One to Watch - Iiwi on the decline?
By Alex Dale
First published in BirdLife: The Magazine <http://www.birdlife.org/birdlife-magazine>, the "One to Watch" series takes a quick look at the status of some of the iconic species we're working on.
With its unmistakable fiery red plumage, which was used to decorate the robes worn by Hawaiian royalty in ancient times, the Iiwi Depranis coccinea <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/iiwi-drepanis-coccinea> (pronounced ee-EE-vee), or Scarlet Honeycreeper, is tightly entwined with Hawaiian folklore.
Endemic to the islands, it was once abundant in forests through-out the archipelago, but the accidental introduction of mosquitoes by settlers in the 19 Century brought with it diseases such as avian malaria, to which the Iiwi has no natural immunity.
The Iiwi now finds itself largely restricted to high-elevation forests on the islands of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, where temperatures are too low for regular disease transmission.
While a few populations remain stable, the species was uplisted to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List in 2008, amidst fears that rising temperatures could increase the elevation at which regular transmission of malaria occurs, threatening current strongholds of this regal nectarivore.
The tiny transmitters tracking birds from North to South America
By Ed Parnell
The Motus Wildlife Tracking System <http://www.birdscanada.org/motus> is a pioneering programme of Bird Studies Canada (BSC, BirdLife Partner), in partnership with collaborating researchers and organisations. Motus (which means “movement” in Latin) utilises miniaturised radio transmitters weighing less than 0.3g, which can be unobtrusively fitted onto the backs of birds, including small passerines such as warblers. (Even smaller transmitters have also been developed that can be fitted to insects: for instance, one study already underway is tracking the movements of Monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus).
The transmitters, or tags, emit a short burst or pulse every 5-30 seconds, each with a unique numerical pattern. These pulses are then picked up by automated very high frequency (VHF) receivers, which can automatically detect and record signals from the tags at distances of up to 15 km.
Thousands of tags can be simultaneously deployed and tracked within the system, which, as of today comprises nearly 350 receiving stations. Resembling oversized television aerials, the receivers can be fixed to existing structures such as towers or lighthouses, on trees, or on stand-alone poles that are around 30 feet in height. The receivers can also be located out to sea; some receivers have already been placed on offshore oil and gas platforms in coastal Nova Scotia, Canada.
“What’s new and exciting about Motus is that it harnesses the collective resources and infrastructure of numerous researchers into one massive collaborative effort. Indeed, it is the depth of these collaborations that makes the entire system possible”, explains Stuart Mackenzie, Motus Programme Manager for BSC.
The Vanishing: Europe’s farmland birds
By Iván Ramírez
The Head of Conservation for BirdLife Europe & Central Asia explains how intensive agriculture has made farmland birds one of the most threatened bird groups in Europe.
Once upon a time, they were all around us - sights and sounds as familiar as the dusky skies their flocks danced in or the wind whistling through the fields. They were the tiny flashes of colour caught by the corner of your eye as you strolled in the countryside. They were the chirps, chatter, coos and caws making music in the hedgerows and the long meadow grasses. But that was before we destroyed their homes. Now, our common farmland birds are not so common.
It’s an increasingly rare sight to see a Corn bunting perched on a farm fence before taking off in fluttering flight with its legs dangling, or graceful Yellow wagtail running through wet pastures on its slender black legs. The distinctive orange face and chestnut tail of the once abundant Grey partridge is now glimpsed all too infrequently. When was the last time you admired the splendid crest of a Northern Lapwing or heard the tew it of its display call? How many today would even recognise this once iconic cry? And what of the Barn Owls, Godwits, Corncrakes and Curlews? Or the Redshanks, Whinchats, Twites and Yellowhammers? For the bird lover, the farm has become the tragic symbol of paradise lost.
BirdLife volunteers had photographed culprit who shot down protected eagle
A hunter found himself in hot water when he turned up near a police patrol just as a protected eagle was shot down, but BirdLife volunteers who were close by quickly confirmed that he was not the one who pulled the trigger, a court heard this morning.
The court was hearing evidence against Justin Chetcuti, 23, from Mosta, another man who was eventually accused of shooting down the rare booted-eagle last November 2.
A member of the police Administrative Law Enforcement unit testified how he and colleagues had been patrolling the area of Tal-Virtu and Wied tal-Isqof in Rabat, when they observed three eagles flying low.
He then heard shots and soon noticed that one of the birds was gliding down. The protected bird, which had evidently been hit, landed close to the police Land Rover.
A hunter suddenly appeared and approached the police officers. He insisted that he was not the culprit.
Birdlife volunteers, who were keeping watch over the area at the time confirmed that the man who had allegedly shot down the eagle was indeed someone else. They had observed the culprit, a bare-chested man, through a telescope and had even recorded him on camera.
The witness recalled how he had searched for the accused who was soon traced, disarmed and taken in for questioning.
The officer recognized the accused as the man whom he had arrested.
Story from Natural Times Malta Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The hunt for the world's only alpine (and carnivorous) parrot
You need to be sneaky if you want to catch a Kea in the wild. Here's how Kimberley Collins went searching for the world’s only alpine parrot in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand.
Kea, the world's only alpine parrot © Dave Buckton
By Kimberley Collins, Forest & Bird (BirdLife NZ)
You need to be sneaky if you want to catch a Kea <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/kea-nestor-notabilis> in the wild. Kimberley Collins (Forest & Bird, BirdLife in New Zealand <http://blog.forestandbird.org.nz/>) goes searching for the world’s only alpine parrot in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand.
As I looked up at the 1300m peak looming over me, I instantly regretted not preparing myself mentally for a long, hard climb. I had just arrived in the Upper Wairau Valley with the Department of Conservation’s Kea team. We were heading into the St Arnaud Ranges in search of female Kea and their nests.
Because Kea are the world’s only truly alpine parrot, I should have known there would be a hill or two. Corey Mosen and Sarah Fisher work with Kea during their breeding season, which starts in August and runs through to December. They look for radio-tagged adults who show signs of nesting and visit nest sites they have found in previous years to find out whether birds are using them.
“The aim is to clap our eyes on eggs, chicks, and nests to monitor whether or not a new, independent Kea is added to the population at the end of the breeding season,” says Mosen.
Kea make their nests on the ground in natural caves and cavities in the rocks, as well as in the hollows and roots of large trees. This makes them vulnerable to predation by introduced mammals. Stoats can kill adult females and chicks, while rats and possums will hassle them in the nest and eat their eggs.
As I huffed and puffed up the steep incline, Mosen explained (without losing his breath) that it takes about four months for a Kea egg to hatch and become independent.
Bottom of Form
Corey Mosen from New Zealand's Department of Conservation © Dave Buckton
“They’re vulnerable for quite a long time and that’s why two-thirds of Kea chicks never fledge. Once the chicks are out of the nest and able to fend for themselves, their survival rates are good - so our team focuses on getting the chicks fledged successfully,” says Mosen.
After climbing up the range and around a bluff, we arrived at the suspected nest site. A thin path less than a metre wide cut through the forest, with a sheer drop on one side and a towering bluff on the other. A large moss-covered rock was protruding from the hillside, with a thin gap running deep underneath. This, Mosen pointed out, was where we might find a Kea.
We unloaded our packs and carefully lay on the ground to see if anyone was home. I held the torch while Mosen poked around with his Kea-finding contraption, a camera attached to the end of a broom handle. Nestled deep under the rock sat an adult bird with two newly hatched chicks and an egg.
There was no way we could disturb her with such young chicks, so we started packing up our gear. But as we clipped our bags on and turned to leave, a rustle in the beech trees overhead drew our attention. Sitting above us, with rain dripping from its deep green feathers, was another Kea - an unbanded male.
Mosen leapt into action, throwing down his bag and rifling through it to pull out his banding kit. He put a net in front of the crevice and placed his cellphone, which was playing the long sharp call of a Kea, in the middle of it. The unbanded male turned his attention to it quickly, fluttering down from the tall tree to sit on top of the protruding rock for a few minutes before landing on the phone to investigate. And, just like that, we had him.
Corey Mosen is a trained specialist. The welfare of the animals is ensured during measuring and banding © Dave Buckton
Mosen carefully unpicked the net from his feet and held him tightly. He asked me if I had ever held a Kea before. I mumbled that I had held a Kākā <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22684840> once, and he replied with “close enough” before explaining how to hold it with one hand around the back of the beak and the other gripping its feet.
As the Kea’s razor sharp beak got closer to my fingers, my heart started racing, but I took a deep breath and held on tight as Mosen rifled through his banding kit. It seemed to be over in a flash - he put the bands on, measured the bird’s beak and head, weighed it, and took a blood sample. Then we let the Kea go and watched him scamper off along the path, eventually hopping into a nearby tree where he ruffled his feathers in a disgruntled manner.
Getting so close to one of New Zealand’s most well known and charismatic birds was an eye-opener. Not just because I saw first-hand how hard Department of Conservation staff work to protect them, but because I discovered just how how much their populations have crashed in recent years.
Once numbering in their hundreds of thousands, Kea are in big trouble today with an estimated 1000-5000 birds left. Estimating exactly how many are left in New Zealand is a challenge. As I had just found out, they cover huge areas of rugged terrain that is hard to access, and their solitary nature as adults means you may only find one or two birds in a single monitoring trip.
Banding is necessary to track the number of birds and help their conservation © Dave Buckton
Kea numbers were decimated from 1860 to 1970 when more than 150,000 birds were killed as part of a New Zealand Government-led bounty programme to stop the birds from picking fatty deposits off the backs of sheep. Kea are world famous for their intelligence and inquisitive nature, but this behaviour can get them in trouble.
When they frequent populated areas - such as Arthur’s Pass village - they are known to get hit by cars, stuck in man-made objects, and sick from human food, which is often fed to them by people who want to get up close with one of New Zealand’s better known birds.
“I was in Arthur’s Pass once, and I saw a Kea just standing by a dumpster, looking a bit frantic. I thought ‘what’s going on here?’ so I opened the dumpster and his mate had been in there looking for food, but someone must have closed the lid. He was okay, but it’s a good example of the kind of trouble they can get themselves into,” explains Mosen.
Lead poisoning is also causing problems for some populations of Kea, as they lick and chew the lead fixtures on older houses and huts. It can depress their immune systems, impair development, and lower their cognitive function.
*A version of this story first appeared in Forest & Bird magazine http://bit.ly/2h3SBAu. You can find out more about Forest & Bird, our New Zealand Birdlife Partner, at www.forestandbird.org.nz <http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/>
Pacific <http://www.birdlife.org/pacific/news> New Zealand <http://www.birdlife.org/news/country/new-zealand> Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) - Pacific <http://www.birdlife.org/pacific/programmes/important-bird-and-biodiversity-areas-iba-pacific>
Kea <http://www.birdlife.org/news/tag/kea>Alpine parrot <http://www.birdlife.org/news/tag/alpine-parrot>
Argentina will have two new National Parks
At the stroke of a pen, the largest saltwater lake of South America, Mar Chiquita, and the nearby Estancia Pinas are now set to become National Parks.
By Francisco González Táboas, Aves Argentinas
Clouds of up to half a million phalaropes cover the sky, almost blocking the sun. The horizon then turns pink with over 100,000 Chilean flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22697365> living and nesting there. The gold of the grasslands, protecting the enigmatic maned wolf Chrysocyon brachyurus, is so bright it makes your eyes squint. The water covers everything as far as the eye can see, but the sounds and colours of the birds stand in a festival for the senses capable of moving any human being: Mar Chiquita is a true "sea of nature".
This is the daily life at Mar Chiquita and the Dulce River, the largest salt lake in South America, a Wetland of International Importance according to the Ramsar convention <http://www.ramsar.org/about/wetlands-of-international-importance-ramsar-sites>and one of the five Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in danger <http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/what-are-world%E2%80%99s-most-critically-endangered-sites> of Argentina.
A few years ago Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina) <http://www.avesargentinas.org.ar/> set out to work to achieve the effective conservation of many of its IBAs, especially those categorized as “in danger”. This was the case 3 years ago with Buenos Aires Lake, fundamental for the future of the Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22696628> which today is largely covered by Patagonia National Park.
The time has now come for Mar Chiquita. Although currently listed as a Multiple Use Reserve it has several problems of forest clearing, unplanned use of water resources and tourism, and illegal hunting that affect it negatively. This is why Aves Argentinas, with the objective of turning it into a National Park, began work in the area, identifying fiscal areas that could be joined to the protected area and getting donors for eventual land purchases. Local actors, researchers, environmental educators, the Bird Watchers Club and villagers were all involved in the process. Little by little, the idea of a National Park took shape and strength.
The provincial and national governments then became enthusiastic about the project. The National Park Administration gave its approval and on Monday March 6 all parties signed an agreement to begin work on the creation of the new National Park - which could exceed 700,000 hectares and so will become the largest National Park in Argentina.
Bottom of Form
It will become one of the most important national protected areas as it includes some of the most densely populated sites for birds in the country. It will undoubtedly become a favourite for birdwatching tourism in particular - which today attracts more than 40,000 foreigners each year to Argentina.
In a region that has been left behind, the new National Park is also a possibility for economic development. Within the framework of this agreement, Aves Argentinas <http://www.avesargentinas.org.ar/> integrates an advisory committee together with the local organization Yaku Sumaq <http://www.yakusumaq.com.ar/> and representatives of the Austral University. <http://www.austral.edu.ar/>
Undoubtedly it might bring as well an auspicious future for migratory birds: shorebirds such as the ’Wilsons Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/22693472>, Red Knot Calidris canutus <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/red-knot-calidris-canutus>, Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/hudsonian-godwit-limosa-haemastica> or the American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/american-golden-plover-pluvialis-dominica> congregate there in large numbers.
Collared Plover © Pablo Rodríguez Merkel
In the northern grasslands there are rare and little-known species such as Dot-winged Crake Porzana spiloptera <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/dot-winged-crake-porzana-spiloptera>, Sickle-winged Nightjar Eleothreptus anomalus <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/sickle-winged-nightjar-eleothreptus-anomalus>or Bay-capped Wren-spinetail Spartonoica maluroides. <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/bay-capped-wren-spinetail-spartonoica-maluroides>
In the few pieces of the Chaco plains that remain on the southern and eastern edges of the lagoon - the areas most affected by the advance of agriculture - there are still birds threatened by wildlife traffic such as the Ultramarine Grosbeak Cyanoloxia brissonii <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/ultramarine-grosbeak-cyanoloxia-brissonii>and even some of the rarer Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata. <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/yellow-cardinal-gubernatrix-cristata>
In addition to the big news, the agreement signed between the national government and the province brought another round of good news as it also establishes the joint work for the creation of another new National Park in Estancia Pinas, a 100,000 hectare site of dry chaco plains in the west of the Córdoba province (central Argentina).
In this site we can find populations of Chaco Eagle <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/crowned-solitary-eagle-buteogallus-coronatus>Buteogallus coronatus <http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/crowned-solitary-eagle-buteogallus-coronatus>, among many other bird species, and the last populations of guanacos Lama guanicoe <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11186/0>of the province. Furthermore, populations of the recently discovered Chacoan peccary Catagonus wagneri <http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/4015/0>, an endangered species that was believed extinct until decades ago.
As Aves Argentinas <http://www.avesargentinas.org.ar/> celebrates its centenary, the BirdLife community rejoices the good news - the result of years of hard work. Without a doubt, great news for people, birds and nature.