World Bird News April 2016

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2016 |  World Bird News April 2016

Say ‘no’ to extinction: saving Bristly and his fourteen companions

Stresemann’s Bristlefront Merulaxis stresemanni: a long-tailed bird with distinctive forehead bristles, a rufous rump, a musical whistle song, seen perhaps eating frogs and insects, and with a tennis-ball-sized tunnel for its nest. Spotted a handful of times since its rediscovery in Brazil’s Atlantic forest in 1995, that’s about all we know of this unique bird. Apart from one scary fact: there are fewer than fifteen individual birds left of the entire species.

Some species cling to existence on mere scraps of remaining habitat until… they’re gone. And once they’re gone, there is no turning back. But while those few individuals resist we have a chance to save them. A chance we are not going to miss.

That is why, today, BirdLife International embarks on an ambitious new global initiative to prevent the extinction of endangered species including Stresemann’s Bristlefront, as part of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE).

The multi-million dollar initiative teams-up coordinators BirdLife, the American Bird Conservancy, the Global Environment Facility, and the United Nations Environment Program with the governments of Brazil, Chile, and Madagascar – where projects to restore and protect AZE species’ habitat with community support will first be demonstrated.

AZE is a global initiative working to prevent species extinctions by identifying and safeguarding the places where Endangered or Critically Endangered species are restricted to single remaining, irreplaceable sites.

“Protecting the last remaining habitats for Critically Endangered species is a vital strategy for preventing extinctions,” said Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with whom the initiative will work closely.

BirdLife is well-versed on Preventing Extinctions – to not save the rarest of the rare would be unthinkable. Saving these tiny habitats is saving entire species.

Stresemann’s Bristlefront habitat is a remnant strip of humid forest in a valley at the border of Bahia and Minas Gerais states, Brazil. Every day the sound of chainsaws firing up, the crackle of forest fires, and the smell of cow dung are getting ever closer. Rapid deforestation for logging, plantations and cattle ranching have devastated the state’s forest, which is a unique habitat-type (South American Atlantic forest) high in endemic species and of which only 10% of its original South American extent remains in Brazil. The ten individual birds are clinging to existence, stranded in an ‘island’ of forest.
With fewer than fifteen birds left – is it possible to save them?

It can be done. In arguably one of the world’s great conservation success stories of recent times, BirdLife saved the Seychelles Warbler which survived only on a single island – Cousin Island in the Seychelles, a mere 0.3km2. In 1959, only 26 birds remained. Through purchasing the island and involving local people in the project, a brand new home-grown conservation organisation was established – Nature Seychelles – who today care for several species that they have brought back from the edge of extinction. Last year, Seychelles Warbler was taken off the endangered list, with a population of 3,000 birds and growing!

Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Brazil is onboard: “By expanding the Mata do Passarinho Reserve and working with local landowners, this initiative will provide a vital life line for the Critically Endangered Stresemann’s Bristlefront.”

The initiative, entitled the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE): Conserving Earth’s Most Irreplaceable Sites for Endangered Biodiversity aims to save AZE species at a total of five demonstration sites in Brazil, Chile, and Madagascar, and at an additional 10 sites globally.

“We are truly honoured to be working with the Governments of Brazil, Chile and Madagascar”, said Pepe Clarke, Head of Policy at BirdLife International.

Small bird, big message

New study confirms common birds are powerful indicators of threats from climate change. From Europe to the US the trends match as scientists expected, the data showing coherent and substantial changes in detriment to cold-adapted species.

You might be familiar with the rapid chittering of its alarm call: a remarkably loud voice for such a small bird. A common sight in many gardens, the little Wren, cocking its short, stubby tail and flitting from twig to twig, is also known for its restless nature.

According to new research published today in Science journal, the tiny brown bird is sending a bigger message. One that makes its restlessness certainly seem more apt.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, and including scientists from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and BirdLife International found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The study shows that common bird populations in Europe and the USA are messengers of climate change as they are pronouncedly responding to alterations in temperatures. The Winter Wren, the American Robin, which we see in our garden or local woodland are therefore precious indicators of their ecosystems, and of our planet’s climate.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published today in the journal Science and it is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world. The common birds we share between countries and continents seem to be sharing with us a common message about climate change.

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Climate change is affecting different animal species in different ways: warm-adapted species for example faring better than cold-adapted species. The team found a clear difference in the average population trends of bird species either advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change in both continents.

In Europe, species such as the Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes have been increasing in northern areas where winters are becoming milder, but declining in some southern countries where summers have been getting hotter and drier.

The UK population of the Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata, which used to be limited to the county of Dorset, has increased eight-fold since the early 1980s, whilst declining in Spain, as predicted from changes in weather relative to the species’ preferences.

The American Robin Turdus migratorius, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas.
The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University, believe the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents. According to Dr Willis this research: “Helps us to understand where climate change is affecting populations, and to understand the causes of population changes of common birds that might also be affected by factors such as habitat loss and agricultural intensification.”.

According to Co-author Dr Stuart Butchart, Head of Science at BirdLife International the study:

“Adds to the body of evidence that many of the world’s birds have already been impacted by climate change, mostly in negative ways. It is a further warning that actions are urgently needed to minimise climate change and to help nature and people adapt.”

BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society released a report entitled The Messengers, at the Paris meeting of the UN Convention on Climate Change in late 2015. Today’s paper in Science extends some of the work synthesised in The Messengers, and shows that similar impacts are being felt across both Europe and North America.

The study was only made possible by the dedication of thousands of volunteers who survey birds on the same survey plots using the same rigorous methods every year. Understanding better the consequences of climate change is one of the many ways individuals have to fight it.

Ulcinj Salina's salt pans could be saved by the very birds it protects

Ulcinj Salina's salt pans could be saved by the very birds it protects

From being an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), to almost being turned into a hotel and golf courses, to now possibly becoming an eco resort, the battle for the Montenegrin salt pans of Ulcinj Salina among the government, conservationists and a private company has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least.

But the fate of one of the most important nesting, wintering and roosting sites for migrating Mediterranean waterbirds is not yet sealed, and it could yet be saved by the very birds it is meant to protect.

Salina has ensured the successful coexistence of economic development and natural habitat for decades. It was bought by a private company in 2003. Five years later, the government in its national spatial plan (which determines what land can be used for what purpose) decided to give the new owner permission to turn it into a tourist attraction, with a hotel and golf courses.

Four years of protests by NGOs, including CZIP (BirdLife in Montenegro) led to the withdrawal of that permission by the government in 2012 and an amendment to the spatial plan that stated Ulcinj Salina would remain a protected area.

But the story doesn’t end there. The company went bankrupt in 2013, leading to the closure of the salt pans. They no longer pumped our fresh water and pumped in salt water – which is vital to preserve it as a bird habitat. In 2014, the private company took the government to court, aiming to get full rights to the IBA, rather than just the salt factory buildings. It also wanted the government delete the amendments to its spatial plan. This demand was approved by the Constitutional Court, which decided to abolish the amendments because the government had used incorrect procedure to insert them.

Ulcinj Salina, home to around 252 bird species such as flamingos, Dalmatian Pelicans and Spotted Redshanks, has its international supporters as well. In 2014, the ambassadors of France, Germany and Poland urged the Montenegrin government to protect the site.

Eventually, however, the plea fell on deaf ears. As of February this year, Ulcinj Salina is no longer mentioned in the spatial plan. Instead, it is now included in a separate draft special spatial plan for the coast of Montenegro, with a vision to turn it into an ‘eco resort’ spread over 70 ha in two important pools recognized as a bird buffer area.And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The company drafting the special spatial plan is owned by Prime Minister’s brother, whose bank has mortgages on 70% of Ulcinj Salina.

This, despite an environmental report commissioned by the local authorities says it should remain a protected area. In fact, the site has even qualified to be protected under the Ramsar Convention to protect wetlands. The government has not announced its final decision of the site’s fate.
CZIP is also organising the second international conference on the protection of Ulcinj Salina this month to promote the need and actions required to protect the site on a national and international level. The main purpose of this second conference is to push the pending fulfilment of most of the conclusions – including restarting the site’s drainage system, designating Ulcinj Salina a Ramsar site and the prevention of illegal killing of birds at the site – on which all the participants of the 1st conference agreed in April 2015.

Since the first conference, some progress has been achieved in terms of nominating a temporary management of the area (the National Parks of Montenegro, until August 2016), and in terms of the re-functioning of the Ulcinj Salina ecosystem, but national and international protection has still not been achieved.

Meanwhile, Montenegrins are slowly waking up to the threats faced by Ulcinj Salina. On 30 January 2016, CZIP organised a visit to the site for more than 200 people. The hiking association of Podgorica organized a trip on 28 February for 120 people and another on 12 March to see the flamingos in the salt marshes. Another tour is scheduled for May.
Locals are also getting more actively involved in the protection of the site. During the public hearing for the special spatial plan, more than 100 citizens from the Ulcinj Salina area attended. All of them agreed on one thing: Salina should be saved from infrastructure development.

But the future of the birds and Ulcinj Salina ultimately rests with the government of Montenegro, and how important it deems the protection of the country’s national environment.

Preserving the Batumi bottleneck

Every autumn, millions of birds of prey make their way south from the Russian forests and plains to their warmer African wintering grounds. This migration takes them through high Caucasus, and along the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, which are difficult to cross. Nowhere is this migration more impressive than in Batumi, Georgia – a 10-km wide corridor between the Black Sea and the Lesser Caucasus mountains – where over a million birds of prey (raptors) are recorded annually.

The phenomenon never fails to impress, both in diversity and in numbers: 36 species of raptors have been recorded here, and on peak days their numbers regularly reach over 100.000 (the all-time record count for the species stands at 271.000 on 2 October, 2014, after days of rain kept the gates of the Batumi bottleneck closed and made migrants accumulate in the north).

Late August sees the passage of virtually the entire eastern population of Honey Buzzards and loose flocks of hundreds of harriers. Bee-eaters are everywhere, and small flocks of rollers add colour to the mix. In mid-September, eagles start to migrate and towards the end of the month, Steppe Buzzards start building up.

Sadly, the abundance of birds during migration has also inspired a local tradition of illegal killing. The green hills are dotted with hides where locals target low-flying migrants, especially raptors. On average, about 13.000 harriers, Honey Buzzards and eagles are killed every year. This is illegal in Georgia, but law enforcement has been limited so far.

The coastal wetlands are also frequented by large herds of hunters. Although most of them have a hunting license, many fire indiscriminately at any birds they see, thereby killing many threatened species. Sociable Lapwing, Great Snipe, Baillon’s Crake and Purple Swamphen are just a few examples of the species that have been found shot in the area.

Moreover, the whole coastal area is threatened with infrastructure development, and huge amounts of money are being invested in the construction of new resorts. The Chorokhi delta – a 500 hectare mosaic of habitats that is home to 266 species – currently does not have any protection status and is under immediate threat.

The Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO) in Georgia and the Batumi Raptor Count (BRC) have joined forces to ensure the protection of this unique area. A raptor count in 2008 put Batumi firmly on the map as a prime birdwatching destination and since then, hundreds of birdwatchers have visited Batumi. The guesthouses established in local villages have helped to generate a source of income for the local communities, and have played a major role in convincing them to give up illegal killing and hunting.

Through educational and awareness-raising campaigns, SABUKO has created strong public support for the protection of migratory birds. Responsible falconers have been involved in this work, and many of them have joined a ringing scheme, supported by the Champions of the Flyway, aimed at ending the killing of ‘bycatch’ in their nets.

All of this culminates in the Batumi Birding Festival, which will be held this year from 25 September to 1 October, 2016. During this event, BirdLife will showcase the conservation work done in the Batumi bottleneck.

It is also a unique opportunity to do some of the best birding anywhere in Europe, led by some of the most famous birders and conservationists, including Dick Forsman (a Finnish ornithologist and expert in raptor identification), David Lindo (writer and ‘Urban Birder’), Rob Sheldon (conservationist known for his work with the Sociable Lapwing) and Andrea Corso (a top Italian birder).

By participating in this event, you will help us raise funds for the development of SABUKO into a full BirdLife partner, and to allow BRC to continue its annual raptor counts.

Finding Beck's Petrel

Finding Beck's Petrel

A small, dark seabird with a white underbelly faces almost certain extinction unless its nesting grounds are found. It is with this sense of obligation that an intrepid BirdLife International team sets off on an eight day voyage of discovery this weekend.

They will set out to sea on the trail of the Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki somewhere near New Island and New Britain in Papua New Guinea. More than eighty years since it was first described, the species’ nesting grounds still remain unknown.

Team member Jez Bird explains that this means we need to act immediately: “Throughout the Pacific, we know that petrels have either disappeared from historic sites, or populations are declining on most of the islands where they cling on. The greatest threat has consistently been predation by invasive species, so finding the Beck’s Petrel nest sites is paramount to assessing their fortunes and launching any follow-up action.”

Beck’s Petrel has an estimated population size of 50-249 mature individuals. We do not have long to save their chicks and eggs from predation by invasive mammals.

As part of a Pacific-wide conservation initiative, Petrels in Peril, a new approach is being trialled to find the nesting grounds of Beck’s Petrel: it aims to capture birds at sea in order to fit small tracking devices. Team member Chris Gaskin has experienced success with this technique, having used it in helping discover the previously unknown nests of New Zealand Storm-petrel Fregretta maoriana.

As Chris clarifies, “This is the start of a long road, but the next couple of weeks will be crucial. Each time we attempt this there’s a lot to be learned. Will we find birds? Can we attract them close enough to capture? Will the tracking technology work? All vital questions, but after this trip we expect to have answers.”

Since their rediscovery at sea in 2007 by Hadoram Shirihai, successive trips have begun to reveal the whereabouts of Beck’s Petrel. While there is still very little known about the species, BirdLife’s work has honed in on a search area. The trip will focus its attention on the seas around the southern tip of New Ireland, one of Papua New Guinea’s remote Bismarck Islands. If the petrels are found, and if they can be attracted close enough, then a specially designed net will be deployed to capture the birds. Any birds caught will be quickly retrieved and their breeding condition assessed, the bird photographed and released safely back to sea.

“We do have a few additional tricks up our sleeve. If the conditions are right and the birds are there, we will be using every means possible to find out as much as we can about them this time round”, Chris adds. “The plan is to return in 2017 to fit transmitters that will ultimately allow us to identify where the birds raise their young on land.”

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is supporting conservation work throughout the islands of Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Vanuatu. Beck’s Petrel is one of their focal species. Funded by CEPF this project is taking place in collaboration with local conservation group Ailan Awareness and the Wildlife Conservation Society and has the support of the New Ireland Provincial Government and the Conservation and Environment Authority of Papua New Guinea. With these organisations, the project is aiming to build a wider constituency to support future Becks Petrel conservation efforts. John Aini, head of Ailan Awareness affirmed: “We are stewards here on New Ireland. Every species represents part of a bigger picture that we’re dedicated to protecting for future generations. That’s why we’re supporting this important project.”

For further information about the Beck's Petrel project please contact

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2016 |  World Bird News April 2016

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