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]

New orchid species discoveries on Azores volcano


This shows details of the flowers of Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, a newly recognized and exceptionally rare orchid recently discovered on the Azorean island of São Jorge. Credit: Richard Bateman

From LiveScience:

New Orchid Species Found on ‘Lost World’ Volcano in the Azores

By Douglas Main, Staff Writer

December 10, 2013 07:32am ET

For years, there was only one formally recognized species of orchid on the Azores, a cluster of volcanic islands west of Portugal, though some claimed there were two species. However, a recent, three-year study to describe these Azorean flowers found that three species of orchids exist on the islands, including two that are newly recognized.

One of the new species was found atop a remote volcano and is arguably Europe’s rarest orchid, said Richard Bateman, a botanist at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. Researchers were surprised to find the new species atop the volcano, which had “a really ‘Lost World’ feel to it,” he told LiveScience.

The orchids likely originate from a single species that arrived by seed millions of years ago. They soon developed smaller flowers, unlike their ancestors, which had large blooms. The most widespread orchid on the island, the short-spurred butterfly orchid (Platanthera pollostantha), is known for these small flowers, Bateman said. [Photos: The Orchids of Latin America]

Analysis of other orchids found on the islands soon turned up another species, known as the narrow-lipped butterfly orchid (Platanthera micrantha).

But then scientists happened upon an even rarer and more striking orchid, with large flowers, like those of the plants’ ancestors. “In a sense, evolution has reversed itself,” Bateman said. This species, now known as Platanthera azorica or Hochstetter’s butterfly orchid, was originally collected more than 170 years ago, but hadn’t been further studied or recognized as a unique species.

Mónica Moura, a researcher at the University of the Azores, happened upon the flower, and noticed it was different. “I immediately recognized the flowers as being exceptionally large for an Azorean butterfly orchid,” Moura said, according to a release describing the study.

The new species require urgent conservation; the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global environmental organization, currently lumps all of these into a single species, which is incorrect, Bateman said.

The two rare orchids are threatened by invasive species and habitat destruction, Bateman said. Much of the unique dwarf forests that once covered the Azores—and in which the rare orchids are found—have been destroyed by inefficient dairy farming and other development, Bateman added.

Like many other orchids, the two rare orchid species have symbiotic relationships with fungi that allow them to survive. Without a certain type of fungi, the seeds can’t germinate, Bateman said. It’s possible these rare species can only survive in the presence of a single fungal species, which helps them germinate and supplies them with nutrients as adult plants, he said. More widespread species can likely partner with a variety of fungi, he added.

Azores bullfinch news


This video from Portugal is called SPEA Azores Bullfinch LIFE Priolo Project.

From BirdLife:

Home of the Azores Bullfinch receives tourism charter

Wed, Oct 24, 2012

Terras do Priolo (Lands of the Priolo) is the name given to a remote and beautiful area in the eastern part of the island of São Miguel in the Azores, the only place on earth in which the Endangered Azores Bullfinch, or Priolo Pyrrhula murina, is found. Nearly half its territory is included in protected areas.

Now Terras do Priolo has been awarded the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas by the EUROPARC Federation Council. The Charter is a practical management tool that enables all relevant stakeholders to work in partnership to develop a common sustainable tourism strategy and action plan, while maintaining and improving the conservation value of the area in the long term. The Charter has currently been assigned to 107 national parks and other protected areas in 13 countries.

Lands of Priolo comprise the only territory where the rare Azores Bullfinch exists, in the eastern councils of São Miguel Island in Azores (Portugal). In 2012 this area was awarded with the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST) and since then it has engaged all local stakeholders to promote sustainable tourism and conservation in the area: here.

Azores seabirds: here.

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