World bird news September 2006

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Florida ivory?

Further claims of Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis are disclosed today in the Canadian online journal, Avian Conservation and Ecology - this time from Florida, USA.
Researchers from Auburn University and the University of Windsor report 14 sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in forest along the Choctawhatchee River in the panhandle of Florida between May 2005 and May 2006. All but three of the observations were naked eye only without optical aids, and no photographs of the woodpeckers were obtained. On two occasions, two birds were seen together.
In addition, on 41 occasions the researchers heard sounds that matched descriptions of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and using automated listening stations and audio recordings from hand-held video cameras isolated 99 "double-knock" sounds and 210 "kent" calls. These, the researchers say, match historical descriptions of Ivory-billed Woodpecker acoustic signals. Examples of each are available as supplementary supporting material and can be downloaded by clicking here

This evidence, the researchers state: suggests that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers may be present in the forests along the Choctawhatchee River.
'It would be wonderful to confirm that a viable population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exists' -Greg Butcher, National Audubon Society

Last year, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were reported in Arkansas. Prior to those reports, the last fully documented USA sighting was in Louisiana in 1944, and many believed the species extinct both in the USA and in Cuba, the only other country where it occurred.

'It would be wonderful to confirm that a viable population of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exists, and we hope the search by the Auburn research team will lead to just that,' said Greg Butcher, Director of Bird Conservation for National Audubon Society, the BirdLife Partner in the USA.

He added: 'This announcement is a reminder of why it is so essential that we protect bottomland forests, wetlands and coastal habitats across the south-east, and these new sightings should reinvigorate efforts to find the bird in other portions of its historic range.'

Balearics moving north


Balearic Shearwaters Puffinus mauretanicus, the only Critically Endangered species regularly to visit the United Kingdom, are appearing there in ever greater numbers, but it may not be good news.
'Many people believe that because Balearic Shearwaters nest in the Mediterranean, they must love warmth. However, they leave the Mediterranean in mid summer and head north through the Bay of Biscay towards relatively cool British waters. They are cold-water specialists, but with climate change warming the oceans, the seas are becoming less productive, and we believe birds are moving ever further north to find sufficient food,' - explains Carles Carboneras, a seabird expert with SEO/BirdLife, the BirdLife partner in Spain.

Balearic Shearwaters nest on just five islands in the western Mediterranean, where they are threatened by introduced predators and tourism development. At sea, they are regular victims of longline fishing activities, especially deep-water lines set for hake.

'..we believe birds are moving ever further north to find sufficient food,' - Carles Carboneras, SEO/BirdLife

In 1991 there were an estimated 3,300 breeding pairs, but it is believed the population has decreased by more than a third since then.

The RSPB, the BirdLife Partner in the UK, is to launch a pilot study, gathering information from birdwatchers on numbers of Balearic Shearwaters observed during land-based seawatches.

'More than a hundred were recorded off Berry Head in South Devon in just one day this month - which is a significant proportion of the world population,' said RSPB Conservation Officer, Helen Booker.

Aid helps protect Lebanese IBA

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL, BirdLife in Lebanon) has orchestrated shipments of aid to villages around the Kfar Zabad Important Bird Area (IBA), which are accommodating around 120 displaced families.
The aid, provided by the Jordan River Foundation through the intervention of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) WESCANA (West Asia, Central Asia, and North Africa) office, will ensure that the increase in population does not put additional pressure on the environment.
Kfar Zabad is part of SPNL’s revival of the hima, a traditional means of conserving water, grazing lands and other resources that also benefits biodiversity.

'...we wanted to do what we could to protect Lebanon's natural sites.' - Assad Serhal, Director General of SPNL

'We established the SPNL during the Civil War,' says Assad Serhal, SPNL’s Director General.. 'We started working in 1983, and the idea was that one of these days, the war would be over and we wanted to do what we could to protect Lebanon's natural sites. We were afraid that when the war ended...encroachment on natural resources would really begin stealing sand and stone, cutting down trees. Now, after nearly 20 years, we are faced with the same dilemma again, and it is really frustrating.'

Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper commented: 'Kfar Zabad has become an experiment in a different kind of environmental protection policy, home-grown and community-based. Now, with the eruption of another war in Lebanon and the arrival of another postwar reconstruction period, arguably more threatening to the environment than the war itself, Kfar Zabad might become an experiment all over again—this time illustrating how nature conservation strategies make for markedly more efficient responses to crisis management and humanitarian relief.'

Nine new Ramsar sites in Uganda

Uganda has added nine wetlands to the List of Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention, bringing the national total to 11 sites covering a total of 354,803 ha.
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

'This is a wonderful step for conservation in east Africa,' said Achilles Byaruhanga, Executive Director of NatureUganda, the BirdLife Partner in Uganda. 'We warmly congratulate the Ugandan government, and thank all those who have worked hard to help bring this about, especially the BirdLife Secretariat, WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (the BirdLife Partner in the UK).'

'Although all these sites are recognised by BirdLife as Important Bird Areas (IBAs), they are also vital habitat for other threatened plants and animals,' says Byaruhanga. - For example, Lake Bisana and Lake Opeta are refuges for fish species which have disappeared from the main Ugandan lakes.

'Local communities depend on these wetlands for food, building materials and water filtration services, needed for their survival. The wetlands are also home to spectacular wildlife like Shoebill, Papyrus Gonolek, Sitatunga deer and Black-and-white Colobus monkeys, whose presence ensures a thriving tourism industry, which is vital to the local economy.'

The nine newly designated sites range from Uganda’s largest tract of swamp forest to extensive papyrus beds and an impressive waterfall system. They are: Lake Bisina, Lake Mburo-Nakivali, Lake Nakuwa, Lake Opeta, Lutembe Bay, Mabamba Bay, Murchison Falls-Albert Delta, Nabajjuzi and Sango Bay-Musambwa Island-Kagera.

Lake Opeta is home to Fox’s Weaver Ploceus spekeoides, Uganda’s only endemic bird species, whilst up to 1.5 million migrant White-winged Black Terns Chlidonias leucopterus visit Lutembe Bay, close to Kampala, the nation’s capital city.

Bugun Liocichla: a sensational discovery in north-east India

A professional astronomer has made the most sensational ornithological discovery in India for more than half a century.
Birdwatching at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, in January 1995, Ramana Athreya glimpsed two liocichlas (a kind of Asian babbler) which did not fit any field guide descriptions.
Ten years passed before he saw the birds again. A colleague identified them -from Athreya’s field sketch -as Emei Shan Liocichla Liocichla omeiensis.
But Emei Shan Liocichla is endemic to mountains in south-west China. The nearest record was over 1,000 km from Eaglenest.
With Forest Department permits, Athreya mist-netted one bird in May 2006. After detailed notes and photographs—and feathers which had worked loose in the net—he released it. Similarities suggested it was closely related to Emei Shan Liocichla, but many differences in plumage and calls, especially song, indicated a new species. Bugun is about 10% larger in all measurements except the beak, which is smaller.
Since such a spectacularly colourful bird (with equally distinctive calls) had been overlooked during several years of surveys at Eaglenest, Athreya felt the population might be too small to withstand the loss of an adult bird. Instead, feathers from the mist-net have been designated the holotype.
Most sightings have taken place in community forest belonging to the Bugun tribe, so Athreya has proposed the name Bugun Liocichla Liocichla bugunorum. The formal description appears in Indian Birds, where a PDF of the paper can be downloaded.

Athreya’s observations account for a total of 14 individuals, but he thinks the species may eventually be discovered in adjacent Bhutan and elsewhere in Arunachal Pradesh.

All sightings except one have been on hillsides over 2,000 metres, among dense scrub and small trees remaining after logging. 'Clearly the species can exist in disturbed areas and utilise different vegetation,' Athreya says. 'This is more or less identical to the habitat preference of Emei Shan Liocichla.' This versatility is at odds with the small, highly local populations.

There are plans to build a highway through Eaglenest, passing through Lama Camp where most sightings have taken place. 'The birds survive but clearly they don’t thrive. A busy highway could well push this spectacular bird into local extirpation, which could also be extinction.

Dr Asad Rahmani , Director of BNHS (the BirdLife Partner in India), commented: 'This discovery again proves the importance and need for extensive research and exploration in north-eastern India. We must also see that the species's habitat is adequately protected.'

The prospect of income from ecotourism provides a major incentive to protect Eaglenest. Athreya, in partnership with Indi Glow of the Bugun tribe, is developing an ecotourism project to benefit the local community.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2006 |  World bird news September 2006

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