Thursday, May 18, 2017

Madeira May 7-13, 2017 - by Kate Sutherland

If I were to go to Cape Point, about 12 miles to the east of my apartment, stand at the tip and look east, the island of Madeira would be a little less than two and a half degrees to the south roughly 3,300 miles across the Atlantic.  This, one of two inhabited islands in the archipelago, is just 360 miles from the African coast and about 540 miles to the south west of Portugal, to whom it belongs.  It is the only place to see Zino's Petrel with regularity in the world.  I eagerly read Hadoram Shirhai's paper on the identification at sea of this species and the Fea's Petrel complex years ago when it was published.  Then, Steve Howell's tubenose bible was published listing some photos by Brian as the first North American record of this species, a couple of hand focused slide film images from a September 1995 pelagic trip off of Hatteras.  Just the next year Robert Flood came out with an incredible guide to Pterodroma Petrels in his North Atlantic Seabirds series.  The Zino's Petrel went from a little known species to a seabird superstar in less than a decade!  Catarina Fagundes & Hugo Romano, owners and operators of Madeira Wind Birds, have been the people making it possible for avid seabirders from all over the world to have a chance to glimpse a Zino's Petrel.  And not only that, but offering as well the chance to spend an evening in the clouds listening to and watching the ghostly forms of these avian olympians zipping through the mountain passes and around the highest peaks of Madeira.  Never did I imagine I would have a chance to experience the incredible privilege of joining one of these expeditions, just another seabird dream, but last week it came to pass.  And such an adventure it was, right up there with the Cahow experiences on Bermuda, two species with very similar historical paths and hopefully with very bright futures.

Catarina organized a trip for Brian Patteson, Peter Flood, Lev Frid, and myself for early May so we could be back in time to start the Spring Blitz (May 20 - June 4 this year).  Brian and I of course run the Seabirding trips from Hatteras aboard the Stormy Petrel II, Peter and Lev both help us as leaders on our trips so it was great to experience this together!  I was excited to see that two of our regular passengers, Doug Hanna and Tom Blackman, were also joining the group.  Wind Birds offers a variety of tours in addition to the Zino's Petrel pelagics so we booked a number of these in advance as well.  Monday we had a full day birding tour of the island with Catarina and Hugo in order to see some of Madeira's endemics; that night a few of us spent over an hour in the wind and rain watching and listening to Cory's near the cliffs a short walk from our hotel in Machico!  I had no idea we would be treated to such a thing and worried we might never sleep!  Some nights we could hear them from our beds!  (Photo below of Machico, Madeira with the airstrip visible and the meeting point for trips on the left, by Kate Sutherland)

Tuesday morning I had booked a trip to swim with dolphins, because how can you not sign up for something like that?!  Lev was the only other person in our group willing to join me on this adventure, so our introduction to the Oceanodroma was getting aboard so we could slip overboard with masks and snorkels in an attempt to see the dolphins that Catarina so patiently tracked for us. (photo of us departing by Brian Patteson)
The water is over 1500 feet deep just offshore of Machico, so it is possible to encounter any number of marine mammals fairly close to shore here.  It was incredible to hear these animals underwater, and we encountered two species that morning, Bottlenose and Common Dolphins.  Their acoustics are different, and while I heard both, I only saw the Common Dolphins.  They were under a feeding group of Cory's Shearwaters and I was not sure if I wanted to be looking at the birds above or the dolphins below!

Shorty after our return to shore, it was time to head back out for our first pelagic trip of the week.  We had three afternoons to spend offshore here and were all prepared to get the most out of each second!  Tuesday we headed to the north, there were Cory's Shearwaters packed on the north side with some Manx flying by as well.  (photo of Cory's by Brian Patteson)
Catarina slowed to let us soak it all in, then we powered offshore!  The first Bulwer's Petrels were seen a bit later, and as promised, they slowed for the first few, then we just watched open mouthed as these acrobatic seabirds wheeled by on our way to the chumming location.  We need not have worried, for the Bulwer's put on quite a show that first afternoon while we all adjusted to their flight style, our photos getting better each day of this erratic flyer (photo by Brian Patteson)!
When we stopped, Hugo put out the first chum ball - a gorgeous thing!  And we attracted the attention of some Yellow-legged Gulls, varying in age, a sharp looking gull to watch and photograph!  (photo by Brian Patteson)
We had some Cory's and Manx Shearwaters come in, and the first gadfly petrel appeared in the glare later in the afternoon - it turned out to be a Fea's Petrel, dark underwings, chunky appearance, and a short, thick bill - confirmed by the experts!  As we began our dinner sandwiches, Peter yelled "Get on this petrel!!" and our first Zino's Petrel of the trip came right in to the boat, oh my, what a bird!  It flew around for all of us to study and, of course, to photograph (photo below by Kate Sutherland)!
Another Zino's came by, but not quite as attentive to the chum as the first, so we finished the first day with at least two sightings!  While it was calm on the north side where we spent our time, it was quite breezy when we passed through the cut to head back to the dock, so we ended up tying up in an alternate location and getting a ride from Hugo back to the hotel.  A long day, but full of so much excitement that most of us were up for a few hours still, pouring over images from the afternoon.

Our second pelagic was on Wednesday, and we again headed to the north.  The southwesterly wind was a queer one for Madeira, as Brian would say, but it worked well for us as the birds were flying into the light.  It was much much breezier than Tuesday and it was a wet job to get us in position for the drift!  We then drifted with the chum, frequently repositioning to drift by it again, putting our cameras in dry bags and ourselves in our jackets each time we heard the call "Going Up!" from Catarina.  It was an exhilarating afternoon for us and really a perfect one for seabirds to smell Hugo's chum and zip right in.  The first Zino's Petrels came in much earlier than Tuesday and we had two individuals buzzing around each other, the chum, and us for a bit! (photo by Brian Patteson)
Such curious birds!  Cory's, Manx, and Bulwer's visited us on the slick as well, but no gulls.  We had another Zino's Petrel as we were repositioning, this one did not stick around as long as the others had, but its image was captured!  Storm-petrels finally made an appearance, Leach's, not Madeirans, and one individual was so hungry it stayed feeding on the chum for over an hour, doing its best to land right on the ball and eat (photo by Kate Sutherland).
This individual was observed diving under the water numerous times for pieces of stray fish, quite possibly the best views of a cooperative Leach's I have ever had!  We also had an interesting Bulwer's Petrel visit the slick that had a white tail (photo by Peter Flood).
At the end of the time on the slick, as I was learning how to use the chemical toilet...another Zino's came in!  This individual was much darker than the previous few but as Catarina pointed out, still had the slender build and long slender bill of a Zino's (perhaps a male individual?) - as photos showed (by Peter Flood).
We had a final gadfly in with a flock of Cory's and Manx Shearwaters on our way back to shore, it looked to be a Zino's as well, but cameras were away at the time and no photos were captured.

The weather for Thursday prompted Catarina and Hugo to postpone our next pelagic to Friday, but we need not have worried about a day without Zino's for we took the hike to the colony Thursday night.  Hugo collected us at 9pm for the ride up to Pico de Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira at 5,965 feet, and we bundled up for the hike to the colony - the temperature was in the 40s up there.
(Photo of the observatory at Pico de Arieiro under the full moon on our way back, by Kate Sutherland)  As we walked I was very impressed with the trail we traveled, it was made of stone slabs and the steps were also nicely formed with stones.  I had this image of what it might have been ages ago, a small, slick trail with nothing to save you from sliding down into the abyss below!  Currently, there are railings and some line guides along the trail to keep you from losing your balance and to help keep you on the right path!  We began hearing the voices of the petrels before we even reached our resting point, and some passed closely by as we stopped to soak it all in.  The moon had been full the previous night and there were some clouds, so it was quite bright where we were and the ghostly images of Zino's Petrels accompanied their moans and otherworldly calls, the females a low note with the males replying in a higher pitch.  The wind was blowing carrying the birds and their calls near.  There are no words to properly describe the feeling that you have in your chest, really your entire being, to be in that place.  Like stepping back in time, before human settlement, when islands like this one were home to thousands of nesting seabirds.  As we stood there, the only way I knew time was passing was because my ears grew colder and colder and my fingers ceased to work with ease.  Someone commented "it doesn't get any better than this!"  True, but the hot tea and cookies Catarina served just after that actually did make it better!  It was a perfect evening, right up there with laying on our backs on Nonsuch, the Cahows calling and flying over in the dark!  Eerily similar...

Friday we were again boarding the Oceanodroma in search of its namesake - the Madeiran Storm-Petrel which so far had eluded us!  Other stormies were hopefully going to show as well, like the "enigmatic kangaroo bird", the White-faced Storm-Petrel (photo by Brian Patteson)!
We were not disappointed!  This last pelagic brought us the most diversity of the three trips and incredible photo opportunities.  On our way south to the chumming location, west of the Desertas, Cory's and Manx Shearwaters were around plus Bulwer's Petrels, and we jumped a Pterodroma off the water that Catarina and Hugo felt to be a Fea's Petrel.  Once the chum was out, it was a field day!  We had a gorgeous adult Sabine's Gull that spent the entire afternoon on the slick with the variety of other visitors like Cory's, Manx, and Bulwer's (photo by Kate Sutherland).
Then we had our collection of stormies, Leach's and European were the first to come in and then the White-faced joined them...all were just arm's length away at times!  (Photo of Leach's & European by Peter Flood)
The light was amazing, and we even had at least a couple of Zino's Petrels visit us on the drift.  As the day was ending and the light getting low, we finally heard the shout "Madeiran Storm-Petrel in the slick!!"!  We all looked through our collection of storm-petrels, and sure enough, there it was!  A little smaller than the Leach's with that nice band on the square tail and narrow wings that lacked the huge, buffy carpal bar seen on Leach's - plus a beautiful warm brown color vs the more grayish cast of Leach's - what a bird! (photo by Brian Patteson)
We sometimes see these smaller, zippy looking Band-rumpeds on our trips from North Carolina, but it is hard to tell them from the slightly larger winter breeding Band-rumpeds that we see on most of our trips.  Thus, it was nice to really get a feel for their jizz and to know that yes, on occasion we have individuals that are similar in the Gulf Stream!  The light was very low for photos, so I was content to just watch our birds for the remainder of the time we had offshore.  Our trip back was gorgeous with the Desertas to the right and the lights of Madeira to the left.  There were even some dolphins that came in to the boat in the moonlight...
(The Desertas are visible on the horizon here from the beach in Machico, photo by Kate Sutherland)

I highly recommend these trips to anyone who is serious about our Atlantic Pterodromas, or seabirds in general, Wind Birds is an incredible company and they also book your lodging, making it super simple.  They offer a host of programs and Madeira was, I felt, very affordable.  Our group flew with Azores Airlines, and as long as you are flexible, this is a nice option!  It was also really nice to be offshore with another company that owns and operates its boat.  I can barely wait to return...but in the meantime, perhaps we will see a Zino's Petrel or a Bulwer's on one of our Seabirding trips from Hatteras...we will be ready!

A few more of my photos are here (I am still working on this, hope to have more up soon!)
Click on Peter Flood for a link to his photos from Madeira
Lev Frid also has some photos posted on his Flickr Page

Following are some more photos from Brian Patteson:
Zino's Petrels
 Bulwer's Petrel
 Zino's with Madeira visible behind...
 Leach's Storm-Petrel
 A couple images of Manx Shearwater
 Cory's Shearwater
 Sabine's Gull with Leach's Storm-Petrel
 White-faced Storm-Petrel

No comments:

Post a Comment