On the Road with Ross

The workshop was part of our Common Oceans project, and the main element that Bronwyn Maree is running (as well as overseeing the delivery of the whole shebang). We were gathered to discuss the way forward for conducting the first ever evaluation of total seabird bycatch from tuna longliners in the Southern Ocean. Several experts were invited to assist our target audience, a core of national scientists from Brazil, Uruguay, Seychelles, Mozambique, South Africa, and some Asian fleets, who hold, manage or work with the datasets that will have to be utilised. This is really ground-breaking stuff, and we didn't want to dictate process to anyone (not least because we didn't really know what would be possible or acceptable). Instead our approach was rather to try and work through a complicated agenda to reach consensus. That approach was very successful, and we ended the workshop with a clear direction to take forward at our second regional workshop, taking place in Vietnam in the first week of April.

Part of the success of the week-long workshop was the setting. For many participants it was their first visit to Africa or to an African game reserve. We made a point of taking everyone out on drives, and built in some fun activities to the official workshop agenda. There's no doubt that, as a result of the amazing setting and activities, everyone felt motivated and positive to contribute to the outcome! For me, as usual, sighting mammals is an incidental past-time while I look for birds. But I had to put the birding on the back-burner (well, as much as I could) while searching successfully for the big 5 and the other iconic beasts. I was able to do a bit of birding, including early mornings in Skukuza rest camp. Major highlights were two lifers – Eastern Long-billed Lark and Coqui Francolin, and a serendipitous but exceptionally satisfying view of Bronze-winged Courser. Kruger was quite different, with the massive drought still at play in the north, and so the bird community was pretty extraordinarily different from last year's BirdLife South Africa event in Skukuza – LAB and Flock. Some birds were amazingly thin on the ground (two Jacobin Cuckoos, and no Striped Cuckoos!). And others were almost absurdly abundant, e.g. there were more European Rollers than you could shake a stick at – they became a standing joke on all drives.

Our workshop in Vietnam will hopefully build on the good progress made in Kruger. We will have one day, mid-conference, to take a break. And I'll be doing some birding on that day. Dom Rollinson, my PhD student who undertook a lot of research onboard Korean tuna longline vessels, will be contributing to the workshop, no doubt he'll join Bronwyn and me on the bird-focused daytrip! Stay tuned…

Monitoring penguin predators
On the high seas

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