World Bird News March 2016

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

Almost 1 million birds still being illegally killed on British territory in Cyprus

Over 800,000 birds were trapped and killed illegally on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn, according to the latest research by the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus.

The songbirds are illegally trapped to provide the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia (grilled, pickled or boiled songbirds), illegally served to restaurant diners in the country. Organised crime gangs are running this illegal practice on an 'industrial scale', which is estimated by the Cypriot authorities to earn gangs on the island 15 million euros annually.

Survey data from BirdLife Cyprus and other organisations have recorded over 150 species that have been trapped in nets or on limesticks. More than half of these species are of conservation concern. Cyprus has two songbirds that breed nowhere else in the world: the Cyprus Warbler and the Cyprus Wheatear. Both of these songbirds have been found illegally trapped.

On a positive note, the results from 2015 show that there’s been a stop to the annual increases of the last five years in numbers of birds killed on British Territory in Cyprus, thanks to various measures taken to tackle the problem by the base's authorities. The numbers however, are still at record-breaking levels, with illegal killing still far worse on British Territory than in the Republic of Cyprus.

"The RSPB congratulates the British Sovereign Base Area for taking important steps in tackling the illegal killing occurring on MoD land. Approximately one third of the invasive acacia trees which were planted on the firing range to attract migrant birds have been removed and these efforts are to be congratulated," Jonathan Hall, head of UK Overseas Territories at the RSPB, said. "However, we are disappointed that the numbers of birds still being trapped for huge profit by organised gangs remains unacceptably high and the rest of this illegal-killing infrastructure needs to be removed in order to put an end to this barbaric practice."

The latest survey data confirmed the large scale of illegal bird trapping, both with mist nets and limesticks. The survey found that as much as 19 km of mist nets could have been active during the autumn of 2015 within the survey area across British Territory and the Republic of Cyprus. These trapping levels could have resulted in over two million birds killed across the island as a whole. More than 5,300 limesticks were also confiscated by enforcement agencies, mostly within the Republic.

"The scale of the trapping found within the survey area has to be seen to be believed. Long avenues of planted acacia trees resemble vineyards with mounds of gravel at one side. The gravel is brought in by truck and is thrown to scare the birds into the nets. More needs to be done to reduce the trapping and to prosecute restaurants serving up these birds in the Republic. A consistent zero tolerance must be adopted," Dr Clairie Papazoglou, executive director of BirdLife Cyprus, said.

Although enforcement action took place on the trapping fields, enforcement against restaurants serving ambelopoulia (found exclusively in the Republic of Cyprus) has been very limited and much reduced in the last few years. Small-scale trapping of songbirds for human consumption on Cyprus was practiced for many centuries, but it has been illegal on the island since 1974.

The problem of illegal killing of birds is widespread in the Mediterranean. A recent study by BirdLife International estimated that 20 locations in the Mediterranean may be responsible for eight million individual birds being illegally killed or taken alive each year.

Historically, trappers have relied on limesticks, where stems of pomegranate are coated in a locally-manufactured 'lime' and are then placed in trees and bushes. Passing birds become stuck on the lime-coated sticks and fall easy prey to trappers. Limesticks are still used in many areas. Today, most trappers will use long lines of nearly invisible netting, known as mist nets.
How can I help?

Help us by participating in Champions of the Flyway! This annual race, which began in 2014, aims to raise funds to tackle the illegal killing of birds in Europe. Teams from around the world come together in Eilat (Israel) and compete to observe and register as many bird species as possible within a 24 hour period.

Each year, the funds collected aim to end illegal killing in a different location. In 2015, the funds went to concrete actions that aim to end illegal killing of birds in Cyprus. This year, the objective is to help Greek birds!

You can either donate to one of the teams or promote the race on Twitter using the hashtag #COTF2016 to raise awareness on the issue.

Record Black-faced Spoonbill count, despite deteriorating habitat

Record Black-faced Spoonbill count, despite deteriorating habitat

Black-faced Spoonbill in flight (Photo: Yun-tak Chung/HKBWS)

The annual International Black-faced Spoonbill Census recorded 3,356 individuals in January 2016, an increase of 2.6% from the last year’s 3,272 individuals, and a record recent count for this Endangered Asian waterbird.

An annual census of Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor has been ongoing since 2003. This year’s census was held on 15-17 January, with the participation of over 200 volunteers. The survey covered locations in South Korea, Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

“This record recent count reflects conservation measures that have finally come into effect over the last decade. Spoonbill numbers have increased because two major wintering sites – Taiwan and Hong Kong – are well protected, and breeding sites in the Korean Peninsula have not been seriously disturbed”, said Yat-tung Yu, Research Manager of Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS, BirdLife International Partner in Hong Kong SAR, China) who coordinate the census across the region.

Taiwan is still the largest wintering area for the species, where there were a total of 2,060 individuals (a marginal increase of 26 birds). The increase in the total global population was mainly a result of more records from mainland China, which had a 32% increase from 330 individuals in 2015 to 434 this year. Increases were also recorded in South Korea, Japan and Macau. Worryingly, however, the figure from Deep Bay (Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, China) decreased from 462 individuals in 2010 to 371 individuals this year, which represents a cumulative decrease of nearly 20% over the period (including 40 fewer individuals than 2015).

The decrease of Black-faced Spoonbills in the Deep Bay area is of conservation concern because the area has long been one of the largest wintering sites for the species. Mai Po Nature Reserve, an IBA in Hong Kong and the core part of the Deep Bay, is well managed for waterbirds and wetland conservation, with habitat enhancements for wintering Black-faced Spoonbills having been implemented to improve the condition of the reserve.

Simultaneous regular waterbird-monitoring activities at Deep Bay have found decreasing figures of other wetland species too: total winter waterbird counts at the site have fallen from a plateau of 90,132 in 2008 to 43,425 in 2016. As well as Black-faced Spoonbill, several other globally threatened and near-threatened waterbirds occur including the Endangered Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and the Vulnerable Saunders's Gull Saundersilarus saundersi. The exact reasons behind these declines remain unknown, although habitat deterioration such as water pollution and wetland reclamation continues to take place, alongside wider problems with coastal development and illegal poaching that are affecting the South China region as a whole.

Eight million birds killed illegally at 20 Mediterranean locations each year

Eight million birds killed illegally at 20 Mediterranean locations each year

A Red-backed Shrike caught on a lime stick in Egypt. Photo: Mindy El Bashir/Nature Conservation Egypt

Scientists from BirdLife International estimate that 20 locations in the Mediterranean may be responsible for eight million individual birds being illegally killed or taken alive each year.

In the paper Preliminary assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean published this week in the scientific journal Bird Conservation International, the authors present a detailed analysis of how many birds and of which species are impacted, where the 20 worst locations are and why different species are targeted in each country. The report was previewed in the BirdLife review The Killing, published in August last year.

“We were shocked to discover that 25 million individuals of over 450 species are estimated to be illegally killed or taken alive in the Mediterranean region per year, mainly for food (to be eaten as a delicacy or sold for profit), sport and for use as cage birds or hunting decoys,” Dr Anne-Laure Brochet, lead author of the report, said. “Importantly, eight million birds are estimated to be killed or taken at just 20 locations. Given the uncertainty around these numbers because of the difficulty in documenting illegal activities, the total could be anywhere from five to 11 million.”

These 20 places are found in just four countries: Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. They include the Famagusta area of Cyprus, where 400,000-1 million individual birds are illegally killed or taken each year, and the El Manzala area of Egypt, where 30,000-1.1 million individuals birds are illegally killed or taken each year.

The highest estimates of birds illegally killed or taken in the Mediterranean region were for Italy (3-8 million birds), Egypt (300,000-11 million) and Syria (3-5 million), while the density of illegal killing/taking was highest in Malta (18-667 birds per year per sq km), Cyprus (146-351 birds per sq km) and Lebanon (161-335 birds per sq km).

“It was disturbing to find that despite the positive impact of EU legislation, half of the top 10 countries with the highest levels of illegal killing are Member States of the EU. This indicates the need for greater effort to ensure that the EU Birds Directive is fully implemented at national level,” said Willem Van den Bossche, co-author of the paper and Flyway Conservation Officer for Europe and Central Asia at BirdLife Europe.

The birds affected by illegal killing include the Blackcap (1.2-2.4 million individuals per year), European Turtle-dove (300,000-900,000 individuals per year) and Song Thrush (700,000-1.8 million individuals per year), among many others.

The data were collected by BirdLife Partner organisations across the region using a variety of sources, including targeted monitoring data, police records, publications, reports and expert opinion. In many cases, the numbers were extrapolated from data or estimates of the number of mist-nets, shooting incidences, recoveries in animal hospitals and rehabilitation centres, and illegal ‘limesticks’ used to trap birds with sticky glue

“Illegal killing is a complex conservation problem, with key methods of killing, targeted species and motivations varying between countries,” explained Dr Vicky Jones, co-author of the paper and Senior Flyways Officer at BirdLife International. “Addressing this issue requires action on a local, national and international scale, involving law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, hunting associations, national government authorities, non-governmental organisations and international policy instruments.”

National action plans to tackle illegal killing have recently been developed by a wide range of stakeholders in Egypt/Libya and Cyprus, with the aim of strengthening legislation and its enforcement, improving monitoring, and supporting efforts to take action for individual species.

“Unsustainable exploitation is one of the major threats to the world’s birds, and much of this is illegal. Our study is the first to compile detailed quantitative estimates of the scale of the problem in the Mediterranean. Our identification of the worst locations will help to focus efforts on the ground to tackle the issue,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, co-author of the paper and Head of Science at BirdLife Internationa

Winged Predators and an Ill wind threaten newly fledged Tahiti Monarchs

Half way through, 2015/2016 breeding season has been a record year for the critically endangered Tahiti Monarch. The good news is that the 53 adults so far this year have, initially, fledged 14 young – with at least one more expected.

But this year was different in not a good way. Maybe because of El Niño, there was an ill wind blowing through the valleys. There was the sudden disappearance of five young after fledging. BirdLife partner SOP Manu and their illustrious community helpers we left with only nine survivors among the 14 that flew in 2015.

So what has happened? Because no one was able to watch these birds continuously, SOP Manu staff can only speculate on the culprit/s. They need the services of a real detective. Something that would challenge Hercule Poirot!

In 2015 the obvious nest predators - black rat, Myna and blackbirds can be eliminated from the list of suspects. Why? Because there are no more, thanks to rat control by SOP Manu and the trapping of blackbirds over four years by the volunteer network. There are no longer any blackbirds in monarch territories and that is a major reason for the baby boom amongst monarchs over those last few years. Black rats are controlled but still some of small nests are still the scene of a bloody home invasion. Other flying species like robins are also killed as are even many bulbuls - and they fly and are not normally effected by rats!

Number one suspect is the swamp harrier. Originally from New Zealand and falsely called hawk in French Polynesia, it was introduced to Tahiti in 1885 by the German consul, with the intention of limiting the number of rats. From Tahiti, they flew onto other islands severely impacting on the endemic species of those islands without making any difference at all to the populations of rodents that are able to increase the size of their litters to compensate for losses due to predators. They launch themselves, slalom between trees at full speed, and fall on their prey. The endemic land birds, which have evolved over millions of years in environments free from such aggressive predators, are easy prey.

The second suspect is the Bulbul. A species native to Asia, it was introduced in 1970 in Tahiti, according to radio coconut, having escaped from an aviary destroyed by a cyclone. But this abominable bird, ranked among the 100 most invasive species on the planet, like the blackbird, is so aggressive that the Indians use it as a replacement for cockfighting in countries that is prohibited. They aggressively attack the young monarchs in their nests. In 2015, the number of bulbuls grew in monarch territories despite the efforts to control them.

The third suspect is El Niño itself! : It brings different climatic conditions and some extreme events - floods, spectacular storms, even localized, disrupt the normal course of seasonal weather. These may weaken the young monarch and make them more vulnerable to predators. At least one of them probably has been an extreme weather casualty. Just at time he was starting fly, his disappearance coincided with the observation of many fallen branches on the ground.

So who is the culprit! Even the great detectives cannot be sure but the case shows how hard it is to bring a species back from the brink where every bird is a treasure. That is why there is such an imperative to get the numbers up and to find a home for a second population so that, even if there is a home invasion in one place, there is still a safe population.

And Cyclone Winston reminds us how precarious is their future.

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

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