World Bird News October 2009

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

Princess Eleonora's falcons leave for Africa


Two recent studies have revealed new information on the migration routes of Eleonora’s Falcon Falco eleonorae, tracking the birds 9,500 km from their European breeding colonies to their main non-breeding grounds in Madagascar.
Eleonora’s Falcon is a patchily distributed breeding visitor to rocky coasts and islands in the Mediterranean. It is unusual among birds of prey in having a reproductive cycle adapted to match the southward migration of passerine birds, which it eats. This means it breeds much later than many other species, with the young hatching in late August. The species was named after Giudicessa Eleonora de Arborea (1350-1404), a Sardinian princess who fought for Sardinia's independence from the Kingdom of Aragon, and who drafted the first laws in Europe protecting birds of prey.
Until recently, it was believed the species migrated east through the Mediterranean, then south via the Red Sea and the east coast of Africa to Madagascar, where 70% of the global population is estimated to converge in the winter. However, the new studies used satellite transmitters to show that these birds reach their destination by flying right across the centre of the African continent. Other secrets uncovered include the finding that they migrate by both day and night, crossing huge barriers such as the Sahara Desert. Some of the birds took two months to complete their mammoth journeys, including a stopover in West Africa.
Their return route to European breeding grounds in spring also crossed the heart of the African continent, but involved a longer crossing (1,500 km) of the Indian Ocean than in the autumn. Adult birds returned directly to the Mediterranean, whereas immature falcons spent their first summer in the tropical Africa.
These studies provide valuable new insights into the migration routes of this raptor, and also underline its vulnerability to threats it may face en route, such as hunting, collisions, habitat loss and desertification.

BirdLife International is working to try and save migratory birds on their amazing journeys. Earlier this year, we launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway.

“Every time a migratory bird manages to cross a continent, it tells us an extraordinary story of courage and successfully overcoming the many obstacles along the way”, said Ania Sharwood Smith, European coordinator of the Born to Travel Campaign. “To follow migratory birds satellite tracking is a fantastic technology that greatly improves our understanding of where the main dangers may lie”.

Gschweng M., Kalko E.K.V., Querner U., Fiedler W., Berthold P. (2008) All across Africa: highly individual migration routes of Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae). Proc Soc Lond B 275 (1653): 2887-2896.
Lopez-Lopez P, Liminana R, Urios V. (2009) Autumn migration of Eleonora’s falcon Falco eleonorae tracked by satellite telemetry. Zoological Studies 48 (4): 485-491.

Australia's IBAs provide the first nationwide conservation blueprint


Birds Australia (BirdLife in Australia) has published Australia’s Important Bird Areas, a major contribution to conservation planning in a country where the sheer scale of the landscape has held back the identification of sites of high importance for biodiversity conservation.
“In the 314 IBAs we have a national network of globally significant sites for bird conservation, providing a focus for research and conservation efforts”, said Graeme Hamilton – CEO of Birds Australia.
Australia is home to 803 bird species, of which 312 are endemic. But many of these birds are under threat. Australia and its Territories are ranked fourteenth in the world for the number of Globally Threatened and restricted-range bird species. Four Australian bird species are Critically Endangered, 18 Endangered and 25 Vulnerable. In addition, ‘common’ birds are also at risk: the 2008 State of Australia’s Birds report suggests that about two-thirds of bird species are showing significant long-term declines in the country.
Between 2005 and 2009, with contributions from over 1,000 volunteers and funding from Rio Tinto, the IBA project designated 314 Australian sites of global significance for bird conservation. These sites encompass almost 44 million hectares of land, which include IBAs in all Australian States and most Territories. But almost half of the area covered by Australia’s IBAs has no existing formal protection.

The Australian Government aims to reserve at least 10% of all bioregions, and to protect key habitats for nationally listed threatened species and migratory species. Although more than 9,000 formally protected areas cover 11% of the Australian landmass, many bioregions are under-represented, and many threatened and migratory species are poorly protected. Moreover, even in Protected Areas some species are declining. This highlights the need for conservation in the almost 90% of Australia’s landmass that is outside the formal conservation estate.

“In countries such as the United Kingdom, all sites of conservation significance have been identified”, Graeme Hamilton explained. “Until now, the scale of the task and the inadequacy of baseline distributional data have discouraged such projects in Australia, and the lack of mapped priority areas, especially those off-reserve, has been a hindrance to effective and cost-efficient conservation. The IBA project is the first national site-scale conservation analysis for the country.”
Many of Australia’s small islands support large concentrations of nesting seabirds, especially on the Great Barrier Reef and around Tasmania. Some of these seabird colonies and IBAs are very small: 20 IBAs are less than one hectare in size.
At the other extreme, some IBAs have been designated for species that occur at low population densities over very large areas. These include the South-west Slopes IBA for breeding Superb Parrots Polytelis swainsonii, and Arnhem Plateau IBA for White-throated Grasswrens Amytornis woodwardi, both Vulnerable.
A number of Australian birds, such as Endangered Mallee Emuwren Stipiturus mallee are endemic to low, fire-sensitive vegetation such as mallee (important in 22 IBAs) or heathland (11 IBAs). Appropriate fire management is critical if these IBAs are to keep their value. At the wetter end of the scale, the designation of IBAs is triggered by rainforest species (28 IBAs) or specialist mangrove species such as Chestnut Rail Eulabeornis castaneoventris or Mangrove Honeyeater Lichenostomus fasciogularis (17 IBAs). For the birds that inhabit these IBAs, climate change is now the biggest threat.
All major forms of land ownership are represented among the identified sites. Almost a third of the IBAs are privately owned, about eight per cent are under the ownership of traditional Indigenous people, and fewer than 60% owned by local, State or Federal government.
Graeme Hamilton says this breadth of ownership provides a wealth of opportunity for communities, organisations, industry and all levels of government: “To become involved in the conservation and monitoring of Australia’s birds - in the places where it matters most”.

Global population of Gurney's Pitta far greater than previously estimated

Global population of Gurney's Pitta far greater than previously estimated


A recent paper published online in BirdLife's journal Bird Conservation International, provides strong evidence that the global population of Gurney's Pitta Pitta gurneyi, once believed to be one of the rarest birds in the world, is much greater than was previously estimated.

The only bird species endemic to peninsular Thailand and Myanmar, Gurney's Pitta was considered extinct by some before the rediscovery of a single small population in Thailand in 1986. Classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of IUCN, the discovery of populations in Myanmar led to its downlisting to Endangered in 2008.

The recent research, led by Dr Paul Donald of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), confirmed that almost all of the world's population of Gurney's Pitta is located in Myanmar. The research has shown that the previous population estimate for Myanmar was too low and that it in fact is likely to be between 9,300 and an astonishing 35,000 territories, although it probably lies around a mid-point of 20,000 territories. The research also showed that the species occurs further north than previously thought, and at higher altitudes.

The research, funded by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative, also involved the Forest Department, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association, a local Myanmar non-government organisation and the Indochina programme of BirdLife International.

Dr. Donald said, "This project represents an example of where well targeted conservation research can bring about an improvement in the conservation status of a threatened species through better knowledge. Our increased knowledge of the status, distribution and ecology of this species will guide future conservation investment. Of course we must remember that although the Myanmar population is larger than previously thought, it is declining due to forest loss and is not yet secure."
Recent conservation effort by the same project, involving the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Chiang Mai University has stabilised the remnant population in southern Thailand, estimated at between 15 and 20 territories. However, it was discovered that nesting success in Thailand remains very low, due to heavy nest predation by snakes. The Thai population, although small, is located in a protected area, Khao Pra Bang Kram Wildlife Sanctuary. However, the Myanmar population remains unprotected although it is hoped that with the eventual establishment of Lenya National Park, this situation will change.

"Lowland forest continues to be lost throughout South-East Asia, principally for the establishment of commercial oil palm estates. This is the principle threat to the Gurney’s Pitta in Myanmar, although for the moment there is evidence of a decline in the rate of clearance, which may be linked to the global economic downturn", said Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager for BirdLife in Indochina.

Interestingly, habitats supporting the species in Myanmar are rather different to those at occupied sites in Thailand. This means the species might inhabit a wider range of altitudes, slopes and forest types than previously thought, and so might persist in previously unsurveyed areas. The results suggest that the species also is tolerant of or even benefits from, a degree of forest disturbance, though it certainly cannot survive in oil palm plantations. This affords hope that the species will be found at new locations in both Myanmar and Thailand. This will be the goal of further research to be conducted next year.

Paul F. Donald, Sirirak Aratrakorn, Thurawin Htun, Jonathan C. Eames, Htin Hla, Somying Thunhi-korn, Kriangsak Sribua-Rod, Pinyo Tinun, Sein Myo Aung, Sa Myo Zaw and Graeme M. Buchnanan. 2009. Population, distribution, habitat use and breeding of Gurney’s Pitta Pitta gurneyi in Myanmar and Thailand. Bird Conservation International doi:10.1017/S0959270909008612

Endemics thrive on Timor-Leste's "Lost World" mountain


Surveys have confirmed that the finest montane forests in Timor-Leste, and possibly the whole island of Timor, are to be found on the inaccessible Mount Mundo Perdido – literally, "Lost World". With 22 of the restricted-range species of the Timor and Wetar Endemic Bird Area found so far, Mount Mundo Perdido has been recognised as Timor-Leste's seventeenth Important Bird Area (IBA).
The surveys were carried out by staff of Timor-Leste's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and Colin Trainor of Australia's Charles Darwin University, supported by BirdLife and the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative.
The upper slopes of Mount Mundo Perdido, rising to 1,760 m, have been protected from agriculture by their steep, rocky terrain. The 16,100 ha site also includes the 1,390 m Mount Laritame, 5 km to the north.
The IBA almost certainly hosts the largest populations of a suite of hill and montane bird species on Timor Island. Of the 22 endemics, one is globally threatened - the Endangered Timor Imperial-pigeon Ducula cineracea- and eight are Near Threatened, including Slaty Cuckoo-dove Turacoena modesta and Chestnut-backed Thrush Zoothera dohertyi. Small numbers of Critically Endangered Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea are also present.
A total of 63 bird species have been recorded, including 61 presumed breeding residents, and two northern migrants. Eleven of the residents are montane forest specialists, and all appear to be abundant in the IBA.
Possibly the most exciting discovery was a population of Pygmy Blue-flycatcher Muscicapella hodgsoni on the upper slopes, 1,700 km or more from the nearest known populations in Kalimantan and Sumatra. The taxonomic status of this isolated population is being investigated.
Mount Mundo Perdido is also considered one of the three most important sites for conservation of orchids in Timor-Leste, and several new orchid species have been collected.

Although it has legal protected stratus dating back to the United Nations administration which preceded independence, the IBA is not managed as a Protected Area. But local people have responded positively to the idea of Protected Area management, which would, in line with the policy established in Timor Leste, be carried out in close consultation with the community.

Measures would include improved management of livestock, fairer and more sustainable access to forest products such as bamboo and rattan, reforestation of eroded areas, and a village forestry programme to supply timber from plantations, as an alternative to the current uncontrolled extraction of forest trees.

"The Government of Timor-Leste has shown it is committed to preserving our natural and cultural heritage through Protected Areas, by declaring our first National Park (Nino Konis Santana National Park) in 2008. We continue to work towards managing this area sustainably, while we also develop plans to manage 12 other Protected Areas including Mount Mundo Perdido, and to establish 18 new Protected Areas in the long term. All these are to be part of the new Protected Areas Network in Timor-Leste. Thanks to this work, we now know that Mount Mundo Perdido is the richest tropical montane forest site remaining in Timor-Leste", said Manuel Mendes, Director for Protected Areas and National Park, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Download the Mount Mundo Perdido IBA profile. (PDf)

Lake Nakuru becomes Africa's first IBA-branded National Park


Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for its population of up to 1.5 million non-breeding Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor, has become the first National Park in Africa to be branded as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
The branding is a triumph for BirdLife Partner NatureKenya, which began identifying IBAs within the country in 1995.
Some 450 bird species have been recorded in and around Lake Nakuru, including Endangered Madagascar Pond-heron Ardeola idea, Near Threatened Grey-crested Helmet-shrike Prionops poliolophus and Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus. The site is also key for regionally important numbers of congregatory waterbirds such as Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, African Spoonbill Platalea alba, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus and Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus.
“The IBA branding makes Lake Nakuru National Park part of the global network of places recognised for their outstanding value to bird conservation”, said Kenya Wildlife Service Director Dr Julius Kipng’etich. He added that Nakuru’s new status was a huge boost to the KWS’s efforts to market the lake as: “The world’s greatest ornithological spectacle”.

Kenya’s Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Dr Noah Wekesa, said that IBA status would raise awareness and thus reduce stress on the lake’s birds. According to the Environment News Service, he added that other IBAs, such as those around Lake Victoria and in the Cherang'ani Hills, will be used to extend and market Kenya’s ecotourism circuits. At the same ceremony, the Minister launched the Fourth Edition of the ‘Checklist of the Birds of Kenya’, which now lists 1,100 species, and is available from NatureKenya.
Income from the 300,000 visitors to Lake Nakuru each year supports conservation work at other, less glamorous but no less important, Protected Areas. However, the flamingos and other spectacular birds and large mammals at Lake Nakuru are suffering the short-term effects of the severe drought affecting the country.
"Lake Nakuru IBA is crucial for Kenya’s tourism industry which is worthy US$ 1 billion per year”, said, Dr Julius Arinaitwe - BirdLife Africa’s IBA Programme Manager. “Every effort should be made to protect it from the human-induced threats that it is currently facing”.
Longer term problems include the extensive clearance of the Mau Forest by settlers, loggers and charcoal makers, which has reduced the forest’s capacity to hold and release water during the rainy season. Much of Lake Nakuru’s water is provided by four rivers which originate in the Mau Forest.
“There is need to look at the entire water-catchment to conserve wetland IBAs such as Lake Nakuru”, said Paul Matiku - NatureKenya Executive Director. “Even well-protected sites such as Lake Nakuru are threatened by unsustainable land use upstream”.

Solving the mysteries of migratory bird declines


The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), have joined forces and are working with BirdLife Partners in Ghana (Ghana Wildlife Society), Burkina Faso (Naturama), the Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) and Denmark (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to mount the largest research project of its type to understand more about migratory birds that spend the non-breeding season south of the Sahara desert.
Some of the greatest declines of birds in the UK are among migratory songbirds such as Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos and Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata. These species breeding in Europe and migrate to sub-Saharan Africa.
Recent figures suggest that more than 40 per cent of all migratory species passing between Europe and Africa have declined in the last three decades. Alarmingly, one in 10 of these are classified by BirdLife as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
The project will involve researchers monitoring birds along a corridor stretching from Ghana’s Atlantic coast to northern Burkina Faso, spanning a range of habitats from coastal rainforest to the edge of the Sahara desert.

“These birds face many threats during their incredible annual journeys”, said Dr Erasmus Owusu - Executive Director of Ghana Wildlife Society. “BirdLife and its Partners are working to provide a safer journey for migratory birds”.

“The drastic declines of some of our best-loved summer-visiting birds, such as the cuckoo, turtle dove and nightingale, is one of the greatest concerns currently raging in conservation”, said Dr Danaë Sheehan – RSPB Research Ecologist. “Although we have a reasonable understanding of these birds in the UK, we have little or no idea what's happening to these birds in their wintering grounds, but it’s clear that without help these declines are likely to continue, reducing the populations of these summer visitors to dangerously low levels”.
A number of potential causes for the declines of migrants have been suggested, including: climate change, changes in rainfall patterns, and land degradation. Predicted increases in human population and climatic variability in West Africa are likely to exacerbate these threats.
“If we are to reverse these alarming declines we need to act now”, commented Dr Chris Hewson - Research Ecologist at the BTO. “To do this we need to better understand where these birds spend the winter months and what pressures they face there. If we can find this out we will be in a strong position to help secure their future”.

The team of researchers will be counting and ringing birds at locations in Ghana and Burkina Faso, across a breadth of habitats, from dense tropical rainforest to semi-desert. By recording birds at these points several times during the year, researchers hope to build up a detailed picture of the movements and habitat preferences of European migratory birds wintering in Africa.
In response to worrying declines of many migratory species, BirdLife has launched the Born to Travel Campaign to protect migratory birds along the African-Eurasian flyway. “Naturama are one of over 70 BirdLife Partners across the migration routes between Europe, the Middle East and Africa who are working together to tackle threats to migratory songbirds like agricultural intensification, desertification, deforestation and climate change”, concluded Georges Oueda - Director of Conservation at Naturama.

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

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