World Bird News for May 2011

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Fiji Petrel – Video

A video showing the search for the Criticality Endangered Fiji Petrel by NatureFiji-MareqetiViti.

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 2009 there had been no confirmed sightings of the seabird at sea. This video shows the voyage that captured the first amazing images of the bird.

Migrants under threat

On their epic journeys, often spanning thousands of kilometres, migratory birds cross many borders, linking different countries as well as ecosystems. The annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds representing around 19% of the world’s 10,000 bird species is one of nature’s great natural wonders. Yet each year, more and more of the natural habitats migratory birds need to complete their journeys either diminish or disappear completely.

The theme for World Migratory Bird Day 2011, celebrated around the world on 14-15 May, is ‘ Land use changes from a bird’s-eye view ‘ and it highlights the negative effects human activities are having on migratory birds, their habitats and the planet’s natural environment. The loss, fragmentation and degradation of natural bird habitats is occurring globally and is mainly caused by the pressures resulting from a growing human population, rapid urbanisation and unsustainable human use of natural areas.

“Land-use change poses an immediate and increasing threat to the world’s migratory birds. Habitats vital to these species on their incredible journeys are being destroyed or degraded at an alarming rate and the bird’s-eye view is becoming bleaker. The BirdLife Partnership, with over 110 conservation organisations along the world’s flyways, is working across borders to help stem this tide and achieve the effective joined-up conservation needed to make a difference for these inspiring birds”, said Dr. Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International’s Chief Executive .

World Migratory Bird Day is being organised by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) – two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). BirdLife International, Wetlands International and the Secretariat of the Partnership for the East Asian – Australasian Flyway (EAAFP) are also main partners of the global campaign.

“Although migratory birds face many serious threats, the way humans use the land around them has by far the greatest negative effect. Unsustainable human land use, whether through deforestation, intensive agriculture, biofuel production, land reclamation, urbanization and mining directly removes or damages the habitats of migratory birds, affecting their populations on a global scale”, said Bert Lenten, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and initiator of the World Migratory Bird Day campaign.

“As the two intergovernmental treaties dedicated to the conservation of migratory animals, including migratory birds at global and flyway scale, the Convention on Migratory Species and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement have launched World Migratory Bird Day to make people aware of the threats migratory birds face along their migration routes”.

CMS and AEWA bring together governments and other stakeholders to coordinate and further develop global flyways policy, to ensure that all flyways in the world benefit from some kind of coordination mechanism that promotes cooperation at ground level among the countries involved. This includes working towards establishing a viable network of sites which can be used by migratory birds to breed, rest and refuel during their migration.

Initiated in 2006, World Migratory Bird Day is an annual campaign backed by the United Nations and is devoted to celebrating migratory birds and promoting their conservation worldwide.

Hunting threat to Critically Endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis

Reports from BirdLife Species Guardians on São Tomé – a small island nation in the Gulf of Guinea - indicate that hunting is increasing and includes the Critically Endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei. A group of hunters were found with more than 90 São Tomé Green Pigeons Treron sanctithomae and at least one Dwarf Olive Ibis on 26 April 2011.

BirdLife Species Guardians from Associação de Biólogos Santomenses (ABS, the BirdLife contact NGO in São Tomé and Príncipe) found the hunters whilst carrying out surveys in Monte Carmo in Obô Natural Park, one of the main
The hunters had gained access through estate land under Agripalma concession to foreign (Socfinco) and São Tomé investors and intended for oil palm plantations covering an area of 5,000 ha. The area lies in the impoverished regions of southern of São Tomé (Ribeira Peixe and Porto Alegre) and to the north of Príncipe (Sundy). The Agripalma concession lies adjacent to the Monte Carmo forests of the Obô Natural Park and overlaps with the Natural Park’s buffer zone.

BirdLife has previously expressed concerns that the development of the oil palm plantation at Ribeira Peixe would have significant adverse impacts on the forest biodiversity. Among the many impacts cited was an increased threat of hunting of threatened species owing to clearance of secondary forest that would lower bushmeat availability to local people.

“Hunting of Dwarf Olive Ibis in Monte Carmo immediately following some forest clearance shows that BirdLife was justified in raising concerns about developing oil palm plantations at Ribeira Peixe,” said Dr Paulinus Ngeh, BirdLife’s West Africa Subregional Coordinator.

“BirdLife and ABS have been in dialogue with the government and investors about these issues before, and we are looking forward to positive engagement in safeguarding the natural heritage of São Tomé. This is good for the company, for biodiversity, for the Santomean people and government, and the global community interested in conserving biodiversity”, continued Dr Paulinus Ngeh.

“There is an urgent need for proper implementation of environmental laws in São Tomé and Príncipe. For example, in addition to regulating hunting activities, the laws that created the Obô Natural Park and made Environmental Impact Assessments compulsory need to be adhered to. This way, the current constraints to protecting the island’s rich biodiversity may be overcome” says Dr Ngeh.

“We are extremely worried that the increasing hunting pressure and habitat destruction may already be driving the Dwarf Olive Ibis closer to extinction than ever before,” said Dr Julius Arinaitwe, the BirdLife Regional Director. “One likely approach to reducing the hunting pressure could be promoting access to cheaper alternative sources of animal protein hand-in-hand with making the local people realise other values of the species, including ecotourism benefits.”

Since 2007, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions (PEP) Programme has been supporting ABS to undertake work on three Critically Endangered species including Dwarf Olive Ibis. The work comprises research and monitoring, training site-based guides, implementing conservation measures and promoting improved protection for the species and the forest habitat.

The PEP Programme work in São Tomé has been with the support of the Species Champion, Peter Smith, the Save Our Species Fund and the British Birdwatchinig Fair.

First signs of progress in saving Indian vultures from killer drug

The ban on a veterinary drug which caused an unprecedented decline in Asian vulture populations has shown the first signs of progress, according to scientists. However, the recovery of the wild vulture populations requires efforts to see the drug completely removed from the birds’ food supply.

In a new study, published in science journal, PLoS ONE, researchers report measurements of the prevalence and concentration of diclofenac in carcasses of domesticated cattle in India, made before and after the implementation of a ban on its veterinary use.

The governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan banned veterinary use of the painkiller diclofenac in 2006 because of its lethal effects on vultures that feed on the carcasses of cattle and buffaloes that had been treated with the drug shortly before they died.

The study shows that the proportion of cattle carcasses in India contaminated with the drug declined by over 40% between 2006 and 2008. The concentration of the drug in contaminated animals also fell.

Combining the effects of these two changes, the expected rate of annual population decline of the vultures is expected to slow by around two thirds. However, the resulting decline rate is still expected to be around 18% per year for the most susceptible species, White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, down from about 40% per year before the ban, meaning that vultures will not recover unless efforts to eradicate the drug become still more successful.

Although the legal action has started to show encouraging results, much remains to be done, because diclofenac manufactured for human use is still being used illegally to treat cattle in India.

One of the study’s authors, Dr Devendra Swarup, former Research Director of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, commented: “Because of the difficulty in ensuring that human diclofenac is not being used illegally and in secret, testing the vulture food (cattle carcasses) directly is the only way to find out how safe the vultures really are.”

Lead author, Dr Richard Cutbert of RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), said: “This shows how much progress has been made, but there is still a job to do to make sure that safe alternative drugs are used. Unfortunately some of the alternatives have not been tested for their safety to vultures and one drug in increasing use, ketoprofen, is already known to be toxic to vultures”.

In fact, the only safe alternative used in India is meloxicam, which is becoming more widely used now that its cost is falling and approaching that of diclofenac. However, other drugs known to be toxic or with unknown effects remain legal and are still being used by vets.

Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India) said: “Complete removal of diclofenac from vulture food is the single most important action needed to save vultures. Human formulations are still being sold by some irresponsible companies in large veterinary-sized vials (30ml) and these bigger bottles must also be outlawed to make illegal diclofenac use on cattle more difficult and expensive.”

“Porto fayoum” tourism development planned at Lake Qarun – an Important Bird Area and a proposed world heritage site in egypt

The Amer Group, the Egyptian real estate developer responsible for Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna massive tourism developments along Egypt’s North and Ain Sokhna coasts, plans to build “Porto Fayoum” on 650 acres in the Lake Qarun Protected area near Fayoum Oasis. This is the first development of such huge proportions to be allowed in an Egyptian protected area.

This and other tourism developments planned for a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land along the northern part of Lake Qarun will undoubtedly wreak untold damage to this pristine, scenic desert area, known as Gebel Qatrani. This area contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals and remains critical to our understanding of mammalian – and human – evolution.

“[Gebel Qatrani] is one of the most interesting and undisturbed deserts in Egypt, containing crucial information about the development of civilization and the history of the world,” states Paoli Davoli, a leading egyptologist with Italy’s Salento University, who has worked for the last decade at Dime, a Greco-Roman site in Gebel Qatrani.

Just last year excavations in Gebel Qatrani revealed the complete fossil remains of a prehistoric whale, new to science. Gebel Qatrani has also been listed as a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, not only given its priceless fossil deposits, but also its prehistoric and archaeological treasures, including Pharaonic tombs and quarries, and the world’s most ancient paved road.

Nature Conservation Egypt think that the tourism development will negatively impact birds and their habitats at Lake Qarun, a BirdLife International Important Bird Area (IBA). Through the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, BirdLife supported NCE to establish an SSG to protect the site as well as generate incomes in a sustainable manner.

Egypt’s official Tourism Development Authority (TDA) participated in numerous studies highlighting Lake Qarun’s importance for ecotourism. However, it has instead approved this project to promote more conventional – and unsustainable – tourism developments on the lake. This is happening despite opposition from officials at the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs responsible for managing Egypt’s protected areas.

NCE is calling for Gebel Qatrani to be declared Egypt’s first UNESCO Geopark to attract tourists, create jobs and as a step towards making the area a World Heritage Site.

Through its SSG network in Egypt, NEC hopes that the “Friends of Lake Qarun” SSG also participate in the project recently funded by the US Embassy’s Democracy Grants Programme.

Census finds unexplained fall in Black-faced Spoonbill numbers

The 2011 International Black-faced Spoonbill Census has found a large decrease in the known wintering populations since last year’s census. Overall numbers fell from 2,347 birds in January 2010 to 1,848 in January 2011, a decline of 21%.

Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor is currently considered as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It was downlisted from Critically Endangered in 2000.

The census covered many coastal wetland areas in East Asia, including western Japan, the southern part of Korean Peninsula, the east and south China coast including Taiwan and Hainan islands, northern Vietnam, and scattered sites in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. The census was very much a collaborative effort, with help given by BirdLife Partners in Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan and by the BirdLife Programme offices of Vietnam and Cambodia.

As in previous years, the biggest wintering population was recorded in Taiwan, but it was here too that the largest drop in numbers was seen, from 1280 in 2010 to 843 (34%).

The second most important wintering area, China’s Deep Bay (including both Hong Kong and Shenzhen) saw numbers fall from 462 to 411. There were small increases in Japan, Macao and Vietnam, and the species was also found at a new census site in Cambodia, but not enough to offset the major falls elsewhere.

“This is the largest decrease in wintering numbers of this species since the census began in 1993”, said Simba Chan of BirdLife in Asia. “It may be related to the severe winter in the northern area, and there are hints that some birds have gone further to the south. A large number of birds were seen in Taiwan earlier in the winter, but they disappeared. No large numbers of dead spoonbills have been found.” He added that breeding success was reported to have been low in 2010.

The increases recorded by the census in previous years may have represented a genuine population increase or displacement of birds from other, unknown wintering sites.

Although numbers have improved dramatically from the known global population of 300 in 1993, the abrupt fall in this winter’s counts emphasises that this species is still at risk of extinction. Habitat destruction and degradation are still the main threats to the Black-faced Spoonbill. Many coastal wetland areas in this region are being destroyed for development (for example, in Hainan, Macao and Korea), and Black-faced Spoonbills are suspected to have been hunted for food around Vietnam’s Red River Delta as recently as 2010.

Malta spring hunting out of control!

Malta spring hunting out of control!

BirdLife Europe, together with its national Partner BirdLife Malta, strongly asked for an immediate suspension of the ongoing spring hunting season in Malta, in order to prevent more protected birds from being killed and injured.

In a highly contested move that caused concerns across Europe, the Maltese government had allowed, for the period of 13-30 April 2011, the shooting of a limited number of Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur and Common Quail Coturnix coturnix using a derogation under the EU Birds Directive.

However, BirdLife Malta’s field surveys on the ground show that this open season is used as a cover for many illegal activities that put at risk many birds of European conservation concern.

Since 13th April alone – the start of the hunting season – BirdLife Malta has received 17 shot birds including rare species such as Black Kite Milvus migrans, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, and Montagu’s Harrier Cyrus pygargus . The real total number of shot protected birds is likely to be much higher.

According to Paul Debono, Director of BirdLife Malta, “This shows that even the increased enforcement efforts of the government have been neither sufficient nor effective in preventing illegal hunting from happening this spring. The situation we are witnessing on the ground is terrible and the government has to act now and stop this.”

Despite the Maltese government’s commitment on enforcement, it cannot be seen that, compared to previous years, illegal bird shooting had been reduced. On the contrary, evidence collected by BirdLife Malta indicates that this years’ open season is leading to a significant increase in protected birds being killed compared to previous years: In 2008, 2009 and 2010, when virtually no spring hunting was allowed in the country, the numbers of killed protected birds that were recovered by BirdLife Malta in comparable periods of time were much lower: only 1, 7, and 5 respectively.

Angelo Caserta, Director of BirdLife Europe, sees Malta in direct violation of the EU Birds Directive. “If a country is not able to safeguard our most protected birds during their dangerous migration from Africa to their European breeding grounds from illegal shooting, it cannot be granted the right to open any hunting season in this critical period.”

BirdLife Malta and BirdLife Europe therefore urge the Maltese government to immediately close the current spring hunting season. Angelo Caserta adds: “We also call on the European Commission to take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with EU bird protection law. Malta had already been condemned once by the European Court of Justice for not respecting EU rules on bird protection , it should not be allowed to continue putting our European natural heritage at risk.” (2)

Further background to spring hunting in Malta:

Under EU law, hunting of birds during their spring migration and breeding period is prohibited in general. Malta, however, insists of using a derogation clause of the EU Birds Directive for allowing the shooting of a limited number of individuals of two species (Turtle Dove above,and Quail). BirdLife stresses that Malta fails to meet several of the requirements for such an exception (derogation according to Art.9 of the Birds Directive):

One of the key preconditions for granting such a derogation is that the Member State government has to ensure strict control and supervision, to prevent other species from being killed or injured along the way. The reality in Malta of the last days shows this is far from being the case.

Other preconditions refer to the conservation status of the species in question, the number of individuals permitted to hunt and the test whether autumn provides a sufficient alternative solution to spring hunting. BirdLife has concerns regarding all of these as well.

Following BirdLife complaints and European Commission investigations, Malta had already been condemned by the European Court of Justice in 2009 (C-76/08) for having allowed spring hunting in between 2004 and 2007. After a pause in this practice in 2008 and 2009, Malta is now trying again, arguing this time it would limit and control spring hunting sufficiently to meet EU standards.

Study confirms IBAs are priority sites for expansion of protected area network in Africa

A paper co-authored by senior scientists from BirdLife International and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) finds a significant mismatch between the protected area network in Africa, and the key habitats occupied by the continent’s most threatened birds.

Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are shown to be much more effective than current protected areas (PAs) at covering the key habitats. Expanding the protected area network to include unprotected and partially-protected IBAs would improve coverage of the most threatened bird species.

African IBAs cover 2.1 million km2, an area comparable to the extent of African PAs (2.2 million km2). However, PAs in Africa are often sited opportunistically or targeted at charismatic and financially important megafauna, resulting in an inefficient representation of species and habitats within the PA network. Two-thirds of African IBAs support significant populations of globally threatened species.

In the paper, Poor overlap between the distribution of Protected Areas and globally threatened birds in Africa <Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>, the authors estimate the Extent of potentially Suitable Habitat (ESH) for each species within its the Extent of Occurrence (EOO). The EOO is the area within which a species is known, inferred or projected to occur.

The analysis considered nine Critically Endangered, 59 Endangered and 89 Vulnerable bird species breeding on mainland Africa and Madagascar. Data on each species’ altitudinal range and habitat associations were taken from BirdLife’s datasets.

ESH estimates were considerably smaller than EOOs for most species, with a reduction in ‘commission errors’ –assuming a species to be present at sites where it does not in fact occur. Reducing commission errors reduces the danger of overestimating the coverage of species’ ranges by PAs or Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

There has been no previous continental-scale analysis of the efficacy of the PA network at covering the ESH of globally threatened species.

On average, just 14% of threatened species’ ESH fell within PAs. By contrast, an average of 30% of species’ ESH fell within IBAs. However, IBAs that overlapped or fell within PAs were significantly less effective at covering the ESH of threatened birds than those outside the PA network. Within partially-protected IBAs, 36 species appeared to occur only in parts of the IBAs that were not protected, and the proportion of ESH within the protected parts was generally much lower than in the unprotected parts.

Critically Endangered species were particularly poorly covered by the PA network, with an average of just 0.5% of ESH within PAs, compared with 29.2% for IBAs.

“By using the Extent of potentially Suitable Habitat, our study provides stronger evidence for the inadequacy of the current PA network for the conservation of the most threatened species”, said BirdLife’s Stuart Butchart.

“It also shows that IBAs are much more effective than PAs at covering ESH. This argues that the PA network in Africa should be expanded to improve coverage of species at the greatest risk of extinction, and that the IBA network provides a useful set of priority sites for achieving this. Within partially-protected IBAs, the unprotected parts appeared to be of disproportionate importance for globally threatened birds, suggesting that extending existing PAs in these areas would be beneficial.”

Reserves created for Endangered Fringe-backed Fire-eye

The Brazilian Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) has officially recognised the creation of two Private Nature Reserves in the state of Bahia, Brazil, to help protect the Endangered Fringe-backed Fire-eye Pyriglena atra. The reserves Olho-de-Fogo-Rendado (103 hectares) and Curió (13 hectares) are both located in the municipality of São Sebastião do Passé, along the north coast of Bahia.

“We would also like to thank BirdLife International, SAVE Brasil, and the RSPB for the support given to this project since its very beginning in 2005. This support has contributed significantly to the creation of the Private Nature Reserves”, said Sidnei Sampaio, the researcher that leads the program for the conservation of the Fringe-backed Fire-eye. The creation of the Private Nature Reserves results from a partnership between the Instituto Amuirandê and the Bahia Association for the Conservation of Natural Resources (ABCRN), also supported by the Aliança para a Conservação da Mata Atlântica and The Nature Conservancy.

The ’Survey and Conservation of the Fringe-backed Fire-eye Program’, which is managed by ABCRN, aims to promote the conservation of the area of Atlantic Forest where the species occurs. The Fringe-backed Fire-eye is the symbol of the Program for two key reasons, firstly because of its threatened status but also because it is restricted to a narrow strip of Coastal Atlantic Forest, between the rivers Paraguaçu (Bahia state) and São Francisco (Sergipe state).

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

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