I’ve always wanted to see a pterodroma petrel. Soft-plumaged Petrel in old money, most realistically Fea’s Petrel or less likely Zino’s Petrel in new money. I haven’t helped myself by my only visit to Madeira being in October, when they’ve departed. I could also have just gone seawatching in Ireland in August a few times and sorted it. But nevertheless it was an itch I wanted to scratch.

I knew the chances were slim but had a couple of rolls of the dice this week. Firstly I went on an inshore boat trip with Mar Dourado on Porto Santo. I thought if I didn’t see any birds other than Cory’s Shearwaters (as pictured above) I might at least get some whales and dolphins. On a gorgeous day to be out on a boat the latter delivered, as first we saw Bottlenose Dolphins at close range, then Spotted Dolphins even closer. Happy days.

Bottlenose Dolphin disappearing underwater again

I decided a trip on the Porto Santo ferry to Madeira was unfeasible as it would entail an overnight stay in Funchal when I had paid to stay on the smaller island. But then I realised there was a late sailing on Friday nights getting in at 1am, so I decided I’d go on that, read a book and walk round the town and board again at 7am for the 8am sailing. Jane wasn’t amused but I reckoned Funchal was at least as safe as London Euston, where I once did similar.

I assumed the time of the sailing meant the outward boat might be quiet. It turned out it was very busy with locals, presumably including some people who live on the mainland and work on Porto Santo during the week. It’s a relatively big boat though and there was plenty of room onboard.

In the morning I again assumed the boat would be fairly quiet, and again it wasn’t. I secured a table viewing out over the back of the boat but was joined by a busy throng of people as we departed Funchal.

Cruise boat coming in as we set sail

The ever impressive Funchal townscape

As we left a small pod of dolphins followed the boat. I am going to have to hold my hand up and say I don’t know what species they were, but maybe Spotted as they weren’t large animals.

Then, to be blunt, it was the Cory’s Shearwater show. Cory’s after Cory’s after Cory’s. Willing them to be something else was never going to work. A check of the time showed we were more than halfway through the journey and I hadn’t seen a single other bird. The conditions weren’t conducive to seeing whales or dolphins away from the shelter of the Madeira coast and it was basically going pear shaped.

Then it improved enough to safe the day. A Barolo Shearwater flew across the wash of the ferry, then another and another. In the end I had five Barolo’s and a single Bulwer’s Petrel. Better than a kick in the teeth, and the Fea’s or Zino’s Petrel can wait for another day.

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