Madeira, 21-23 May 2011
Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Funchal Marina, 21 May 2011 (Can you see it?)
I had added a couple of extra days after the pelagic dates to allow for any cancellations in the event the weather was too good (you need a reasonable windspeed to get the birds moving around). This meant I had a couple of days to dry out and relax with Mandy before heading home. There had been a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a very rare visitor from America, around Funchal since at least February. We had looked for it earlier in the holiday without success, but Hugo had told us that it roosted in the boats and the Spanish guys had seen it on the evening before the first pelagic. Therefore we had a relaxed start to the day and caught the bus into Funchal early afternoon. We had a light lunch in the marina-side restaurants and were not surprised to meet Bob and his wife Mandy, together with Brent walking past as we finished up. We had a look and agreed it was best to try nearer to dusk, so while the others went for a beer overlooking the Marina, me and Mandy headed into town for a browse. Luckily Brent took my mobile number, because no sooner had he sat down and sipped his beer the bird jumped up from its hidden roost and sat on top of a boat. We headed back in time to see the bird - which then flew up onto the nearest street light. Our antics with our cameras caused considerable interest in the restaurant. Luckily as I was saying that it often fed on the rocks below us the bird dropped down. A short dash down to the quayside and I was within twenty feet of the bird, carefully using the marina wall to hide behind and get a decent shot.
We all relaxed at the restaurant and enjoyed a few more beers, as the bird headed back to the boats, disturbed by a passing fisherman. Brent had been keen to see a Roseate Tern and returning to the table for my cold beer (thanks Mandy F) I spotted one out in the harbour entrance. Fortunately after disappearing it flew right through the Marina and gave Brent a good view. Bob then said he knew a nice little restaurant in town and with the sun shining overhead we sat outside in an old Funchal street enjoying local wine, good food
and great company. It had been an absolute pleasure to spend the last few afternoons with two such knowledgable sea birders and it was a great way to say goodbye. Thanks guys - really enjoyed your company and learned a lot from you both.
Sunday 22 May 2011 - Our last day on the island. We decided to finish as we had started with a long walk. We trekked from Machico up and over the hill and along the beautiful coastal path to Canical, ate lunch and retraced our steps. Along the way we saw a few new birds for the trip, including several singing Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) and a flock of Spanish Sparrows on the edge of the town.
I was surprised to hear a Quail calling from a small meadow in one of the valleys, but Hugo informed me that they are quite common in the right habitat. Butterflies were also much in evidence with Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow and several Monarchs.
The walk back up the hill was tough but rewarding, and Mandy was very pleased when we got to the top - though she hadn't quite bargained for the short-route back down the other side!
At 21:30 Hugo and Catarina picked Bob and me up from the hotel for the final part of the Zino's Petrel saga - a visit at night to the mountain top breeding colony at Pico de Areirio. The weather was not great and we drove through thick low cloud and drizzle. We walked the narrow paved footpath sometimes struggling against the fierce wind, our head torches barely lighting the way. Eventually Hugo asked us to turn off the torches and we stood in silence in the dark night. Through the cloud from the valley below came the loud, weird, eerie wails of the Zino's Petrels. They gave a fantastic performance, calling continually over the next hour. Occasionally the swish of their wings could be heard as the careened overhead through the cloudy darkness, and once or twice their outline was just visible. The cloud cleared to reveal the most awesome star scape, unobscured by the usual competing light pollution. After a much appreciated cup of tea and a cookie we headed back down the path at the end of a most memorable evening.