Monday, 22 July 2019

Madeira - Part II

Tuesday 16th July saw us picking up our hire car for a day out in the mountains, starting with a drive to Pico De Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira and a popular walking area with visitors. The drive up into the mountains was stunning especially when we passed through the clouds to see brilliant blue skies, sunshine and a Dartmoor-esque landscape with a sea of white below. A long-toed pigeon flying across the road was a surprise too on the drive to the Pico car parking area.

The views from the Pico were stunning and despite the crowds it didn't feel too busy as people were easily lost in the landscape.

Pico De Arieiro

There were plenty of butterflies flitting about in the sunshine despite the cool breeze and the 1800+ metres altitude and I found Maderian grayling, Maderian small copper, clouded yellow, long-tailed blue, painted lady and a red admiral species which dashed past too quickly to properly ID but which appeared to lack much white markings indicating that it might have been a Macronesian red admiral.

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro 

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro 

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro

 Madeiran Grayling , Pico de Arieiro 

 Long-tailed Blue, Pico de Arieiro 

Madeiran Small Copper, Pico de Arieiro 

Plain swifts were whizzing around and kestrels were soaring overhead with chaffinch and blackbird heard singing on the lower wooded slopes. A feeding family group of spectacled warblets in the low scrub was a surprise but more expected were Berthelot's pipits feeding on the rocky scree. My first canaries of the trip were nice to see too.

 Berthelot's Pipit, Pico de Arieiro

Berthelot's Pipit, Pico de Arieiro, Pico de Arieiro

Canary, Pico de Arieiro 

We carried onwards to Ribeiro Frio, stopping off to look at the Poco da Neve Ice House along the way with distant views to Funchal below and we also found some Madeiran orchids growing on a verge by the roadside.

 Poco da Neve Ice Igloo, Pico de Arieiro

 Madeiran Orchid, Pico de Arieiro 

 Pride of Madeira, Pico de Arieiro 

 Pride of Madeira, Pico de Arieiro 

It was sunny as we arrived at Ribeiro Frio but after tea and cake for lunch in the restaurant there it had clouded over and our walk along the levada was eeriely misty and unfortunately viewless but we still had a fantastic time.

Along the walk I managed to get good views of Madeiran firecrest feeding in the trees including quite a few family groups with the adults busily feeding their young. Robin, blackbird, chaffinch and grey wagtail were also seen but frustratingly I could only hear long-toed pigeons coo-ing in the trees and clattering into flight with just the odd fleetingly misty view of a bird flying over the trees. Eventually we arrived at a viewpoint overlooking the laurel forest and the mist briefly cleared and I was very lucky to get a few decent flight views of 5 or 6 long-toed pigeons over the treetops before the mist returned.

A gap in the mist, Riberio Frio

Driving back to Funchal and again we drove up into the clouds before emerging into brilliant sunshine and stunning views, shame it was misty at Riberio Frio but at least I had seen the long-toed pigeons.

Wednesday 17th July and we decided to go on a whale and dolphin boat trip out of Funchal harbour. There were a variety of companies offering trips from crowded, touristy catamaran trips carrying up to a 100+ people to bumpy rib rides but we chose a small yacht called Gaviao for our excursion, holding a maximum of 20 people but with just 5 of us on our trip. It was a beautiful day but with a choppy-ish sea and a strong breeze and as our 3 hour trip progressed it became apparent that we were unlikely to see any cetaceans. I settled back and was enjoying being out on the waves and watching Cory's shearwaters and Bulwer's petrels passing by close to the boat  when our captain called a whale spout behind the boat. The engines were cut and we bobbed around on the water as a large bull sperm whale moved closer and closer towards us, spouting and showing its snout and back before it dived without fluking and disappeared from view - a fantastic sighting.

 Sperm Whale off Funchal

 Sperm Whale, Funchal

 D'Oliveiras Madeira Wine Lodge, Funchal

 Mating Monarch, Funchal

 Monarch, Funchal

Monarch, Funchal

Thursday 18th July and it was back out in the hire car for a drive along the south and west coast of the island towards Porto Moniz. The usual birds and butterflies were seen - buzzard, kestrel, canary, plain swift, monarch, etc., - and I did manage another brief flight view of a long-toed pigeon over the trees near Paul do Mar. The views along the coast were stunning and the drive from Paul do Mar to Porto Moniz was especially pretty in the sunshine with loads of flowering agapanthus by the roadside and singing blackcaps and blackbirds in the trees. Arriving in Porto Moniz and it was much more developed than when we visited in 1993 but we had a nice wander around and some grilled limpets for lunch before carrying on to Rabacal in the central mountains for another levada walk.

 Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis), Jardim do Mar

Ponta do Sol

The drive from Porto Moniz to Rabacal was very scenic when the mist finally cleared and very reminiscent of Dartmoor with bracken, gorse, broom, foxglove, bramble  agapanthus and hydrangea all being seen and singing blackcap, blackbird and chaffinch heard. Rabacal was very busy too with walkers and we had a steep walk down to the waterfall and a steep walk back up again but it was very scenic and I managed to see Madeiran speckled wood with the speckled woods, small white, clouded yellow and Madeiran small copper along with a Madeiran foxglove in flower.

 Rabacal Waterfall

 Madeiran Speckled Wood (Parage xiphia), Rabacal

 Madeiran Speckled Wood, Rabacal

Madeiran Speckled Wood, Rabacal

 Madeiran Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas phlaeoides),  Rabacal

Clouded Yellow, Rabacal

Madeiran Foxglove

We then walked along a levada circling around the mountainside which was very interesting and with some stunning views before returning to the car to head back to Funchal on another spectacular drive through the mountains.

Friday 19th July and our last day was spent around Funchal where the usual wildlife was on show and the next day we flew back to the UK when a 3 hour flight delay was annoying but couldn't detract from what had been a fantastic trip away. I can't wait to return again.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Madeira - Part I

Since returning from Oxford it has been very busy with work, jury service (for David) and ongoing family health issues but fortunately we had a pre-arranged holiday booked to Madeira and so it was with happy smiles as we headed off to Gatwick Airport on July 11th for an overnight stay before flying to Madeira the next morning.

We have visited Madeira twice before - the first time was in September 1993 when I won a week's stay at The Savoy Hotel in a competition in The Mail on Sunday newspaper and the second time was in September 2001 when this time we had to pay for our trip ourselves. It had become noticeably more built up and developed in the 18 years between our visits with the roads especially much improved and so it was on our visit this time with even more road building going on. However despite this huge areas of the island are still totally untouched and it is as stunningly beautiful as ever.

Paul do Mar, Madeira

On arriving at Funchal Airport at around 6pm on Friday 12th July the first birds I saw were yellow-legged gulls, feral pigeons and plain swifts flying around overhead as we headed to the Quinta de Penha de Franco, our hotel for the week and a fantastic place to stay, and walking around the gorgeous gardens of the hotel before dinner I saw a family group of goldfinch and a monarch butterfly.



The next morning I had a brief sea watch from our room balcony and managed to pick up a few distant Cory's shearwaters flying low over the waves or resting on the sea along with more yellow-legged gulls and a few common terns patrolling back and forth along the waterfront. Even better were some brief views of a pod of dolphins at the waters surface before they disappeared never to be seen again and too far away to ID what species they were.

We spent our first morning in Funchal before heading up to Monte on the cable car to visit the Botanical Gardens and I saw more common terns, yellow-legged gulls and plain swifts on our wanderings along with grey wagtail, robin, blackbird, blackcap, chaffinch, farmyard type mallards, muscovy ducks and (captive) mute swans.

 Yellow-legged Gulls, Funchal Harbour

 Common Tern, Funchal Waterfront

Common Tern, Funchal Waterfront

 Blackbird (Turdus merula cabrerae), Monte Palace Gardens

 Chaffinch, Monte Palace Gardens
Fringilla coelebs maderensis

 Chaffinch, Monte Palace Gardens 

Chaffinch, Monte Palace Gardens 

Chaffinch, Monte Palace Gardens

Funchal Market

Other wildlife sightings included East Atlantic Sally Lightfoot crabs, an emperor dragonfly, painted lady and speckled wood, Madeiran wall lizards and Perez's frogs.

East Atlantic Sally Lightfoot Crab ( Grapsus adscensionis), Funchal Waterfront

Painted Lady, Funchal Promenade

 Speckled Wood, (Pararge aegeria), Monte Palace Gardens

 Madeiran Wall Lizard, Monte Palace Gardens

Perez's Frog (Introduced), Monte Palace Gardens

Sunday 14th July was spent around Funchal again and I managed to find long-tailed blues and Lang's short-tailed blues in the flower beds along the promenade feeding with painted lady and monarch while at the hotel I found a common wall gecko resting vertically on a wall.

 Long-tailed Blue, Funchal Promenade

 Long-tailed Blue, Funchal Promenade 

 Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Funchal Promenade 

Common Wall Gecko, Hotel

Monday July 15th and it was time to explore outside of Funchal and so we headed off for the day to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo by ferry, a 2 hour 15 minute trip each way. The ferry terminal was just a few minutes walk away from our hotel which was handy as we had to be at the terminal by 7:30am for the 8am crossing. We upgraded to a first class ticket which gave us access to the first class lounge complete with a breakfast and dinner buffet and a viewing deck right across the front of the boat above the bridge.

While waiting to sail out of the harbour I watched common terms flying around and resting on the quay and was very pleased to find an adult roseate tern amongst them, a good start to the day.

Roseate Tern (record shot), Funchal Harbour

As we headed out of the harbour the breeze was very noticeable as we headed into the wind and the seas were noticeably choppy but after wolfing down my breakfast I was out on deck watching lots of Cory's shearwaters living up to their name as they flew across the waves close to the boat. Viewing through binoculars was difficult in the wind but as we neared the Desertas Islands I picked up a Fea's type petrel flying past, a bird I hoped to see but wasn't really expecting too, and eventually I managed to see another 3 individuals including a definite Fea's petrel showing a distinct dark 'm' (or 'w') across the upperwings as it passed nearer to the boat than the others.

 Cory's Shearwater, Porto Santo Ferry

Cory's Shearwater, Porto Santo Ferry

After passing the eastern tip of Madeira the sightings dwindled other than the odd Cory's shearwater but eventually I began to pick up a few Bulwer's petrels skittering low over the waves, another bird I was hoping to see.

Arriving in the harbour at Porto Santo and common terms and yellow-legged gulls were flying around and on the walk into the main town of Vila Baleira I saw collared doves, kestrels, buzzards, blackcaps, plain swifts and Spanish sparrows along with monarchs, small whites and long-tailed blues and Madeiran wall lizards.

Yellow-legged Gulls, Porto Santo

Spanish Sparrow, Porto Santo

We spent the day sitting on the beach watching common terns fishing, including a very confiding juvenile, and enjoyed ice creams and mojitos and a swim in the sea before it was time to walk back to the harbour to catch the 7pm ferry back to Madeira.

Common Tern, Porto Santo

 Common Tern, Porto Santo

Common Tern, Porto Santo

Common Tern, Porto Santo

Common Tern, Porto Santo

I was looking forward to the return journey and after wolfing down my dinner I was back out on deck watching for wildlife as we sailed out of the harbour. This time the wind was behind us and had eased off somewhat so viewing was much easier with the sea less choppy too but this meant there were less birds. Cory's shearwaters were seen in much lower numbers than on the morning trip but Bulwer's petrels were seen in greater numbers - unfortunately no Fea's type petrels were seen on the return trip but I did see an Atlantic flying fish soaring low over the water surface looking very blue and bird-like and a very distant pod of leaping dolphins being trailed by a large flock of Cory's shearwaters.

Bulwer's Petrel, Porto Santo Ferry

Cory's Shearwater, Porto Santo Ferry

Nearing Madeira from the Porto Santo Ferry

Arriving back in Funchal at 21:15 hours and I was very tired but very happy after a great sea watching experience and a great day out - our holiday to Madeira was certainly delivering on the wildlife front.