World Bird News July 2016

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Can the European Commission save the Ortolan Bunting?

Can the European Commission save the Ortolan Bunting?

The French population of the Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana) has declined by 50-75% in the last 30 years. This, despite hunting of the species being forbidden by law since 1979. It was even made a protected species in 1999. However, each year, about 30.000 Ortolan Buntings are illegally trapped and killed during the autumn migration in August and September in the southwest of France.

The Les Landes département is particularly dangerous for the birds, which not only breed regularly in France but also migrate from Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic through France. Here, traditional hunting methods such as cage traps are used to illegally ensnare the birds – considered a gastronomic delicacy (a number of well-known politicians have admitted to eating them, even former President of France Francois Mitterand could not resist).

Despite it being illegal, these birds may be sold to restaurants for up to 150€ per bird. Its preparation and consumption is a veritable ritual; force-feeding the bunting to increase the fat reserves and then drowning it in Armagnac (a type of French brandy).

Because people consider it a cultural and culinary tradition, public authorities turn a blind eye to these practices. To make matters worse, in 2014 several French Michelin-starred chefs came out publicly on national TV to support the tradition of trapping Ortolan Buntings, pleading for at least one weekend when the trapping could be legalised.

LPO (BirdLife in France) considers this situation unacceptable. Confronted with the inaction of the French government with respect to full application of the law, LPO decided 10 years ago to start intervening on the ground during the autumn migration to expose the practice and raise awareness among the general public.

Today, LPO works together with CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter) in an attempt to bring an end to this illegal trapping. The trapping sites are identified from the air, birds are released from cage traps and complaints are handed into the local police stations or the offices of the national agency for hunting and wildlife (ONCFS) in the hopes that enquiries will be made and the cases pursued rather than being shelved.

In 2013, LPO sent a complaint to the European Commission. In March 2015, the Commission informed LPO that the French government had given a satisfactory reply to their questions, including that it was working with LPO on the issue; and if the NGO had no more evidence, the Commission would close the complaint. LPO immediately sent a dossier with information from the previous poaching season to Brussels.

LPO has continued sending proof to the Commission that the French government is doing nothing to stop the illegal trapping and that it has convicted very few of the hunters involved. On 16 June this year, there was some cause for hope. The Commission announced that it had sent a “reasoned opinion” to the French government, which now has two months to satisfy the Commission that it was taking action to stop this illegal killing, or else the Commission could bring France before the European Court of Justice.

Breeding Pelicans on Lake Skadar

The gentle giants at Lake Skadar, between Albania and Montenegro, are now video-monitored 24hrs a day and threats can be addressed in real-time. With local communities embracing all things pelican, and nesting success increasing, the time of the pelican is coming again.On a lake that borders Montenegro and Albania, cold rain, strong wind and waves are like romantic music for Dalmatian Pelicans Pelecanus crispus. The beginning of December marks the start of the breeding season for Pelicans on Lake Skadar, and with every splash of rain, these huge birds run and dance around on floating wooden rafts, bobbing their heads, with giant beaks pointed straight up to the thunderclouds.

Unbeknownst to the flirting pelicans, their displays are being watched. You see, despite their huge size, Dalmatian Pelicans are very susceptible to disturbance and its global population is declining. So night and day, conservationists are observing them from afar, having set up a brand new video-monitoring system – as part of a regional programme led by Noé Conservation supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), MAVA and other donors.
“Having only watched previously from distant hills and boats, now we could finally get answers for so many questions,”said Bjanka Prakljacic from Noé Conservation, who has spent hours observing and listening to the birds nest on their specially-constructed nesting rafts, as part of a multi-partnered project to conserve the pelicans on Lake Skadar.“What we saw on the live feed was just how vulnerable this big bird is.”

Since last year’s drama with video monitoring and the fate of the entire colony resting on one raft, this year the Public Enterprise for National Parks of Montenegro and Natural History Museum of Montenegro (NHM) added two additional rafts for the pelicans.

Dalmatian Pelicans have been declining since the 1970s on Lake Skadar. Fluctuations in weather conditions, causing flooding of nests, and human disturbance have contributed greatly to this, and they are classified as globally Vulnerable by BirdLife International (for the IUCN Red List).

The new rafts eliminate the problem of flooded nests, and the new video equipment allows the team to keep an eye on the pelicans and potential threats from disturbance, also giving insight into their frantic courting and nesting behaviors.

“It is truly amazing how those big beaks can move so gently and controlled to place a reed stalk in a growing nest,” says Bjanka.

However, it turns out fear is a big thing for these gentle giants, as the biggest storm turbulence proved too much the colony – meaning at one point the team had to watch pelicans timidly circle the bobbing rafts. Painfully close, but leaving some bare white eggs unincubated.

“On the bright side,” says Bjanka, “if the colony was formed on a natural island, the nests would have been completely lost to the Skadar’s angry waters. This way the pelicans quickly returned to the nests and replaced lost eggs.”

Cory's shearwater nest: livestream from the Berlengas archipelago

Since last week, it is possible to follow a Cory's shearwater nest on Berlenga Grande live on The LIFE Berlengas project team set up a camera on the nest of this family to allow us to follow their daily activities live on the internet.
The mother laid an egg in early June and both parents incubated it alternately until the young bird finally hatched on 19 July. During the next few days, both parents can be observed while taking turns to feed the chick. The parents will feed the juvenile until the end of October, at which point it will fledge and leave the nest. This pair has been monitored since 2006, but it’s the first time that we can follow them live online.

Usually, Cory's shearwaters incubate the single egg that they lay each year and nest in poorly lit underground burrows, where it is difficult to see what they do. Luckily for us, SPEA installed a camera to monitor one of the nests. The camera is powered by a solar panel and connected to a GSM network, allowing it to transmit the images. The nest gets some sunlight from 3 PM to 5 PM, which allows the camera to broadcast in colour. During the rest of the day, the infrared camera broadcasts a black and white image. The activity on the nest reaches its peak at the beginning of the night.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2016 |  World Bird News July 2016

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