There are many headlands
on the main island that look as though they should produce good views
of seabirds under the right conditions. The current knowledge suggests
that they are mostly disappointing and one reason for that is many presumed
hot spots that look good on the map are too high above the sea particularly
Ponta do Rosto and Ponta do Pargo. The best and most consistent seawatching
spot near Funchal is Ponta da Cruz, the most southerly point of the island,
or at nearby Lido. Here a westward movement in the morning and an eastward
movement in the evening are visible representing birds travelling to and
from their breeding grounds on Desertas. In Porto Moniz (the north western
tip), the direction seabirds travel is more complex. Bulwer's Petrels,
Little and Cory's Shearwaters move both to the east and to the west in
both the morning and afternoon. Its possible that these birds off Porto
Moniz already have found there feeding waters and its hard to believe
that the small shearwaters and petrels have the time to get back to Desertas
from Porto Moniz if they are heading west in the morning. However, many
of the seabirds don't return to their nests every night. Probably that's
the reason you'll find some of the breeding seabirds heading east already
in the morning at Porto Moniz. The winds are often light on the south
side of the island and always more brisk along the northern coastline.
Most birders seawatch from a watch point 15 minutes walk (along the shore
parade) west of Lido, relatively high above the sea.
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!
Ponta da Cruz
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
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.
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.
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.
you could see where each place are located in Porto Moniz»
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