World Bird News for January 2011

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Audubon experts monitor bird deaths in Arkansas

Audubon experts monitor bird deaths in Arkansas

Audubon (BirdLife Partner in the U.S.) scientists are monitoring reports of thousands of birds found dead in Arkansas, coupled with a second incident in Louisiana, since New Year’s Eve.

“Mass bird die-offs can be caused by starvation, storms, disease, pesticides, collisions with manmade structures or human disturbance”, says Greg Butcher, Audubon’s director of bird conservation.

“Scientists are still investigating what happened to the birds in Louisiana and Arkansas, but initial findings indicate that these are isolated incidents that were probably caused by disturbance and disorientation.”

The birds that died – Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and European Starlings – are abundant species that flock together in large nighttime roosts during the winter months. Roosts can contain from tens of thousands to 20 million individuals or more.

“We do need to keep a close watch to see if a pattern develops”, says Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Mississippi River Flyway. “But if these incidents are isolated, they do not represent a significant threat to our native bird populations. Far more concerning in the long term are the myriad other threats birds face, from widespread habitat destruction and global climate change to inappropriate energy development and invasive species.”

Butcher adds, “Data drawn from Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count Audubon has already confirmed that many of our most familiar and beloved birds are in a state of population decline, due in large part to human activities.”

“Even if this is an isolated incident”, says Audubon President David Yarnold, “It is vital for people to pay attention because so often the fate of birds is linked to our own. Birds breathe the same air we do, and they are part of the same food web that sustains us all.”

Miracle in the marshes of Iraq

A film documentary on the regeneration of Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes, a project led by Azzad Alwash, the CEO of BirdLife Affiliate Nature Iraq, will get its first public screening tomorrow on the UK’s BBC TV Channel. The documentary is being shown at 2000 GMT on BBC2's Natural World series.
The Mesopotamian marshlands are one of the most extensive wetland ecosystems in western Eurasia, and are home to a rich diversity of life, including a number of endemic and threatened bird species.
But in the 1990s Saddam Hussein drained the Mesopotamian Marshes to punish the indigenous Marsh Arab tribes, who had risen against him after the first Gulf War. Within months, the marshes, which had covered 15,000 square kilometres, were reduced to less than 10% of their original size.
The effects were devastating. The marshes had been of crucial importance to wildlife and people in the region. Surrounded by deserts, they were a vital source of fresh water, and provided a much-needed rest and feeding area for migratory birds making the journey between Eurasia and Africa. With the marshes virtually destroyed, the wildlife populations collapsed.

Azzam Alwash used to accompany his father, a government water engineer, on trips into the marshes, trips which infused him with a love of the this “magical waterworld”. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Azzam returned to Iraq to help restore the marshes. To that end he established Nature Iraq, an organisation dedicated to the protection and restoration of Iraq’s natural heritage.

Now large sections of the marshes have been restored, and in places the reed beds once again stretch as far as the eye can see. Among the highlights of Miracle in the marshes of Iraq is a sighting of a large flock of globally Vulnerable Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris in an area where they have not been seen for 20 years. In winter 2010, Nature Iraq counted 46,000 Marbled Teal in the marshes, around twice the previous estimate of the entire global population. As Azzad Alwash says in the film, “when we tell this to Birdlife International, I think they’re going to be uncorking champagne!”

Nature Iraq has undertaken six winter and six summer surveys of the Southern Marshes since 2005 – the most comprehensive survey of any wetland in the Middle East. The surveys have shown that no species of breeding bird has become extinct in the marshes, and that many are increasing as the marshes respond to re-flooding.

For example, the surveys show that the endemic and globally Endangered Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis has increased in numbers since the re-flooding of the marshes, and that the endemic Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris is increasing its range in the marshes and along the Tigris and Euphrates, and spreading into neighbouring countries.

The surveys have shown that the marshes are also very important for migrant Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa, breeding Ferruginous Ducks Aythya nyroca and wintering Eastern Imperial Eagles Aquila heliaca and Greater Spotted Eagles Aquila clanga – all globally threatened species.

But the marshes are once again in jeopardy. Upstream dams have disrupted the traditional water cycle, and the spring floods that used to flush out accumulated salt deposits and replenish the marshes with fresh minerals no longer occur. As a result the marshes are becoming more saline, affecting the ecology of the area. By 2007 over 50% of the marshes had been restored, but now the proportion of restored marshland has dropped to nearer 30%. The wildlife resurgence is under threat, and the Marsh Arabs who have returned face the prospect of having to leave again.

Azzam and Nature Iraq are masterminding steps to address this second drying. A large embankment across the Euphrates is being built to raise the level of the river, to flood a large area of the Central Marshes. This is just a stop-gap measure while work progresses on a long-term solution that will shut down one of Saddam’s drainage canals, redistributing water using a network of regulators to ensure a ready supply of water to the Central Marshes.

Azzam says, “if we can restore the marshes, then we can restore Iraq”. He adds: “What we’ve learned is that the people and the environment are interconnected here. What’s good for the environment is good for the people, what’s good for the people is good for the environment, so they are not separate.”

Government of Cambodia declares new Sarus Crane reserve

Government of Cambodia declares new Sarus Crane reserve

Kampong Trach Important Bird Area (IBA) has finally been designated as Cambodia’s second Sarus Crane reserve. On 6 January 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub decree to establish the Anlung Pring Management and Conservation Area for Sarus Crane and Other Birds located in Kampong Trach District, Kampot Province. This signing represented the culmination of consultative and bureaucratic process that began in 2006.

“Almost the entire process has been driven by the vision and dedication of Seng Kim Hout and the credit is his”, said Jonathan Eames, Programme Manager for BirdLife International in Indochina. “At times it felt like the process would never end, but Kim Hout never lost focus or commitment to completing the task”, continued Eames.

Kampong Trach is one of the three most globally important non-breeding sites in Cambodia (a fourth is situated in Vietnam) for the South-east Asian race sharpii of Sarus Crane Grus antigone, which is considered globally Vulnerable. The other two are at Ang Trapeang Thmor, which has been a reserve since 2000, and at Boeung Prek Lapouv, where BirdLife and Forestry Administration also worked successfully to establish a Sarus Crane reserve in 2007.

The newly declared reserve covers only 217 ha of seasonally inundated grassland and unlike Boeung Prek Lapouv, lies close to the sea and has a tidal regime, supporting mangrove and salt marsh vegetation in addition to wet grassland. In March 2010 the site held over 270 Sarus Cranes, more than 30% of the global population. The Sarus Cranes usually arrive in late November and remain until early May when they begin their migration to the wetlands in the northern and eastern plains of Cambodia where they breed.

Bou Vorsak, Acting Programme Manager for BirdLife’s work in Cambodia, said this was another major achievement for BirdLife. “This is the second protected area in Cambodia that we have proposed and succeeded in having the government gazette. We are proud of this achievement.”

Since 2004, Kampong Trach IBA has been patrolled by a local conservation group, which have prevented encroachment and stopped hunting, as well as raised awareness of the importance of the area’s biodiversity, and the benefits of sustainable use, among the local communities. The site lies close to the Vietnamese frontier where rapid economic development has pushed up land prices. This factor was the main reason why the designation process took so long as local vested interests tried to thwart the process.

With the designation of the site as a protected area now in place, the scene is set for larger scale conservation investment. Recently, nearly US$ 330,000 was granted to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and Mlub Baitong via the BirdLife/Critical Ecosystem partnership Fund, to fully establish and conserve Boeung Prek Lapouv and Kampong Trach Sarus Crane reserves. These two projects will contribute to their long-term sustainable management by developing and revising site management plans, training and supporting local conservation groups, piloting longterm financing mechanisms, initiating community based ecotourism, and generating increased support among local people for site conservation. Also, via the CPEF small grants scheme administered directly by BirdLife, The Cambodian Institute for Research and Rural Development (CIRD) received nearly US$20,000 to increase efforts to conserve Kampong Trach, by strengthening the capacity of the local community on improved and sustainable agricultural production, and conducting the feasibility study for introduction and implementation of a ‘Wildlife-friendly’ produce scheme in this site. This project started since November 2010 and will end in late December 2011.

The Egyptian Vulture – What’s going on in Africa?

Since 2003 BSPB (BirdLife Partner in Bulgaria) has been working to conserve the Egyptian Vulture in Bulgaria. The gained knowledge during these years firmly shows that the main reason for the species decline is the increased adult mortality due to various anthropogenic threats. A significant part of the loss of birds is happening outside Bulgaria during the migration and non-breeding period. In the last seven years probably more than 20 adult birds did not return from their wintering areas.

In 2009 BSPB started an initiative for creating of partnerships with the countries from the Middle East and East Africa aiming to survey the threats and and propose conservation measures s for the Egyptian Vulture along its migration route and in the wintering areas. Three expeditions were held-two in Ethiopia (2009 and 2010) and one in Sudan (2010) together with the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS/BirdLife in Ethiopia) and the Sudanese Wildlife Society.
The Ethiopian expeditions were implemented in December 2009 and November-December 2010 by a BSPB team together with colleagues from EWNHS. The main study areas was the Afar triangle, where is located the biggest known congregation of Egyptian Vultures from the Palearctic, wintering in East Africa. The work also included parts of South Ethiopia and the Highlands., The team members were Ivaylo Angelov, Tsvetomira Yotsova, Vladimir Dobrev Nikolay Terziev (BSPB), Bruktawit Abdu, Yilma Dellelegn Abebe and Tesfaye Bikilla-driver)(EWNHS), Alazar Daka (WildCODE) and Samson Zelleke.

In both years of the study, for one and the same transect in the Afar triangle respectively 1358 and 1400 Egyptian Vultures were counted. The vultures were recorded in a semi-desert area at an altitude between 140 and 1230 m. a. s. l. The vultures were recorded through counting of the individuals roosting on electricity poles along the main road in the region from the southwestern corner of the Afar triangle to the Djibouti border and in the region of Dire Dawa town (only in 2009). The count was implemented before sunset between 16:30 and 18:00.

The data gathered by interviewing local people shows that nowadays the Afar triangle is a relatively safe wintering place for the Egyptian Vultures. The use of poisons against carnivores seems to be not practiced, the electrocution is probably a very minor threat (no electrocuted birds were found) and the local people traditionally do not harm the vultures. Given the huge importance of Afar for the wintering birds from big parts of Asia, long-term work on the species needs to be initiated and the limiting factors closely monitored.

However, the developing and expanding medium voltage electricity network in Ethiopia, which is built mainly by dangerous for the birds pylons gives a strong alert for the future of the large birds of prey. We recorded electrocuted White-backed Vulture and the local people on a number of sites mentioned the deadly impact of the power lines on vultures. Another issue is the practice for control of the stray dogs, which was recorded to exist at least in the municipalities of Negele, Awassa and Addis Ababa. We collected information that poison is regularly used for control on the populations of stray dogs and in two sites we found poisoned Hooded Vultures.

A very interesting observation was the first in Africa record of an individual from the Indian subspecies of the Egyptian Vulture (N. percnopterus ginginianus). This observation enlarges the supposed area of origin of the vultures wintering in Afar to Pakistan and India to the east.

In Sudan a joint expedition of BSPB and Sudanese Wildlife Society (September-October 2010) has found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures. The main study area of the was the Red Sea coast in North-Eastern Sudan.

The finding of the dead birds under a particular power line in the surroundings of Port Sudan confirms a threat there which is known to cause the death of many birds since many years and continues to take victims. Still in 1982-83 the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus found under the same power line almost 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures and during next visit in the area 21 years later, he found another 5 dead birds. With the new data until now there are found almost 80 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures but this is only the tip of the iceberg since the power line is built in the 50’s and probably has caused the death of many hundreds Egyptian Vultures.

Not only the Egyptian Vultures were found to be electrocuted by this particular dangerous power line, but also Lappet-faced Vulture, Steppe Eagles and Bonelli’s Eagle which was not found to breed in Sudan previously.

The probable high mortality during the non-breeding period is considered to be one of the main reasons in the complex of threats leading to the fast decline of the Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans. We assume that the decades of impact on the species by side of this dangerous power line may have caused the extinction the population of Egyptian Vultures which traditionally migrates along the western Red Sea coasts and breed in Eastern Europe and Asia. Following the results from the expedition, a huge priority in the species conservation will be the insulation of the dangerous power line near by Port Sudan and convincing the Sudanese Electricity Company to use a safe model of poles.

The results from the three African expeditions (Ethiopia 2009 and 2010 and Sudan 2010) will be published in a report which will mark the priorities for future conservation work for the Egyptian Vulture and the other scavenging birds of prey in Ethiopia and Sudan. The report will be available on BSPB’s website by the end of February 2011.

The work on the Egyptian Vulture in Africa was funded by Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Program, African Bird Club, Stitching Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to which we express our gratitude.

Search Continues for Pohnpei’s Rarest Bird

Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) Terrestrial Programme staff, in collaboration with BirdLife International staff Dr Mark O’Brien, recently returned from a seven-day expedition to the high ridges of the island surveying Nahnalaud, Nihpit, and Kupwuriso forest in search of the Critically Endangered Pohnpei Starling Aplonis pelzelni. Pohnpei is the largest island in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Pohnpei Starling, or Sie, is smaller than the common Micronesian Starling, is dark grey or black without the shiny feathers of the latter and has a dark brown eye, unlike the bright yellow eye of Micronesian Starling and has a thinner and less robust bill.

The last confirmed report of the bird was in 1995 when a specimen was collected on the ridge of Nahnalaud. There have been occasional, unconfirmed, sightings since indeed CSP staff reported seeing the bird on a previous visit to the Nahnalaud cloud forest in 2008.

The current expedition, funded through the 2009 British Bird Fair’s Lost and Found Initiative and the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, revisited the areas where the bird has most recently been recorded. It was unsuccessful in its primary aim of locating the starling, but did provide all parties with the opportunity to assess how they might best confirm the continued existence of the starling.

Most previous confirmed reports have been based on shot birds. As there appear to be so few present at the current time the group are now particularly keen to use alternative means of confirming the continued presence of the bird, such as through photographs or recordings of the distinctive bird song.

Accordingly a further visit is being planned in for early 2011. This, should, according to local folklore, coincide with the time when the bird is most likely to be calling. Pohnpei folklore suggests that the calling of the starling is associated with the onset of the breadfruit season.

“It was a privilege to spend some time in such a pristine cloud forest environment, with the committed conservationists from CSP”, said BirdLife’s Dr Mark O’Brien.

“Our search for the bird was somewhat hampered by 48 hours of continual rainfall, ensuring that Pohnpei lived up to its reputation as one of the wettest places on the planet. Accordingly there is still some work to do to cover the remaining areas of high altitude forest on the island. However, it’s also clear that Sie are, if present at all, at very low densities and/or very difficult to detect.”

Pohnpei Starling is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world’s most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered.

Help stop illegal hunting in Malta

Illegal hunting is a widespread and serious problem in Malta, with poachers specifically targeting protected birds including raptors (birds of prey) and Herons as well as rarer visitors to the islands.
This persecution reaches its peak during migration periods, when large numbers of raptors, herons and other protected species are killed by poachers.

To counter these illegalities BirdLife Malta (BirdLife Partner) will this year be running Spring Watch conservation camp between the 10th and 24th April. The camp will monitor bird migration, maintain a strong presence in the countryside to deter the illegal killing and trapping of wild birds, and report illegalities to the police.

BirdLife Malta is calling for volunteers to help save migrating birds by joining Spring Watch 2011. Read more about Spring Watch 2011 on BirdLife Malta’s website here.

Winners of The World’s Rarest Birds announced

The winners of The World’s Rarest Birds international photo competition have just been announced. The competition, launched in 2010, aimed to secure images of the 566 most threatened birds on Earth for a new book highlighting their plight.

Thousands of images were entered into the competition and hundreds will be featured in The World’s Rarest Birds to be published in 2012 by the ethical publishing company WILDGuides. Profits from sales will go to BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme to help support conservation projects worldwide.

Erik Hirschfeld, Chief Editor of The World’s Rarest Birds, said “We would like to thank all the photographers who kindly submitted their images to the project. Having so many amazing images to choose from will certainly ensure that the book contains the most complete collection of photographs of the most threatened birds ever published. We are working hard to complete the book by next year but, for those wishing for a preview, all 13 winning images, and those that were highly commended, will be on display at the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water in August and are sure to cause quite a stir.”

“Having now analyzed the competition entries, I am delighted to report that we have been offered photos of nearly 90% of the 566 species that are currently categorized as either Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered or Endangered. We are very grateful to Minox, Lynx Edicions, BirdLife International, WILDGuides, Princeton University Press and the World Migratory Bird Day who kindly agreed to support the project by providing a range of attractive prizes for the competition. I am sure that this support helped to encourage more people to submit their images for use in this important project.”

“We are delighted to be working with BirdLife in producing The World’s Rarest Birds“, said Andy Swash, Managing Director of WILDGuides. “Although it will be a wonderfully illustrated book, its key message is poignant – a large proportion of the World’s birds, including every one depicted, is threatened with extinction. This is a great concern to many and I just hope that the production of The World’s Rarest Birds will help to raise awareness and make some contribution to their conservation.”

Ade Long, BirdLife’s Head of Communications said, “The response to The World’s Rarest Birds photo competition was quite remarkable. The number and of entries was almost overwhelming, and the quality of the images just breath-taking. The book in which they will feature will, I am sure, be stunning and BirdLife is indebted to the many photographers who have contributed for providing the impetus to make it happen.”

Crisis in Cyprus: Illegal bird trapping reaches disastrous levels

Crisis in Cyprus: Illegal bird trapping reaches disastrous levels

BirdLife Cyprus has released its newest report on illegal bird trapping with data gathered between 31 August and 8 November 2010, showing a dramatic rise in such activity.

In this, its ninth year of systematic data gathering in the field by a trained team of surveyors, BirdLife Cyprus found a 75% increase in mist net use and an 89% increase in limestick setting compared to 2009 levels. While trapping levels remain lower than in the 1990s, they have been on an alarming upward trend for fours years which points toward an impending ecological disaster.

Trappers mainly target migrant Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla and other songbirds to sell to local restaurants as ‘ambelopoulia’, a delicacy of pickled or steamed songbirds. In addition to target species, many ‘non-target’ species known to fall victim to the indiscriminate traps set include owls, flycatchers and endemics such as the Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax and Cyprus Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca. The total estimated toll in the Famagusta and Larnaca districts is around 1.4 million birds.

Bird trapping has been illegal in Cyprus for over 30 years and thus the current data, representing a nine-year high in activity, denotes a failure on the part of both Cyprus and the UK. As EU Member States, they have obligations under the EU Birds Directive to protect birds and particularly migratory species, which include many of those trapped. Cyprus police have undertaken enforcement action against ambelopoulia-serving restaurants which provide the economic impetus for much trapping activity, however these efforts have not been popular locally. Clear condemnation from MPs and other key public figures could go a long way towards shifting public attitude on this topic, ensuring a future for Cyprus’ rich avian biodiversity.

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

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