MADEIRA AND THE DESERTAS ISLANDS
"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
''Thanks for a wonderful holiday and for sending the trip report and CD which will help me to keep the memories fresh.
I was delighted to receive the photos on CD''.... Mr P, Surrey, June 2012
click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up - easier to print - no photos
The Atlantic’s Floating Garden, as Madeira is affectionately known, is blessed with a wonderful spring-like climate, almost year-round. The floral display is at its best in May and June, which is a bonus for us as this 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. 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, Desertas Petrels and Cory’s Shearwaters. As night falls the place comes alive with the calls of Cory’s Shearwaters, 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 lovely Monte Mar Palace Hotel at Punta Delgada, on the north coast of the island, leaving here for one night when we visit Deserta Grande. The low bird diversity on Madeira means that we have planned an easy itinerary. Nevertheless, there will be plenty to occupy us for the week, and during any spare time we can relax or watch for seabirds, whales and dolphins from the hotel grounds.
THE LAUREL FOREST
Sub-tropical laurel forest covers extensive parts of the north-facing slopes, sustained by moisture from the north-east trade winds. Dramatic peaks of extinct volcanoes offer a spectacular backdrop. Amazing vistas remind us 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. The sprightly Madeira 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 supercilium and has totally different calls. The very distinctive Madeiran Chaffinch is also related to its mainland counterpart, and may one day 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. The endemic Madeira Cleopatra is attracted to the flowers of the Pride of Madeira, a spectacular relative of Viper’s Bugloss. We have allowed two mornings 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.
PONTA DE SAO LOURENCO
The dramatic Sao Lourenco Peninsula juts out from the eastern end of Madeira and offers a completely different experience. 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 and Canaries flit from bush to bush.
THE DESERTAS ISLANDS
On day four 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 to four 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. Desertas Petrel, which breeds only on Bugio in the Desertas, should be seen in small numbers. We will keep a sharp eye out for whales and dolphins, the most frequent species being Bryde’s Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whale, and Spotted and Bottle-nosed Dolphins.
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. 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 vociferous. 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 be 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 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 another boat trip later in the week, providing further opportunities 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. It was 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 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.
CLIMATE AND PACE
Madeira enjoys a spring-like climate, year round. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Warm days are the norm, with a low chance of rain. The low species diversity means that this will be a relaxed trip. 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. To visit the Zino’s Petrel colony we have a 30 minute walk on a well made path with hand rails, returning in the dark with torches. The night on Deserta Grande is an amazing experience, but you will need a certain spirit of adventure. 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 soft mat.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided at the Monte Mar Palace Hotel, Punta Delgada. There will be one night on Deserta Grande. We will keep our rooms at the Monte Mar throughout, so there’s no need to pack and repack, taking just a day/night bag on the boat. The hotel is of a high standard with en suite bathrooms.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 13th, ending with breakfast on 20th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, two boat trips, reserve entrance fees and guides fees, and return flight to Funchal.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from Leeds/Bradford and Manchester to Funchal using the scheduled services of Jet2. Outbound flight departs mid-morning, return flight arrives back mid to late evening. London flights are also available, please phone for details.
Seabirds are abundant off the coast of Madeira, and include these Cory's Shearwaters
The local race of Chaffinch is very distinctive.
Loggerhead Turtles are regularly seen from our boat.
Pilot Whales are seen in small groups.
The Pride of Madeira.
Sao Lourenco Peninsula
Nesting grounds of the Zino's Petrel, above the clouds!
click here to see the photographs in our Madeira Album
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