September 2020

Day one of an autumn recce visit to the rugged island of Madeira, and after an easy three-hour flight from Heathrow, the first sight of land comes in the form of the cliffs of the north side of the island: an impressive, volcanic rock rising straight out of the Atlantic, with the upper slopes cloaked in cloud, occasional small villages clinging to the steep hillsides… quite the first impression!

In the airport, passports checked and bags collected, the first thing on the ‘to do’ list was to get in line for the covid test. A short queue, forms filled in, QR codes scanned, details filed on the system, and then it was into a small booth where a nurse swabbed throat and nose: quick, simple, efficient, and the reason why Madeira has come through the pandemic pretty much unscathed thus far.

To the Airbnb apartment, where we would need to stay until the test results were emailed through, ‘within the next 12 hours’ according to the nurse. Actually, they both arrived (negative, thanks for asking) within five hours, but by that time we’d already spent plenty of time on the apartment balcony, ‘scoping the small section of sea that was visible between the buildings across the street.

The first birds that flew through the scope view were Cory’s Shearwaters, as expected, being the most common seabird nesting on the islands, with a population estimated at 3000 breeding pairs. Ten, twenty, thirty Cory’s Shearwaters flew by, with their long angular wings and pale undersides, soaring up and down over the waves. And then, just beyond, a smaller bird, with a much more ‘towering’ flight, and black underwings contrasting very obviously with the white belly. Rather ridiculously, for perhaps the ‘most wanted’ bird of the trip, we had seen four Fea’s Petrels from our apartment balcony before we had even been given the ‘all clear’ to leave quarantine, with their nesting-island of Bugio visible in the distance.

With the same patch of sea also revealing a mother and calf Bryde’s Whale and a large pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins putting on a acrobatics show, something tells me this is going to be an enjoyable week!