December 2008

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  December 2008

Ping pong merrily on high

The thought of splashing around in cold water in the garden at this time of year would fill most of us with dread. But for the birds that visit our homes, this chilly dip offers a lifeline.
And that’s why we are appealing to gardeners to help birds with their bathing this winter, and are suggesting safe, easy and effective ways to prevent bird baths freezing over.
Get ready for the freeze
With the Met Office recording the coldest start to winter in over thirty years, and warning of more sub-zero temperatures to come, gardeners are likely to get frustrated hacking away at frozen baths each morning. But simple steps like placing ping pong balls or corks into the water could banish this chilly start to the wildlife-friendly gardener’s day.
In freezing conditions birds will become more dependent on water provided in gardens, since many natural sources of water are frozen over.
Richard James, RSPB wildlife adviser, says: 'Most birds, especially small ones, need to drink at least twice a day. Being able to rely on supplies in gardens can make a huge difference.
'Birds also need water for feather washing. Bathing and preening are essential to keep feathers in good condition. And keeping in good condition helps birds get around, find food, and evade predators.'
Corking ideas
We suggest placing a ping pong ball, tennis ball or cork in unfrozen water. Movement of these items in the wind keeps the water agitated, making it less likely to freeze.
You could also use short lengths of garden cane or twigs in a similar way. They would also provide a great perch for birds.
Even if this just keeps a small amount of water ice-free, it still means birds have vital access to something to drink and bathe in.
We also recommend that instead of pouring hot water directly onto ice, a pan of hot water placed on top will have the same effect, but without the risk of cracking your birdbath. Boiling water directly on ice could lead to material like stone, which is often used in bird baths, to fracture.
Richard continues: 'Some nights, icing over is unavoidable, as temperatures drop significantly. So another good tip is to line your birdbath with a sheet of plastic or a bin liner, so that the ice can be simply lifted out each morning and left on the ground to thaw out naturally. You can then refill the birdbath with fresh, clean water.
The difference between life and death
'Providing food and water for garden birds at this time of year can be the difference between life and death. These small things can often make a difference, and keep the birds in your garden in better condition.'
RSPB Supporter Dianne Asplin says: 'I can’t imagine how birds dive into the cold water in my bird bath at this time of year but they seem to love splashing around. I love watching them shake themselves off afterwards as if to say ‘brrrr…that was chilly!’
'I do all I can to stop the water from freezing and if some of these things reduce the mornings I have to go outside in my dressing gown to try and thaw the water out it would make life so much easier!'

Crossrail deal boosts hopes for ailing wildlife at Wallasea

Material excavated from beneath London for Crossrail’s new cross-capital rail link is to be used to create a huge wildlife reserve in Essex, England. Clay, chalk, sand and gravel taken from the construction of Crossrail will be transferred by ship to Wallasea Island, which the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) will transform into 1,500 acres – nearly 4 square km - of tidal wildlife habitat.
The agreement links Europe’s largest construction project with the continent’s biggest coastal habitat creation scheme. The project, to help replace wildlife sites damaged by climate change, was announced a year ago but depended on raising at least £12 million. Plans subsequently altered and costs have risen.
Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said: “This is a fantastic agreement that one year ago we could never have imagined. Wallasea will be the RSPB’s most ambitious and innovative habitat recreation scheme. It will create a huge new area for birds and other wildlife whose existing habitats are being damaged and lost because of climate change. This is a ground-breaking deal between one of the UK’s leading enterprises and an environmental charity. It is absolutely wonderful news for wildlife”.
The Crossrail proposal was given Royal Assent in July and the 117 km rail link across London will be Europe’s largest civil engineering project.
The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) will submit a planning application to Essex County Council to transform Wallasea Island with Crossrail material. A public consultation will start in December and the Essex County Council is expected to reach a decision in spring 2009. Crossrail material will be used to raise land on Wallasea, creating hillocks and dips into which seawater will ebb and flow. Calorie-rich saltmarsh, mudflats and other coastal habitats should attract rare and exotic birds such as Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia and Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus.

Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus could also make a return, after disappearing from Britain more than 50 years ago. Otters, saltwater fish including Herring and Flounder, and saltwater plants such as Sea Lavender and Samphire are expected to thrive. Crossrail main works should start in 2010 and bored tunnelling in 2011. The RSPB’s work on Wallasea is expected to take between five and ten years.
Simon Phillips, Crossrail Construction Liaison Manager, said: “We have been looking for a good way to reuse the excavated material from Crossrail for some time and we believe that we could not have found a better home for it than the RSPB scheme at Wallasea Island. Crossrail is the largest civil engineering project in Europe and we believe that by contributing towards Europe’s largest new coastal wetland we will leave an appropriate and fitting legacy”.
Dr Andre Farrar, the RSPB’s Protected Areas Manager, said: “From the outset, we recognised that working on Wallasea Island would be technically challenging and would need innovative solutions. With most of the land well below high tide level, just letting the sea in would have brought in too much seawater causing problems with navigation and erosion elsewhere in the Crouch and Roach estuaries. The use of high quality material is the best way of achieving habitat restoration on these low lying coasts”.
Credits: RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)

Enough is enough

The RSPB has today welcomed a new report from Natural England, which highlights the threat to the country’s hen harriers from illegal killing.
The strongly worded report, ‘A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?’ outlines the results of hen harrier monitoring since 2002, which provides compelling evidence of illegal killing of hen harriers in England’s uplands.
Mark Avery, RSPB Director of Conservation said: “The findings of this report reinforce what the RSPB has been saying for years; the hen harrier is being driven to extinction in England by illegal killing.
'It is unacceptable in a modern society like ours that such crimes continue to be committed at all, let alone on such a scale. Hen harriers belong to the skies and to all of us; they are not pests to be killed out of hand by a selfish minority.
'The majority of those involved in shooting are decent, law abiding people. This report puts the onus on them to root out those bad apples prepared to break the law and drag the good name of shooting through the mud.”
He added: 'We would urge people to show their disgust at these crimes by pledging their support for our campaign to stop the illegal killing of birds of prey.'

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  December 2008

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