Saving Atlantic islands birds

This video from the Canary islands says about itself:

Three wild canaries eating birdseed in my garden in Tenerife.

From BirdLife:

Saving Macaronesia’s biodiversity, one species at a time

By Tânia Pipa, Mon, 12/10/2015 – 06:10

Macaronesia (no relation to the Micronesia archipelago in the Pacific Ocean), is a collection of four archipelagos in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa. They are the Azores and Madeira islands (Portugal), the Canary islands (Spain) and Cape Verde. BirdLife is one of the few international NGOs working at all these archipelagos, thanks to the work of SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal), SEO (Birdlife in Spain) and Biosfera (Cape Verde).

All four island groups are incredibly rich in biodiversity; despite representing only 0.2% of EU territory, Macaronesia hosts over a quarter of the plant species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. But teeming plant and animal life comes with its own set of problems, from the threat of extinction to invasive alien species and habitat destruction. This is a summary of the work carried out there by SPEA, both on land and in the open seas.

Working in the Laurel Forest

The Laurissilva, also known as the laurel forest, is a subtropical and humid type of forest that only survives in the Maraconesian archipelagos. It is home to an incredible number of endemic species and subspecies, and hosts some of the least-known and more threatened birds in Europe.

SPEA’s work began there in 2002 with a small passerine: the Azores Bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), commonly known as Priolo. This bird, an endemic species which only lives in the Serra da Tronqueira (a Natura 2000 site on the eastern side of São Miguel Island) was Critically Endangered – only 200 breeding pairs existed. After years of conservation efforts and three LIFE Projects, the Bullfinch has been downlisted to Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The population is now estimated to be 1,300 individuals.

Today, SPEA’s work with laurel forest birds continues, and the latest example is the EU funded project LIFE Fura-bardos, which aims to study and protect the rarely seen Macaronesian Sparrowhawk subspecies (present only in Madeira and the Canaries). Using this species as an indicator for the forest’s wider biodiversity, SPEA will identify management measures that can be applied in similar forests.

Saving the seabirds

The Macaronesian islands are vital breeding areas for several species of seabirds, which are one of the most endangered groups of birds in the world. Seabirds are threatened by habitat destruction, invasive mammals, artificial lights, fisheries bycatch, overfishing and marine litter, among other things. In 2008, SPEA (together with SEO) was amongst the first in the EU to publish a detailed inventory of the marine IBA network, leading the way forward in marine conservation.

Both of Madeira’s threatened petrels, the Zino’s petrel (Pterodroma madeira) and the Desertas Petrel (Pterodoma deserta), have been a top priority for SPEA (in collaboration with the Madeiran Natural Park). SPEA has been working to control or eradicate invasive species such as cats, rabbits and mice, which has contributed decisively to the successful recovery of both species of petrel.

On the Azores’ smallest Island, Corvo, the LIFE project Safe Islands for Seabirds evaluated the impact of invasive rodents, feral cats, goats and sheep on one of the most emblematic seabird species in the Azores, Cory’s Shearwater (85% of the world population of Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris borealis breeds on the Azores and Madeira archipelagos).

This project found that cats caused the most harm, destroying 84% of all nests and eggs damaged by predators. Habitat restoration and the construction of Europe’s first predator-proof fence were among the measures used to mitigate the impact on seabirds.

Light pollution – a major threat to juvenile seabirds – is another area where SPEA is taking action in Macaronesia. Over the last 20 years in the Azores and 5 years in Madeira, a huge and successful campaign involving volunteers, local organisations, city halls and SPEA has helped regional governments rescue and release thousands of Cory’s Shearwater juveniles impacted by artificial lights.

This is proof that no conservation measure cannot be successful without local support: allowing local people to explore, be aware and participate in the preservation of natural heritage, which at the same time leads to sustainable development of their communities.

Good news for seabirds in Portugal

This video from Britain is called BBC Natural World – Saving Our Seabirds – Full Documentary.

From BirdLife:

New protected areas announced for seabirds in Portugal

By SPEA/BirdLife Europe, Thu, 08/10/2015 – 13:43

Good news for seabird conservation in Portugal, as the country’s government approves the designation of two new Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

As well as the approval of the Cabo Raso and Aveiro/Nazaré sites, two existing SPAs are also being expanded at Cabo Espichel and Costa Sudoeste. The decision was based on seabird monitoring data, collected along the Portuguese coast over the past ten years. BirdLife’s Portuguese Partner SPEA, the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds, says the Portuguese Government’s decision is the first step towards comprehensive marine conservation and seabird protection in Portugal.

The new marine protected areas are designated under European legislation (the Birds Directive) and will enhance the conservation of migrating seabirds along the Portuguese coast. This is also a boost to the Natura 2000 network, the EU-wide network which safeguards wildlife protection and habitats. It comes at a crucial time for the network, with the Birds and Habitats Directives (the laws that led to the network’s creation) both under the microscope as the European Commission carries out a ‘Fitness Check’ on them. Nature conservation groups have already urged the Commission not to re-open the directives and also to make sure they are better implemented.

These new and expanded sites will add to the existing Portuguese marine SPA network, offering protection to important feeding and resting areas used by the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater and other seabirds.

Joana Andrade, SPEA’s Marine Conservation Department Co-ordinator, said: “The identification of the proposed sites for SPA designation is based on the work developed by SPEA and different partners who, over the past decade, have focused on seabird monitoring and on the study of their behaviour at sea, under different projects co-financed by the European Union.”

“Seabirds are the most endangered group of birds in the world and the legal protection of these marine areas is essential for seabirds conservation. However, this work can only be achieved through the establishment of appropriate management plans and through a model of public participation, engaging with stakeholders such as fishermen and economic agents among others, since they will be the key agents for the practical implementation of management plans.”

There are around 30 seabird species regular occurring along the Portuguese mainland coast. In addition to the breeding species (such as Cory’s Shearwater and Audouin’s Gull), many other birds use Portuguese waters during their migratory routes and as feeding grounds, resting and wintering areas. Some of these species occur in significant numbers when compared with their European or global populations, including the Northern Gannet and the Balearic shearwater (the most endangered seabird in Europe).

Sagres birdwatching festival in Portugal

This video is about a crested lark singing in Algarve in Portugal.

From BirdLife:

Why you should be excited about the 2015 Sagres birdwatching festival

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Mon, 14/09/2015 – 13:48

To the uninitiated, birdwatching may sound like an esoteric hobby reserved for scientists and people obsessed with birds. However, numerous international bird festivals – such as the Birdwatching Festival and Nature Activities in Sagres, Portugal – have sought to change that over the years.

The sixth edition of the fest, which will be held from 1-4 October, 2015, includes not just birdwatching, but also bird ringing, dolphin watching, scuba diving, hiking and workshops on environmental education, among other things (full list here), to make it more accessible to a larger audience of families, students and casual nature lovers. Register here for the event of your choice.

The event, part of the Europe-wide Euro Birdwatch 2015, is organised by the municipality of Vila do Bispo, with Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA, or BirdLife in Portugal) and the Almargem Association as partners.

Sagres in southwest Portugal is a great place for birdwatching: It has a large diversity of habitats, from sea cliffs and coastal maquis to farmlands, woodland, sand dunes and the sea itself. Due to its geographical location in the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, migrants that follow the coastline or the coastal valleys gather in Sagres from August to November before continuing their journey south.

The region is Portugal’s major migratory corridor for storks, eagles, vultures, buzzards and falcons. It is also a great place to watch many seabirds (thousands of Northern Gannet, petrels, Cory’s Shearwater and Balearic Shearwater pass along the coast), steppe species and passerines. This is why the festival’s dates, in early October, are strategically scheduled: the diversity of birds of prey is starting to peak, many long-distance seabird migrants are still around, passerines are still passing through and wintering birds are starting to arrive.

Over the years, the area has also been witness to a number of rare species, such as the Eurasian Dotterel, the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Sabine’s Gull and the Red-breasted Flycatcher, among numerous others.

There is a more serious science aspect to all of this as well: the migratory birds passing through will be counted at counting stations manned by experienced birdwatchers and scientists. The numbers will be collected by SPEA and then passed on to this year’s European counting centre in the Netherlands, which will publish a report on the migration of birds through Europe.

And it’s not just the birds and birdwatchers that benefit. “The event has been contributing to consolidate Vila do Bispo as an important destination for nature tourism, attracting more and more domestic and foreign visitors,” says Adelino Soares, president of the Vila do Bispo municipality. “The investment in this initiative, which takes place in low season, has a positive effect in the remaining months of the year, with tourists to return and take advantage of the services of local businesses partners of the festival.”

Swinhoe’s storm-petrels in the Atlantic

This video from Scotland says about itself:

Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel – 2nd Fair Isle record! 2 in two weeks!

7 August 2013

Ringing and Documenting Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel – Oceanodroma monorhis – August 7th 2013 2:30am. 8th record for Britain – 2nd for Fair Isle and Shetland! Both Fair Isle Records in the past 2 weeks! Caught at night with mist nets and sound recordings. Congrats to Dr Will Miles & Fair Isle Bird Observatory Warden David Parnaby. Also present Shetland Legend Denis Coutts & the young Logan Johnson the only birders to come to Fair Isle in the hope that the 1st Swinhoe’s would be recaptured but they were rewarded with a new unringed bird! Read more here.

From the Journal of Ornithology:

24 June 2015

Searching for a breeding population of Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel at Selvagem Grande, NE Atlantic, with a molecular characterization of occurring birds and relationships within the Hydrobatinae

Mónica C. Silva, Rafael Matias, Vânia Ferreira, Paulo Catry, José P. Granadeiro


Long-distance dispersal plays a critical role in population dynamics, particularly in species that occupy fragmented habitats, but it is seldom detected and investigated. The pelagic seabird Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma monorhis, breeds exclusively in the NW Pacific. Individuals have been regularly observed in the Atlantic Ocean since the 1980s, but breeding has never been confirmed.

In this study, we searched for evidence of breeding of Swinhoe’s Storm-petrels on Selvagem Grande Island, NE Atlantic, between 2007 and 2013. During this period, six individuals were captured, sexed and characterized molecularly for two mitochondrial loci, cytochrome oxydase I and the control region, to confirm species identity, survey genetic diversity and estimate evolutionary relationships within the Hydrobatinae.

These individuals were confirmed to be Swinhoe’s Storm-petrels, and all except one are females. Phylogenetic analyses suggest sister relationship with Matsudaira’s Storm-petrel and dismiss misidentifications with other dark rump species. Patterns of genetic variation suggest that dispersal occurred likely by more than a single female. Despite the record of a pair duetting in a burrow, breeding could not be confirmed.

Swinhoe’s Storm-petrels are regularly occurring at Selvagem Grande, but capture/recapture patterns suggest that a possible breeding population is small and likely not self-sustaining. In seabirds, long-distance dispersal events may facilitate colonization of new habitats created in the context of predicted climate change impacts on the marine ecosystems.

Saving seabirds in Portugal

This 2014 video is about a young Cory’s shearwater on the Berlengas islands in Portugal.

From BirdLife:

Exotic plants, invasive rats, and fishnets

By Nuno Barros, Fri, 03/07/2015 – 15:21

Crystal clear waters, rough steep cliffs and vibrant seas teeming with marine life are a typical scene off Portugal’s mainland and offshore islands. It sounds like a vacationer’s or scuba diver’s paradise, but for some seabird species it’s also the perfect place to nest and feed. Although they are amongst Europe’s most threatened group of birds, seabirds can still be found breeding in Portugal’s Azores, Madeira and Berlengas Archipelagos.

SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) has been doing a great job to make sure it stays this way. They have been demonstrating how site specific protection works, and that Natura 2000, Europe’s largest network of protected areas established under the Birds and Habitats Directives, can serve as a foundation for marine conservation.

The Berlengas, only 6 nautical miles from the Portuguese mainland were initially set aside to protect the Common Guillemot. But because of a history full of neglect, the very species the reserve was created for is now sadly only part of the islands past as it has not been seen nesting here in over a decade. To stop other seabirds from sharing a similar fate, the islands are now at the heart of an EU LIFE Project run by SPEA. They are doing whatever they can to restore the Berlengas islands to their natural condition for seabirds and endemic/native plants, or at least, as close as possible to what they once were.

This has meant removing exotic plants and replacing them with native species and battling against invasive species like rats which often eat seabird eggs and chicks. Artificial nests are also being added and are quite effective because they offer protection against bad weather, from predators and other seabirds competing for space. They’ve also been working with fishers to find ways to prevent birds from getting accidentally entangled in fishing gear. Cory´s Shearwater, European Shags, and the only “continental” population of Band-rumped Storm Petrel are some of the seabirds that will benefit from all these activities. Sounds like an ambitious venture, but SPEA has shown it’s achievable because of a similar project recently finished, Safe Islands for Seabirds, in the remote Corvo Island in the Azores. It was so successful it even won one of 2013’s ‘Best LIFE’ Nature Projects award.

SPEA has also been working in the Graciosa Islets of the spectacular Azores Archipelago. The Azores is the only place in the world where Monteiro´s Storm Petrel is found, so it is a very special place indeed. There are just 250-300 pairs in existence and they only breed on two of the islets here. So far these petrels have been safe from ground predators, but there is always a risk that an invasive mammal species such as rats will swim ashore and cause disaster. It wouldn’t take much to wipe out these colonies completely. SPEA is now working on developing an action plan for the petrel so that the government will have the knowledge and tools in place to safeguard the species into the future.

Perhaps one of SPEA’s oldest fights has been convincing their government that the first step in conservation of sensitive marine areas should be the extension of Natura 2000 to the marine environment through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). So far only the Madeiran SPAs and little more have been established, but SPEA hasn’t given up this fight and there is some optimism that the Portuguese government will listen soon…