Madeira, May-June 2014

Another foreign trip, another set of boring bird photos. The main reason for us birders to visit Madeira is to see the two endemic landbirds and the set of nine breeding seabirds, including a couple that breed only here. The Desertas Petrel is currently thought of as a race of Fea’s Petrel (which also breeds on the Cape Verde islands), but this race breeds only on the island of Bugio in the Desertas chain south-east of Madeira. The main target however, is Zino’s Petrel. This endangered species breeds only on a small number of inaccessible ledges high in the mountains of central Madeira. Thought to number no more than 80 pairs, its not only one of the rarest birds in the Western Palearctic, its one of the rarest birds in the World. Its been possible for many years to take a guided walk up to the breeding ledges and her them arrive in the dead of night. As atmospheric as this is, its not ideal for studying the actual birds! For this, we had to wait until Hadoram Shirihai and Madeira Wind Birds sussed out an area of ocean where Zino’s could be regularly found during the breeding season. And so now many birders have joined organised pelagics into the waters around Madeira in search of this, one of the most enigmatic birds in the Western Palearctic. Here are some images from my trips in late May.

Bulwer's Petrel (61) Bulwer's Petrel (147)Bulwer’s Petrels. At times coming incredibly close, these were true masters of the troughs.

Cory's Shearwater (31) Cory's Shearwater (63)Cory’s Shearwater

European Storm Petrel (47)European Storm Petrel

Madeiran Storm Petrel (127)

Madeiran Storm Petrel (171)

Madeiran Storm Petrel (32) Madeiran Storm Petrel (130)Madeiran Storm Petrel. These are the summer breeders, note how fresh the plumage is, even in these rubbish pictures.  Note also the large extent of white wrapping around the vent area, especially when compared to:

Leach's Storm Petrel (200)this Leach’s Petrel. You can see that the white on this Leach’s doesn’t encircle the legs, unlike on the Madeiran. 

Leach's Storm Petrel (259)Leach's Storm Petrel (178) Leach's Storm Petrel (150)

Leach’s Petrel still. A big surprise to see this species around Madeira in May, but a great opportunity to compare it to Madeiran Petrel. And also…

Wilson's Storm Petrel (74) Wilson's Storm Petrel (55)

this Wilson’s Storm Petrel! Complete with yellow feet.

However, none of these could really compare to the two stars of the show. Firstly, the incomparable White-faced Storm Petrel. Once one of these showed up at the chum slick, it would hang around for a few hours giving incredible views as it pogoed and boinged its way around, and straight into my top five all time best birds.

White-faced Storm Petrel (332)
White-faced Storm Petrel (138) White-faced Storm Petrel (135) screensaver White-faced Storm Petrel (92) White-faced Storm Petrel (76) White-faced Storm Petrel (75) White-faced Storm Petrel (54)

White-faced Storm Petrel

and so finally we arrive at the main event. On the third day of chumming, we were starting to feel that time was running thin. Hugo and Catarina of Madeira Wind Birds didn’t seem worried, and so it proved. After a short time at the slick, a pterodroma hove into view and did a couple of close fly pasts before heading off quickly to the east. A hasty field identification was confirmed when we looked at the photos, it was a Zino’s!

Zino's Petrel 1 (27) Zino's Petrel 1 (37) Zino's Petrel 1 (39)Unfortunately my best shots of it were partly obscured by the back of the boat, but you can still see the rather slight bill (when compared to Desertas anyway) and the decent extent of white in the underwing coverts.

We were all humming with excitement after this, but more as to come. What we assumed was the same bird returning came in low from the south a few minutes later and circled the boat several times, investigating the slick. More photos, and the realisation that this was a second bird! See what you think…

Zino's Petrel 2 (3) Zino's Petrel 2 (17) Zino's Petrel 2 (18) Zino's Petrel 2 (19) Zino's Petrel 2 (20)So there we are. A hugely successful trip.

Oh yeah, we also saw lots of Madeiran Firecrests and several Trocaz Pigeons. Here’s a couple of pigs:

Trocaz Pigeon (21)