Bulwer's Petrel by Göran Ekström
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Transparent utfyllnad Porto Santo
View of Porto Santo's southern coast line. Ponta da Calheta to the left. Photo: Niklas Holmström, Sweden.
Even though João Gonçales Zarco discovered the Madeiran islands in 1418, the most famous inhabitant of Porto Santo was Christopher Columbus. Columbus visited Porto Santo while he was in Madeira as an agent for the sugar merchants of Genoa. He met and married the daughter of the island's governor (also from Genoa) in Porto Santo. The house where they lived around the year 1450 is in Vila Baleira and today houses a small museum.
   The island's contrast to Madeira is incredible, even though it is just 40 kms away (20 nautical miles from São Lourenço to Ileu da Cal). It is more like a desert island with its wonderful climate and kilometres of golden sandy beach. It is no wonder that the Maderians choose the island as their favourite holiday destination. It is about 11 km long and 6 km wide and is surrounded by five small islets and three bigger islands. Its main attribute for tourists is the 9 km long sandy beach where the tiny capital of Vila Baleira sits (Porto Santo), and the majority of the islands 4,000 population reside. Vila Baleira has a handful of shops, banks, several restaurants, and a good selection of hotels. There is a recently built 18 hole Golf Course. There are also a number of restaurants scattered around the island that operate minibus transport for customers.
  Here you will find 14 more photos from Porto Santo»

Seawatching from the Porto Santo ferry.
Photo: Aleix Comas, Spain.

Birding on Porto Santo
Many land birds that could be difficult to see on Madeira are often easier to find on Porto Santo. Species such as Red-legged Partridge, Quail, Coot, Moorhen, Kentish Plover, Hoopoe, Spectacled Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow and Linnet are most likely to be seen on a visit to Porto Santo. A good range of migrants and numerous rarities have been found here. Probably the best birding site in the Madeiran archipelago is located on Porto Santo and is called Tanque. The Tanque pond and the area near the Porto Santo Airport, about one kilometre north of Vila Baleira (Porto Santo) and in walking distance, always attracts shorebirds (including rarities such as Semipalmated Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Stint's, Common Snipe and Godwits. However, the numbers of each species is often low, but the possibility of finding something rare and unusual is often higher here than on the main island of Madeira! There are two more ponds on the island (North of Ponta and at Lapeiras), but those two are often dried out from late summer and throughout the autumn when most birders visit the archipelago.
   In late autumn and winter the bushy areas between the shore and the road from Vila Baleira to the south western tip Ponta da Calheta are very good for passerines, both native and migrants. A trip to Porto Santo, seawatching from the ferry and birding on the island produces variable results so don't make a hasty decision to make this trip. It is recommended that you wait until the last few days of your stay to decide whether it is worth the money to take the ferry to Porto Santo or not. Remember that a boat trip with the smaller sailing boat 'Ventura do Mar' is usually far more productive when looking for seabirds compared to a ferry trip to Porto Santo. The great disadvantage with the ferry trip in late summer and autumn is that darkness falls about half way back to Funchal. However, a ferry crossing often produces seabirds such as Cory's Shearwater, Bulwer's and Fea's/Zino's Petrels and sometimes Madeiran Storm-petrels (best chances on the way back to Madeira) and in addition whales and dolphins.
   The south western tip, Ponta da Calheta, is probably the best place for land based seawatching. Unfortunately most seabirds are seen rather distantly and the numbers are rarely as high as on Madeira. The three biggest islands Ilhéu de Ferro and Ilhéu de Baixo (close to Ponta da Calheta) in the west and Ilhéu de Cima in the east are sites for thousands of breeding seabirds: Yellow-legged Gull (numerous), Common Tern, Roseate Terns, Cory's Shearwater (> 2000 pairs), Bulwer's Petrel (> 1000 pairs) and several pairs of Little Shearwater and Madeiran Storm-petrel.

See detail map for recommended birding spots here»

To sum up, the main reason for a one day visit to Porto Santo are:
» Seawatching from the ferry
» Add a few more species to your trip list
» Check out the Tanque pond and its surroundings for possible rarities
» To see a few species that could be hard to find on Madeira
» Most birds are seen around the village Porto Santo/Vila Baleira, Tanque Pond, the Airport area and the Golf course west of Vila Baleira.

Porto Santo ferry
You will find prices, time table and further information on Porto Santo Line's web site (also in Portuguese and German language).

Price example: For a return ticket to Porto Santo it vary in 2004 between 54 Euro (Touristic class) and 64 Euro (First class). However, you could also buy ferry tickets at the same price as from the Porto Santo Line's (without extra taxes) in "Ventura do Mar's" kiosk in the Marina at the same time you book or pay for a pelagic trip with Ventura.

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