World Bird News February 2009

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2009 |  World Bird News February 2009

The state of Australia's birds

Many native Australian bird species are declining. Birds of garden, water, scrub and woodland are showing marked falls in their populations says a new report by Birds Australia (BirdLife in Australia). The encouraging news is that the status of some species is improving as a result of conservation action.
This is the sixth ‘the state of Australia’s birds’ report, and presents an up-to-date overview of the health of bird populations in Australia and the main challenges to their sustainability. This 2008 report focuses on trends in bird populations revealed by around 50 long-term monitoring programs that have been running for up to 40 years.
Trends in bird populations are mixed, but more species are in decline than were reported in 2003. Common birds are far less common than they once were, for example populations of the familiar Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen have slumped.
“Many, and perhaps most, of our native birds are in decline for a range of reasons including habitat loss and introduced predators”, said Dr Graeme Hamilton - Birds Australia CEO.
The report documents that many of Australia’s waterbird populations are in serious decline due to a combination of the severe drought – especially around the Murray–Darling Basin - and poor water management practices.
Australia’s shorebirds are being closely monitored to ensure they do not share the same fate as the waterbirds. Nevertheless, numbers of migratory shorebirds, such as Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis and Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, which fly thousands of kilometres from Siberia each year, have fallen sharply in recent years, as have populations of resident shorebirds, such as Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae.
Birds in the bush are faring little better, but still declining. Woodland birds, such as robins, thornbills, fantails and treecreepers, which feed on insects on or near the ground, have all declined in south-eastern Australia due to habitat clearance and other modification. Birds of the heathland, such as Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus in Western Australia and Endangered Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus in south-eastern Queensland, have also reached perilously low numbers, due to bushfires.
The encouraging news is that where active management is undertaken success in improving the state of bird populations is more prevalent than failure. This is especially true of Globally Threatened birds, such as Gould's Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera and Superb Parrot Polytelis swainsonii. Both Vulnerable species have been actively managed, with recovery plans that have seen habitat protected, rehabilitated or replanted, predators controlled, nest-boxes provided and captive-bred birds released.
Although the report deals with birds, the findings have much broader implications for nature and society—birds are indicators of national quality of life. “This loss of bird biodiversity is serious as it will also reflect the loss in other groups such as mammals, reptiles, and plants”, commented Dr Hamilton.
“Birds Australia have done an impressive job of analysing the latest information on trends in bird populations”, said Alison Stattersfield – BirdLife’s Head of Science. “Their findings are extremely concerning and mirror those presented in BirdLife International’s ‘State of the world’s birds’ report published last year”.
“Globally, there is increasing evidence from long-term monitoring studies of major changes in bird communities and their habitats, with many species declining and few increasing. Our conservation efforts need to be geared up tremendously to halt this loss of biodiversity”.
To download a free copy Pdf The State of Australia's Birds Click here

Dalmatian Pelicans illegally shot in Romania

SOR (BirdLife in Romania) recently received evidence of illegal hunting activities taking place in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. At least eight dead or injured birds were found in the Uzlina area of the Danube Delta. The dead birds were Vulnerable Dalmatian Pelicans Pelecanus crispus and Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmaeus.
The two species are strictly protected from hunting by Romanian legislation, and accidental shooting can be ruled out because the species that were shot are easy to identify. The fact that their killing occurred in a protected area also increases the severity of the case. The Danube Delta is a Biosphere Reserve, a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance), and a Natura 2000 site (Special Protected Area).
The Romanian Dalmatian Pelican population is one of the most important in Europe, estimated at around 400 breeding pairs, of which four individuals were shot. Romania is also home to nearly half the world’s population of Pygmy Cormorant.
SOR is expressing its opposition and deep concern regarding the failure to enforce hunting legislation in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve. “This type of abusive hunting, where the culprits are usually unidentified, tends to be recurrent in this area and can be considered a direct attack on its unique biodiversity”, said Ciprian Fântâna, Conservation Director at SOR.
The Romanian BirdLife Partner has notified the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Administration, the Regional Environment Protection Agency, the Environment Ministry and the Regional Game Associations. All these institutions are responsible for law enforcement and are empowered to find and sanction those responsible for the illegal hunting activities in the Danube Delta.
“The fact that deliberate massacre of Globally Threatened Dalmatian Pelican is still taking place in Europe is a clear call for more efforts to educate and enforce control on the side of authorities, but media and civil society must play their part too”, said Boris Barov, European Conservation Manager at the European Division. “Such appalling news reminds us how deep-rooted poaching is in human behaviour - despite many years of conservation and awareness-raising work”.
The Dalmatian Pelican is qualified as a ‘Nature Monument’ in Romania, listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, and is classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife - the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species

Is there a future for flightless grebes?

Conservation organisations and civil society groups have gathered in the city of Junín, in the Peruvian Andes, to demand action to reverse the deteriorating condition of Lake Junín (Lake Chinchaycocha), the second largest lake in the Peruvian Andes and home to the Critically Endangered Junín Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii.
During the first half of the 20th century, this flightless grebe was described as abundant. Declines followed deterioration in water quality due to pollution from mining, and water abstraction for a hydroelectric plant. The population is now estimated at 100 to 300 individuals.
As a consequence the groups, including BirdLife International, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), ECOAN (Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos) and INRENA have adopted the Junín Grebe as the symbol of wetland conservation in the high Andes.
Lake Junín was declared a national reserve in 1974, and a Ramsar site in 1997, but conditions in and around the lake continued to deteriorate. In 2002, following pressure from lakeside communities and conservationists, the Peruvian government passed an emergency law to protect the lake, control and clean up pollution, and reduce water abstraction.
"In practice, this has not solved anything", says ECOAN's member, Alejandro Tello. “The condition of the lake and the situation for the communities has not improved, and may actually have worsened.”
The Endangered Junín Rail Laterallus tuerosi is also restricted to a small area of the lake, and is declining because of deteriorating habitat quality. The lake’s ecosystems are also important for migratory waterbirds, including globally significant numbers of Wilson’s Phalarope Steganopus tricolor.
The lake provides vital ecosystem services to local communities, who are also suffering from the impact of pollution and water level fluctuations.
The groups are calling for an independent environmental audit, and for social partners and conservation professionals like BirdLife, ABC and ECOAN to carry out continuous environmental monitoring. They are demanding that the lake’s natural resources are managed sustainably for the benefit of local communities, rather than powerful external economic interests.
The area has great potential for development through tourism. Peru’s tourist agency, PromPeru, is working to increase the number of birding visitors, which currently stands at less than 300 a year.
The communities are also demanding compensation for damage done to the lake by mining companies, and for royalties from the hydroelectric company. This will provide resources for the restoration of the lake, including environmental education programmes, and increasing opportunities for sustainable local development.
"This is so our children will not see emigration as the only possible way out of this unjust situation", said Percy Chagua Huaranga, Mayor of Junín province. "If the Junín Grebe recovers and re-colonises other areas of the lake, it will mean not only that we have secured the future of this species and the recovery of the ecosystem, but also that we are changing our view on the irrational exploitation of our natural resources. It's time to be better citizens and not just selfish individuals."
Constantino Aucca, president of ECOAN said, "We are looking to collaborate in a solution for these issues at Junín Lake and to that end, we are helping the Junín National Reserve in their different activities with the objective of conserving these threatened species."
"We have the chance to save from extinction what is probably the most threatened bird in our country", said Fernando Angulo Pratolongo of BirdLife’s Peru Programme. "We have to raise the consciousness of the local people and the authorities at both local and national levels, that we are about to face the extinction of a bird species in front of our eyes. This responsibility will stay with us for ever, so it's time to do something together."
ECOAN, with support from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and ABC, is leading a drive to create this consciousness. And through support from the USFWS-Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act this drive will also take into consideration the needs of migratory species, set within the framework of the Ramsar Convention’s supported High Andean Wetland Strategy.

Arsonists attack Maltese Reserve


On 4 February, the BirdLife Malta (BirdLife in Malta) Ghadira Nature Reserve was targeted by arsonists. An EU LIFE+ Project on Bird Migration and Trapping billboard on the main road was also set on fire.
A night watchman at the the Ghadira Nature Reserve Warden saw huge flames early in the morning, about two stories high, rising up from the north-west border of the reserve. The watchman immediately called the police, and the mobile squad that was already in the area arrived within five minutes. The fire department also arrived and put out the fire.
"The area that has been damaged by the arson attack is on the north-west perimeter of the Ghadira Nature Reserve, with the fire damage inside the reserve boundary, between the outer fence and the ditch", said reserve warden Charles Gauci. “An area of approximately 75 metres by 5 metres has been burnt to the ground. If the reserve had not been so damp, the fire would probably have been much more extensive”.
An EU LIFE+ Project billboard on bird migration and trapping, which was recently set up on the road leading past the Foresta 2000 site away from the reserve, was also set on fire in a second attack. However the flames had only destroyed about a quarter of the sign itself.
Ghadira Nature Reserve was recently broken into twice over the last six weeks. On 16 January an intruder was spotted by the night watchman, crouching near one of the birdwatching hides and left the area when the police arrived at the reserve. In a previous incident on Christmas Eve, the fence of the reserve was cut open and a plank was laid across the moat which surrounds the reserve. Three live shotgun cartridges were also found at the scene by the reserve warden.
Over the last two years BirdLife Malta project sites, staff and active members have been subject to not less than 20 direct attacks and serious threats. There were numerous other incidences where BirdLife Malta staff and volunteers were also verbally abused or birdwatchers cars were vandalised.
On 20 March 2007, Ghadira Nature Reserve was attacked as criminals dumped around 10 gallons of used car oil onto the wetland. In May 2007, several thousand trees and shrubs were chopped down, broken or uprooted at the Foresta 2000 afforestation site in Ghadira. On 17 February 2008, three cars belonging to BirdLife Malta's volunteers, who were carrying out scientific ringing studies at Buskett Bird Sanctuary, were torched. On 23 February 2008, BirdLife Malta campaign billboards on spring hunting featuring Maltese personalities were vandalized. On 29 April 2008, the EU LIFE+ Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan Project Site Warden’s car was targeted. Two bolts on one wheel were loosened and the other two were removed. A serious accident could have occurred if the warden had not noticed that the bolts were loose in time.
BirdLife Malta's President Joseph Mangion said: “The main problem with the prevailing situation is that none of the criminals who carried out these arson and vandal attacks has ever been caught by the police and brought to justice to date. This failure, therefore, protects the perpetrators of these crimes and gives them free rein to continue the abuse. We do not want to hear any more condemnations or promises that these criminals will be brought to justice but want to see results”.

Using science to save the albatross

The crew of the Albatross Task Force last week took a brief break from their work on the high seas to attend the Task Force’s first ever workshop.
Delegates from the Task Force countries (South Africa, Namibia, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile) visited the Chilean fishing port of Coquimbo.
From an initial start in South Africa in 2006, in less than three years the task force has been expanded to seven priority countries where albatrosses are known to die in hugely unsustainable numbers in longline and trawl fisheries.
During a hectic schedule, delegates learnt from one another sharing best practice about their successes. A significant part of the programme was also devoted to carrying out research on three pelagic longline vessels from Coquimbo.
Dr Ben Sullivan - BirdLife Global Seabird Programme Coordinator - who developed the Task Force, said: “We are very proud that in a very short time, the Albatross Task Force has become globally recognised by conservationists and fisheries as a highly effective body finding ways to stop the needless deaths of albatrosses and petrels.
“With many successes already under our belt, the Task Force’s remit will increasingly include an emphasis on at-sea research to develop practical measures to save the lives of albatrosses before it is too late.”
Currently, 18 of the world’s 22 species of albatross are facing extinction, with four of those species being regarded as Critically Endangered, meaning these species are facing an extremely high risk of global extinction.
In longline fisheries albatrosses die when they try to steal fish bait from hooks. In trawl fisheries, albatrosses are increasingly dying when the birds collide with fishing gear.
A key way to prevent the deaths of albatrosses is to encourage vessels to deploy bird-scaring or tori lines. These lines, complete with streamers suspended from the lines, deter albatrosses and other seabirds from approaching the boats too closely. The deployment of such measures saves the lives of albatrosses and petrels.
Although longline fisheries target fish beyond the diving depth of albatrosses, the birds are vulnerable until the bait sinks. During a packed week of research, the Albatross Task Force has teamed up with two of the world’s most eminent seabird scientists: Graham Robertson of Australian Antarctic Division and Ed Melvin of the Seattle-based Washington Sea Grant. Both scientists, and the Task Force’s manager Ben Sullivan, conducted experiments to explore whether it’s possible to get the bait to sink faster, denying more birds a potentially costly meal.
The Task Force members, who work in some of the harshest conditions on earth, are all committed to the conservation of the world’s threatened seabirds. During the week, the Task Force members signed a declaration, committing themselves to a programme of research to help ensure the future of the world’s most awe inspiring birds.
During the sea voyage, the lucky crew of one vessel spotted a Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremite from New Zealand. One of the world’s Critically Endangered species. Ben Sullivan added: “The sighting of a Chatham Albatross from the other side of the Southern Ocean inspired our teams and reminded them of the importance of our work. This day the albatross was safe, but on another day, it might have drowned on a longline. We must do everything in our power to prevent the needless slaughter of these birds: we have lost too many albatrosses in the past we are determined not to lose many more.”
Over the next few months, the Albatross Task Force teams will conduct a series of experiments, the results of which will be presented in a series of papers at next year’s meeting of ACAP: the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels.

Sending an S.O.S. to the world

Most people have heard of Robinson Crusoe, the castaway of Daniel Defoe’s famous novel, who spent 28 years on a remote tropical island off Venezuela, encountering indigenous natives and mutineers before being rescued. But how many have heard of Alexander Selkirk the real life character on whom the story is believed to be based?
Today (2 February) is the 300 year anniversary of Alexander Selkirk’s rescue from the island of Más a Tierra (also known as Robinson Crusoe island) in the Juan Fernández archipelago. Situated 700 kilometres off the coast of Chile, Selkirk spent four years and four months marooned on the island, surviving by killing and eating goats that had been introduced by earlier passing sailors.
His tale is a remarkable one of survival against the odds. Unfortunately another story of survival from this archipelago hangs in the balance. The same goat population that sustained Selkirk during his time as a castaway (and other introduced species) has wreaked untold damage to the fragile ecosystems of these islands.
The archipelago is home to three endemic bird species, making the Juan Fernández islands one of only 221 endemic bird areas in the world. Two of these species, Juan Fernández Firecrown Sephanoides fernandensis and Masafuera Rayadito Aphrastura masafuerae are classified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category. This puts them on the brink of extinction and unless conservation measures are implemented quickly, their fate may be rather different to that of Alexander Selkirk.
“There are currently 190 bird species classified as Critically Endangered”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “With each of these species we have identified the most urgent conservation actions needed to save them from extinction, but we now need to raise the funds to implement these actions. This is what the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme is trying to do, by recruiting Species Champions to provide this support.”
Implementing adequate measures to restrict the further spread of alien invasive species, and eradicate or control these where they have already established, is one of the 10 Key Actions to prevent extinctions highlighted in a recent BirdLife publication, Critically Endangered Birds: a global audit. Efforts to tackle invasive species in the Juan Fernández archipelago are currently being led by the Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy with support from the American Bird Conservancy.
In response to the global threat to so many bird species, BirdLife has launched the Preventing Extinctions Programme. This is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.
Dr Butchart concludes, “The survival and rescue of Alexander Selkirk is an inspiring story that led to the publication of one of the most popular and enduring novels ever written. We need to act urgently to ensure the survival of the Critically Endangered species he shared the island with, and for all 190 bird species that are on the brink of extinction.”

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2009 |  World Bird News February 2009

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