Bulwer’s petrel nest discovery on Azores islet

This video says about itself:

Bulwer’s Petrel on its nest. Madeira, 2009.

From BirdLife:

14 Aug 2017

The mystery of the seabird that barks like a dog

Tânia Pipa from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) shares news of a very happy discovery on the tiny islet of Baixo off the ‘White Island’ of Graciosa in the Azores.

‘Woof, woof, woof!’ – and so our story begins, back on a sunny June day in 2015 on the tiny Portugeuse islet of Baixo,…with a bark rather than a squawk. Not so surprising you might think, but this bark didn’t come from a dog – it came from a bird! The Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulwerii to be exact, named for the Scottish naturalist James Bulwer who first identified the species while living in Madeira.

Though this little petrel, with its remarkably long wingspan (an impressive 78-90cm for a body length under 30cm), is already known to frequent the Azores islets of Praia and Baixo off the beautiful ‘White Island’ of Graciosa, the distinctive ‘woof, woof, woof’ we heard that day was a very welcome ‘bark’ out of the blue. And for the simple reason that this sound – like the bark of a small dog – is only made by young petrels in the nest. Yet, until then, the only known colony of Bulwer’s petrel to have a breeding population was on the islet of Vila.

We were on Baixo that day to analyse the status of the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi as part of SPEA’s work under LIFE EuroSAP – a three year collaborative project across ten countries, launched in 2015 to halt the population decline of sixteen iconic European bird species on a continental scale. Little did we know, we were about to make an unexpected discovery – but there it was, a Bulwer’s petrel right there on the rocks. However, at the time, we could not completely verify the presence of breeding pairs; although the barking surely endorsed suggestions put forward by researchers at the Portuguese Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOF).

Finally, this year, we were able to find more conclusive answers. As part of two new projects – MISTIC SEAS II (a continuation of our work for LIFE EuroSAP) and LuMinAves (to mitigate light pollution affecting seabirds in the Macaronesian archipelagos) – we returned to the islet, determined to solve the mystery of ‘The seabird that barks like a dog’.

Once again, the Monteiro’s storm-petrels showed us the way. We decided to change strategy and place our mist-net at the site of our first happy ‘accident’ in 2015. Within one hour, we heard a ‘bark’ and spotted our first nest and two birds on the net. We began imitating the call, and over the following nights we found 13 more nests. Upon closer inspection, we found Bulwer’s petrel eggs – finally confirming their breeding presence on the islet.

Now, we must wait for the chicks to hatch (any day now!) and watch them venture out into the ocean come late September and hopefully returning to the colony with three years. In the meantime, this exciting discovery will hopefully inspire a new impetus to protect a species which is rare in Europe.

Tânia Pipa is responsible for the conservation and management actions of SPEA’s After-LIFE Project on Corvo Island.

With special thanks to the the Natural Park of Graciosa for their support and collaboration, and also the researchers (DOP, Luís Monteiro, Joel Bried and Verónica Neves, amongst others) who have generously shared their expertise in contributing to our greater understanding of the species of the Azores.


Extinct bullfinch discovered on Azores island

The newly discovered extinct bullfinch, compared to two related species

From the SINC site in Spain:

New bird that humans drove to extinction discovered in Azores

July 26, 2017

Inside the crater of a volcano on Graciosa Island in the Azores archipelago, in the Atlantic Ocean, an international team of researchers has discovered the bones of a new extinct species of songbird, a bullfinch which they have named Pyrrhula crassa. The remains were found in a small cavity through which time ago the lava flowed. This bird disappeared a few hundreds of years ago due to human colonization of the islands and the introduction of invasive species.

Until hundreds of years ago, a species of bullfinch, a small songbird with a very short and robust beak, lived on Graciosa Island in the Azores archipelago. The arrival of humans to this island, however, depleted its population and it ended up going extinct, as was the case with numerous bird species on other islands, such as the Canaries and Madeira.

Now, an international team of scientists, backed by a project led by Josep Antoni Alcover, from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, CSIC-UIB), has discovered the bones of this bullfinch, called Pyrrhula crassa, in a cave located in a 12,000-year-old volcano in the southeast of the island.

“It is the first extinct passerine bird described in the archipelago, and it won’t be the last,” states Alcover, co-author of the study published in Zootaxa which focused on the analysis of beak morphology in order to determine the new species.

Despite there being few known remains of this bird, they are sufficiently distinctive for the scientists to have succeeded in establishing that they belong to a new extinct species of bullfinch.

The new bird, being the largest of its genus according to the size of the skull remains found, recalls due to its flying ability the existing bullfinch from the other Azores island (São Miguel) which is ‘vulnerable’ to extinction because of the expansion of agriculture and the disappearance of laurel forests.

“Its short and wide beak was not just considerably bigger, but also relatively higher than that of the common bullfinch or that from São Miguel, with a very robust configuration reminiscent to an extent of the beak of a small parrot,” asserts the researcher.

Invasions wiped out the birds

These islands were colonized during the 13th century by the Portuguese, although they could have been visited by Vikings over one thousand years ago. Just as has happened on many other islands, such as the Canaries or Madeira, different bird species have disappeared throughout the last millennium due to the arrival of humans along with various invasive species.

Human colonization led to the destruction and burning of the islands’ habitats in which humans started settling, and they impacted on the birds which were part of the indigenous fauna. P. crassa was no exception, finding itself affected until its extinction.

The introduction of invasive plant species has depleted and reduced the area of the laurel forests in which this species of bird lived by up to 3% of its original size. According to the scientists, although remains of P. crassa have only been identified in Graciosa so far, it possibly inhabited other islands of the Azores archipelago.

Azores bullfinch saved

This video is called A short movie of the Azores bullfinches, June 2014.

From BirdLife:

Azores glory: Europe’s most threatened songbird rebounds

By Alex Dale, 14 Dec 2016

Think invasive species and images of chick-munching cats and rats immediately spring to mind. But many local extinctions have their roots in alien invaders of another kind: plants.

The introduction of alien plants, many of which are adapted to survive in far less welcoming climes, can be devastating to finely balanced ecosystems. Rugged species such as the Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum, for example, have evolved the ability to develop thousands of seeds to compensate for the poor soil quality in its natural range in the Caucasus Mountains. Its introduction into gardens throughout Europe and North America, and subsequent spread into the wild, has had terrible consequences for the local fauna and flora. Evolution has given this hulking species the means to spread aggressively, and it outcompetes native plants by shading them from the sun. This has a knock-on effect for the area’s native wildlife, which have adapted their needs around these now vanquished plants.

As is to be expected, the effects of invasive plants are often most acutely felt on remote islands, where species are forced to specialise their diet and behaviour around limited resources. Such is the plight that nearly starved the Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina to extinction. A small, plump bird similar in looks to the female Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula (however in the Azorean species, there is no colour difference between the two sexes), the Azores Bullfinch is endemic to São Miguel, an island that forms part of the Azores archipelago; an autonomous region of Portugal located some 1,360 km from the mainland. By all accounts, it was once a common sight on the island and was considered a pest of fruit orchards. Yet today, the species finds itself confined to a few square kilometres of fragmented laurel forest in the island’s mountainous east.

Both hunting and forest clearance have taken their toll on the species, but the main driver for its dramatic population collapse throughout the twentieth century has been the spread of exotic plants. “Plants were introduced into the Azores archipelago for various purposes – mainly ornamental and agricultural”, says Azucena de la Cruz, LIFE Terras do Priolo Project Assistant at SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal). “Some of those species became invasive and presently cover large areas of the island. Today, more than 60% of the vascular flora of the Azores is considered exotic.”

This rude encroachment is a problem for the Azores Bullfinch in particular because, in order to combat year-round food shortages, the species has developed very specialised feeding habits that change throughout the seasons to adapt to what food is available. In spring, it feeds on flower buds; in summer, herb seeds; in autumn, it turns its attention to fruits; and, during winter, it is reliant on fern spores. The only thing that doesn’t change, is that the Azores Bullfinch’s various food sources consist of plant species endemic to the archipelago; these include the Azorean holly Ilex azorica, Hawkbit Leontodon rigens and the nearly extinct Azorean plum Prunus azorica.

Thus in order to survive, the Azores Bullfinch is reliant on Azorean laurel forest habitat which can boast a rich tapestry of these endemic species. However, in the last 100 years, these habitats have come under attack from exotic invaders that have escaped from gardens and naturalised. One such species, the Kahili ginger Hedychian gardneranum of India and Nepal, is recognised by the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group as one of the world’s worst 100 invasives. It is able to quickly colonise large areas of land by forming dense blankets of foliage that crowd out native seedlings. Today, only around two percent of the island’s native laurel forest remains. This loss of local biodiversity nearly spelled the end for the Azores Bullfinch; before SPEA began work to protect and restore the species’ habitats, there were perhaps less than 300 pairs remaining, making it Europe’s rarest passerine.

Since the turn of the century, SPEA has coordinated three EU funded projects aimed at saving the Azores Bullfinch’s remaining strongholds in the east. The first two projects, which took place between 2003-2008 and again between 2008-2013, were geared towards maintaining and restoring pockets of the species’ habitats, by means of clearing invasive plants, establishing fruit tree orchards, and planting native species in core areas and the buffer zones around them. SPEA also strove to raise awareness among Azoreans of the bird’s plight, all of which helped the São Miguel Natural Park to be classified in July 2008, which now protects a significant part of the species’ habitat.

So far, these projects have succeeded in allowing the recovery of over 300 hectares of laurel forest and peatland habitat; bullfinch numbers have bounced back accordingly. In 2010, the population recoveries were such that the species was downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered, a major milestone in saving a bird that was once seemingly on an inexorable march towards extinction.

The third and current project, LIFE Terras do Priolo (meaning “Land of the Azores Bullfinch” in Portuguese), is working to build on the promise of these established patches of habitat by beginning work to join them together into one large contiguous area. “The problem with these patches is that invasive plants, which are dominant outside of them, are able to re-enter the area and this obliges continuous maintenance of the areas”, says de la Cruz. “For this reason, the building of larger continuous areas was considered necessary in order to reduce the re-entering of invasive plants.”

Joining up the restored patches of vegetation will not be a simple process, however; it involves revisiting areas previously considered not cost-effective to restore. “The Tronqueira Mountains have very steep slopes with loose volcanic soils and several water lines that are mostly not permanent and torrential”, says de la Cruz. “In previous projects, we selected areas with more gentle slopes and this resulted in a series of restored patches scattered in the mountains.”

The present Terras do Priolo project is also working to construct a ring around the mountain ridges to stem the further spread of the invasive plant species that have brought the Azores Bullfinch to the brink. Whether or not this ring will be effective depends on how well the interior areas can be controlled; this will involve a great deal of intensive conservation effort in the decades to come. So, although the Azores Bullfinch population continues to grow, and is edging towards the symbolic 1,000 mark, we should not become complacent; birds such as this, with such particular needs and such tiny ranges, will likely always be at risk of slipping back towards extinction, and it is essential the good work made possible by the EU’s LIFE programme is allowed to continue.

Nevertheless, with the 2016 Red List delivering news that the Azores’ beloved ‘priolo’ has now met the criteria to be eligable for a second downlisting in under a decade – this time to Vulnerable – for now we have every reason to feel bullish about the Azores Bullfinch’s future.

Young sperm whale born, video

This video says aout itself:

4 December 2014

This is the incredible moment a sperm whale gives birth, with several ‘midwives’ escorting the newborn to the surface for the baby’s first breath.

The footage and pictures show the pregnant mother swimming among a pod of the normally shy animals in the Azores.

But suddenly the female gives birth, with several other whales surrounding her.

Quickly the group usher the newborn towards the surface as the weak mother watches on.

The remarkable incident was captured by wildlife photographer Kurt Amsler.

See also here.

Cory’s shearwaters’ honeymoon on the Internet

This is a Cory’s shearwater video.

From BirdLife:

Watch the honeymoon of Cory’s Shearwaters from The Azores as it happens

By Alessia Calderalo, Mon, 20/10/2014 – 14:49

All of us have at some time wondered how a baby feels to be slowly discovering the world. But do we ever wonder how it is for animals? Do we ever ask ourselves how little chicks find the courage to fly away from their nests? Thanks to the project Lua de mel no Corvo (Honeymoon in Corvo) by BirdLife Portuguese Partner Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), we now have the chance to find out!

A key element of the project is an online live video accessible to anyone, showing the progress of Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea breeding pairs in the Azorean island of Corvo, from nest construction to raising the chicks. The Azores archipelago has the world’s largest breeding population of Cory’s Shearwater and this initiative aims to raise awareness of the responsibility of The Azores for the conservation of this emblematic bird.

It was a world first in 2011 when we had the chance to accompany a couple of Cory’s Shearwater as they honeymooned and raised their chick. Sadly, on that occasion, the chick was eaten by a domestic cat. The progress of this first pair was followed by more than 27,000 people in 70 different countries, a record that we hope to break this year as we follow a new couple and their chick, hatched in July.

Since the launch of this second edition, the project website has already received over 12,000 visits by people eager to follow the first flapping of the couple’s chick. During the first days of its life, the chick was guarded by its parents, but later the pair only visited it regularly to feed it. Soon, the chick will leave the nest for its first migration to the Brazilian and South African coasts, where it will spend the winter, only returning in six or seven years for its first breeding season.

Lua de mel no Corvo is only one element in a range of projects undertaken since 2009 by SPEA, the Regional Secretariat for the Sea, the Natural Park of Corvo Island and the Agricultural Service of Flores and Corvo Island, within the programme LIFE+ Safe Islands for Seabirds, with the aim of protecting seabirds in The Azores. Safe Islands for Seabirds was considered to be one of the best of Life+ projects by the European Commission in 2013. Activities include preventing predation by cats and rats, restoring coastal habitats and raising awareness of seabirds and the threats they face.

“We know that eggs and chicks predation, mainly by cats, occurs with a high frequency, since the new hatched chick is left alone most of the time while its parents are foraging for food in the ocean. At this moment, a domestic cat sterilization program is taking place to prevent the increase of wild populations”, said Tânia Pipa, SPEA’s Project Assistant responsible for the actions in Corvo.

The project Lua de mel no Corvo is supported by Portugal Telecom, the City Council of Corvo and the Azorean Government.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to witness first hand this beautiful natural phenomenon!

For more information, please contact: Joaquim Teodósio, SPEA Azores Coordinator, or Tânia Pipa, Post-Project LIFE Safe Island for Seabirds Assistant.

Scottish rats and Manx shearwaters, new research

This video from the Azores says about itself:

Releasing juvenile Manx Shearwaters in Corvo

26 Aug 2009

Some juvenile seabirds are attracted by artificial lights and fall in the village of Corvo during their first flights. We caught them, ringed them and released them the next morning.

From Wildlife Extra:

Rat tagged on Scottish isle

February 2014: In one of the first projects of its kind a rat on the Isle of Rum has been tagged and its travels round the island logged via satellite.

Researchers on Rum National Nature Reserve (NNR) hope the results (due at the end of this month) will help them understand the impact of brown rat behaviour on nearby colonies of the Manx shearwater seabird.

From April until September the Rum Cuillin come alive after dark with the sound of these amazing birds, no bigger than pigeons, returning to their breeding burrows after spending the winter off the east coast of South America. On Rum, they nest in burrows high in the mountains, fishing by day and returning to their nests at night.

Brown rats are recent colonists to the island and probably arrived on boats. As on all offshore islands where rats have jumped ship, they have an adverse effect on native species.

Understanding rat behaviour is vital to assess their likely impacts on Manx shearwaters and other species, as Lesley Watt, the SNH Rum reserve officer, explained.

“Rats are thought to be responsible for numerous global seabird population declines through predation on eggs, chicks and adult birds, though historically they have not been thought to have an impact on the Rum Cuillin colony,” she said.

“But we are concerned that rat numbers and predation may increase in the future. So we need to know more about the ecology of the rats to inform our future management policy for this globally import Manx shearwater breeding site.

“We are all intrigued about what we’ll find out when our roaming rat data is analysed and we view the results.”The rat-related work is part of a three-year Magnus Magnusson PhD studentship, funded by SNH and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Anglia Ruskin University is carrying out the work with the National Wildlife Management Centre, part of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

The way rats use their whiskers is more similar to how humans use their hands and fingers than previously thought, new research from the University of Sheffield has found: here.

RATS IN NYC NOT AS BAD AS PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT There could be only a mere 2 million. [HuffPost]