Report: Porto Santo and Madeira (6-20 July 2006)

Since a few days, I returned from a two week holiday in Porto Santo and Madeira, the two kidney-shaped (or bean-shaped if you prefer) islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 630 km west of the northern Moroccan coast, belonging of Portugal. Many birders like those islands (Madeira in particular) due to the average climate conditions - even during winter - and for the endemic bird species (or subspecies), along with an interesting amount of migrants which can occur in the right months.

But in my case, my two weeks have been unfortunately not in the regular migration months!

Anyway, it was a vacation with my non-birding girlfriend, and we decided to make also some trekking and sea-beach holiday. We took everything with a pretty calm approach, and most of the time we did not start any excursion before late evening.

Highlights of the birdwatching side have been:

- Platalea leucorodia - Eurasian Spoonbill: 1 in Porto Santo, Campo de Cima (Golf Course) - 12 July.

- Sterna nilotica - Gull-billed Tern: 1 in Porto Santo, Tanque - 10 July.

- Streptopelia turtur - Eurasian Turtle Dove: 1 in Madeira, Ponta de São Lourenço, near Casa do Sardinha - 18 July.

- Plegadis falcinellus - Glossy Ibis: 2 juv. in Porto Santo, Tanque - 10 July.

Whereas Monk Parakeets in Maderia and a "free" Brent Goose in Porto Santo 'd be considered, I think, in the unavoidable list of "escaped" / Cat. E birds.

I'll give some details especially about some places that I checked out, most of them I previously read about in the very useful Birding Madeira web site.

I mention various places also as they are described in some useful PDF maps I downloaded from the web (Mapa_Porto_Santo.pdf + Mapa_da_Madeira.pdf), if needed, I can email a copy.

For the trip and the report I used, along with some usual bird guides and various trip reports from Intenet:

- Madeira Car Tours and Walks (J. & P. Underwood) – Sunflower.

- Aves do Arquipélago da Madeira (P. Oliveira, D. Menezes).

- Birding Madeira web site.

- Appunti sull’identificazione delle Berte europee parti 1 e 2 (M. Lausetti) – EBN Italia web site.

Porto Santo, 6 to 13 July 2006

We were in the 4* Vila Baleira Hotel, which is a good one. Actually this hotel is not located in the Vila Baleira town, but it's in the Cabeço da Ponta area, very near to the beach, in the south-west side. From there it's possible to go by feet in the Ponta da Calheta area were there's few people and interesting opportunities for seawatching and snorkelling. The whole area from the road and the sand beach is also good for passerines.

For the whole week we moved using local buses and... feet.

IMPORTANT: if you go in the hills beware of ticks! We got plenty of them in our feet and legs, during an axcursione in the NE area (Pico da Gandaia, Pico do Castelo). Thay can be dangerous, for prevention and infos please use Google (“ticks”, “tickborne diseases” etc.)!

Porto Santo birding Places:

Ponta da Calheta (SW corner of P. Santo):

OK for seawatching but the birds I saw were rather distant, near the small opposite island (Ilheu de Baixo ou da Cal); a scope is recommended.


Along with the golf course lakes, this have been the only freshwater resource I saw (the one near Ponta is empty). It's north of the Vila Baleira town, you can go there just walking.

Strangely enough, there were only 3 birds, of two unusual species, as you can read above of below in the list.

This area and the small mountain just NE were also plenty of Hoopoes.

Click to see: Tanque and the nearby airport, from the NE hills; Tanque from the south side; the building just before Tanque if you come from the street below.

Golf Course, Campo de Cima area:

The place is pretty large, anyway you can explore all while walking.

Actually we did not go deeply in the area but walked along its boundaries.

But there seem to be no interdiction to go on... the whole island have been very windy so no surprise I saw very few people playing golf!

I saw the Spoonbill and a (semi captive?) Brent Goose, along with great numbers of Berthelot's Pipits, Hoopoes and the usual passerines.

Returning in the hotel and passing a rather ugly area with houses and buildings (maybe called “Campo de Baixo”) I saw a weird white-headed Berthelot's Pipit (image 1 - image 2).

Coastal areas:

From the road which connects the Marina / Porto in north-east to the southern tip of Ponta da Calheta, it's possible to easily reach the sandy beach. The area between the road and the sea is often interesting for finding and photographing birds, especially passerines. Best part are the last km's in the south, after Cabeço da Ponta.

Porto Santo Birds list:

1. Cory's Shearwater / Calonectris diomedea borealis: I saw many from the Ponta da Calheta beach, on 7 + 9 July.
2. Grey Heron / Ardea cinerea: 1 in the rocks above the sea in the Furnas area; 1 between Pico de ana Ferreira and the Golf Course, both on 12 July 06 with about 1 hour difference, maybe the same bird (both places are near).
3. Eurasian Spoonbill / Platalea leucorodia: 1 in Campo de Cima (Golf Course) - 12 July 06.
4. Glossy Ibis / Plegadis falcinellus: 2 juv. in the Tanque - 10 July 06.
5. Brent Goose / Branta bernicla: I guess this is a Category E (sort of escaped) bird, I saw it 4 times and I'm not sure it's the same bird: 8 July, in flight between Porto de Abrigo and Vila Baleira, after about 2 hours it was in the sea just in front of the fuel station (the real centre!) of Vila Baleira; 9 July, in the sea in front of the Ponta beach (near Ponta da Calheta); 12 July in one of the Golf lakes.
6. Buzzard Buteo / Buteo harterti: many (maximum of 6 in the same ascending stream) at Pico da Gandaia (NE side of P. Santo) on 10 July; some in the Pico de Ana Ferreira and Golf Course area on 12 July.
7. Kestrel / Falco tinnunculus canariensis: widespread.
8. Red-legged Partridge / Alectoris rufa: 3 just south of Pico da Gandaia (NE side of P. Santo), near the isolated church (Capela de Nossa Senhora da Graça) on 10 July.
9. Common Quail / Coturnix coturnix: just heard, in the west side of Pico de ana Ferreira and also around the Golf Course area, on 12 July.
10. Kentish Plover / Charadrius alexandrinus: 3-4 individuals in the beach, between the stones, just NE of the notorious Ponta da Calheta corner.
11. Whimbrel / Numenius phaeopus: 3 in flight from NE towards the small island on SO (Ilheu de Baixo ou da Cal), on 7 July.
12. Lesser Black-backed Gull / Larus fuscus: 1 in Porto de Abrigo, 8 July.
13. Gull-billed Tern / Sterna nilotica: 1 in Tanque on 10 July.
14. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull / Larus michahellis atlantis: widespread [these "atlanic" gulls, along with those of Madeira, were surprisingly to me way lighter than those I saw in Fuetreventura].
15. Common Tern / Sterna hirundo: widespread in the whole sany coast; many, including juv., in Porto de Abrigo.
16. Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove / Columba livia: widespread.
17. Plain Swift Apus unicolor: widespread.
18. Hoopoe / Upupa epops: widespread.
19. Common House Martin / Delichon urbica: 1 between Vila Baleira and Tanque (10 July); 1 in front of our hotel (Cabeço da Ponta) on 11 + 13 July.
20. Berthelot's Pipit / Anthus berthelotii madeirensis: widespread.
21. Blackcap / Sylvia atricapilla heineken: just heard, in various locations.
22. Spanish Sparrow / Passer hispaniolensis: widespread.
23. Canary / Serinus canaria: widespread.
24. Goldfinch / Carduelis carduelis parva: widespread.

Some Monarch (Danaus plexippus) are in the town of Vila Baleira, at the gardens very close to the only small jetty.


Rana perezi is common also in vila baleira town, just give thema few freshwater.


I did just short time snorkelling, anyway some new species for someone used to the Mediterranean sea: Sphoeroides marmoratus, Abudefduf luridus and Sparisoma cretense.

Ferry Boat from Porto Santo to Madeira (13 July 06):

1. Cory's Shearwater / Calonectris diomedea borealis: many
2. Bulwer's Petrel / Bulweria bulwerii: many.
3. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull / Larus michahellis atlantis
4. Common Tern / Sterna hirundo

And also some distant whales (probably Fin Whale / Balaenoptera physalis or Bryde's Whale / Balaenoptera edeni).

Madeira, 13 to 20 July 2006

We were in the 3* Orca Praia Hotel, please read further for some interesting birding details about this hotel.

In Madeira we moved using a rented Opel Corsa (very bad for the steep Madeira roads), I think it was a faulty car anyway. Of course we walked - trekked a lot too.

Boat trip from Funchal to Desertas (14 July 2006):

The first Madeira day, instead of starting exploring the island, I went with the boat Ventura do Mar to do this sea trip, which included a short stay in the Deserta Grande island. More general infos on the web sites of Ventura do Mar itself and of Birding Madeira. This pelagic trip is rather nice, but a minor point to me have been the sea sickness I suffered most of the time. I think it's better to take the right pill in advance if you happen to suffer of sea sickness (i didn't know!).

The sea itself was not so calm anyway, and a lot of wind too.

So I didn't felt like I was in the proper conditions to do some swim and snorkelling in the Deserta Grande little bay where we stop, a real pity due to the clear waters with many interesting fishes on them.

Along with the birds (see following list) some interesting sea creatures which have been encountered were sea turtles (Carteea caretta), some whales (mostly seen by their blows) and especially a beautiful school of Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (Stenella frontalis) which came very close to the boat and followed us on our way back.

Also, many thanks to Luis Dias, the main skipper (and birder), and Marco his co-worker.

Birds from the pelagic trip:

1. Fea's/Zino's Petrel / Pterodroma feae / madeira: about 3.
2. Bulwer's Petrel / Bulweria bulwerii: many.
3. Cory's Shearwater / Calonectris diomedea borealis: many.
4. Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull / Larus michahellis atlantis: many near the coasts.
5. Common Tern / Sterna hirundo: many.

Birds on Deserta Grande:

1. Berthelot's Pipit / Anthus berthelotii madeirensis.
2. Canary / Serinus canaria.

Madeira, birding places:

Hotel Orca Praia:

Located between Ponta da Cruz and Câmara de Lobos, this hotel was not the best for many reasons (write me if you want further details), but it was still a nice choice for a birder. All the rooms face the sea, and a nice unexpected surprise was that Cory's Shearwaters all the night (usually during 22:30 - 24) were flying and "singing" a few meters from the rooms. Maybe the rock area just right (west) of the hotel were suitable for some nests?

Also, every night we had a Barn Howl perching, flying and screaming around, again a few meters from our terrace. I used some recorded call, just a few seconds some nights, and the first time there were 2 owls around. I suspect a nest is very close to the hotel (so I almost stopped using calls). It's important to have the room in the upper right (west) side, otherwise the Barn Howl could be missed (our room in particular was # 414). Click here to guess where was the favourite perching site!

I suspect a couple of kestrels also have a nest nearby.

About seawatching, using a scope many birds could be seen, even if I recognized only Cory's. A major amount of hours and a more expert eye 'd have produced better results... the birds were rather distant anyway. In late afternoon – before dark most of the Cory's went towards east, but many also were going west or they just stood still in the water, in small groups.

On the sea rocks – some just a few meters from the swimming pool – everyday some Common Terns along with a few Turnstones.

Also, in 2 different days I saw and heard 1 or 2 Monk Parakeets, mostly just at the base of the hotel where a few high reeds grew, in front of the sea.

From the terrace I've been able to see:

Cory's Shearwater, Barn Howl, Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Turnstone, Plain Swift, Monk Parakeet, dolphins, whales.

Funchal coast:

I did very few birding in Funchal. I just want to mention on 20 July (afternoon) most of the terns were north-east of the Marina area, near the yellow little castle / museum ("Forte") which is easily spotted from the coast.

Among them, one Roseate Tern and 3 Turnstones.

Ponta de São Lourenço:

There is a well known and beautiful path for a short trekking.

After a while you can easily find a small building called Casa do Sardinha, surrounded by palm trees (the only around!). Here there's also a very useful small tank of freshwater, which of course attract lots of birds... good site for photos too. In the building surroundings I found the majority of Rock Sparrows of the whole holiday, they also were very vociferous. Ok also for Canaries, B. Pipits, kestrels (the whole path) and Goldfinches. The same place is very good if you want to do close pictures of lizards, better if you attract them with some fruits. I saw also a buzzard and an amazing Turtle Dove.

One thing I didn't know (and I was not equipped!) is that at some point is possible to go down at the sea, for some (I guess) interesting swimming - snorkelling opportunities!

Prazeres - Paúl do Mar:

At early afternoon (16 July), we took a very nice trekking path which starts a few metres down, in between the last houses of the hotel Jardim Atlantico complex.

Surprisingly enough, I saw my first Trocaz Pigeon here, actually 2 of them. The area is not the usual forest like you'd expect for these birds, it's a pretty dry valley along the walking path which goes down to the sea down under. The pigeons liked to stay on top of some rocks and were easy to see... the place seems more suitable for Rock doves actually!

A few hours later we did some of the Levada walking (Calheta - Ponta do Pargo) which can be reached from the Prazeres town: there's a sign indicating "Levada". Nice pine - eucalyptus forest, Madeira Firecrests were heard, but the trees are tall and thet are not easy ti spot here. Also in the forest the only Greenfinches I saw / heard.


On 17 July we did some trekking in the nice Rabaçal area, where many Levadas pass. In the Risco Levada I saw 2 Trocaz, near the waterfall at the end.

All the forests here have also small trees and Madeira Firecrests are easy to spot, along with Robins and other small birds.

Ribeiro Frio / Balcões:

I was there for a short walk, rather late in the afternoon. Clouds were so low that the laurel forest seemed to be in the mist, while at Balcões there was just no sight due to the clouds. Anyway at Balcões there's a small stone table well known to local birds, especially very confident Chaffinches. Nice place also for Blackbird and Robin.

Pico do Arieiro:

I decided not to do the (expensive) night trip for the Zino's petrels.

Instead, we had a not too long trekking along the great path which goes up and down the mountains.

At about 1800 m above the sea I found many Kestrels, Yellow-legged Gulls, Plain Swifts, Berthelot's Pipits.


I was there on 15 July, especially to check out Common Waxbills. We looked for about 1 hour, in the afternoon, along the small river, near the final part before the sea. No waxbill have been detected.

Ok for Grey Wagtails, Blackbirds and Blackcaps.

Ponta do Garajau:

Seems to be a nice place for night birds and I was interested especially for the Madeiran Strom Petrel, provided what we had just in our hotel room! Anyway, this place definitely seems not to be the best for bringing your girlfriend at night, with torch lights and binoculars! We arrived at a road with some parking places, but it was not clear how to reach the nearby Christ illuminated statue. No signs in the surroundings, just some construction works and people in some more or less hidden cars, also someone literally "inside" a bush! So we give up pretty quickly without reaching the statue, maybe some more accurate infos 'd be useful.

Also it's best to check the place in advance with day light, and of course to bring fellow birders instead of a girlfriend / wife (if possible!).

Madeira Birds list:

1.Cory's Shearwater / Calonectris diomedea borealis: a lot, from the hotel.
2.Sparrowhawk / Accipiter nisus granti: 1 east of Prazeres, a few seconds while driving, on 16 July.
3.Buzzard / Buteo buteo harterti: some in the hills – mountains (Prazeres etc.)
4.Kestrel / Falco tinnunculus canariensis: widespread.
5.Common Quail / Coturnix coturnix: heard at the Eolic Park near Paúl da Serra, 17 July.
6.Turnstone / Arenaria intrepres: fron the hotel, 3 on 15 July and 2 on 17 July; in Funchal 3 on 20 July.
7.Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull / Larus michahellis atlantis: widespread, in the high mountains too.
8.Roseate Tern / Sterna dougalii: 1 in Funchal, 20 July.
9.Common Tern / Sterna hirundo: widespread on the coasts.
10.Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove / Columba livia: widespread.
11.Trocaz Pigeon / Columba trocaz: Prazeres 2 on 16 July; Levada do Risco 3 on 17 July.
12.Eurasian Turtle Dove / Streptopelia turtur: 1 in Ponta de São Lourenço, near Casa do Sardinha, 18 July.
13.Barn Owl / Tyto alba schmitzi: 1 or 2 every night from the hotel terrace (!!).
14.Plain Swift / Apus unicolor: widespread.
15.Berthelot's Pipit / Anthus berthelotii madeirensis: rather common in dryier areas such as Paúl da Serra, Pico de Areiro, Rabaçal, Ponta de São Lourenço etc.
16.Grey Wagtail / Motacilla cinerea schmitzi: widespread, from the Funchal harbour until the heights at 1000+ m
17.Robin / Erithacus rubecula: some in the woods (Rabaçal, Ribeiro Frio etc.).
18.Blackbird / Turdus merula cabrerae: some in Funchal, Machico etc etc.
19.Blackcap / Sylvia atricapilla heineken: rather common, in Funchal too.
20.Madeira Firecrest / Regulus madeirensis:common between the woods.
21.Spanish Sparrow / Passer hispaniolensis: many inside Caniçal, 18 July.
22.Rock Sparrow / Petronia petronia madeirensis: many in Ponta de São Lourenço (near Casa do Sardinha etc.), 18 July.
23.Chaffinch / Fringilla coelebs maderensis: common between the woods.
24.Canary / Serinus canaria: many especially in Ponta de São Lourenço.
25.Goldfinch / Carduelis carduelis parva: in Machico etc.
26.Greenfinch / Carduelis chloris aunrantiventri: some near Prazeres (Levada Calheta - Ponta do Pargo), 16 July.
28.Monk Parakeet / Myiopsitta monacus: 1 or 2 on 16 and 18 July from the hotel

good birding....

Andrea Tarozzi

Bologna – Italia.

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