Thursday, 10 March 2011


White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper on the Azores, 2005When I was recently on the Azores I was reminded about certain things that led me to writing 'The Pioneers' for Birdwatch Magazine

About ten years ago when I first started going to the Azores I was surprised to see how many European migrants (and some American ones) regularly winter out on these Mid-Atlantic islands; (some recent observations here:)

It seemed 'illogical' to me that birds should travel all the way out there when they could quite easily stay local with plenty of available resources on the respective continents. However it then got me thinking that these birds were simply obeying in built (genetic) orders or instructions. However it was a dangerous journey to make if there was no need to travel that far so why should such behaviour occur in nature? It then reminded me about how 'wasteful and indifferent' nature can appear to be and got me thinking that there was more to out of range birds (or vagrants) than i had first appreciated. A thought occurred to me:

"Vagrants are explorers. They go beyond the limits of their normal range. They are like seeds that disperse, seeking new niches to fill, new opportunities and new territories. Like seeds, many fail to germinate and so they perish. However, a few persevere and the effects of this can have significant consequences. These survivors may prove to be trailblazers. Harbingers of colonisation, vagrants pioneer the development of a new migration arm. It is these wanderers that establish new wintering grounds and create a new staging post.

Common Nighthawk, Azores, October 2007

The story of avian vagrancy involves amazing journeys of discovery. Lost, deranged, brave or purposeful, vagrants come in all forms, shapes and sizes. Some have been caught up in storms, others are mad; some are adventurous, still more are physically sick, and others are intrepid colonists. However, they all have one thing in common: they are explorers, pushing the boundary of the species’ range, looking for new niches. As conditions change in the environment, vagrants are there, on the front line. They are the driving force behind the evolution of migration systems and the change in a species’ distribution ".

So I wrote this article which was published in Birdwatch in 2008 :

Hudsonian Godwit, The Azores, July 2007.


Mike said...

Fascinating ideas here on vagrancy and migration and your photos are phenomenal!

Peter Alfrey said...

Thanks Mike,
Not all my own photos in the article (or ideas :-) )
The original article in October/November 2008 had some really great shots in it including a Snowy Owl on a nudist beach. Where's my scanner? I'm gonna stick it on here.