Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Book review. North Atlantic Seabirds. Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels, by Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher

Flood Fisher Multimedia

Flood, B. & Fisher, A. 2016.  Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds. Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels.  [Isles of Scilly]: Pelagic Birds & Multimedia Identification Guides.  Illustrations by John Gale.  278 pp. + two CDs.  ISBN 978-0-9568867-2-9.  Hard cover, illustrated with paintings, photographs and maps.  www.scillypelagics.com.

A field guide and as described by the authors a “mini handbook” par excellence!  This book covers just 11 species in its 278 fact-filled and profusely illustrated pages.  At an average of 25 pages a bird this must be some sort of record for a guide.  The 11 species include five albatrosses (Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Black-browed, Grey-headed, Shy, Indian Yellow-nosed and Tristan), along with both giant petrels, the Northern or Arctic Fulmar (as two species) and the Pintado or Cape Petrel.  The geographical scope is stated to be the North Atlantic and Western Palaearctic.  Checking the accounts (and past posts on trans-equatorial albatrosses in ACAP Latest News) only three of the six albatrosses (Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and - surprisingly to me - Tristan) have been so far recorded within the region.  The other three are included as “potential vagrant confusion species”, mainly due their presence in the South Atlantic.  The Northern Giant Petrel also falls into this category.  The single Tristan Albatross record regarded by the authors as substantiated is from Palermo, Sicily deep into the Mediterranean. As my favourite albatross and a record I’d not previously known about, I quickly turned to the 18 pages devoted to the bird to find out more.  Among the 11 large – all excellent - photos and the 19 equally excellent paintings, I read that the Palermo record is of an immature male taken in 1957 and preserved.  All the sight records (around 20) of great albatrosses Diomedea north of the Equator in the Atlantic that are covered in the book cannot with certainty be assigned to either Tristan or Wandering.  The same problem occurs with the closely related pairs of Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, and with Southern and Northern Giant Petrels.  In each case only the former of each pair has got across the Atlantic equator; the other two are in as “confusion” species.

So what do you get for your 11 species?  A lot!  Information on alternative names, population size and trends, distribution (with a map), a detailed description (size, soft parts, feather tracts in exhaustive detail, plumage succession by age, and tips for field identification on appearance and flight.  The captions for the sometimes near full-page photos are really paragraphs describing each bird depicted in detail, particularly helpful for the age classes of the Tristan Albatross.

But the book has more.  Seventeen pages in their own chapter describe the intricacies – and pitfalls - of identification and ageing, a section on “confusion pairs (why that albatross is not a gannet, with expletives deleted, is worth a second read), references, detailed acknowledgements, a list of what’s on the two DVDs and an “ID Jogger” described as “a complete bullet-point summary of essential facts” that’s nearly 40 pages long.  There’s really too much to cover in a single review.

The book is the third in a series of four, the first, Storm-petrels and Buller’s Petrel; the second, on Pterodroma Petrels, were both published in 2013 by the same two authors.  Their fourth and last, expected soon, will be on shearwaters and the White-chinned Petrel, along with an index to all four volumes.  With eight ACAP-listed albatrosses and giant petrels in the review book, and two to follow in the fourth (Balearic Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel), just under a third of the current 31 ACAP-listed species will get the Flood & Fisher treatment.  A few other species identified in the past as possible candidates for ACAP listing should also appear in the last book, notably the Yelkouan Shearwater of the Mediterranean.

Sturdily bound with stitching, so I’m not expecting loose pages anytime soon (field guides can get a hammering).  It’s a hard cover with glossy pages that do the paintings and photos service and should hopefully stand up to a little dampness.

One seeming idiosyncracy.  The publisher is UK-based.  Why then American spelling with “Gray-headed” and “program” (when not referring to a computer program)?  Just the authors’ preference or the publisher aiming for a lucrative market across the pond?

A final thought comes to mind.  In my study library I have a few valued seabird and island books that are a 100-years old or approaching that age.  Most are in good to fair condition and all are perfectly readable.  I also have stored in a cupboard three old laptops, none of which work properly – or at all - and are sadly destined to become e-waste one day.  My current laptop, like the one before it, has no built-in CD drive.  Instead I’m required to use an external drive to spin CDs.  Will some as-yet unborn marine ornithologist who comes across North Atlantic Seabirds Albatrosses & Fulmarine Petrels in a second-hand bookshop or university library have to hand a device that can read its two CDs?  Perhaps she might even be uncertain quite what they are?  Guess this is one reason why I like the certainty of the printed word, but then I do date back to a different millennium.

Robert Flood Wandering Albatross Grytviken shrunk

In the book!  Bob Flood with a mounted Wandering Albatross in the Grytviken Museum in the South Atlantic

The senior author tells me he is recently back from having been “at sea much of [the] last six weeks”.  More books to be expected?  A self-styled “lifetime birder” Bob Flood has written to ACAP Latest News in support of World Albatross Day come 19 June: “As a child, I dreamt of sailing the southern oceans in the company of the seemingly ever wandering giant albatrosses.  My dreams became reality and throughout my adult life I have garnered so much pleasure simply by observing the magnificent albatrosses.  Nowadays, that pleasure is tainted by a deep concern of mine that the children of today will live through the extinction of some albatross species, leaving nothing but their avian ghosts crying out in the howling winds of the stormy southern oceans.  Surely we cannot let this happen”.  Amen!

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 09 March 2020

New china. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters take to artificial ceramic burrows in Hawaii

Wedge tailed ceramic nest shrunk

A one-week old Wedge-tailed Shearwater chick inside a ceramic nest, photograph by David Hyrenbach.

Authors David Hyrenbach (Hawai'i Pacific University) and Michelle Hester (Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge) have reported in the journal ‘Elepaio on the ongoing monitoring and restoration efforts at the Freeman Seabird Preserve by the Hawaii Audubon Society and Hawai'i Pacific University since 2009, sharing findings from the 2019 breeding season of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna pacifica, and discussing their plans for future monitoring, habitat restoration, and predator control at the site.

The following is taken directly from the publication:

“The monitoring data suggest that 2019 was another year of average phenology and chick productivity, in the context of the available time series (2009 – 2019).

“This was the first season the newly designed ceramic nests were deployed before shearwaters returned to prospect for breeding sites.  Six of the seven (85.7 %) nests with rock pile entrances were occupied by prospecting shearwaters, compared to none (0 of 7) of the nests with clay tunnels.  Birds laid eggs in 5 of the 6 occupied nests.  Because most burrowing seabirds have nesting site fidelity, it can take many years for breeders to select artificial nests.

“All five eggs hatched and four successfully fledged from the ceramic nests, with a fledging rate (4 of 5, of 80.0 %) comparable to that in the control nests (39 of 52, or 75.0%).

“Additional restoration and management efforts in 2020 will involve monitoring the colony and enhancing the breeding habitat at the Freeman Seabird Preserve.”

Reference:

Hyrenbach, K.D. & Hester, M. 2020.  2019 shearwater nesting at Freeman Seabird Preserve: highest breeding pairs, average chick success, and first eggs in ceramic homes.  Elepaio 80(2): 13- 14.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 07 March 2020

An exhibition marking World Albatross Day on 19 June is being constructed at the National Museum of Natural History, Mdina – Malta

Scopolis Searwater John Borg

Scopoli's Shearwater at sea, photograph by John Borg

Mediterranean pelagic seabirds, like their big cousins, are continuously facing threats through human activities.  Accidental by-catch is not confined to the southern oceans, our three species of shearwaters are regularly caught on fishing lines in the Mediterranean.  Urbanization poses a threat to seabird colonies with light and sound pollution reducing their breeding success as well as the ever-increasing threat from alien predators.  Cats, rats and polecats all prey on the eggs and young of storm petrels and shearwaters.

The Maltese Islands, lying in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily and north of the Libyan coast, host important colonies of Scopoli’s Calonectris diomedea and globally Vulnerable Yelkouan Puffinus yelkouan Shearwaters, as well as the largest known colony of Mediterranean Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis.  Seabirds in Malta have been studied since the late 1960s through a bird ringing programme run by BirdLife Malta.  Since 1982, the breeding biology of these birds has been studied and the initial results showed that Malta had the lowest fledging success of Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters in the region.

In 2006 the first of three EU Life projects was initiated and it focused on the largest colony of Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta, at Rdum tal-Madonna on the north-east coast of Malta, a breeding colony of about 500 pairs.  This colony was facing numerous threats including predation on eggs and young by rats, to the extent that for almost fifteen years not a single chick fledged from any of the study nests.  Soon after the rat population was brought under control, the birds started increasing, new areas were colonized and the breeding success rapidly increased.  Furthermore, the tiny storm petrel started to visit these cliffs and some years later breeding was confirmed.

John Borg Scopolis chick Joe Sultana shrunk

John Borg, National Museum of Natural History holds a Scopoli's Shearwater chick, photograph by Joe Sultana

Nowadays we have a much better understanding of where our birds go to feed and where they spend their post-breeding period.  Nevertheless, we still have numerous gaps in their life cycles. These birds are still facing serious threats at sea as well as from land.  In this respect, this year, the National Museum of Natural History, Mdina in collaboration with BirdLife Malta (EU LIFE seabird team) will be holding an exhibition commemorating World Albatross Day.  The exhibition will highlight the plight of these pelagic birds but will also look at the various advances in our knowledge in the life cycle of these birds.

TNational Museum of Natural History Mdina MALTA John Borg shrunk

The National Museum of Natural History, Mdina, photograph by John Borg

The exhibition will highlight the various threats such as accidental by-catch, predation by alien species, the effects of light and sound pollution as well as direct persecution and the important role of seabirds in the ecosystem through various displays.  We shall highlight various studies, methodologies and equipment used to monitor the shearwaters and storm petrels in the Maltese Islands over the last 50 years.

The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) will be commemorating World Albatross Day on 19 June – when the exhibition will open (and run to year end).  There are 31 different species listed in this agreement and while Malta and the rest of the Mediterranean has no albatross species, one species of procellariid; the Yelkouan Shearwater has been identified as a potential candidate for ACAP listing.

Work on the exhibition is now underway, display material for six showcases highlighting various topics are being chosen from the museum specimens, a life-sized fibre-glass model of a Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans is being prepared by the museum artist and this will be the highlight of the exhibition.  A number of original photographs measuring about 1x1.5 m of different albatross species, as well as the three procellarids breeding within Malta, are at the printers; these will line the exhibition walls.

John J. Borg, Senior Curator, National Museum of Natural History, Mdina, Malta, 06 March 2020

An ACAP-listed Black Petrel caught and rehabilitated in Ecuador survives to pair up in a burrow in New Zealand 13 years later

Black Petrel Edward Marshall 

Black Petrel, photograph by Edward Marshall

A banded globally and nationally Vulnerable Black Petrel/Takoketai Procellaria parkinsoni chick which fledged from Great Barrier Island/Aotea, New Zealand in 2001 was caught alive at sea on a vessel in Ecuador in 2007, according to a post on Wildlife Management International’s Facebook page.

“In Ecuador, the bird, then six years old, was disorientated when it was caught and didn’t want to fly, despite not having any injuries.  The crew cared for the bird for four days at sea, took it back to port for further care and additional food, and then released it alive when they returned to sea a couple of days later.”

The bird was recaptured for the first time at the Aotea study colony in a marked burrow near the summit of Mount Hobson/Hirakimata on 10 February 2020 at the age of 19 years, The bird was with another Black Petrel in the study burrow, so it is possible they may pair up and breed.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 March 2020

The threatened Yelkouan Shearwater gets an international research project to study its movements at sea

Yelkouan map 

The globally Vulnerable Yelkouan or Mediterreanean Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan is endemic to the Mediterranean and Black Seas.  At risk from fisheries at sea and introduced predators and light pollution on land, it has been identified in the past as a potential candidate for listing by ACAP.

In response to its unfavourable conservation status the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of Spain’s University of Barcelona have commenced a new study of the biology and ecology of the shearwater at a global scale in the Mediterranean.  Collaborators in the project come from Crete, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Tunisia and the United Kingdom, with funding from a Swiss foundation.  The project is being led by Raül Ramos, from the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Barcelona.

“As part of the project, during 2020, the experts will study at the same time the space ecology (with miniaturised GPS) of five colonies of seabirds and will add data from previous studies to create a global evaluation gathering up to eight different populations in the Mediterranean.  The project will provide unpublished data to help define the main feeding areas for the Mediterranean Shearwater in the natural environment, the overlap between different populations, the nutrition pattern and areas of coincidence between fishing boats and seabirds.  Moreover, the experts will apply geolocation technology to see the migration patterns and hibernation areas of these birds (estimated to be in the Black Sea) in order to shape the annual distribution of each population and the general biological cycle of this endangered species.”

Read more here.

Reference:

Cooper, J. & Baker, G.B. 2008.  Identifying candidate species for inclusion within the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Marine Ornithology 36: 1-8.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 March 2020, updated 05 March 2020

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