Madeira Trip Report - June 2003 (covering birds, reptiles, plants and insects.)

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Mark Gurney, RSPB. and Fernando Iván Ramírez, Director SPEA-M
email Fernando at:


Three quarters of Madeira is Natural Park and many endemic plant and bird species can be seen here. Madeira offers 42 breeding species and subspecies of birds, including two endemics, Pterodroma madeira and Columba trocaz, and many macaronesian species and subspecies. But the total number of birds that could be observed here is much higher, probably around 200 species. There are many places to stay all over the island, from the luxurious hotels at Funchal Bay and the south coast to small hostels and camp sites. Advance booking through a travel agency is highly advisable, especially in high season (summer months and Christmas).

The Madeiran archipelago also comprises the Porto Santo Island, inhabited and easily accessible by the Lobo Marinho ferry, and the Desertas and Selvagens archipelagos. These two archipelagos are only accessible by boat, both are fully protected under Portuguese law and ornithological visits should be made through SPEA-Madeira and the National Park Authorities.

10 June 2003

Punto de São Lorenço. We drove to the viewpoint at Ponta do Rosto, where Cynara cardunculus, closely resembling a short, prickly artichoke, was frequent, but only one plant was in flower. Berthelot's Pipits were singing all around, with calls like Pied Wagtails. Then to the car park for the walk round the Baia d'Abra to Casa do Sardinha.

Berthelot's Pipits were all round, and there was a large flock of adult and juvenile Goldfinches and Canaries feeding on seedheads. Madeiran Wall Lizards were everywhere, and ate cake crumbs. Two Rock Sparrows were the only other passerines we saw. Like everywhere on Madeira, Kestrels and Buzzards were common.

The vegetation was largely dry, with many dried clovers and grasses that had flowered earlier in the year. The yellow thistle Scolymus maculatus was probably the most abundant plant. The attractive Madeiran Stock Matthiola maderensis was in full flower. Other plants in flower included Bituminaria bituminosa, Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, M. nodiflorum, Andryala glandulosa, Aizoon canariense, and Helichrysmum devium. There were a few bushes of Echium nervosum on the cliff tops, but they were mostly over. Juncus acutus was in fruit in the bed of a dried stream. Clouded Yellows were common, and we saw one Monarch and a Long-tailed Blue.

Ribeiro Frio. After lunch in Machico we left for the gardens at Ribeiro Frio. Damper rocky roadsides along the way had Madeiran Orchids Dactylorhiza foliosa, Sibthorpia peregrina, Self-heal Prunella vulgaris, Hard Fern Blechnum spicant, Hypericum spp, and Foxgloves Digitalis purpurea. The clouds had descended by the time we arrived at Ribeiro Frio so we did not go to the viewpoint at Balcões. Instead we wandered around the gardens and trails where many endemic plants were on display, including Berberea maderensis, Argyanthemums, Geranium maderensis, Echium candicans, Dactylorhiza foliosa, and laurels with the impressive fungus Laurobasidium lauri. We saw a couple of Madeiran Firecrests, and Fernando found a Trocaz Pigeon sitting in the top of a low tree only twenty metres away. It didn't stay for long, and was obscured by a lot of leaves, but we could clearly see the silvery neck patch.

Fajã dos Padres. The huge cliff here overlooks a beach and a hotel hundreds of metres below and accessible only by lift. Blackcaps and Canaries were singing and we saw one of each. A Monarch flew by and Small Whites were flying about the allotments.

Cabo Girão. The second-highest sea cliff in the world at 580m was surrounded by cloud when we reached the top, so there was no spectacular view, only a female Argiope trifasciata in its web and Viscid House-leeks Aeonium glutinosum flowering on the cliffs.

Funchal. Plain Swifts and Kestrels hunting over the slope opposite the flat, Grey Wagtails in the ribeira, and a family party of Canaries on the television aerials of the flats opposite. Blackbirds sang from the buildings.

11 June 2003

Old road from São Vicente to Seixal. Disc and Viscid House-leeks Aeonium glandulosum and A. glutinosum were frequent on the cliffs, but the first was not usually flowering. Other stonecrops were common too. Where water was running down the bare cliffs the club-moss Selaginella denticulata covered the rock.

Chão da Ribeira. We reached the laurel forest here by driving along a track past allotments to a water treatment works. We saw three Trocaz Pigeons in flying across the valley. They have a slow, almost butterfly-like flight, not at all like the hurried movements of Woodpigeons, and look very dark. More Grey Wagtails here. Even though it was cloudy a few Madeiran Speckled Woods were flying, and one Indian Red Admiral — with a broader and much more pink-toned red band across the forewings, obvious even in flight. There was a single bush of Euphorbia mellifera in the forest, together with brambles Rubus, and Geranium palmatum, Galium sp, and Sherardia arvensis in the dried stony river bed. The large-flowered Lythrum junceum was flowering in ruts.

Porto Moniz. The flower beds had Orobanche minor growing on the composites. A Monarch flew over.

Ponta do Pargo. Whilst we were driving down to the lighthouse, a small greyish falcon flew in front of the car, causing a panic and much swearing that it was not a Kestrel. It landed on the power lines, and we could clearly see that it was a gorgeous female Red-footed Falcon. It spent most of the rest of the day hunting locusts around the point and eating them in flight, occasionally being harassed by the local Kestrels. Buzzards were soaring round the cliffs, with Plain Swifts speeding about.

We walked up a track to the village, with Canaries singing from the trees. There was more Lythrum junceum along the track, both Speckled Woods and Madeiran Speckled Woods, Red Admirals, Clouded Yellows, Small Whites, and a Long-tailed Blue. The road leading down to the cafe from the village had puddles that attracted drinking Canaries, Berthelot's Pipits, and a family party of Linnets. A Quail was calling in the agricultural fields (which had Fumaria muralis), and three Turtle Doves were on the power lines. Two Blackcaps were in a small fig tree, and we saw the only Swallows and Sand Martin of the trip flying over the fields. Further down towards the lighthouse, there were two Rock Sparrows, three Grey Herons, and a Red-legged Partridge. The Red-footed Falcon was still feeding on locusts, and a male Spectacled Warbler was calling from the Gorse Ulex europaeus and occasionally sitting out on top of the bushes.

Lugar de Baixo. In the evening we stopped at the small lagoon behind the beach at Lugar de Baixo. Several Moorhens and Muscovy Ducks were on the pool, with a few Yellow-legged Gulls. Perez's Frogs were calling loudly from the reeds. An adult and a juvenile Common Tern and two adult Roseate Terns (one of them ringed) sat on a large rock just offshore. Looking out to sea there were large numbers of Cory's Shearwaters and a few Manx.

12 June 2003

Paúl de Serra. We drove up from Encumeada across Paúl de Serra to Rabaçal. Once we got out of the cloud, we could see there was a lot of Echium candicans planted by the roadside, with occasional Madeiran Groundsel Pericallis aurita and the vegetation soon became dominated by Tree Heath Erica arborea and Besom Heath Erica scoparia ssp maderinicola. Non-flowering Sonchus fruticosus was growing out of a few rock faces.

The plain of Paúl de Serra was heavily grazed, and covered either by Bracken Pteridium aquilinum or grassland. The flora of the winter-flooded pools was mostly dry like the pools themselves, but it included Coral-necklace Illecebrum verticillatum, Clustered Clover Trifolium glomeratum, Bird's-foot Ornithopus perpusillus, and other annual legumes. The attractive pink cushions of Mountain Thyme Thymus cespititius decorated the roadside verges in the higher parts.

Risco. Walking through the heath forest down to Risco, we crossed a large stream, which had croaking Perez's Frogs, and some forget-me-nots Myosotis. Madeiran Firecrests were frequent, and we saw at least six, including three fighting with each other with raised orange crests. A Robin was singing from a prominent rock outcrop. The rocks along the track had Dwarf Cudweed Filago minima, Navelwort Umbilicus rupestris, Aichryson villosum, and Giant Briza maxima, and Small Quaking-grass Briza minima.

Once we reached the laurel forest, Madeiran Groundsel Pericallis aurita appeared by the levada, with a large buttercup, Ranunculus cortusifolius. There was a small patch of Canary Dragon-flower Cedronella canariensis in flower by the stems of some orchids that had set fruit. We crossed another large stream, this one was full of crane's-bill Geranium palmatum, with a smaller species of Geranium on the levada wall nearby. Shortly afterwards a large shrub of Vaccinium padifolium was in flower.

The only Madeiran Small Copper we saw was flying around heaths along the levada here, and there were Madeiran Speckled Woods in several sunny patches.

At the waterfall itself, the cliffs were covered by various shrubs, including some woody Argyanthemum, and there were a few Madeiran Orchids Dactylorhiza foliosa by the pathside in the damp.

On the way back up we were buzzed by Plain Swifts flying very close and fast along the straight bits of track, whooshing past our heads.

15 June 2003

Pico do Arieiro. The skies were clear, so we headed straight to the top of Pico do Arieiro to make the most of the weather. The levada from the hotel leads north-west and passes by some ledges with a good display of plants. Erica maderensis was growing by the path, and the trampled areas had Childing Pink Petrorhagia nanteuilii, Small-flowered Catchfly Silene gallica, and Satureja varia subsp thymoides. There was a patch of Saxifraga maderensis near the summit, and further down Armeria maderensis, Anthyllis lemanniana, Sinapidendron frutescens, Sedum farinsoum, Scrophularia racemosa, Aichryson villosum, and Odontites holliana decorated the rock faces next to the levada. The few plants of Orchis scopulorum had all finished flowering. Madeiran Graylings and Clouded Yellows flew across the path, and we saw one Long-tailed Blue.

Ribeiro Frio. We had lunch in the restaurant, where a Monarch, Red Admirals, and Small Whites came to the Echium candicans in the garden. By the time we walked to Balcões the clouds had arrived and it was too foggy to see anything, but there were Madeiran Speckled Woods, Madeiran Firecrests, Chaffinches, a female Blackcap, and Grey Wagtails by the levada, and we passed a cultivated stand of Melanoselinium decipiens.

16 June 2003

Ribeiro Frio. This time we were early enough to miss the clouds, and the view from Balcões was spectacular. Trocaz Pigeons flew across three times, and Chaffinches fed on crumbs at the bird table. As well as the usual Speckled Woods and Madeiran Speckled Woods, a female Madeiran Brimstone fluttered past the lookout point, and there was another on the Echium candicans in the restaurant garden. We searched for pigeons feeding on the forest floor, but the only things we found scratching in the leaves were a Blackbird and some chickens.

Funchal. Back in Funchal, there were the usual birds to see before heading back to the airport: Canaries and Blackbirds singing from the buildings, Grey Wagtails in the drying-out rivers, and Kestrels and Plain Swifts hunting in the skies.


Madeira enquiry fact sheet 2003. By Fernando I. Ramírez. Available via e-mail at

A Birdwatchers' Guide to Portugal & Madeira CC Moore, G Elias & H Costa.

A conservação e Gestão das Aves do Arquipélago da Madeira. By Paulo Oliveira. Parque Natural da Madeira.

Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain & Europe with N. Africa & The Middle East.

Species Lists

We saw a total of 27 species, with almost no sea watching at all, since we were travelling to the Desertas archipelago later, this is a normal number due to the time of the year in Madeira.

Berthelots pipit, Canary, Goldfinch, Robin, Madeiran Firecrest, Rock Sparrow, Blackbird, Blackcap, Spectacled Warbler, Linnet, Grey Wagtail, Kestrel, Red Footed Falcon, Buzzard, Trocaz Pigeon, Plain Swift, Swallow, Sand Martin, Quail, Red Legged Partridge, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Yellow legged Gull, Common Tern, Roseate Tern, Cory Shearwater, Manx Shearwater