World Bird News October 2007

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

Think Pink – save Africa’s flamingos

Think Pink – save Africa’s flamingos

Fijian seabird isles to be “de-ratted”

Invasive predators such as cats and rats are to be eradicated from some of Fiji’s most important seabird islands, as part of a project undertaken by BirdLife International’s Fiji programme, with the support of landowners, and funding from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation.
The Ringgold Isles, a remote archipelago forming an outlier group to Vanua Levu (the northernmost of Fiji’s two main islands), are mostly uninhabited, and their relative isolation should make them a safe haven for seabirds like the Black Noddy Anous minutus and Red-footed Booby Sula sula.
However, Pacific Rat Rattus exculans, which has successfully naturalised on many islands, is contributing to a progressive decline in seabird breeding populations through the predation of eggs and chicks. Rats also hinder regeneration of coastal forest –essential to tree-nesting species like Red-footed Booby- by eating the seeds of native trees.
The first phase of the project, a survey to establish seabird numbers and the presence of invasive predators, was completed by BirdLife staff in August 2007, with local community assistance. The survey provides baseline data which will enable pre- and post-eradication monitoring to be carried out.
“The Survey has confirmed that these islands are among Fiji’s most important for seabirds, and once the data has been analysed some islands will also meet criteria for internationally important bird areas (IBAs),” said Vilikesa Masibalavu manager for BirdLife’s Fiji programme. “The large seabird populations include many thousand Gogo (Black and Brown Noddy Anous stolidus), and hundreds of Toro (Brown Sula leucogaster and Red-footed Booby) and Manumanu ni cagi (Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel).” Also present were Masked Booby Sula dactylatra, Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana and White-tern Gygis alba.
The islands were found to support good populations of invertebrates such as coconut crabs Birgus latro, which have been extirpated from most of the islands in Fiji. They are also foraging and nesting sites for endangered sea turtles and native lizards. The cryptic and elusive Fiji Banded Iguana, an Endangered species, may also occur on some of the Ringgold Isles. Many of these species are believed to be affected by rat predation and are also expected to benefit when the rats are removed (as has been demonstrated elsewhere).
Rats were found on seven of the eight islands surveyed. On six islands the rat population was found to be “medium to high”. Steve Cranwell, who took part in the survey, explained: “Where numbers were deemed to be high, rats were seen frequently during the day and at night the forest floor was crawling with them. Having set a trap you would walk ten metres only to hear it snap shut on the next victim. Medium densities weren’t visibly that dissimilar, other than rats being less visible during the day and not quite the seething mass at night. The forest would still chorus to the snap of traps.”
The lower rat numbers on the seventh were attributed to the presence of a feral domestic cat. As for the eighth island, Steve Cranwell says it is likely that they are still present in lower numbers.
“Rats eat eggs and chicks, whereas cats can quickly decimate an entire seabird colony, particularly those that nest on the ground,” said Vilikesa Masibalavu. “The information collected from the survey will be used to determine if these introduced predators can be eradicated, which in addition to technical considerations requires the full support of the islands’ owners and communities, and the ability to prevent future reinvasion.”
Local communities and landowners have already pledged their support for rat eradication, planning and discussions are now going on to establish how the eradication is to be carried out, and what restrictions on access, crab harvesting and other activities may need to be imposed until it is complete.
The “operational plan” is expected to be finalised in early 2008. “This is not restricted to laying the rat bait, but includes bio-security for the island (ie how rats and other invasive species will be prevented from returning in the future),” explained Steve Cranwell. “Eradication will occur sometime between May and August; the exact timing is dependent on many things, and ultimately comes down to the weather.”
He added that the involvement of the local communities and landowners was vital throughout the eradication process and beyond. “Without their support, bio-security will fail.”
The Tui Laucala (chief or king of Laucula), whose jurisdiction includes the Ringgold Isles, said that the isles are the ancestral lands of his people, and home to ancient villages and burial grounds of great importance. “As guardians of the land, it is our responsibility to protect these islands. With the support of BirdLife this is an opportunity for us to ensure the islands’ birds and other natural resources will be there for our ‘ira na gone’ (our children and their children).”

Largest flock for 100 years: Sociable Lapwing lives up to its name

Largest flock for 100 years: Sociable Lapwing lives up to its name

Thanks to a single satellite tag, a 3,000-strong flock of Sociable Lapwing has been discovered in Turkey – the largest seen for more than 100 years.
“By tracking a single bird from its Kazakh breeding grounds, we have found the location of most of the world population of these birds in Turkey,” announced Guven Eken, Executive Director of Doga Dernegi (BirdLife in Turkey).
The finding represents another significant rise in fortune for the Critically Endangered bird: almost five years ago, as few as 400 Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius were thought to exist globally.
The birds were found in the Ceylanpinar district of south-eastern Turkey after a satellite tag was fitted to one of the birds migrating from breeding grounds in Kazakhstan earlier this year.
The tagged bird covered 2,000 miles, flying north of the Caspian Sea, then down through the Caucasus and south into Turkey, where it effectively stopped. On investigation last Friday, conservationists from Doga Dernegi found that the tagged bird was part of a flock of 1,800 other lapwing.
The following day a staggering 3,200 Sociable Lapwing were observed at the site.
Conservationists from a number of nations (nearly all BirdLife Partners) have been working to conserve Sociable Lapwing in recent years, by coordinating their actions on the ground; focusing their efforts to conserve wintering sites, stopover sites and breeding sites along the species’ flyways.
This coordinated action has included research and protection of breeding sites in Kazakhstan (by ACBK); actions to protect wintering and stopover sites in Turkey and Syria (being undertaken by Doga Dernegi, SPNL and BirdLife’s Middle East Division); all assisted by research coordinated by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).
“Understanding the migration from breeding sites in Kazakhstan is essential for the future protection of this species, so the news of such a large flock is a great cause for celebration,” commented Maxim Koshkin of Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK).
"This discovery is something we didn’t dare dream of,” said the RSPB’s Dr Rob Sheldon, responsible for tagging the bird in Kazakhstan. “The Sociable Lapwing is one of the rarest birds on earth and suddenly it’s been found in these large numbers.”
“It shows just how important both Kazakhstan and Turkey have become for the survival of this species. The next step is to protect the bird, both on its breeding grounds and at all the key sites on its migration route.”
Where the birds go next is unclear: “They could still move on to Iraq or East Africa but if they stay in Turkey, it will be much easier to make them safe. We can keep an eye on them here, raise awareness amongst local people and work with the Turkish government to protect the areas they are using,” said Özge Balkiz, a scientist from Doga Dernegi.
The tagging project is partly paid for by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative and conservationists from Britain and Kazakhstan hope to win new funds to tag more birds next summer.
Photograph Mahmoud Sheish Abdallah

EU issues final warning to Malta about spring hunting

BirdLife International welcomes the decision by the European Commission to send Malta a final written warning (‘Reasoned Opinion’), regarding the practice of spring hunting of wild birds, which is illegal under EU law. Every spring since its accession to the EU in 2004, Malta has permitted hunting of Turtle Dove and Common Quail, in direct contravention of the EU Birds Directive.
Based on a complaint by BirdLife, the Commission started legal action against Malta in 2006 but progress was slow. Earlier this year, the European Parliament had called on the Commission “to redouble its efforts to persuade the Maltese authorities to comply fully with Community law”.
BirdLife International and BirdLife Malta have continuously campaigned against spring hunting in Malta. The Maltese Islands are located on an important bird migration route in the Mediterranean. The EU Birds Directive specifically protects birds by banning hunting during their spring migration back from Africa to their breeding grounds throughout the European Union. A recent study analysing the ring recoveries in Malta, showed that birds originating from a minimum of thirty-six European countries fly over Malta each year.
“We are pleased to see firm action now coming from the Commission on this,” said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at BirdLife in Brussels. “The Commission needs to be tough on this case, therefore we also welcome Commissioner Dimas’ statement in his blog earlier this week saying Malta will be taken to the Court if spring hunting isn’t stopped.”
BirdLife fears if the Commission is not firm enough here other countries could follow Malta’s example and the EU’s credibility could be seriously undermined.
BirdLife now calls on the Maltese government to respond to the Commission’s warning by officially declaring the end of spring hunting in Malta, for 2008 and beyond. If it fails to do so, BirdLife will urge the European Commission to apply to the European Court of Justice for an immediate order.
Tolga Temuge, CEO of BirdLife Malta added: “Allowing another spring hunting season in 2008 despite clear warning from the Commission, would not only mean that the Maltese government does not want to fulfil its obligations as an EU member but would also be a slap in the face of its citizens who are overwhelmingly against spring hunting.”
“Moreover”, he continued, “every open spring hunting season has been used as a cover by many Maltese hunters to shoot protected species, many of which are threatened with global extinction, such the Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Harrier and others.”

Unique spoon-billed bird facing extinction

Populations of one of the world’s strangest birds have crashed over the last decade, and surveys this summer of its breeding grounds in the remote Russian province of Chukotka suggest that the situation is now critical. The charismatic, and rather aptly named, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, is now worryingly close to becoming extinct. With only 200-300 pairs left, conservationists are calling for urgent help to tackle the decline.
“We’ve seen a 70% drop in the number of breeding pairs at some sites over the last couple of years. If this decline continues, these amazing birds won’t be around for much longer,” says Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Vice President of the Russian Bird Conservation Union (BirdLife in Russia).
The reasons for these losses are complex, involving changes to habitat during migration and loss of breeding areas. What is clear is that nest predation by foxes and disturbance by people and dogs could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the few birds left.
“Action to safeguard the remaining breeding pairs needs to be taken now for there to be any chance of saving them. We are planning to put wardens in place at these critical sites. Once they are protected and the birds are successfully fledging young, we can get on with the task of trying to save areas that they use whilst on migration,” Evgeny adds.
Spoon-billed Sandpipers’ spoon-shaped bill is still something of a mystery, the exact use for which is still unknown. They breed during June–July in a small strip of coastal Arctic tundra in Chukotka, NE Russia. They then migrate thousands of kilometres to winter along coasts in South and South-East Asia. Spoon-billed Sandpipers are one of several species to depend on the rich tidal coasts of the Yellow Sea in east Asia, where they stop to refuel on their way to and from their breeding grounds.

“Coastal reclamation in South Korea is currently destroying over 40,000 ha of habitat; coastal habitats are being converted into saltpans and shrimp farms in Bangladesh and Chinese coasts have been rapidly developed in recent years,” says Christoph Zöckler, international coordinator of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Action Plan, “They are just running out of places to stop and feed on migration.”
What seems certain is that if these changes continue there will soon be no place left for Spoon-billed Sandpipers.
“The recent declines have shocked those concerned about the species, but with investment and the dedication of those involved we can still save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.” says Richard Grimmett, BirdLife’s Global Conservation Manager.
BirdLife International has launched the Preventing Extinctions initiative to try and turn the tide for Spoon-billed Sandpiper and species like it, and is looking for companies, institutions and individuals to step up and provide funding by becoming BirdLife Species Champions.
With the right conservation action plan in place it is possible to save a species. It has been done before, but it takes hard work and hard cash but aren’t we all the better for knowing that a bird with a spoon for a bill exists out there, somewhere?

New species of antwren for Brazil

New species of antwren for Brazil

A new species of antwren from Bahia, Brazil has recently been described in the journal Zootaxa. Sincorá Antwren Formicivora grantsaui is found only in the campo rupestre vegetation of the Serra do Sincorá between 850 m and 1,100 m in the Chapada Diamantina region. This is an important area that holds other restricted range species such as Grey-backed Tachuri Polystictus superciliaris and Pale-throated Pampa-finch Embernagra longicauda. First observed in 1997, it is closely related to Rusty-backed Antwren Formicivora rufa, with which it sometimes occurs sympatrically. It differs slightly in some plumage characters but more importantly it has quite distinctive vocalisations and each species utilises different habitats. Formicivora grantsaui occurs on rocky outcrops in the campo rupestre and F. rufa in the adjacent savannas. If confirmed, this discovery highlights the importance of researchers using vocalisations and habitat preference in identifying distinct species.

"This is another new species for Brazil. Once confirmed, it is vital that we assess its conservation status and any potential threats. It would be sadly ironic if, as soon as it was discovered, Sincorá Antwren became threatened with extinction," says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator.

This taxa will be assessed in due course by the South American Classification Committee of the AOU (BirdLife’s taxonomic source for South America). If recognised as a valid species by SACC, BirdLife will then evaluate its extinction risk category for the IUCN Red List (for which BirdLife is the official Red List Authority).
Picture Sidnei Sampaio

Conservationists appalled at Red-footed Falcon massacre

Conservationists appalled at Red-footed Falcon massacre

52 Red-footed Falcon –listed as Near-Threatened by BirdLife- have been found shot at Phasouri in Cyprus, a well-known poaching 'black spot'. The finding has appalled conservationists throughout Europe, and has led to BirdLife Cyprus renewing calls for action on the issue.
On the morning of Friday 5 October, farm workers at the Phasouri citrus plantations found the Red-footed Falcons laying dead or wounded among the orange trees. Two piles of empty shotgun cartridges lay at the centre of the massacre site. Of the 52 falcons recovered, six were wounded and forty-six had died.
Red-footed Falcon is a colonial species that nests and migrates in groups. The species is strictly protected in the EU as it has suffered severe declines in its main, eastern European breeding range in recent decades.
BirdLife Cyprus report that this incident is by no means the first time illegal shooting has resulted in the killing of birds of prey and other migrants, such as Bee-eaters Merops apiaster, at Phasouri on the Akrotiri peninsula of Limassol. "This terrible situation has dragged on for the past few years without the authorities taking appropriate action to stop it,” said Mike Miltiadous, Research Officer of BirdLife Cyprus.
"For years, BirdLife Cyprus has been calling for effective anti-poaching action on the peninsula, which is the most important autumn migration stop-over area on the Island for thousands of birds, and birds of prey in particular,” said BirdLife Cyprus Manager, Martin Hellicar.
“This anti-poaching action has plainly failed to materialise, with the results that illegal shooters have become increasingly bold, making this act one of the worst cases of illegal bird killing ever reported in Europe.”
The area where Friday’s falcon shooting took place is within the Akrotiri British Sovereign Base Area (SBA), but the main problem on the peninsula in recent years has been the absence of joint anti-poaching patrols by the SBA Police and the Cyprus Game Fund. Taking advantage of this lack of joint action, illegal hunters have profited along the ‘border’ between the SBA and Republic, simply stepping across the dividing line to avoid either SBA Police or Game Fund patrols.
“A joint SBA-Game Fund anti-poaching team has now been set up, but we have not seen it in action yet,” said Hellicar. “Friday’s massacre should have been prevented by the SBA Police, but we believe it is the product of the unacceptably lax state of affairs in the Phasouri area as a whole,” he added.
BirdLife Cyprus also called for an immediate ban on shooting on the entire peninsula. Although almost all the peninsula is a protected reserve, a narrow coastal strip along the west is open for hunting of Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur and Quail Coturnix coturnix from early September to mid-October. But the real draw for many hunters is not the meagre numbers of this legal quarry but the huge numbers of Bee-eaters Merops apiaster and Yellow Wagtails Motacilla flava, both strictly protected species under Cyprus and EU law.
“Under the circumstances, the hunting area in operation today should be shut down immediately and indefinitely,” finished Miltiadous.

Rediscovered notebooks give historical insight into 'lost bird'

Javan Lapwing Vanellus macropterus has not been recorded with certainty since 1940 and is currently classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International. The species was confined to wide steppe-like marshes in river deltas on the Indonesian island of Java, which is now densely populated and is currently home to 124 million people. This human pressure means that there is little suitable habitat left and the situation is looking bleak for Javan Lapwings, should any remain.
In the latest issue of Bird Conservation International, a fascinating paper <actinic:variable name="1" /> gives a historical insight into the life of one of the world’s rarest and most poorly known species of bird, pieced together fom newly translated notes by a German amateur ornithologist.
In 2000, the Zoological Museum Amsterdam received a number of unpublished and previously unknown notes and manuscripts written by August Spennemann. Spennemann lived on Java from c.1915 to 1940 and among his notes was a detailed typed account of his observations of the Javan Lapwing in the late 1920s near Pamanukan, West Java province.
"Spennemann's notes contain descriptions of the calls and behaviour of these birds, things we knew almost nothing of before. This discovery provides us with an amazing window onto their lives,” says Bas van Balen, one of the authors of the paper.
These records come from areas with no previous reports of Javan Lapwings and suggest that these birds may have wider habitat preferences than was previously thought.
"If it still exists the population of Javan Lapwings must be tiny and work needs to be carried out immediately to survey all potential areas,” Bas adds.

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

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