Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Supporting local birding in the Azores

Participants at the event take a break for coffee during a fascinating programme of talks and discussions. 
My final visit to the Azores this year was a return to Terceira in early November to speak at the II Encontro de Observação de Aves dos Açores, a recently launched annual initiative aimed at driving interest and participation in the fledging Azorean birding scene and inspiring local people to get involved. Good numbers of birders from elsewhere in Europe visit some of the islands, at least in October, but anything to encourage local activity can only be good for birds and birding in the archipelago. My talk was about developing birding skills, while others discussed conservation projects, habitats, the endemic Monteiro's Storm-petrel, the occurrence of vagrants, and a range of other subjects.

Swedish birder Staffan Rodebrand from www.birdingazores.com talking about vagrancy patterns in the islands.
I met a few old faces but quite a few new ones too, and it was great to see the enthusiasm exhibited by some relative newcomers to birding - like Nelson Moura, for example, a young birder from Santa Maria with many good finds already to his credit. What the islands need is some kind of local society to bring all of these people together and provide a focus for their activities. But there are problems to overcome, not least logistical issues - like the fact that the nine islands of the Azores are spread out over 420,000 square miles, with half the population of quarter of a million inhabiting the main island of São Miguel (if you thought the archipelago was the Portuguese equivalent of Scilly, think again). Nor is it easy to buy books on birds or even binoculars, so nurturing any local interest is not easy either. Hopefully, this will change over time.

Talking birds in the Azores, from left: Gerbrand Michielsen, Menno van Duijn, Miguel Ferreira,
Helena Guimar
ães, Justin Hart and the Rodebrands.
Time in the field was inevitably limited, but even with just a few hours to spare it was great to spend more time enjoying some quality birds, including American Wigeon, Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover, two each of Lesser Yellowlegs and Common Redshank (the latter rarer than the former here), and assorted gulls including at least two first-winter Mediterraneans. Is this last species now wintering regularly here, albeit in tiny numbers? One of many questions to ponder about Azorean birds, but in the meantime thanks to Gerbrand Michielsen and Ana Carvalho for the opportunity to be involved.

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