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.

American Black Tern – a first for Kent

On Tuesday 21 August I spent the whole day birding in the Dungeness area, and after successfully connecting with the Wryneck at Galloways, decided to return to the RSPB reserve to enjoy the late afternoon sunlight. Earlier in the day I'd counted a dozen Black Terns from Firth Hide, viewed in less than ideal light. Now, on scanning Burrowes Pit from the RSPB visitor centre, it was soon apparent that the majority of them would be best viewed from Makepeace Hide.
Sitting in the hide with binoculars I scanned through the terns flying over the water, which were now bathed in perfect light. At some distance I focused on two typical juvenile Black Terns, displaying their gleaming white underparts with small dark breast sides and white underwing coverts. As they twisted and turned a third bird made the same twist, and to my surprise I noted a distinctive soft grey-coloured flank panel and duskier underwings.
I reached for my telescope and eventually refound the bird, whereupon I noted the overall darker appearance compared to the nearby juvenile Black Terns. I concentrated on the underparts to check if this was one of the moulting adult summer Black Terns, which had been present too, or an odd first-summer type. I searched and searched for irregular dark blotching but the grey on both sides was consistent, a neat uniform flank panel merging into dark broad breast-side patches with juvenile/winter-type head pattern.
I was perplexed at the age of this bird, but had no chance confirming it at this distance. If this was a juvenile I needed back-up, as American Black Tern was a real possibility. I phoned Dungeness Bird Observatory warden David Walker and thankfully he arrived some 20 minutes later with his camera. Just before his arrival the bird briefly flew closer and I was convinced I noted some browner fringing to the mantle and scapulars. 

There have been fewer than 15 accepted records of American Black Tern in Britain, and none previously in Kent. These superb sketches point out the key features that distinguished the transatlantic vagrant from the nominate juvenile Black Terns it associated with (Stephen Message/
When David joined me in the hide, soon after giving running commentary directions, he successfully captured the correct individual, and the record shots did indeed reveal brown tones to the mantle – pulses were raised as the bird was indeed a juvenile! Watching it through our scopes, we muttered and repeated the features: compact size, dark grey uppertail coverts and rump, extensive white forehead, large dark breast sides, grey flanks and the grey underwing coverts. A quick check of some internet references confirmed our observational comments.
The light was fading fast so it was time to inform the local birders, explaining we had a Black Tern showing all the correct features of juvenile American Black Tern. Those who arrived soon obtained the same distant views and none disagreed with the identification, so I tweeted the news out to the world. With such structural and plumage differences from nominate juvenile Black Tern I will watch with interest if American Black Tern (surinamensis) remains a subspecies.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Comic Con London 2018

Arctic seabird populations react to climate change

A new study has shown that Alaskan seabirds have experienced mixed fortunes over the last 40 years.
The study examined the shifting environmental conditions over the last four decades and discovered that, while some species are resilient and arguably even benefiting from the changing climate, others are suffering. The findings, recently published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, were reached using mathematical models to explore the relationships between large and long-term datasets, covering climate change, zooplankton abundance and distribution, and the populations of five seabird species in Alaska between 1977 and 2014.
This first attempt to explain how climate variability impacts seabird populations across such a large scale found that the most prominent decline was in the numbers of Kittiwake, with the drop linked directly to deteriorating zooplankton productivity. Red-legged Kittiwake is also suffering, though this is because the species is more sensitive to warming ocean temperatures. On the other hand, both Guillemot and Brünnich's Guillemot were shown to have been resilient to the changing conditions, and indeed may even be benefiting.

The study found that Red-legged Kittiwake populations were negatively affected by rising sea temperatures (Richard Bonser).
Seabirds such as gulls can be key indicators of environmental change as their populations respond to shifts in their ocean habitat over time. Holly Goyert, of the University of Massachusetts, was heavily involved in the research and said: "Our hope is that these results will be used in a proactive approach to seabird conservation, and that measures will be taken to prevent populations from declining to small sizes. For example, although Kittiwakes are one of the more abundant gulls in the world, their populations are undergoing significant declines, which calls their global status into question. For example, our paper suggests that the deterioration of food web resources such as krill, which is related to warming oceans, has contributed to these declines."
"Mass seabird deaths and breeding failures in recent years have the scientific community puzzled, and both appear to be climate-related," according to Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska's Director of Conservation Science, who was not involved in the study. "This study is an important step in clarifying the effects of changing climate on seabird population dynamics across Alaska. We can use what we’ve learned here to design detailed monitoring and to better anticipate population declines, improving managers' ability to protect vulnerable species."

Brünnich's Guillemot is one of the species not found to be struggling to adapt to the changing climate, and indeed may be benefiting (Ed Stubbs).

Important Greater Flamingo delta Saved

The Gediz Delta in Turkey, home to 10 per cent of the world’s Greater Flamingos, has been saved from a major highway construction project. 
The Administrative Court of Izmir Province recently halted the project to build a new bridge and motorway, which would have passed through critical habitats in the delta. The court concluded that the proposed development would have had irreversible and negative impacts on the bird populations in the Gediz Delta, which includes 15,000 nesting pairs of Greater Flamingos.

15,000 pairs of Greater Flamingo nest in the Gediz Delta, accounting for 10 per cent of the entire global population (David Dack).
A nationwide campaign spearheaded the court case, with Doga, the BirdLife partner in Turkey, producing strong scientific reason to cancel the project. The northern end of the proposed bridge was initially planned to be built in the middle of one of the most important areas in the delta, with Dalmatian Pelicans, Spur-winged Lapwings and Black-winged Stilts just some of the many waterbirds that nest there. 
The proposed project would have resulted in the direct loss of breeding islands for various species, as well as key foraging areas for the flamingos. Chairwoman of Doga, Dicle Tuba Kilic was understandably delighted: "It is fantastic news that the Administrative Court of Izmir Province cancelled this detrimental highway project, which would have severely threatened the Gediz Delta – we are very pleased to have achieved this conservation success.
"The decision to build a mega-bridge at this protected wetland came as a major surprise to the nature conservation community in Turkey, and we have used all legal instruments for the elimination of this major threat to the delta. We will continue to pursue better conservation of the Gediz Delta, until a stronger scheme is in place, and the area is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site."
The delta has been a Ramsar Site since 1998, and is one of the largest in the Mediterranean, extending over 40,000 hectares along the east coast of Izmir Bay, where the Gediz River meets the Aegean Sea. To date, 289 species of waterbirds have been recorded on the delta, and 80,000 birds use the site to winter.

The delta is an important breeding site for Dalmatian Pelican (Steve Minton).

Tawny Owl survey – can you help?

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is looking for volunteers to help with a Tawny Owl survey this autumn.
In an effort to obtain a better understanding of the distribution and changes in occupancy and population of the species, the BTO is asking if volunteers can spare a few hours between 15 August and 15 October to head out just after sunset and listen for the species, as part of its Tawny Owl Point Survey.
Because of their nocturnal habits, Tawny Owls are poorly scrutinised by the main BTO surveys, such as the Breeding Bird Survey. As a result, a specifically designed study is required to learn about trends in their population. Based on methodology from previous studies in 1989 and 2005, with a few changes to allow more flexibility for volunteers and to allow for more vigorous analytical methods to be used, the survey is easy to take part in.

Due to their nocturnal habits, Tawny Owls can be difficult to monitor (Kirk Macey).
The BTO is hoping for for good geographical coverage in Britain, though appreciates that some tetrads will be a challenge to reach. As well as recording any Tawny Owls heard, you can also list other owl species, plus some nocturnal birds, and mammals. Ideally, volunteers will make two evening visits per tetrad in relative succession, and listen for 20 minutes on each session (within two hours of sunset). For those difficult-to-access tetrads, a single visit, listening for 30 minutes, is permissible.
There are around 6,000 tetrads available, so there is plenty of opportunity to get involved. Take a look here to view a map of where the tetrads are and sign up to take part. You can monitor as many tetrads as you feel able to, and sign up for more over the course of the survey. There is more information on the Tawny Owl Point Survey available here.

The BTO's last specific Tawny Owl survey took place in 2005 (Paul Riddle).

Saker success in Bulgaria

A Saker Falcon nest has been found in Bulgaria for the first time in a decade, with two chicks having hatched and successfully fledged. The discovery was made by a team of conservationists from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and BirdLife Bulgaria. The finding has fuelled hoped that this globally Endangered raptor is on course to re-establish a breeding population in the eastern European country, following a recent reintroduction scheme.

Saker Falcon is an endangered species, with the global population undergoing a rapid decline (Natalino Fenech).
During the past few years, Green Balkans and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research have been leading the Saker Falcon reintroduction project in Bulgaria. In 2015, a number of birds were bred in captivity and released, following a programme to help them adapt to living in the wild. The newly discovered breeding pair was found to have originated from that scheme, with the male identified as ‘5E’ and the female as ‘5P’.
Saker Falcons were formerly abundant across Bulgaria, but they suffered a steep decline during the middle of the 20th century, with only one or two pairs estimated to be breeding by 2000. This decline mirrors a global drop in numbers and stems from a number of causes, including habitat destruction, intensive farming practices (and consequent food scarcity) and a nationwide persecution of birds of prey. However, the recent news is anticipated to be the first step towards re-establishing a sustainable breeding population across Bulgaria.
The BSPB is trying hard to mitigate the various threats the falcons face once they’re released, including nest robberies, illegal killing and electrocution on power lines. Working with local authorities, power companies and farmers means that the installation of artificial nests, cladding of power line poles with safety insulation and agri-environmental measures (such as the protection of hunting grounds) have all been achieved in Bulgaria.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

New rafts for Sussex terns

New tern rafts recently installed at Chichester Harbour, West Sussex, will help support three breeding species.
Chichester Harbour Conservancy has fitted the new tern rafts in Thorney Deep in order to assist with the nesting success of the local tern populations. Three species – Common, Little and Sandwich – breed in the harbour, and while the site has historically been productive for nesting terns, numbers have declined in recent years. Tidal flooding, human disturbance and predators such as foxes are listed as some of the threats the birds face, and emphasise the need for the rafts.
As many as 100 pairs of Common Terns nest in the harbour, with around 80 pairs of Sandwich Terns, while just a handful of Little Terns continue to breed following a recent drop in the number of nesting pairs across the site. The last species has experienced particularly poor breeding success in the harbour in recent years, though both Common and Sandwich have also struggled.

Little Terns have suffered from poor breeding seasons in Chichester Harbour during the last few years (Mike Trew).
Thorney Deeps is a large, semi-tidal lagoon separating Thorney Island from the mainland. The safety of the lagoon makes it an ideal breeding location for terns, and the rafts have been placed on relatively sheltered waters, allowing the birds easy access to feeding sites around both Langstone and Chichester Harbours.
The rafts, which were funded by Sussex Ornithological Society, are anticipated to have a positive effect on the terns' breeding success, with Chichester Harbour Conservancy Ecologist Peter Hughes commenting: "We hope that the terns will nest successfully on rafts in Chichester Harbour in the coming years, giving a major boost to the population in this special area. The rafts should also offer an excellent opportunity for the local community to see these fabulous birds up close."
Chichester Harbour is on the border of Hampshire and West Sussex, with Thorney Island, and indeed most of the harbour, sitting in the latter county. This area, Hayling Island to the west and the wider West Sussex coast east up to Pagham Harbour is particularly attractive to terns, and in the last couple of years has drawn in an excellent cast of rarer species, including Elegant, Roseate, Royal and White-winged.

Breeding Common Tern has declined in Chichester Harbour, but it remains the most numerous of the three species (Peter Garrity).

BTO surveyors uncover mammal population trends

Britain's mammals can often be very difficult to see, but an army of volunteer bird surveyors have shed light on their changing fortunes.
In a scientific paper just published in Biological Conservation, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) scientists reveal how and where numbers of nine UK mammal species are changing, using data collected by the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS).
Three of the four deer species monitored show increasing abundance across a significant part of their UK ranges, with only Red Deer appearing stable. One of the biggest surprises, however, is the large-scale declines noted in Red Fox populations in the countryside: in central-southern England and Wales between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of foxes have been lost in the last 20 years.

Though Red Fox has become a familiar sight in urban areas, data from BTO's Breeding Bird Survey suggests the species has declined by as much as 50 per cent in some rural parts of England and Wales (Chris Parker).
There is no single survey technique that adequately covers all of Britain's mammals, but having a robust assessment of their populations is a priority. Some species are known to cause problems for other species or to cause economic damage, while others are of conservation concern.
One way to achieve this is to tap into an existing monitoring framework, aimed at different taxa but through which additional data can be collected. This is already done by the volunteers participating in the BBS. This survey, which was launched in 1994 to monitor widespread breeding birds, has since been extended to include mammals. Robust mammal trends are now produced annually, for the UK, for the four individual countries and for nine English regions using data collected by BBS volunteers.
Dario Massimino, lead author on the paper, commented: "The results of this work demonstrate how, given a structured approach and an established network of keen volunteers, it is possible to produce valuable information on other species. Of course, there are strengths and limitations to adding a different group of species to an existing survey, but, as this paper demonstrates, the ability to monitor the changing status of nine mammal species provides much-needed information."

Corncrake project receives vital funding

Scottish Corncrakes have been given a boost thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The grant of £30,000 will help initiate a new project aimed at reversing the recent decline of the species following an increase in the 1990s and 2000s, which it is hoped will commence in January 2020.

The recent decline of the Scottish Corncrake population has been of great concern to the RSPB (Steven Fryer).
The project is called SCALE – Saving Corncrakes Through Advocacy, Land Management and Education – and the recent funding will allow RSPB Scotland to develop the scheme over the next year, ahead of an application for a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £370,000, which would trigger the start of the planned four-year mission.
A successful joint effort between conservationists, government, farmers and land managers, with the backing of EU funding, led to a steady overall increase of 480 Corncrakes in 1993 to a high of 1,289 in 2014, before the recent worrying decline – last year’s population survey, which was measured by the number of calling males, discovered that only 866 had been recorded, an alarming drop of 33 per cent since 2014.
Should full funding be obtained, it is planned that SCALE will focus on three key areas in order to secure the future of Corncrakes in Scotland. These include working with farmers and crofters by offering practical and financial support for actions such as delaying mowing dates, as well as the creation of rank, dense vegetation, which the species requires to nest. The engagement of local communities and schools with the bird is also a high priority, along with the formation of a platform to apply for long-term funding on a national level, in order to secure Corncrake's future in any post-Brexit agricultural policies. 
The Regional Conservation Manager of RSPB Scotland, Kenna Chisholm, said: "We’re delighted that SCALE has been awarded this crucial stage one funding, 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."
Sally Thomas, Scottish Natural Heritage Director of People and Nature, added: "This is an exciting opportunity to help increase the Corncrake population in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to helping support the project; it’s great to see that RSPB Scotland will be prioritising working with local communities to raise awareness of Corncrake-friendly land management practices."

Almost always heard before being seen, views of Corncrakes out in the open like this are rare (Jack Bucknall).

Roseate Terns return to Wales

Roseate Tern, the rarest breeding seabird in Britain, has successfully nested in Wales for the first time in over a decade.
Two chicks hatched on The Skerries, off Anglesey, this summer, with one having already successfully flown the nest. The last time Roseate Terns bred in Wales was 2006, when one chick fledged. The success has been greatly assisted by the EU-funded Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project, which provided additional funding to extend the islands' wardening season. The RSPB, BirdWatch Ireland and North Wales Wildlife Trust have all assisted with the five-year project, which is designed to protect current Roseate Tern colonies, as well as re-establish previous ones. 

Roseate Tern (Dave Williams).
The project helped provide nest boxes, which were strategically placed around The Skerries, while hand-made decoys and lures playing Roseate Tern calls were set up to attract passing birds to the colony. Currently, the entirety of the 116 breeding pairs in Britain are on Coquet Island, Northumberland, though the species was once widespread across Wales. The largest European population of Roseate Terns is found on Rockabill Island, Co Dublin, on the other side of the Irish Sea, and the future growth of that colony is likely to influence any future breeding pairs on The Skerries or elsewhere in Wales.
After the 12-year absence, Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project Manager Daniel Piec was understandably delighted: "We're ecstatic with news of Roseate Terns returning to breed on The Skerries. The work undertaken on the islands over previous years has been key to attracting them back. Thanks to the LIFE funding we are able to extend the wardening season to make sure that the chicks from this pair will successfully fledge, making it the first time on these islands since 2006."
RSPB Cymru Warden Ian Sims added: "The RSPB has been working to protect the seabirds on the Skerries for many years and when it comes to breeding Roseate Terns, they have quite a variable history. They last bred in 2006, when a pair fledged one chick, whilst in 2003 two pairs bred but failed to fledge any young. Nevertheless, this news cannot be overstated – especially given staff efforts over recent years, and we are optimistic of attracting more terns in the future."

Roseate Tern (Tony Hovell).

Severe Mountain Hare decline on grouse moors

Mountain Hare populations on Scottish grouse moors are at less than 1 per cent of original levels, RSPB Scotland has announced.
According to a newly published study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the RSPB, Mountain Hare numbers on moorlands in the eastern Highlands have dropped to a shocking less than 1 per cent of their initial levels. The study analysed spring counts of the hares over the last six decades on moors managed for Red Grouse shooting, and also on neighbouring mountain land, with a severe and sharp decline occurring in the former over the last 19 years.

Mountain Hare culling as a form of disease control, ostensibly to benefit Red Grouse, is part of the management of many estates (Paul Harris).
The study found that the Mountain Hare populations on moorland sites declined by roughly 5 per cent each year between 1954 and 1999, with this long-term population reduction thought to be due to changes in land use, including the planting of conifer plantations, and reflective of a much wider decline Mountain Hares are suffering across their range.
However, from 1999 to 2017, moorland Mountain Hare declines increased dramatically to more than 30 per cent each year, consequently leading to counts in 2017 of less than 1 per cent of the original levels in 1954. Intensive grouse moor management is the dominant land use in these sites, and it’s on such moors that unregulated hare culling is prominent. The culling is said to be a form of disease control, supposedly benefiting Red Grouse, and has become part of the management of many estates since the 1990s. Despite this, there is currently no evidence that hare culling has any beneficial impact on the total numbers of grouse shot.
On higher, alpine sites, Mountain Hare numbers have fluctuated, but since 2007 have generally increased, before declining again recently (though not to the current lows seen on moorland sites). Professor Jeremy Wilson, the RSPB's Head of Conservation Science in Scotland, who assisted in analysis of the data, explained: "The data reveals severe recent declines on grouse moors that are strongly correlated with the start of Mountain Hare culls, for which there is no clear scientific justification. Urgent action is needed if the future conservation status of Mountain Hares is to be secure."
Dr Adam Watson, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, added: "I am both delighted and relieved to see this paper published. Having counted Mountain Hares across the moors and high tops of the eastern Highlands since 1943, I find the decline of these beautiful animals both compelling and of great concern. We need the Scottish government and Scottish Natural Heritage to take action to help these iconic mammals of the hill – I hope they will listen to the voice of scientific research."
Duncan Orr Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, called for a control of hare culling: "We consider that large-scale population reduction culls are both illegal under EU law and unwarranted as a method for controlling grouse disease. Management of this species should now be more tightly controlled by Scottish Natural Heritage to safeguard Mountain Hare populations. We expect this subject to be given thorough consideration by the current independent grouse moor enquiry, which is looking at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law."

Young eagles take to the skies of Orkney

Following June's news that White-tailed Eagles were again breeding in Orkney, the RSPB has confirmed that two juveniles have now fledged – the first to do so on the isles for almost 150 years.
The discovery was made by two RSPB Scotland volunteers, Katharine Stark and Janet Yeung, when they saw both chicks in flight as they arrived in Hoy for Wednesday's Eaglewatch – an event that has been running every day to help locals and visitors enjoy seeing the birds.
Katharine commented: "It was magnificent to see the eagles soaring through the sky, especially knowing how long it has been since the last time. We spoke to lots of locals and tourists throughout the day and everyone was thrilled. There has been a nervous excitement in the air since the chicks hatched but now we can all breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate."

Adult and juvenile White-tailed Eagles, Mull, Argyll (Debra Pickering).
This remarkable conservation success story has occurred exactly 100 years since White-tailed Eagle were extirpated from Britain, when the last known bird was shot in Shetland in 1918.
Two formal reintroductions were carried out on Rum (1975-85) and Wester Ross (1993-98), releasing a total of 140 birds. The first pair bred successfully on Mull in 1985 and have since gone on to establish an increasing breeding population on the west coast of Scotland. A third reintroduction phase took place on the east coast of Scotland between 2007 and 2012, releasing 85 birds. In 2013, White-tailed Eagles bred in eastern Scotland for the first time in 200 years.
The reintroduction was achieved thanks to many partners, primarily RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish government, with the assistance of farmers, landowners, private forestry and the Government of Norway, who donated the original chicks. There are now more than 100 breeding pairs in Scotland.
Although White-tailed Eagles have bred successfully and broadened their range, they were absent from Orkney until a pair of adults first appeared in 2013. It is not known whether the Hoy birds came from the Scottish mainland or if they travelled from Scandinavia. Their arrival led to unsuccessful breeding attempts in 2015 and 2016, before the pair abandoned the territory in 2017. However, the female returned this year with a new, younger male.
Hopes were high when the adults showed signs of incubating, with it later confirmed that there was a chick in the nest. This marked the first eagle chick hatching in Orkney for 145 years. In the weeks since, it became apparent that there were two chicks, as both became increasingly visible in their nest on the Dwarfie Hamars.
White-tailed Eagle is Britain's largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of up to 2.5 m. The species has long been a part of Orkney's history, with evidence of their bones being buried alongside humans as long as 5,000 years ago.
Ian McNab, Events and Communications Officer for RSPB Scotland, said: "We were expecting them to stay in the nest for another week or two, as their first flight was from a precariously high cliff. However, both chicks are looking strong as they made their way up and beyond the Hamars. It's quite common for birds of prey to stay within the territory for a while after they have fledged, so hopefully we will be able to enjoy watching them for some time yet."
RSPB Scotland runs Eaglewatch every day between 11 am and 4 pm in the Dwarfie Stone car park, giving visitors the chance to see and learn more about the eagles.

Nightjars back at RSPB headquarters

After an absence of 45 years, European Nightjar has bred again at RSPB headquarters at The Lodge, Bedfordshire.
In early June a churring male was discovered on an area of restored heathland at the nature reserve. After that, a female appeared and the pair was seen displaying together, which suggested an intention to breed. The site last held breeding nightjars in 1973. Confirmation of whether or not the birds have successfully reared young, and if so how many, will have to wait until after they’ve finished nesting, but the breeding attempt is positive news for the RSPB following on-site conservation efforts.

The heathland restoration at The Lodge has been key to the return of breeding European Nightjars to the site (Steve Ray).
Peter Bradley, Senior Site Manager at The Lodge, expressed his delight: "We're over the moon, not only because these birds have returned and appear to be breeding for the first time in so many years, but also because they’ve chosen to nest on a part of the reserve where we set about recreating the kind of heathland habitat used by nesting European Nightjars that has been lost."
The RSPB bought 59 hectares of forestry land adjacent to The Lodge in 2003 and began restoring the area back to heathland. Over the course of two winters, the non-native commercial forest trees were felled and heather was sown using seed from existing heathland on the reserve. Nightjars haven't been the only good news story since the restoration either, with Woodlarks and Natterjack Toads among the other beneficiaries.
The nightjars were monitored by a band of volunteers, who also ensured disturbance was prevented. Peter Bradley was particularly grateful for their efforts and added: "Thanks to the dedication of the fantastic group of volunteers we have been able to carry out watches each evening to monitor the birds' nesting progress, engage with birdwatchers, and prevent disturbance."
According to the RSPB, numbers of European Nightjars in the UK have declined steadily since the 1930s, largely due to loss of habitat, but their population has seen a small recovery recently, rising from an estimated 3,900 males in 2009 to the current number of 4,600. Southern England is the stronghold, and the key areas being the New Forest, the heathlands of Dorset and Surrey, and Thetford Forest in Suffolk.

The pair was seen displaying, but confirmation of nesting success is still awaited (Paul Leafe).

First confirmed breeding of Golden Nightjar in the Western Palearctic

Golden Nightjar was recorded for the first time in the Western Palearctic (WP) region as recently as May 2015, when a male was unfortunately hit by a car and killed along the road to Aoussard, Western Sahara.
At first it was assumed that this might be a vagrant, although in March 2016 an unusual, repetitive call was heard at night by German birders at Oued Jenna, along the Aoussard road, not far from where the 2015 record had been made. It was initially thought possibly to be a Red-necked Nightjar, but this was subsequently dispelled on their return home, the call clearly identified as belonging to Golden Nightjar. Just days later, BiOME researchers found three territorial male Golden Nightjars in the same area.
It has subsequently become established that the species is evidently regular, if not resident in the right habitat in Western Sahara, with multiple birds observed between February and May each year, and at multiple sites some distance from each other. Furthermore, in April 2016, Eric Didner visited northern Mauritania and found at least one male in the large wadi north-east of Ouadâne, just north of the 21°N line that defines the southern boundary of the WP (as defined by The Birds of the Western Palearctic), with birds observed again there in April 2017.

Golden Nightjar habitat north-east of Ouadâne, Mauritania, April 2018. The birds appeared to prefer scrubby patches intermixed with more open, sandy areas, generally keeping away from the large acacias (Josh Jones).
Although the continued presence of the species at multiple sites across Western Sahara and northern Mauritania strongly suggests that it is breeding, reproduction had not been confirmed until this spring, when a team of five birders, including myself, chanced upon a nest just a few hundred metres north of the 21°N border near Ouadâne, Mauritania.
At dusk on 18 April, during a concerted effort to locate Golden Nightjars, Dan Pointon picked up a male giving snippets of song around 200 m to the south of our camp. With the five members of the team widely scattered in the wadi, it took the best part of 30 minutes for us all to reconvene at the spot. Although the bird didn't sing again, scanning with torches eventually picked up eyeshine and we went on to enjoy crippling views of the nightjar actively hunting crickets to within 10 m of where we were stood. Curiously, it would sit on the floor, scanning for food items, before jumping and fluttering up to a metre or more in the air to catch its prey.
We returned to the same area before dawn on 19th to find the bird again singing. However, it proved far less confiding than the previous evening and ranged widely, rarely settling in one place for long. With first light upon us, we figured the nightjar would be roosting close to where we last heard it, so we set about checking under small bushes in the unlikely event that we'd find it. Given how fanciful the idea of locating a roosting nightjar in a huge area of habitat seemed, it was with incredulity that Dan found a bird sat under just the second bush he checked, staring back at him from a few metres' range.
The nightjar flew and Bob Swann, who was close to Dan, immediately went to check the spot in case there was a nest. To his amazement, there was indeed a 'nest' – little more than an undecorated scrape in the sand – bearing a single egg. The adult bird was sat under a nearby bush and so we soon retreated after taking a few photos of the egg and nest, allowing it to fly back in and recommence incubation while we watched. Flight views of the adult showed it to have buff tips to the tail, making it a female – we assumed that the male must be roosting close by, though we didn't see it.

Golden Nightjar nest, Ouadâne, Mauritania, 19 April 2018. Note the footprints of the adult bird leading to and from the nest, which is little more than a shallow depression in the ground (Josh Jones).

Incubating female Golden Nightjar, Ouadâne, Mauritania, 19 April 2018. Photographed with a 400 mm lens from a safe distance, after it had returned to the nest (Josh Jones).
Then, on 19-20 April, we visited the large wadi and oasis at El Beyed, some 60 km north-north-east of Ouadâne. Although quite heavily grazed, plenty more suitable Golden Nightjar habitat occurs here and we duly found at least two birds: a female, presumably just leaving its roost, flew past our camp at dusk on 19th and at least one male was heard singing that night. Then, the following morning, we found what must have been the same female roosting under small bushes right next to our camp, this bird allowing us to enjoy extraordinary and prolonged views. This represents a new site for the species and further reinforces our belief that Golden Nightjar must be quite widespread, even locally common, in the right habitat across the region.
A full documentation of the breeding occurrence will appear in a forthcoming issue of Dutch Birding. For more photos of Golden Nightjars, please visit the Mauritania gallery on my website.

Golden Nightjar, El Beyed, Mauritania, 20 April 2018 (Josh Jones)