World Bird News January 2010

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2010 |  World Bird News January 2010

It's time to protect Europe's seabirds


In the last decade an estimated two million seabirds are thought to have died at the hands of the European fishing industry in the waters around Europe and the Atlantic. This slaughter has to stop, say BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), which are urging people to sign a petition to be sent to Maria Damanaki – designate European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries - to bring in long overdue measures to protect these birds.
Several of the species, which die on the end of longline hooks, get caught up in trawls or drown in gill nets are ones which are declining rapidly, and some, such as Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, are considered to be facing extinction within a human generation.
Globally, bycatch in fisheries is threatening more seabirds than ever before and is one of the major factors causing seabirds to decline faster than any other group of birds.
Dr Euan Dunn, RSPB’s Head of Marine Policy, commented: “The European Commission has promised for a decade to bring this slaughter to an end, but two million seabirds later we are still waiting for this commitment to be honoured”.
“Despite proven, low-cost solutions being available, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has so far failed to address the tragedy of seabird bycatch. Several countries outside the EU have started to tackle this issue in a serious way and have shown European leaders how much can be achieved.”
BirdLife International and the RSPB are calling on the European Union to introduce a beacon of hope for seabirds, by introducing without further delay a robust EU Seabird Action Plan, following the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s best practice guidelines.
BirdLife’s seven-point plan includes:

Ensuring that the action plan covers all relevant fisheries and gears, including EU vessels operating in both Community and international waters, including the high seas;
Emergency action for the most threatened species, especially action within one year for Mediterranean longline fisheries killing Balearic Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea and Near Threatened Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan;
Introduce minimum mitigation standards in the areas where threatened species interact with fisheries, not least in areas that are internationally important for seabirds;
Require EU Member States to collect and report seabird bycatch information by having a minimum of 10 per cent on-board observer coverage of fishing effort;
Provide EU funds for research and to develop and test mitigation measures tailored to specific fisheries;
Raise the awareness of the fishing industry and observers through training;
Establish a platform to foster collaboration between scientists, the fishing industry, governments and NGOs to develop and improve the action plan.
Dr Euan Dunn added: “We already know how to stop this slaughter, but we need your help. There are many simple, inexpensive measures that fishing boats can take to prevent seabirds becoming hooked or entangled in nets. These measures also mean that longline boats waste less bait, and take a bigger, more valuable, catch of fish”.

“The EU action plan must include the changes in legislation needed to make sure these measures become routinely used by EU fishing fleets wherever they operate, in home waters or further afield where albatrosses also roam.”
BirdLife has identified hotspots in Europe where vulnerable seabird populations are under siege from fisheries, notably the Mediterranean for longline fisheries and the Baltic for gill-net fisheries. The EU plan will also address the impact of the EC’s distant water fleets, especially those of Spain, which target high-value species like tuna swordfish and toothfish in the south Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Sign the petitionhere

International action to stop illegal hunting in Malta


BirdLife Malta (BirdLife Partner) and the BirdLife International Partners in Europe and Africa have launched an international campaign aimed at Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi demanding the proper enforcement of the EU Birds Directive, which has been largely ignored since EU membership. Significant part of this campaign is an international petition, which can be signed here.
BirdLife Partners are demanding an end to the illegal killing of migratory protected birds that are regularly shot over Malta. BirdLife also demands that the Maltese Government ensures that a spring hunting and trapping season for European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur and Common Quail Coturnix coturnix is never re-opened on the island.
“Illegal hunting in Malta is a serious concern for the BirdLife International Partnership because of the scale of the illegal activity and lack of efficient governmental action against it”, commented Angelo Caserta - Regional Director of BirdLife International European Division in Brussels.
“BirdLife is not against legal hunting and we do not endorse any sort of tourism boycott against Malta as wrongly claimed by the hunting lobby. It is not those who are calling for an end to illegal hunting that are giving Malta a bad name but rather the poachers who are shooting down the same birds other countries are investing millions of euros to protect. The authorities insist on downplaying the true scale of poaching and refrain from taking effective action to end this practice” he added.
There are around 12,000 hunters on the small island - the highest density of hunters per square kilometre in Europe. Maltese hunters can legally hunt 32 species in autumn and they have the longest bird hunting season in Europe, which lasts five months.
Due to its strategic location on the European-African migration route, Malta has a long and impressive list of bird species with a total 389 species recorded. Of these, over 170 occur regularly flying over Malta in significant numbers.
Scientific ringing studies carried out by BirdLife Malta since the 1960s have shown that birds from at least 48 countries (36 in Europe and 12 in Africa) use Malta during their migration.
Conservationists in Malta have long been recording the widespread illegal shooting of protected birds every migration period in spring and autumn. Last September, BirdLife Malta discovered the buried remains of over 200 dead protected birds in a woodland in the north of the island that is heavily used by hunters.
The remains included Western Marsh-harrier Circus aeruginosus, European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus and Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax among others. To this date no one has been charged and no statement has been made by the authorities.

"The lack of concrete and effective action against the illegal hunting of birds, by the Maltese government, is detrimental to the commitment and momentum within the BirdLife Africa Partnership to conserve, educate and most importantly advocate for increased law enforcement, by governments, for the protection of migratory birds", said Dr Paulinus Ngeh - BirdLife's West Africa Sub-regional Coordinator.
BirdLife Malta believes that thousands of protected birds including rare raptors such as Near Threatened Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina and Vulnerable Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, as well as herons, storks and other protected birds are illegally gunned down each year.
Bob Elliot, Head of Investigations for RSPB Scotland (BirdLife in the UK), witnessed the illegal shooting of birds in Malta during BirdLife Malta’s conservation camps. He said: “Malta is the only place where you do not want to see a raptor flying low as it will definitely be shot at in the absence of conservationists or police in the area”.
Mr Elliot said he was appalled with the scale of illegal hunting and trapping in Malta. “In Scotland, we record an average of 60 cases of wild bird crime every year. In Malta, BirdLife recorded over 2,100 incidents in 2008 alone. Scotland is 250 times the size of Malta and has the worst reputation in terms of wild life crimes in the whole of the UK, but Malta still stands in a league of its own”, he added.
In spite of a poor track record in law enforcement for the protection of migratory birds, the Maltese government is once again considering the opening of the spring hunting season for European Turtle Dove and Common Quail. It will do so in defiance of a European Court of Justice ruling that found Malta in breach of the Birds Directive for allowing spring hunting of European Turtle-dove and Common Quail since it joined the EU.
BirdLife Malta President Joseph Mangion concluded: “Malta has shown it cannot meet the conditions of a derogation for another spring hunting season. Every time the government opens the season for limited hunting, it opens the door for hunters to kill protected species. Action has long been overdue. It is now time for the politics to come in line with the law.”

'World's least known bird' found breeding in Afghanistan


The breeding site of one of the world's least known birds, Large-billed Reed-warbler Acrocephalus orinus, has been discovered in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan.
Using a combination of field observations, museum specimens, DNA sequencing, and the first known audio recording of the species, researchers verified the discovery by capturing and releasing almost 20 birds earlier this year, the largest number ever recorded.
The discovery of Large-billed Reed-warblers in Afghanistan represents a watershed moment in the study of this bird. The first specimen was discovered in India in 1867, with more than a century elapsing before a second discovery of a single bird in Thailand in 2006 which was first reported by BirdLife International.
A preliminary paper on the finding appears in the most recent edition of BirdingASIA, the magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.
"Almost nothing was known about this species and it was consequently listed as Data deficient by BirdLife on the IUCN Red List, so the discovery of a breeding population marks a major step forward", said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator.
The find serves as a case study in detective work. The story began in 2008, when Rob Timmins from WCS was conducting a survey of bird communities along the Wakhan and Pamir Rivers. He immediately heard a distinctive song coming from a small, olive-brown bird with a long bill. Timmins taped the bird's song. He later heard and observed more birds of the same species.
Initially, Timmins assumed these birds to be Blyth's Reed-warblers Acrocephalus dumetorum, but a visit to the Natural History Museum at Tring in the UK to examine bird skins resulted in a surprise: the observed birds were another species.
In summer 2009, WCS researchers returned to the site of Timmins' first survey, this time with mist nets used to catch birds for examination. The research team broadcast the recording of the song, a technique used to bring curious birds of the same species into view for observation and examination. The recording brought in Large-billed Reed-warblers from all directions, allowing the team to catch almost 20 of them for examination and to collect feathers for DNA. Later lab work comparing museum specimens with measurements, field images, and DNA confirmed the exciting finding: the first-known breeding population of Large-billed Reed-warblers.
"This is great news from a little-known species from a remote part of the world and suggests that there may be more discoveries to be made here", said Mike Evans, BirdLife's compiler of the Important Bird Areas of the Middle East.

International Year of Biodiversity is not just a celebration, but a call to action


The United Nations has launched 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) at an event in Berlin, Germany. Speakers included Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a video message from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon.
"BirdLife International welcomes the UN’s decision to choose biodiversity as its focus for 2010", said Dr Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International's Chief Executive. "With threats to biodiversity growing faster than ever, this is an important recognition of the urgent need for more action to halt its loss."
It was only in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro that the world's governments together recognised, for the first time in international law, that biodiversity is 'a common concern of humankind'. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, was created, and adopted by nearly 200 countries.
Importantly the CBD set global targets to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. These targets, along with national plans to achieve them, have been adopted by most of the world’s governments. BirdLife Partners throughout the world have helped their governments to compile national biodiversity inventories, and to develop their biodiversity action plans. Some BirdLife Partners have also joined their government's delegations at meetings of the parties to the CBD.
For BirdLife International, the world's largest partnership of conservation organisations, the IYB is an important focus of attention on the failure of nations to meet their 2010 targets of halting rates of loss, while spotlighting the need for real and binding future targets. The next conference of the Convention of Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010, will assess international progress towards the target.
BirdLife is an official partner of International Year of Biodiversity. With its sound base in science, and the BirdLife Partnership's global repository of information on bird populations, BirdLife International is uniquely placed to comment and report on the state of biodiversity for the CBD.
Action for birds has also been shown to benefit other biodiversity, while protecting and restoring the ecosystem services on which people and their livelihoods depend. Apart from its work on threatened bird species, the BirdLife Partnership's work ranges from the restoration of damaged small island ecosystems to the establishment and management of national and transboundary Protected Areas. Across the developing world, BirdLife is working with marginalised and impoverished communities, helping them to achieve security through land rights and representation, and sustainable livelihoods.
The CBD Secretariat has called for countries around the world to raise the profile of the IYB by celebrating the importance of biodiversity. "The local nature of the BirdLife Partnership means that we are well placed to run activities to celebrate biodiversity", said Dr Lambertini. "Many BirdLife Partners will undertake events and actions in 2010 in support of the International Year of Biodiversity. These will range from formal education and public awareness programmes to festivals and events celebrating biodiversity."

A model for wildlife-friendly energy development


Newly announced changes to United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leasing policies offer enhanced protection for Near Threatened Greater Sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus, and an innovative model for wildlife-friendly energy development. Other wildlife that shares the western sagebrush ecosystem will also benefit.
The BLM's new policy follows protests by groups including Audubon (BirdLife in the USA) at the federal government's push to lease nearly 280,000 hectares of important habitat in Wyoming for oil and gas development.
Previous energy development was a major factor in reducing Greater Sage-Grouse populations to 10-20% of historic levels. Sage Thrasher Oreoscoptes montanus, Sage Sparrow Amphispiza belli, Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri and other sagebrush-dependent species have also declined.
The new protocol embraces recommendations developed by a stakeholder task force convened by Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. Audubon helped shape the group's science-based approach, by mapping Greater Sage-grouse habitat and contributing expertise on the species's natural history and life cycle. Wyoming is thought to hold 54% of the remaining global population.
The rules limit energy development in the 20% of Wyoming land designated as 'sage-grouse core areas'. Oil or gas drilling will now be limited to one well 'pad' per section (one square mile) across 2.8 million hectares of Wyoming's designated core Sage-grouse habitat. Current rules, which will remain in effect for the 80% of Wyoming land outside the core areas, permit as many as 60 pads per square mile.
"This is a landmark decision for wildlife, and for the return of sound science to federal policymaking, showing that we can have energy development and protect vital habitat at the same time", said Brian Rutledge, Audubon Wyoming's Executive Director, and a key proponent of the core area approach.
Wind energy development will be effectively precluded inside core areas, due to the scale of habitat disruption. Audubon expects the new rules to redirect wind development to land outside core areas. This will reduce potential hurdles for much-needed renewable energy.
These new rules offer greater predictability in land use planning, and will help avoid an Endangered Species Act listing to save the iconic Greater Sage-grouse. Such a listing could dramatically curtail energy development and other economic activity across the state.
"The core-areas approach recognises the importance of wildlife and fragile landscapes, yet still encourages energy independence and economic growth for our communities", said Rutledge. "It was born in the West, but imagine the benefits for birds, wildlife and thoughtful energy development in California, Pennsylvania or Texas."
Audubon urges the BLM to further the process through expansion of the new rules across the range of the sage-grouse, covering 11 western states and 24 million hectares of federal land. Montana and Colorado are already exploring stakeholder-crafted core-area approaches.
Nationally, Audubon works with Google Earth and the National Resources Defense Council to provide maps and web resources to help decision-makers make informed choices about sites for wind turbines and transmission lines. "By ensuring that these decisions protect wildlife and habitat, we can minimise site conflicts and expedite the process of green energy development",?said Audubon President John Flicker.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2010 |  World Bird News January 2010

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