World Bird News for December 2011

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2011 |  World Bird News for December 2011

New report reveals dramatic changes in the UKs waterbirds

New report reveals dramatic changes in the UKs waterbirds

Millions of ducks, geese, swans and wading birds are currently escaping arctic conditions in northern Europe, Asia, Greenland and Arctic Canada, and are coming to the UK for the winter, making the country one of the most important European areas for wetland wintering birds.

However, The State of the UK’s Birds 2011 report, recently produced by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), in coalition with other British Environmental NGOs, highlights signs of dramatic changes for some wetland birds that have reached their lowest but also highest population levels in the UK in winter.

One of the greatest losses recorded has been reached by the Mallard. At their most important UK strongholds, the species population levels are the smaller among the wintering bird populations in the country. Since 1998, basis year for the census, other important declines have been censused for the Pochard (-46%); the Dunlin -above (-39%); Bar-tailed Godwit (-29%); and the Ringed Plover (-26%).

At the opposite, the Whooper Swan, wintering from Iceland, has reached its highest levels (increasing by 122% in the last 10 years). The same success-story has happened to the Avocet and for the Pink-footed Goose that have both reached their highest population levels since records began (respectively +95% and +27% since 1998).

The reasons for the changes are not sure, but results from waterbird monitoring schemes in other parts of Europe have shown that they might be partly explained by some birds not migrating as far because of milder conditions elsewhere.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director at the RSPB commented, “The UK has some of the best sites in the world for wetland birds and the sight and sounds of tens of thousands of birds wheeling around these wetlands ranks among the best natural history experiences that our islands have to offer. Although the numbers of birds visiting these sites may fluctuate, they are incredibly important and should be protected.”

HBW Photo contest

HBW Photo contest

Lynx Edicions, publisher of the Handbook of the Birds of the World and the
Internet Bird Collection, announces the launch of the First Edition of the
HBW World Bird Photo Contest, created with the aspiration of becoming the most important bird photography competition at the world level. The contest aims to encourage and disseminate knowledge about birds, while at the same time inspiring creativity in the art of photography. To these ends, its focus is on photography that is ethical, grounded in the utmost respect for the conservation of birds and their habitats, and without unnecessary digital manipulation.

The jury will select 3 winning photos, 10 honourable mentions and 4 special prizes.


Timor Bush-warbler rediscovered

There had been no confirmed field observations of Timor Bush-warbler Bradypterus timorensis since two specimens were collected on Mount Mutis, West Timor, in 1932. A paper published online in BirdLife’s journal, Bird Conservation International (BCI) <Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>, reports the rediscovery of the Timor Bush-warbler in Timor-Leste (East Timor) in 2009, prompted by the discovery of a previously unknown population of bush-warbler on the island of Alor, Indonesia, to the north.

Timor Bush-warbler was first recognised as a full species in 2000, when along with Russet Bush-warbler B. mandelli and Java Bush-warbler B. montis it was split from Benguet Bush-warbler B. seebohmi. The authors of the BCI paper assign all these species to the genus Locustella.

On Alor, at least 13 male bush warblers were heard singing from shrub and grass beneath woodland and forest edge at 859–1,250 m. On Timor, at least 40 males were heard from tall grassland at 1,720–2,100 m.

The songs are loud and can be readily heard from at least 100 m. However, the birds on both islands were skulking and hard to observe, even while singing. Brief direct views on Alor noted a large, buff-brown, long-tailed bush-warbler. Birds were observed to walk or scurry, mouse-like, on the ground on thin shrub and grass stems. Although they can fly, they do so rarely and probably mostly under cover.

There were substantial differences in habitat use by bush-warblers on Alor and on Timor, presumably resulting from island-specific differences in habitat availability, elevation and land-use pressure. High grazing pressure and repeated fires ensure that there is little or no suitable habitat over much of Timor’s montane habitat, except on steep slopes. There are few known threats to bush-warbler habitat on Alor, but ongoing assessments are needed.

Timor Bush-warbler is considered Near Threatened by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List, but will now require re-evaluation. The Alor population is currently well isolated from Timor (c.100 km between sites), and these islands have never been connected. The populations have little chance of interbreeding and the authors of the BCI paper say they should be considered as independent, evolutionarily significant units. Further field surveys are needed on both Timor and Alor to capture birds, clarify taxonomic relationships using molecular approaches, and further define habitat use and conservation status.

State of Palauís Birds report launched

State of Palau’s Birds report launched

The Palau Conservation Society (PCS – BirdLife in Palau), is pleased to announce the release of a new publication entitled State of the Birds 2010: A conservation guide for communities and policymakers. The guidebook was also released with a poster that highlights the plight of the Micronesian Imperial Pigeon Ducula oceanica – known locally as Belochel – which is a culturally important bird that is in decline.

A special message from Senator Surangel Whipps, Jr. opens the PCS guidebook and highlights the importance of birds to Palauan culture and notes that Palau has existing conservation mechanisms that can be strengthened to protect birds.

The PCS guidebook also notes that Palau has high bird diversity and endemism for such a small island and that birds are important to Palau’s culture, environment, and tourism. However, many highly valued species, such as the Belochel and the Biib (Palau Fruit Dove Ptilinopus pelewensis, Palau’s candidate National Bird) declining. It provides information showing that hunting, fueled by illegal consumption, is a major cause of these declines. Habitat degradation and destruction, alien invasive species, and climate changes are also causing population declines.

It also includes clear recommendations for responses that can be carried out by policymakers and communities to stop the decline of important birds. These include passing laws and regulations, enforcing existing laws, management planning, controlling invasive species, and protection of Important Bird Areas.

Both the book and poster were released during a launch held recently at the Belau National Museum. Invited guests at the launch included many of Palau’s elected and traditional leaders and representatives from community groups. The guidebook was written with these two audiences in mind, with the hopes of influencing policies and practices which may be contributing to population declines in many of Palau’s most cherished birds.

PCS’s Chairman, Dr Caleb Otto, opened the launch ceremony with welcoming remarks. He was followed by a presentation on birds as biodiversity indicators by Dr Alan Olsen, the Head of the Belau National Museum’s (BNM) Natural History section. PCS’s Director of Conservation and Protected Areas Program, Anu Gupta, gave a short presentation on the history and purpose of the State of the Birds reports, followed by closing remarks by the BNM’s Chairman Demei Otobed.

The new PCS guidebook complements the State of Palau’s Birds, 2010 Technical Report produced by the BNM. Both reports were produced in partnership with each other and both feature sections on state, pressure, and response.

During research for the PCS guidebook, the authors discovered that the Belochel decline was far more distressing than commonly believed. Thus, PCS also released a poster on the Belochel to coincide with the release of the guidebook. The poster features Mr. Steven Victor, a respected local conservationist, and his family. The poster encourages Palauans to refrain from eating Belochel now so that they are available in the future for important cultural customs.

Funding for the guidebook and poster was provided by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation through BirdLife International.

Hardcopies of all materials are available at the PCS office. The guidebook may be downloaded from by clicking here.

Habitat danger for Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher

The illegal felling of mature trees on La Digue island, the stronghold of the Critically Endangered Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina has been exposed by the local media. In a front page article, the newspaper Le Seychelles Hebdo revealed the shocking story. The damage includes the felling and cropping of several native tree species used by the bird.

The owner of the land had made an application for a tourism development but the Department of Environment had put this on hold so as to carry out a survey. The owner apparently went ahead with land clearing. “Clearing of land and felling of the tree species in question which are protected by law require authorisation by the land use & planning authority and the Department of Environment respectively”, said Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner).

The land owner and the contractor who undertook the works have been fined 50,000 Seychelles Rupees each (about US$ 4,000) by the environment authorities. According to sources on La Digue those fined are refusing to pay and have their own case against the government.

Nature Seychelles, the flycatcher’s BirdLife Species Guardian is currently undertaking a small education and advocacy project on La Digue in collaboration with the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA). The project is funded by Viking Optical, the BirdLife Species Champion.

“The habitat on this tiny island will always be under threat because of increasing development, and consumerism. This is why we established a second population on Denis Island”, says Nirmal Shah. There is a now a breeding population on Denis after the translocation of 23 birds in November 2008 by the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and Nature Seychelles.

La Digue is a picturesque but rapidly changing island. The Seychelles Government is now investigating the possibility of making La Digue carbon neutral after Cousin Island Special Reserve, managed by Nature Seychelles, showed the way forward by becoming the world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve. “In fact, recent news that the government will phase out all fossil fuel vehicles on La Digue so that only electric ones are used in the future is an excellent move for general environmental protection and eco tourism on the island”, says Shah.

WorldBirds database is building the bigger picture from birder’s notes

WorldBirds, the birdwatching database set up by BirdLife to record the observations of professional and citizen scientists all over the world, has passed the three million records milestone.

Most birders keep notes on what they have seen, and these notes can be extremely valuable for conservation at all levels, from local site protection to national and international policy-making. It is impossible for conservation organisations to visit all areas for all species, and what may seem like an unimportant sighting of a common species can be used to build up a bigger picture by the WorldBirds project.

WorldBirds is used not only to compile bird watching data, but to provide Birdlife Partners with a tool for monitoring Important Bird Areas, and to record data collected during formal structured surveys, such as the Wintering Birds Atlas, Breeding Birds Atlas and Bird Population Monitoring (or Common Bird Monitoring).

Broadly accessible and with a strong community structure, this global initiative by BirdLife International, the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Audubon (BirdLife in the USA) is establishing a vast database of bird and environmental information generated by birdwatchers and professionals.

Currently around 160 countries are involved, and over time more will be brought on-line as BirdLife Partners implement new systems, leading to better coverage. Some of these databases will be developed independently, but many will be based on a core system, developed with the intention of bringing on-line as many countries as possible quickly and with minimal expense.

“We installed the first system eight years ago, and the rest followed”, said Loraiza Davies, International Data Officer at BirdLife and the RSPB. “Collectively we have involved over 16,000 regular users worldwide, who have provided data from more than 200,000 site visits, and over three million individual records.”

“If you add in all the other databases that link to WorldBirds, there are many millions more records”, explained Ian Fisher, Manager of the WorldBirds project at the RSPB. “The three million mark is for the core model systems only, most of which are in countries where there is little data available for conservation.”

Birdwatchers and conservationists from all over the world use the database to find the species present at a specific location, or the last locations where species of interest have been recorded.

“Recent analysis of WorldBird’s data has revealed that our databases can act as an early warning system of the change in species populations”, said Loraiza Davies. “In many countries there are birdwatchers or birds enthusiasts tapping data in almost every day. In other places people are making more official use of WorldBirds, mainly using the system to report on structured surveys organised by the Birdlife Partner.

“In Portugal, they are using the WorldBird approach to record not only marine birds but also other marine species such as cetaceans (whales and dolphins), which once developed can be implemented by other countries as well. In Turkey, conservationists are analysing the data to see coverage of species of interest, and designing surveys to study the gaps where they have not been reported, because people have not visited.”

Worldbirds provides each country with its own system linked to the map portal at This portal allows you to choose a country and submit your bird observations, so making a valuable contribution to bird conservation on a local, national and international scale.

Global assessment identifies world’s most important wildlife forests

As the world tightens its economic belt, resources to address the world’s growing environmental problems are becoming increasingly limited. These reducing resources means the ability to establish the utmost conservation priorities is more important than ever to achieve the greatest returns for the investment.

A new paper published in the journal PLoS ONE by BirdLife scientists, identifies those forests that appear to be the most important for bird species, and are in most urgent need of conservation.

“The top three areas, according to our assessment are the forests of Hawaii; Palau in the Pacific; and the forests of the tropical African islands of São Tomé, Príncipe and Annobón”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “Protecting these habitats is one of the 10 key actions identified by BirdLife to prevent further bird extinctions.”

The coastal and mountain forests of South America also scored particularly highly. Areas like the Amazon basin, which support large numbers of species, often scored lower because the species present there still have very large global ranges.

The authors of the report from BirdLife International and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) used species distributions and forest cover from satellite imagery to estimate the contribution that 25 square-kilometre blocks of forest make toward conserving the world’s birds. By combining this information with rates of forest clearance (mainly logging), the most important forests for conservation were identified.

Around 6,000 species of the world’s birds (60%) are dependent to a considerable extent on forests, and some of these are the most threatened species on earth.

Graeme Buchanan from the RSPB said “More birds are dependent on forests than any other habitat. Our analysis makes an objective assessment of the importance of every patch of forest on the globe for birds. This is a particularly timely analysis, because the world’s governments have recently agreed to increase the global coverage of protected areas, through the Convention on Biodiversity. Legal protection is one method by which areas could be safeguarded, and our analysis is a contribution towards deciding where new protected areas would have the greatest impact.”

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2011 |  World Bird News for December 2011

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