January 2009

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2009 |  January 2009

Help chart marine pollution in the North Sea

Help chart marine pollution in the North Sea

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are asking keen-eyed beach walkers to tell them about dead Fulmars on east coast tide-lines. Large numbers have died in recent weeks, possibly because of the weather conditions. The stomach contents of these birds are used to track marine plastics pollution in the North Sea.
The recent run of winter weather has resulted in large numbers of Fulmars, a seabird that breeds on coastal cliffs and islands around the North Sea, being seen along the east coast of Britain. The increase in these birds was first noticed in The Netherlands, with more birds being washed up there in the last week than for the whole of last year. During periods of cold weather, northern birds can be pushed to unsuitable feeding areas further south, where they face starvation. In Britain we have already seen large numbers of Fulmars at some seawatching sites; 316 were counted passing Spurn Head in East Yorkshire last week, including thirteen ‘blue’ Fulmars, the northern colour phase of the Fulmar.
The British Trust for Ornithology is now asking people to look out for dead Fulmars along the east coast of Britain, and is particularly keen to hear of large concentrations of dead birds. The BTO can then make arrangements for these birds to be collected and for their stomachs to be analysed for plastics. To report any concentrations of dead Fulmars, please contact the BTO at

The BTO is also asking people to look out for any metal rings that these birds might be carrying on their legs. These will help to determine their origins and provide a lot of information about the individuals concerned. These should be reported to the BTO online at www.ring.ac, or to the BTO Ringing Office, telephone 01842 750050.
A member of the Petrel family, the Fulmar is a little larger than a Common Gull, is white below and pale grey above, and can be identified by the unique ‘tubes’ that are found on top of the beak. The wings of the fulmar are much longer, narrower and stiffer than those of the Common Gull, and are ideal for a life spent at sea.
In recent years, a programme has been set up to monitor marine plastics pollution in the North Sea. This uses plastic litter found in Fulmar stomachs as an indicator, and is used as the European Ecological Quality Objective (EcoQO). In Britain, there are three regional coordinators, who can be contacted via the BTO. For more details (Pdf) on the programme,

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It's better to be little!

It's better to be little!

The British Trust for Ornithology has just published the results of the first UK-wide surveys of Ringed Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers since 1984. There’s good news for Little Ringed Plovers (almost doubling numbers) but there were disappointing numbers of Ringed Plover (dropping from an estimated 8617 pairs to 5438 pairs)

If you are a birdwatcher in the UK, one of the key identification problems to learn is the difference between a Little Ringed Plover and a Ringed Plover. However, this may have become easier – the Little Ringed Plover may be the one with the smile on its face! Life is much better for Little Ringed Plovers than it is for Ringed Plovers. (The Little Ringed Plover can be distinguished from the Ringed Plover by its yellow eye-rings, no orange on the bill and no white bar in the wing).

Little Ringed Plovers first bred in the UK in 1938, since when they have been well protected by conservationists. They often nest on nature reserves, and also at gravel pits, on industrial sites and on the shingle banks of rivers. According to the last BTO survey in 1984, the estimated population was between 608 and 631 pairs, but the 2007 survey came up with a figure of 1115 pairs. The core range of the species remains from southeast England, through the Midlands and into the northwest, but the species has spread further into Wales, northern England, and south and east Scotland since 1984.

UK numbers of Ringed Plover have fallen from an estimated 8617 pairs in 1984 to 5438 pairs in 2007. The falls have not been uniformly spread across the UK:

England – down by 47%
Wales – down by 6%
Scotland – down by 41%
Northern Ireland – down by 66%

The biggest concentrations of Ringed Plovers are in Scotland, particularly the machair habitat of the Uists and Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. (Machair is an area of flat sandy plain behind the beach on wind-blown northwest coasts). In other regions, Ringed Plovers are found nesting on sand and shingle beaches. These coastal areas are being squeezed as sea levels rise and nesting birds are susceptible to disturbance by holidaymakers and their dogs.

Greg Conway, national organizer of the 2007 survey said: “Whilst we are delighted that there is good news for Little Ringed Plovers, we are really concerned about Ringed Plovers. These birds are an important feature of six of the UK’s Special Protection Areas, five in Scotland and one in England, and we need to understand how numbers can be falling so rapidly, despite the protection that they are being given.”

BTO Press Releases

Freezing conditions heighten disturbance threat to wetland birds

For the first time in over a decade, nature conservation bodies are today [Tuesday 6 January 2009] calling on birdwatchers, walkers, anglers and water sports enthusiasts across Britain to minimise disturbance to groups of ducks, geese, swans and wading birds. On lakes, rivers, wetlands, and coastal areas the birds will be struggling to survive after enduring seven consecutive days of freezing temperatures.
The group making today’s call include the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and Natural England.
Following a run of mild winters, this is the first time in a decade that this call has been made in England. An appeal in Scotland was issued in 2003.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “During freezing conditions disturbance forces the birds to squander their precious energy reserves by taking flight when they need to spend as much time as possible feeding.
“Although we haven’t made this appeal since 1997, we hope everyone who uses the countryside will heed our advice, allowing the millions of birds which visit the UK’s coasts and wetlands during the winter to stand a better chance of survival.”
If the severe weather continues for 14 days in succession, the shooting of some species of duck, geese, and wading bird can be suspended for a fortnight to help the birds recover. The last time such a ban was imposed was in 1997.
The birds affected include ducks – including wigeon and pintail – and wading birds, such as godwits, dunlin and knot. These birds either nest in the Arctic, or further north or east in Europe. During the winter the birds visit the UK to escape harsher conditions further north.
Dr Andre Farrar, the RSPB’s protected area campaigner, said: “Even at a time when our climate is warming, we can still expect freezing conditions, but less frequently. Wildfowl and wading birds respond to these icy blasts by moving further south and west. Mild winters have allowed some of these international travellers to cut short their journeys, with more remaining within the eastern half of Britain.
“As the natural world responds to the freeze, we can expect the UK's vital coastal wetlands to play a role in helping these hardy birds survive the winter. If the freeze continues, we can expect the warmer estuaries on our west coast – such as the Severn, Dee, Mersey, Ribble, Morecambe Bay and the Solway - to be especially important as birds escape the weather. These are amongst our most important wildlife sites. The winter of 2009 is likely to show just how vital they are to the survival of thousands of water birds.”

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2009 |  January 2009

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