Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

Birds of Madeira and The Canaries
by Andy Warren

Date: Thursday 16 March 2017 at 19:30


Ken Cottam opened the meeting by announcing he was delighted that KateTitford had recently agreed to join the committee. 

Fifty people were present to hear Andy Warren present on bird watching around the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Canaries.  Andy gave the overall impression that if you are looking for a high species count, or gentle stroll whilst bird watching, then Madeira and the Canaries are not necessarily the ideal location!

Madeira was the first stop and this is chiefly made up of two islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, with the distant Deserter Islands also included.

Madeira is a mountainous and rugged island with few places for settlements to be established.  It is mostly covered in laurel forests with a liberal distribution of flowering bushes and plants.  Access is difficult by foot and only assisted by following the many levada, irrigation canals, transporting water from the mountains to the dry terraced cultivated areas on the coastal ledges.

The bird species count is surprisingly low for such a luxuriant and undeveloped area but many species are endemic to Madeira or are recognised sub-species of birds with a wider geographic range.  The high mountain ridges are home to the very rare Zinos petrel which only returns to its mountain nest in the late evening.   The laurel forest is also home to the rare Trocaz pigeon, Madeira chaffinch, Madeira kestrel, Madeira rock dove and of course canaries!  Species endemic to the south Atlantic islands include Berthelot’s pipit and plain swifts.

Madeira is a botanist’s paradise with plants such as ginger. prickly pear, bananas and belladonna lilies.  Hummingbird moths, monarch butterflies and Perez frog also feature.

Porto Santo is a total contrast to Madeira in that it is relatively flat and arid; however it does have a lake, unlike Madeira!

The Deserter Islands are uninhabited with very large nesting sea bird colonies, especially shearwater. Access to the islands is difficult and restricted in order to protect the birds.

The Canaries are also presented as islands with a low species count and many of the birds are also found on Madeira.  Tenerife and Lanzarote have intensive tourist centres which most bird watchers avoid; however both islands have large swathes of mountainous forests without many inhabitants.  Again many species are sub-species of common birds, e.g. blackbird, sparrow, chaffinch, wagtail and pipit.  Trumpeter finches are a major find!  Of course wild canaries are common, they are a dull bluish green colour and have a beautiful song.

The island of Fuerteventura provides some really good bird species, e.g. Fuerteventura chat, cream coloured courser, houbara bustard and the endemic blue chaffinch.

The only mammal seen on any of the islands was a single ground squirrel.

The speciation on islands is an interesting observation with each island group appearing to have its own sub-specie of chaffinch, some differences are subtle, some are very different, e.g. the blue chaffinch.  It is difficult to see what environmental pressures have caused the split into sub-species.

Andy gave a very well narrated and interesting presentation.  Unfortunately the quality of the slides (as opposed to digital images) was not good but it was still an enjoyable and informative evening.

Peter Gaines reported on What's About in our area:

  • Dorney Wetlands - 12 stonechat, 10 Cetti's warbler
  • Bray – Little egret
  • Queen Mary Reservoir – Water pipit
  • Wishmore, Cow Down, Lambourn – Great grey shrike
  • Widbrook – 4 Little Egret
  • Woolhampton pits – Sand martin
--- Original Programme Information ---

Map of the Canary Islands by Oona Räisänen

Birds of the Atlantic Islands - Madeira and The Canaries

Andy’s presentation, using slides, covers two trips to the islands in search of birds and other wildlife.  The talk will feature pictures of the landscape, along with a number of the birds, some of which are endemic to the islands.  A variety of plants and animals will also be included, to give a picture of what one can expect from a visit.


Andy Warren has been watching birds since 1972 and has now seen over a quarter of the world’s birds in 48 countries.  He continues to travel widely and is gradually working his way around the West African avifauna.  When not off in search of birds, Andy is an ecological consultant, although many years ago his first paid employment was as a warden for the RSPB.

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