Friday, 3 June 2011

Azores and Madeira: part 4

Protected for their flora and fauna, the Desertas Islands are home to huge numbers of breeding seabirds including the endemic form of Fea's Petrel, as well as the threatened Monk Seal.
Having left the Azores on a high, I arrived in Madeira on a low courtesy of TAP. Yes, for the second time in a week, the Portuguese national carrier lost my luggage, courtesy of a delayed flight out of Santa Maria and a missed connection in Lisbon. So I finally arrived at the hotel in Funchal just before midnight with nothing more than the clothes I stood in (oh, and 18 kg of cameras, lenses, optics and recording equipment in my hand luggage).

Cory's Shearwaters are abundant in Madeiran waters, and breed in large numbers on the islands.
Next morning I felt somewhat under-prepared for a pelagic trip, but I was determined to make the most of it. Luís Dias kindly picked me up from the hotel and we discussed the programme for what promised to be a great day at sea on the Ventura do Mar. So it proved, too, with Madeiran Storm-petrel, Bulwer’s Petrels and a presumed Desertas Petrel among the hordes of Cory’s Shearwaters being the main highlights, plus a Great Skua and, on Deserta Grande, excellent views of Berthelot’s Pipits and the ubiquitous Atlantic Canaries.
Favouring dry and rocky terrain, Berthelot's Pipit breeds on Madeira and in the Desertas.
Madeira Kinglet, now widely split from Firecrest, is common in the forests of Madeira.
Back on Madeira itself I was reminded how numerous some of the specialities are, especially Madeira Kinglet and Plain Swift, while the local maderensis Chaffinches made an interesting comparison to the moreletti birds I had been watching previously in the Azores. The same can be said for the local Yellow-legged Gulls, with true darker-mantled atlantis birds in the latter islands – where they perhaps deserve greater recognition as Azores Gull – seeming quite distinct from those on Madeira, which appear to show more traits associated with nominate michahellis from continental Europe.

Two of a kind: a male maderensis Common Chaffinch on Madeira ...
... and a male moreletti Common Chaffinch on the Azores. Subtle differences include the latter's greener mantle.
Another lookalike duo, this time atlantis-type gulls. Above: there is much individual variation but, to me, this second-calendar-year on Madeira seems to have more in common with Mediterranean michahellis than Azores atlantis.
Above: compare this fairly typical (if there is such a thing) second-calendar-year atlantis from the Azores, with its more extensive brownish mottling and barring, to the Madeiran bird above. Azores Gull seems a fitting name for this form, and it has been suggested that it may one day be elevated to the status of a full species.
Migrants seemed less obvious on Madeira, but included a wayward Barn Swallow near Caniçal and, one of the birds of the trip, a Yellow-crowned Night-heron in Funchal Marina. The third for the Western Palearctic, this bird had first turned up earlier in the year and I knew it had been seen the week before I arrived. Finding in amongst all the boats and jetties proved rather trickier than I expected but, at the second attempt, it appeared right out in the open and posed obligingly for photos.

It took some finding, but this young Yellow-crowned Night-heron in Funchal marina provided a fitting finale to the trip.
All too quickly the trip was at an end, but no complaints – it had more than lived up to expectations, with all the target seabirds, numerous endemic and near-endemic landbirds, and some unexpected migrants and vagrants to boot, including a couple of new Azorean birds. I’m looking forward to guiding the full version of this itinerary as a tour next year, at a more leisurely pace – more details will be posted on this blog soon, but for now see the brief summary here and feel free to register your interest via the links provided.

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