UK Bird News January 2016

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Rufous-backed Bunting found wintering in Beijing

Rufous-backed Bunting found wintering in Beijing

One of the Rufous-backed Buntings at Miyun Reservoir, Jan 2016. (Image: Terry Townshend/Birding Beijing)

Asia’s rarest bunting, the Rufous-backed Bunting Emberiza jankowskii, has been found wintering close to China’s capital – the first record of this globally threatened species in Beijing municipality for seventy-five years.

A single Rufous-backed Bunting was discovered at Miyun Reservoir, 80 km north-east of central Beijing, by local young birders Xing Chao and Huang Mujiao on 9 January 2016. By 13 January seven individuals had been found, with a remarkable nine buntings present on 15 January. (The municipality's previous record was of two males seen near the Summer Palace in the winter of 1941.)

Rufous-backed Bunting Emberiza jankowskii – also known as Jankowski’s Bunting after Michel Jankowski, a nineteenth-century Polish zoologist exiled to Siberia – has declined drastically since the early 1970s, most likely as a result of the conversion of its grassland habitat to arable farmland and an increase in grazing livestock. This beautiful bunting is now known only from a restricted area of north-east China; the species formerly occurred in the far north-east of North Korea (its current status there is unknown) and the extreme south of the Russian Far East (there have been no Russian records since the 1970s). Consequently, the species is classified by BirdLife as Endangered.

Terry Townshend, a British birder living and working in Beijing, and the BirdLife Species Champion for Rufous-backed/Jankowski’s Bunting comments: “Given the relatively low density of birders in Beijing, it is possible that Jankowski’s Bunting has been overlooked in previous winters. However, I suspect that this winter is exceptional. Last year the government banned the growing of crops close to the reservoir, which provides drinking water for Beijing, so the area around the wetland has been left uncultivated. Grasses and other wild plants have produced a bumper crop of seed that is attracting large numbers of passerines – including a Beijing record flock of 5,600 Lapland Buntings at the end of November.”

The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society/BirdLife China Programme and China Bird Watching Society have been taking action for Rufous-backed Bunting on its breeding grounds in Inner Mongolia for several years, with surveys undertaken in 2014 discovering nine new breeding sites for the species. In addition, meetings have been held with the local authorities and a number of educational activities have been carried out at schools and villages close to its core breeding areas, to raise awareness of the bunting and its conservation.

Mike Crosby, BirdLife’s Senior Conservation Officer for the Asia Division, commented: “The discovery of a small flock of Rufous-backed Buntings close to Beijing is encouraging news for this little-known species, and perhaps indicates that at least part of the species’ population moves several hundred kilometres south from its breeding range during the winter. Improving our understanding of their wintering range is vital for our ongoing efforts to conserve this globally threatened songbird.”

To help with BirdLife’s work to save the species please visit the Save Jankowski’s Bunting Appeal page.

Projects on the breeding ground were aided by the Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and Oriental Bird Club and were undertaken with the support of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

A step in the right direction for our marine wildlife

17 January 2016

The RSPB welcomes today’s Defra announcement of the creation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and the proposal of seven Special Protection Areas (SPAs) around the English and Welsh coast as an important step in protecting our coasts and seas. However, the job is not yet complete and more needs to be done to protect the UKs seabirds.

Bringing the total number of MCZs to 50, this is an important step towards establishing a functioning network of marine protection for our seas. The new MCZs will cover areas across the country from as far north as the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast down to Land’s End in the South West. Totalling 4,155 square miles of rich marine habitats, these new protected areas bring the entire protected area around our coasts to 7,886 square miles.

Martin Harper said: “To save nature, we need the most important places on both land and at sea to be protected and well managed. This new announcement is an important step towards this goal.

“However, it is disappointing to see that some of the UK’s marine jewels – sites for seabirds – haven’t been used in the designation process. We hope that the third round of marine protected designations, due in 2018 will offer the chance to finally designate sites for that provide protection for our seabirds.”

The UK is home to internationally important populations of seabirds, with 8 million nesting seabirds of 26 species. Yet they are facing significant declines, around 600,000 seabirds were lost between 2000 and 2008.

Despite threats such as marine pollution and the impacts of climate change, charismatic at risk species such as the puffin have not been included in the current designations. Previous designations have not included seabirds as it was thought too difficult to identify important sites for highly mobile species such as seabirds.

But new data collected by the RSPB and other organisations are making this possible. Through groundbreaking scientific research, the RSPB is now able to track the birds away from their breeding sites.

“Human activities have caused environmental declines along our coasts and across our seas. Marine protected areas offer a tool to help monitor and manage threats, allowing species to recover and giving them room to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Today’s announcement is a positive step in this direction but more is still needed to protect our globally important seabird colonies.”

The RSPB also welcomes the proposal for the designation of seven new or extended Special Protection Areas for seabirds under the European Birds Directive. These sites will provide much-needed and long overdue protection for a range of seabirds from the wintering grounds of internationally important populations of divers, ducks and grebes to the foraging areas relied upon by breeding tern colonies, and we look forward to seeing the details of what is proposed. However, despite the global importance of the UKs seas for seabirds, 34 years after the European Birds Directive substantially strengthened protection for birds in the UK; the network of SPAs remains substantially incomplete.

RSPB Scotland launches 20 year report on illegal killing of birds of prey

RSPB Scotland launches 20 year report on illegal killing of birds of prey

RSPB Scotland has published a detailed 20 year review of the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland, which confirms that 779 protected raptors were illegally killed between 1994 and 2014.

In total, 468 birds of prey were poisoned, 173 were shot and 76 were caught in illegal traps. There were also seven attempted shootings. The figures include 104 red kites, 37 golden eagles, 30 hen harriers, 16 goshawks and 10 white-tailed eagles.

RSPB Scotland’s specialist Investigations team has been meticulously documenting the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland for 20 years to provide a thorough public record of the scale, location and methods of wildlife crime. This effort, supported by an extensive body of peer reviewed science, has shown the severe impact of criminal activities on some of Scotland’s most iconic and vulnerable bird species.

The report deals only with incidents that have been confirmed as involving criminal activity, either by post mortem at a government laboratory or by reliable witnesses. The number of birds actually killed will therefore be much higher (1).

In a further 171 incidents, poison baits and/or non-bird of prey victims of poisoning were found, including 14 domestic cats and 14 dogs. There were also an additional 134 incidents where, although no victim was recovered, clear attempts had been made to target raptors - through the use of illegal traps for example.

RSPB Scotland’s review shows that over the past 20 years a significant majority of cases take place in areas associated with game-bird shooting, and in particular within upland areas managed intensively for driven grouse shooting (2). It is also noted however, that in recent years there have been some significant and welcome reductions in the number of cases reported from lowland areas of Scotland.

Director of RSPB Scotland, Stuart Housden, said: “We recognise that many landowners and their staff have helped with positive conservation efforts for birds of prey, particularly with reintroduction programmes for white–tailed eagles and red kites, and that the majority operate legitimate shooting businesses; but there are still far too many who do not act responsibly, and there will be no improvement in the conservation status of raptors until all land management is carried out wholly within the law.”

There is now well documented scientific evidence of the impact of illegal human killing on Scotland’s golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine, and reintroduced red kite populations. The last national hen harrier survey for example showed the population had declined by 22% in Scotland between 2004 and 2010. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee Hen Harrier Framework 2011 concluded that illegal killing was having a significant impact on this species, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting in the southern uplands and eastern Highlands (3).

The report on illegal killing by RSPB Scotland has provided reliable data to inform Scottish Government conservation efforts for the country’s internationally important populations of birds of prey, and also re-affirms the need for continued vigilance; good wildlife protection laws; effective enforcement powers for the police; and strong sanctions in the courts to act as an effective deterrent.

Stuart Housden continued: “We welcome measures taken by the Scottish Government over the past 20 years to improve the laws protecting our birds of prey, and the recent improvements by Police Scotland and the Crown Office in tackling wildlife crime. However, our data shows that illegal killing of raptors continues to be a widespread problem in significant parts of upland Scotland. These crimes impact the natural wealth of Scotland and undermine our international reputation, wildlife tourism and diversified rural businesses.

“Scotland’s shooting industry, in contrast to the rest of Europe, has ‘light touch’ regulation and little public accountability. Self policing has been given more than a fair chance and numerous public warnings, from ministers aimed at upland sporting managers, have not been heeded. It is long overdue that sporting management should be licensed, conditional on compliance with wildlife protection laws. We encourage the Scottish Government to initiate the planned review of game-bird licensing systems in other similar countries as soon as possible so we can learn and adopt best practice to ensure a sustainable future for sports shooting.”

The Full report can be read here

Loch Leven catering grabs gold for second year running

15 January 2016

In 2014, the View Cafe at RSPB Scotland’s Loch Leven nature reserve became the first visitor attraction in Scotland to achieve the prestigious Gold Food for Life Catering Mark from the Soil Association, an improvement from the Bronze they received in 2013, and the catering staff have continued to work extremely hard to maintain this standard.

Dougie Rutherford, the Catering Manager at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven, said: “We’re delighted to have maintained our Gold standard. It’s been a real team effort and none of it would be possible without Lynn Burns and the rest of the team here. We’re passionate about producing great food while looking after wildlife and the environment. Our menu is simple, tasty and ethical and reflects the aims of the RSPB by trying to source food from places that help give nature a home such as organic farms.”

The award guarantees that the cafe serves freshly prepared, homemade food using local produce which is free from harmful additives and is better for animal welfare. It also means at least 15% of an eatery’s budget goes towards organic ingredients. Loch Leven goes well beyond that demonstrating a real commitment to serving sustainable food that supports wildlife. In 2014, the spend on organic ingredients was a huge 50%, but at the most recent inspection it had gone up to 70% making it one of the highest spends on organic ingredients in both Scotland and across the UK.

Angela Mitchell, Acting Director, Soil Association Scotland said: “Retaining the Gold Catering Mark for the second year running is a fantastic achievement and it’s great to see View Cafe at RSPB Scotland Loch Leven gaining recognition for serving fresh and healthy meals made with seasonal, local and organic ingredients. Using organic ingredients supports increased biodiversity and wildlife – up to 50% more insects, birds and animals live on organic farms and it’s a credit to the team at View Café that they incorporate such a high percentage of organic produce into their recipes.”

Dougie added: “People often tell us that they love our food and we’re very proud of that, but even prouder that we make this great food using ingredients farmed in a way that looks after birds and other wildlife, which is what the RSPB as Europe’s largest nature conservation charity is all about.”

The View Cafe is open every day except 25-26 December and 1-2 January from 10 am – 4 pm (hot food served until 3 pm). There is also a visitor centre, shop, nature trails, events and activities available. For more information call 01577 862355 or visit

New Zealand Fairy Tern – critically endangered tiny tern faces new threat

Around half of the ten or so New Zealand Fairy Tern pairs remaining in the world breed at the beautiful Northland harbour of Mangawhai. They nest on the enormous sandspit where the Department of Conservation and NZ Fairy Tern Trust maintain a trapping programme for predators and the nests are closely monitored during the breeding season. However in recent years the so-called Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society (MHRS) have decided they want a mangrove-free harbour and applied to the planning authorities to allow removal of mangroves. In 2012 the Environment Court allowed for some removal in the middle harbour which was carried out this past winter. Conservationists have been concerned that removal of mangroves would deplete one of their major food resources, the gobies which live and feed amongst the mangrove pneumatophores. A foraging study was carried out by Karen Baird from the New Zealand BirdLife partner, Forest & Bird in collaboration with other scientists and published in Bird Conservation International (Ismar et al, 2014: Foraging Ecology and Choice of Feeding Habitat of the New Zealand Fairy Tern Sternula nereis davisae). The study showed that NZ Fairy Terns feed their chicks on these mangrove inhabiting gobies, preying on them when they move out of the mangroves at lower tide levels and into channels and pools on the tidal flats.

MHRS have now unveiled plans for a ‘stage two’, to remove more mangroves. This is despite a ruling already by the Environment Court that the area they’ve targeted should remain. There is increasing pressure in northern New Zealand from Tauranga northwards for councils to relax planning rules around mangroves which have previously enjoyed reasonable protection due to their high ecological values.

Mangroves are continually the target of prejudice, considerable misunderstanding and what amounts to a concerted campaign often based on misinformation. These negative views on mangroves include that they are: an introduced ‘pest’ plant which is taking over our northern harbours, limiting people from enjoying open space for speed boats and jet skis; obstacles to marina developments and reclamations, and are seen by developers as reducing the attractiveness of the coastal properties they hope to sell.

Mangroves are native to New Zealand. Their ecological value as nurseries for marine life is well known, they are home to threatened bird species such as the Australasian Bittern and Banded Rail, and act as natural buffers protecting shorelines from erosion.

For the NZ Fairy Tern more mangrove removal could spell disaster, if it is not already too late given the extent of the clearance work to date. It is critical that these terns can access productive foraging grounds near to their breeding sites, especially along the mangrove lined channels of the Mangawhai Harbour. This allows sufficiently frequent nuptial feeding of the nesting female when she’s incubating, chick feeding and post-fledgling tuition which runs for an extended period in this species. There are warning signs from across the Tasman. The reproductive failure in the closely related Australian Fairy Tern at Coorong was the result of lack of suitable prey near their foraging grounds. Baird and colleagues are now conducting a follow-up study of the goby population in the harbour since removal of mangroves so far. In addition Forest & Bird is engaging with the Northland Regional Council who are reviewing their planning documents to encourage recognition of this site (as well as others) as an Important Bird Area requiring greater protection, not less.

Big Garden Birdwatch

People taking part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will be providing conservation scientists with valuable data about the changes in numbers of birds using our gardens in winter, enabling them to help protect our wildlife for future generations.

More than half a million people are expected to watch and count their garden birds this weekend in what is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey.

For almost 40 years, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch has helped raise awareness of those species in decline like starlings and song thrushes, whose numbers have dropped by an alarming 80 and 70 per cent respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979.

There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as its long-term decline appears to have continued to slow and it remains the most commonly spotted bird in our gardens. However, its numbers have dropped by 58 per cent since 1979.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Last year’s survey was another great year for participation. More than half a million people took part and more than 8.5 million birds were spotted in gardens across the country.

''With so many people now taking part, the results we get from gardens are very valuable. And as the format of the survey has always been the same, this data can be compared year-on-year.

''The results help us create an annual ‘snapshot’ of bird numbers across the UK, which, combined with over 30 years’ worth of data, allows us to monitor trends and understand how birds are doing.”

To take part, simply download a Free Pack from the RSPB website or register your details to save time on the weekend.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2016 |  UK Bird News January 2016

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