endemic landbirds and enigmatic seabirds




"Just a brief note to say a big thank you for our great trip to Madeira. We both thoroughly enjoyed all

the different experiences."......  Mr and Mrs D, West Yorkshire, June 2011


'' Many thanks for yet another great trip! I really enjoyed the week; and to say that Deserta Grande and Pico do Arieiro

were unique experiences would be an understatement!''.... JD, Cirencester, June 2011







The Atlantic’s Floating Garden, as Madeira is affectionately known, is blessed with a wonderful spring-like climate, almost year-round. The floral display attracts many visitors in May and June, which is a bonus for us as June is a great time to see the seabirds for which the islands are famed.


The Desertas Islands lie tantalizingly close to the south-east coast of Madeira, and yet are relatively difficult to visit. The highlight of our trip will be a visit to Deserta Grande, with the rare privilege of staying overnight. From the boat we will scan for Pilot Whales, Bryde’s Whales, dolphins, Fea’s Petrels and Cory’s Shearwaters. As night falls the place comes alive with the calls of Cory’s, Bulwer’s Petrels and Madeiran Storm-petrels. Every birdwatcher should try to visit a petrel colony at night at least once, as it is an unforgettable experience. On this tour we visit two! On one night we will be taken by licensed guides to a Zino’s Petrel colony, high on Pico do Arieiro, one of Madeira’s highest peaks. As night falls we can listen to the eerie calls and perhaps glimpse one of the world’s rarest seabirds, which nest here and nowhere else on earth.


The system of levada paths allows the visitor to explore magnificent and rugged mountains with relative ease. In a landscape of jagged peaks and waterfalls we can make easy walks along paths that follow the contours of the hills, in search of the birds native to the laurel forest.


We will be based at the beautiful Royal Orchid Hotel, just east of Funchal, leaving here for one night when we visit Deserta Grande. The low bird diversity on Madeira means that we have planned an easy itinerary, with plenty of free time in which you can relax, or perhaps watch for seabirds, whales and dolphins from the hotel grounds.





Sub-tropical laurel forest covers extensive parts of the north-facing slopes of Madeira, sustained by moisture from the north-east trade winds. Dramatic peaks of extinct volcanoes offer a spectacular backdrop to the birdwatching. Amazing vistas remind one of the high Andes, and whilst the species diversity is low, almost every bird we see is either an endemic species or race.


Trocaz Pigeons occur only on this one island in this one habitat, making their very existence precarious. Their habitat has been reduced by man’s activities in the past. Happily, today all the remaining laurel forest is protected in the huge Parque Natural da Madeira. The sprightly Madeiran Firecrest is quite common in the laurel forest as well as inhabiting mountain scrub. Related to the mainland Firecrest, it lacks that species’ bold white supercillium and has very different calls. The very distinctive Madeiran Chaffinch is also related to its mainland counterpart, and is soon to be split as a species in its own right. Other species represented by local races include Blackcap, Sparrowhawk, Grey Wagtail and Blackbird.


Walking the levadas, lined with Madeira Geraniums, we will have lots of time to enjoy the birds, flowers and insects. The only native reptile, the Madeiran Wall Lizard, scurries across rocky outcrops while Madeiran Speckled Wood and Indian Red Admirals flit over sunny glades. We have allowed a day and a half for levada walks, and these will be easy walking. The forest at Ribeiro Frio is a delight to visit, whilst the spectacular Risco waterfall should be on everyone’s itinerary.



The dramatic Sao Lourenco Peninsula juts out from the eastern end of Madeira and offers a completely different experience from the lush green levada walks. The basalt rocks have been eroded down to become colourful sea-cliffs and bizarrely shaped rock towers. Plain Swifts rip through the air. Berthelot’s Pipits sing from rocky pinnacles. Rock Sparrows are commoner here than elsewhere on the island. Canaries flit from bush to bush, and Common Quails call from long grass.



On day three we will visit the Desertas Islands, with the rare privilege of staying overnight on Deserta Grande. Our boat is the lovely Ventura do Mar and the sailing time from Funchal is three hours. The waters between Madeira and the Desertas are very deep, and upwellings bring nutrients to the surface, making it an excellent feeding ground for seabirds.


As we leave Funchal Harbour we should be able to pick out a few Roseate Terns. We will soon come across big numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters, forming large rafts on the sea. Further out we will see our first Bulwer’s Petrels. Much larger than the storm-petrels, these masters of the air fly effortlessly over the waves in search of a meal. Fea’s Petrel, which breeds only on Bugio in the Desertas and on the Cape Verde Islands, should be seen in small numbers.


Both Arctic and Pomarine Skua are occasionally seen. On our visit in 2010 we saw a summer-plumaged Sabine’s Gull. Storm-petrels rarely encountered include British and White-faced; to increase our chances we will try to arrange some chum to attract them. However, to see Madeiran Storm-petrel, an overnight visit is necessary. We will keep a sharp eye out for whales and dolphins, the most frequent species being Bryde’s Whale, Short-fined Pilot Whale, and Spotted and Bottle-nosed Dolphin.


We will land in the afternoon and explore the area around the wardens’ hut. Perhaps they will show us a Bulwer’s Petrel, nesting amongst the boulders, whilst our onboard naturalist will explain about the efforts to save the Mediterranean Monk Seal which is found in sea caves here. In the evening we will have a barbecue, then wait for night time, when the air comes alive with the sounds of nesting seabirds. Cory’s are the most conspicuous. Bulwer’s fly around in the dark, crashing clumsily into boulders before shuffling into their nests. Madeiran Storm-petrels have a distinctive call, like the sound of rubber shoes on a polished floor. They are common and can been seen fluttering over our heads. Against a backdrop of a billion stars, this is a performance that will live in the memory for a long time.


Eventually we must settle down for the night, and you can choose to wrap yourself in a blanket under the stars or return to the boat. Next morning we will have breakfast and head back to Funchal. We will arrive back in time for lunch, and you can spend the rest of the day relaxing or catching up on lost sleep!



In addition to the Desertas trip, we will do one other three hour boat trip later in the week, providing another chance for birds, whales and dolphins, plus Loggerhead Turtles.


Our hotel is also perfectly situated for watching the sea. On the occasional free afternoon you can look out for pods of dolphins, the blow of a Bryde’s Whale, or a seabird feeding frenzy which may contain a rare Barolo’s (Little) Shearwater.


One final seabird deserves a special mention. In 1903, naturalist Ernesto Schmitz obtained a specimen of a petrel in Madeira. They were almost forgotten about for the next 80 years. Local man Alec Zino took it upon himself to refind, then protect, the nesting grounds. The Zino’s Petrel or Freira de Madeira, is now fully protected and his son, Frank Zino, runs the Freira Conservation Project.


Peaks of long extinct volcanoes jut up above a sea of cloud. The amazing sunsets alone are worth coming here for. As darkness falls we will make our way to the colony, with the assistance of a licensed guide. We can listen to the wild calls of these rare birds as they return to their colony, and perhaps glimpse a bird overhead in the moonlight. Less than 100 pairs exist, and money from our visit will be used to protect them.



The low species diversity means that this will be a very relaxed trip, although there are some aspects of it which we must draw to your attention. Walking on the levadas is mostly flat and very easy. The levadas we have chosen are not those infamous ones with steep drops and no hand rails. On the Sao Lourenco Peninsula the path goes up and down hills, which we will do at a sensible pace. There are hand rails on the short sections where it is close to the cliff edge. To visit the Zino’s Petrel colony we have a 20 minute walk on a narrow but well made path with hand rails where necessary, returning in the dark with torches. The night on Deserta Grande is an amazing experience, but you will need a certain spirit of adventure. We go ashore on a dinghy and it is a wet landing on a pebble beach; you will need wet shoes or sandals. You can sleep on land under the stars or under a shelter, or on the boat. It should be very mild, and we will provide blankets and a mat.



Full-board accommodation is provided at the Royal Orchid Hotel, on the coast just to the east of Funchal. There will be one night on Deserta Grande. We will keep our room at the Royal Orchid throughout, so there’s no need to pack and repack, taking just a day/night bag on the boat. The hotel is of a very high standard with en suite bathrooms.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 6th, ending with breakfast on 13th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, two boat trips, reserve entrance fees and guides fees, return flight to Funchal and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flight from Manchester to Funchal using the scheduled services of Jet2. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon.




7 nights :


Principal leader:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

1st April 2011):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:





6th to 13th June 2011


Paul J. Willoughby


7 clients with one leader or 12

clients with two leaders



Ł1820 per person sharing


Ł1920 per person sharing








click here to see the photographs in our Madeira Album



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