As you have probably read in the news, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has flared up again with a vengeance. As our study site is close to this area, all project work there has been suspended and there will be no community expedition as planned for late October / early November.
Maxim Koshkin, Askat Mukabaev + three local guides (Azamat, Janat and Shamil) are back from their 645 km camera-trapping trip and this is what they found.
Note that this is just what they found on the ground. The SD cards they brought back still need to be analysed and we will update everyone when we’ve done that.
The approach to the camera traps was conducted using horses, starting from the road running along the Western Karakol river. During the 3-4 hour ascent they observed two small groups of ibex (12 +13) moving west, including at least four male ibex. They also saw two bearded vultures, one Himalayan griffon vulture, two long-legged buzzards, one golden eagle, four ravens and one common snipe over the two days they spent in the area.
They reset and moved existing camera traps, changed SD cards and batteries.
They found no signs of snow leopard activity.
Here the team found possible snow leopard sign of activity at two of the three locations they visited (two scats and a scrape) and performed camera trap maintenance.
The team installed two camera traps at new locations along a major ridge line and possible snow leopard movement corridor, finding possible signs of activity, including a track and an old scat.
This site may be visited by snow leopards during a hunt as it is frequented by ibex according to local information. The team performed an SD card / battery swap, but found no sign of snow leopard activity.
We’ll be back with information about what’s on the SD cards and the 2019/2020 report with the results of last year’s long citizen science expedition and the results of this year’s short community expedition will be out soon too. Watch this space.
Thank you to our community camera trappers and the Ilbirs Foundation for organising the community expedition and to our donors for making it possible.
The vigias on the north of the islands have been keeping us busy. On 12 September, we had a large spread-out group of sperm whales, 10 individuals were identified between myself and a friend on another boat! Some of the individuals were previously seen in 2016. After a group of three females plus a calf dived, we headed off in search of a group of Risso’s dolphin. We were lucky and found them. They were also very spread out and it didn’t seem like I was going to get any ID photos, but in the end we found a few groups of mothers and calves that were more approachable. There was a leucistic (lighter colouration) calf seen, this is only the second “white” calf that I have seen. A local expert says this is the third light calf that she knows about. Usually Risso’s dolphin calves are born dark and get whiter as they age, but this one was already white, with the foetal folds showing as dark creases, instead of the other way around. One individual breached a few times and there were also a few lobtails, so it looked like there was some socialising going on. Photos were sent to the expert, who has studied the Risso’s dolphin off Pico for over 15 years. She recognised some of the individuals as part of the “Faial Ladies” group often seen around Faial, including Resa, who has been seen on previous expeditions. Other individuals were unknown. There have not been a lot of sightings of Risso’s dolphin this year and it is not clear why. One possible factor could be the disturbance caused by swimming with dolphins. Risso’s dolphins do not usually show much interest in boats, so to be targeting this species for swimming, probably causes more stress than in other species. They are also resident, so usually use certain areas for resting and feeding. If those areas were no longer suitable for resting or feeding because of disturbance, it is possible that they have moved to other less trafficked areas. We also spotted a loggerhead turtle basking at the surface.
On 13 September we were back to the north of the islands. In the morning I managed to get one sperm whale fluke, visibility was not great for spotting blows, so was happy with the one I got. We also had a sei whale and some pilot whales. In the afternoon, there were a lot of sperm whales spread out over a wide area to the north of Faial. A lot of distant breaches were seen in different directions. It appeared that a social group was going to form, since most of the whales that were approached, shallow dived, without showing their flukes, another indicator, along with breaching/lobtailing that indicates social behaviour, rather than feeding behaviour. In the end, I was lucky, two of the whales in the group that we chose to follow, fluked, just as we were giving up hope of seeing any flukes! Our patience was rewarded!
On 15 September, with the remnants of hurricane Paulette lurking on the horizon, we were out to the south of Pico, the most sheltered area. The vigia had seen a group of sperm whales, which turned out to be the “Nike” group and although she wasn’t seen, I did get a photo of “2529” and her calf as well as Nike’s calf from 2018.
The last trip before the windy weather arrived was also to the south of Pico on 17 September. We went out to try and find a sei whale that the lookout had seen, instead a group of sperm whales was found with the hydrophone about 10 miles off the coast. This group was last seen in 2019 to the north of Faial. On the way home, the lookout spotted the sei whales we had been looking for. They were quite elusive, but thanks to the help of a local fishing boat, we managed a glimpse of one of the individuals, before continuing towards Horta. Since then I have been stuck onshore, with the remnants of Paulette, passing by well to the west of the islands, causing strong winds in the Faial/Pico area.
So the team are heading into the mountains today from Bishkek to work with the community camera trappers, retrieve camera trap SD cards, service the camera traps and engage with the local community in the absence of a citizen science expedition this year.
They’ll be on horseback to speed things up. Watch this space for updates.
In the Azores (whales & dolphins) our scientist has been out on and off the water since April and has a written a detailed blog
In Germany (wolf), a small community expedition took place in July and there is also a blog
In the Tien Shan (snow leopard), our community camera trapping team have done very well to capture more snow leopard photos; the community expedition heads into the field tomorrow, after we had to postpone things earlier when the virus hit Kyrgyzstan hard during the summer – watch this space for more updates
In Pacuare, we are continued to run the project just with the local leaders, one research assistant and the biologist. The nesting season has now finished and we have closed the research station until next year, when we are hoping to reopen it again in time for next season, pandemic permitting.
The green turtle season was small and slow with just few nests, but because of this with a great success rate (almost 100%) of saving nests from poachers.
For leatherbacks, the hatchling numbers were similar to previous seasons (see reports about those here). The eventual poaching rate was around 40-50%, depending on the month.
Thank you again to all those who supported the continuation of work despite the pandemic. For most of you this was by donating from afar this year. But we hope to return in person in 2021 and our expedition dates in May 2021 are on the website. Do join us if you can!
After a few days of windy weather when we were unable to get to sea, we were finally back out on 9 September. We headed to the south of Pico, since the sea was going to be calmer there. We were lucky the whales were in an area without rain showers. I was expecting to see the “Whitehead” group, since it was the area they had been for a couple of months now. But much to my surprise it was the “1019” group!! I was able to get three out of five flukes from the adults, with colleagues getting one of the other individuals. “1019” was first seen in 1988, but then not again until 2006, when she was observed with “3186” and they have been seen together ever since. This group was first seen in 2020 in the middle of June for a week and then they vanished. September is a more typical time of year for them to turn up in the Azores, but they have sometimes been seen earlier. I do not know where they have been for the past 2.5 months, I will have to wait for photos from São Miguel and Pico to see if they were sighted there in the meantime. I do not think they would have gone down to the Canaries and back again in this time. They have been observed in the Canaries during the winter one year. We also saw a shy group of striped dolphin and a small group of feeding common dolphin. As we crossed the channel towards Faial, a rain shower finally caught up with us and although it didn’t last very long, it was very wet while it lasted!
On 10 September we were also back to the south of Pico, this time because no animals had been seen in the north, by the time we left. I wondered if we were going to see the “1019” group again, since they usually hang around for a while before continuing on their way. It was not to be, but there was another surprise. The “Nike” group, which is usually seen on the south of Pico most of the summer, was back in their usual area. I photographed one individual of this group to the north of the islands in the middle of July and have been expecting them to turn up on the south ever since. I did not see “Nike” herself or one other individual of the group, but did manage to photograph three adults and “Nike’s” 2018 calf. Getting a good photo of this individual was excellent, because I only had a photo of 3/4 of the fluke from 2018 from a side fluke photo. The matching program found the match straight away though, so now I have a full fluke photo to carry on with.
We also saw a pair of sei whales milling around, possibly feeding at depth. One of them was quite thin. This time of year, the whales should be finding a lot of food to fill out the “hollows” caused by not eating for four months or so while they are on their breeding ground. Hopefully it will find enough food over the next few months to survive. Both of the sei whales had nicks on the top of their dorsal fins at the leading edge, rather than the trailing edge. This type of nick is usually caused by monofilament line, slicing through the dorsal fin. We didn’t spot any dolphins and unfortunately missed a sighting of a whale shark. It disappeared about five minutes before we arrived to the area.
Our original terms & conditions under “Terms & conditions of Biosphere Expeditions Ltd. (Ireland)” still apply. The relevant sections are under the headings ” 4. Withdrawal by you” and “5. Change to expedition or cancellation by us”. In particular, and under pandemic conditions, this means that if we cannot run the expedition if the coronavirus situation does not allow us to do so at the time, then we will offer an alternative date to those signed up already and apply deposits paid to this new date, which will usually be around the same time the year after. The same applies if we do not have enough people signed up to an expedition to be able to run it. In addition, next to the offer of deferring to the same expedition at a later date, we will also offer those already signed up the chance to sign up to any other expedition on our portfolio for the next 15 months. Deferment terms will be handled very flexibly so that you can take whatever time you need to tell us which expedition you would like to defer to. If we do need to defer, we will tell everyone in good time, which means two months or more in advance. We also strongly recommend cancellation insurance for everyone, as we have always done. We do not offer this insurance ourselves, as we are not an insurance company, but there are many commercial options out there.