Given the long day yesterday, none of us stirred particularly early this morning and it wasn't until after 09:00 that we eventually got in the cars and made the short journey south-west to Palheiro Gardens, on the outskirts of Funchal.
Madeira hosts two endemic landbirds: Madeira Firecrest and Trocaz Pigeon. Both are widespread in the interior of the island, where good tracts of native laurel forest remain (which the pigeon is particularly fond of), and a quick scan of previous trip reports soon reveals that this is where most birders head to see both. However, we'd had a tip off that the suburban setting of Palheiro was the place to go if good views are your thing ...
We'd already seen one Trocaz Pigeon perched distantly in a tree before we'd even set foot in the gardens. After coughing up for the extortionate entry fee (€ 11), we proceeded to meander downhill towards the main gardens and were soon enjoying good views of Madeira Firecrests. The second pair we encountered transpired to be two males trying to beat the living hell out of one another. They were so engrossed in grappling with each other on the floor that they didn't even notice Ash walk right up to them and simply bend down to pick them up! Ash, bewildered and amused in equal measure at what he'd just done, brought both birds back in his hands, where Jake was on hand to display a little more nous by holding the birds more correctly and displaying them for us to take a few shots, before releasing them safely. It's fair to say that none of us had expected to see the species in the hand, particularly alive, and within minutes of seeing our first! Quite surreal.
While the firecrest was obviously a target, the primary objective of our visit here was obtaining point-blank views of Trocaz Pigeon, for which the site is renowned. While views up in the interior of the island typically involve distant birds flying high over wooded valleys, or obscured in the canopy, Palheiro offers the chance to watch birds happily waddling around its grounds, with little fear of humans. Although it took us a while, we eventually found a handful of pigeons feeding in a laurel tree, with a couple of these going on to show extremely well on the hotel lawn.
Common resident species were also plentiful here, including the local subspecies of Chaffinch, which is mooted as a likely split. Once we'd had our fill, we returned to the flat to pack our bags for the second of the three pelagics, again leaving Machico but this time heading to waters south-east of the island. Not far out of the harbour, a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins appeared and came to investigate the boat. Then, shortly afterwards, a group of around 30 Short-finned Pilot Whales appeared and moved through at similarly close range.
As we headed out to the chumming spot, it became clear that there were more Bulwer's Petrels in this area. And, by the end of the day, we estimated to have seen three figures of this charismatic species, which must be one of the best seabirds going (at least in the WP).
Aside the ubiquitous Bulwer's and Cory's, it was slow going for long periods at the chumming spot. Occasionally a Pterodroma would appear, but all identifiable proved to be Desertas and most powered straight through, not even circling the slick (as they'd routinely done the previous day). Eventually a Madeiran Storm Petrel arrived and lingered for some time, often giving great views. Furthermore, local Yellow-legged Gulls kept us entertained and a Blue Shark was observed feeding on the bait ball on several occasions, although it was quite nervous and would disappear as soon as the boat got close. On the way back, we enjoyed great views of a Zino's Petrel, which circled the boat a couple of times, as well as another Desertas Petrel.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.