World Bird News September 2009

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

Triple helping of good news for Jerdon's Courser


Two Jerdon's Coursers Rhinoptilus bitorquatus have been seen in the Cudaapah District of Andhra Pradesh, the first confirmed sighting for several years.
The birds were seen in the heart of the Sri Lankamalleswara Wildlife Sanctuary; and in a second piece of good news, the sanctuary has just been extended by a further 1,200 hectares, in compensation for the construction of a canal, which at one point threatened to destroy the Critically Endangered bird’s last stronghold.
There was further good news for Jerdon's Courser when the Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, established by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, announced that it had approved funding of US$25,042 for the Bombay Natural History Society’s (BNHS) work to study and conserve the species.
BNHS (BirdLife in India) has been conducting field research on Jerdon’s Courser for the past nine years, in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, and the Universities of Cambridge and Reading, funded by the UK Government's Darwin Initiative.
The two coursers were seen by BNHS senior research fellow Rahul Chavan, who was appointed to the Jerdon's Courser project earlier this year. Over the last six months, Rahul Chavan has also heard the bird’s calls on a number of occasions.
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Andhra Pradesh, Mr Hitesh Malhotra, said: "This excellent news is very reassuring. We need to increase efforts for the protection of Jerdon’s Courser with renewed vigour."
BNHS Director Dr Asad Rahmani welcomed this further evidence that the courser, long thought to be extinct, is still clinging on in the sanctuary, which will be managed to suit its very particular habitat requirements. He also welcomed the news that the additional land was at last to be added to the sanctuary, following the completion of its transfer from Andhra Pradesh's Irrigation Department to the Forest Department. "It is a big boost to our conservation efforts”, he said. “This land, which is between the canal and the sanctuary, is good Jerdon’s Courser habitat, according to our assessment."
Ian Barber, RSPB's International Officer for Asia, said, "Jerdon's courser is clearly a bird on the edge of existence. Although there is a great deal of international co-operation to prevent this bird's global extinction there are many pressures, especially habitat loss that could force the courser into oblivion, but these new developments can only help."
The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund grant will enable BNHS and the RSPB to continue their research into the courser’s ecology, breeding habits, distribution and habitat use. Because the bird is nocturnal and elusive, survey work depends on the use of automatic camera "traps", and tracking strips which retain the footprints of the bird. "This is a tremendous boost for the Jerdon’s Courser programme and should allow us to carry out the camera trapping we have planned to do", said Dr Rahmani.

Hunting: an extinction threat to Middle East's most threatened bird


Conservationists trying to prevent the extinction of Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita are distraught that one of the last remaining wild birds in the Middle East has been shot by a hunter in Saudi Arabia, bringing the known wild Middle Eastern population of this Critically Endangered species to just four individuals.
Formerly, the range of this species extended across parts of southern and central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It even features in the hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt. Following a huge population and range decline, the bulk of the wild population of 210 birds now occurs in Morocco, but a tiny population was rediscovered in 2002, in Syria.
A satellite-tracking project led by BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with the Desert Commission of the Syrian Government, established that the Syrian adults migrate to the Ethiopian highlands each winter, but the wintering area of younger birds remains a mystery. This migration across the deserts of the Middle East to north-east Africa puts these birds under threat from the region’s many hunters.
Researchers from BirdLife, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and IUCN, trying to find out more about the movements of the young birds, fitted two birds with satellite tags, and it is one of these birds – a female – which was shot.
"We were excited that tagging a sub-adult ibis may have helped us to solve the mystery of where young ibises spend the winter, but now we may never know", said Eng. Ali Hamoud, of the Syrian Desert Commission. "The shooting of a young bird from such a tiny population is devastating news and it shows that hunting is a major threat to this species."
Dr Jeremy Lindsell, the RSPB scientist in charge of the ibis satellite-tracking project, said: "Recovery of the population from this frighteningly low level is going to be exceedingly difficult, but everyone involved in the project believes we must do everything we can to provide hope for this culturally-important icon of the Middle East. The tiny Syrian population has been breeding very well since its discovery, although it has suffered two poor years. The low rate of return of young birds to the colony shows that they are being lost somewhere on migration. We are starting to discover what the problem might be."

Three birds from a semi-captive population in Turkey were released last year to see if they would migrate. They flew south as far as Jordan, but subsequently were found dead. Initially, it was feared they had been poisoned, but later it was realised that the birds had been electrocuted, emphasising that other threats can have a devastating impact on the future of the Northern Bald Ibis in the Middle East.
More satellite-tagged birds released from Turkey this year, flew south as far as Saudi Arabia but they too disappeared not much more than 100 km from where the Syrian bird was shot. Although their fate has not been established, researchers believe these birds too may have succumbed to hunters.
The hunting of Northern Bald Ibis is not allowed in Saudi Arabia. HH Prince Bandar Bin Saud the Secretary General of NCWCD (National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development) said: “Upon hearing the news of Northern Bald Ibises in Saudi Arabia, NCWCD immediately reacted and dispatched a team to search for the birds. Local people reported to the commission that an ibis had been shot illegally by hunters.

"The NCWCD regrets this incident in the country and stands ready to support all concerned institutions – governments and NGOs to conserve wildlife at national, regional and global levels in accordance with instructions of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HRH the Crown Prince and the Second Premier", HH Prince Bandar Bin Saud continued.

On migration, the remaining ibises nesting in Syria pass through Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, finally wintering in Ethiopia.

Sharif Jbour, of Birdlife in the Middle East, said "Now that the threats to this species are becoming clear we will be doing all we can to address them. It is essential for the future of this population that they have safe passage through the region during their migration. With so many countries involved this is a great challenge but we already have high level support in many of these countries, so we are hopeful of change."
As a response to the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco became Species Champion for Northern Bald Ibis, earlier this year, providing crucial support to this challenging programme through the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. BirdLife is more determined than ever to conserve this emblematic species that has braved the Middle East and north African deserts for millennia inspiring cultures and religions of the region.

Local group makes its mark at Egypt's Lake Qarun


Egypt’s first IBA-Local Conservation Group/Site Support Group (SSG) has persuaded one of the country’s largest construction groups to end the dumping of waste at Lake Qarun, which holds regionally important numbers of waterbirds in winter. The construction company has also pledged to restore an area of saltmarsh destroyed by tourism development along the lake shore, as a bird sanctuary.

The Lake Qarun Protected Area LCG/SSG was established by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE; BirdLife Affiliate) in 2008, with a grant from the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation.

The lake occupies the deepest part of the Fayoum Depression, more than 40 metres below sea level. Once a large body of fresh water supporting Nilotic flora and fauna, the lake now receives almost all its water as drainage from irrigated land. As a result, and because the only ‘outflow’ is via evaporation, levels of salinity have been steadily increasing. The lake is now slightly more salty than seawater.

Because of these environmental changes, a local subspecies of Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala norrisae has become extinct, while Slender-billed Gull Larus genei, which began breeding in the 1990s, has now reached around 8,500 pairs. Numbers of breeding Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus also meet IBA criteria, as does the wintering population of Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis.
A salt extraction processing plant has been set up, which over time will improve water quality and permit habitats to be restored, as well as providing employment. But unregulated tourist development along the southern shores of the lake is destroying the best waterbird habitats, particularly mudflats and saltmarshes, and leading to increased disturbance to birds. Hunters, including organised parties from Europe, regularly ignore the lake’s protected status.

The SSG was set up to enhance biodiversity conservation and benefit-sharing with local communities, in recognition that local people could make a significant contribution towards conservation efforts by reducing exploitation and hunting in the protected area.

“The SSG we established has 20 members, 13 men and 7 ladies, including fishermen, school teachers, farmers, and some people who work at the salt factory”, said Dr Kohar Garo Varjabedian, Principal Coordinator of the SSG project.

SSG members have removed shooting blinds erected by duck hunters, and plan to erect signboards with information about the lake’s protected status, and its importance as an IBA. They are also involved in awareness raising and education activities with schoolchildren.

The local government has an ecotourism strategy for Lake Qarum, which is increasingly seen as a premium tourist destination. “We are focusing on ecotourism and its related economic benefits for local communities, by convincing the fishermen to rent their boats for nature trips along the lake during the closed season for fishing”, Dr Kohar Garo Varjabedian explained.
The SSG has proved to be an important point of contact between the lakeside community and the Protected Area authority, and also the Egyptian government. “For example, we have taken some of the problems that the fishermen were facing to governmental institutions such as the Fish Development Authority and Water and Environmental Police”, added Dr Varjabedian. Better communications between the fishermen and the authorities, together with stricter law enforcement, has reduced illegal fishing. "The fishermen report that fish yields are improving".

When one of the country’s most powerful construction companies began work on a tourist development on the south western shore, the SSG moved into action. “We had reports that the workers at the site of the project were dumping piles of cement, sand and rock, and destroying the saltmarsh habitats of the birds”, said Dr Varjabedian. “We showed the photos that we had taken to the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), and the director stopped them, and the bulldozers were quickly pulled back to 30 metres from the shoreline.
“The construction company’s owner has pledged to set aside a proportion of his shoreline for saltmarshes to be re-established, providing a small bird sanctuary on the lake. This was to have been a hunting lodge in his original plan, and he has made a commitment not to allow or sanction hunting parties along the lake. These actions from his side were announced after our meeting with him.”
In the summer of 1998, some 3,000 fledgling Slender-billed Gulls were found dead on El Qarn island, their main breeding site, almost certainly the victims of poisoning. Now local attitudes have changed. “Recently some fishermen found a wounded flamingo and took it to the LQPA office to be treated”, said Dr Varjabedian. “This has never happened before at LQPA.”

The future of Europe’s seabirds is in your hands, Commissioner


On 15 September BirdLife International will be urging Mr. Joe Borg, the European Commissioner for Maritime affairs and Fisheries, to take action to prevent the deaths of an estimated 200,000 seabirds which are killed in fisheries in European waters every year.
Dr Euan Dunn, the head of the RSPB marine policy team (BirdLife in the UK), said: “We are extremely concerned about the Commission’s apparent lack of commitment to reduce the bycatch of seabirds dying in longline and gillnet fisheries in European waters”.
Of most concern are those species that are either facing global extinction or those with the majority of their breeding populations in Europe. In particular, Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus, which is confined as a nesting bird to Spain’s Balearic Islands, is predicted to become extinct within 40 years. It is believed that bycatch in longline fisheries is a significant factor in the decline of this ‘Critically Endangered bird’ to a precarious population of only 2000 pairs. Up to 50 individual birds have been caught on hooks on a single longline.
Dr Euan Dunn added: “Globally, seabirds are the most visible indicators of the health of the oceans and yet, globally, they are declining faster than any other group of birds”.
“We have known for many years about the deaths of albatrosses and other seabirds in longline fisheries in the Southern Ocean, but I suspect that many people would be surprised to learn that a species rarer than the tiger is being threatened with extinction by fisheries operating in European waters”.

“We have been waiting for a decade for the European Commission to take action to reduce the toll of seabirds in Europe’s fisheries. Further delays will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds. The technical adjustments to fishing practices needed to prevent this bycatch are often very simple but the political will to apply them has been lacking for far too long”.
Other species affected in European waters include Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis, Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea and Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri.
Tatiana Nemcova, BirdLife’s Senior EU Advocacy Officer said: “Joe Borg only has a few months remaining as European Commissioner for Maritime affairs and fisheries: the proper protection of our great continent’s seabirds would be a great legacy”.

Fiji Petrel found at sea – pungent fish attracts “lost” species


An expedition to find the Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea has been successful, returning with stunning images and new information on one of the world’s least-known seabirds.
The expedition was partially financed by a grant from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme and its official sponsor, the British Birdwatching Fair. The team included members of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the BirdLife Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel.
Known from just one specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji, the Fiji Petrel was lost for the next 130 years. Since 1984 there have been a handful of reports of “grounded” birds that had crashed onto village roofs on Gau. Until now there had been no confirmed sightings of the seabird at sea.
The search for the elusive petrel is described in a paper in the latest Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. Up to eight individuals were seen over eleven days in an area around 25 nautical miles south of Gau. The species’ flight, behaviour and detailed comparison to other species are also described for the first time.
The paper’s lead author, Hadoram Shirihai, said: “Finding this bird and capturing such images was a fantastic and exhilarating experience”. Fellow expedition member Tony Pym commented, “To see such a little-known bird at such close range was magical.”
Finding Fiji Petrel at sea was no accident, combining meticulous planning and luring the seabirds with a specially made food, called “chum”. The main ingredients of chum? Fish offal cut into small pieces and mixed with very dense fish oil, to which water was added and then frozen in 10-kg blocks. The chum was prepared a few weeks ahead by volunteers from the BirdLife Affiliate in Fiji, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the official BirdLife Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel.
Frozen chum blocks persist for up to one-and-a-half hours, creating a pungent and constant oil slick, which attracts petrels from some miles away. On the second day, the first Fiji Petrel appeared, approaching the chum slick from downwind, slowly zigzagging over the slick, and suddenly changing direction to drop onto a small floating morsel.
Fiji Petrel is classified as Critically Endangered, with its perilous status confirmed by this expedition: “We observed only a few Fiji Petrels”, said Shirihai. “This was despite choosing what we considered to be the optimum month, and a method that would attract all petrels in the vicinity’’ and Pym added, “The present evidence is that very few Fiji Petrels survive, that immediate efforts to find the nest sites are needed, and prompt, effective protection is urgently required before it is too late.”

“More surveys to locate the breeding area of Fiji Petrel are planned for 2010”, said Dick Watling of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti,. “Once we know the location, we can assess what needs to be done to turn around the fortunes of this species.”
“Fiji Petrel is one of 192 bird species which are Critically Endangered,” said Jez Bird, Global Species Officer at BirdLife International. “Because Fiji Petrel is exceptionally rare and extremely poorly known any new data concerning range and abundance are vital to its conservation.”
The expedition also gathered valuable distributional information on many other seabird species, including the Endangered Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba and the Vulnerable Gould’s Pterodroma leucoptera and Parkinson’s Petrels Procellaria parkinsoni.

International call to learn to love vultures - or lose them


BirdLife Partners in Africa and elsewhere have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations around the world to call for an “image makeover” for vultures. They will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September 2009.
This comes against a backdrop of recent reports of problems facing vultures in Africa and the ongoing ones in Asia. Across the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.
There have been mass vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery.
Other threats include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.
Vultures fulfill an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value.
"Indeed vultures provide a perfect example of the link between birds and people. Loss of vultures would mean loss of important natural services to people, for example the cleaning of the environment of animal carcasses and waste at no charge”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife's Regional Director for Africa.
"One major challenge to detecting and countering these threats is that there are very few people out there watching vultures, let alone counting them. Thus it is difficult to determine population trends and to detect declining populations", said Paul Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, BirdLife's Species Programme Manager for Africa. "The Asian Vulture Crisis has shown that without proper monitoring, a population crash can take place virtually undetected."
The BirdLife Africa Partnership is therefore urging people to notice the important roles that vultures play, and the crisis they are currently facing. Organisations and individuals that have the capacity are encouraged to take action for vultures where feasible.
Some of the main conservation actions that have been identified for vultures in Africa include: (1) establishing a monitoring network for African vultures, (2) establishing legal protection for the species in range states, (3) eliminating the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa, and (4) carrying out education and awareness programmes, particularly targeted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.

Elsewhere in the world, Birdlife Partner Bird Conservation Nepal has a full programme of events including art and photo competitions, the launch of a vulture action plan, a half day workshop for conservation groups, a campaign to collect signatures for a petition calling for a 'diclofenac-free zone', school talks, and the publication of pamphlets to raise awareness of vultures and their plight. Israeli Partner the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will be offering public lectures in all its birding centres across the country.
Manufacture of the veterinary form of Diclofenac, was outlawed in India in 2006 after a successful advocacy campaign by BNHS (BirdLife in India) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), and although these veterinary formulations are disappearing, equally dangerous human formulations are instead being used to treat livestock. The Asian vulture programme recently had success after Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vultures Gyps tenuirostris were bred in captivity for the first time, raising hopes that captive breeding has the potential to save this and other Critically Endangered Asian vultures.

To find out more about International Vulture Awareness go to

Middle East trainers take the flyways approach home with them


The first training course aimed at spreading the flyways approach to the conservation of waterbirds and wetlands across an entire region has taken place in Amman, Jordan. The regional “training of trainers” (ToT) workshop was conducted by the BirdLife International Middle East Secretariat, in its capacity as the Regional Centre for the Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project, in partnership with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (BirdLife in Jordan).
A group of trainers from ten countries across the region learned how to train others effectively, and to bring flyway conservation into the mainstream of their countries’ conservation planning. Fifteen people from Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Qatar took part, representing governmental organisations and civil society organisations, and led by the BirdLife Partners and network organisations in these countries.
The programme consisted of learning sessions from the new WOW Flyway Training Kit, which addresses a wide range of issues relevant to flyway conservation in three modules: Understanding the Flyway Approach to Conservation, Applying the Flyway Approach to Conservation, and Communicating the Flyway Approach. The modules are designed to be tailored to local conditions and requirements. They were translated into Arabic by BirdLife’s Amman office, with specific Middle Eastern examples added.
The ToT also provided trainers with a practical framework on how to hold national workshops on selected flyway conservation themes, based on individual training and awareness-raising and outreach needs.

A field exercise was part of the course, and participants visited the Azraq wetland reserve, around 100 km east of Amman. This is one of the only permanent, natural wetlands in the Jordanian desert, as well as being Jordan’s only Ramsar site, and the trainers learned of its importance to the flyway, and the major challenges to conserving it.
“The Training of Trainers workshop has helped to establish the WOW Flyway Training Programme regionally, and to build a pool of regional trainers capable of identifying major training needs within their countries”, said BirdLife’s Sharif Al Jbour. “At the same time these trainers should now be capable of delivering national training and awareness raising events related to flyway conservation".
In the near future, the WOW project partners plan to see a number of national workshops being planned in different countries in the region as a result of the ToT workshop.
“This training course was a milestone in the process of building capacity for flyway scale conservation of waterbirds within the African-Eurasian region”, added Dr Jonathan Barnard - Senior Programme Manager at BirdLife. “It leads directly into further national training in these countries, as well as supporting the regional training planned under WOW and the AEWA WetCap projects”.
The ToT workshop was funded by the Middle East sub-regional component of the Wings Over Wetlands UNEP/GEF African-Eurasian Flyways Project, and both Wetlands International and the AEWA Secretariat.

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

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