25-30 August 2013 : Madeira, pelagics and land

Catarina and Hugo
I have just spent the five days 25-30 August in Madeira, flying round trip from Málaga with a boring 4-5 hours in Lisbon between flights to and from Funchal.The plan was simple, spend three days at sea with Catarina and Hugo of Madeira Wind Birds. Back in 2010, seven of us from Spain went out with them in May their 11m RIB 'Oceandroma', saw a lot and ever since then I have had a string desire to see what migration at sea might be like in late August. It didn't work as I had expected or hoped, and Catarina and Hugo were also rather disappointed, but the morning of 30 August an enormous bird, not a marine species, a surprise which I shall leave to the end.
I stayed at the White Waters Hotel in Machico which has the advantage of being close to the airport, not expensive, comfortable, with very pleasant owners and staff and only a short walk from the small harbour and a river which is worthwhile taking a look at. As I had little free time the days when not at sea and a lot of work to attack, I didn't bother hiring a car to visit other sites but got a lot of work done instead.
For the samwe reason I I am going to put all the species seen in order, with photos where I have any, and comments about the numbers seen of each and a commentary if there's anything useful to say. Note that we saw no Sooty Shearwaters, only 2 Arctic Skuas and there were few stormies, much fewer than we had all hoped for.

Abundant, especially the Tuesday when we were down towards the SW of Madeira.

No decent photos to publish although with some very good views on the Monday (5 birds), including one with a a lot of white in the underwing along all the greater coverts and possibly the outer part of the median coverts. None seen the Tuesday or Wednesday.
One seen from the harbour wall of Machico on the Monday morning and 4 at sea in the afternoon; none specifically identified on the Tuesday and 1 on the Wednesday.

Because of large similarities at distance and the difficulties of specific identification when a high speed Pterodroma passes a boat which moving inall dimensions, at distance and with the light not always favourable, it was necessary to assign some in this way: 3 on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, none on Wednesday.
All seen of the newly designated species Calonectris diomedea; common each day with a flock of ca.300 feeeing in association with an estimated 200 Common Dolphins and 3 Bryde's Whales on 27 August. On 28 August when returning to port in the late dusk it was almost frightening the number of near misses we had with Cory'0s returning to the Desertas Islands and am certain that some also had their little hearts beating after taking violent evasive action.


Seen in small numbers (min. 13 on the Monday, none on the  Tuesday and 3 on the Wednesday), low numbers had also been reported by seawatchers from Porto Moniz on the N side of the island (and who had also recorded a Barolo Shearwater).

Seen only on the MOnday (3 birds) and Wednesday (1).
Very few seen, 1 on the Tuesday and 2, possibly 3, on the Wednesday. In the fourth phito it is possible to see the yellow interdigital web. The photos are not of good quality because of low light values.
find the Wilson's S-p

In the final few minutes at sea on Wednesday evening before starting for port and with poor light, we saw a single White-faced Storm-petrel, a single European Stormie and a single Madeira Stormie (sp.) crossed the bows once started back. In sum, a poor showing from the point of view of storm-petrels. It wasn't any better for skuas either, with only 2 Arctic Skuas seen on the Monday afternoon and a Common Tern.
From the harbour wall of Machico, where I walked every morning and watched for between 30 and 45 minutes, there was a this years juvenile Northern Gannet on Monday morning and on a daily basis between 1 and up to 4 Common Terns and three mornings with Roseate Terns with a maximum of 4 on the Friday morning.There were very few Yellow-legged Gulls, these notably darker on the mantle and coverts than the Málaga birds I see. On the Friday morning a surprise was the presence of 2 juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Waders were limited to up to 16 Turnstones which fed on the stone groynes and at the river mouth at low water.
I walked up-river more than once and apart from 3 young Moorhens on the Monday and never seen again in the dense vegetation, there were always Grey Wagtails, many of these juvs. I had seen a few Common Waxbills but on the Friday morning I came across various flocks, the largest of some 30 birds, with a tiotal of  at least 100 feeding on the seed heads. There was also a small flock of Canaries but of other species, little indeed, with singles of Blackbird and Blackcap and a few Spanish Sparrows, as well as up to 6 Plain Swifts each day.
Common Waxbills (2 photos above)
 Canary, male
And the suprise species I mentioned at the beginning? Friday morning, whilst seawatching, there was a commotion amongst the few gulls and feral pigeons, a panic typical of the presence of a bird of prey. I found it easily, it was impossible not to see as it flew lazily from left to right, minimum range of less than 100m and perhaps 25-30m up ... a damned big falcon, like a king-sized Peregrine but not a Peregrine, that left me in doubt as to what it was as I have seen the species in northern Norway - a Gyrfalcon, a juvenile or 2nd calendar year bird (by body and underwing plumage), a female (by size) dark phase (by plumage overall) and with a not very marked moustachial stripe. I got a great look at through binoculars but the camera wasn't switched on, so I took the binoculars were the only choice. It was not wearing falconer's jesses. The description should be with the SPEA as I write this.

As a post scriptum, on the Friday I had lunch with Catarina and Hugo they described, with a luxury of detail, their observation this year of the birth of a young Sperm Whale, which is absolutely incredible and probably seen by very few on this planet. That is another part of the attraction of the sea.

And as you haven't bothered to ask, yes I enjoyed the pelagics as always, especially in good company, even though we could have seen more, but that's birding for you.

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