05 August 2008

Dull but rare

Once again Macaronesia beckons; a plan has been hatched and the flights booked. This year, in addition to the hot-spots of Cabo da Praia and Corvo, the trip will take in a little laurisilva and its famed avian occupant the Priolo. The habitat used to cover most of the Azores and the bullfinches were widespread too. However, agriculture, timber and firewood have all proved more popular than laurel forest during the last 100 years and, as of now, there are only a few fragments of the native vegetation left which, along with bird, are restricted to the Serra da Tronqueira, São Miguel.

The entire population of the dull-looking wee beastie is estimated to be just 400 individuals (it has been lower), allowing it to claim two of the least celebrated titles in European avifaunal circles: a. most threatened passerine in Europe; and b. the bird most likely to marry its cousin. Unsurprisingly, it is listed as critically endangered by BirdLife which is why a, less than brilliant, drawing of it adorns this year's Birdfair programme. Gotta say though, it's up against some stiff competition on that cover,... of course, as long as a Spoon-billed Sand turns up in the Cabo quarry, I'll be happy.

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