World Bird News July 2007

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First New World Little Egrets under threat on Barbados

17-07-2007
The first colony of Little Egret Egretta garzetta in the New World, and its home, the last significant red and white mangrove swamp in Barbados, are at risk from deteriorating habitat quality and threatened development.
Marshlands within the Graeme Hall Swamp –a Ramsar wetland of international importance which holds the last significant mangrove woodland and largest lake in Barbados- were recently put up for sale for potential “environmentally appropriate commercial operations”.
Conservationists have expressed concern at the sale, and are urging priority be given to buyers with ecologically sound credentials and intentions; rather than sale for a “monoculture theme park” as some fear, that has little consideration for species conservation.

More than 85 bird species have been found at Graeme Hall Swamp, including Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea, and the mangroves and environs of the swamp harbour the highest density of the endemic race of Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia on Barbados. Three other Lesser Antilles endemic species occur (Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib and Barbados Bullfinch). The permanent wetland is also critical habitat for migrant and vagrant waterbirds.
“The Graeme Hall Swamp and Chancery Lane Swamp Important Bird Areas [IBAs] are critical to the conservation of the Little Egret in the New World,” states the lead story in the new issue of Birds Caribbean, the newsletter produced by BirdLife International for the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds. “The Little Egret is an Old World species that naturally colonised the Western Hemisphere when it began nesting in Barbados in 1994. The population now numbers about 24 birds.” But in recent years, Birds Caribbean reports, the numbers found in annual Christmas Bird Counts have been declining.
Little Egrets nest only in the Graeme Hall Swamp, specifically in an excavated lagoon within a private reserve, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary. There are no other suitable sites in Barbados. Although they have in the past nested on mangroves around the main lagoon, the birds have shown preference for a mangrove islet in the middle of the lagoon. These few small mangroves are degrading due to the birds’ presence and the effects of storms. Work is urgently needed to restore these nesting trees, and to establish other suitable islets for nesting in the lagoon.
For Little Egret, there are very few suitable feeding sites in Barbados. Those remaining include government-owned marshes within the Graeme Hall Swamp adjacent to the sanctuary, Chancery Lane Swamp, and some privately-owned and artificially maintained marshes used for hunting.
The US$12 million sale of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary could mean an uncertain future for the Little Egret in the New World. However, conservationists have highlighted how correct management of Graeme Hall Swamp could boost egret numbers:
“Future plans for management of Graeme Hall Swamp could better be focused on enhancing rather than decreasing available egret feeding habitat,” the authors of the Birds Caribbean story assert. “Such management would also contribute positively to mosquito control in the wetland.” They also call for permanent protected status for the Chancery Lane Swamp IBA.
For more on this and other reports from the Caribbean, download the current issue of Birds Caribbean Free here

First Wreathed Hornbill breeding increases calls to protect Temengor

For the past two years, the MNS team has been locating nesting hornbills with the assistance of indigenous communities living in the forest complex. As a result, nine other hornbill nests from five other species have been found in the Temengor section. These include the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil, Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis, Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros, Bushy-crested Hornbill Anorrhinus galeritis and Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris.

“These discoveries further reiterate the importance of Belum-Temengor to hornbills,” said Yeap Chin Aik. “It also gives hope that the globally threatened Plain-pouched Hornbills, a close relative of the Wreathed hornbill, may perhaps be nesting in Belum-Temengor too.”

In May 2007 the Perak State Government gazetted the Royal Belum State Park. This followed a six-month campaign by MNS which received the support of more than 80,000 people through postcards and online signatures. A total of 117,500 ha has been set aside as the State Park, roughly a quarter of the area (280,000ha) MNS has been lobbying for.

The Temengor Forest Reserve, however, remains unprotected, classified as a Permanent Forest Estate under Malaysian law. Logging still continues, although the Perak state government announced in August 2006 that this will cease by 2008.

As a recipient of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund 2007 award, MNS will continue to monitor the hornbills of Belum-Temengor to address current gaps of knowledge on this exciting species; to provide further justifications to advocate for protection

12-07-2007

A team from the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has established the first confirmed nesting of a pair of Wreathed Hornbills Aceros undulatus in Malaysia.

The discovery was made during a survey of hornbills in the Temengor section of the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex at the end of May 2007, by MNS Hornbill Conservation Project Field Officer Lim Kim Chye, Lim Swee Yian and an indigenous tracker. The male bird was observed feeding berries to its mate in a sealed hole with a chick inside.

The Wreathed Hornbill’s range extends from North-east India and Myanmar to South-east Asia to the greater Sundas and Bali. Although Wreathed Hornbills are recorded in Malaysia, no nesting tree had ever been found due to their secretive nature and the inaccessible terrain.

Belum-Temengor is the only place where all ten hornbill species occurring in Malaysia can be found together. “These hornbills are known to migrate long distances in search of fruiting resources and therefore require large contiguous areas of forest to survive,” said Yeap Chin Aik, Head of Conservation. “The Belum-Temengor complex has time and again proved to be a hotspot for hornbill diversity.”

Conservationists call for Ugandan government to halt forest give-aways

07-07-2007

The fate of Mabira Forest Reserve –home to 30% of bird species found in Uganda- continues to hang in the balance as President Museveni and some elements of the Ugandan government attempt to hand over a quarter of its area for sugarcane cultivation.

BirdLife International and NatureUganda (BirdLife in Uganda) continue to argue that the economic benefits of retaining Mabira in its present form, will easily exceed the ‘short-sighted’ gains quoted by the government in the proposed forest ‘give-away’.

Mabira Forest Reserve (at over 30,000 hectares) is listed by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and contains over 300 bird species, including the Endangered Nahan's Francolin Francolinus nahani. The forest is also home to nine species found exclusively in the region including Grey-cheeked Mangabey Lophocebus albigena johnstoni, a recently identified endemic primate subspecies.

Soda ash development threatens entire East African Lesser Flamingo population

Soda ash development threatens entire East African Lesser Flamingo population

03-07-2007

A proposed development near Tanzania’s border with Kenya, threatens the survival of the entire East African population of Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor.

Lake Natron -the only East African site in which Lesser Flamingo has bred in the past 45 years– currently faces an uncertain future due to a proposed Soda Ash extraction and processing plant.

Lake Natron is recognised internationally as a Ramsar site, and as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.

The proposed Soda Ash development will pump 530 cubic metres of brine per hour and produce and export 0.5 million tons of sodium carbonate a year. There may also be a 11.5 Megawatts thermal power facility using coal and petcoke, and a potentially sizeable residential complex, with 152 permanent and 1,225 construction staff members expected on site.

In compliance with Tanzania’s environmental laws, in 2006 TATA Chemicals (on behalf of the proponent, Lake Natron Resources Limited) commissioned a consultant to carry out an Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) for the proposed development.

In addition to Tanzania, the consultant also carried out further consultations with interested and affected parties in Kenya, due to the project’s vicinity to the Kenyan border as well as the dependence of Lake Natron on Kenya's Ewaso Ngiro River.

The outcomes of these consultations are yet to be made public, although indications suggest that the first draft of the EIA will be presented at a workshop in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) on 12 July, 2007. Conservationists await the outcome; their main concern being that the EIA process, including scrutiny of the draft, should be made participatory and take in the views of all relevant stakeholders. “It is important that whatever decisions are made do not jeopardise the survival of the Lesser Flamingo, a key component of the tourist experience in East African national parks,” said Mr. Lota Melamari, CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST, BirdLife in Tanzania), before highlighting how important it is for the EIA to be disclosed to all stakeholders interested.

In September 2006, experts met at the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat office to start the process of drafting the International Lesser Flamingo Species Action Plan under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species and AEWA (the African-European Migratory Waterbird Agreement). At the time the experts involved declared: “the most critical threat to the survival of the Lesser Flamingo to be the loss and/or degradation of its specialised habitat through altered hydrology and water quality”.

According to a spokesperson from BirdLife's Africa Division: “Any declines in the breeding of Lesser Flamingos at this site could effectively push the species rapidly towards extinction.”

“The Lesser Flamingo is globally classified as 'Near Threatened' in the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,” said Dr. Brooks Childress, Chair of the IUCN-SSC (Species Survival Commission); Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist Group. “Over 75% of the species’ global population occurs in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. There appears to be very little interchange between this large sub-population and other smaller Lesser Flamingo regional populations.The East African sub-population has bred only on Lake Natron for the past 45 years, effectively making Lake Natron the only breeding site for over 75% of the global population.

“The Lesser Flamingo is very sensitive to water levels and disturbance during breeding. Changes in water level, water chemistry or disturbance could easily cause the birds to abandon their breeding attempt.” he added.

A group of concerned organisations and stakeholders within the region, including WCST and NatureKenya (both BirdLife Partners), have joined hands with other conservation groups in pushing for the EIA outcomes to be disclosed to all stakeholders and for a full participatory process.

Lesser Flamingo breeding in such enormous numbers has been referred to as the “greatest ornithological spectacle in the world” by the renowned artist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson. The local extinction of Lesser Flamingo at the site is therefore predicted to have a devastating impact on the tourism industry that has become the backbone of local economy in the two countries.

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

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