Trip Report: Madeira, October 30 - November 12, 1999

Neil Money, Heathfield House, Dunnet, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland, KW14 8XP;


This trip was in two parts. The first week we joined a small group led by Antero Topp focusing on sea birds. Antero also arranged all accommodation, pelagic trips and internal transport. The second week, after the rest of the group had left, we stayed on for a further week focusing largely on walking the levadas.

Antero knows the Island well and leads groups during the late summer and autumn. He arranges dedicated pelagic trips which are much more beneficial than trying to arrange for oneself or just joining a game fishing trip. I strongly recommend that anyone visiting the Island for the birds joins one of Antero's trips. He can be contacted at

With daytime temperatures around 22/23°C with a mixture of sun and cloud, the weather was very pleasant and in the main ideal for birding. On the day we visited Porto Santo the wind was very strong and the seas rough as the tail end of a low passed through. This caused the cancellation of a pelagic trip on the day following.

Accommodation and Food

We stayed at the small Hotel do Centro in the Rua do Carmo 20, Funchal (tel 200 11 10 fax 23 39 15). Ideally situated in the centre of Funchal away from the main tourist hotel areas. The standard of accommodation is high but with only minimal catering facilities. The only meal provided is a very basic breakfast. However, because of its location there are a number of small cafes nearby which opened early and provided breakfast.

There are many restaurants in and around Funchal and we tried a number. While the overall standard of the food is high, one or two establishments stand out for quality. Two of the best are next to each other in the old town in the Rua D Carlos: Restaurante O Tapassol (tel 22 50 23 9050) and Le Jardin Restaurante (tel 222 864). It is best to book at both if you do not want to wait, and particularly if you want a table on the terrace at O Tapassol. The food and wines are excellent and reasonably priced. Try the flamed tuna at Le Jardin. Another recommended restaurant is Restaurante Londres, Rua da Carreira 64, slightly cheaper than the other two and with no opportunity to sit outside, but still with excellent food and wine.

As in much of southern Europe I suspect that vegetarians will not get a great deal of choice unless they eat fish.

Birds - Endemic Species and Subspecies

Madeira is not blessed with a great variety of breeding species, and it lies off the main migration route for passerines. However it does have a number of interesting aspects that warrant a visit.

The seabirds are a major attraction. November is late in the season, and more species would have been recorded on a visit earlier in the autumn. However, we had excellent views of all the species seen including views of Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae at close range settled on the sea. (Zino's Petrel Pterodroma madeira is now so rare than no one should visit Madeira with the expectation of seeing it.)

The only land species endemic to Madeira is the Long-toed Pigeon Columba trocaz. With patience good views can be obtained, though photographers may have difficulties getting close enough unless they are lucky.

Two species are endemic to the East Atlantic Islands rather than just to Madeira: Berthelot's Pipit Anthus bertolotii and Canary Serinus canaria canaria. Both are common in suitable habitat and were well seen on this trip.

One of the most interesting features of birding in Madeira is the number of endemic subspecies of otherwise common European birds, some clearly identifiable in the field. Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis, Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata bella, Blackcap Sylvia atricappila obscura, Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus madeirensis and Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs madeirensis all have distinctive plumages. Close observation of Chaffinch will reveal in addition to plumage differences an obviously longer and thinner bill. Other sub species have been identified in the species list that follows.


30th OctoberTravel to Funchal from London Gatwick by scheduled BA flight.
31st OctoberPelagic trip from Funchal to waters close to Ilhas Desertas. Visit to harbour and beach at Funchal.
1st NovemberMini bus trip calling at: Ribeira Frio with walk to Balcoes; Pico do Arieiro; Canical; Ponta de Sao Lourenco (sea watch).
2nd NovemberPelagic trip from Funchal south west and then back along south coast. Funchal Beach and Harbour, Parque de Santa Catarina and Jardim de Sao Fancisco.
3rd NovemberMini bus trip calling at: Porto Moniz (sea watch); Ponto do Pargo (sea watch); Paul da Serra and Ribeira Brava. Visit to Funchal Beach and Harbour on return.
4th NovemberTo Porto Santo by ferry. Mini bus trip round island.
5th NovemberSea conditions too rough for scheduled pelagic. Visit to Funchal Beach and Harbour with sea watch from harbour wall. Mini bus trip to Machico, Canical and Ponta de Sao Lourenco (sea watch).
6th NovemberFunchal.
7th NovemberWalk from Monte to Vale Paraiso via Levada dos Tornos and Levada da Serra Faial.
8th NovemberFunchal Beach and Harbour, Parque de Santa Catarina and Jardim de Sao Fancisco. Ribeira Brava by public transport.
9th NovemberJoined organised walking tour. Mini bus to Rabacal then walk along Levada do Risco to Risco waterfall, then Levada das 25 Fontes to 25 Fontes and then return to start of road to Calheta via the Rabacal tunnel.
10th NovemberPublic transport to Ribeira Frio and then walk to Portela via Levada da Serra Faial and Levada da Portela. Return to Funchal by public transport. Visit to Funchal Beach and Harbour, Parque de Santa Catarina and Jardim de Sao Fancisco.
11th NovemberWalk from Funchal to Socorridos Valley via Levada dos Piornais and Levada do Curral.
12th NovemberReturn to London Gatwick by scheduled BA flight.


Species List

A Birdwatchers' Guide to Portugal and Madeira. C C Moore, G Elias & H Costa (1997) uses the flowing symbols to define status:

SpeciesScientific Name CommentStatus re
Moore et al
FEA'S PETRELPterodroma feae Seen on pelagics: 9 on 31st Oct;20 on 2nd Nov; from ferry: 5 on 4th Nov; from land: 8 on 3rdNov & 2 on 5thNov R 5
CORY'S SHEARWATERCalonestris diomedea Seen on pelagics: 21 on 31st Oct; 88 0n 2nd Nov; from ferry and at Porto Santo 350 on 4th Nov; from land: 20 on 1st Nov, 180 on 3rd Nov & 180 on 5th Nov. R 2
LITTLE SHEARWATERPuffinus assimilis Seen on pelagics: 1 on 31st Oct; 2 on 2nd Nov R 4
MADEIRAN STORM-PETRELOceanodroma castro 1 on 31st Oct pelagic; 3 from ferry on 4thNov R 3 : S 3
LITTLE EGRETEgretta garzetta 1 Funchal Beach 2nd Nov; 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov; 7 at Machico 5th Nov & 5 on 10th Nov; 1 Funchal Harbour 8th Nov R 4
GREY HERONArdea cinerea 2 Porto Santo 4th Nov; 1 Calheta 9th Nov R 4
HEN HARRIERCircus cyaneus 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov - possibly first Madeiran record not listed
EURASIAN SPARRROWHAWKAccipiter nisus granti 1 Ribeira Brava 3rd Nov R 5
COMMON BUZZARDButeo buteo harterti Seen daily throughout with maximum 15 on 3rd Nov; maximum flock 5 over Quebradas 11th Nov. R 4
EURASIAN KESTRELFalco tinnunculus canariensis Seen daily throughout with maximum 20 on 3rd Nov R 3
LITTLE RINGED PLOVERCharadrius dubius 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov R 5
COMMON SNIPEGallinago gallinago 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov W 4
WHIMBRELNumenius phaeopus 2 Porto Moniz 3rd Nov P 4
COMMON SANDPIPERActitis hypoleucos 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov; 2 Machico 5th Nov P 5
RUDDY TURNSTONEArenaria interpres Common at Funchal beach and harbour with maximum 25 on 2nd Nov P 4 : W 5
GREY PHALAROPEPhalaropus fulicarius 1 on 31st Oct pelagic A
POMARINE SKUAStercorarius pomarinus 3 on sea watch near Ponta do Castelo on 1st; 1 on pelagic 2nd Nov P 5
GREAT SKUACatharacta skua 1 from ferry 4th Nov P 5
BLACK-HEADED GULLLarus ridibundus Seen on pelagics: 2 on 31st Oct & 2 on 2nd Nov; 3 at Porto Santo 4th Nov; 1 Funchal 7th Nov & 11th Nov P 4 : W 5
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLLarus fuscus graellsii Seen daily at Funchal harbour with maximum 20 on 2nd Nov P 3 : W 3
YELLOW-LEGGED GULLLarus michahellis atlantis Common and widespread R 2
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLLarus marinus 3 Funchal harbour 31st Oct & 2nd Nov; 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov A
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKERissa tridactyla Seen from land and on pelagics and from ferry: 5 on 31st Oct; 12 on 2nd Nov; 1 on 3rd Nov; 5 on 4th Nov; 8 on 5th Nov W 5 : P 5
SANDWICH TERNSterna sandvicensis 2 Funchal harbour 31st Oct with 1 on 1st Nov & 1 on 7th Nov; 2 Ribeira Brava 8th Nov A
COMMON TERNSterna hirundo Seen daily with maximum of 20 on 1st Nov S 3
FERAL PIGEONColumba livia Abundant and widespread  
LONG-TOED PIGEONColumba trocaz 5 Balcoes 1st Nov; 6 Risco near Rabacal 9th Nov; 1 Cabeco Furado 10th Nov. R 4
PLAIN SWIFTApus unicolor Seen in varying number daily with max 300 on 3rd Nov S 3
HOOPOEUpupa epops 5 Porto Santo 4th Nov S 5 : P 5
ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETPsittacula krameri 1 Funchal harbour 31st Oct  
BARN SWALLOWHirundo rustica 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov P 5
HOUSE MARTINDelichon urbica 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov P 5
BERTHELOT'S PIPITAnthus bertolotii 20 Sao Lourenco 1st & 5th Nov; 1 Ponto da Pargo 3rd Nov; 8 Porto Santo 4th Nov R 4
RED-THROATED PIPITAnthus cervinus 1 Porto Santo 4th Nov A
WHITE WAGTAILMotacilla alba 5 Porto Santo 4t Nov P 5
GREY WAGTAILMotacilla cinerea schmitzi Common & widespread. Maximum 30 on 3rd Nov R 3
ROBINErithacus rubecula Fairly common in higher wooded areas. Maximum 12 Lavada dos Tornos & Lavada da Serra 7th Nov R 3 : W 3
STONECHATSaxicola torquata 2 Sao Lourenco 1st & 5th Nov A
BLACKBIRDTurdus merula cabrerae Widespread in small numbers. 20 in gardens of Government buildings west of Parque de Santa Catarina, Funchal 10th Nov R 3
SPECTACLED WARBLERSylvia conspicillata bella 1 Ponto da Pargo 3rd Nov R 5
BLACKCAP Sylvia atricappila obscura Fairly common & widespread. Maximum 22 Lavada dos Tornos & Lavada da Serra 7th Nov; 15 in gardens of Government buildings west of Parque de Santa Catarina, Funchal 10th Nov R 2
FIRECRESTRegulus ignicapillus madeirensis Common in higher woodlands. 100+ along Lavada da Sierrra do Faial between Ribeira Frio and Portela 10th Nov R 4
SPANISH SPARROWPasser hispaniolensis Common on Porto Santo with 65 seen on 4th Nov R 5
ROCK SPARROWPetronia petronia madeirensis Seen east of Canical with 45 on 1st Nov & 1 on 5th Nov. 2 Porto Santo on 4th Nov R 4
CHAFFINCHFringilla coelebs madeirensis Common in higher woodland with 20 on 1st Nov; 4 on 3rd Nov; 11 on 7th Nov; 50+ along Lavada da Sierrra do Faial between Ribeira Frio and Portela 10th Nov R 3
CANARYSerinus canaria canaria Common & widespread. Maximum 150 on 3rd Nov R 3
GOLDFINCHCarduelis carduelis parva Seen in small numbers with maximum of 35 on 3rd Nov R 3
Additional Species Recorded by Other Members of Group 31st October to 5th November
SANDERLINGCalidris alba 20 Porto Santo 4th Nov P 5
NORTHERN WHEATEAROenanthe oenanthe 1 Pico do Arieio 1st Nov P 5

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; December 13, 1999; updated January 20, 2000