World Bird News July 2008

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2008 |  World Bird News July 2008

Socotra recognised as World Heritage Site

The Socotra Archipelago was recently added to the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Natural Sites. Many international organisations including BirdLife have long campaigned for the Socotra Conservation and Development Programme's (SCDP) submission for this prestigious designation.
In the statement which accompanied the announcement, UNESCO explained that Socotra is of universal importance because of its rich and distinct flora and fauna and high level of endemism.
"37% of Socotra's 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world. The site also supports globally significant populations of land and sea birds (192 bird species, 44 of which breed on the islands while 85 are regular migrants), including a number of threatened species." Globally threatened species include Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis.
Bird species restricted to Socotra include the near-threatened Island Cisticola Cisticola haesitata, Socotra Warbler Incana incana, Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater, Socotra Sunbird Nectarinia balfouri, the Vulnerable Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana. Also only found on the island is the Socotra Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus, part of the complex of species which Yemen recently appointed as its national bird, the Golden-winged Grosbeak. A further 11 subspecies are endemic to the island. Surveys by BirdLife and SCDP have shown that all have healthy populations.
"This is an important step on the way to developing Socotra sustainably, with benefits for both the population of the island and its biodiversity," said Yemen's Environment Minister Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, who opposes plans by other ministries for damaging road developments on the island. The minister believes that eco-tourism will make an important contribution to Socotra's economy.

IBAs of the Last Frontier


With more than 75,000 kilometres of marine shoreline, 100,000 glaciers, more than three million lakes and rivers, and a diversity of habitats that range from temperate rainforest to Arctic tundra, Alaska is a place of superlatives. With the world’s largest population of nesting Red-legged Kittiwakes Rissa brevirostris (Vulnerable) and Critically Endangered Kittlitz's Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris, Alaska has more globally significant Important Bird Areas (IBAs) than any other state in the United States.


Over the last seven years, Audubon Alaska has combed Alaska for areas essential to the survival of bird populations. There are currently 145 sites statewide that are officially identified as IBAs. The majority of them are also recognized as globally or continentally significant. In fact, Alaska has almost half of all globally significant IBAs identified in the United States.
To publicise this important work, Audubon Alaska has produced a poster-sized map that highlights the 145 identified sites, plus a handful of potential sites that are likely to meet listing criteria in the near future. This beautifully illustrated map is a great awareness-raising tool that highlights the need for site protection.
The number of globally significant IBAs identified in Alaska should come as no surprise when one considers the diversity and quality of habitat found in this 148 million hectares state. Alaska’s IBAs include coastal nesting grounds for about 90% of the world population of Emperor Geese Chen canagica, staging areas for tens of thousands of Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica, and at-sea wintering grounds for many of the world's Spectacled Eiders Somateria fischeri.
“The IBA program gives us the opportunity, structure, and science to highlight the significance of these sites and to take responsibility for their conservation”, says Stan Senner, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska.
Audubon Alaska hopes to continue to add new IBAs to the list, but focusing on protection and management of existing IBAs is a priority for Audubon Alaska.
IBAs form a worldwide network of sites for the conservation of birds. When complete, this global network is likely to comprise around 15,000 IBAs covering some 10 million km2 (c.7% of the world’s land surface) identified on the basis of about 40% of the world’s bird species. The effective conservation of these sites will contribute substantially to the protection of the world's biological diversity.

Dam funded by World Bank threatens Lake Victoria

The planned Bujagali Dam in Uganda violates key social and environmental policies of its major funders: the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank. These new and devastating conclusions have just been presented by a AfDB research panel. Wetlands International and the Ugandan organisation NAPE call on AfDB and other financiers to immediately suspend all financing for the Bujagali Dam.

The Bujugali dam is planned in the river Nile, just downstream of Lake Victoria, in Uganda. Some building activities have already started although the donors still have to give their final approval for supporting the project financially. Wetlands International in cooperation with NAPE have raised their concern several times to the donors and the Ugandan government. The findings of the panel do, however, confirm the concerns of both environmental organizations.

AfDB’s Compliance Review and Mediation Unit
The report is the first by the Bank's new Compliance Review and Mediation Unit (CRMU). Their investigation was undertaken in response to a claim by project-affected people and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE); an Ugandan Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) supported by Wetlands International, a global conservation NGO. Moreover, a panel from the World Bank apparently came to similar conclusions. Their report is expected soon.

Reduced EU biofuel target is good news for wetlands

Influenced by a powerful joint NGO lobby, the Members of the Environmental Committee of European Parliament yesterday voted in favour of stronger sustainability criteria and a lower target for biofuels. The proposed 10% biofuel target for 2020 was reduced to a significant lower 4% in 2015 with criteria for ambitious greenhouse gas savings and exclusion of areas like wetlands with high carbon stocks and/or biodiversity values.

Wetlands International is relieved at this outcome as its research demonstrated that biofuels are responsible for huge carbon emissions due to peatland conversion and degradation. Furthermore, it showed that biofuel production leads to the loss of many wetlands in Africa, Asia and South America.

Jane Madgwick, CEO Wetlands International:” These decisions by the European parliament are a triumph of common sense and sustainability. The discussion about the biofuel feedstock production signals the need for sustainability standards to be more widely applied to the entire agriculture sector”.

The feedstock production necessary for the ambitious 10% biofuel target would mainly come from countries like Brazil or Indonesia as the necessary land areas are not available within the EU and the most productive feedstocks only grow in tropical countries. Such a target would directly or indirectly cause large-scale deforestation, loss of peatlands and other wetlands, as well as further causing food prices to rise.

Tana gets temporary reprieve

The Tana River Delta in Kenya has received temporary reprieve after the High Court stopped a controversial $370 million sugar and biofuels project.
Mumias Sugar Company intends to convert 20,000 hectares of the Tana Rive Delta to plant sugarcane. BirdLife International, NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and local conservationists within Kenya have vehemently opposed the proposal as it threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities.
Tana delta is home to over 350 species of bird, and a large assemblage of globally threatened wildlife including nine plants, five fish, two amphibians, two primates and two reptiles.
“This is a very welcome move”, said Paul Matiku the Executive Director, Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya). “It is victory for the local communities that took the government to court. Nature Kenya and institutions under the umbrella of Kenya Wetlands Forum will now fight even harder to have the sugarcane project permanently stopped”, Matiku added.
In June this year Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cleared the sugarcane project and issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license. This move was criticised by environmental groups as biased because of its failure to balance arguments from both sides of the debate.
“An independent economic study showed that the project was heavily overvalued because the costs of water, land and loss of community livelihoods were ignored” said Serah Munguti, the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at Nature Kenya. “Yet, NEMA ignored this information. At the same time the conditions in the EIA licence issued by NEMA were too weak”, she added.
Among other things, the new court order stops Mumias Sugar Company from making any further decisions regarding implementation of the sugar project. It also halts the Tana River County Council from taking any action in respect to the land which is the subject of the suit. Furthermore, it bars Kenya’s Commissioner of Lands from issuing a title deed for the land and the Water Resources Management Authority from issuing a water permit to the Tana Integrated Sugar Project.
BirdLife International welcomes the new development and fully backs NatureKenya and other environmental groups in Kenya calling for a stoppage of the Tana Integrated Sugar Project. "We believe that the implementation of the project is not likely to lead to the improvement of the lives of the local people but will leave a trail of damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity", said Ken Mwathe from BirdLife's Africa Partnership Secretariat.

Yemen names national bird


The Yemen Council of Ministers has recently approved the Golden-winged Grosbeak as Yemen's national bird. This colourful bird, with a huge beak for eating fruits and seeds, occurs in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen.
Yemen has also chosen the Arabian Leopard Panthera pardus nimr as the national mammal, the Dragon Blood Tree Dracaena cinnabari as the national tree, and the Aloe Aloe irafensis as the national plant.
After a long consultation process the final selection of the bird was made by Environment Minister His Excellency Abdul Rahman Al-Eryani. In a statement to Yemen cabinet and the press he said: “I am proud we have chosen these animals and plants that are so important for Yemen's biodiversity and culture. They will help us promote wildlife education and conservation actions.”
“Already the possibility of a leopard reserve is being investigated, which will also be important for many of Yemen's endemic birds and plants,” said Richard Porter, BirdLife International’s Middle East Advisor.
Since 2004 BirdLife have considered the Golden-winged Grosbeak as three distinct species - Arabian Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali, Somali Grosbeak R. louisae and Socotra Grosbeak R. socotranus. The Socotra Grosbeak is endemic to the island of Socotra, which is administered by Yemen and located in the Indian Ocean, 190 km east of the horn of Africa and 480 km off the Arabian coast.
Socotra is currently being considered as a potential UNESCO World Heritage site. "It's a unique ecosystem, the outstanding endemic flora and fauna and relatively unspoilt habitats are the main reasons for the island being considered," said Richard Porter. "There are over 300 endemic plants, nine endemic birds, 60 butterflies and 21 reptiles.
“Eleven globally threatened birds have been recorded on Socotra, including the Vulnerable Socotra Bunting Emberiza socotrana and Socotra Cormorant Phalacrocorax nigrogularis, and the Near-Threatened Jouanin's Petrel Bulweria fallax and Island Cisticola Cisticola haesitatus. Socotra also has the highest concentration in the world of the Endangered Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus.”

Kazakh IBAs get first natural World Heritage Site status for Central Asia

Two of central Asia’s most important steppe-wetland Important Bird Areas (IBAs), Tengiz-Korgalzhyn and Naurzum have been recognised as being of the same outstanding natural value as sites such as Yellowstone National Park and the Galapagos Islands.
During its 32nd session in Quebec the UNESCO World Heritage Committee announced this week that they were to include the territory of “Saryaka - Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan” into the list of UNESCO natural World Heritage Sites. The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn and Naurzum nature reserves, the two sites forming Saryaka, are located in the steppe zone of Kazakhstan and are two of the most important IBAs in Central Asia. Both are crucial migration stop-over sites for several million birds each year on the African-Eurasian flyway. They also hold large breeding populations of many globally threatened species.
“This World Heritage Nomination represents a significant step in the safeguarding of these vitally important sites”, Dr Lincoln Fishpool, BirdLife’s Global IBA Coordinator.
Naurzum is particularly important for Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus (Vulnerable), Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis (Endangered) and the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus. The Tengiz-Korglazhyn is used by an estimated 2 million waterbirds during migration, and is also a key site for global breeding populations of Dalmatian Pelican Pelacanus crispus (Vulnerable), Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni (Near Threatened) and Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius (Critically Endangered).
Both sites are located in the steppe zone and cover important steppe habitat. This is home not only to birds but for many rare species of mammal such as Saiga Antelope Saiga tatarica and Steppe Marmot Marmota bobak.
“Tengiz Korgalzhyn is under threat because of a need for fresh water for the growing capital city, as well as for waste water dumping. This nomination is a great and important day for conservation in Kazakhstan and will help to protect these globally significant wetlands and threatened steppe habitat”, says Vitaliy Gromov, Director of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), BirdLife’s project partner in Kazakhstan.
The nomination process was initially started by the government of Kazakhstan, NABU (BirdLife in Germany) and WWF International while ACBK together with RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and also the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kazakhstan played a crucial role in the phase of the submission of the final nomination dossier.
“NABU is very happy that we can finally see the results of this long process. This will be the first natural Heritage Nomination not only for Kazakhstan but also for Central Asia. These sites have now been given the recognition they deserve”, says Thomas Tennhardt, NABU’s Vice-President.
“We congratulate the government of Kazakhstan on this success. Kazakhstan has taken on major responsibilities to protect these globally important IBAs for the future”, says Dr. Norbert Schaffer, Head of the European Programmes and International Biodiversity Policy Department, RSPB.
IBAs form a worldwide network of sites for the conservation of birds. When complete, this global network is likely to comprise around 15,000 IBAs covering some 10 million km2 (c.7% of the world’s land surface) identified on the basis of about 40% of the world’s bird species. The effective conservation of these sites will contribute substantially to the protection of the world's biological diversity.

South Africa's flamingos under threat

Development on the banks of Kamfers Dam outside the Northern Cape capital of Kimberley is threatening the only breeding population of Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor in South Africa. Kamfers Dam supports one of only four breeding populations in Africa. These birds bred during 2008, with an incredible 9,000 chicks hatching on the dam’s artificial flamingo breeding island. It is anticipated that regular breeding will reverse the negative population trend of this globally Near-Threatened species.
“The development of the site was a huge investment and would be a shame if it’s allowed to be destroyed by this threat” said Duncan Pritchard, the acting Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa (BirdLife in South Africa). Kamfers Dam is currently the depository for raw sewage that flows from the currently dysfunctional treatment plant, a result of poor management of the sewerage works by the Sol Plaatje Municipality. The increased constant eutrophication has led to severe algal blooms and may be responsible for the current lesions and abnormalities being recorded on some of the Lesser Flamingos.
The African population of Lesser Flamingo is declining due to a number of threats amongst which poorly planned development and water pollution are paramount. Proposed housing developments around Kamfers Dam will destroy approximately 350 hectares of the dam’s buffer zone. Despite the fact that this development is against Kimberley’s Spatial Development Framework, the Sol Plaatje Municipality is adamant that it will go ahead with it, thereby ignoring South Africa’s commitment to honour international conventions, such as the Convention on Migratory Species and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
“Political leadership is failing South Africa in allowing and promoting unsound development that directly impacts on threatened birds,” said Duncan Pritchard.
The Lesser Flamingo faces many threats in Africa, such as the proposed soda ash project at Lake Natron where nearly all of East Africa's estimated 1.5 - 2.5 million Lesser Flamingos (75% of the world population) breed. Lesser Flamingos are extremely sensitive to environmental disturbance, particularly when breeding, and readily abandon colonies. BirdLife International in collaboration with partners and supporters worldwide initiated a global campaign aimed at stopping the soda ash plant threat. BirdLife South Africa is calling on the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to intervene, and not to approve the proposed construction of housing developments in the Kamfers Dam buffer zone. They are also calling on the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to issue directives to the Sol Plaatje Municipality to manage the sewage treatment plant effectively and end the current pollution of Kamfers Dam. The municipality has an obligation to its ratepayers and the environment to ensure sound water management.
Should the pathological tests prove that the abnormalities observed in the Lesser Flamingos are due to deteriorating water quality, many other waterbird species and perhaps the entire aquatic system may be at risk.
Concerned people are encouraged to visit the Save the Flamingo website (, where they can obtain more information about Kamfers Dam, its flamingos and the serious threats to this wetland. Please sign the online petition and consider donating funds towards this important cause.

Bullfinch benefits from Guardian

For the past 5 years, SPEA (Birdlife in Portugal) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), together with other partners, including the Azores Regional Government, have been implementing a LIFE project to save the Critically Endangered Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina - or Priolo as it is known locally - from extinction. This species is Europe’s rarest songbird, and the second most globally threatened bird species in the whole continent. It occurs only in small pockets scattered in a 6,000 hectare mountain range on São Miguel island in the Azores. The species’s natural habitat, which was already patchily distributed and degraded, is currently severely threatened through invasion by aggressive exotic plant species.
The LIFE project has been improving the Azores Bullfinch habitat since 2003, by clearing exotic plants and planting native trees that provide the food that the birds depend on. Project staff have also been monitoring the population, which seems to be responding well to this habitat management – the population appears to be increasing fast, at least in the transects monitored by the LIFE project team.
Last year, conservation scientists decided that there was a need for a complete snapshot of the Azores bullfinch distribution, as well as a more robust measure of the species density, habitat use and numbers. The team in Portugal and in the UK then developed a unique field experiment - a simultaneous survey of all the Azores bullfinches in the complete world range.
The event, partly funded by a generous grant of US$17,000 (€11,000) from the Disney Conservation Fund, attracted much interest and 50 volunteers from the UK, Holland, Brazil, Spain, France, mainland Portugal and the Azores spent several days in June being trained on Azores Bullfinch songs, habitat classification and distance sampling.

Almost 200 one-kilometre squares were checked and 287 point counts took place, with eight minutes spent at each point. A total of 78 Azores Bullfinches were counted, which should result in a final estimate of several hundred birds – an increase on the 200 individuals estimated five years ago. Encouragingly, there were a number of records from outside the core range for the species, suggesting it may occur more widely than previously thought.
SPEA has been appointed the Species Guardian for Azores Bullfinch as part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and Birdwatch magazine recently stepped forward as a Species Champion. This support will enable SPEA to build on this work into the future.
"This is great news for Azores Bullfinch and shows how the work of the Species Guardian is really making a difference", said Jim Lawrence, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Development Manager.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2008 |  World Bird News July 2008

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