UK Bird News September 2012

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Class of 2012 take to the air

Wildlife lovers are celebrating this week following the successful release of 19 cranes on the Somerset Levels and Moors. This is the third such release and the youngsters, brought as eggs from Germany in April and May, will join 33 cranes already out in the wild in the South West.

The releases are being managed by the Great Crane Project, a partnership between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company. The aim is to restore healthy populations of wild cranes throughout the UK, so that people can once again experience these beautiful birds.

Damon Bridge, Great Crane Project Manager said: “All went well. Eighteen birds left the aviaries straight away, the first out of the gate was the bird named Easter Beans and Blue Black Blue was the first to fly. One bird however, Evie, was a little unsure, and spent the night in the safety of the aviary but has since left the release enclosure and joined up with some of the older birds.

“Most have taken big flights up and above the pen – some landing outside and being led back in, and many flying out on their own accord and returning under their own steam.”

“Also, all the older birds from previous years have shown great interest in the new ones – flying over, and landing near by. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how they all get on.”

The release is the latest in a series of successful developments for the project. Earlier this year, Viridor Credits confirmed further funding for the project. This will ensure that the project can release cranes for a further two years , monitor their welfare and movements, and start to create, improve and manage wetland habitats for them as they approach breeding age. The project also has a new team member. Susan Anders is now working three days a week as the Somerset Wetlands Community Officer. Susan will be building and expanding a programme of community engagement work linked to the cranes, which will be vital to the long-term success of the project.

Mr Bridge added: “It’s as if the whole project has moved to a new level this year. Our funding is confirmed and with Susan on-board we are able to start developing our work with local people, especially schoolchildren. I really can’t wait for next spring though. The first birds brought over in 2010 will then be coming in breeding condition and might, just might, start to turn their attention to nesting!”

1. The Great Crane Project is a partnership between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company. Our aim is to restore healthy populations of wild cranes throughout the UK, so that people can once again experience these beautiful birds.

2. For more information on the project, and regular updates, visit

3. WWT is a leading UK conservation organisation saving wetlands for wildlife and people across the world. With over 60 years experience of wetland conservation, WWT is committed to the protection of wetlands and all that depend on them for survival. WWT operates nine wetland visitor centres in the UK and manages over 2,000 hectares, including seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), one Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), six Special Protection Areas (SPA), Part of one Marine Nature Reserve and six Ramsar sites, supporting over 200,000 waterbirds. WWT aviculturalists’ extensive hand-rearing expertise is a vital part of the Great Crane Project.

4. The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. The Society manages over 200 nature reserves in the UK and has been involved with the reintroduction of red kites, white-tailed eagles, corncrakes and cirl buntings, with other partners, to parts of the UK. The RSPB owns and manages 3 major nature reserves in Somerset covering over 900 hectares, at West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Ham Wall.

5. The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust is a Norfolk-based conservation charity which has been working with Eurasian cranes for over a decade and has a small population of wild cranes already using its 500 acre reserve in the Wensum Valley. It’s avicultural and satellite tracking expertise form an essential part of the Great Crane Project.

6. Viridor Credits Environmental Company distributes funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. Funding is available for community and environmental projects within 10 miles (priority to projects within five miles) of an active Viridor Waste Management Landfill site. Since 1996 Viridor Credits has allocated over £70m to over a thousand projects across the UK.

Conservationists appalled by eagle death

RSPB Scotland has today issued an appeal and a reward for information, following the discovery of the body of a golden eagle on Deeside.

The bird, fitted with a satellite transmitter, was found on 5 May 2012, after signals sent by the transmitter indicated that the bird had not moved for several days.

The body was found, lying face down, with its wings folded, under a tree branch, close to a lay-by on a quiet country road near Aboyne, and was seized as evidence by officers from Grampian police.

The carcass was then taken for a post mortem at the Scottish Agricultural College laboratory in Aberdeen. This concluded that the bird had suffered two broken legs due to trauma 'that could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap' and that the severity of these injuries 'would prevent the bird from being able to take off.'

The bird had been fitted with a transmitter by RSPB Scotland staff, in full partnership with a local landowner, a few days before it had fledged from a nest in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness, in July 2011.

By re-examining the satellite data, staff discovered the young bird spent its first few months in its natal area before venturing further afield. By April 2012 it was frequenting an area of upper Deeside, before moving south-west into Glenshee.

On 28 April, the bird moved eastwards into Angus. The following day, at 6am, the bird was located on a hillside overlooking Glen Esk. Over the next 15 hours, a succession of satellite tag readings, accurate to within less than 20 metres, showed that the bird did not move from this precise spot until at least 9pm that evening, after nightfall.

However, by 4am the next morning, 30 April, according to transmission data, it appeared to have travelled during the hours of darkness, some 15km north, to the location where its body was subsequently discovered some five days later. Satellite readings revealed that whilst the bird did not move from this position, it was probably alive until 4 May.

Follow-up enquires by both Tayside and Grampian Police found no further evidence as to how the eagle came to suffer its injuries, nor could it be established how the eagle came to move from Glen Esk to a position under a tree branch on Deeside overnight. However, a number of eagle down-feathers were found between the lay-by and the bird's final resting place.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations, commented: 'It is disgraceful that this magnificent bird was subjected to such suffering. The post mortem evidence suggests that this bird was caught in an illegally set-trap, smashing both legs. The data obtained from the satellite transmitter indicated that the eagle did not move from one spot on a hill high above Glen Esk, for over 15 hours. Then, during the night, when eagles do not readily fly, it has inexplicably moved to a new position, hidden under a tree and close to a road. Here, over the next four days, this eagle suffered a lingering death.'

Stuart Housden, RSPB Scotland Director, added: 'Anyone who cares about our wildlife will be disgusted by what appears to be an appalling crime and the lengths taken to hide the facts from discovery. Whilst efforts to stamp out the illegal poisoning of birds of prey are perhaps beginning to yield results, this dreadful case shows that the persecution of our raptors continues through the use of traps and other means.

'We call upon anyone who can provide further information about this case to contact the wildlife crime officer at either Tayside or Grampian Police without delay. Cases like this really do have a negative impact on Scotland’s reputation as a country that respects and values all its wildlife heritage. I am today offering a £1,000 reward for information that will assist a successful prosecution.'

Notes: Satellite transmitters fitted to birds of prey are increasingly being used by conservationists and scientists to monitor the movements of the birds, allowing the dispersal of young birds to be studied, identification of important areas regularly utilised by the birds and also in indicating the location of dead birds. A satellite-tagged golden eagle, named “Alma” by researchers, was found to have been illegally poisoned in Glen Esk in 2009, whilst other poisoned eagles fitted with transmitters were found in Grampian in 2011, and in Lochaber earlier this year.

*RSPB Scotland is offering a reward of £1000 for information that will assist a successful prosecution.

Corn bunting research highlights drop in numbers in Western Isles

RSPB Scotland has revealed that two of its priority species in the Western Isles are experiencing very different population trends. While the numbers of corncrakes continue to grow the conservation charity is expressing grave concern about the future of the corn bunting.

Local RSPB site manager Jamie Boyle said, “We are very pleased to report another increase in corncrake numbers. At their low point in the early1990s we were down to about 250 calling males in the Western Isles. Now, in 2012, we are up to 515.

“There is no doubt that the intensive research that we put into trying to understand what influences corncrake breeding success has paid off. With the help and support of crofters corncrakes now seem to have an assured future in the Western Isles where I know they are greatly valued by local people and visitors alike – even if they can be a bit noisy at night!”

However Mr Boyle expressed serious concern about another bird with close associations with the machair – the corn bunting.

“Corn buntings are great wee birds – known to generations of crofters as “gealag-bhuachair”. Although maybe not much to look at, they have a very distinctive jangling call, which they utter during the spring months. It would be very sad indeed if we lost them. Unfortunately our latest survey indicates that we are down to just 76 territorial males.”

Mr Boyle revealed that research being conducted by Aberystwyth University revealed that corn buntings have distinctive dialects that vary from place to place.

“Just as it is possible to tell whether someone is from North or South Uist by listening carefully to their voices, so it is possible to do the same with corn buntings. What concerns us is that the researchers are picking up evidence of the different dialect groups beginning to mix together. This could well be a reaction to the overall population decline.”

Mr Boyle said that the RSPB was very seriously reviewing the methods it was undertaking to conserve the buntings, with the help of local crofters, in order to reverse the downward trend.

“We believe the availability of seed during the winter months is critical. We have been providing the birds with corn stacks which they seem to be using and also distributing bruised barley. We are not sure whether the latter method is working and will try using other seed-types this winter.

“When conserving rare birds it is very important to continually review the action we take. Ultimately we managed to turn round the fortunes of the corncrake and we will not rest until we have secured a future for the corn bunting too. The islands would be the poorer without that distinctive, cheerful, jangling call in the spring.”

RSPB Hen harrier research receives special recognition in raptor science competition

RSPB Hen harrier research receives special recognition in raptor science competition

RSPB Scotland has received a special commendation at this year’s Watson Raptor Science Prize for its work on Orkney’s hen harrier population.

The study, which looked at the impacts of sheep grazing on the birds and their prey, showed that hill farming can play a fundamental role in assisting the fortunes of one of Britain’s most threatened birds.

Named in memory of two of Scotland’s most renowned ornithologists, Donald Watson and his son Jeff, the annual award recognised excellence in raptor science.

This year’s prize was awarded to a team of scientists in Spain who studied the use of nest adornments by black kites.

Speaking on behalf of the RSPB Scotland-led team, Professor Jerry Wilson, Head of Conservation Science, said: “RSPB Scotland is honoured to receive this commendation for our long-term research on hen harriers; it is a fitting recognition of the tireless commitment of co-author Eric Meek and his colleagues to nature conservation on Orkney. The study shows how important grazing management is to ensuring food supplies for hen harriers and its findings will also help to improve conditions for other moorland birds of prey of high conservation concern, including short-eared owl and merlin.”

Professor Des Thompson, chair of the judging panel, commented: "Arjun Amar and colleagues have produced an excellent paper on the impacts of sheep grazing on harriers and their prey on Orkney. An exhaustively detailed analysis reveals why hen harriers have recovered on Orkney. This has implications for upland management and conservation across the British Isles at a time when there are significant concerns about the conservation status of hen harriers."

Members of the research team at RSPB Scotland will also conducting a series of talks at the three day Watson Birds festival in St John Town of Dalry, Dumfries and Galloway. This year’s annual event will focus on the plight of the hen harrier, as well as expert-led talks, there will also be an exhibition by 15 different contemporary bird artists, bird watching walks, ringing demonstrations, children’s activity and much more.

Professor Roger Crofts, Director of Watson Birds said “I am delighted that the standard of scientific work on raptors is so high and particularly delighted that the longstanding work in Orkney has been recognised by our scientific panel. Achieving a positive interaction between Hen harrier protection and moorland management is the essence of good stewardship of our natural assets. I look forward to many bird and habitat management specialists and also members of the public attending our session on Saturday 22nd September at the Lochinvar Hotel in St John’s Town of Dalry, Galloway to listen to the talks and participate in the debate.”

1. The study by Amar, A, Davies. J, Meek, E, Williams.J, Knight. A, and Redpath. S is entitled Long-term impact of changes in sheep Ovis aries densities on the breeding output of hen harrier Circus cyaneus, and is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. It can be read on line here:

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 September 2012

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