World Bird News February 2007

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2007 |  World Bird News February 2007

New Zealand takes action on longlining


Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) have applauded the New Zealand government’s decision to impose new restrictions on longline fishing in New Zealand waters.
“We are pleased that as an initial measure all surface longlining within the New Zealand EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] will now be confined to night setting and that all vessels must use approved bird scaring devices.” commented Kirstie Knowles, Forest and Bird Conservation Advocate.
Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton recently announced three measures to be imposed to help reduce seabird bycatch. As well as putting into force a daytime ban and use of bird-scaring devices (tori-lines), a notice period for longline fishing voyages is also to be implemented allowing the Fisheries Ministry to organise observer programmes where necessary.
“It’s a positive step forward, and a good example of what we’re working to promote with fisheries and governments.” said Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Coordinator. “These measures are simple, easy to put into practice and above all they're effective. If they’re correctly implemented they will certainly have a positive impact on some of the threatened albatross species in New Zealand waters.”
The decision is thought to have been prompted by Ministry observations of seabird bycatches in late 2006. Onboard a fishing vessel in the Kermedec Islands, 50 albatross were caught as bycatch along with seven petrels and two Leatherback Turtles. Most of the albatrosses caught were Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis, endemic to New Zealand and listed as Vulnerable by BirdLife International.
“While these measures are a good first step to address the issue of seabird bycatch we hope that satisfactory longer term solutions will be found not just for seabirds, but also for sharks and turtles which are caught as significant bycatch by this method of fishing,” Ms Knowles said.

Hihi returns home after 125 years


One of New Zealand’s rarest birds - the Stitchbird Notiomystis cincta - today returns to the Auckland mainland for the first time in 125 years.
30 of the rare birds, locally called ‘Hihi’, are to be released in the Waitakere Ranges after being brought over from the Tiritira Matangi Islands, itself a reintroduction site for Stitchbird.
Once widespread over the North Island and adjacent offshore islands of New Zealand, Stitchbird has suffered significantly from the joint threats of introduced predators and habitat destruction. The release will be the first time the birds have been on the Auckland mainland since they became locally extinct in the 1880s.
Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) are one of the organisations involved in the reintroduction programme, named ‘Ark in the Park’:
“Hihi are currently still vulnerable to extinction and establishing additional populations is a core focus for their recovery.” commented Sandra Jack of Forest & Bird. “We hope that a self-sustaining population will become established in the forest in the Waitakere Ranges, improving the species’ chances of long-term survival.”
This month’s transfer will be followed by a second transfer of another 30 birds in April.Although supplementary food and nest boxes will be provided initially, it is expected that Stitchbird will eventually be able to rely on natural food sources and nesting sites in the 1000 hectares of mature forest at the site.
Intensive use of traps and poison bait stations, maintained largely through the efforts of a large team of community volunteers, will protect the birds from predation by invasive species like possums, rats and stoats.
The birds will be fitted with transmitters so they can be effectively monitored for up to six weeks after release.

Via Baltica Expressway: Construction to destroy Poland’s Rospuda Valley set to start


The construction in north-east Poland of the highly controversial section of the Via Baltica expressway – the Augustow Town bypass – through the pristine Rospuda wetlands is set to start today.
Last night the decision to start building was announced by both Poland’s Minister of Environment, Jan Szyszko, and Tadeusz Topczewski, the director of the General Directorate for Roads and Highways in Bialystok which is the project investor.
The European Commission has decided to speed up its legal action against Poland which it started in December 2006 and has reprimanded the Polish government.
Stavros Dimas, the EU’s Commissioner for Environment, was quoted in the Polish media yesterday saying: “To prevent irreversible damage to nature we will ask the European Court of Justice to stop the construction.”
The Augustow bypass construction faces strong opposition in Poland and also internationally. The Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish Ombudsman, members of the European Parliament and the European Commission have expressed their dissatisfaction with this investment going ahead according to current plans. However, the Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Minister of Environment Szyszko are supporting the construction work.
The European Commission has announced that it is accelerating its infringement procedure and Mr Dimas sent an immediate warning letter to the Polish Ministry of Environment yesterday. It is understood that a final legal warning letter demanding the stopping of the construction work will be sent by the Commission to the Polish government by next Wednesday.
The Rospuda valley is designated as a European Natura 2000 site for its outstanding biodiversity values. It provides habitat for the protected Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, European Lynx Lynx lynx, Grey Wolf Canis lupus and others.Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager of BirdLife International, said: "Together with other NGOs the whole European Partnership of BirdLife International is extremely concerned by the imminent construction work in Poland. Just as other Member States, Poland needs to respect EU nature legislation. There are feasible alternative routes for Via Baltica, which would result in far less damage to some of Europe's most valuable natural sites. We acknowledge the need to upgrade and develop infrastructure in Poland, but any development must follow the EU legal framework. Anything less would be unfair to other Member States and would risk irreversible damage to unique natural heritage. We will continue to follow these developments and raise our concerns with decision-makers in the EU institutions and in Poland.”
Magda Stoczkiewicz, Policy coordinator of CEE Bankwatch Network in Brussels and herself Polish, said: “The arrogance of the Polish Ministry of Environment in this case is truly remarkable and damaging not only to a unique European nature site but also to our image as a country.”

Expedition solves Aquatic Warbler mystery


After five years of investigations, an expedition team has tracked down the wintering grounds of Europe’s most threatened migratory songbird – the Aquatic Warbler – in Senegal.
“…knowing where they are in winter now provides a starting point to mirror the successful European conservation efforts in Africa.” said Lars Lachmann of RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) who co-organised the expedition to West Africa together with the BirdLife International Aquatic Warbler Conservation Team (AWCT) and the French organisation "Bretagne Vivante".
The expedition discovered good numbers of aquatic warblers in an area of about 100 square kilometres within the Djoudj National Park, an Important Bird Area (IBA) in north-west Senegal. Preliminary estimates range from 5-10,000 birds at this single site.
Researchers from BirdLife International and RSPB combined state-of-the-art scientific analysis with traditional fieldwork to unravel the mystery surrounding the warblers’ unknown wintering sites.
The research team analysed feathers from Aquatic Warblers caught in Europe to help narrow their search. Knowing that the feathers would have been grown on African wintering grounds, the researchers looked for patterns of isotopes and compared these alongside isotope maps of West Africa. The study revealed that the birds spend the winter at sites in a zone just south of the Sahara. An analysis of the few African records in combination with a computer modelling of potentially suitable climatic conditions led researchers to likely areas bordering the Senegal river.
“It’s a long-awaited discovery that gives encouragement to conservationists in both Europe and Africa,” commented Paul K Ndanganga, BirdLife’s African Species Working Group Co-ordinator. “As we increase our knowledge of the areas that are important for warblers, conservationists in the region can now focus efforts into site monitoring, the next step in helping ensure these wintering grounds are adequately managed and better protected.”
Martin Flade, chairman of AWCT, added: “Thankfully, substantial parts of the bird’s wintering range fall within protected areas, with the Djoudj National Park alone possibly holding up to a third of the world population. This wetland, on the southern edge of the Sahara, is likely to be threatened by the southward advance of the Sahara fuelled by climate change. This encroachment is likely to limit the water supply for the national park.”
Aquatic Warbler has declined dramatically in Europe over the last century, and its global population is now down to 15,000 pairs – largely because of drainage of its wetland nesting sites. An estimated 95% of habitat has been lost in the last century.
Future work in the field and with satellite maps will help identify other potential sites in southern Mauritania and elsewhere in western Africa.
The expedition was financially supported by the RSPB, the UK government (DEFRA), the Bonn Convention (CMS), and the German Ornithological Society.

Grenada Government defiant as dove sanctuary protest grows


Pressure continues to be put on the government of Grenada and the Four Seasons Hotel Group by conservationists worldwide, after proposed plans to build a large-scale resort on one of the last remaining habitats for Grenada Dove Leptotila wellsi appear to continue unabated.
The Mount Hartman National Park – coined the ‘Dove Sanctuary’ – is to be sold to make way for the Four Seasons Resort. The National Park holds 22% of the global population of this Critically Endangered bird – equating to just 20 pairs.
Since news of the potential sale of the park was announced a number of ornithologists, conservation organisations and high-profile supporters have lent their voice to the campaign, putting forward arguments against the sale and condemning the government of Grenada and Four Seasons for what are deemed by many to be “irresponsible” actions.
Most recently, respected author Graeme Gibson has fronted a website that gives advice to those seeking information on how best to lobby the government of Grenada and Four Seasons on the issue.
Events started in December 2006 when BirdLife International first reported news of the potential sale of the National Park. A press release at the time talked of the government “critically compromising” the dove, and showing a “complete disregard” for environmental protection. (‘Government of Grenada sells off National Park for Four Seasons resort’, 19 Dec 2006)
A later press release saw BirdLife raise issue with the Government’s subsequent claims that the development – a 150 room hotel, with 300 separate villas, a golf course, marina and conference centre – would not damage the Grenada Dove habitat. (‘No peace on Earth for rare dove’, 22nd December 2006).“The Government’s claim…is totally unfounded since there has been no analysis of the potential impact of the development on the dove.” David Wege, Caribbean Programme Manager at BirdLife, said at the time.
Pressure has also been applied by Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada (both BirdLife Partners in Canada).
A recent high-profile article in Canada’s Globe & Mail (‘A dying dove’s eviction notice’, 27 January 2007) has highlighted the varied opinions on the subject. While all of those quoted in the article agree that action needs to be taken to ensure that the dove persists on Grenada, many disagree on whether this is realistic within the grounds of such a large-scale hotel development.
One thing remains clear though: if the sale goes ahead, opportunities still exist to make steps necessary to better ensure a future for Grenada Dove on the island.
BirdLife’s stance on the issue remains firm:
“We will continue pushing the government and Four Seasons until they share their plans and open the doors for productive dialogue.” David Wege said earlier today.
Grenada Dove is the national bird of Grenada. In recent years it has been celebrated in Grenada as an icon for conservation, ecotourism and the environment and as such it has appeared in schools, festivals and even on stamps.
Noted author Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood, co-patrons of birdlife's rare bird club,have created a website for lobbying lobbying both Grenada and the Four Seasons.

Slender-billed Vulture nests found in Cambodia: a first for South-East Asia


The discovery of South-East Asia’s only known Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris breeding colony has highlighted further Cambodia’s role as a stronghold for Asia’s plummeting vulture populations.
Cambodian conservationists found five nests in the Seasan Important Bird Area (IBA) whilst undertaking surveys of birds near the Mekong river in Cambodia’s Stung Treng Province.
“We discovered the nest on top of a hill where two other vulture species were also found,” said Song Chansocheat, of the Ministry of Environment/WCS Cambodia Programme. “Amazingly, there were also a host of other globally threatened species of birds and primates. It’s a very special place.”
“It’s an important discovery, particularly because it’s the first of its kind in South-East Asia.” said Jonathan C. Eames, Programme Manager for BirdLife International in Indochina.
Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris was once common in parts of South and South-East Asia but in recent years the population has declined sharply, some estimates suggesting by as much as 99%.
Veterinary use of Diclofenac, a drug used to treat cattle, has been the driving force behind the dramatic vulture declines seen in South Asia. However, use of the drug, now being phased out across the region, appears non-existent in Cambodia. As a result the Kingdom is now an important stronghold for vultures in the region – as long as conservation work can ensure that populations are adequately protected.
“Even without the shadow of Diclofenac, vultures in Cambodia share other threats like persecution and particularly, a lack of adequate food sources in the wild – itself a symptom of Asia’s disappearing megafauna [large prey].” said Bou Vorsak, Acting Programme Manager at the BirdLife Cambodia Programme. “Vulture conservation is therefore dependent on finding out which areas are important to vultures and taking steps, with local communities and provincial governments, to ensure they are adequately conserved.”The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Programme has been working to promote scientific research, with efforts on-the-ground to protect sites and to raise awareness of vultures as important aspects of Asian biodiversity. One of the most significant outcomes has been the use of ‘vulture restaurants’ – purposely placed dead livestock – as a means of attracting vultures to allow project staff to survey and monitor populations. The exercise is also an important opportunity to provide supplementary food for the vultures, which appears to be the main limiting factor on vulture populations.
“It’s entirely possible that the supplementary food sources of the nearby vulture restaurants have directly boosted the reproductive success of Slender-billed Vultures at this new nest site.” commented Vorsak.
The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, is a collaborative project of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Environment, BirdLife International Cambodia Programme, the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Programme, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature Cambodia Programme. The project has been supported by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

Piping Plover lawsuit: Canadian government reverses decision


Nature Canada (BirdLife in Canada) has applauded the move by the federal government of Canada to settle an outstanding court case that surrounds the protection of Piping Plover Charadrius melodus.
The move could be the first step towards enhanced protection for many of Canada’s other endangered species, say conservationists.
In December 2006, BirdLife were among those reporting that a coalition of organisations were to file a lawsuit against the Canadian Environment Minister for her ministry's refusal to identify critical habitat in the recovery strategy of Piping Plover.
“For naturalists, the court case was a last resort that we saw as a choice between doing nothing and risking extinction of not just the plovers, but also Canada’s endangered species protection law,” said Julie Gelfand, President of Nature Canada.
The alliance of organisations stated that the federal government was failing to adequately implement the Species at Risk Act by not identifying critical habitat in recovery planning documents for Piping Plover. “We hope this move by the minister signals the possibility that both [the Piping Plover and Canada’s other endangered species] can be saved.” said Gelfland.
The turn-around came as a surprise to the organisations involved. Last week each was informed by government lawyers that the government would immediately pull the current Piping Plover recovery strategy and reintroduce it with critical habitat identified.
In addition, it was announced that the government would address a backlog on recovery planning for over 50 endangered species.
“It takes science to identify habitat and political will to protect it,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation, another of the organisations involved. “We applaud the government’s change of heart but the real proof will be in whether the federal cabinet has the will to actually protect the habitat.”

Single Whooping Crane survives Florida tornadoes


A juvenile Whooping Crane found with Sandhill Cranes in a Florida wildlife refuge is the sole survivor of a flock which followed ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida, in the latest phase of one of the world’s most famous conservation projects.
Conservationists feared all 18 birds had died, either struck by lightning or drowned when a storm surge struck their enclosure. No one knows how “Number 15” escaped, but the lucky bird was tracked down thanks to a radio transmitter attached to its leg.
Until disaster struck, the organisations that form the Whooping Crane Eastern Migration Partnership had been celebrating the safe arrival of the entire group of young birds from the Necedah refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowittzka in Florida, the first time in six years there had been no losses en route.
The birds were part of a population set up in case disease –or natural disaster- hit the only self sustaining breeding population at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. This population winters near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and currently numbers around 230 birds. There is another, non-migratory population of 70-plus captive-bred birds in Florida.
The Wisconsin-Florida migratory flock now numbers 64 birds, and Number 15 is expected to migrate back to Wisconsin in the company of his elders this spring.

"It's a real disappointment to hear about the loss of the juvenile cranes, especially since it has taken so much coordinated effort to get this project going, but freak accidents happen," said Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon (BirdLife in the US). "The crucial thing is that the reintroductions were working out as a success.”
"So many birds, and they were such good birds," said Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, which began the pioneering work with ultralight aircraft. “It was our hardest migration and our most difficult one to fund."
But the project partners remain determined and conservationists are optimistic that things will go better next year. "The crucial thing is that the reintroductions were working out as a success,” said Greg Butcher. “Things were going so well for the project that we expect it to rebound quickly."

Winter sports threaten Alpine wildlife


With poor snow conditions blighting prospects for skiing at many of Europe's resorts, developers are casting their eyes on the upper slopes, where snowfall is more reliable. But Italian ecologists warn that construction of pistes above the tree line results in fewer species and lower numbers of birds, compared with natural grassland at similar altitudes.
Without much more environmentally sensitive ways of constructing and managing ski runs, species of European conservation concern, such as Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca, Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix and Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, will be put under additional pressure.
Professor Antonio Rolando and colleagues from Turin University measured the number of birds and the number of bird species at seven sites around Susa Valley - site of last year's Winter Olympics - and the Monte Rosa and Monte Bianco massifs in the western Italian Alps. In 35% of ski-run plots not one bird was detected, and 70% of birds recorded were outside the actual strip of the ski-run.
“Bulldozers and power shovels are used to remove soil and provide suitable slopes for skiers. To a lesser extent, vegetation may also be damaged by skiing and ski-piste preparation by snow-grooming vehicles. The ski pistes that we sampled were devastated environmental patches, from which shrubby and herbaceous native vegetation had been removed and/or severely damaged, and artificial seeding - if any - had produced very poor grass cover.”
Areas next to ski runs also suffered, supporting lower numbers of birds. The team found fewer arthropods on the pistes, suggesting that shortage of food may be responsible for so few birds occurring on these sites.Alpine areas have increased in relative value as wildlife habitat, because of environmental changes at lower altitudes. But Professor Rolando says that because environmental conditions at high altitudes are severe, the avian communities may be particularly fragile.

“More than one-quarter of the 26 bird species in this study are classified as species of European conservation concern,” Professor Rolando says. Previous studies have already demonstrated that, as a consequence of ski development, the breeding success of the Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus can decline, and the local range of the Black Grouse may shrink.

Professor Rolando says retaining the birdlife of these zones is likely to involve developing new, environmentally-friendly ways of constructing pistes, such as only removing rocks or levelling the roughest ground surfaces in order to preserve as much soil and natural vegetation as possible.LIPU (BirdLife in Italy) share the concerns raised by the new report:
"Creation of new pistes in the Alps should be reduced to a minimum and less impacting management in the existing ski areas is badly needed.” said Dr Claudio Celada, Director of Conservation at LIPU.
“Artificial snow is being used intensively in nearly all the ski areas in Italy, given snow scarcity. This has an unacceptable impact on the fragile alpine ecosystems and it results in net habitat loss and fragmentation for several alpine species, for whom suitable reproductive areas are rapidly shrinking.” he said. “There is an urgent need to ban new ski areas in alpine SPAs, and to define more environmentally friendly management measures in the existing ones.”

Prime Ministers of China and Japan united in efforts to conserve Endangered Ibis


Prime Ministers of China and Japan have met and discussed the conservation of one of Asia’s flagship birds, Crested Ibis Nipponia Nippon. The move has been deemed a crucial step forward in the conservation of one of the world’s most threatened species.
This important move recognizes that working together is the best way forward for the conservation of the ibis, a species that in the 1980s was considered on the brink of extinction.
The two Prime Ministers met at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in the Philippines.
The step represents years of hard work by a number of specialists, scientists, NGOs and by the two governments involved, both of which have been working toward the re-establishment of wild populations of ibis. Conservationists have highlighted that continued success will be dependent on drawing effectively on the wider expertise of all involved.In 1981 the last five Crested Ibis individuals in Japan were taken into captivity, making the species extinct in the wild in Japan. However in May of the same year, seven wild ibis were rediscovered in central China. By June 2002 this wild population had maintained a steady increase, partly through efforts to protect nest sites and feeding habitats. Current estimates suggest that there are more than 500 wild individuals in China.
Captive breeding remains one of the most important priorities for China and Japan, both of which have had notable recent successes. The two nations are now working toward the reintroduction of these populations back into the wild, with China donating a number of ibis to strengthen the genetic stock of the captive population in Japan, improving their resistance to disease and other threats associated with inbreeding.
News of the meeting has been applauded by conservationists at BirdLife International:
“We are very much hoping this beautiful bird will fly freely in the sky of China and Japan as a symbol of the friendship between the two countries in future.” said Noritaka Ichida, Director, BirdLife International Asia Division.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2007 |  World Bird News February 2007

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