Cruise to Madeira, Canaries , Portugal - 30th July to 13th August 2011

Published by Mark Graham (helen.graham7 AT


Spent an enjoyable 2 weeks on the Braemar, a Fred Olsen ship.

Very good for birdwatching on the Prom deck which was low to the water with no vibrations midship.

The seawatching was excellent, the land birdwatching more hard work but there were still some rewards.

This was our 7th cruise and one of the best for seawatching.

The first of the Cory's Shearwaters turned out in good numbers in the Bay of Biscay on the outward journey. Remarkably they were later dwarfed by a remarkable sequence of Storm Petrels. Personally I have never seen so many together. Just 4 Manx Shearwater were spotted. Several sightings of Dolphins and Whales.

The crossing from Biscay to Madeira was predictably quiet except for the odd Cory's.

Land based birding in Madeira hopeless even up at Monte. A single female Chaffinch, some Collared Doves and 2 Mute Swans in the park near the port. Sightings of Cory's Shearwaters and Bulwer Petrels from the harbour promised an interesting sail out. There were many Yellow-legged Gulls and 4 Common Terns as we left harbour. At first there were lots of Cory’s but they were soon dwarfed by amazing numbers of Bulwers Petrels as we sailed further out. There were a few Storm Petrels as well.

The sail in to Santa Cruz La Palma was excellent. Mainly Cory's Shearwaters but several Bulwer’s too. A lot of Yellow-legged gulls [Atlantis]. I saw several Storm Petrels including one individual which was noticeably larger, flying differently and with more pointed wings. Not sure about that one. Again Santa Cruz poor for land birds. Blackbird, Collared Dove, and Kestrel.

La Gomera was slightly better for land birds in that I saw 2 Berthalot’s Pippets,1 Hoopoe,4 Spanish Sparrow, and many Plain Swifts. There was a phenomenal number of Cory’s passing between Tenerife and La Gomera as well as a few Yellow-legged Gulls and 2 Common Tern.

Santa Cruz Tenerife was good for Canaries especially in the avenue of trees leading to the Military Museum to the right of the docks. Several Chiffchaff [Canary version] were calling explosively in the ramblas leading up to the central park.There were a few Monk’s Parakeet in the park. Lots of Plain Swift swirling around too.

In Las Palmas Gran Canaria I heard several more Canary version Chiffchaffs and was pleased to see a Barbary Falcon around the cliffs at the end of the beach. There were Yellow-legged Gulls, Common Terns, Cory’s Shearwaters and Bulwer’s Petrel as we sailed out. It went a bit quiet until we sailed past the north east tip of Lanzarote when the Cory’s reappeared along with several Bulwer’s.

Portimoa in Portugal was the big surprise and a welcome relief as the number of land birds improved dramatically. Just close to the ship there were some good habitats and I spotted a Dartford Warbler, several Sardinian Warblers, 4 Crested Larks, a few Collared Doves, Common Starling and a Blackbird. There were a lot of Red-rumped and Barn Swallows about. The best area by far was the river edge past the railway at the edge of the town [walk along the cycleway]. The tide dropped and suddenly loads of waders appeared on the exposed mud. Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Egret all turned up. Also saw a Kingfisher, Med Gulls, White Stork, Cattle Egret, and a Waxbill o n the wires.The sail out was brilliant with Yellow-legged Gull, Meditteranean Gull, Common Tern, Cory’s Shearwater, Storm Petrel and lots of young Gannets.

Lisbon was a sightseeing day but again the sail out was excellent. Saw Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Yellow-legged Gull, Med Gull, Gannet, Cory’s and Storm Petrel. The rocky islets 4 hours north of Lisbon were busy with Cory’s, Storm Petrels, Gannets and a Great Shearwater.

The return through Biscay was lively. There was steady stream of Cory’s, several Storm Petrels, 2 Great Shearwater, 1 Arctic Skua, and a close view of a Sabine’s Gull. A few dolphin and whale sightings as well.

The last sea day was the English Channel. No more Cory’s. They were replaced by many Gannets, Fulmar and a few Manx shearwaters.