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This Atlantic archipelago lies about 350km west of the North African coast and consists of two main islands; Madeira itself and, to the north-east, Porto Santo, and two groups of smaller islands. Both groups are to the south-east of Madeira, the nearby Desertas are within sight but the more remote Selvagems are about 160km away.
Like the Canary Islands, Madeira was once covered in Laurisilva forest, and although now much reduced the forest on Madeira is the largest and best-preserved area of this particular habitat left on earth. Much of the main island is now cultivated but in higher parts there are areas of scrub and grassland with a very high proportion of endemic plant species.
Coastlines range from open sandy beaches to high sea-cliffs. Porto Santo is much drier than Madeira and the vegetation sparser and less varied, the Desertas and Selvagems even more arid.
Nearly 300 birds have been recorded in the Madeira Archipelago and more than forty are breeders, there is a good range of seabirds and there are the "Macaronesian" endemics, ie those species that are limited to the islands of the subtropical North Atlantic. The Trocaz Pigeon is the only endemic full species among the land-birds but there are endemic races of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, Madeira Firecrest, Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap and Chaffinch among others.
Petrels and shearwaters difficult to see elsewhere in the Western Palearctic are a major attraction for birders. Both Madeira (Zino's) Petrel and Cape Verde (Fea's) Petrels can be seen, Zino's breeds only in the mountains of Madeira and Fea's on Bugio the most southerly of the Desertas. These two petrels are very similar and often not separable at sea and due to the very low population of Madeiran Petrels it is assumed that the majority of gadfly petrels seen off Madeira belong to Fea's species.
Bulwer's Petrel breeds on Selvagem Grande, the Desertas, Porto Santo and on islets off eastern Madeira and can be seen from the south and east of the island as well as inter-island ferries. Cory's Shearwater breeds throughout the archipelago and can be seen year round. Macaronesian Shearwater breeds on islets off eastern Madeira, Porto Santo, the Desertas and Selvagem Grande and can be seen in summer and autumn. Madeiran Storm-petrel has a similar breeding range and is present throughout the year and although sometimes seen from boats it is rarely seen from shore.
European Storm-petrel occurs in these waters as a migrant. White-faced Storm-petrel is another species that is difficult to see from land, breeding only on the Selvagems, this petrel is present most of the year but rarely seen and Swinhoe's Storm-petrel has been recorded on more than one occasion.
In addition to petrels and shearwaters Madeira has Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, a small number of Roseate Tern are seen annually and probably breed and Sooty Tern has been recorded breeding in the Selvagems.
Skuas of four species have occurred during passage periods. Gulls and terns can be seen from most coasts and in Funchal harbour but to see the petrels and shearwaters generally requires a trip to one of the promontories.
On Madeira the southernmost point of the island, Porto da Cruz, 3km west of Funchal on the ER101, is a well known site. The best seawatching site in Madeira is Porto Moniz with record counts for Fea's Petrel/Zino's Petrel (30+), Bulwer's Petrel (270+), Cory's Shearwater (16.000+), Great Shearwater (10.000+), Manx Shearwater (10.000+), Long-tailed Jaeger (160+) and Arctic Tern (1.800+). The westernmost point, Ponta do Pargo, is not suitable due to it's height. The best seabird site on Porto Santo is Ponta da Calheta in the west with Bulwer's Petrel and Macaronesian Shearwater.
The Trocaz Pigeon is today confined to the highlands of Madeira where only about 1,000 birds remain. The easiest way to see this endemic is to take the ER103 Funchal-Santana road up the Poiso crossroads where there is a good range of woodland birds, continue past Poiso towards Ribeiro Frio and enter the valley. The pigeons are usually easily found and Woodcock, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard may also be seen.
Further on a trail leads from the road opposite a cafe and is signposted "Balcoes". This path leads to another excellent pigeon site and Madeira Firecrest and Chaffinch are also present. There are still large areas of the native forest remaining in the mist-shrouded highland of Madeira and many of these will have populations of the pigeon.
Other birds of the forest include Blackbird, Robin and Blackcap, in the more scrubby areas Canary is common and Goldfinch and Linnet also occur but the Madeiran race of Spectacled Warbler is found only in eastern Madeira and Porto Santo. In open, arid areas there are Canarian Pipit and Spanish Sparrow and Rock Sparrow.
Common Quail is a scarce resident and Red-legged Partridge, Common Pheasant and Helmeted Guineafowl have been introduced. Grey Heron and Little Egret are resident but rare, Mallard and Common Teal visit on passage as well as the occasional Moorhen and Coot. Kentish Plover is a rare breeding bird but waders such as Dunlin, Whimbrel, godwits and Common Redshank occur as passage migrants and Common Snipe and Northern Lapwing as winter visitors.
Vagrant waders and waterfowl from North America are occasionally seen on the islands and have included Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper and White-rumped Sandpiper, Ring-necked Duck and Surf Scoter. Eleonora's Falcon has recently occurred. Passerine migrants from Europe are regular in varying numbers and usually include hirundines, redstarts, chats and warblers.
Birds you can see here include:
Cape Verde Petrel, Madeira Petrel, Bulwer's Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Macaronesian Shearwater, White-faced Storm-petrel, European Storm-petrel, Swinhoe's Storm-petrel, Madeiran Storm-petrel, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Teal, Mallard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Common Quail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Eurasian Woodcock, Ruddy Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Roseate Tern, Sooty Tern, Rock Dove, Trocaz Pigeon, Barn Owl, Plain Swift, Pallid Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Canarian Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Eurasian Robin, Common Nightingale, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Eurasian Blackbird, Spectacled Warbler, Blackcap, Madeira Firecrest, Spanish Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Island Canary, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet
Areas of Interest
Access and Facilities
Madeira is a popular tourist destination although it is at the more expensive end of the package holiday market, accommodation is plentiful and ranges from pensions to luxury hotels and there are flights from most European capitals.
Most of the hotels are on the more sheltered southern side of Madeira and car-hire is easily available although both can be scarce in the height of the tourist season. Porto Santo also has accommodation which can be arranged in Funchal on Madeira if not part of a package.
Probably the best way to look for local seabirds is from a boat and the daily Funchal-Porto Santo ferry which takes 2.5 hours, is excellent. Landing on the smaller islands is strictly limited but the birds can generally be seen from a boat, sailing and game-fishing trips are available from Funchal harbour.
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Content and images originally posted by Steve