Monday, 19 December 2016

Canary Cruise

On the 25th November, the Duchess and I embarked the P&O ship 'Oceana' at Southampton on a cruise that would take us to Madeira, then down to the Canary Islands, from there north to Cadiz in Spain, then on to Lisbon in Portugal, returning to Southampton on 9th December - all in all, a 14 day 'chill pill' cruise with a bit of winter sun. It was not going to be bird watching holiday - in fact, quite the reverse - though having never been to Madeira, there were a couple of endemics to be had, the Trocaz Pigeon and the Maderian Firecrest, which were going to have a look for. We were at sea for 3 days before we reached Funchal, Madeira. To be honest, not a lot was seen bird-wise - there were some Sabines Gull, Gannets, Lesser-blacked back Gulls, with the most common bird being Kittewake.  I also had an adult Mediterranean Gull plus lots of Common Dolphin, which were seen most days whilst at sea. There were also a few 'stowaways' on board in the shape of a Blackcap, (which apparently had been on board since Gibraltar, on the previous cruise), a Black Redstart (which sadly was later found dead),  a Robin, and a species of Thrush
                                                                   Common Dolphin
                                                                 Common Dolphin
                                                            Lesser-blacked back Gull
                                                                        L.b.b Gull
Whilst sitting out on deck on the second day at sea, I got talking to another birder who asked if I was going to try for the Trocaz Pigeon; when I told him I was, he gave a site which a friend of his who lives on the island had given to him, and said was a certainty for this species and also the Firecrest - and it was only a short bus ride to some gardens north of Funchal He even gave me the numbers of the buses we needed! Brilliant -  as the site I knew of, which I had found on the internet, meant we were going to have to hire a car, and go to the north west of the island. On the 29th November, after a hearty breakfast, we went to find our bus - or more to the point - Sue found our bus - the number 37, which was going to the site ( Palheiro Gardens) We were with another couple who also wanted to see the Pigeon. The gardens were superb, with great views over Funchal; we had only walked 50 yards into the gardens and the Firecrest was heard, and soon had been ticked off. Not long afterwards,  the other endemic, the Trocaz Pigeon was noted. Other birds seen in the gardens were Blackbird, Common Buzzard, Canary and lots of Blackcap. We also noted Kestrel, Grey Heron, Yellow-legged Gull and Turnstone on Madeira.
                                                                 Maderian Firecrest
                                                                      Trocaz Pigeon
                                                                     Trocaz Pigeon
                                                                      Trocaz Pigeon

The following morning we docked in La Palma - a small Canarian island, which is a lovely port to stroll around.

Our next port of call was Gran Canaria where we docked Las Palmas, We again took a stroll around and I can't say we were impressed with the place, and didn't stay ashore for very long. On returning to the ship, I settled myself with a drink and my bins, on deck 14, to survey the port. Imagine my surprise to see, on a car-park roof 200 yds away, among the Yellow-legged Gulls, were a pair of Pied Crows!  I didn't know what the status of this Corvid was for The Canaries, so I sent a text to my mate Steve James, asking him if he could find out where the nearest population was; he replied, saying the last record for this bird on The Canaries was in 2010, and that was thought to be ship-assisted. The nearest population is in Senegal, on the west coast of Africa. ( I have reported the find to the Spanish rarities committee, and they have told me that there have been up to 3 birds there for a while, but have asked me to supply them with a report and images)  Other birds noted from deck 14....Black-headed Gull, Grey Heron, Sandwich Tern, Little Egret and well over 100 Pied Wagtails!

                                                                         Pied Crow
                                                                      Pied Crow

Lanzarote today, the port of Arrecife.  Again, not a particularly pretty town, and again, we didn't linger for long. However, there was a lovely area around the marina which we enjoyed very much, although the weather was showery. Birds of note around the marina were Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, and a nice little flock of Spanish Sparrow; there were also several Turnstone which were totally oblivious to 'Joe Public'
 Spanish Sparrow (male)

 Spanish Sparrow




We had a day of cruising going north, towards our next stop - Cadiz,southern Spain. En-route, lots of Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. The Officer of The Watch had just informed us of our position (something they do every sea-day), and we were apparently 64 miles west of Morocco, when I spotted some more dolphin! I managed to get a few images, and on reviewing them, realised hey were not 'Common', but the only cetacean guide book I had with me was for The Bay of Biscay, so I was struggling to identify them, but again, on reaching Cadiz (and wi-fi!) I was able to send an image to another good mate, Dave Gray,  who was able to inform me that they were most likely to be Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - a new species for me!
We enjoyed Cadiz very much. Just walking around, we saw Robin, House Sparrow, Collared Dove, more Blackcap, and when we arrived back onto Oceana, again from deck 14, we saw Sandwich Tern and a Peregrine Falcon.

 Adult Yellow-legged Gull

 Adult Yellow-legged Gull

 Common Buzzard which we saw at Palheiro Gardens, Madeira

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Our last port of call was Lisbon, Portugal, where we had arranged to go on a trip to the small town of Obidos, some 75 minutes away by coach. What a fabulous little town! - and what a great day we had. as we came back, the coach came through the centre of Lisbon - a city we hope to return to at some stage as it looked to be a really nice place.

Our final two days were spent at sea, crossing the Bay of Biscay. The birdlife was much the same as our outward-bound trip, although we did note several Great Skua (Bonxies), and again, we saw lots of Common Dolphin - but sadly, we didn't see any whales at all!

We had a great time, and came back feeling very relaxed!

As always, thanks for stopping by.

I would just like to take this opportunity to wish you all A Very Merry Christmas, and A Happy 2017! 


  1. Merry Christmas to you and your family. I enjoyed reading about your cruise. Here's to more adventures in 2017!