The transition seasons mark an interesting time for bird encounters here on Madeira island, since several species drop by here to rest and 6 pelagic species arrive here to breed. One of the best known bird species occurring across the archipelago is the Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis). In summer their calls echo through the night as the adults return to land to feed their hungry chicks before returning back to the sea at sunrise, foraging for food the entire day on the vast Atlantic. Like all other members of the Tubenose family (Procellariiformes), Corys have a specialised gland near their eyes that allow the birds to drink seawater during their long journeys. These birds are also masters of flight, catching trade winds and travelling to unbelievable distances to forage for their young chicks.
I’m sure it must also puzzling to you that I’m writing about birds since we are a company specialised in whale-watching not bird-watching. In reality these go hand in hand as birds often follow marine predators to gain feeding advantages. During our search for animals on the ocean, a group of birds circling an area can often be an indication of marine mammal activity. below the surface. Corys are in fact such a giveaway for cetaceans, that whalers used to refer to them as “Judas birds”. Today, foraging Corys allowed our spotter and crew to track down a calm group of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis), which, as always, were an absolute delight to encounter especially after such a long search.
In the afternoon some of our crew attended the SPEA (Portuguese society for the study of birds) workshop in Funchal that included presentations from local bird experts as well as several from the Azores and the Canaries. The meeting was focused around the dangers faced by several different marine birds, particularly the highly vulnerable Tubenose species and the protective measures that can be taken to ensure their conservation in future.
The main topic of debate was light pollution, a problem that is especially detrimental for chicks and the workshop was strategically timed to discuss this topic and the project that should help reduce it; LuMinAves. In late October and November the Cory chicks leave the nests and are often disorientated or blinded by lights on the coastline, leading to several injured or dead animals turning up on Madeiras shores. The project LuMinAves not only addresses how to tend to injured chicks but also provides solutions to local councils close to nesting areas, giving them several useful tips to minimise light disturbances.
Reducing light pollution will not only benefit the birds, it’s also a great way of saving energy and is therefore a noble contribution in the fight against climate change. If you are in Madeira and happen to stumble across a disorientated shearwater or any other bird species, experts advise to carefully place the animal in a cardboard box and place it somewhere sheltered on a nearby beach. If the animal is injured or if you are in doubt of your actions, call SPEA on +351 21 322 04 30 for assistance.
We share this information with our guests because we believe everyone can do their part in protecting these important and impressive creatures, whose help at sea us whale-watchers could not be more grateful for.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins
14:30 Atlantic spotted dolphins
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins