Monday, 10 December 2012

Madeira - Part I

Waking this morning to the sound of the winches turning and clanking of cables as the forecastle party prepared the ship to moor offshore Funchal, Madeira. Springing from the hammock and gazing through the scuttle at a familiar scene, lights illuminating the lower 2/3rds of the mountain-side the remainder in darkness. In the 80’s aboard the ETV Auricula we paid several visits here to access deep waters, fairly close to shore, allowing ‘scientific staff’ to carry out their Experimental Trials from this bespoke Vessel. Those were the days of Bulwer’s and Madeiran Petrel, Plain Swift, Canary and the Islands own sub-species of Chaffinch and Firecrest. What unfolded today is as follows:-
The early morning lights of Funchal the capital, where we arrived alongside, once again a little ahead of time,
and were soon heading for the hills. Trocaz Pigeon always seemed a little ambitious for just a day alongside, so along with Brian and Shelagh Dawson, my new found 'birding pals' we made a cursory search of the dockyard walls finding only Feral Pigeon, Turnstone
along with the now ubiquitous YELLOW-LEGGED GULL
both adults
and juveniles, some still learning,
before approaching the taxi rank for the journey to higher elevation. The gentleman on the left was our driver (and part guide and adviser) on the 30 kilometer ride to

the village of CAMACHA about half way up the mountain. From there the plan would be to walk, following the Levada (water run-off channels) to the lower village of Assomada, after which it would be 'suck it and see'!
The tiny village square, with attendant church, was full of bird song as we alighted the taxi with a number of birds flying too and fro.
First of these were BLACKBIRD, male and
female, which throughout the day we would see many dozens of.
Next, and in quick succession came GREY WAGTAIL (a pair)
along with lots and lots of CANARIES.
These 'white striped' SPIDERs seemed to be in just about every plant with their 3 dimensional web securing much in the way of prey.
WASPs were also about in good numbers as we descended
encountering a number of tiny hamlets en-route.
Keeping to the cobbled paths, leaving the running waters of the Lavada on our left we came across many interesting plants which I will not even attempt to name although I do know a few.

On almost all the roofs small terracotta 'busts' seemed to add that rustic
and novel 'final touch'

as the CANARY seemed to be singing from just about every branch.

Also from this higher elevation you get a better view of the DESERTAS ISLANDS devoid of human habitation, just a few mile off-shore.
In every direction there are terraced fields, some perching precariously on cliff edges, while
BOTTLE BRUSH and CAMILIA bushes were all around
along with whatever these are? Then appeared the first of the Madeiran specialities
their own sub-species of CHAFFINCH.
GOURDES left out to ripen on a roof-top
and this novel little SQUINT took our interest,
as the first BUTTERFLY was spotted in this LEMON TREE. All this time there had been an infuriating 'quiet chacking' seemingly coming from just about every bush, but thus far we had been able to track it down!
Eventually we pin-pointed it down to BLACKCAP (this a female) which along with Canary were likely the most prolific species on the day.
Now, a little scrawny I know, but don't you just love this GOAT?
When Billy was a kid, walking the streets others kids hid, yes they did
Battle of Epping Forest - Genesis
A flash across the corner of an eye and another sub-species was quickly secured,
MADEIRAN KESTREL with prey, and as it flew of it looked to be wearing Jesses so maybe a captive bird returned to the wild - who knows? Next was Manna from Heaven as Shelagh, looking skyward called Plain Swift with a pathetic attempt to secure a photograph.
MUSCOVY DUCK is already on my world list so felt it was OK for the farmer to return this one to the cage.
We have 6 days at sea ahead of us now, and if they turn out like the last few (almost fruitless) we will need to get inspiration from elsewhere. To that end our day in Madeira will be extended over the next 1 or 2 days in an attempt to keep you interested. There are many more Magic Moments (Perry Como) to come from this beautiful Island so please continue to 'tune in'.