May 2009

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

Red alert for one fifth of UK's bird species!

Red alert for one fifth of UK's bird species!

More of the UK's 246 regularly occurring birds than ever before have been placed on the red status list of the Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC) report - according to the latest assessment.

The revised list, published today, now shows that 52 species have been afforded the highest conservation status, including many familiar countryside birds such as the cuckoo, lapwing and yellow wagtail, which join other formerly widespread species including the grey partridge, house sparrow, song thrush and starling.

Worryingly, red list species now account for more than one in five (21 per cent) of all the UK's resident bird species. This is far more than compared to the last assessment in 2002, when 40 species (16 per cent) were red listed. Most species on the red list have suffered a recent halving of range or population in the UK, or have undergone a historical decline since 1800.

New species on the red list that are restricted to Scotland as breeding birds found nowhere else in the UK include the whimbrel and Arctic skua. Both these birds migrate mainly to Orkney and Shetland to breed each year. Due to the speed of its decline in the past five years, the Arctic skua is the only species that has gone straight to the red list from the green list, missing out amber altogether. Between 2000 and 2004 they declined by 46% (according to Scottish Government biodiversity indicators), and annual counts on RSPB reserves continue to reflect this alarming trend. This suggests that only 1,000 pairs now remain. Between 150-200 pairs of whimbrel now breed in the Northern Isles, reflecting a decline of more than 50% in the past 20 years.

The fieldfare and redwing, which are common passage migrants throughout the whole of the UK but have a small breeding population restricted to Scotland, have also been added to the red list due to a decline in their breeding numbers.

Whilst a link to climate change has not been demonstrated, the addition of these species to the red list, which are all on the southern edge of their nesting range in Britain, may provide some evidence of continuing deterioration of local conditions for these birds. These species only have a toehold in Scotland in recent decades, and that now appears to be slipping, although factors driving this are not yet fully understood.

The yellow wagtail, currently hanging on with roughly 10 pairs remaining in the Borders, is also new to the red list. If it disappears from here it will become extinct in Scotland.

Elsewhere across the UK other species new to the red list include a suite of birds visiting the UK in summer, notably the cuckoo, wood warbler (above right Sergey Yeliseev)and tree pipit. These birds are widespread, but rapidly declining, summer visitors to the UK. Their addition to the red list is highlighting the concern that many long-distance migratory birds nesting in Europe and wintering in Africa are increasingly in trouble. Currently 21 of the birds on the red list are summer visitors to the UK, with the majority of these spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.

The continued decline of widespread farmland and woodland birds is a theme which has developed since the compilation of the last list in 2002. Lapwing, a formerly much-more widespread wading bird, and the hawfinch, a woodland bird largely confined to England, have both joined the red list in the latest assessment.
In addition to the Arctic skua, two other species of seabird join the red list for the first time. The Balearic shearwater - a smaller relative of the albatross - visits the UK from its Mediterranean breeding grounds regularly each autumn. This seabird, which is thought to face a higher risk of global extinction even than the giant panda - is the rarest bird to regularly occur in the UK. The familiar herring gull also joins the red list as its population has more than halved in recent times.

For the first time two winter-visiting birds have joined the red list. The dunlin, a starling-sized wading bird, and the scaup - a duck – have been placed on the red list because of declines in wintering populations. The ongoing decline of the dunlin population has seen this wader slump to its lowest levels since recording began.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "An increasing number of familiar birds are joining the list of those species most in need of help. As recently as 20 years ago, people would have dismissed the idea of a population threat to widespread and popular birds such as starlings, house sparrows and lapwings. Now these have become some of our most pressing conservation priorities. More worrying is the fact that this list is growing at an alarming rate, and we face the possibility of local extinctions for some species unless concerted management is undertaken for them. We have shown that for some species investment can turn the corner, for example with the corncrake. But for many others we need the help of thousands of farmers and land managers if we are to succeed in protecting them from further declines."
However, the 2009 assessment does contain some good news. Six species (stone-curlew, woodlark, quail, Scottish crossbill, bullfinch and reed bunting) have been removed from the 2002 red list, largely because of a recovery in their numbers or range, or a better understanding of their populations. These species are now placed on the amber list.

The stone-curlew (right Sergey Yeliseev) is a bird of farmland and open countryside. Virtually confined to Wessex and central East Anglia, the stone-curlew population has increased because of the fantastic efforts by farmers and landowners to improve the fortunes of this striking wading bird.

Improvements in land management, especially of heathland, have also led to a dramatic increase in the UK population of the woodlark, a heathland bird. The bullfinch and the reed bunting have also been placed on the amber list following modest recoveries in their populations.

The Scottish crossbill – the only bird species with its total world range confined to the UK – has also been removed from the red list. A survey (funded by RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage) found between 10,000 to 15,000 of this colourful finch, and its population is currently thought to be stable.

Five species assessed in 2002 ( bluethroat, scarlet rosefinch, icterine warbler, hoopoe and snow goose) were not considered in the 2009 revision, because they failed to meet the qualifying criteria for inclusion. Four species not assessed in 2002 (Balearic shearwater; shorelark; yellow-legged gull; and hooded crow) were considered in the 2009 revision for the first time.
Birds of Conservation Concern 3 is compiled by a partnership of organisations, including the British Trust for Ornithology, Countryside Council for Wales, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust,
The full Birds of Conservation Concern 3 report will be published in the June edition of British Birds.
Stone Curlew
Return of the little terns!

Return of the little terns!

An innovative project to help a species of seabird struggling to breed is showing signs of success.
In February, the RSPB, along with the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Army and Tarmac Ltd, shipped 600 tons of shingle to two islands at its Langstone Harbour nature reserve.
The shingle was used to build nesting sites for little terns - Amber Listed seabirds showing worrying declines across the UK - which prefer to nest on bare shingle.
There are now about 60 little terns in Langstone Harbour, many of which are exploring the new shingle areas, with some already sitting on nests. Males have also begun to prospect, which is when they display their hunting prowess to females by landing near them with a fish in their mouth.
Since the shingle-rebuilding project, RSPB Langstone Harbour warden Chris Cockburn has put life-size models of the terns on one of the islands, in the hope of encouraging the birds to nest there.
'It looks like we'll definitely halt the decline in breeding numbers'
Mr Cockburn described the signs as encouraging, but warned the early nesters' chance of success may be hampered by recent bad weather.
He said: 'It's safe to say stage one of our plan has worked. The birds are exploring our man-made sites, which are well above predicted tide levels and with little competition from other seabird species, giving them a better chance of successful breeding.
'It looks like we'll definitely halt the decline in breeding numbers, whether other factors – not least recent wind and rain – allow young to fledge or even hatch is another thing.
'Terns and their chicks live exclusively on small fish and other sea creatures that swim near the surface. They hover over water, looking for likely prey, which they try to catch by diving in. In winds above Force Five, these small birds find it hard to even fly and recently we've had gusts up to Force Nine, which has been a real struggle for them.'
In 2008, the number of little terns in Langstone Harbour was at its lowest in 29 years due to a lack of suitable nesting sites. Of the 11 tern pairs that nested on the RSPB reserve, no young were produced.
February's operation was the first time a project of this size has been attempted at an RSPB site only accessible during high tide.

Tough birds
Nick Everington, Tarmac's district manager, said: 'Bedhampton Quay is located just 300 metres from the RSPB reserve. We co-exist in what is an environmentally sensitive site that's well-known for its wildlife. We were very pleased to be able to help the RSPB enhance this important natural habitat.'
The Environment Agency's Tim Sykes added: 'It's great to have been able to work in collaboration with the RSPB on this exciting and innovative project, helping these delightful little seabirds.'
If breeding is successful, chicks should appear from June onwards.
Mr Cockburn added: 'The ones already sitting on nests are keeping put day and night, no matter what the weather's doing. Despite their small size, they really are hardy birds. It makes me feel like a wimp, seeing how much endurance they have.'

Osprey hatch expected for bank holiday weekend

Osprey hatch expected for bank holiday weekend

Staff at RSPB Scotland's famous Loch Garten Osprey Centre in Strathspey are anticipating new arrivals to entertain visitors over the course of the bank holiday weekend.
The first of three chicks is expected any time from today (Friday May 22nd) with the others following in quick succession. Proud parent EJ laid three eggs on the 16th, 19th and 22nd of April, and hatching normally occurs between 36 and 42 days after this time.
Together with her new partner, Odin, the pair have been the very model of attentive expectant parents, incubating their eggs round the clock, tidying the nest and bringing back fresh fish suppers at regular intervals.
By visiting the live nest-cam here people will have an excellent chance of seeing regular female EJ and new male Odin with their new chicks.

Odin is a new face at Loch Garten and arrived on Friday April 3rd. With no identifying leg rings to offer a clue to his origins, staff decided to name him after the chief god of Norse Mythology, because of a possible Scandinavian connection. All osprey chicks generally have an identifying leg ring attached prior to their fledging. Ringing is less common in Scandinavia, so it is thought he may have been passing through on his way home and his roving eye caught sight of EJ and the famous nest.

Richard Thaxton, RSPB Scotland Site Manager at Loch Garten, said: "Because of his lack of identification, we don't know precisely where Odin has come from, but he has certainly managed to impress EJ since his arrival. He has been tireless in his efforts to provide her with food to replenish her energies after the long migration back from north Africa.

"The saga of the Loch Garten osprey's has been pretty tumultuous over the past few years, with failed clutches two years ago, and then the sad deaths of both fledged chicks from last year - one on its journey south to the wintering grounds and one just a few weeks ago in Guinea Bissau. Our satellite tracking technology allowed us to see this and demonstrates just what a challenging ordeal migration is for these fantastic birds.

"Odin really has proved to be a brilliant suitor so far, bring in lots of fresh fish to make sure EJ remains in tip top condition whilst incubating. We really hope that things will go well and we will have three healthy chicks within the next few days to delight and enthrall visitors to the Loch Garten Osrprey Centre."
Female ospreys spend 40 days on the nest being provisioned with fish by their partners. Once widespread, ospreys became extinct in Scotland in 1916, In 1954 a pair nested at Loch Garten. Since 1959, ospreys have arrived every year – raising more than 80 young.
More than two million people have visited RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Osprey Centre over a period of 50 years, including almost 36,000 last year. The Osprey Centre is open daily from 10am to 6pm from April 1st until the end of August.

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

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