Madeira – Pelagic heaven

Madeira is a must for sea watching and pelagics. We flew directly from The Azores to Madeira. We had arranged previously a three day trip with Wind Birds. Wind Birds with Catarina Fagundes and Hugo Romano organises very professional sea watching pelagics off Madeira. Compared to the pelagic we just did on The Azores, Hugo and Caterina truly know their stuff, especially the chumming techniques that they have fine tuned over the years.

The first day we went east, heading out beyond Ponta de São Lourenço with the aim of seeing Zino’s Petrel. This is the price bird of Madeira with an estimated number of below 100 breeding pairs. The Zino’s breed on cliffs at the highest mountain peek of Madeira, very hard to access the breeding grounds.

Zino's Petrel breeding grounds in the distance
Zino’s Petrel breeding grounds in the distance

The Zino’s Petrel is very similar to the Desertas Petrel, but it is possible to distinguish the two in the field. Desertas is a chunkier bird, with a noticeable thicker bill. We saw our first Desertas just outside the port of Machico, no pictures of those birds though.

They drove the Rib Boat, aptly named Oceanodroma, eastward for almost two hours and eventually picked a spot and threw in the chum. A 15 liter bucket of frozen, chopped fish together with some shark liver oil as well as some alleged secret sauce.

They drifted over the area with the chum over and over again. Once the chum started to melt/shrink they threw in onother 15 liter bucket. Alltogether 3 buckets in a session. Good numbers of Great Shearwater, Bulwer’s Petrel and Cory’s Shearwater came inspecting the smelly goo.

Bulwer's Petrel
Bulwer’s Petrel
Cory's Shearwater
Cory’s Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater

The first really good bird that came were Wilson’s Storm-petrel. A spectacular bird that dances on the water with it’s long legs, dipping into the chum, feeding. It looks as if they are running on the water. The Swedish apt name of the bird is Sea-runner.

Wilson's Storm-petrel
Wilson’s Storm-petrel

A diagnostic feature of Wilson’s Storm-petrel is the yellow webbing on the feet.

We've got yellow webbing
We’ve got yellow webbing

Long-tailed Jaegers came feeding on the chum.

Long-tailed Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger

So did a Blue Shark, not good.

Chum massacre
Chum massacre

Finally towards the end of the day, a clear Zino’s Petrel came close enough to be safely identified and photographed. Earlier in the day we have had a few Petrels that were too far away to safely id. Note the slim body and the thin bill. Nice article about Zino’s here.

Zino's Petrel
Zino’s Petrel

Day two was much windier, I asked Hugo how bad the weather must be for them to cancel. He answered that they don’t cancel for bad weather, they cancel for good weather. They’re called Wind Birds for a reason, and this second day, with the wind we headed straight south from Machico, far out off shore. The wind turned out to be good indeed, the amount of Bulwer’s Petrels was staggering, we estimated over 500 Bulwer’s this day.

The first really good bird to show was a Barolo’s Shearwater. This was unexpected and the Barolo is clearly one of those birds we could have missed entirely on the Big Year. Luck. Later in the day we saw yet another Barolo’s Shearwater.

Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater
Barolo's Shearwater
Barolo’s Shearwater

Similar to the first day, quite a few Cory’s and Great Shearwaters as well. After a few hours on the sea the next super bird comes feeding, White-faced Storm-petrels. These birds run on the water similar to the Wilson’s Storm-petrel, close to the boat providing excellent views. At this point we were in heaven.

White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel

Just as we’re enjoying the White-faced, Band-rumped Storm-petrels start to show on the slick (oily surface of see surrounding the chum). These are most probably of the Madeiran variety, not Grant’s but its difficult to tell.

Band-rumped Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel

As we photograph the various Band-rumped I looked at one of my out-of-focus shots and saw indications of a forked tail. We started looking closer at the Band-rumped Storm-petrels and soon Hugo identified one, or maybe two Leach’s Storm-petrel amongst the Band-rumped. We were not able to get any sufficiently good photographs of the Leach’s but Martijn Verdoes did and we’ll got a copy of his shots. It was far from easy to identify these Leach’s Storm-petrels but the id was verified by Nils Van Duivendijk, Brian Patteson and Bob Flood which is hard to argue with.

Leach's Storm-petrel
Leach’s Storm-petrel

Not an entirely satisfying experience, we would have thought it would have been easier to distinguish a Leach’s from a Band-rumped – apparently not.

Day three we headed back eastwards again, to the same waters of day one. Our primary goal was to get better views of Desertas Petrel. We saw several Desertas in the day, some close enough to be photographed and safely identified.

Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel
Desertas Petrel

Compare the chunkier body and the thicker bill to the Zino’s Petrel.  Day three was by far the slowest day, mostly due to the wind. Apparently high winds (and bumpy rides) are what is needed. Desertas Petrel is recently split from Fea’s Petrel which breeds on Cap Verde. It’s not possible to distinguish Fea’s from Desertas in the field, thus this is pretty much a geography tick.

We saw quite a few Dolphins and whales in the three days. Flocks of Cuvier’s beaked whale, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Atlantic Short-nosed Common Dolphin. Spectacular to have a group following the Rib Boat, jumping. 20170825-IMG_5267

Finally, Madeira host a few land birds too. The pelagics started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and went on into the dark, thus we had the mornings free to explore the island. Two endemics, the Madeira Firecrest  and Trocaz Pigeon.

Madeira Firecrest
Madeira Firecrest
Trocaz Pigeon
Trocaz Pigeon

Furthermore Berthelot’s Pipit and Plain Swift reside here as well as on the Canaries.

Berthelot's Pipit
Berthelot’s Pipit
Plain Swift
Plain Swift

 

 

3 thoughts on “Madeira – Pelagic heaven”

  1. You are probably thinking of the striking look of fresh juvenile Leach’s and fresh adults typically shown in field guides. Worn and bleached birds are browner and far less striking. Flight jizz the best clue. Also, be careful of using a taxonomy not backed up by science, I.e. Where you say Grant’s vs Madeiran. Nothing is published that has proven that these are distinct taxa.

    1. Published? Science? – there is the book and the research by the Sound Approach guys that makes a pretty compelling argument for splitting Band-rumped into Madeiran and Grant’s.

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