a lamppost near the marina in Funchal harbour, from a distance of 15-20 m. It was considerably smaller than Yellow-legged Gulls, with a pale grey mantle, ring on the bill, pale iris; in flight it did not show any visible moult in secondaries or primaries. One poor quality photograph could be made before it flew off; it could not be relocated. Mentioned as rare but regular winter visitor by Moore et al. (1997).
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
29/8 three Funchal harbour; 3/9 five Tanque, Porto Santo.
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis
Not noted systematically. Regular along the seashore, with up to 200 in Funchal harbour, 300 near Canical.
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
4/9 one 2nd summer at Machico (videoed).
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Small numbers along the coast, mostly near harbours etc. Up to five at Ponta da Cruz, up to 12 Porto Moniz, up to 10 Machico
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
2/9 one first-winter flying W at Porto Moniz.
Rock Dove Columba livia
Very few “pure” birds observed. We payed little attention to this species, however.
Long-toed Pigeon Columba trocaz
31/8 at least eight seen Balcões, plus two heard (similar to Wood Pigeon C. palumbus, but lower) during the walk through the levada to the viewpoint. Grey subterminal band obvious in flight en when perched; yellow tip of bill visible by telescope even at great distances (when perched). Total population estimated at 3500-4950 birds in 1991 (Snow & Perrins 1998).
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
2/9 one Ponta do Pargo.
Barn Owl Tyto alba
31/8 one calling at night Punto do Garajau.
Plain Swift Apus unicolor
Common all over Madeira, from sea level up to 1800 m. Often in flocks of tens, hunting for insects along steep road sides. 3/9 five Porto Santo.
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
31/8 one Pico do Arieiro; 1/9 one Faial (near the bridge).
Hoopoe Upupa epops
3/9 one Tanque, Porto Santo.
Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotii
31/8 15 Ponta de Sao Lourenço, 10 Ponta do Rosto; 31/8 two Pico do Arieiro; 1/9 30 Ponta de Sao Lourenço; 2/9 four Punta do Pargo; 3/9 four Porto Santo.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Not noted systematically. Present almost anywhere near streams and along the seashore. Also in the centre of Funchal.
Robin Erithacus rubecula
31/8 one Ribeiro Frio, Balcões; 4/9 four Fonte da Pedra.
Blackbird Turdus merula
31/8 two Ribeiro Frio, Balcões, one Funchal; 2/9 two Funchal; 4/9 three Porto Santo.
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
31/8 one or two Machico (heard and briefly seen in dense vegetation in the Ribeiro Machico). Mentioned as exceptional by Zino et al. (1995).
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
The race S. a heineken was regularly heard singing (quite different from nominate S. a. atricapilla: starting like Blackcap, then Garden Warbler S. borin and ending with Songthrush Turdus philomelos-like notes), rarely seen. 3/9 one male Porto Santo.
Madeira Firecrest Regulus madeirensis
31/8 20-30 Ribeiro Frio, Balcões. No full adult plumaged birds were seen. Immatures had more black on the wings than Firecrest R. ignicapillus. The call resembled a mono-sylabic Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus, and was quite unlike Firecrest.
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
3/9 >50 Porto Santo.
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia
3/9 four drinking from stream near Tanque, Porto Santo, and subsequently flying off towards the mountains. The race P. p. madeirensis is very similar to the nominate subspecies.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
30/8 two Fonte da Pedra; 31/8 dozens Ribeiro Frio, Balcões. Also heard on several occasions in inland laurel forest. The race F. c. madeirensis has a larger bill, a distinct call from the nominate subspecies and males lack the bright colours of the nominate subspecies.
Canary Serinus canarius
Not noted systematically. Common in most areas, with regularly flocks of 20 birds or more.
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
30/8 17 Ponta da Cruz, 31/8 10 Machico; 1/9 12 Ponta de Sao Lourenço ; 3/9 five Tanque, Porto Santo.
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
30/8 50 Fonte da Pedra.
[Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
31/8 15 Machico; introduced species]
We are grateful for the useful information received from Max Berlijn, Cornelis J. Hazevoet, Niklas Holmström, Steve Geelhoed, Guy Morrison, Magnus Robb and Roy Slaterus during the preparations of our trip and the compilation of this trip report. Reading and comparing with other trip reports available on the Internet was inspiring!
Flight Identification of European Seabirds
Bannerman D.A. & Bannerman W.M. 1965. Birds of the Atlantic Island 2. A history of the birds of Madeira, the Desertas, and the Porto Santo Islands. Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh and London.
Barone R. & Delgado G. 2001. Obsercervaciones de aves migratorias en la isla de Porto Santo (Archipiélago de Madeira), julio y deciembre de 2000. Rev. Acad. Canar. Cienc. 13 (4): 79-86.
Jepson P.R. & Zonfrillo B. 1988. Bird notes from Madeira, summer 1986. Bocagiana 117: 1-10.
Kristensen A.B. 1998. Trip Report: Madeira, August 5-12, 1998. http://www.crosswinds.net/~birdtrips/Madeira98.html
Marshall M. 2000. Madeira 9th – 16th July 2000. http://members.aol.com/berksbirds/madeira2000.htm
Moore C.C., Elias G. & Costa H. 1997. A birdwatchers’ guide to Portugal and Madeira. Prion Ltd., Perry.
Regan, K. 1999. Madeira 18 September – 2 October 1999. http://www.whaetear.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/madeira_1999.htm
Snow D.W. & Perrins C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Concise edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Zino F., Biscoito M.J. & Zino P.A. 1995. Birds of the archipelago of Madeira and the Selvagens; new records and checklist. Bol. Mus. Mun. Funchal 47 (262): 63-100.