OSME’s first online Summer Meeting: The best thing to come out of lockdown!
Amid the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic, we found a global sense of community and a shared passion for birdlife in the OSME region.
A first for OSME
Our annual Summer Meeting in Thetford, England is always a great occasion, where members and friends gather to enjoy talks about the region and catch up over dinner. However, with many events cancelled or postponed across the UK this summer, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it became clear that our usual get-together at the BTO offices in Norfolk was not on the cards this year. Since virtual meetings are now part of most people’s work-from-home routine, our thoughts turned to how we could hold an online version of the event.
We made our first enthusiastic, if tentative, steps into planning one Monday night in June. As OSME Council members are based all around the UK and beyond, we connected via Zoom, and Monday nights soon became OSME night, as we met regularly to fine-tune plans for our first ever virtual Summer Meeting.
The in-person event usually attracts a crowd of about 50-60 faithful OSME members. So, when we started to publicise details of the online event registration at the end of July, just 3 weeks before the event itself, we were elated to exceed this number within the first 2 (!!) days. We continued to promote the event, including a big social media push, resulting in close to 200 registrations as event day approached.
The big day
On the Saturday of the Summer Meeting, we joined our speakers before the start time to check in and ensure that all the technicalities were taken care of. Everyone was very well-prepared, as expected, and there was a huge surge of excitement (and relief!) as attendees from 42 countries flowed into the meeting.
OSME Chairman Dr Rob Sheldon kicked off the event by welcoming everyone and reminding people they would have the chance to ask questions. Nick Moran then outlined how the online meeting would work and guided attendees through the various aspects of Zoom, and encouraged everyone to introduce themseleves using the chat function. Richard Porter, one of OSME’s founding members, then launched the main programme with a presentation about the many natural delights of the island of Socotra. The heartwarming letters and drawings by Socotran and Mongolian kids writing to each other about nature and bird migration, that he shared, were a particular crowd pleaser.
Next up was Dr Ghassan Ramadan-Jaradi, who gave us a whirlwind tour of the 404 Birds of Lebanon, shedding light on this small but surprisingly bio-diverse nation. He also shared news that hunting seems to be showing signs of a slight decline during lockdown, an issue attendees were keen to find out more about. We also learned of ongoing work to help educate young people about local wildlife, including projects partly funded by OSME.
One of the many highlights of the meeting was young birder, Zulfu Ferecli, who wowed the audience with his passion for nature and conservation in Azerbaijan. A truly inspiring talk that resulted in many people commenting that this fascinating Caucasian country and a trip to the Besh Barmag bottleneck were now firmly on their post-lockdown wish list.
Drawing the talks to a thoroughly absorbing conclusion, Dr Mimi Kessler’s presentation reported on an OSME region specialty and the heaviest living creature capable of flight: the Great Bustard. She revealed details of the work being done to monitor this bird on the Central Asian steppes and the non-invasive genomic research underway to better understand and help protect this declining species.
The final session was another novel idea for our Summer Meeting. Sandgrouse Editor, Dr Paul Donald, invited attendees to share thoughts on our respected, peer-reviewed journal, which OSME members receive twice a year. This resulted in a rich discussion and several suggestions, including ways to engage more with regional readers. Watch this space for updates.
After the exhilaration of the day, some of the OSME team met on a Zoom call to reflect and take stock. Overwhelmingly, we felt that there was (as one council member put it) ‘no going back’ and that we should, as 98% of attendees agreed, run more virtual meetings, whilst also getting together in person when that becomes possible again. Above all, we were unanimously delighted to see so many people from the region present and participating in the discussions.
This year will forever be associated with the trials of COVID-19, however for many of us, there have been some silver linings to come out of this otherwise testing time. The renewed blossoming of birdlife in Qatari waterways, snow leopards at the Big Almaty Lake and gazelles roaming the streets of Dubai suggest that, as humans are forced to limit their movement due to government imposed restrictions, nature is trying to recover. We also have access to more environmentally-friendly ways of connecting with like-minded individuals who share our interest in conservation. Here at OSME, we’re feeling invigorated by the positive energy of our first online meeting as well as an increased drive to continue on our journey to promote and preserve the birdlife of this wonderful region. We are especially excited at the prospect of doing this alongside new friends and supporters, as we believe that together, we can achieve even more.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who attended the meeting, including our fantastic speakers and a big shout-out to OSME Council members, who happily volunteered in their own time to make the event a success.
We will share details about future online events once plans are in place. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and if you would like to get involved, please contact us. We welcome contact from all those interested in supporting our work and would like to especially encourage OSME region country nationals and long-term residents to get in touch.
Sajidah Ahmad, OSME Secretary
The statistics: OSME Online Summer meeting 2020
Connecting with ornithologists, birders and enthusiasts in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia is a key part of OSME’s strategy, so we were pleased to see attendees from across much of the region. Lebanon, the UAE and Saudi Arabia made up the top 3 countries represented. In all, people from 19 different OSME region countries registered to attend and we hope to build on this for our next event.
We had 81 registrations from the OSME region, and it was great to see that 66 people from the UK, about the same number that attend the meeting in Thetford, were able to make the virtual meeting too. There was also considerable interest from the rest of Europe and other countries including the US, Australia and from the Indian sub-continent.
Event promotion resulted in 206 active engagements (registrations and/or attendance) leading to an almost exactly 50/50 split of members and non-members attending. Clearly, an online meeting is a great way of connecting with potential new supporters and widening our reach across the region and the rest of the world. Indeed, several new members signed up on the day of the meeting!
What they said – comments from attendees
One of the best things about the meeting was the ability to communicate with each other via the chat feature on Zoom and comments from the audience came in thick and fast throughout morning. Here are a few we wanted to share with you:
“This worked very well… a rare chance for me to attend after many years!! Well done! Great talks and discussions!”
“This was my first real exposure to the work of OSME. Fascinating presentations and thank you for organising this. I look forward to perhaps becoming involved in the organisation.”
“First time in a meeting although member since 1994; thanks OSME! “
‘’The virtual meeting has allowed many attendees from around the world that would unlikely be able to attend a more traditional meeting in the UK. It is really nice to see so many people from so many places and shows the community… I don’t think you can replace the traditional AGM as that allows a lot of discussion…’’
“Having this online is really great for those of us who would not be able to attend under “normal” circumstances”
“VERY WELL RUN and attended virtual conference. Virtual ‘conference’ donation just made online!”
“Fantastic experience and great job OSME as usual!”
“Agreed regarding the value of the virtual meeting; For various reasons (mostly being overseas) this is the first time I have been able to attend in my 15 years + of OSME membership…”
“Congratulations to all concerned – very well organised…. I wish the meetings I attend for work were like this :)”