Sailed on the P&O ship, the Oriana from 21st May to 5th June 2017, travelling from Southampton, round the Azores, then to the Canaries, Portugal and finally Spain. We covered 4350 nautical miles over 16 days.
Three days at sea
It’s a marathon journey reaching the Azores alone. On our first morning at sea, we were leaving the English Channel and began crossing the Bay of Biscay. There was a steady passage of Northern Gannet, a few Fulmar, 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull and 1 Guillemot. I also saw 5 Cory's Shearwater, the first of many on the voyage. Three Collared Dove had joined us overnight and stayed with us all day. They were gone the next morning so who knows what happened to them.
The next two days we were so far from land there was little sign of life although 5 Bulwer’s Petrel were spotted and a few whale spouts were seen.
Ponta Delgada, Azores
As we sailed in there were a fair number of Cory's Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, 2 Little Egret and a Common Turnstone. I began finding the Azores species of Starling and Blackbird in any green spaces in the town as well as hearing Blackcap in the bushes. Impressed by the large number of Common Tern in the harbour I was intrigued where they might be coming from. Walking along the promenade west I found a huge inaccessible rock teeming with Common Tern as well as Yellow-legged Gull.
Praia Da Vitoria, Azores
This proved to be one of the most interesting ports of call for birds. The sail-in was impressive: hundreds of Cory's Shearwater and many Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, a Common Turnstone and several whale spouts. We walked up to the monument overlooking the town hearing several Blackcap and Chiffchaff on the way and seeing the Azores Blackbird, Azores Woodpigeon and House Sparrow. Walking back down along the road there were 2 Common Quail calling and I saw a flock of Canary as well as an impressive number of Azores Blackbird.
We headed for the Paul Da Praia Da Vitoria wetland reserve near the base of the hill to the monument. Apart from a Common Coot, Grey Heron and several Mallard, yet more Blackcap could be heard and there were a few Azores Blackbird and Azores Starling around too. Heading back to the cruise port I paid a visit to the old quarry near the port entrance. It is now the Paul De Pedreira wetland reserve. There were several Kentish Plover including juveniles, 4 Grey Plover, 1 Common Redshank, 1 Curlew, 1 Dunlin, 1 Turnstone and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit.
As ever, Blackcap were singing and there were several Azores Blackbird, Goldfinch and a few Yellow-legged Gull.
The wardens are doing a sterling job monitoring the site as well as two others in town and also educating the locals about the importance of conservation. They have built an interpretation centre and groups of school children visit to engage in workshops and activities, learning about the birds of the Azores.
On the way back to the ship another Common Quail was heard by the roundabout near the port entrance.
On the way into Madeira, Cory's Shearwater were seen as well as 2 Bulwer’s Petrel. In Madeira itself a Mute Swan was on the pond in the town centre park as well as some Blackcap, 1 Canary and 1 Common Kestrel.
The sail out was interesting. There were scores of Cory's Shearwater, a few Common Tern, many Yellow-legged Gull, 14 Bulwer’s Petrel, 3 Little Shearwater and 2 Madeiran Storm Petrel.
This was the place where the most Cory's Shearwater were seen both sailing in and out. Yellow-legged Gull were in abundance too. There were 3 Hoopoe in the town park and a few Chiffchaff [Canary islands species], Blackbird, Collared Dove and a Turtle Dove.
We walked east of the dry river bed out of town and heard several Blackcap and saw one Sardinian Warbler and a Common Kestrel. Another birdwatcher found a Spectacled Warbler and a Hoopoe near here.
It's well worth taking the bus to Pajaritos slap bang in the middle of the island. The bus runs every two hours and costs 2 euros. It's a bit of a white knuckle ride, going round sharp bends with sheer drops, but the scenery is truly impressive. La Gomera is a rarity: a Canary Island which hasn’t been wrecked by the developers.
There are several footpaths from the roundabout bus stop. We headed in a south west direction and saw [or heard] Blackcap, Canary, Chiffchaff [Canary island species], Blackbird and Chaffinch. The only Robin I saw all holiday was here too. There were hundreds of Plain Swift circling around as well. They are an island speciality with scores seen around the harbour area too.
Sailing out there were hundreds of Cory's Shearwater and Yellow-legged Gull. One Bulwer’s Petrel was seen, as well as a Manx Shearwater which somehow found its way onto the Promenade Deck! It was sheltering under the deck chairs and stayed till nightfall.I don’t know what happened to it but by morning it was gone.
After the wonders of La Gomera Gran Canaria looks a little scruffy and over developed. We took the bus to Teror which actually turned out to be a charming old town. There are several walks on the outskirts. We headed towards a path named Alto Cruz. There was a good number of birds around including 1 Turtle Dove, 1 Buzzard, 1 Grey Wagtail, several Canary, Chiffchaff and some Plain Swift.
Back at the harbour there were several Yellow-legged Gull and a few Common Tern.
We took the hourly bus to Las Salinas[number 3] from the bus station at Puerto Del Rosario, 15 minutes from the cruise port. It had been 15 years since my last visit so I feared the worst.
I needn’t have worried. Although Caleta De Fuste has spread like a rash it hasn’t quite reached this far. There were several Berthelot's Pipits and Yellow Legged Gull around the salt pans. A big flock of Spanish Sparrow were around the restaurant area and a Southern Grey Shrike was perched on a shrub in the garden of one of the villas.
We headed on to the Barranco De La Torre which remained the same as it was all those years ago. There was an Egyptian Vulture circling overhead, 3 Common Buzzard, 6 Raven, 1 Merlin, 6 Trumpeter Finch, 5 Barbary Partridge, 2 Berthelot’s Pipit,4 Collared Dove and 2 Yellow-legged Gull.
The Merlin was being harassed by the party of Ravens but it was twisting and turning giving them a good run for their money. An Egyptian Vulture was seen not far from here on my last visit, so this must be some sort of hotspot for this species. The authorities had placed a sign asking people not to go beyond a marked point so not to disturb the birds during the breeding season. Wonders will never cease!
On the sail out from the island there were good numbers of Cory’s Shearwater, 4 Bulwer's Petrel and a few Dolphin.
Fuerteventura to Lisbon[day at sea]
There were intermittent sightings of Cory’s Shearwater, 2 Great Skua and 4 Bulwer’s Petrel.
We had a general walk around the city and saw a Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Common Kestrel as well as hearing a few Blackcap and seeing some Blackbird and Mallard. On the sail out I saw the first Northern Gannet since our first day at sea,several Cory’s Shearwater and a few Yellow-legged Gull.
Our last port of call. The sail in and sail out is impressive especially as you pass the Illes Cies at the entrance to the river estuary. There were a few Cory’s Shearwater, some Northern Gannet, hundreds of Yellow-legged Gull and dozens of Shag. A few small Shearwater were spotted but their identity was unknown.
It's well worth taking the ferry to Cangas. It runs every hour from just next to the cruise terminal. Tickets cost 2.20 euro and the trip takes 20 minutes.Turn left as you leave the harbour and head out of the town along the main road.look for the orange sign ’Paseo Sal Guiron’. This takes you to a trail through a industrial heritage site. It was industrial estate built in the 1940’s which has been left to go to wreck and ruin and the trail eventually ends up at an impressive beach. It was tailor made for Black Redstart and I saw 13 along the trail. There was also a White Wagtail, several Blackcap, Blackbird, Spanish Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Common Swift, Mallard, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon and Yellow-legged Gull. Such are the numbers of Shag here you see them everywhere you look. There was a group of 54 feeding just off the promenade trail at one point.
Vigo to Southampton
When we woke up we were heading towards the English Channel. It was a day of constant passage of Northern Gannet with increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater. I counted 112 Manx Shearwater but there were many more out there which I missed due to meal breaks, afternoon tea and scones, coffee breaks, sauna and steam room sessions and falling asleep on the sunbed. In between I spotted 18 Fulmar, 1 Storm Petrel and several Herring Gull and Lesser Black backed Gull. When we got back to Southampton I noticed a few Black-headed Gull and a Cormorant. It was the end of a long enjoyable voyage with some memorable sights and a fair few birds along the way.