The newly-discovered Blue-throated Hillstar, a hummingbird species found on remote mountaintops in southern Ecuador, is in critical danger of extinction after mining corporations were given the rights to mine its home range.
Now the World Land Trust (WLT) has launched an urgent appeal to raise £30,000 and save the bird’s habitat from destruction by metal mining using large open pits.
The WLT wants to enable its partner – Naturaleza y Cultura Ecuador (NCE) – to extend a Water Protection Area to include the Blue-throated Hillstar’s 70,000 acre range. This would give it government-level protection and eliminate the threat of mining.
“This is a unique opportunity to save a critically endangered species from extinction,” said Richard Cuthbert, Director of Conservation at WLT. “If we do not act now, mining corporations can move in on the habitat and create a mine which would most likely wipe out the bird’s population.
“This is the perfect example of why habitat conservation is so important. For every habitat we lose, we eliminate a stronghold for numerous plant and animal species. For species such as the Blue-throated Hillstar, with such a small range, this can mean extinction. The fact that we are continuing to discover new species in habitats facing threats like mining shows that we may not even be aware of the ecological damage these activities are causing.”
The land is owned by local communities, who rely on the clean freshwater collected in the mountain ecosystem. With funds from the appeal, NCE will extend the proposed Water Protection Area so the total area protected will be almost 200,000 acres, providing water for at least 470,000 Ecuadorian people.
Bruno Paladines Puertas, Head of Community Development at NCE, said: “We are lucky that this area is in an early stage of the process before any construction has begun, so there is still time to act. The support of the communities and the Water National Secretariat (SENAGUA) mean that, if we act quickly, we can place this habitat under the highest level of government protection in Ecuador.”
As well as the Blue-throated Hillstar, the unique paramo habitat is home to a species of frog, the Tik Tik Rain Frog, discovered only last August, plus Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir and Andean Condor. It’s thought that other species may also be discovered there.
You can find more information and donate online to save the Blue-throated Hillstar at worldlandtrust.org/hillstar or call the WLT office at 01986 874422.
Three small islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire are flying high this month, as the latest seabird census results indicate that they are now home to more than 50 per cent of the world’s entire Manx shearwater population.
It’s estimated that nearly a million breeding Manx shearwater adults reside on Skomer, Skokholm and Middleholm; based on the monitoring work by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW), the National Trust and the University of Oxford and University of Gloucestershire.
The survey was part of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s Seabirds Count census, and took place in June 2018. It required a careful approach as Manx shearwaters nest in burrows, meaning the team had to watch their footing to ensure minimum disturbance to the fragile nests.
The monitoring work involved playing the seabird’s social call, which had been pre-recorded on an audio device, into a sample of burrows across the three islands. If a bird responded to the call then the burrow was recorded as active as part of the survey.
“It was a privilege to be part of the team who, by using a survey method which encouraged a higher proportion of nesting birds to make themselves known than ever before, helped to produce our best estimate yet of how many pairs of this remarkable seabird breed on these islands,” enthused Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, wardens on WTSWW’s Skokholm Island.
Results suggest that there are nearly half-a-million breeding pairs in total across the internationally-important islands, with 89,000 on WTSWW’s Skokholm Island, 350,000 on WTSWW’s Skomer Island and 16,000 on Middleholm.
Speaking about the overall findings, the University of Gloucestershire’s Matt Wood, who helped coordinate the census, said: “Seabirds are in such trouble globally so this is great news internationally, not just in Wales – nearly a million breeding adults on these three small islands, and if you include the teenagers hanging around nearby and the chicks in their burrows in August you can almost double that number.
“That’s well over half the entire world’s population of Manx shearwaters, and it looks like they’re increasing steadily here.”
For the National Trust, the data is especially exciting for Middleholm as area ranger James Roden explained: “The 2018 census on Middleholm was the first time in 20 years that Manx shearwaters have been recorded on the tiny island, and it’s great to see that the population is much larger than we first thought.
“We hope to carry on working closely with the Wildlife Trust on more monitoring projects in the future, as well as towards the continued conservation work on Middleholm.”
The Isle of Man Post Office is issuing a collection of 10 stamps next week to illustrate the area’s wide variety of wildlife.
Manx photographer Brian Liggins, who was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man, became interested in wildlife as a youngster when he spent a lot of time on his grandparents farm. Self-taught, he first took up photography about 11 years ago and has since gained a lot of knowledge and experience.
Brain said: “I enjoy the challenge of taking pictures of wildlife as it is always on the move so you have to be ready and focused to capture the moment. I spend hours waiting and trying to get the right shot. I travel all over the Island to picture different species. The light plays a big part in capturing the perfect image.”
Isle of Man Wildlife is available as Set and Sheet Set, Presentation Pack and First Day Cover.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is calling for homeowners to put up more nestboxes for declining garden birds like House Sparrow and Starling, as part of National Nest Box Week, which takes place from 14 February.
It says the simple act of putting up a nestbox can make a real difference for our birds, providing them with the space they need to raise a family.
Rob Jaques, part of the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team, said: ‘Homeowners can provide new nesting opportunities for birds by putting up suitable nest boxes and now is the ideal time to do this. You can either purchase a nestbox or build your own, and there is plenty of information in our free guide, from cutting plans through to information on where to place nestboxes.’
Download the free guide to find out all about nestboxes
By Matt Merritt
This weekend, many of you (most of you, we hope…no, all of you!) will be settling down with your binoculars and a cup of tea to do the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW).
The idea is a simple one. You spend an hour watching the birds in your garden, and recording what you see – not the total numbers, but the highest number of each species that is present at any one time.
If you don’t have your own garden, you can use any suitable local patch – the park, the school playground, or whatever.
What you might not realise is that this has been going on for 40 years now, and in the process has produced invaluable information about the health or otherwise of Britain’s bird populations.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Global Conservation Director, says that the people who dreamt up the idea in the late 1970s would have been amazed to find more than 500,000 people taking part every year.
“There is a tradition in the birdwatching world of people contributing information, so the main thinking must have been to get more people involved in recording birds. At the time the RSPB would have had 200,000 members or so.”
The growth of the RSPB’s membership since is testament to the success of BGBW and other intitiatives in engaging people who have an interest in nature.
“It is a wonderful entry into birdwatching and conservation. We want to encourage people to look at birds differently.”
Martin says that BGBW plays a part in reinforcing messages and trends, and is a way of putting a spotlight on certain issues.
“When the information comes through you can spot changes in range and abundance, and then that is reinforced by more systematic surveys. For example, the dramatic decline in House Sparrow and Starling populations has been apparent, and the bounce-back of species such as Goldfinch.”
The timing of the event is down to a number of factors, not least that the end of January is when garden bird feeders are likely to be at their busiest.
“January is a good time because we have a captive market, as it were,” says Martin. “We have tried similar surveys at other times of year – the Big Splat in summer, for example, but they haven’t taken off so well.”
But the RSPB are always looking for new ways to enthuse people about the natural world, and Martin said that they’d love to hear from anyone with ideas for similar mass-participation surveys and events.
So what have Martin and his children recorded in their Cambridge garden during past Big Garden Birdwatches?
“Our most unusual record has probably been Redwings on the branches of a Silver Birch, but we get 13 or so regular species. We had Blackcap the other day so that would be a nice one.”
Blackcap is an occasional winter visitor to my own garden, so I’ll be looking out for the sweet-singing warblers too over the weekend. If you’re not doing so already, why don’t you give it a go?
New research has shown that the growth of the Roseate Tern population on Coquet Island in Northumberland, the species’ only regular and reliable nesting site in the UK, has been supported for more than 20 years by birds moving from Rockabill in Ireland.
The summer of 2018 saw record numbers of nesting Roseate Terns on Coquet Island, with more than half of the birds nesting there now home-grown. It’s now hoped the growing colony, and another thriving population at Lady’s Island Lake, Ireland, will also start to ‘export’ birds to found new colonies.
The authors of a paper just published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that Ireland’s Rockabill colony, where 1,633 pairs of Roseate Terns nested this year, is the only site in the UK and Ireland currently ‘exporting’ terns to other colonies.
The research, co-funded by the EU LIFE Programme, RSPB and Natural England, shows that for more than 20 years the growth of the Roseate Tern colony on Coquet Island was sustained by birds from the Rockabill colony. This meant Coquet was, between 1992 and 2016, a ‘cryptic sink’, attracting more young birds to nest there than have fledged from it and survived to breed at the species’ other colonies.
Co-author Dr Mark Bolton, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, said: “Our research highlights the complex decisions conservationists face when deciding how to improve the fortunes of seabirds like Roseate Terns.
“Despite the reliance of the Coquet Island colony on immigration from Rockabill, this nature reserve has played an important role in maintaining the species in the UK, thanks to management by the RSPB, including building nest boxes and protecting the colony.
“Having an additional nesting colony, the UK and Irish population as a whole is better protected against catastrophes like severe weather events, disturbance or disease, that might hit any one colony.”
It’s hoped that the successful colony on Coquet will eventually contribute to Roseate Terns settling at new sites, or re-colonising some of their old haunts. Since the research was carried out, it appears that the Coquet Island Roseate Terns are now beginning to sustain their own numbers. In 2016, 50% of terns nesting on the island had been hatched there, but this year, the number had climbed to 60%. This summer, 118 pairs nested there, in the most successful UK breeding season in 40 years.
The RSPB’s Daniel Piec, who manages the EU Roseate Tern LIFE project, says: “With birds moving between colonies across borders, international co-operation is vital to their conservation. We’re working across Britain, Ireland and France with BirdWatch Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Bretagne Vivante and other partners which means we are learning a great deal about what the terns need, and the areas they use.”
This shared knowledge will mean conservationists are better able to identify suitable sites to attract them to nest.
Co-author Dr Richard Caldow from Natural England says: “We now know that where coastal colonies of other tern species, such as Common Terns, are doing well and feeding predominantly in the marine environment, there is probably enough food and safe nesting areas for Roseate Terns to thrive there, too.
“The next step is to look for such potential nesting sites and consider ‘Coquet-style’ management to give Roseate Terns a helping hand to colonise them.”
Rutland Water – home of Birdfair – has annnounced a series of events taking place between January and March 2019. Many of them have a birding theme.
The events are:
Hedgelaying for Beginners
Saturday/Sunday 5th/6th January / Saturday/Sunday 2nd-3rd February / Saturday/Sunday 2nd/3rd March. 9.45am to 4pm both days
A 2-day weekend course to give you the basic principles of this ancient countryside craft. Led by experienced local hedge layer John Shone of Rutland Willows. You will lay your own section of hedge on the reserve.
£90 per person – includes all tools & materials. Bring own drinks & packed lunch
Storks, Sprawks, Kettles and Jars: A Talk of Wildlife Spectacles
Friday 18th January, 10am-11.30am, Volunteer Training Centre, Rutland Water
A fascinating talk by Jeff Davies about the delights of birdwatching in the Andalucian south-west region during one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Europe, the autumn migration.
£4 per person, refreshments and light snacks provided
Winter Wildfowl Day
Saturday 19th January, 9am-4.30pm
An opportunity to join Terry Mitcham to see many of the wildfowl that spend winter around Rutland Water. Using cars to visit various sites around the reservoir as well as walking around the nature reserve.
£12 per person, £8 with a RWNR annual permit
Winter Birds Family Walk
Saturday 26th January, 10am-12.30pm
Bring the whole family for a refreshing winter walk. After the walk you will enjoy a warming drink whilst the children can make a bird feeder to give the birds a little treat.
£4 per person
Painting by Nature: a six-session course
Weds 30th Jan, 20th Feb, 13th Mar, 3rd Apr, 24th Apr & 15th May
Full day (10am-approx. 3.30pm) Volunteer Training Centre, Rutland Water
The perfect course to learn how to paint, with a nature theme! Local artist and expert tutor Dawn Wright will teach you the basics, no previous knowledge required. All done from our room with a view over the nature reserve! Bring your own materials or Dawn will provide everything you need for a small fee. Contact Dawn for enquiries on firstname.lastname@example.org
£360 for the course, or £240 for LRWT members
Willow Weaving Plant Supports
Saturday 9th February / Saturday 2nd March. Two- hour session, see website for timings
Create a functional masterpiece for your garden with a sculptural obelisk for your climbing plants.
£20 per person
Family Nestbox Challenge
Saturday 16th February, 10am-12pm
Build a home for the wildlife that lives in your garden. Choose from a bird box, bat box, bug box or hedgehog box as well as a bird feeder. (Supplement of £5 for hedgehog box)
£10 per box
Nature Explorers – Winter (for 5-10 year olds)
Wednesday 20th February, 10am-4pm
Explore the nature reserve and learn all about the habitats we have here, how they change in winter and how the wildlife adapts to the seasons.
£25/£15 per child
Family Fun Drop in Day
Saturday 24th February, 10am-3pm, no need to book!
Drop In for wildlife & bird related activities & crafts in our woodland and classroom
£3 per participant
Tuesday Nature Walks with Jeff
See website for dates. 9.30am to 12.30pm
Join local nature expert Jeff Davies for a leisurely walk on the nature reserve at Egleton to discover the many species of birds and other wildlife present at this time of the year. Suitable for everybody from complete novice to the more experienced – there’s always something to discover!
£10 per person (£5 Annual Permit Holder) – includes parking and access to the reserve for the day
Wildlife Book Club (Monthly)
See Website for dates. 11am-12pm
If you love reading and wildlife, Rutland Water Nature Reserve’s Wildlife Book Club is looking for you! Free to join in, email Holly on email@example.com
Friday Birdwatching Walk (Monthly)
25th January, 1st March, 29th March, 9.30am to 12.30pm
Join local birdwatcher & recorder Terry Mitcham on one of his regular monthly birdwatching walks on the nature reserve at Egleton.
£10 per person (£5 Annual Permit Holder) – includes parking and access to the reserve for the day
A Year with Woodpeckers: A Talk
Tuesday 19th March
7.15pm-9pm, Volunteer Training Centre, Rutland Water
Join us for an enlightening talk about Woodpeckers, as they become more active this month. Expert local naturalists Phil Rudkin and Dave Needham will entertain and inform!
£4 per person, refreshments and light snacks provided
Dry Stone Walling Course
Saturday/Sunday 23rd/24th March
9.45am to 4pm both days
A 2-day weekend course to give you the basic principles of this ancient countryside craft. Led by experienced local craftsman John Shone of Rutland Willows. You will learn how to lay your own section of wall on the reserve.
£90 per person – includes all tools & materials. Bring own drinks & packed lunch.
To book visit the website or call 01572 770651.
Tickets are now on sale for the Minerva’s Owls of Bath Hoot Farewell weekend, giving owl fans a chance to see all 82 owl and owlet sculptures together for the first and last time before the charity auction.
The beautifully decorated, supersized owl sculptures will be gathered together in one giant ‘parliament’ at the Bath Recreation Ground on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September.
The Hoot Farewell will be is the perfect chance for visitors to spot any owls they may have missed while following the popular sculpture trail this summer and to say goodbye to their favourite feathery friends before they are sold at the Minerva’s Owls Charity Auction on Wednesday 17th October
All profits from the Minerva’s Owls public art event will be donated to four local charities - Royal United Hospital Cancer Centre, Bath Young Carers Centre, Roman Baths Archway Project and UK Little Owl Project.
The decorated owls won’t be the only stars of the show during the weekend of hoots and owl related activities. Olympic Gold medal winner Amy Williams MBE will be unveiling her very own owlet design that she has painted for the event whilst the talented illustrator of the famous Horrible Histories books, Martin Brown, will be giving away a set of Horrible Histories books to celebrate the series 25th anniversary, alongside his writing partner Terry Deary. For younger fans, Bath’s very own Harry Romer, star of ITVs ‘The Voice Kids’ will be performing for visitors around the event.
The event will also include an exhibition of work from the owl artists, owl decorating workshops, food and drink stalls, fun activities such as Bath City FC's 'Beat the G'owlie' and the chance to meet real owls from The Owlery. One of the trail’s beneficiaries UK Little Owl project, will also be at the event with a host of conservation activities for kids.
Official Minerva’s Owls of Bath merchandise will available as a memento of the popular owl trail, including the Owls of Bath book with behind the scenes photos and stories of the flock.
A raffle of exclusive prizes will also be drawn at the event and the winner of The Big Hoot App Prize will be announced for the person who visited the most owls and answered their questions correctly. The amazing prize bundle includes two nights at the Abbey Hotel, exclusive champagne hire of the Thermae Spa Hot Bath, £100 SouthGate vouchers, Best of Bath Hamper, dinner bed and breakfast at the Swan Hotel in Bradford on Avon and a round of golf at Cumberwell Park Golf Club.
Tickets for the Hoot Farewell can be purchased in advance via Eventbrite or at the gate on the day. Tickets are; Adult £6, Child £3, Under 3’s Free, Family Saver (2 adults and up to 3 children) £17.
Megan Witty, organiser of the Minerva’s Owls of Bath event, comments, “The Hoot Farewell will be a great chance for people to see all 82 owls in one location, plus a couple of surprise additions to the flock before they fly off to the charity auction. Based on our previous King Bladud’s Pigs and Lions of Bath preview weekends, we are expecting around 15,000 owl fans to descend on The Rec for this fun weekend of owlery, which will be a hoot for owl fans of all ages!”
Two Rutland Water Ospreys have been fitted with satellite transmitters so bird experts can track their amazing global journeys.
They’re now waiting to see whether the young males can fly to West Africa more quickly than a female bird, which previously did it in 11 days!
The male high flyers were fitted with mini gps trackers to help the internationally important Rutland Osprey Project track their movements throughout the year. Already in 9 days one bird has flown as far as the Western Sahara. The data is providing valuable information on their movements locally too.
Lloyd Park from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said: “The transmitters provide highly accurate data that allows us to plot the birds’ exact movements both day and night. This is giving us an incredible insight into a range of different behaviours, including where and when they are fishing.”
The two male birds were tagged under the guidance of world-renowned osprey expert, Roy Dennis, and colleague Dr Tim Mackrill, from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. They’re working with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s Osprey Project, to shed new light on the annual marathon migration flights the birds make; flying to the west coast of Africa to over winter, and returning to Rutland each spring to nest and raise chicks.
The epic 3000-mile journey sees young birds, which fly independently from their parents, battle strong winds that can carry them off track; only 30% or so survive that first migration flight. They usually fly 200-300 miles a day.
The GPS units weigh only 30g; they work on solar power and allow location, altitude and speed to be recorded. The units are fitted to the birds like a small rucksack, allowing them to continue their normal activities.
Tim Mackrill said: “We’re very excited that we’ll be able to follow the birds to their wintering grounds. As adult Ospreys they will already have established wintering sites, so it will be fascinating to find out exactly where they go. Some European Ospreys winter in Spain or Portugal, but most fly 3,000 miles to the west coast of Africa, into countries such as Senegal and the Gambia. A third Rutland Osprey, known as 30(05), has been tracked since 2013 and migrates to the coast of Senegal each winter. In the past she has completed the 3,000 mile journey in as little as 11 days, so it will be interesting to see how the two young males compare.”
Members of the Rutland Osprey Project will be joining the Osprey Leadership Foundation in January (2019) for a trip to Senegal and the Gambia in hope of finding not just the tagged birds, but also other Rutland ospreys overwintering there.
Anya Wicikowski Osprey Project Officer said, “Aside from the scientific and conservation value of the tagging, the data provides an incredible educational resource and helps us to link young people along the osprey migration flyway. These latest tagged birds will form a key part of that work.”
Plans for a project aimed at saving one of Scotland’s rarest birds have taken a positive step forward thanks to an award of £30,300 from The National Lottery. In recent years corncrake numbers in Scotland have fallen to worryingly low levels; the funding will allow RSPB Scotland to develop the project further over the next year ahead of applying for a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £370,000. This would fund a four year project beginning in January 2020.
Corncrakes are summer migrants to Scotland and spend the winter months in Africa. They are shy chestnut coloured land dwelling birds and related to moorhens and coots. In Great Britain they are only found on a number of Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast mostly found on farmed land and in crofting areas. Last year’s population survey, measured by the number of calling males, revealed that only 866 had been recorded, a drop of 33 per cent since 2014 and the lowest number since 2003.
The birds were once widespread across the UK but increased agricultural mechanisation from the mid-19th century onwards led to a vast reduction in their range and numbers. By the late 1980s they were confined to a few places in Scotland with the likelihood that within the next 20 years they would be lost as a British breeding species if action wasn’t taken. An incredibly successful joint effort between conservationists, scientists, government, farmers, crofters and land managers and with the backing of EU funding led to a steady overall increase from 480 in 1993 to a high of 1,289 in 2014 before the recent concerning declines.
The project in development called SCALE – Saving Corncrakes through Advocacy, Land management and Education will focus on these three key areas to help ensure the long term future of corncrakes here through a number of activities if the full grant funding is successful. These include working with farmers and crofters across Orkney, Durness, Skye, Outer Hebrides, Argyll and Inner Hebrides to deliver corncrake friendly practices. There will be practical and financial support for measures such as delayed mowing dates to help chick survival and the creation of dense vegetation areas to give corncrakes the cover they need.
Given their secretive nature corncrakes can be rather elusive and difficult to see. RSPB Scotland would work with local communities in these places, providing dusk time safaris to hear their distinctive call, and developing an education programme for schools to inspire children about the birds.
RSPB Scotland would also make the case that long term funding is needed at a national level to secure corncrakes’ Scottish future. This will include developing new appropriate agri-environment schemes for corncrakes in any post-Brexit agricultural policy design.
Kenna Chisholm, Regional Conservation Manager, RSPB Scotland said: “We’re delighted that SCALE has been awarded this crucial Stage 1 funding from HLF and very grateful that we can now progress our plans further in the hope that we’ll gain full funding next year. It’s no overestimation to say that the long term survival of corncrakes in Scotland is resting with this project. Even at the population high four years ago corncrakes remained an incredibly vulnerable species here in Scotland, as demonstrated by the fall in numbers since then. We’re now facing a similar situation to that of the early 1990s where if action is not taken soon the rasping crex crex call of the corncrake may become a thing of the past here.”
Mr A MacLean, a crofter from North Uist said: “I am delighted that RSPB Scotland have secured the funding to develop this application. It shows a commitment to corncrakes and crofting during a time of uncertainty for both.”
Sally Thomas, SNH Director of People and Nature, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to help increase the corncrakepopulation in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to helping support the project. These distinctive birds look for habitats with taller plant life of at least 20cm, cutting grass and plants before it reaches that height can destroy their habitat; it’s great to see RSPB Scotland will be prioritising working with local communities to raise awareness of corncrake-friendly land management practices.”
Great news come in from the WWT!
What a pair! Missing mate of oldest living Gloucestershire swan dynasty arrives from Russian Arctic – six weeks late!
The power couple were reunited when Dealer, 25, joined her 26-year-old partner Croupier on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) iconic Swan Lake on Monday (Jan 22).
Croupier, Slimbridge’s very own ‘cobfather’, is the leader of ‘The Gambling Dynasty’, one of the biggest Bewick’s swan families ever studied at the reserve. They were christened by researchers who group major family lines by themed names to make them easier to remember.
It looked like Croupier’s ‘chips were down’ when he arrived without his mate last month.
But Dealer, his partner of 19 years and mum to 29 cygnets that they have brought back together over the years, completed her journey against the odds.
WWT’s senior ecosystem health officer Julia Newth said: “We are so happy to see this faithful pair reunite! Bewick’s swans risk starvation, illegal shooting, lead poisoning, wind turbines and power lines to survive the gruelling 4500km migration and sadly not all of them make it. So when Croupier arrived alone, we feared it was end of an era for this famous couple.
“Few families have demonstrated these birds’ characteristic loyalty to each other and the sites they visit as well as The Gamblers. We hope to see them continue to winter at Slimbridge for many years to come.”
Families tend to be the dominant groups on Swan Lake and Croupier is from one of the oldest dynasties, which have ruled Slimbridge since the sixties.
Croupier’s grandfather Nijinsky began wintering at Slimbridge in 1969. His mum Casino, at 27, was one of WWT’s longest living wild swans, safely escorting 34 cygnets from Russia to Slimbridge during her lifetime.
As Croupier demonstrates, swans live a long life but they don’t produce many young. Bewick’s swans lay up to six eggs each year on the Arctic breeding grounds but usually only one or two cygnets make it to their wintering sites in Western Europe. The stakes are high with Bewick’s swans in decline in Europe and our recent research has shown that their survival rates have reduced.
WWT has expanded its swan research over the decades and linked up with researchers throughout the migratory swans’ range in northern Europe and Russia. Together they have managed to gain international protection for a chain of wetlands along the way that are vital for the swans to feed and rest.
Scientists from Bangor University believe they have revealed how some migrating birds navigate on their journeys.
One aspect of the system used by some birds has been revealed for the first time and involves detecting the declination or variation that occurs because the geographic ‘true’ north pole and magnetic north are not in the same place.
In Europe, this difference between the true and magnetic north, increases as you move from east to west.
Writing in Current Biology (August 2017), an international team of biologists, including Richard Holland and Dmitri Kishkiniev of Bangor University in the UK, explain how they identified for the first time, that mature Reed Warblers are able to detect the declination from magnetic north, and use the scale of the declination or change from true north to geo-locate themselves to a longitude, from which they orient themselves towards their autumnal migration from Russia to Africa.
Dr Richard Holland of Bangor University said: “It seems that a bird as unassuming as the Reed Warbler, may have a geographic map or memory that enables it to identify its longitudinal position on the globe, only by detecting the magnetic north pole and its variance from true north. This, combined with other external cues, which may include the strength of the magnetic field, star positions or smells enables it to locate its current position and orient itself during a long migration.”
Their work also suggested that the birds learn from experience, with immature birds struggling to navigate.
The RSPB has posthumously awarded its medal to eminent scientist Dick Potts, who died at the end of March. He made a huge contribution to conservation science from the 1970s onwards, particularly through ground-breaking studies into the effects of chemicals on farmland birds, especially Grey Partridges.
His farmland bird research and conservation work was done at the Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), where he was director general until 2002. The RSPB medal is the most prestigious award the wildlife charity gives out, and recognises outstanding contribution to nature conservation.
Would you like one of your photos to be featured on a Hide & Beak film? The next one, which will help promote Bird Watching magazine’s #My200BirdYear challenge, will focus on bird song. If you have any images of:
that you would like to see included, send them in.
- We can accept digital files, or scans of prints, but can’t promise to use every image we receive.
- Images should be medium to full-size, high quality Jpegs, with no obvious filters or effects applied. The files should not be smaller than 1929x1080 pixels – and ideally much bigger!
- Along with your submission, please include your name and contact details. If you'd like to, feel free to send us a quick note about where the picture was taken and what it took to get it.
Please send your images to: firstname.lastname@example.org with Hide and Beak in the subject line.
The film is produced in association with Zeiss and Cambridge TV.
Fair Acre Press is running an Arts Council England-funded project called DIVERSIFLY – it's all about people's everyday encounters with the birds that we can easily see and hear in Britain's towns and cities.
It will be creating podcasts involving some of Britain's best known poets, along with the 'Urban Birder', David Lindo.
It will also produce a full colour poetry and art book – involving well-known poets and artists, chosen to reflect the diversity of Britain's human urban populations; plus the book will also include less known, even never-before-published poets and artists from all over Britain, and from all backgrounds and walks of life.
But first, you, Britain's resident bird experts and enthusiasts, are being asked for your help to inspire the poets and artists, with YOUR descriptions of and photographs of your own everyday encounters with British urban birds.
Fair Acre's editor, Nadia Kingsley, will include these in blogs which will remain on the Fair Acre Press website during and after the project is completed.
For more details, or to send writing or photos, click here.
The RSPB has released the following about the results of its Big Garden Birdwatch:
Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.
The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 compared to the last couple of years, with sightings as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland.
Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientists, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.
“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”
There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb two places to number seven, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings. Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 93% of UK gardens.
The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-11%), great tits (-10%) and coal tits (-14%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”
This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.
Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.”
The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession with over 88% schools spotting at least one. The top three was rounded off by starling and woodpigeon.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.
For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
If you're taking part in our #My200BirdYear challenge, or just want a taste of the incredible bird life of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, join our summer 25 Scottish Specials trip, run by wildlife holiday company Heatherlea from June 17-24.
Based at Heatherlea's own three-star hotel in Nethy Bridge, in Speyside, you'll be taken to look for all the species that make Scotland a unique birdwatching location in the UK, with the help of Bird Watching assistant editor Mike Weedon and Heatherlea's expert guides.
Top birds include Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel, Red- and Black-throated Divers in breeding plumage, and Slavonian Grebe in its own glorious breeding finery. Included is a day trip to Mull, allowing you to get great views of both eagle species, plus Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow and Hen Harrier, and throughout the trip there'll also be the chance to see the likes of Black and Red Grouse, Twite, and Corn Bunting, plus many other species, such as Ring Ouzel, Dipper and Merlin, giving a potential tally of more than 100 species during the week. Other wildlife could include Otters, Red Deer, and Mountain Hare.
In between birding, you can relax and enjoy excellent Scottish cuisine at Heatherlea's hotel. So, sign up today, and expand your birdwatching horizons with Bird Watching and Heatherlea.
COST: £1,295 per person, no single supplement, deposit of £200 to secure your place
For a full itinerary, click here
Only a few days remain for young birders to apply for a unique scholarship to the prestigious Young Birders’ Camp at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, from July 6th to 9th.
The Cameron Bespolka Trust (cameronbespolka.com) was set up in honour of young naturalist and passionate birdwatcher Cameron Bespolka (pictured above), who died in December 2013, in a tragic accident, and the scholarship will be awarded to one 16-18 year old birder from the UK.
This event is a great opportunity for any 16-18 year old who has a passion for birds and wants to find out more about careers that involve them. Participants will be able to birdwatch with skilled birders from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well as meet with experienced Lab of Ornithology staff, including ornithological researchers, tour leaders, audio specialists and computer scientists.
Interested teenagers can fill out an application form and return it for review by March 17th.
The Young Birders’ Event will feature two days of field trips, presentations by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff including professors, researchers and students, an eBird and field notes workshop, a sound and video recording workshop, a tour of Cornell Lab including the Macaulay Library and Museum of Vertebrates, and dinner with Cornell Lab directors and staff.
To apply, please email Corinne Cruickshank at email@example.com with the following information, and answers to the questions below (150-250 words per question):
Date of birth
GSCE qualifications if applicable
1 Why are you interested in attending this event?
2 Tell us about your interest in birds (include how you became interested in birds).
3 How often do you go birding? What surveys and schemes do you volunteer in? How do you keep your bird records i.e. enter sightings in BirdTrack, sketch the birds you see, supply your findings to local county bird club where you live?
4 What role do you expect birds to play in your life in the future?
5 Rank from 1-5 the topics that most interest you (1=the most): Sound Recording; Video Recording; Neotropical Birds; Nocturnal Flight Calls; Computer Science.
More information is available at cameronbespolka.com
Gull populations on a Scottish island have suffered as a result of a declining quantity of fish landed
Research published in the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) journal Bird Study, looked at the breeding populations of Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull on the Hebridean island of Canna, and the relationship between them and the fall in the quantity of fish landed in the nearby harbour of Mallaig.
Between 1985-2000, an annual average of 13,726 tonnes of fish was landed there, but between 2007-2014, this fell to 4,456 tonnes. The number of breeding pairs of Herring Gulls peaked at 1,525 in 1988, Great Black-backed Gulls reached 90 pairs around the same time and the highest number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was 63 pairs.
But at the last count, breeding gulls on Canna were 95 pairs of Herring Gulls, 18 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls and 13 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This population decline has also been associated with low breeding success, with only a small number of chicks successfully fledging in more recent years.
Dr Viola Ross Smith, gull expert at the BTO, said: “Breeding gulls have a bad reputation, especially in urban areas, but it is worth remembering that all these species are classed as Birds of Conservation Concern, and the Herring Gull is on the Red List. It therefore seems important to identify the causes of population decline in rural colonies such as Canna, and find ways to conserve the birds at these sites, especially since gulls that fail to breed successfully are known to seek breeding opportunities elsewhere, including in towns and cities.”