World Bird News July 2009

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

New 'bald' bird discovered

An odd songbird with a bald head living in a rugged region in Laos has been discovered by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Melbourne, as part of a project funded and managed by the mining company MMG (Minerals and Metals Group).
The species has been named Bare-faced Bulbul Pycnonotus hualon because of the lack of feathers on its face and part of its head, it is the only example of a bald songbird in mainland Asia. It is the first new species of bulbul – a family of about 130 species – described in Asia in over 100 years. A description of the new species has been published in the July issue of Forktail, the journal of the Oriental Bird Club.
"This is exciting news and a great discovery", said Dr Lincoln Fishpool, BirdLife's Global Important Bird Areas Coordinator. "It highlights the importance of this region for birds and biodiversity."
The thrush-sized bird is greenish-olive with a light-colored breast, a distinctive featherless, pink face with bluish skin around the eye extending to the bill and a narrow line of hair-like feathers down the centre of the crown.
The bird seems to be primarily tree-dwelling and was found in an area of sparse forest on rugged limestone karsts – a little-visited habitat known for unusual wildlife discoveries.
"Its apparent restriction to rather inhospitable habitat helps to explain why such an extraordinary bird with conspicuous habits and a distinctive call has remained unnoticed for so long", said Iain Woxvold of the University of Melbourne and lead author of the paper.

Fortunately much of the bird's presumed habitat falls within legally protected areas in Laos. However, quarrying of limestone looms as a potential threat to wildlife in this area, along with habitat conversion for agriculture.

In 2002 in this same area, Rob Timmins of WCS described the Kha-nyou or Laotian Rock Rat Laonastes aenigmamus, a newly discovered species of rodent so unusual it represented the lone surviving member of an otherwise extinct genus.
This taxon will be assessed in due course by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group, BirdLife will then evaluate its extinction risk category for the IUCN Red List (for which BirdLife is the official Red List Authority).
I.A. Woxvold, J. W. Duckworth and R. J. Timmins. 2009. An unusual new bulbul (Passeriformes: Pycnonotidae) from the Limestone karst of Lao PDR. Forktail 25: 1-12.
Credits: WCS, Oriental Bird Club

Largest ever count of White-shouldered Ibis

Conservationists from the Birdlife International Cambodia Programme and University of East Anglia (UEA), UK, recently counted the largest number of White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni ever recorded. At least 161 were counted; confirming that Western Siem Pang, Cambodia, is the single most important site for the species. The total number of White-shouldered Ibis is likely to be even higher than this figure, as many more roost sites are being found in Western Siem Pang.
“Western Siem Pang consistently yields the highest counts of this species anywhere in the world. I am thrilled we have broken our best ever count yet again”, said Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager of Birdlife International in Indochina.
"We just don’t know why we have so many White-shouldered Ibis at Western Siem Pang. My hunch is that the species is resident so we are not recording movements of birds from elsewhere. I also believe that cattle and buffalo stocking density is key to understanding the density and abundance of the species”, said Eames.
Western Siem Pang is home to Cambodia’s 'Big Five'. The site currently supports five Critically Endangered bird species. The other four are: Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea, White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris, and Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus.
"The numbers of White-shouldered Ibis and the presence of populations of four other Critically Endangered species, make Western Siem Pang an irreplaceable site we have got to conserve”, Eames continued.
Western Siem Pang is currently unprotected. BirdLife has been active at the site for several years already, undertaking species monitoring and awareness activities. Together with the Forestry Administration, BirdLife is now actively advocating the designation of a Protected Forest covering a large part of the site.
“In order to save this species a great deal of research is required to understand its ecology and relationships with local people. As research continues we hope to provide concrete conservation recommendations for this species”, said UEA PhD student Hugh Wright.
White-shouldered Ibis is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. In August 2007, In Focus became a Species Champion for White-shouldered Ibis. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world's most threatened birds, starting with the 192 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.

Northern Bald Ibis gets Royal Support


One of the rarest birds in North Africa and the Middle East has received a conservation boost from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.
Once revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has become extinct in the majority of its former range in North Africa, the European Alps and the Middle East, and is now listed as Critically Endangered the highest threat level of extinction. However, ongoing conservation efforts will now benefit from a three year grant from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.
During a visit to Monaco, BirdLife Honorary President HIH Princess Takamado of Japan offered HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco the title of BirdLife Species Champion for the Northern Bald Ibis. This is a special recognition that BirdLife grants to individuals, companies or foundations that significantly support targeted conservation efforts for threatened species under the BirdLife Preventing Extinction Programme.
HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco commented, “I am delighted to support BirdLife’s conservation efforts for this iconic and Critically Endangered species, and am honoured to be their Species Champion.”
Globally, fewer than 500 individuals of these birds remain in the wild in two separate populations, one in Morocco and the other in Syria. The species has been driven to near extinction by a combination of threats including human persecution, loss of steppe and extensive farmland, pesticide poisoning, human disturbance and development.
Until recently the ibis was considered extinct in the wild in its eastern range, but a small wild colony of birds was discovered in 2002 in a desert location in Syria. Only two pairs currently breed in the colony and there are plans to supplement the population with individuals captive bred in Turkey.
While the Moroccan population is resident, the Eastern population is migratory. Northern Bald Ibis’s migratory habits had baffled conservationists for years but in 2006, BirdLife and the Syrian Government, tracked the 6,100 km round trip of adult birds from Syria, finding new wintering grounds in Ethiopia. But young birds were never seen on migration and scientists fear they face mystery threats on an entirely different over-wintering route.
The support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation will help continue the work of protecting the ibis colonies, monitoring and tracking individuals as they migrate, and hopefully elucidate one of the last remaining mysteries; the migratory route and wintering grounds of juvenile birds.
BirdLife CEO Marco Lambertini and Bernard Fautrier CEO of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation have also signed a MoU that commits the two organisations to increase communications and collaboration for the benefit of biodiversity and the environment.
The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation aims to be a catalyst for environmental projects. It promotes the sustainable and equitable management of natural resources and places the individual at the centre of its projects. It encourages the implementation of innovative and ethical solutions in three main areas: climate change, safeguarding biodiversity and access to water.
Two Northern Bald Ibis were caught at the beginning of July and fitted with satellite tags in the Syrian desert. As one of the birds is a sub-adult, it is hoped that they will now lead researchers to their wintering grounds.
General Ali Hamoud, General Manager of the Desert Commission who oversees the Syrian Government’s protection programme said ‘This is excellent news. We hope that this tagging success will lead us to uncover the mystery of where the young birds winter so that we can undertake conservation measures there. So few young birds return that it seems they face difficulties to survive at present’
This success comes after a disappointing breeding season amid a second year of serious drought in the Syrian desert. Despite heroic efforts by local wardens and Bedouin rangers who have mounted 24 hour patrols and provided water points, no young were reared for the second successive year. The known population currently stands at two breeding pairs and one sub-adult bird.

Lures ensure more murres...

For the first time in more than a century, a Common Guillemot Uria aalge - also known as Common Murre - egg has been discovered south of the Canadian border on the east coast of the United States. The egg boosts hopes for the success of valiant efforts to restore the species. "We are absolutely elated”, said Dr Stephen Kress - Director of Audubon’s (BirdLife in the U.S.) Seabird Restoration Program. “The return of the Common Murre to its long-lost nesting grounds shows that conservation works – even against great odds".
The egg was discovered by a volunteer working for Audubon’s Seabird Restoration program on Matinicus Rock, one of 50 islands in Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. It marks marks the first time since 1883 that the species, which spends most of its life at sea, has nested south of the Canadian border on east coast of the United States.
The volunteer noticed a pair of murres in typical incubating posture surrounded by about 50 murre decoys, and artificial eggs, and close to a sound system that emits murre calls to encourage the long-absent birds to establish new nests. “We have high hopes for the successful hatching and fledging of this egg, and for greater numbers of murres in years to come”, added Dr Kress.
While widespread on the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, and breeders in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Common Guillemots were eliminated from their Maine breeding sites in the 1800s by people hunting the birds for food. Collecting of eggs - a popular pursuit at the time - may also have contributed to the disappearance. “Common Murre are especially vulnerable to oil spills and predation, so new colonies within their historic range offer the best assurance for their survival”, said Dr Kress.

Audubon and partners from the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge have spent 17 years trying to bring the Common Guillemots back to the islands. Regardless of the fate of this specific egg, its presence signals a success story in the making. "Each new colony offers another margin of safety for Common Murres and other seabirds," said Dr Kress.
Common Guillemot are not the first seabird species that Audubon’s Seabird Restoration program have helped restore to Maine. Pioneering the use of decoys and sounds now employed to attract the murres, the team began working to attract Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica to the Maine coastal islands in 1973; four breeding pairs nested at Eastern Egg Rock in 1981, after an absence of nearly a century.
Today, Project Puffin protects more than 42,000 of Maine’s rarest seabirds on thirteen islands. Their techniques have also helped establish 12 new tern colonies in Maine and are proving useful for helping endangered seabirds in California, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, and Japan. At least 40 seabird species in 12 countries have benefited from seabird restoration techniques developed by Audubon.

New guidelines bring hope for world's seabirds

BirdLife has taken a major step towards the identification of Marine Important Bird Areas (mIBAs) for seabirds around the globe. “We now have agreed guidelines which can be used to track seabirds and analyse the data to identify Marine IBAs for any seabird species”, said Ben Lascelles – BirdLife’s Global Marine IBA officer.
The world’s oceans are seriously under-protected. Just 0.65% of the global ocean is within protected area systems, and most of that is within the first miles of the shore. As a result, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development set a target to establish a globally representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2012. However, the IUCN estimates that unless progress is accelerated, this goal will not be met until 2060 - half a century late.
Identifying and protecting Marine Important Bird Areas (mIBAs) for seabirds around the globe will make a vital contribution towards the global MPA target, and is a key focus for BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme.
“Seabirds have deteriorated in IUCN Red List status faster than any other group of bird species”, said Ben. “As well as continuing the implementation of bycatch mitigation measures, we urgently need to protect their habitats if we are to stop and reverse these rapid declines”.
However, seabird conservation presents some unique challenges, not least because many species spend the majority of their lives at sea. Therefore to identify Marine IBAs, BirdLife has been refining methods developed for land and freshwater sites to ensure they work in the marine environment.
In order to achieve this, BirdLife recently organised a series of workshops which were attended by 50 seabird tracking experts from around the world. Workshop delegates compared the merits of different methods used to study the movements of seabirds, and tested the best ways of analysing the datasets gained from such studies.
“Our new guidelines can be used to follow seabirds and analyse the data to identify Marine IBAs, and represent a major step towards establishing a global network of representative MPAs for seabirds”, noted Ben.
BirdLife and its Partners are now focussing upon getting the outcomes of the workshops endorsed by the CBD at the upcoming September meeting in Ottawa, Canada. This meeting will consider the criteria, and methods, for identification of biologically and ecologically significant areas on the high seas. “BirdLife’s input will be to apply the new methods to some examples from the BirdLife Tracking Ocean Wanderers dataset which includes detailed information of the movements of 30 Globally Threatened seabird species”, concluded Ben.

Mainland China IBA directory is published – in Chinese

A revised and enlarged directory of Important Bird Areas in China has been launched at the Society of Conservation Biology meeting in Beijing. Published in Chinese, with English summaries, the directory describes 512 sites covering a total of 1,185,543 km2 (12.4% of the land area) of China’s mainland, and a further 56 sites in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
With an area comparable to the whole of Europe, China has an amazing variety of habitats and biodiversity. More than 1,300 bird species have been recorded, in nine distinct bioregions. Of the 49 Endemic Bird Areas which BirdLife has identified in Asia, 14 are in China.
The mountain and steppes of western China are the strongholds of many Central Asian species. In the south-west, the mountains of the Himalayas interlock with the subtropical forests of South East Asia, resulting in an area of high diversity and endemism. Even on the eastern side, where millennia of human activities have greatly altered habitats, avian biodiversity is still high. The extensive wetlands remaining in the lower Yangtze basin and along the Yellow Sea coast support huge numbers of passage and wintering waterbirds.
“It is difficult to imagine what would happen to bird species in eastern Asia if there were no conservation efforts in China”, said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “Most birds that breed in eastern Russia and Mongolia have to migrate through or winter in China, among them the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, of which China holds almost the entire wintering population, and the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, which migrates through and probably winters in eastern China.”
The first list of Important Bird Areas in China was published as part of BirdLife’s Asia-wide inventory of IBAs in 2004. This identified 445 sites in mainland China, and was based on work done before 2003.
“In recent years, as more and more people have become interested in birds, and information flow has speeded up thanks to the Internet, we have acquired a lot more new information on distribution of species and previously unknown sites” explained Simba Chan.
In 2006 and 2007, with funds from the World Bank’s Safeguarding Important Area of Natural Habitat Programme, BirdLife organised a series of workshops and consultations to revise China’s IBA inventory. Fresh contributions came from the birdwatching societies which have been established in many parts of China in recent years, with support from BirdLife. The revised China IBA inventory is published in Chinese for the first time.
Despite the emphasis on rapid economic development in support of improved living standards for its people, China has established more than 2,000 Protected Areas since 1956. But in such a vast country, many sites important to bird conservation are not yet protected.
“China has made remarkable progress in its Protected Area system”, said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “Of the 512 IBAs, 320 (62.5%) are already wholly within protected areas, and 64 (12.5%) are partially protected. Only 128 (25%) are unprotected.”
In 2001, China announced the Project on Nationwide Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Establishment of Protected Areas, which aims to increase the number of Protected Areas to 2,500 by the year 2050, covering about 18% of the country’s area.
“This inventory of IBAs is intended to be a major contribution towards the identification of these important sites, and to guide policies and plans, including protected area designation, at local, national and international levels”, said Chan.
The IBA directory will also be used by the World Bank and other donor agencies, under their environmental safeguard policies, to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to mitigate potential negative impacts of their financing operations.

South American fishermen help to save seabirds

South America is blessed with one of the world's most charismatic birds - one which sadly is in danger of disappearing forever. "Modern fishing methods are accidentally killing around 100,000 albatrosses globally every year - that's one every five minutes", said Dr Ben Sullivan - BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme Coordinator. However, South American fishermen are working alongside BirdLife staff to help save their favourite of birds, and early results of their united efforts are capturing global attention.
"We love to watch albatrosses when we're out at sea", said Jorge Rivera Vergara, captain of the longline vessel Tami II of fishing company Pesquera Omega in Coquimbo, Chile. "It's amazing to think these birds fly round the world for thousands of miles without landing and have wingspan of over three meters".
Sadly, 18 of the world's 22 albatross species are facing extinction, with four of those species being classified as Critically Endangered according to BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN. In longline fisheries albatrosses die when they try to steal fish bait from hooks; in trawl fisheries they are killed when they birds collide with the fishing gear whilst trying to collect discarded fish.
"The good news is that we have some simple and cost-effective measures that fishermen are increasingly using which are saving the lives of thousands of albatrosses in South America", said Dr Esteban Frere of BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme. Where the simple measures are being used, the results in South America are impressive. For example:

In the south of Chile, the incidental capture of seabirds was reduced from over 1,500 birds in one year to zero through the adoption of modified fishing gear
In Argentina the use of mitigation in the trawl fishery has shown that it is possible to reduce seabird mortality to close to zero
In Brazil the voluntary adoption of simple bird-scaring lines has helped reduce incidental capture of seabirds by 56%
"We've been contacted from all over the globe by people who have heard about the success of fishermen in South America who have been using our simple and cost-effective methods to save seabirds", said Oliver Yates - BirdLife's Albatross Task Force Coordinator.

The key to the success is how BirdLife's Albatross Task Force (ATF) works alongside fishermen to understand the problem and to work out simple solutions. The ATF is the first international scheme to place specialised instructors on fishing vessels to reduce the number of seabirds killed accidentally in fishing industries.
The ATF works in seven priority countries - including Ecudor, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil - where albatrosses are known to die in hugely unsustainable numbers in longline and trawl fisheries.
"We understand that in order to continue fishing we must avoid killing seabirds, and are so happy to have simple and cheap methods which keep albatrosses of the hook", concluded Jorge Rivera Vergara.

Jerdon's Courser seeks Champion, as survey work resumes

Studies of the population and conservation requirements of the Critically Endangered Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus have been stepped up again, after three years in which resources had to be diverted to a successful campaign against the construction of the Teluga Ganga Canal through the bird’s last known stronghold, in eastern India.

Construction of the canal went ahead in spite of a legal requirement that work should not continue until a large area of the courser’s scrub jungle home had been transferred to Andra Pradesh's Forestry Department for protection.

However, the canal has followed the route stipulated by India's Supreme Court, following lobbying by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India). It passes to one side of the scrub jungle, rather than through it, as originally proposed.

The 1,000 hectares of scrub jungle, which lie between the canal and the Sri Lankamaleswara WildLife Sanctuary, has been purchased from the local villagers by Andra Pradesh's Irrigation Department, and is understood to be in the custody of the state's Revenue Department, pending final transfer to the Forest Department.

"The new protected area is there on paper, but has yet to be demarcated and come under the control of the Forest Department", said Ian Barber, the RSPB's South Asia officer. He also added that some houses and two temples have been built in an area which BNHS and RSPB consider to be part of the protected area, although local people dispute this.
BNHS is anxious to ensure that no further encroachments take place. BNHS senior research fellow Rahul Chavan, newly appointed to the Jerdon's Courser project, will work with local communities to reduce pressure on the scrub jungle by restoring degraded land outside the new reserve.
In the absence of large wild herbivores, some livestock grazing is needed to keep the scrub jungle habitat open, and Chavan will try to ensure that this is kept to sustainable levels. Jerdon's Courser has strict habitat preferences, of 300-700 large bushes per hectare and much of the habitat within the Sri Lankamaleswara sanctuary has become too dense for them.

The University of Reading has been carrying out satellite work to identify other areas of scrub jungle which may provide suitable conditions. Ian Barber and Rhys Green, Principal Research Biologist at the RSPB, have visited the 'hot spots' identified by satellite, and confirmed that suitable habitat exists.
The last 'contact' with a courser was made by a visiting birder in 2007. The birds are nocturnal, elusive, rarely respond to playbacks of their calls, and leave few traces on the stony ground of the scrub forest.
Resources are required to purchase and install a number of camera traps throughout the site in the hope of gaining a better idea of the population and the birds' patterns of activity. BNHS and RSPB also have permission to trap and tag the birds which would provide an invaluable opportunity to study the movements of the bird which to date are almost unknown.
"We have completed a final draft of the Species Recovery Plan, and now need to discuss it with the state government in Hyderabad", said Barber. "Jerdon's Courser is a priority species for the Indian government as it is one of the 12 species in their five-year biodiversity plan."
However, funding from the UK's Darwin Initiative is at an end and if the work to restore the species to viable numbers is to continue, Jerdon's Courser is in urgent need of a Species Champion.

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

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