When you are seawatching from the mainland of Madeira you should be aware of two important factors: The strong sunlight and the position from where you are seawatching (high or low)! The strong light has a considerable effect on how the plumage of the birds is percieved. We all know how the appearance of seabirds change with differing conditions at home and how we need to adjust our perception of the birds to accommodate them. This is most important to remember on Madeira as such harsh light is something that is not often encountered in mainland Europe. From which level above or closeness to the sea you seawatch from is also a crucial factor, particularly when it come to judging size. For example, at Porto Moniz the Manx Shearwaters often look very small and the strong light gives them a pale face and an apparent pale wash on the upper wing. They could therefore be mistaken for Little Shearwaters!
An excellent and relatively low placed spot near the sea located at the north western tip of Madeira. The majority of seabirds pass much closer at Porto Moniz than Ponta da Cruz or Porto da Cruz. The light conditions are also much better. The heat haze between about 12:00-14:00 (which vary in strength) gives you the opportunity to have lunch and do some birding inland. The afternoon/evening light is the best and it's a delight to seawatch at Porto Moniz under these conditions.
There are a few good places to watch from here. One is at the shore parade, between the two natural swimming pool areas. However, there have been much construction works along the shore, which was finished in the beginning of September 2004. Although, some years ago I think the best place to seawatch from was the concrete wall next to the coach parking lot, overlooking the natural swimming pools at the eastern part of Porto Moniz. This place is very good, especially if you are a group of seawatchers. If you are alone or just two of you, you could find good places down at the natural swimming pools very low to the sea near the conical island Mole, which does not cause too much of a problem for the view. I now think the best place for seawatching is from the hotel Calhau's balconys or their terrace! From here you are closer to the sea, have a better view towards north-east and the place allow longer time seeing the seabirds as they pass by.
In the future it would be interesting to see if any of the fishermen could land you on the far side of the Mole island or far better if their construction era could result in a footbridge to the island. Some of the views of seabirds from there must be excellent! Many seabirds come from the big bay east of Porto Moniz and then round Mole, which is the northern most tip of Porto Moniz. Some seawatchers prefer to sit east of Mole Island and count the seabirds before they round Mole. The best positions are located close to each other, so you can easily find the place that suits you the best.
The true migraters (Great, Sooty and Manx Shearwater) that pass Porto Moniz appear to follow the northwestern coast line of Madeira and head west. However, their true direction is doubtless south, distorted by the angle of the northern coast line along Madeira. But when and why the migration of these species occurs is very unpredictable. In the summer and early autumn the weather in Madeira is dictated by the predictable northeast trade wind and is unlikeley to be the determining factor. The wind and weather systems between Great Britain and Madeira probably have a great effect on their route, and these may vary from year to year. However, in recent years the migration of these three species seems to be regular in the end of August and the first half of September. Further observations are required to provide additional information on the numbers, status and migration patterns of these three species.
Years ago this site was mentioned in several trip reports as the best site for sea watching. The site is good, but cannot compete with Porto Moniz in numbers and the mix of species. However, one good advantage is the closeness to Funchal, particularly if one has a non-birding partner to appease!
The actual location described (the southernmost and highest tip) is not always the best one as much construction works have been done during the years. A few hundred metres east of the southern most and highest point there is a small path leading down to the sea, and a few high rocks reaching up from the sea. The path could be hard to find, but if you look for the rocks (seen on the photo) you'll find it. Here you will find a good place to seawatch from, lower to the sea surface. In the afternoon this place seems to be a place for nudists and a meeting point for unattached men. However, in the morning there are no people there and you can seawatch without disturbance. If you travel by car driving on the main street towards the western part of Funchal (Estrada Monumental) passing many hotels and Lido to your left look for Pestana Grand Hotel, soon there will be a sign pointing to left (Ponta da Cruz as a watch point). Drive downwards, park the car and walk along the path back to east, pass the southern tip until the broad path start downwards, then look for the "natural" path which start through the hedge to you right.
Most seabirds here are observed rather distantly. If you are an experienced seawatcher, Ponta da Cruz will be a good training spot for you. The disadvantages are the generally unfavourable light conditions and the position, quite high on a cliff, if you are at the usual site. The advantage of Ponta da Cruz is (for an experienced seawatcher) seeing Bulwer's in high numbers and you will always spot a few Fea's/Zino's Petrels as whales and dolphins. The sea on the south of Madeira is often calm and therefore gives a better greyish backdrop for detecting the blackish Bulwer's. On the other hand the heat haze starts relatively early (compared to Porto Moniz) and is frustrating!
It is also possible to seawatch from the shore parade at Lido, but except for Cory's Shearwaters most seabirds travel rather distantly off shore here.
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