Saturday, 20 October 2018

Citizen science helps lift the lid on finch leg disease

Observations collected by citizen scientists have helped vets investigate the occurrence of a leg condition that affects British finches. 
A new study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that reports of leg lesions peak in winter, which may be linked to the annual influx of migratory Chaffinches from mainland Europe.
Leg lesions, commonly known as 'scaly leg' or 'tassel foot', are growths on the legs and feet seen in finches across Europe. Leg lesions in Chaffinches are one of the most frequently observed signs of ill health in British garden birds, and have been known to occur for decades. Up until now there has been no large-scale study of this condition, and it has been unclear if it is more common at particular times of the year or in particular regions of Britain. Weekly records of the presence of leg lesions in garden birds, received from volunteers taking part in the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Garden BirdWatch survey, alongside reports from members of the public received via the Garden Wildlife Health website, have allowed us to answer these questions for the first time.

A male Chaffinch with scaly leg (Luke Delve).
Each week an average of 3-4 per cent of BTO Garden BirdWatchers recording Chaffinches see a bird with leg lesions in their garden, with the location of these being widespread across Britain. However, there is clear seasonality in reporting, with a peak from November-March. While Chaffinches occur in Britain throughout the year, higher numbers are reported during the winter months, as a result of an influx of migratory birds from mainland Europe, and it is thought this is related to the winter peak in leg lesions. 
Chaffinches are by far the most likely species to be seen with leg lesions in gardens, but the condition has been reported less commonly in a number of other finch species including Brambling, Eurasian Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Results from post-mortem examinations of just over 1,000 finches in Britain have identified two causes of this type of leg lesion; a virus (Fringilla coelebs papillomavirus) and mites (Cnemidocoptes).
Becki Lawson from Zoological Society of London's Institute of Zoology, said: "Leg lesions in finches are highly visible and can generate public concern for animal welfare. While birds with severe lesions can become lame or increasingly vulnerable to predation, most affected birds continue to behave normally. The majority of reports involve individual affected birds rather than outbreaks involving large numbers of birds. Our study did not find leg lesions as a common cause of death and there is no evidence that this condition poses a threat to conservation."
BTO's Kate Risely added: "Thousands of people report their garden wildlife sightings to Garden BirdWatch every week. While it can be upsetting to see birds with health problems, these results show that regular reporting of symptoms can help us learn about large-scale patterns when used in conjunction with one-off reports. We are very grateful to everyone who reports their sightings to BTO and to Garden Wildlife Health."
Both the mite and viral infection that cause leg lesions are thought to be transmitted by contact. Good hygiene measures such as cleaning bird feeders are recommended as a routine to minimise transmission of disease at feeding stations. You can learn more about maintaining good hygiene, and help our research at the Garden Wildlife Health website. If you enjoy watching your garden birds you can also help by taking part in the weekly BTO's Garden BirdWatch survey.

Kate Humble announced as new WWT president

TV presenter Kate Humble has been announced as the new president of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). At the charity's annual general meeting she promised to be the WWT's most active and most vocal supporter, and said: "I'm very excited about my next three years as WWT President – it feels as though WWT is on the cusp of something new and amazing. The time has come for the WWT way to become the mainstream."

Humble will serve as president of WWT for three years (commons.wikimedia.org).
Humble's association with WWT dates back to the early days of Springwatch, and she will serve as president for three years, having previously been vice-president. In 2016, Her Majesty the Queen stepped down from various public commitments including her patronage of WWT. Consequently, Prince Charles stepped up from his role as president to patron, resulting in the need to find a new presidential candidate. 
Humble was delighted to take on the opportunity, and said: "WWT's proactive, hands-on approach to conservation appealed to me right from the start, and I’ve learned that the charity brings a 'can do' attitude to all aspects of its work. I feel very at home with the way WWT engages with the public. They're determined that wildlife is for everybody to enjoy, and that’s my approach too: in order to work, conservation has to include people."
At the start of her term, Humble will set out what she hopes to help WWT achieve, and rally the support of the vice-presidents. She added: "WWT can achieve so many different things in different places – it might help prevent flooding in a village in Somerset or create somewhere wild for inner-city pupils to play.
"With its history of backing brave plans, engaging people from all walks of life and making everyone feel included, it has convinced me. My job is simply to make as many people aware of the work of WWT and the huge amount it has to offer all of us – what a lovely job to have!"

Pegwell Bay Moths







Breeding success for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Despite a later than normal breeding season, the Woodpecker Network has reported successful nesting from their monitored Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in 2018. Having received reports of territorial birds or pairs at 85 sites this year, the Network was able to monitor 10 nests, all of which enjoyed success. The average number of young fledged per nest was 2.9 – a reasonable figure and, while it's still lower than similar studies in Europe, it's not as disastrous a number as previously thought. 

The small sample from the study offers a tentative suggestion that Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have enjoyed a reasonable couple of years of breeding (Colin Bradshaw).
The stand-out feature of the 2018 season was its lateness, with the 'Beast From the East' in early spring seemingly delaying the start of nesting for most pairs. Most young did not fledge until mid-June, which is about 10-14 days later than usual, though early indications from British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) nest recorders suggest late nesting has been the norm for many species this year.
However, one Lesser Spotted Woodpecker pair was an exception to this, as they successfully fledged four young on 31 May in Norfolk, in sync with the timing of nests found in the area in previous years. It seems this was a well-established pair, and studies in Sweden have demonstrated that experienced birds tend to nest early and fledge more young than first-time breeders. Furthermore, the surveyors provided supplementary food through the winter and into spring, which may have been a factor in allowing the birds to lay early and sustain incubation through the cold snap.
The Woodpecker Network used nest inspection cameras to record clutch size and number of chicks fledged; information that is vital to understand the reasons for the decline of the species. However, finding Lesser Spotted Woodpecker nests is exceptionally hard, as demonstrated by the fact that the exact nest location was found at fewer than 12 per cent of reported territories. In East Sussex, a family party was found by accident, at a new site, during a botanical and entomological survey on 3 June. 

All of the 10 nests were in dead substrate of a tree, of which seven were entirely dead (Darren Chapman).
Other nests were simply unable to be found despite the clear presence of pairs. In Surrey, an established pair were observed in late winter and early spring, but seemingly went AWOL before an adult was seen carrying food and a fledgling was recorded on 12 June. In the New Forest, an adult making repeated flights across a clearing with food in its beak on 13 June was seen but, despite careful searching at the time, the nest wasn't found. Even after a tree-by-tree search through the area on 15 June there was no sign of the birds or a used nest.
However, there was also negative news. Despite a male drumming at three sites within 1 km of each other in Lincolnshire, for a third consecutive year, there was no evidence of a nest or female. Sadly, this is probably symptomatic of what can happen when a species falls to such low numbers. In Devon, an excavating Lesser Spotted was displaced by a Great Spotted Woodpecker. This displacement is rarely recorded, but is thought to be quite a common occurrence. In terms of the latter species predating young, this is likely only an issue when they are struggling to find food. Indeed, in Devon this year, there was an active Great Spotted nest within 20 m of a Lesser Spotted nest, with both fledging young successfully.
Furthermore, the study found no instances this year of nest failures as a result of interactions with Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and with the initiative in its fourth year with data from 43 monitored nests collected, a feasible sample for analysis is being created. None of the breeding seasons since 2015 can be deemed outstanding, but three of four have been reasonable (2016 saw a low of 1.2 young fledged per nest). The study relies on the hard work of nest finders and monitors, and it's hoped that more can be discovered and observed in 2019. You can visit the Woodpecker Network website here, and view the 2018 report here.

Once trees have regained their leaves in the spring and summer, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers can be extremely hard to see (Peter Jackson).

More conservation action needed for Britain's declining waders

Breeding waders, such as Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Oystercatcher, deliver some of the most iconic sights and sounds of the British countryside, but are in long-term decline. However, a newly published study from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) provides hope by showing that many of the conservation interventions widely adopted for these species do indeed work.
Britain's emblematic grassland-breeding waders face a set of common threats throughout much of Europe. The loss or deterioration of breeding habitat through changing agricultural practices, together with increasing predation pressure, are driving population declines, reducing the number of chicks produced to below the threshold needed to maintain stable populations. Despite being subject to decades of conservation effort, many of these species are still declining, suggesting that our efforts have been in vain. If the declines are to be halted and ultimately reversed, humans need to identify and test the effectiveness of those conservation and policy initiatives designed to help these species.

As declines continue, fears grow for the future of Britain's breeding Eurasian Curlew population (Damian Money).
However, a review of the effectiveness of these conservation actions, led by Dr Samantha Franks of the BTO in collaboration with the Dutch organisation Sovon, reveals that many of the policy and conservation management actions already in place in many European countries, and across the UK, are broadly effective, though to varying degrees. Some of the most effective actions are targeted site protection measures and higher-tier agri-environment schemes. Higher-tier schemes, which combine a suite of targeted conservation actions aimed specifically at benefiting waders, are particularly effective at improving wader numbers over time and increasing breeding productivity.
Underpinning these policies are specific types of management that were also reviewed, with good evidence that altering mowing levels, reducing agrochemical use, raising water levels and protecting eggs and chicks from predation usually tend to work as they increase wader breeding productivity. However, despite this positive news, wader populations are still declining. This suggests that even though conservation actions often have a positive outcome, this may not be occurring frequently enough, or at a large enough scale, to compensate for declines occurring outside managed areas; furthermore, the magnitude of positive effects of these actions may be too small. In other words, we know what action is needed – we just need more of it.

Eurasian Oystercatcher remains fairly common and widespread, but declines have been noted (Peter Garrity).
Dr Franks commented: "Policy tools such as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Agri-environment Schemes (AESs) are clearly achieving positive effects, which is a key message at a time of uncertainty for national and European institutions and agricultural policy reform.
"Restoration of healthy wader populations in the wider countryside will depend on the implementation of effective measures at a much greater scale and with greater co-ordination, thereby increasing the amount of land managed favourably for these and other grassland species. The opportunities to achieve this will, to a large degree, depend on the level of support and funding made available by European governments, perhaps delivered within the UK through policies that seek to use public money to provide public goods, such as a healthy environment rich in breeding waders. This in turn, will depend upon how much our society is prepared to protect and restore farmland biodiversity."

Prolific egg collector pleads guilty

Daniel Lingham, who stole almost wild bird 5,000 eggs, today [12 October 2018] pleaded guilty to five charges at Norwich Magistrates' Court.
Lingham is now due for sentencing on 27 November at the same court, having taken eggs from rare and threatened species including Western Marsh Harrierand European Turtle Dove. Describes as the most prolific egg collector in recent years, one of the charges Lingham pleaded guilty to was the possession of 75 eggs belonging to Schedule One species. 

RSPB Senior Investigator Mark Thomas stands with part of Lingham's collection that was seized by police (RSPB).
The court heard how, on 21 May this year, Norfolk Constabulary were called to Cawston Heath following reports of a man acting suspiciously. The man – Lingham – was located and arrested after being found with nine Common Linnet eggs. The police contacted the RSPB and, following their advice, a search was conducted at Lingham's home in Newton St Faith. Here nearly 5,000 eggs were found, stored and catalogued in wooden trays, having all been taken from sites in Norfolk. 
Lingham has a track record of breaching the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, having been jailed in 2005 for 10 weeks following the discovery of 4,000 eggs at his home by police. Mark Thomas, RSPB Senior Investigator, said: "At a time when egg collecting is on the decline, Lingham is the most prolific egg collector in recent years. It's very rare that an egg collection of this magnitude comes to light these days.
"Lingham has taken significant numbers of eggs from some of our rarest and most threatened birds. This will have a huge impact on their local, regional and national populations. Birds like European Turtle Dove are in long term decline – we have lost 94 per cent of them in the Britain since 1995 and no British bird is declining faster. These are species that conservationists are working tirelessly to save, for the benefit of future generations."

Some of the eggs taken included vulnerable and rare species, including European Turtle Dove and Western Marsh Harrrier (RSPB).
PC Tom Pellew and PC Leah Hutchins, both based at Aylsham Police Station, led the investigation, with the former stating: "The sheer scale of the collection of eggs that Lingham had in his possession was very worrying, with many of the species involved being endangered. We know that crimes of this nature often go under-reported, which is why cases and convictions like this are so important in raising awareness of such wildlife offences. 
"The vigilance and assistance of the public is key in preserving Norfolk's natural beauty and wildlife diversity, which is why I would urge anyone who has witnessed offences like this to contact police on 101."
The five charges Lingham pleaded guilty to were:
  • Taking nine Common Linnet eggs at Cawston Heath;
  • Possession of articles capable of being used to commit an offence during stop and search;
  • Possession of 75 Schedule One listed wild bird eggs;
  • Possession of 4,070 ordinarily protected wild bird eggs;
  • Possession of articles capable of being used to commit an offence at his home address.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Project Owl

This autumn and winter we want to learn more about Tawny Owl population change and understand more about their calling behaviour. To do this we need your help.
 
You can help us to increase our understanding of their calling behaviour and distribution, particularly focusing on the impact of urbanisation and artificial lighting. It's easy to take part. All you need to do is listen for Tawny Owls for 20 minutes each week, from 30 September to 31 March, from your garden, local park or woodland. You can even listen whilst lying in bed with the window open. The more weeks that you can listen the better - but you can do as many or as few weeks as you are able.
We need your help, whether you usually hear Tawny Owls or not. Knowing where owls can't be heard is just as valuable as knowing where they can be heard.

Learn About Owls 

Don't worry if you're not confident in identifying owl calls. We've got some great information pages on owls, which provide you with all the information you will need.

Further research 

The Tawny Owl Point Survey - still time to take part

Thank you to everyone providing records for the Point Survey! This survey involves volunteers visiting random preselected tetrads. We're still running the survey until mid-October, so there is still time to take part. 
We have some exciting research planned for our nation's owls. Check out future plans for Project Owl.

 
You can also help by donating to our owl appeal, which will greatly help us in organising this body of research.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Ethiopian Wolves receive a boost

A vaccination scheme is set to help prevent Ethiopian Wolf from becoming extinct. International wildlife charity Born Free has announced that, after 10 years of exhaustive research, the first-ever oral vaccination campaign has been implemented in the Bale Mountains in order to pre-empt outbreaks of rabies among the wolves.
The project, which was led by the University of Oxford's Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) and funded by the Born Free Foundation, tested the SAG2 vaccine, which will now be used for all six extant wolf colonies to increase their chances of survival.
Ethiopian Wolf is one the world's most endangered canids, with fewer than 500 individuals left. They all live in the highlands of Ethiopia. While the species is facing a range of threats from habitat loss to subsistence agriculture, the biggest danger to its numbers is from lethal diseases carried by domestic dogs, such as rabies and canine distemper. Consequently, protecting the wolves from such diseases using the vaccine is a huge boost for the small population.

With fewer than 500 individuals remaining, Ethiopian Wolves are among the rarest canids on the planet (Born Free/Thierry Grobert).
Professor Claudio Sillero, Chief Scientist for Born Free and EWCP’s Founder, said: "Thirty years ago, I witnessed an outbreak of rabies which killed the majority of the wolves I had followed closely for my doctoral studies. We have learnt much about these wolves and their Afroalpine homes since. By the time we detect rabies in a wolf population, many of the animals are already fatally infected and doomed. We now know that pre-emptive vaccination can save many wolves from a horrible death, and help to keep small and isolated populations outside the vortex of extinction.
Long-term programmes and targeted research are the cornerstones of biological conservation. Today, thanks to funding from Born Free and the generosity of companies such as Virbac, who donated 3,000 SAG2 oral vaccines to our programme, we are prepared to implement a strategic vaccination campaign that will greatly reduce the chances of this rare species becoming extinct. I wholeheartedly celebrate the team's achievement and encourage other practitioners to embrace this preventative approach as part of their conservation tool kit. We are in a world that demands closer control of pathogens shared by wildlife, domestic animals and humans."

Nuthatch, previously feared extinct, rediscovered

Research teams sighted the endangered Bahama Nuthatch during a three-month expedition to the island of Grand Bahama. However, there are worries that only two birds remain. Bahama Nuthatch, a subspecies of Brown-headed Nuthatch, had been feared extinct after the disastrous damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and hadn’t been found in subsequent searches. However, should only two individuals remain, it would be on the verge of extinction.

The remnant population of rediscovered Bahama Nuthatches is tiny, and doesn't bode well for a recovery (Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia).
University of East Anglia Masters students Matthew Gardner and David Pereira set out to find this and other endemic Caribbean pine forest bird species, navigating through dense forest with thick understory, in what is thought be one of the most exhaustive searches of the island. Meanwhile, a second team of Bahamian students, led by Zeko McKenzie of Loma Linda University and supported by the American Bird Conservancy, also searched for the bird. Both teams made nuthatch sightings in May, and the UEA team were able to capture the species on film.
Bahama Nuthatch is only known from a small area of native pine forest on Grand Bahama Island, which lies approximately 160 km off Palm Beach, Florida; the bird nests only in mature pine trees. There had been a marked decline in its population, falling from an estimated 1,800 in 2004 to just 23 recorded in a survey in 2007. The decline likely began in the 1950s, due to habitat loss via timber removal, and more recently due to hurricane damage.
Dr Diana Bell, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, explained: "The Bahama Nuthatch is a Critically Endangered species, threatened by habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species, tourist developments, fires and hurricane damage. Our researchers looked for the bird across 464 survey points in 34,000 ha of pine forest. It must have been like looking for a needle in a hay stack.”

The three-month expedition covered 700 km on foot (Matthew Gardner, University of East Anglia).
Matthew Gardner commented: "We were the first to undertake such an exhaustive search through 700 km of forest on foot. We had been scouring the forest for about six weeks, and had almost lost hope. At that point we’d walked about 400 km. Then, I suddenly heard its distinctive call and saw the unmistakable shape of a nuthatch descending towards me. I shouted with joy; I was ecstatic."
The UEA team made six nuthatch sightings in total, and McKenzie's team independently made five more, using different methods, in the same small area of forest – including a sighting of what they believe to be two birds together. Gardner added: "During three months of intensive searching we made six Bahama Nuthatch sightings. Our search was extremely thorough but we never saw two birds together, so we had thought there might only be one left in existence. The other team have claimed to see two together so that is promising. However, these findings place the species on the verge of extinction and certainly among the world's most critically endangered birds."
The nuthatch was spotted in a small area known as Lucaya Estates. During the research project, birds were seen and heard in three distinct but nearby locations within this area. However, as the exact drivers of the recent precipitous decline of the bird are still unclear, hopes of a recovery remain low, with Bell saying: "Sadly, we think that the chances of bringing this bird back from the brink of extinction are very slim – due to the very low numbers left, and because we are not sure of the precise drivers for its decline."

Common Sandpiper wintering grounds established

Geolocaters have helped researchers find the wintering sites of Scottish-born Common Sandpipers. The tags were fitted by the Highland Ringing Group and Inverness College UHI in order to find out more about the migration routes and wintering grounds of Common Sandpipers breeding in Scotland. The geolocators have revealed that the birds winter in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, via migration stopovers in Spain and Portugal. Furthermore, these findings could offer a possible explanation for the species' decline.

Geolocaters were fitted to Common Sandpipers in order to track their migration routes and wintering grounds (Joe Graham).
Common Sandpiper numbers have dropped by 21 per cent across Europe, but breeding success remains high, so it's thought the cause of the decline lies in their passage or wintering sites. Despite ringing of more than 22,000 Common Sandpipers across Britain, little is known about their migratory routes and wintering grounds once they leave Europe, and the geolocators have already helped answer some of the questions.
Large parts of coastal Guinea-Bissau are vast mudflats, bordered with mangroves, but many of these are being converted into rice fields. Consequently, this loss of habitat could be a key factor behind the decline of the Common Sandpipers that rely on these sites. Furthermore, analysis of the data revealed that the birds face strong cross and head winds on their northward migration from West Africa, which could lead to lower numbers returning to their Scottish breeding grounds.
Dr Louise de Raad, who was involved with the research at Inverness College UHI, explained the importance of the findings: "From this new information we were able to identifiy Guinea-Bissau as the location where the majority of Scottish Common Sandpipers migrate to in the winter. Now we have a better understanding of their journey we're one step closer to finding out why their population is in decline."
Ornithologist Dr Ron Summers added: "This is a really big breakthrough, as before we were not able to pinpoint their wintering location in West Africa. Now we can look at the difficulties and challenges they face on their journey, and at these wintering grounds, and try to understand how these might have an impact on their survival."

Scottish Common Sandpipers pass through Spain and Portugal on their way to and from West African wintering sites (J G Snowball).

Pine Martens return to Kielder Water

Camera footage has recorded Pine Martens at Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland, for the first time in more than 90 years.
The cameras are located in a remote part of Kielder Water and Forest Park, as part of a Red Squirrel monitoring project, and the recent images confirm the first Pine Martens recorded in the area since 1926. The sighting is encouraging news for the organisations working together for Pine Marten conservation in northern England, including the Forestry Commission, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Aberdeen University and Vincent Wildlife Trust. It also could have wider positive implications for Red Squirrels.
A still from the video shows a single Pine Marten.
A still from the video shows a Pine Marten on top of a squirrel feeder (John Hartshorne).
Recent research carried out by Aberdeen University found that Red Squirrels are doing well in areas in Scotland where Pine Martens are increasing, with Grey Squirrel numbers dropping significantly. Grey Squirrels out-compete Reds for food and also pass on a deadly virus, squirrel pox; this is one of the main reasons that the latter species is under threat. These finding show that a re-establishment of Pine Martens at Kielder Water and Forest Park could suppress Grey Squirrel numbers, possibly leading to an increase in Red Squirrel numbers.
The conclusive footage was first seen by John Hartshorne, who has been helping with the squirrel surveys as part of the Red Squirrels United project for several years. He explained: "It's very common to see wildlife other than squirrels on the cameras I use, but this was most unexpected. Historically, Pine Martens were commonplace here, but habitat clearance and persecution led to them being eliminated."
Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission Ecologist, added: "As the forest nears 100 years in age, it is increasingly being colonised by rare and protected species. Pine Marten returning to England, over the Scottish border, has been anticipated for some time, encouraged by the efforts we are making to create ecologically diverse forests. We are delighted to see photographic evidence of their return, in a forest valued by so many people."

Pine Martens hadn't been definitively recorded at Kielder Wader and Forest Park since 1926 (Collin Smith).

Black-tailed Godwits enjoy successful nesting season

Despite difficult weather earlier this year, Black-tailed Godwits in East Anglia have managed to have bumper breeding season, the RSPB has announced. A total of 18 chicks were raised in the wild, with a further 38 released by Project Godwit after being hatched in a special rearing facility. Furthermore, godwits bred at a nest site not previously used since 2012.
Project Godwit, which combines the expertise of teams from the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), confirmed the successful season, during which the weather proved particularly challenging. When the birds returned to the East Anglian Fens in March, spring flooding had covered most of the areas in which they normally nest. This resulted in eggs being laid in muddy fields and becoming stuck, requiring intervention from Project Godwit workers.
The eggs were collected and raised in bird-rearing facilities, and incubated at Welney WWT. A total of 38 chicks were later released at Welney and the Nene Washes, joining the wild flocks, which included 18 successfully fledged youngsters. In addition, nine of the Black-tailed Godwits which were released as youngsters last year returned to the Fens.

Black-tailed Godwits enjoyed a bumper year, with 18 chicks successfully fledging in the wild (Michael Southcott).
Project Manager Hannah Ward said: "When we rescued the eggs from the fields we were very worried that the chicks might not survive due to the muddy conditions of some of them, so it was quite a nerve-wracking wait to see if any would hatch. Meanwhile, our team on the nature reserve worked hard to make sure that when the water receded, there were areas where more godwits could nest in safety away from the flood."
Some of the birds are fitted with geolocators, allowing researchers to learn more about where the birds travel to in the winter. This year 10 new geolocators were fitted, and two were collected from birds tagged in 2017. One of these showed that a female godwit travelled all the way to West Africa and back, stopping off in Spain, Portugal and Norfolk on the way before returning to the Fens to breed.
Nicola Hiscock, Senior Aviculturist at the WWT, commented: "We're thrilled with the progress the birds have made this year. The fact that two of the godwit chicks raised at Welney last year had families of their own is a really good sign that the methods we're using – headstarting the young birds to give them the best chance in the wild – is working."
As the godwits begin to depart for the winter, Project Godwit workers are calling on birders to report sightings of the released birds, which all have a unique combination of colour leg rings. It's easy to do this on the Project Godwit website and will help the team build up a picture of the important areas the birds need.

Despite the spring flooding, Project Godwit workers were able to save the eggs that were laid early on in the season (Ed Stubbs).

Gamekeeper guilty of shooting Short-eared Owls

Keeper Timothy Cowin has pleaded guilty to charges concerning the killing of two Short-eared Owls. On 19 April 2017, Cowin, gamekeeper on the Whenside Estate, Cumbria, was seen walking on the moor holding a gun, before an RSPB investigations officer watched him shoot and kill two Short-eared Owls, and then dispose of their bodies. Cowin, 44, has also pleaded guilty to a separate charge relating to the possession of items capable of being used to commit offences against wild birds.

Cowin has pleaded guilty to three different charges relating to bird of prey persecution (Guy Shorrock/RSPB).
RSPB officers were visiting the area, which is managed for driven grouse shooting, after a previous incident, during which Cowin was thought to be illegally using an electronic calling device to lure in birds of prey. Following the shootings on 19 April, the police were called instantly and, after a chase on foot, Cowin was intercepted and arrested. Both owl corpses were recovered, and a post-mortem examination confirmed they had both been shot.
Other items were seized by the police, including a rock covered in blood near where the first shot bird was found; Short-eared Owl DNA was confirmed following a forensic examination. A 'fox pro' – a type of electronic sound luring device – was also found in Cowin's vehicle and seized. It was later forensically examined, and found to have had the calls of birds of prey added to it, believed to have been done so deliberately in order to lure birds of prey close enough for shooting.
Bird of prey persecution is a UK government wildlife crime priority, and persecution connected with land managed for driven grouse shooting continues to have serious conservation impacts on a number of species. Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, was present on the day of the arrest and said: "Over the years we have had a number of very disturbing reports from people within the shooting industry, alleging widespread and systematic killing of Short-eared Owls on grouse moors in the north of England. The premeditated way these beautiful birds were flushed, shot and hidden was truly shocking. We are immensely grateful for the response of the police to this remote location."
This case highlights the persistent targeting of birds of prey on land managed for driven grouse shooting and the RSPB is calling for the introduction of a licensing system to improve the accountability of these areas across the UK. This would not only help protect birds of prey but, would also tackle wider damaging grouse moor management practices, such as heather burning on deep peat.