As part of our Post Covid-19 'getting back to birding' programme we are extremely excited to offer a completely new tour targetting some of the rarest seabirds in the Western Palearctic as well as a number of Macaronesian endemics. We were only going to go to Madeira, which offers an amazing opportunity to see some great seabirds, however just a short flight away are the seldom visited isolated islands of the Azores. So why not go there too? If you're a Western Palearctic lister, or just admire rare birds, or just want a bit of an adventure then after months and months of sedentary birding around our home patches this could just be the tour to kick-start things once again. And the fact that both the Azores and Madeira have had zero fatalaties due to Covid-19 makes these islands amongst the safest places to be anywhere in the world right now. And it is apparent that this "land bridge" between the UK and Portugal the PM has mentioned, means we would not have to self-isolate for 14 days upon return. It just couldn't be more perfect for our first birding adventure since this whole disaster began.
Situated way out in the Atlantic Ocean, the Archipeligo of the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal with dramatic landscapes with tall mountains rising to 2351m, picturesque fishing villages, wildflower filled meadows, hedgerows full of Blue Hydrangeas, and is famous as a landing site for rare American warblers later in the year. We will be taking two pelagics out into the ocean in search of the endemic Monteiro's Storm-Petrel. Not a lot is known about this recently recognised species apart from that it breeds in the summer months on two small islets of off Graciosa Island, so we will head out to the Bank of Fortune on a couple of pelagics to see this extremely rare seabird, which has an estimated breeding population of under 300 pairs. What a coup to be able to observe this species! We will also be hoping for the erratic and seldom seen (and definitely not guaranteed) Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel that has been recorded in these same waters on a number of occasions. A short flight will take us to the island of São Miguel where we will spend another couple of nights and this is the only island that is home to the rare Azores Bullfinch, which is restricted to the eastern half of the island.
We will then fly two hours to Funchal in Madeira and transfer to a private villa with full en-suite facilities and where we will be based for 5 nights. As on the Azores, we have our very own Zoothera cook to prepare fresh meals every day and by staying here rather than a hotel full of strangers, we can maintain social distancing and hygiene standards much better and ensure everyone stays safe. Ok it does cost a bit more than staying in a cheap hotel but our health is far more important. We'll have 3 pelagics to different locations and initially target the 2 key Pterodroma's that everyone wants to see: Zino's and Desertas Petrels. We are expecting repeated views of both species as they are enticed close to our boat by chum. There will also be Bulwer's Petrels patrolling nearby, and both Madeiran and Wilson's Storm-Petrels should put in an appaerance, along with both Great and Cory's Shearwaters allowing superb photographic opportunities. There should also be a few cetaceans around as well, such as Atlantic Spotted Dolphin or Sperm Whales too. We'll also be keeping our fingers crossed for a Barolo's Shearwater or maybe something even rarer! Back on land we will have plenty of time to see the islands' 2 endemics - Trocaz Pigeon and Madeiran Firecrest, and as on the Azores there's a whole bunch of endemic subspecies to see, just in case....! We will have plenty of time to rest between pelagics and take a couple easy birding excursions in the mornings prior to the afternoon pelagics, but we will go birding for a whole day towards the end of the tour to make sure we see everything we need to. The highlight of our land-based birding will be a night-time visit to a breeding colony of Zino's Petrels high up in the mountains where we can listen to the weird and wonderful calls as they return to breeding burrows nearby to feed their young. What an experience that will be! And that will end our Macaronesian Adventure, having seen some of the most-wanted and rare seabirds in the Western Palearctic.
But we just want to reiterate the lengths we have gone to, to provide this rather last-minute birding trip following the awful events of the previous months. We are utilising private villas apart from the first night on the Azores, and the hotel we have picked is perfect anyway for our needs for just one night. We have our own cook to prepare a delicious range of meals every day and most drinks are included throughout the tour. There's no length we won't go to, to ensure your safety. We believe this tour, considering the circumstances, gives us the ultimate in freedom with minimum restrictions! If you have any concerns or questions, please let us know - but we've got this! After months and months of not travelling, we believe this tour provides the adrenalin rush we need after a difficult year! So let's go birding!