Sunday, 7 October 2007

Madeira - Day 6

For our last day in Madeira we decided on a short walk close to the hotel before packing up. We came across a large group of (Atlantic) Canaries just before the wine shop to which we were headed:

I'm not sure if I'll go back to Madeira. If I did I'd go in late April probably, to take in the breeding sea-birds, having pre-booked ferry tickets for Porto Santos and a day trip out to the Ihlas Desertas. It is a very distinctive place with great views and a significant area of protected habitat, but has very limited species of birds. I think my next trip to this part of the world will be either Fuerteventura and/or Tenerife in the more southerly Canary Islands.

So another holiday done. Next year the holidays will be in and around the UK, walking and birdwatching, so the next post on this blog could well be in 2009. If anyone knows anyone who has a couple of million quid going spare, I'll gladly use it to retire and spend my days walking and birdwatching, unfortunately I don't so back to work it is.

Madeira - Day 5

Day 5 and first stop, the pond! We set off before dawn to give ourselves the best shot of seeing anything unusual that might have stopped over. As dawn broke unfortunately so did the heavens, with a one hour deluge. We got a bit frustrated waiting under cover of a building awning nearby while a river poured down from above. As the intensity lessened we headed over to the pond to take some snaps. The Little Egrets (five) were drenched and ruffled but the rising water did interest them:

Once the rain had stopped more birds emerged, including this Grey Wagtail, again a variation local to the island:

Also the Common Waxbills put in a brief but noisy appearance:

Possibly the most interesting bird however is this juvenile Moorhen, which suggests the other adult Moorhens in the pond had bred, which I don't believe has been recorded on the island before:

From the pond we headed inland and up to Rabacal, aiming very deliberately to try and get our first sighting confirmed of the Trocaz Pigeon, which was now becoming a bit of a major goal for the holiday as, due to a Portuguese national holiday, the ferry to the nearby island of Porto Santos was completely full - so we couldn't get across to check out the bird-life there.

It was drizzling at Rabacal and the light was very poor so no photos worthy of note, but we did complete the 3km steep descent to the levada and on to the waterfalls. The waterfalls themselves were accessed for viewing on a particularly narrow strip of concrete including some lean-out type navigation so I clung manfully on a rock on the back of the path as far from the edge as possible whilst Helen went round the corner to photograph the falls:

We did see the Trocaz Pigeon, three individuals in fact, but the light, the wobbly cameraman and the rain ensured I only recorded very blurry out of focus images.

Down the steep and dodgy road into the centre of the island the views are stunning, even when it's raining. We stopped at a safe spot to snap this:

Once we were able to join the main roads we decided to head for the Sao Lourenco peninsula, which is the easternmost spit of the island. The area is in need of recovery, having been trampled all over by tourists so there is now a pathway for you to follow, to the land bridge. I don't know what's beyond that as I couldn't handle the thought of the bridge (by this point I was all precipiced out). We did get to see the strata of the land:

A great view of the Ilhas Desertas:

And on the way back a small group of Berthelot's Pipits came very close. In fact they pretty much ignored us. This chap was scratching away at the mud for a while before hopping on to this stone:

From the end of the island the next stop was the river mouth in the village of Canical. The river-mouth is now very limited as the river itself has been built in to a narrow channel which is strewn with litter and human detritus, however as suggested there is a small group of Spanish Sparrows resident in the area, we photographed these three on a roof from the road:

It was here we met the Dutch couple who were birding on Madeira too, though they were doing a fortnight stay. They recommended we also try the river-mouth in Machico, which is where we headed next. This area is much cleaner as was evidenced by the increased numbers of birds, including this Sanderling:

and this group of (Ruddy)Turnstones:

I like this picture as it shows a juvenile (left) an Adult moulting out of breeding plumage (right) and two adults (top and bottom) in more advanced stage of the moult. From Machico we headed back to the hotel for a few well deserved beers!

Madeira - Day 4

Day four and we decided to walk into Funchal along the seafront and then to take the cable car up to the tropical gardens.

We started off however doing a little bit of sea-watching. That is pointing the scope at a patch of water in the distance and staring at it. I take my hat off to folk who do a lot of this, I don't know how. We did however, in fifteen minutes, spot at least ten Shearwaters, at a guess I'd say Little Shearwaters due their size and behaviour but it was my first attempt and I'm not confident enough in what I say to be certain. (On our last day we 'sea-watched' a large school of dolphins which was an unexpected bonus!)

Approaching the cable car station we spotted a tern flying along the front back and forth, and I managed to get the best photograph of a Common Tern I have managed thus far:

The beak shows some trace of red but is mostly black and the black cap has 'receded', in effect the bird is taking on its winter/non-breeding moult. I really am very pleased with this picture :)

Also on the seafront a small group of Turnstones were foraging or just mooching around, including this juvenile, who did take a quick peek at us and wondered quite what we were doing:

The cable car ride to the tropical garden was frankly tricky it being a large plastic bubble suspended by a thin piece of metal at points 50 metres above some very hard looking ground. I was delighted to arrive at the top and head into the tropical gardens (the tickets are 22 euros per person for the car and the entry). The gardens are very formal and lack real variety and interest. I though the overall price steep. However we did see, briefly, a moth that looked like a miniature humming bird, which was completely unexpected. I reached for the camera but it didn't hang about, and we didn't see it again. We left the gardens after about an hour, having seen Grey Wagtails and a Robin and headed along to the cable car to the botanical garden.

This trip was truly horrible, I really struggled as the drops are at least twice as high, if not more so, a wind was blowing and the car shuddering. I won't be doing that again. We decided on the way across that we'd walk down or get a cab as I couldn't face the two cable car rides back to the front.

The gardens themselves are very attractive and have much more of interest to them. The entry fee of 3 euros compares very favourably against the 10 euros for the tropical gardens, this no doubt reflects the government interest in it rather than just being a private concern which the tropical gardens are.

My only really concern with the botanical gardens is the aviary (the tropical gardens had a smaller one too), which contains approximately 400 species of captive 'exotic' birds. Thankfully the trade in these birds is now banned across Europe so hopefully this kind of 'exhibit' will one day be a thing of the past.

Madeira - Day 3

Day 3 and the weather looked better than the previous two days had served up so we decided to head inland to Ribeiro Frio to both explore the path out to the viewpoint at Balcoes and to walk one of the levadas by the town. We decided to get up early to give ourselves the best chance of seeing the islands specialities, including the Trocaz Pigeon.

I forgot of course that at altitude the temperature is much lower and as we climbed towards Ribeiro Frio, the temperature plunged from a warm 22 Celsius to a chilly 10, so we decided on a quick cuppa before setting off. The walk to the viewpoint at Balcoes is well signposted and there's a handy cafe en route, which had we known about we'd have stopped off there instead, as it has great views from the balcony.

Along the path we spotted this female Blackcap, or rather heard her and used the sound to locate her:

Close by was a large group of Chaffinches, maderensis, birds which show notable colour and sound differences to the familiar UK species. This male is a good example:

The commonest bird in the forest though is the Firecrest, maderensis, they're literally hundreds and hundreds of them. You know their about through the very high pitched calls they make amongst the flock, often from all around you. They also get very close, but move about exceedingly rapidly, often not staying put long enough to get a focus on. In addition they are birds at home within the woods, so the light makes getting a snap very tricky. Over the course of the whole trip I attempted over 100 snaps of these birds to get three usable photos, including this one:

From the viewpoint at Balcoes the views are indeed dramatic and worth the walk. No sign of the Trocaz Pigeons though, which was frustrating.

We headed back to Ribeiro Frio for another cuppa and to buy some snacks for the levada walk. On the way out to the viewpoint we passed two people, on the way back we must have passed about sixty. Ribeiro Frio was absolutely heaving with tourists, tourist buses, etc. so we decided to (a) start our trips even earlier for the remainder of the week and (b) to get out on the walk as swiftly as possible.

En route there were plenty more Chaffinches and Firecrests, including this chap:

but no sign of the Trocaz Pigeons. We did see a pair of pigeons fly off lower down in the forest but too briefly to be sure... we also heard cooing close-by but couldn't locate the bird(s). The walk out from Ribeiro Frio on the Furado levada was very pleasant if a little 'hairy' in places, though the most visible precipitous drops had some limited fencing, as it was all downhill, following the flowing water. We turned off at the bridge and headed up alongside a much smaller and less well formed levada. What we hadn't realised was that the circular walk we had planned involved climbing much higher than we had thus far descended as the final portion of the loop was a steep downhill section. The climb was a very tough 90 minutes up to a quite stunning area above the forest, which you can see here:

Just over the ridge is a farm, and beyond it the track over the top of the ridge and the descending path. We couldn't hang around too long to take in the view, as again rain clouds were gathering on the horizon. On the way back down the path was so steep and the rain imminent, we decided to use the road, which provided us with a unique experience. There was a large number of Plain Swifts in the air, getting lower and lower as the weather closed in. The roadway must have had a high concentration of insects as the swifts were flying in along the road and back out at breakneck speed. You can see from this photo what they were doing:

They were flying remarkably close to us as we walked down the road, and often as they were coming down from behind us you heard them before you saw them, as they flew right over our heads or alongside. It was quite an amazing experience watching them repeat this over and over again.

Madeira - Day 2

Our second day in Madeira and we planned to get out into the island and start to work our way through the recommended birding locations. One of the most accessible (it's at sea level!) and smallest locations is a little pool, behind a cafe and bank as you head from Ponta do Sol to Madalena do Mar. This is home to a large collection of 'wild' Muscovy Ducks and it turned out a number of other birds too.

In terms of waders, we spotted a couple of (Ruddy) Turnstones, including this juvenile:

This Dunlin:

you can see him looking for food along the 'shore' in the pond area:

and the last wader we saw, this Sanderling:

The waders weren't alone however, in addition we saw a single male Mallard, Coots and Moorhens and this lone Little Egret on the water:

From the pond we headed along the coast to Prazeres, where the main road stops (they get really dodgy after that!) and headed to our ultimate destination of the day the circular walk from Ponta de Pargo taking in the lighthouse at the westernmost point of the island.

Circling high in the air was an unusual looking Falcon, which we have identified (thanks to both Roger and Mike from Northants Yahoo bird group) as a Peregrine Falcon, which is a vagrant to Madeira, you'll need to click on the photo and zoom in to see it more clearly:

Heading down the steeply descending path (this became a theme, wherever you walk it is either steeply descending or inevitably steeply ascending, usually in that order!). As you approach the lighthouse, it is obvious there are a large number of smallish birds around. The majority of them are either Canaries or Betherlot's Pipits. This snap is of a small group of the Pipits flying past, a closer look shows the bird in various stages of flight:

I snapped these two Berthelot's Pipits chasing around on top of a concrete structure off the road:

In addition to the Pipits and Canaries, there were a number of Common Kestrel's about, at least three we counted in the air at once, and a few lone birds, including this (Northern) Wheatear female:

The views from the lighthouse are stunning:

Then after a pause for breath we had to get back up into the village and back to our car. En route we stopped for a very tasty lunch (fuel for the climb of course). A lone Common Buzzard settled on top of this communication tower:

And of course wherever we looked, were lizards. This one looks different to the first one, so does the one sticking his head out in the background, but then what do I know?

We took the car back to Prazeres, to explore around the Hotel Jardim Atlantico, however a very heavy rain storm appeared from nowhere and we got drenched just walking back to the car, which pretty much put an end to the exploring, though we did check back in on the pond on the way back to the hotel.

Madeira - Day 1

We decided we would go to Madeira as a way of using up some of the airmiles and nectar points we've been collecting, and as a (therefore) cheap but interesting and distinctive place to visit. We hoped to combine walking and bird-watching with some late-in-the-year sunshine. Madeira certainly delivers on the walking and the weather. In respect of bird-life, there are few endemic species and few genuine birding hot spots so it is possible to cover the island comfortably within a week.

The first thing that strikes you about Madeira is the humidity, that and the temperature, which never dropped below 17 celcius, day or night. The second thing that strikes you about Madeira (especially if like me you have height-type Vertigo) is that there are almost no natural flat surfaces, it being an extinct volcano type island, and therefore virtually every surface is man-made, surrounded by precipices, drops, heights, etc. There is no escape from this aspect of the island, which over time becomes quite wearing. Even a short walk will involve cliffs, step inclines, sharp drops, jagged rocks, etc. However setting that aside the island is different from anything I've visited before, and proved worth exploring. I recommend the 'Madeira Tour and Trail map'. published by Discovery Walking Guides Ltd (ISBN 1-904946-26-7) and Shirley Whitehead's 'Madeira Walks' (ISBN 1-904946-31-3) for reference. There are some non-commercial websites out there but they are few and far between.

One of the commonest birds in Madeira is the Yellow-legged Gull, atlantis, here shown in flight:

The most common bird of prey is the (Common) Kestrel, I snapped this one hovering over a patch of green land, on the coast in Funchal:

Ever-present close to sea-level is the (Atlantic) Canary:

As are the lizards:

I believe I saw three species of lizard on the island, but in truth they are a complete mystery to me so I actually have no idea. All these snaps were taken on a leisurely first-day walk along the front close to our hotel (which I won't be recommending) and into Funchal itself.

Friday, 6 July 2007

next trip

Our next scheduled trip abroad is to Madeira in October so pop back then for another (fingers crossed) journey into a new landscape populated with abundant wildlife and birdlife!

We'd go sooner but work and the need to pay for these trips keeps getting in the way...