Tag Archives: habitat

Land around powerlines could be boon to birds

(Michael Casey 21 May 2017)

Transmission lines may be eyesores for most people but for songbirds, the forest around them might just be critical habitat.

A team of researchers want to see if these birds are populating land cleared along the route of a powerline—as well as areas that have been recently logged—in New Hampshire and Maine.

In other parts of the country, the shrubby habitat of these younger forests have been found to offer much-needed protection for the birds from predators, as well as a steady diet of insects and fruit.

One of the researchers says these habitats are “incredibly important” for the songbirds in those parts of northern New England.

“Our goal is to get a better understanding for how these habitats function in our landscape,” said Matt Tarr, a wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Tarr and his colleagues will catch the songbirds in mist nests starting later this month, band them and then track them over the next two years. They will be focused on 24 transmission line rights of way and 12 areas that been logged in southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine.

Tarr said there are as many as 40 species of songbirds that nest in young forests and another group that nest in mature forests.

“However, there is growing evidence suggesting that after their birds finish their nesting and the young leave the nest, they leave mature forests and come into the young forest to complete their development.”

The nearly $250,000 study is being funded by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s New England Forests and Rivers Fund. A contributor to the New England fund is the utility Eversource, which has proposed the Northern Pass energy transmission project that has sparked criticism from property owners, tourism officials and others.

Northern Pass entails building a 192-mile electricity transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, New Hampshire, carrying enough Hydro-Quebec energy to southern New England markets to power about a 1.1 million homes.

Tarr said the study isn’t about finding an upside to transmission lines but rather trying to determine how birds use the forests that emerge after a project is built.

“It helps us understand how transmission lines function in providing that habitat on the landscape,” he said.

The information they get could be critical to policymakers as they work to create more young forests for birds as well as other species like cottontail rabbits in New England.

“Do they have positive effects or do they have negative effects?” he said. “We might find these rights of way aren’t used as we think they are for mature forest birds. That would be important for us to know.”

Wild geese in China are ‘prisoners’ in their own wetlands

(Physorg 22 May 2017)
In many places in the world, goose populations are booming as the birds have moved out of their wetland habitats to exploit an abundance of food on farmland. But, new evidence reported in Current Biology on May 22 confirms, that’s not working so well for migratory waterbirds that overwinter in China.
The findings help to explain why China’s waterbirds are in decline, researchers say.

“We can now show what we suspected all along, namely that geese do not sneak off the wetlands to feed on farmland at night, but rather remain within the wetlands close to where they feed and roost both by day and night,” says Lei Cao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “Whilst this saves them energy and the risk of death from the hunters and poachers they encounter on dry land, it does constrain them to the wetlands and the quality of the food that they can find there.”

The waterbirds that spend their winters in China’s Yangtze River wetlands travel a long way to get there, migrating from Russia, Mongolia, and other parts of China to avoid the icy northern winters.

“These birds have nowhere else to go; farther north everything is frozen, and to the south there are no vast river systems or freshwater wetlands,” Cao says.

Cao and her colleagues have been concerned about geese and other waterbirds in China since surveys they conducted in the early 2000s showed that the birds were in decline. In the new study, they wanted to learn more about where the birds spend their time.

The researchers attached GPS tracking devices to 67 wintering wild geese representing five different species at three important wetlands in China’s Yangtze River Floodplain and followed the animals throughout the winter.

The tracking data showed that 50 of the birds representing species known to be in decline never left degraded natural wetlands where they’ve spent their winters for generations. Another 17 individuals from two species that show more stable population trends used wetlands the vast majority of the time. However, they did occasionally venture into neighboring rice paddies.

“This is a vital piece of evidence to support our hypothesis that, because Chinese geese are clearly ‘prisoners’ of their wetland habitats, their recent declines relate to reductions in the quality and extent of these wintering habitats upon which they rely,” Cao says.

The results help to confirm earlier studies linking declines among Chinese wintering geese to habitat loss and a degraded food supply. But what keeps geese in China from taking advantage of neighboring rice paddies and other agricultural lands in the way geese do in other places?

Cao and colleagues speculate that it’s because of greater human activity in cereal and rice fields in China. Chinese farmers also raise domestic ducks and geese in the stubble fields, leaving little food behind for their wild counterparts. Wintering geese are also a popular target of hunters who use shotguns, nets, traps, and poison to kill thousands upon thousands of birds every year. As a result, they conclude, the geese are effectively imprisoned in increasingly degraded wetland habitats.

The researchers say they’ll continue to explore the unique threats faced by these birds in China. They’re also building international collaborations and partnerships throughout East Asia to study and identify trouble spots for the birds all along their long-distance migratory routes.

Ravaged by deforestation – but a new refuge brings hope for the Cherry-throated Tanager


(Alice Reisfeld 17 May 2017; Photo: Ciro Albino)

Over 85% of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest has been felled over the last few hundred years – but life continues to cling to the fragments that remain. A newly-created reserve will ensure that one of these fragments, along with the six globally-threatened birds it harbours, will endure for the foreseeable future

Just five hundred years ago, the Atlantic Forest formed a thick green blanket across the east coast of Brazil. Then settlers arrived from Europe, sparking one of the most terrifying rates of deforestation the world has ever seen.

Today, plantations and quarries stand where 88% of the Atlantic Forest once proudly stood. All that remains of this vital ecosystem today are scattered patches of degraded, fragmented forest.

The decimation of the Atlantic Forest is an ongoing tragedy for biodiversity. Despite only being a fraction of its former glory, the Atlantic Forest is still home to a huge number of plants and animals – enough, in fact, to rival the more famous Amazon. Even in its current state, new species are being discovered all the time in the fragments that remain – or in the case of the Critically Endangered (CR) Cherry-throated Tanager Nemosia rourei, rediscovered.

This colourful tanager was known only from a single shot specimen in 1870 for many decades, before its dramatic rediscovery in the 1990s. However, the species remains staggeringly rare, with an estimated global population of less than 200 adult birds. It may be that there are further populations out there skulking in as-yet unexplored fragments, but for now all we can do is protect the habitats that host the populations we do know about.

And this week, there was a major advancement on this front – the establishment of a 1,688 hectare refuge protecting one of the last strongholds of this beleaguered species. The newly-created Águia Branca Private Reserve now represents the second largest private protected area in the Brazillian state of Espírito Santo.

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Conservation partnership launches “floating islands” in bid to save rare duck

commonscoters.jpg(RSPB 15 May; Photo Graham Catley)

An unprecedented partnership of organisations from industry and the conservation sector has come together in a bid to save the common scoter as a breeding bird in the Highlands of Scotland. The birds, which breed on the edges of a small number of lochs, will be helped by the creation of artificial floating islands made from redundant materials from fish farms. It is hoped that the scoters will choose to nest on the islands and this will make the nests safer from the unwelcome attention of predators and the risk of being flooded.

RSPB Scotland’s Dr Alison MacLennan said, “Within the last forty years the population of the now inappropriately named Common Scoter has fallen from several hundred pairs, with a wide distribution over the north and west of Scotland, to around fifty pairs found in a few isolated lochs. We are in real danger of losing this lovely bird as a breeding species in Scotland and I am delighted that this partnership has come together to help provide them with a future.”

Research conducted by a partnership of organisations including the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Blue Energy, the Ness & Beauly Fisheries Trust and RSPB , has pointed to a number of causes for this decline, many of which are linked to changing uses in the landscape.
In addition, mammalian predators have been identified as having a significant detrimental effect on the survival of common scoter nesting attempts and their success in hatching ducklings. In an attempt to address this problem in some of the Inverness-shire lochs, the partnership group joined forces with Fusion Marine and Marine Harvest to produce floating islands that will provide the ducks with safer nest locations with a reduced risk of predation.

Two of these islands have now been sited in common scoter breeding lochs in Inverness-shire as a trial to see if their use can boost the ducks’ success in rearing their young.

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Stop killing the river: Ask Argentina to save Hooded Grebes


(Irene Lorenzo 12 May 2017; Photo Juan María Raggio)

A new documentary, Killing the River, reveals how the planned construction of two hydroelectric dams is threatening the ecosystem of Argentina’s last glacial river.

Welcome to the remote lakes of the Patagonian wilderness, adjacent to the Santa Cruz River in Argentina. For hundreds of years, the area was a safe haven for the threatened Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi, especially during their breeding season.

Fertile sediment, carried downstream from the river to the estuary, ensures food availability not only for this iconic species but also for other charismatic birds such as the Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus, Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis, and Magellanic Plover Pluvianellus socialis; as well as many others like the endangered subspecies of Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa.

Once isolated from human threats, the fate of this unspoiled habitat changed in a matter of months as the government recently proposed the construction of two dams in this pristine river.

If the construction were to continue, the two dams would block natural processes, which would have an impact on river flow and aquatic ecosystems in the area. Food availability downstream would be affected as well, resulting in the loss of wintering habitats for the aforementioned species.

An especially worrying situation for the Hooded Grebe, whose numbers are around 500 breeding pairs and already under pressure from the spread of invasive species.

Today, the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri lands in Chinese grounds to discuss the construction of these damaging dams, which are linked to foreign investment. A coalition of NGOs is now seeking support to save the country’s last glacial river with the release of the documentary Killing the River (“Matar al río” in Spanish).

The president is expected to deliver today the Environmental Impact Study to his Chinese counterpart, which would enable the construction of the so-called Kirchner and Cepernic hydroelectric dams.

For this reason, the NGO coalition calls for society to alert President Macri before he starts his negotiations with China to stop the controversial project that would affect the habitat of the Hooded Grebe.

Considering that 15 days ago the country launched their Zero Extinction programme, it is incoherent with the government’s environmental plans to continue with the construction. Their list of protected species includes the Hooded Grebe, while they insist on the construction of two dams that would guarantee their extinction.

“The state created a few years ago a National Park to save the Hooded Grebe from extinction. Today that same state can sign the death certificate of the species”, says Hernán Casañas, CEO of Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner).

The two major works are currently paralyzed by order of the Supreme Court of Justice for not complying with obligations under the Law of Environmental Impact of Hydraulic Works. If President Macri goes forward with the proposal, he would be taking for granted the fulfillment of a process that is not yet concluded.

In order to progress with the dams, two fundamental instances are missing: a public hearing and the Environmental Impact Assessment. According to the ruling of the Supreme Court “the magnitude of the project requires a scientifically-proven, socially participatory, balanced and profound reflection”.

“Does it makes sense to move forward with two dams that would extinguish the Hooded Grebe, negatively impact other species, destroy an environment and not even solve the energy problem, only because the contract was signed by the previous management? It’s time to slow down and rethink the situation”, the NGO coalition says.

In legal terms, we’re in still in time to fight the construction but news about the construction having reached the point of no return keep circulating. The NGO coalition wants to remind the public through the documentary that there’s still time to stop the construction. If you want to help, head to Twitter and copy-paste the following message:

“President @mauriciomacri please stop the destruction of Santa Cruz River https://youtu.be/m-s9BUUYgFw #RioSantaCruzSinRepresas”.


Record-breaking 120,000 Ruffs counted in Belarus

(Victoria Tereshono 8 may 2017)

Birdwatchers were delighted by the thousands of Ruffs that gathered at the end of April in Turau Meadow, Belarus. While the area is usually an important stopover for the species, this time the impressive numbers broke records in the country.

Despite the cold weather, bird migration is in full swing. Millions of birds have started moving from their wintering grounds in Africa, stopping over in the cold tundra of Eurasia.

At this time of the year, Turau Meadow in Belarus becomes a paradise for nature lovers – as many as 150,000 Eurasian Wigeon Mareca Penelope and 20,000 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa can gather in these plains, sometimes in a single day.

But this year, it’s the Ruff Calidris pugnax that gave birdwatchers the most joy, when thousands of these long-necked birds blanketed the skies.

While this site is currently the largest stopover site for the species during their spring migration across Europe, this year the numbers were a surprise to everyone.

A group of ornithologists, including researchers from APB (BirdLife Belarus), registered a record number of 120,000 Ruffs in a single day, which hadn’t been reported since the observations began in Turau Meadow back in 1997.

Turau Meadow is an open floodplain in the middle of Pripyat River and one of Europe’s most essential nesting and stopover areas for more than 50 migratory wading bird species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Great Snipe Gallinago media and Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus – the three of them classified as Near Threatened by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List. And these species don’t only stop there – this is where they nest.

For this reason, the floodplains were categorized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife and, since 2008, it has been recognized as a locally significant wildlife sanctuary by the Belarussian authorities.

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England’s first ‘Swift City’ takes flight

Swifts flying at low level over rooftops

(RSPB 6 May 2017; Photo Nigel Blake)

• Known for their aerobatic displays over our gardens, swifts fly over 6000 miles from central and southern Africa every year to the UK to nest and raise their young. Although numbers of the migratory bird have almost halved in the past twenty years.
• Ahead of UN World Migratory Bird Day on 10 May, the RSPB has teamed up with nine partners to launch England’s first ‘Swift City’ in Oxford.
• The ambitious two-year project will see current nesting sites protected and more than 300 new sites created throughout the historic city to allow the charismatic bird to thrive.
To help reverse the decline in swift numbers and nesting sites Europe’s biggest conservation charity has teamed up with nine partners to launch England’s first ‘Swift City’ in Oxford.
Every year the enigmatic swift announces the arrival of the British summer as they complete a 6,000 mile migration from central and southern Africa to nest and raise their young in the UK. These iconic species are truly Olympian birds; landing only to breed, they fly up to 500 miles per day often eating, sleeping and even mating in the air. However with falling population numbers there are now less than 87,000 breeding pairs arriving in the UK, down from almost 150,000 (-47%) pairs just two decades ago.
Part of this decline is being linked to a reduction in potential nesting sites – as old buildings are renovated and new ones are built they often don’t include nesting space. The two-year project will see the Oxford Swift City team take a closer look at the city’s swift populations, their nesting sites and important foraging areas, as well as helping local communities take action to help swifts where they live.
To help swift thrive in the historic city, the team will also work with local builders and planners to help protect the areas, buildings and neighbourhoods that we know they travel across the world to make their home, as well as creating a further 300 suitable nesting sites throughout Oxford.