World Bird News January 2009

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Chinese year of the babbler

29-01-2009
A new species of babbler has been described from Guangxi province in south-west China close to the border with Vietnam. Named Nonggang Babbler Stachyris nonggangensis, after the reserve at which it was discovered, this new species is closely related to Sooty Babbler S. herberti but is larger and has white crescent patches behind the ear coverts and dark spots on the upper breast and throat.
Ornithologists, Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu from Guangxi University first sighted the birds in surveys during 2005 and confirmed its identity as an undescribed taxon the following year. A formal description was published in a recent edition of leading ornithological journal The Auk.

In general behaviour it resembles a wren-babbler of the genus Napothera in that it prefers running to flying, and seems to spend most of its time on the ground foraging for insects between rocks and under fallen leaves. This is in contrast to other closely-related babbler species that spend most of their time foraging in undergrowth and trees, seldom coming to the ground. No nest has yet been found. About 100 pairs of the birds have been observed in Nonggang.
"I have been studying birds in the region since the 1970s but I had never seen it before. Their habitat in the reserve is protected", Zhou says. "But as they could also exist in the karst rainforest outside the reserve, logging and burning wood to make charcoal pose a threat to their wider habitat." Its natural habitat is karst seasonal rainforest that, following selective cutting, is dominated by Burretiodendron hsienmu.

"The limestone area in south-western Guangxi is part of the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot and the south-east Chinese Mountains Endemic Bird Area, and is one of the most typical tropical karst regions in the world", Zhou continues. "The fragility of the karst ecosystem and its destruction by people pose great threats to the bird's existence. Therefore, research and conservation of the birds in this habitat is very urgent."
"This is exciting evidence that there could be many more interesting discoveries awaiting ornithologists in China", said Dr Nigel Collar, the Leventis Fellow in Conservation biology at BirdLife International.
This taxon will be assessed in due course by the BirdLife taxonomic working group. If treated as a full species, its conservation status will then be evaluated by BirdLife, the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

A new dawn for Malta

23-01-2009

Situated on the central European-African flyway the Maltese Islands should be a haven for migrating birds. Unfortunately this is not the case. Internationally, Malta has a deserved reputation for bird persecution as trapping and illegal hunting are widespread. Since accession to the European Union (EU), conditions have improved on the islands, with spring hunting and trapping stopped last year. This year, if Accession Treaty negotiations are honoured, an even bigger step forward will be taken, with the banning of trapping.

The Birds Directive forbids trapping in EU member states. During Accession Treaty negotiations prior to joining the EU in 2004, Malta negotiated a five year phasing out period for the practise of trapping. This period expired at the end of 2008, and according to these agreements, 2009 will be the first year that trapping should be banned in Malta.

Trappers, using live decoy birds and clap nets, target seven species of finch, European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur, Song Thrush Turdus philomelos and Eurasian Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria. Common Quail Coturnix coturnix are also caught using horizontal nets and live decoy birds. There are approximately 4500 registered trappers, and according to the latest survey by the Malta Environment Planning Authority run in 2004, there are over 7,000 trapping sites in the Maltese Islands. These trapping sites are densely packed along the coast and are even visible from the air. It is not just migrating birds but biodiversity in general that has suffered at the hands of Maltese trappers. To make space for clap nets, vegetation on these sites is burnt or killed off with toxic herbicides, resulting in a loss of valuable habitat for many species of flora and fauna. Furthermore, nets are often left lying un-attended on the ground throughout the closed season, causing many birds and animals to become entangled in the fine mesh and die a slow death from exposure or starvation.
“The ban would be an excellent first step, through which the Maltese will be better able to enjoy their countryside” said Tolga Temuge, BirdLife Malta’s (BirdLife in Malta) Executive Director. “For the ban to be honoured it is vital to encourage respect and admiration for nature amongst both the public and trappers. To this end BirdLife Malta will be launching a Life+ funded campaign, aimed at informing the Maltese public and trappers of the benefits to be had once trapping ceases completely”.
With trapping a thing of the past, not only will migratory birds be safer passing over the islands, but Malta can look forward to having its own breeding populations of song birds – birds which at present are absent due to this widespread and damaging activity.

Penguins are walking an increasingly rocky road

16-01-2009
A new study, published in BirdLife International’s journal, Bird Conservation International, has revealed that the Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi – which is principally found on UK territories in the South Atlantic – has declined by 90% over the last 50 years <Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>.
Historical records estimate that millions of penguins used to occur on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, but, declines (of more than 90%) have dramatically reduced their numbers in the last half century.
"Historically, we know that penguins were exploited by people, and that wild dogs and pigs probably had an impact on their numbers. However, these factors cannot explain the staggering declines since the 1950s, when we have lost upwards of a million birds from Gough and Tristan. The declines at Gough since the 1950s are equivalent to losing 100 birds every day for the last 50 years", said Richard Cuthbert of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and lead author of the paper. "With more than half the world’s penguins facing varying degrees of extinction, it is imperative that we establish the exact reason why the Northern Rockhopper Penguin is sliding towards oblivion. Understanding what’s driving the decline of this bird will help us understand more about other threatened species in the Southern Ocean."
Possible factors for the decline of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin include climate change, shifts in marine ecosystems and overfishing.
There is concern that the British Government will not put any great effort or resources into wildlife conservation for the United Kingdom’s overseas territories. Meetings held so far between ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Development have failed to reach agreement.

"They are completely disinterested," said Sarah Sanders, the RSPB’s Overseas Territories Officer, said. "It's ridiculous and embarrassing. We are meant to be world leaders in biodiversity conservation and we can't even decide who is responsible for the overseas territories."
The Northern Rockhopper Penguin population on Gough is estimated at 32,000 to 65,000 pairs, with another 40,000 to 50,000 pairs on Tristan. These two strongholds account for more than 80% of the world population, the rest are found on two French-administered islands, St Paul and Amsterdam in the Indian Ocean, and are declining just as rapidly.
British overseas territories boast several species of bird found nowhere else in the world including four species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest threat category.

Fujian Birdwatchers take Chinese Crested Tern message to schools

12-01-2009
With an estimated population of not more than 50 birds, the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern Sterna bernsteini is one of Asia's most threatened birds. Only three regular sites are known, two used for breeding (Mazu and Jiushan Islands, off the coasts of Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces respectively), and one for staging (Min Jiang Estuary, Fujian Province).
The greatest threat to the tern's survival is egg collection by fishermen for food, which continues even though the Mazu and Jiushan Islands breeding sites are both within protected areas. According to the International Single Species Action Plan <Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>, prepared for the Convention on Migratory Species under the supervision of BirdLife's Asia Division, the immediate priority is to strictly enforce the relevant conservation laws, accompanied by an education programme targeted at local communities, especially fishing communities.
The Fujian Bird Watching Society had already begun its own surveys of Chinese Crested Tern when it approached BirdLife/Hong Kong Bird Watching Society China Programme for support. The result, thanks to a grant from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, was the action for the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern project, which aims to locate undiscovered breeding colonies and feeding areas along the coastline between Fuding City and Pintan Island in Fujian Province.
The project, which will last 18 months from July 2008 to December 2009, is also conducting education and awareness work at schools and local communities around key sites in northern Fujian Province, and raising awareness of the need for strengthened law enforcement and other actions among stakeholders in Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces.
Twelve volunteers from the Fujian Bird Watching Society are involved in the education and awareness work at schools and local communities. In the first three months of the project, they prepared a variety of materials including posters, banners and exhibition boards, flags for the Volunteer Chinese Crested Tern Conservation Groups, materials for talks, and a video of Chinese Crested Tern, with an information leaflet about the tern and other seabirds to follow.
The opening ceremony for the project was held at Fuzhou Wushan Primary School, which is attended by children of government officials. "We hope that the students will be able to influence their parents", said Mr Yang Jin, President of FBWS. Two hundred students and teachers attended the ceremony and the accompanying bird photo exhibition and talks, and information about Chinese Crested Tern was distributed. The event was reported by The Ta Kung Pao Hong Kong, Southeast Morning Post, Fuzhou Evening Post, Southeast Post, Fujian TV, Fuzhou TV and Fujian People's Radio, among others.

A workshop in early November trained members of the volunteer groups in communications techniques such as organising talks and environmental games, and answering questions from the public about Chinese Crested Tern. After the workshop, five volunteers visited the Changle Jinfeng Secondary School, the school nearest the Min Jiang estuary. Forty students and teachers, including the school principal, joined in activities which included birdwatching, talks and a bird photo exhibition.
Education and awareness work has continued, including visits to a school in Mawei region, to the communities in Lianjiang and Ningde, and to two fishing villages in Fuding City. Further work in Fuqing, Pingtan, Louyuan and Xiapu is planned for early 2009.

Click here for Chinese Crested Tern Species Action Plan Pdf

The Common Kingfisher is Germany’s

The Common Kingfisher is Germany’s "Bird of the year" 2009

09-01-2009

NABU (BirdLife in Germany) and their Bavarian partner - Landesbund für Vogelschutz (LBV) - have nominated Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis as their Bird of the Year 2009. The aim of this very popular initiative is to focus peoples attention on a particular species and its habitat. NABU started nominating the 'Bird of the Year' in 1971. The first one was Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, which, thanks to this and many other conservation projects, is no longer on the Red List of threatened birds in Germany.
Common Kingfisher feeds primarily on small fish and nests in steep natural embankments found alongside the waters edge. It was last chosen as NABU’s Bird of the Year in 1973. “The Common Kingfisher needs the clean water found in streams, rivers and lakes”, said Helmut Opitz, Vice President of NABU (BirdLife in Germany). “We decided to nominate Common Kingfisher again after 36 years because suitable habitats for the species are still scarce despite water protection laws”. Common Kingfisher is one of the species protected by the EU Birds Directive, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Moreover Member States should also implement the protection of its habitats through the Natura 2000 Network.
Common Kingfisher is also the logo of LBV who celebrate their 100th anniversary this year. “Nomination of the Common Kingfisher should reopen discussions about Germany’s failing water protection laws”, commented Ludwig Sothmann, President of LBV. “In Bavaria there are plans to develop hydropower in fast flowing rivers which could threaten important kingfisher habitats”.
Common Kingfisher is about the size of a House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Since it was first declared Bird of the Year in 1973, the German Common Kingfisher population has varied between 5,600 and 8,000 breeding pairs. Due to bad engineering of water ways, water pollution and tourism, Common Kingfisher is still a rare bird in many parts of Germany.

Sooty Falcon requires urgent action

07-01-2009
A Sooty Falcon Falco concolor has been tracked from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to its wintering areas in Madagascar by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD). This is the first satellite tracking of Sooty Falcon anywhere in the world. BirdLife believes this monitoring to provide useful information to help conserve this declining species. However, urgent action is now needed to protect breeding sites of this rare falcon on Abu Dhabi islands and elsewhere in the Gulf.
Sooty Falcons breed in scattered, highly localised colonies in the Middle East and time their breeding to coincide with the autumn migration of small birds. Most of the population winters in Madagascar where they hunt large insects.
The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) fitted the Sooty Falcon with a satellite transmitter at its nest on islands in the Sila Peninsula, Abu Dhabi. H.E Majid Al Mansouri, Secretary General of EAD, expressed his pride and reiterated the importance of such scientific studies.
"We chose to track the Sooty Falcon … because it is a key species for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi," said Abdulnasser Al Shamsi, EAD Director of Biodiversity Management Sector.
The bird – known as 'Ibn Battuta' - departed the UAE in October and was recorded flying over Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique before crossing into Madagascar, its final destination for the winter. "This first ever tracking of the species is a fantastic addition to world science," said Dr Salim Javed, EAD Deputy Manager of Bird Conservation. Altogether Ibn Battuta flew through seven countries and covered 6,700 km.
Sooty Falcon has recently been uplisted to Near Threatened owing to concerns that its population may be much smaller than previously thought, and in decline. A recent EAD breeding survey revealed a fall of 64% since 1994. They reported that the species had disappeared from several former nesting locations, and only six known breeding pairs remain. EAD scientists believe that the loss may be a result of disturbance from development and human presence during the nesting season.
“In the Arabian Gulf the situation appears to have reached a critical stage for nesting Sooty Falcons”, said Ibrahim Al-khader, BirdLife’s Director for the Middle East. “BirdLife is extremely concerned about this rare falcon. In biological terms the UAE Sooty Falcon population now critically close to extinction and requires immediate conservation action”.
BirdLife recently reported how the EAD were instrumental in forming a new agreement that will aid concerted conservation effort necessary across different countries. “Initiating such a multi-national collaborative project on Sooty falcon would be one of the best ways to kick-start the implementation of the Action Plan of the newly established MoU on Migratory Birds of Prey, recently concluded in Abu Dhabi," added Dr Salim Javed.


BirdLife believes that implementation of the 'African-Eurasian Memorandum of Understanding on Birds of Prey' will provide broad-scale actions to help Sooty Falcon. However, targeted action is now urgently required. “What needs to be achieved quickly and effectively is conservation of the remaining nesting sites of this falcon on the Abu Dhabi islands, as well as elsewhere in the Gulf”, commented Ibrahim Al-khader.


BirdLife’s Important Bird Area (IBA) programmes, and EAD’s own studies, have identified a number of the islands of Abu Dhabi as being of international importance for birds of prey which urgently require formal protection by the UAE authorities. “BirdLife respectfully wishes to propose that Faziya, Furaijidat, Qasr Khayain, Ghagah and Jazeera Shoot should be formally protected and managed in time for the next breeding season”, said Ibrahim Al-khader. “There really is no time to lose”.
BirdLife also highlights a number of urgent conservation actions for these important Sooty Falcon locations. “Without such actions, one of the Middle East’s most beautiful and extraordinary birds of prey will disappear from the region”, concluded Ibrahim Al-khader. The actions include:

1.Restricting, where and when possible, access to breeding colonies of Sooty Falcon at the above sites.
2.Controlling any future development within these sites that would negatively affect breeding colonies and ensure that environment assessments and regulations are implemented for any potential development.
3.Annual monitoring of the breeding colony at these sites to assess the population trend.
4.Conducting research of breeding and wintering species at these sites to be designated as IBAs except for Ghagah (which is already an IBA) to enable their official recognition and protection.

Prevent extinctions

Prevent extinctions

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