Tag Archives: migration

Spring hunting season now open; birds flying towards their breeding grounds should be protected not killed

Turtle-Dove.jpg

(Birdlife Malta; Photo: Aron Tanti; 24 March 2017)

The 2017 spring hunting season will be open for Quail only following a moratorium imposed last year on the Turtle Dove in reaction to statements by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella regarding the sustainability of a spring hunting season on the vulnerable species. The IUCN had revised the conservation status of the Turtle Dove to ‘vulnerable’ in June 2015 in response to further population declines across its breeding range. This will be the first time since 2009 that Turtle Dove will not be legally hunted in spring.

The hunting season will open via Legal Notices 82 and 83 of 2017 which authorise the dates between Saturday 25th March and Friday 14th April for hunting along with setting quotas for Quail. The national hunting bag limit has been set at 5,000 Quail and hunters are not to exceed the daily bag limit of five Quails and the seasonal bag limit of ten Quails per hunter. These have increased compared to previous years whilst timing remains the same with hunting being permitted between two hours before sunrise and noon for every day of the season. Hunters are required to report their catch by calling the telephone number specified in the Special Licence.

The dates announced are meant to coincide with Quail migration and to avoid Turtle Dove migration which peaks around the second half of April. Just over 6,650 hunters have applied for this year’s season according to information supplied by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU) during the last Ornis Committee meeting. Over 60 officers will be deployed from the Police and the Armed Forces of Malta.

BirdLife Malta’s position in regard to this year’s spring hunting season remains that there is no scientific justification for spring hunting.

Summing up the reasons for this………….

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Watch Thousands of Sandhill Cranes Lift Off From the Platte River at Sunrise

(Meaghan Lee Callaghan 21 March 2017)
To hear America’s “greatest migration,” you have to beat the sunrise. It starts with a single kar-r-r-roo in the dark, before swelling into a crescendo of 80,000 Sandhill Cranes that fills the Platte River by dawn. It’s an impressive spectacle, says Bill Taddicken, the director of Audubon Nebraska’s Rowe Sanctuary. “This is real. I wish more people would get out and experience it.”

In a new video by Vuz TV, Taddicken narrates this poetic scene of the Sandhills, which use the sanctuary and surrounding river valley as a rest stop during their annual migration. The footage shows large, sweeping views of flocks lifting off from the riverbank after feeding on insects and aquatic plants. But while Sandhill Crane populations are largely stable across North America, they’re vulnerable to habitat loss in vital migration spots such as the Platte River. And they’re climate threatened, according to Audubon’s climate report.

Audubon Nebraska is working to preserve the Platte ecosystem and the heritage of the cranes. It’s restoring the river to its historic state by clearing sandbars and soil buildup, and keeping invasive species like phragmites at bay. Moreover, Rowe Sanctuary is preserving the region’s prairie habitat—where Sandhills and other birds love to forage—by mimicking natural processes through prescribed burns and grazing techniques. All this work has clearly had a positive impact, as the Cranes return in the tens of thousands every year.

Winter sets up breeding success: study

Winter sets up breeding success: Study

(Physorg; 20 March 2017)

For migratory birds, breeding grounds are where the action is. But a new study by University of Guelph biologists is among the first to suggest that the number of songbirds breeding during spring and summer depends mostly on what happens at their wintering grounds.

The pioneering study points to potential effects of climate change and may help conservation groups better protect migratory birds, including many species whose numbers have dropped in recent years, says Brad Woodworth, a PhD student in the Department of Integrative Biology and the study’s lead author.

The paper appears today in Nature Communications. Co-authors are U of G professors Ryan Norris and Amy Newman, and researchers in Maine and Switzerland.

Most researchers spend more time studying birds during the summer breeding season, but this study looked at how conditions in summer and winter homes affected population numbers of savannah sparrows.

The Guelph team used tiny tracking devices called geolocators to follow individual birds – each weighing about as much as three loonies – during migration over thousands of kilometres to and from their wintering grounds in the southern United States.

The researchers also used data collected since the late 1980s by researchers studying the sparrows during summer breeding at the Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy.

They found that wintering ground temperatures and population density at the breeding grounds are key factors affecting how many individuals return to breed on Kent Island each spring and summer.

That’s important information for biologists hoping to understand why populations of certain migratory birds have fallen in recent years, said Norris.

“What’s prevented us from learning has been lack of knowing where these birds go and what they do after leaving the breeding grounds,” he said.

Acknowledging that breeding grounds are usually more interesting and accessible to most researchers, he said the breeding season offers only a snapshot of a creature’s annual life cycle.

“Most birds are visitors to breeding grounds. They spend two to four months, they breed and they’re out of there.”

Not surprisingly, said Woodworth, warmer wintering grounds improve overall survival and encourage higher populations. But predictions of more frequent and severe weather caused by climate change suggest that any warming benefit may be outweighed by new threats.

“Even a harsh winter storm of a few days could put populations at jeopardy,” he said.

Norris said conservation organizations looking to protect habitat, including buying land or pushing for protected status for various species, might need to focus more on wintering ground conditions. Grassland birds, for example, are increasingly threatened by more intensive farming in their winter homes.

“You can only really make effective decisions about where to put resources for conserving migratory animals if you know what’s driving year-to-year fluctuations in their populations,” said Norris, noting that the study offers a model for studying other migratory animals from caribou to whales.

“We need to know what’s happening at both the breeding and non-breeding grounds. For many species like savannah sparrows, the non-breeding grounds might matter more.”

Scientists Track, For the First Time, One of the Rarest Songbirds on Its Yearlong Migration

Kirtland's Warbler

(Wendy Mitman Clarke; March 6, 2017)

At .48 ounces, your average Kirtland’s warbler weighs about as much as a handful of tortilla chips (seven, stacked), or about the same as one baby carrot. And every year, this rare North American songbird travels nearly 4,000 miles round trip, across mountain ranges, the body of a continent, the Gulf Stream and open ocean. Most of this journey has been a mystery, until now.
Using light-level geolocators, Smithsonian scientists have for the first time tracked and mapped the migratory paths of Kirtland’s warblers for an entire year, following them from their breeding grounds in Michigan to their winter homes in the central Bahamas and back. The scientists hope the data will enable conservation managers to better understand how to manage habitat for the warblers, which were close to extinction in the 1970s and have made a significant comeback as an endangered species.

The research, published in the Journal of Avian Biology, also represents a breakthrough for studying other small species’ migrations, which are an elusive but pivotal element of their lives.

“However difficult it may be, it is critical that we understand the full annual cycle of birds, not just what is happening during breeding,” says Nathan Cooper, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center, part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “There is a significant amount of mortality for songbirds that happens during migration, indicating that the conditions birds encounter while migrating might be major factors in a species’ overall success or failure.”

“We know so little about migration for so many species,” says Pete Marra, head of the Migratory Bird Center and co-author on the paper. “This is the rarest songbird in North America, one of the most endangered. The goal is to move toward tracking the same individuals throughout the year to understand where and why birds are dying, and we’re getting closer with this species.”

Kirtland’s warblers are easy to study in one respect; they only nest in dense, young jack pine forests predominately in specific regions in Michigan. But those forests depend upon frequent fires to propagate the jack pines’ seeds, and fire suppression in the mid-century, coupled with nest predation by the brown-headed cowbird, devastated the species. In 1966 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the birds endangered; in 1974, researchers identified only 167 singing males.

By planting new young jack pine forest and implementing a cowbird removal program, conservation managers helped the warblers begin to recover their numbers. Today, their population is estimated at about 2,300 males. It’s a success story, but continued management is crucial.

Although scientists know a great deal about the birds on their breeding grounds in Michigan, they know less about their distribution in the Bahamas during the winter, and migration—which kills an estimated 44 percent of Kirtland’s populations—has remained an unknown.

“Given that they’re flying 2,000 miles in two weeks, it makes a lot of sense that there could be a lot of mortality during that period,” Cooper says. “But we don’t know if it’s driven by things that happen during migration, or if it is set up by events that happen during the wintering period.” For instance, a drought in the Bahamas can mean less food, so the birds might be malnourished before they even begin the strenuous, stressful flight of migration. “That’s why things like climate change [contributing to drought in the Bahamas] can affect migration and, in turn, the breeding period.”

The more widely used satellite and GPS tracking devices that work well on larger animals are too bulky and heavy for most birds, but in the 1990s, British researchers developed light-level indicating devices that were small enough to attach to wandering albatrosses. The concept of using light levels to determine location has been used by mariners for centuries. By determining precise sunrise, midday and sunset times, one can calculate a rough position, because the length of a day varies predictably depending upon one’s latitude and longitude.

New light-level geolocators are finally small enough for even diminutive songbirds to carry them, Cooper says.

“They measure the intensity of sunlight every two minutes and save it to the device. It gathers that data over the whole year. We can estimate sunrise and sunset time every day of the year, and from that you can get day length and solar noon,” Cooper says. That data enables researchers to roughly estimate and map the birds’ location.

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Curlews in crisis?

The Bar-tailed Godwit can migrate from New Zealand to Alaska without a rest stop, but other species rely on mudflats and costal estuaries © Andreas Trepte(Alex Dale; Photo: Andreas Trepte; 7 march 2017)

New research suggests that the Numeniini – a tribe of large waders including Curlews and Godwits – could be the most endangered birds you’ve never heard about. Indeed, two species may already be extinct

To the layman, the curlews are a shy, unassuming family of birds. Their mottled-brown plumage makes for effective camouflage against their marshland and mudflat feeding grounds, meaning they can go about their business unnoticed, prying out invertebrates such as ragworms with their purpose-built curved bills. But if, like the curlews, you take time to dig beneath the surface, you’ll discover that they are beautiful and remarkable birds.

The Numeniini are a tribe of large waders consisting of the curlews, whimbrels, godwits and Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda. They are some of the most widespread and far-travelling of all birds, migrating back and forth from their upland and grassland northern hemisphere breeding habitats to their wetland, often coastal, non-breeding habitats to the southern extremities of all continents except for Antarctica.

Indeed, one such member, the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica is holder of the world record for the longest non-stop journey without feeding of any animal – satellite tagging has shown that birds from one population take eight days to fly from breeding grounds in Alaska 11,000 km to New Zealand every year.

Perhaps it’s their wide range that means they have been a little overlooked by birders until now. Or maybe it’s that their camouflage is a little too effective. Whatever the reason, it’s time for the curlew to be counted, because an eye-opening new study reveals that they could be one of, if not THE, most threatened group of birds on our planet.

The paper, produced in collaboration with the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the International Wader Study Group, and published in the journal Bird Conservation International, collated the views of over 100 wader experts from around the world, who assessed the threats faced by these species across their migratory flyways. Their conclusion: seven of 13 species – or over half – are now threatened with extinction.

Indeed, two species of curlew may already be extinct;  the Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris, last spotted with confidence in 1995, which once migrated between the Mediterranean Basin and its breeding grounds in Siberia; and the Eskimo Curlew Numenius borealis, which once travelled between Canada and South America, and is almost certainly a goner, having not been seen with certainty since 1963 (and not in South America since 1939).

The plight of the Eskimo Curlew has strong parallels with the far-wider publicised extinction of the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius. The shorebird once numbers in its millions, but widescale hunting and habitat loss in its spring staging areas in the Rocky Mountains has led to, if not the total eradication of the species, then at least its decimation to the point where if it still exists, it does so as a tiny population in some uncharted corner of the Canadian wilderness.

While the hunt goes on for traces of these Critically Endangered species, the paper highlights that attention too should urgently be given to the threats faced by the species we know for sure are still among us.

The study discovers that overall probably the most serious threats to the future of curlews and their allies, is the habitat loss or degradation of the coastal wetlands they depend upon to roost and feed across their non-breeding range, including as refuel stopovers during their epic migrations.

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Fly-over states matter when understanding – and saving – birds

(Author: Sue Nichols MSU; Photo: Joel Trick; March 7, 2017)

Around the world, thousands of migratory animals travel hundreds or even thousands of miles each year. The journey of migratory animals is more important than their destination. Scientists use the endangered Kirtland’s warblers to show how connecting all migration’s points can chart a way to sustainability.

In the most recent issue of the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, Michigan State University researchers take a broad, holistic look at Kirtland’s warblers’ migration between Michigan and the Bahamas to get a better understanding of what sort of needs the songbirds have along the way, and what kind of ecological and socioeconomic impacts their annual distant movement have across the world.

“As with pretty much all environmental research, it’s just not enough to understand one place or one point in time, because our world is telecoupled – socioeconomically and environmentally connected over distances,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU and director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. “It also isn’t enough to just understand the nature in question, because people are so much a part of the problem – and the solutions.”

The Kirtland’s warblers’ fates are tied closely to their specific habitats – they spend their breeding season primarily in jack pine forests of Michigan, and came close to extinction in the 1950s as human activity wiped out many of those forests and parasitic cowbirds further reduced the warblers’ population.

Kirtland’s warblers are conservation-reliant, meaning they survive because humans actively make accommodations to them, and human activities also have compromised their ability to survive. That, the authors say, makes understanding every stop of their migration crucial, and makes the telecoupling framework – a research method that reflects the interactions of all points of that journey.

The telecoupling framework allowed researchers to consider simultaneously their breeding sites, wintering sites, stopover sites, as well as various policies that protect the birds, tourism activities and changing use of land that have fragmented or damaged their habitat, as well as conservation activity that has improved their lot.

This holistic view is important, Liu said, because otherwise efforts to save the Kirtland’s warblers in one area can be rendered less effective if the birds migrate to another area that can’t sustain them. Developing this type of understanding can apply far beyond the warblers and make conservation decisions more efficient for other migratory animals and insects like monarch butterflies.

Using this method also identifies unknowns that demand further study, the authors say. For instance, since the birds spend five months migrating, their stopover sites are as important to understand as their breeding and wintering bases. Yet little is known about the ongoing suitability of their travel stops, particularly how changing climate may affect those areas between Michigan and the Bahamas and if changes in land use – especially areas converted from forest to farmland – affect the birds’ survival chances.

They also point out the need to know if there are opportunities for people along the bird’s migratory path to communicate with each other, joining in their shared concern for the songbirds.

Additional contributors to the paper include: Jacqueline Hulina, Henry Campa, Vanessa Hull, Wu Yang and Carol Bocetti. All but Bocetti are affiliated with MSU.

Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation and Michigan AgBioResearch.

Abundant fish draw 1 million penguins to Argentine peninsula

Penguins walk on a beach at Punta Tombo peninsula in Argentina's Patagonia, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Drawn by an unusually abundant haul of sardines and anchovies, over a million penguins visited the peninsula during this years' breeding season, a recent record number according to local officials. Punta Tombo represents the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world. (AP Photo/Maxi Jonas)(Associated Press, February 18, 2017)

PUNTA TOMBO, Argentina (AP) — More than a million penguins have traveled to Argentina’s Punta Tombo peninsula during this year’s breeding season, drawn by an unusual abundance of small fish.

Local officials say that’s a record number in recent years for the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins, offering an especially stunning spectacle for the tens of thousands of people who visit the reserve annually.

The peninsula’s tiny islets are well-suited to nesting and have sardines and anchovies close to the shoreline. The flightless birds come on shore in September and October and stay while the males and females take turns caring for their eggs and hunting for food.

The warm-weather birds breed in large colonies in southern Argentina and Chile and migrate north as far as southwestern Brazil between March and September.

They are around 20 inches (50 centimeters) tall and have a broad crescent of white feathers that extends from just above each eye to the chin and a small area of pink on the face.