[CT Birds] Special Guest, Ornithologist David Wingate in CT

Brenda Inskeep binskeep at optonline.net
Wed May 9 20:52:18 EDT 2012

Greetings to all,

I had the pleasure of birding with ornithologist, David Wingate, this past Sunday in Central Park.  David is a fascinating and accomplished individual who is credited with helping rediscover the Bermuda Petrel or Cahow after it was thought to be extinct for 300 years, and also the Black-capped Petrel.  As a resident of Bermuda, he has dedicated his life to conservation of habitat and protecting Bermuda's birdlife, in particular, tropicbirds, terns and the Cahow.  On Thursday, David will be speaking at Greenwich Audubon about how he, then 15-years old, re-found the Cahow and spent his life saving it and many other seabirds.  David will be honored to have the birding community of Connecticut in attendance.  Those interested, see details below.  Hope you can join us...

Saving The Re-discovered ‘Cahow’ & Bermuda’s Other Seabirds:
With David B. Wingate
Thursday, May 10 ~ 7:00-8:30 pm @ Audubon Greenwich

In 1951, fifteen-year-old David B. Wingate helped rediscover the Bermuda Petrel, called the cahow by Bermudans. This bird was thought extinct for 300+ years. To save the Cahow and other endangered native birds, he began his life’s work in 1963 - restoring as much as possible of Bermuda’s pre-colonial ecology. Once a relatively numerous breeder (estimated 500,000 birds), the species was nearly driven to extinction by the introduction of mammals (pigs, dogs, cats and rats) during the 1500 and 1600’s and had essentially vanished by 1620. The cahow is making a slow but steady comeback under the watchful eye of David Wingate and the Bermuda Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Parks. The total world population was estimated at less than 200 individuals in 1996 and threats to further growth of the population remain.

RSVPs appreciated to Jeff at 203-869-5272 x239 or jcordulack at audubon.org

ABOUT THE CAHOW: The Bermuda Petrel, (Pterodroma cahow) is a gadfly petrel. Commonly known in Bermuda as the Cahow, a name derived from its eerie cries, this nocturnal ground-nesting seabird is the national bird of Bermuda, and a symbol of hope for nature conservation. It was thought extinct for 330 years. Its dramatic rediscovery as a "Lazarus species", that is, a species found to be alive after being considered extinct for centuries, has inspired documentary filmmakers.

The Cahows' eerie nocturnal cries stopped the early Spanish seafarers settling the islands out of superstition, as they thought the isles were inhabited by devils. Instead they put ashore hogs as a living foodstore for passing ships, and so began the onslaught on the Cahow's existence. Following Bermuda's colonization by the English, introduced species like rats, cats and dogs, and mass killings of the birds by early colonists decimated numbers. Despite being protected by one of the world's earliest conservation decrees, the Governor's proclamation "against the spoyle and havocke of the Cohowes," the birds were thought to have been driven to extinction since the 1620s.

In 1951, 18 surviving nesting pairs were found on rocky islets in Castle Harbour, and a program was set up by David B. Wingate to build concrete burrows and wooden bafflers for the nesting tunnels in order to keep out the slightly larger, competing 'Bermuda longtail', and to restore the nearby Nonsuch Island to be a future viable base for the species.

Enjoying legal protection, the species has started to make a good recovery, the main threat for the future is lack of suitable breeding habitat. Hurricane Fabian destroyed many nesting burrows in 2003, and recently the larger and ecologically-restored Nonsuch Island is being repopulated with chicks, their translocation timed so they will imprint on these surroundings.[1] This work is being undertaken by the present Bermuda Conservation Officer Jeremy Madeiros assisted by the Australian petrel specialist Nick Carlile. Nonetheless, the global population of this bird in 2005 was only about 250 individuals.

ABOUT MR. WINGATE: Dr David Balcombe Wingate is an ornithologist, naturalist and conservationist. He was born in Bermuda. In 1951 he helped Robert Cushman Murphy and Louis S. Mowbray re-discover a bird species thought extinct since the 1620s, the Bermuda petrel or Cahow. This spurred him on to study Zoology at Cornell University, returning to take on the challenge of saving the Cahow in 1958. He went on to become the Conservation Officer for the Bermuda Government Parks Department from 1966 to his retirement in 2000.

He was credited with rediscovering the Black-capped Petrel in Haiti in 1963. His lifelong efforts to bring back the Cahow from near-extinction led him to undertake the holistic restoration of an entire barren island's pre-colonial ecology, in a project known as the Nonsuch Island 'Living museum', reintroducing several other species in the process.
He has been honoured with a number of awards. These include the Queen's Honours (UK), the MBE and OBE; King's Honours (Netherlands), Ridder, Order of the Golden Ark; the United Nations' Global 500 Award and Dr.of Sci. Honoris causa, Clark University, Massachusetts. In 1991 he was awarded the Linnaean Society of New York's Eisenmann Medal. In 2007 he was nominated for the 2008 Indianapolis prize.

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