UK Bird News July 2012

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First ever spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatch in the UK

First ever spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatch in the UK

Fourteen Critically Endangered spoon-billed sandpipers were hatched in captivity at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire this week, a first for the UK and only the second flock ever to have been born in captivity.

These latest chicks are part of an emergency conservation breeding mission to insure the species against imminent extinction in the wild. 4 further eggs are expected to hatch in the coming days and, if successful, will bring the total flock size at Slimbridge to 30. The size of the flock is critical to triggering breeding behaviour in the birds, which are mature enough to reproduce at two years old.

The birds were hatched from eggs taken from the tiny remaining wild population which breeds on the sub-Arctic tundra in the Russian Far East. They were flown by helicopter and plane on a week-long journey via Anadyr, Moscow and Heathrow before arriving at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge.

WWT Head of Conservation Breeding, Nigel Jarrett, travelled with the eggs and is overseeing care for the tiny chicks, which hatched the size of bumblebees. He said:

“The spoon-billed sandpiper is a beautiful and unique bird, but whatever it looked like we couldn’t stand by while it went extinct. We hatched the first of our conservation breeding flock on the tundra last year and brought them back when full grown. With all we learned then, it made sense to transport them as eggs this year and the huge privilege for the UK is to have these amazing little chicks hatch here for the first time.”

The dramatic decline in spoon-billed sandpiper numbers was first observed in 2000. Now fewer than 100 pairs are thought to remain. Russian and international field workers travel each year to the breeding grounds in Chukotka to monitor numbers and have been critical in raising the alarm.

Dr Christoph Zockler from ArcCona Consulting led the expedition this summer to Meinypil’gino, the main breeding site on behalf of Birds Russia. He said:

“The number of pairs returning to Meinypil’gino dropped again this year, to fewer than ten pairs. It is very worrying and reflects the wide-ranging conservation problems along the birds’ flyway. We did have some good news though. With more volunteer fieldworkers this year, we were able to search more remote areas away from the village for the first time and we found five further pairs.”

Although the long term decline of the spoon-billed sandpiper is thought to have been driven by inter-tidal habitat loss in East Asia, the roots of the current problem have been identified some 8,000km away in coastal Myanmar and Bangladesh, where the birds spend the majority of the year outside the breeding season. Bird trapping by some villagers is suspected to have driven the steep decline in numbers. Local and international conservationists have had some success in stopping this practice by helping villagers find and fund alternative livelihoods. Once these threats have been tackled, birds from the conservation breeding programme will be returned to the wild to increase the remaining wild population.

Dr Evgeny Syroechkovskiy is Chief Executive of Birds Russia. His studies of spoon-billed sandpipers in Chukotka have been central to the international call for action. He said:

“To see these amazing birds almost disappear has been terrible. But we raised the alarm and people from around the world have responded. I hope that having these chicks – a little bit of Russia – in the UK encourages even more support for the spoon-billed sandpiper.”

Dr Tim Stowe is Director of International Operations at the RSPB, the UK partner in the 117 nation-strong BirdLife International global partnership. He said:

“This is a great example of organisations, experts and individuals from around the world working together to save an animal from extinction. A bird like the spoon-billed sandpiper, with its bizarre little beak, has survived through time and it doesn’t deserve to be wiped out now. All elements of this project – from our work with subsistence hunters in Myanmar and Bangladesh, to efforts in Asia, where the birds’ habitat is severely under threat, and the captive breeding programme here in the UK - will make sure future generations won't have to rely on pictures of a quirky little bird that once was but could have been saved if only we hadn’t let them down.”

As well as support from conservation organisations around the world, individuals and institutions have been donating funds to support the spoon-billed sandpiper. Dr. Debbie Pain, Director of Conservation at WWT said:

“The level of support for the spoon-billed sandpiper has been phenomenal. It is only thanks to donations from thousands of individuals plus a major grant from SOS - Save Our Species, that we are able to put this emergency plan into action. But it is expensive work and we are still £50,000 short just for this year. I urge anyone who is taken by the spoon-billed sandpiper to make a donation however small. The work that it will pay for will have benefits for millions of other birds besides.”

A very [Tate] modern affair

A very [Tate] modern affair

Two peregrine falcons, that led the recolonisation of the Capital by this amazing species, are back on show at the Tate Modern for the seventh year on the trot.

Named Misty and Houdini, the birds first built a nest near Regent's Park, but a couple of years later moved to the nest site they've used ever since; close to the Thames. Their territoty takes in St Paul's Cathedral, the Tate and a fair amount of the surrounding Square Mile.

There are now more than two dozen breeding pairs of peregrine falcons living wild in the Capital, The RSPB has set-up a viewing station alongside the Millenium footbridge on the Tate's Thameside frontage.

Misty and Houdini use the Tate Modern's chimney as a daytime perch and, when on site, are easily visible using the telescopes we've provided. It's free to view the birds and the RSPB team will be there daily, from midday until 7 pm, until the Thames festival on the weekend of the 8 and 9 of September.

Peregrines are the world's fastest living creatures, capable of diving on prey at speeds exceeding 200 miles an hour. Not even Usain Bolt will come close to matching their speed when he dashes along the Olympic track in Stratford.

Vsit the RSPB display van to find out more about London's peregrines and the UK's other amazing wildlife.

Look, Hoo's singing... but for how much longer?

Look, Hoo's singing... but for how much longer?

Preliminary results from this year’s national nightingale survey have revealed that the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent is a national stronghold for the iconic songster that inspired some of our greatest writers.

The Hoo Peninsula’s nightingales are bucking a national trend that has seen this wonderful bird decline drastically. Around 150 nightingales were pouring forth their liquid songs on the peninsula this spring, almost double the number found during the last national survey in 1999.
This makes the Hoo Peninsula one of the bird’s strongholds in Kent and nationally.

The key areas are at Lodge Hill near Chattenden, and the area between Higham, Cliffe and the RSPB’s reserve at Northward Hill.
With 84 singing males, the Lodge Hill area looks like it is one of the most important in Kent and possibly the whole country.

Yet this news comes just when their very existence is threatened by a Medway Council plan to build up to 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill.

Chris Corrigan, the RSPB director for the South East region said, “Most of the nightingales are found in the proposed development site, a development that would wipe out their habitat. Recreational disturbance and predation by domestic pets mean the remaining nightingales
in the adjacent Chattenden Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest would be very badly affected.”

“We objected strongly to the development at the recent inquiry into the Council’s plans and urged them to reconsider their plans. We find it astonishing that a site that is so important for a rapidly declining species is earmarked for development. This is precisely the kind of magical place for wildlife that the Council should be protecting for the nation.”

Chris went on to say, “The Council and the developers have claimed they can create new habitat for nightingales, but this is untried and untested – we simply should not be taking a risk with somewhere this important.”

“Now that the true value of Lodge Hill has been revealed we are calling on Medway Council to withdraw its damaging proposal and instead work with the RSPB, other conservation bodies and the local community to celebrate Lodge Hill and the Hoo Peninsula; this place is one of the natural wonders of Kent, the nightingale was celebrated by Keats and Shakespeare and should be protected for the inspiration of future generations.”

Kent prisoners provide homes for tree sparrows on the Romney Marshes

Kent prisoners provide homes for tree sparrows on the Romney Marshes

A project to save some of the last populations of tree sparrows in South East England has had a helping hand from inmates at
HM Prison Rochester.

Romney Marshes and the Dungeness Peninsula are the last stronghold for the chestnut-capped characters who were once a common site around rural England. However since the 1960’s there has been a 97% decline.

Now, through the Romney Marsh Farmland Bird Project, the RSPB is working with farmers and other conservation organisations to bring these charismatic birds back from the brink of extinction in the UK; in their own special effort to see the birds back on the wire, from behind the wire at HM Prison Rochester, inmates have just scratch-built 50 new tree sparrow nest boxes which will be put up across the project area.

Glen Routledge, Gardens Parties Supervisor from HMP Rochester said, “ We have taken the job on to give the offenders a purposeful activity and to enable them to put something back into society as a part of our Bio-Diversity programme within the establishment. Offenders also gained valuable experience in producing these boxes and many have shown a keen interest in the plight of the tree sparrows for which the boxes are intended. They are looking forward to the next project and working closely with the RSPB in the future.“

Craig Edwards, assistant warden at RSPB Dungeness said, “We are going to establish five winter feeding stations and erect 10 of the new boxes at each of the sites on the Marsh this winter.

“These will be monitored by a group of trained volunteers to assess how many birds are using them, and how many choose the boxes as a new home next spring.”

Changes in the countryside, its agriculture, and our homes has limited the sparrows’ opportunity to feed on seeds through the winter, to find suitable nesting holes, and to find insects for their chicks in summer. Winter feeding stations are being set-up, and the one at RSPB Dungeness is now a favourite with the birds and hundreds of visitors who come to see them again.

Three farms in the area have already stepped up to the call for housing, and Fay Pattinson, the RSPB’s Agricultural Project Officer, explained: “There is a lot of support available to farmers keen to help the recovery of farmland birds on their land, and the sparrows are one of six important species benefitting from environmental stewardship schemes in this region.

The next stage of the project is to work with farmers across the Marsh to help them cater for these species by putting in place the necessary conservation measures.

Anyone interested in supporting the project can contact Fay on 01273 763616

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2012 |  UK Bird News July 2012

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