Tuesday, May 16, 2023

SAPE 2023

I'd never been to a SAPE (Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution) conference before, partly because one hadn't happened for years. This year's meeting in Málaga had originally been scheduled for 2020, which would have been while I was studying for my PhD. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, had other plans, and ended up delaying the conference for three years.

This was not only my first SAPE, but also my first time in Spain, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. However, almost everything went reasonably smoothly for me, other than the fact that I am still recovering from a post-conference ailment—that's one thing I didn't miss about in-person meetings! As far as the conference itself was concerned, I found it very well organized, with a variety of planned activities and enough downtime in between to make it eventful without being hectic. It probably helped that it was a fairly small conference, allowing the talks to be spread out enough that one could attend all of them without feeling overwhelmed.

It was also nice to see this familiar face on Spanish television.

Speaking of talks, I gave another version of my presentation from last year's SVP, summarizing the results of my PhD research. Even more so than SVP last year, my labmates represented a large contingent among the attendees. In fact, the session I spoke in consisted almost exclusively of presentations by members of my supervisor's lab group! Many jokes were made about how we were essentially holding our weekly lab meeting at SAPE. Outside of my labmates' work though, some presentations I especially enjoyed included Phoebe McInerney's talk on dromornithid cranial anatomy, Jacob Blokland's talk on the phylogeny of Australian fossil ralloids, and Anaïs Duhamel's talk on studying the migratory behavior of fossil birds.

To me, one of the perks of traveling someplace new is of course the opportunity to see birds and other wildlife that I haven't seen before. The rich biodiversity of Spain was promising in this regard, and the organizers of SAPE this year did very well to capitalize on it by arranging two field trips with ample birding opportunities. First, there was a half-day excursion to Desembocadura del Guadalhorce, a nature reserve dedicated to conserving the estuary of the Guadalhorce river. The other spanned a full day, visiting El Caminito del Rey (a hiking trail along the side of a narrow gorge) in the morning and, after a surprisingly lengthy lunch, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra (a large saline lagoon) in the evening. In total, I saw over 70 species of birds in Spain, more than 30 of which I'd not seen in the wild previously. A few of my favorite sightings included greater flamingos, Eurasian griffon vultures, and endangered white-headed ducks.

Most of these birds were seen from a fair distance, so I didn't take many bird photos. However, here is a pair of Kentish plovers we spotted on the beach at Desembocadura del Guadalhorce.

Rock pigeons along El Caminito del Rey. It almost felt strange to encounter this species in such a naturalistic setting, but their mastery of this environment was immediately evident. You haven't truly seen rock pigeons unless you've seen them acrobatically catching updrafts along sheer cliffs like these.

A non-avian resident of the gorge, an Iberian ibex.

A distant view of Laguna de Fuente de Piedra. At the time of our visit, most of the water had dried up (as it does every so often), concentrating a decent number of flamingos, waterfowl, and shorebirds.

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