Madeira day one: Pagham to Machico
Ashley Howe and a team of Sussex birders first organised a three-day pelagic trip off Madeira, with Wind Birds, at the turn of the year. Quite frankly, the past six months have flown by and all too soon the trip was upon us. Our flight was due to depart Gatwick for Funchal at 07:40 on Wednesday 20 June, although this was complicated slightly by the overdue arrival of the American Royal Tern on British soil on the evening of 19th.
Fortunately the tern had chosen Pagham Harbour as the destination for its maiden British visit which, at a push, is just over an hour from Gatwick. And, with sunrise due at 04:45, Dan Pointon and I figured we had the best part of 45 minutes in which to connect with the bird before needing to head for the airport. As it transpired, things went about as well as they could on the morning of 20th. The Royal was located among the Sandwich Tern colony as it came light at around 04:20, then performed well by flying to the main channel for a wash and preen before powering out to sea, past the assembled crowd, at 04:38.
We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, where Ash, Ian Barnard, Jacob Everitt and Matt Eade were already present. With the flight on time, we touched down in Madeira before midday and soon met up with Pierre-André Crochet, who was to accompany us on the pelagics. After dropping our stuff off at our nearby accommodation, we headed to Machico, where we had a spot of lunch before meeting Hugo and Catarina of Wind Birds on the quay, along with Andreas from Germany, who was also joining us.
The pelagics run from 15:00 to 22:00 at the height of summer, so it was already late afternoon by the time we reached our chumming spot, some 15 km north of the island. The outward journey had already produced a couple of fly-by Desertas Petrels, a few Bulwer's Petrels and the much commoner Cory's Shearwaters. The slick soon formed and, at 17:50, we were treated to our first Desertas Petrel, which investigated for a few minutes and gave a few close fly-pasts before zooming off into the distance.
Then, less than 20 minutes later, came the prize that we all were hoping for. Among several Bulwer's Petrels at the slick, a clearly smaller Pterodroma appeared, seemingly not much bigger than the Bulwer's. It evidently had a lot of white on the underwing and, on its first close pass, revealed a rather demure bill. It lingered for several minutes and all on board agreed it was as 'obvious' as a Zino's could ever be, with this notion quickly confirmed when we subsequently reviewed our photos. I managed to obtain images of the first two Pterodroma petrels in similar postures, so here they are. Hopefully the structural differences in the bill are obvious, as well as the smaller, more rounded head shape of Zino's.
Another half-hour passed before a second Zino's appeared. This one proved less clear cut on field views and it was only on inspecting images back at the flat that evening that we realised it was a) a Zino's and b) a different individual to that at 18:10. Here's a photo followed by a comparison of birds #1 and #2 ...
Bulwer's Petrels were a near-constant feature at the slick, while there was a sudden spate of storm petrel activity as a squall rolled in during the evening. Firstly, a Madeiran Storm Petrel appeared at 19:40, quickly followed by a Wilson's Storm Petrel and then the icing on the cake: a White-faced Storm Petrel for several minutes from 20:20. Unfortunately the light had gone by the time it appeared and thus images aren't quite what I might have hoped for, but what an extraordinary bird. The experience of seeing them at a colony in Cape Verde was special, but it almost felt like a tick seeing the species at sea, with the ludicrous, pogo-style bouncing both amusing and mesmerising to watch.
Not long after the White-faced, it was time to return to Machico, where we arrived a short while before 10 pm. It had been a long and surreal day, from enjoying a mega rarity in West Sussex at dawn to watching seabirds off the Madeiran coastline in the evening. Dan and I slept particularly well!
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The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.