Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Japanese environment minister urges review of windfarm project

There are fears that replacing turbines at a windfarm in the north of Hokkaido, Japan, could pose significant problems for wintering eagles, with Japanese environment minister Yoshiaki Harada recently calling for a review of the proposal over the potential for bird strikes.
The Eurus Soya Misaki Windfarm, at Wakkanai on Cape Soya, produced an environmental impact assessment of its planned project, but Harada has urged a thorough review of the proposals. Both Steller's Sea and White-tailed Eagles winter in Cape Soya in significant numbers and – furthermore – the turbines would also be situated in the middle of an important migratory flyway for various waterbirds.

Hokkaido is an internationally important wintering ground for Steller's Sea Eagle (Josh Jones).
Between 2007 and 2016 some 10 White-tailed Eagles were found dead beneath the current turbines, as they collided with the blades. Tokyo-based Eurus Energy Holdings Corporation began operation of the windfarm in 2005 and currently has 57 turbines, with a total power output of 57,000 kilowatts. The proposal lays out that all existing turbines would be removed and replaced with 15 turbines in the 4,000-kilowatt class.
In the statement issued by Harada, it was acknowledged that the turbines "contribute to the widespread use of renewable energy and are desirable as a measure against global warming". However, it also pointed out the fear that the new machinery will continue to have a grave impact on birds, and indeed could increase the number of fatalities. The demands Harada put forward include not installing new turbines in places where eagles and other birds tend to fly, as well as adopting measures such as identifying migration paths and predicting the effect of the project.
The environment minister also submitted a written opinion in August calling for a drastic review of a windfarm project in north-eastern Iwate, on Japan's main island of Honshu, by Eurus Energy Holdings, due to concerns over bird strikes involving Golden Eagles.

No fewer than 10 White-tailed Eagles were found dead at the Cape Soya windfarm between 2007 and 2016, having collided with the turbines (Josh Jones).

Bird carcasses found as part of suspected poisoning attempt

An investigation has been launched after a number of Red-legged Partridge carcasses were discovered 'pegged up' as part of an apparent trap in Northern Ireland. As well as the partridges, raw meat – seemingly burgers – were left out in what's believed to be an attempt to poison wildlife. The discovery was made in the Victoria Road area of Derry, according to The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
PSNI has consequently appealed for any information and have said that the carcasses and raw meat were being examined to find out "what surprises" had been left on them. It has also confirmed the belief that the trap was set up specifically to target wildlife, although exactly what species were in mind remains unclear.
In its latest bird crime report, the RSPB confirmed five cases of bird persecution in Northern Ireland in 2017, including one incident in Co Derry. However, Mick Conway – who works at Roe Valley Country Park in Co Derry – believed it may have been set to poison mammals and said: "Foxes and badgers are targeted a lot, more than people might realise."
A PSNI spokesperson commented: "The current popular poisons used for wildlife crime are toxic to humans and potentially fatal to children. It beggars belief that these have been left in a public place where kids could pick them up. An investigation has commenced, the reference number is CCS 1208 16/2/19 anyone with any information please ring 101."

The poisoned partridges and raw meat were found hanging above the ground (Facebook/ PSNI Foyle).

Heather burning sparks investigation into grouse-shooting estates

Five grouse-shooting estates are to be investigated after they allegedly continued burning heather, despite voluntarily committing to stop the practice. Natural England is looking into allegations – based on evidence provided by eyewitness accounts from Friends of the Earth (FoE) – that the estates have repeatedly burned heather on their land to maximise the number of Red Grouse for shooting.
Last year, the owners of the estates had voluntarily committed to ending heather burning following the threat of a compulsory ban. However, following the recent evidence, Natural England said in a statement that it had been "investigating a number of reported incidents of burning taking place in upland areas. In a number of situations, we found that no further action was required. In others, we will continue further investigations and discussions concerning the management of these sites."

The five estates volunteered to cease heather burning last year (Dave Ward).
Burning heather, or rotational burning of blanket bog (which is a globally threatened habitat), is carried out to expose new heather shoots, a food source which attracts grouse. The watchdog's investigation comes after Michael Gove was accused of letting the owners of large grouse moors off the hook over the practice. The owners face the threat of a compulsory ban after the European Commission launched an investigation into whether the UK Government was failing to protect blanket bog habitats.
The Moorland Association released a statement on behalf of the five estates and organisations director Amanda Anderson said that where heather burning has taken place over blanket bog, it was to remove overgrown vegetation to enable the blanket bog to recover in accordance with government-endorsed guidance. The five estates are the Grimwith estate in the Yorkshire Dales, Midhope Moor, Hurst and Chunal Moors, and Moscar Estate in the Peak District, and West Arkengarthdale in the north Pennines. A sixth estate – Walshaw Moor, Yorkshire – is also under investigation by Natural England.
FoE campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "Burning moorland on rare blanket bogs wrecks ecosystems, worsens flooding downstream, and helps fuel climate change by causing the UK's biggest carbon store to go up in smoke. But the government’s efforts to get wealthy grouse moor owners to give up this archaic practice voluntarily have clearly not worked. The evidence we've gathered shows landowners are continuing to set protected moorland ablaze in breach of their own pledges."

Ravens found poisoned on Welsh-English border

An investigation is taking place after 10 dead Ravens and a Carrion Crow were found on farmland near Beguildy. West Mercia Police are looking into the gruesome discovery – which also contained parts of a dead lamb – with the incident reported to the RSPB back in April 2018. Following toxicology tests, the presence of Diazinon – a veterinary product which is known to be used illegally to poison wildlife – was detected.
It's believed the lamb carcass was deliberately laced with Diazinon for this purpose and Jenny Shelton, RSPB Investigations, said: "Shropshire has a history of Diazinon abuse for the purpose of illegally targeting birds of prey and other protected species. We are grateful to Natural England and the police for investigating this matter, which poses a serious threat to wildlife and people.
"Ravens are incredibly intelligent creatures, able solve problems and form memories similar to our own. These once-scarce birds are gradually starting to recover after persistent persecution at the hands of humans, so it’s disturbing to hear of incidents like this still taking place.
"This area is also a stronghold for Red Kites – another bird making a comeback after disappearing entirely from England due to persecution. Poison baits pose a danger to these birds too. These investigations take time, as do the toxicology tests, and we realise there has been some delay in publicising this. But we feel this is an important story to tell."

Shropshire has a history of illegal poisoning incidents (RSPB).
If you have any information relating to this incident, call West Mercia Police on 101. Furthermore, the RSPB is urging people to be vigilant and report dead birds of prey or Ravens this spring – a key time of year for illegal poisoning to take place. If you find a dead bird of prey or Raven beside a carcass that could be a poison bait, contact the government hotline on 0800 321600. Alternatively contact the police on 101 or RSPB investigations on 01767 680551.

Plastic chemicals found in Arctic seabird eggs

The discovery of plastic chemicals inside the eggs of seabirds nesting in remote Arctic colonies is further evidence that plastic pollution reaches the remotest parts of the planet and scientists are alarmed by the traces of phthalates – hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children's toys.
These dangerous substances are frequently applied to plastic products – including bottle tops – and they're often taken by seabirds that mistake them for food. The traces of plastic were discovered in a colony of Northern Fulmars at Lancaster Sound – some 160 km away from the nearest human settlement. Despite the study revealing that just one egg in five held the substance, it's likely the problem is far more common than this ratio suggests.

The Northern Fulmar colony studied was 160 km from any human civilisation (Derek Lees).
Dr Jennifer Provencher, from the Canadian Wildlife Service, said: "These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic. Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals. We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg."
It's likely that if the tests took place in the North Sea – where plastic consumption if a lot more frequent – the results would show the problem to be far greater. In another study, Dr Provencher and her colleagues examined the eggs of both Northern Fulmars and Kittiwakes and found traces of more chemicals, such as UV stabilisers and antioxidants.
Once the birds have consumed plastic, they're often too big to pass through their digestive systems meaning they sit in their stomachs, leaching out chemicals which can pass into developing eggs. As a result, it's essential to establish how widespread this problem is and whether the chemicals were causing the birds harm.
Dr Alex Bond, a conservation biologist from the Natural History Museum, said this data provided "another example of the often-invisible impacts that plastics can have on wildlife". The belief among experts is that plastic is not just deadly, but also poses longer-term threats, with changes in animals' behaviour and instincts a possible outcome.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Beaked whales' remarkable diving abilities revealed

A new study has provided the first detailed record of the diving behaviour of Cuvier's Beaked Whales in US Atlantic waters.
Cuvier's Beaked Whales is the world's deepest-diving mammal, but studies of their behaviour are constrained by the animals' offshore location and limited time spent at the surface. 
The new data, published in Royal Society Open Science, recorded from almost 6,000 dives of tagged whales off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, showcases the remarkable diving abilities of the whales, and provides new clues as to how they make a living at the extremes of depth and cold.
It found that the deep dives average around 1,400 metres and last about an hour as they feed near the sea floor. Even more remarkably, the whales only spend two minutes at the surface between dives. Jeanne Shearer, a doctoral student in ecology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, commented: "It's amazing that they can dive to such depths, withstand the pressure, and be down there that long, with such brief recovery times."

The study found that Cuvier's Beaked Whales routinely divered to 1,400 m below sea level, only spending two minutes at the surface between dives (Emmanuel Baltasar).
To conduct the study, scientists attached LIMPET satellite-linked tags to 11 individual whales that live and dive most of the year in waters a two-hour boat ride from Cape Hatteras. One tag failed, but the other 10 recorded 3,242 hours of behavioural data from 5,926 individual dives – both deep and shallow – between 2014 and 2016.
Aside from the extremely deep dives that the whales make, the data showed that they dive nearly continually, with deep dives followed by three to four shallow dives that extend to around 300 metres. How they continuously dive to these depths without long recovery periods is still a mystery to scientists.
Past studies have documented the diving behaviour of the species in Pacific waters, Italy, and the Bahamas, but this is the first one focused in the US Atlantic. Scientists estimate about 6,500 Cuvier's Beaked Whales live in the north-west Atlantic. Populations in different areas exhibit some differences in diving behaviour, highlighting the need for data from around the world.
Shearer explained: "Cuvier's Beaked Whales are only half the size of Sperm Whales. Their dives push the limits of mammalian physiology, but we still don't know how they're able to behave this way."
Aside from adding to our knowledge of the species' remarkable diving capability, the findings provide a baseline for controlled experiments, now underway at Duke, to study their reactions to low levels of sonar.
"It's important to understand their typical diving behaviour in order to interpret the results of behavioural response studies," added Shearer. "These animals are fascinating and there is so much we still don't know about their behaviour and physiology."

Top scientists call for conservation research recognition

Leading scientists from BirdLife International, RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggest that the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – the Government body that funds biodiversity research in the UK – should channel more resources to NGOs and charities. The proposal is based on independent statistics that demonstrate these groups are constructing science with high societal impact, which in turn should be reflected in the funding format.
A way of measuring the significance of research made by the three organisations can be found on the Web of Science, which publishes statistics on how many times published scientific papers are cited by other researchers. According to these figures, BirdLife ranks first in the number of average citations per environment/ecology paper, with the RSPB and BTO fourth and sixth respectively.  

The BTO has long conducted valuable research. One recent paper examines the contrasting fortunes of Little Ringed (pictured) and Ringed Plover (Fionn Moore).
Andy Clements, Chief Executive at BTO, said: "The importance of research undertaken by NGOs is further emphasised by the value for money it represents. Much of our science is driven by the observations of citizen scientists working in partnership with professional research scientists – a powerful combination for decision-makers and society alike."
Despite these statics, during the last five years, only 0.025 per cent of the £1.86 billion in government funding for environmental research through NERC was granted to the BTO, RSPB and BirdLife. As a result, the scientists argue that NERC should reconsider its reviewing system so that more weight can be given to the societal significance of proposed papers rather than simply scientific originality.
Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International said: "Given that one of NERC's strategic aims is to support research with the greatest societal impact, and given the statistics show that papers from the NGOs undertaking this sort of research are cited more highly than those of nearly all UK universities, perhaps a rethink is needed. Establishing directed funding streams for biodiversity conservation research, or giving greater weight to potential relevance for society when deciding which research to fund, would help NERC to meet its aims more effectively. Even a fractional adjustment could substantially strengthen UK research on biodiversity conservation issues, and benefit nature worldwide."
David Gibbons, Head of RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, added: "It is really encouraging to see that the investment of nature conservation NGOs in science is having such an impact. Yet we must not be complacent as wildlife is still being lost at an unprecedented rate. The UK government could help greatly by ensuring more funding is directed to nature conservation."

Grant set to boost Welsh woodland birds

A new charity has been awarded a grant to help install 100 nestboxes in the Amman Valley, Carmarthenshire.
The Initiative for Nature Conservation Cymru (INCC) Community Connections Project has been awarded match funding of £3,231 from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA), with £2,785 of it available this year to help volunteers make the boxes. They will then be strategically placed in Cwmamman Woodlands and are expected to be used by species such as Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.

Despite a long-term decline, Wales remains a Pied Flycatcher stronghold due to its preferred habitat of upland oak woodland (Michael A Eccles).
The project will with local volunteers and community groups to build and then install the specially designed boxes, with Pied Flycatcher one of the highest priority species. Deborah Perkin, Chair of the SDF committee, said: "We are always delighted to see new groups forming across the National Park to support our wildlife and our communities. 
It's particularly pleasing to see the charity's partnership with Cwmamman Town Council and their excellent woodworking facilities. Making bird boxes and monitoring the birds that use them is vital conservation work, and I'm sure it will be hugely enjoyable for all the volunteers involved."
Once the boxes are up and occupied the charity will begin monitoring which species are using them, as well as keeping tabs on other wildlife activity in Cwmamman Woodlands. The data will feed back to BBNPA ecologists and – next year – a further £446 will be available to host guided walks and evaluate the impact of the project.
Chief Executive of INCC Rob Parry said: "The oak woodlands of the Amman Valley should be an ideal habitat for Pied Flycatchers and other migratory and resident bird species. Thanks to the partnership, INCC can now celebrate the wildlife of the valley with the local communities and help them take a leading role in the nature conservation of the area."
Robert Venus, Community Development Officer for Cwmamman Town Council, added: "We're very pleased to be working with INCC in the delivery of this project. I feel it will have a significant impact on the future sustainability of our ecology and support community well-being through interaction with our greatest asset."

Major funding scheme launched for Scottish nature

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued a call for ambitious ideas to improve habitats, safeguard species and encourage increased access to nature as a new fund of up to £2 million to protect and enhance Scotland's nature was launched. 
The money will be available through the two-year Biodiversity Challenge Fund, which was announced in the Scottish Government's programme for government last year. The first year of the fund is now open, with up to £1 million of investment available in 2019/20.
The funding will support large-scale projects that aim to deliver rapid change on the ground to increase the health and resilience of Scotland's natural environment. SNH is particularly seeking innovative ideas that will help our most at-risk habitats and species, including mammals and birds, connect existing nature reserves and protected areas and tackle invasive species.

The newly available funding will help preserve and enhance nature and the enviornment in Scotland, in turn boosting rare species such as Crested Tit (Damian Money).
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham launched the fund at SNH's Loch Leven National Nature Reserve, where she joined volunteers planting native broadleaf trees to attract Red Squirrels. She said: "Scotland is leading the way with work to protect our natural environment and we are committed to doing more to safeguard our biodiversity, species and habitats.
"I'm delighted to launch this new fund of up to £2 million, which should enable the creation and improvement of habitats across the country, providing vital support to some of our most vulnerable wildlife, as well as encouraging people to access and enjoy Scotland's incredible natural resources."

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham launches the fund at SNH's Loch Leven National Nature Reserve.
SNH Chief Executive Francesca Osowska added: "Our nature – from the green spaces in our towns and cities to our remote and wild mountains, islands, coasts and seas – is a precious national asset and a big part of what makes Scotland so special.
"Scotland has been recognised as a global front-runner for our efforts to tackle biodiversity loss and safeguard our natural heritage, with notable improvements to our marine environment, peatlands, rivers and woodlands in recent years.
"I'm proud of the progress that has been made, but we are not complacent in the face of ongoing challenges such as climate change, habitat loss and invasive non-native species.
"This significant new investment will step up action by supporting ambitious projects to deliver concrete results and help protect our country's incredible natural resources for future generations."

New Zealand gull suffers huge declines

In New Zealand, Red-billed Gull colonies have undergone "unbelievable declines", with others disappearing altogether over the past few decades, though there is little public sympathy for the species, which is often deemed a pest.
Red-billed Gull was formerly considered a species in its own right, but is now usually treated as a subspecies of Silver Gull. It is found only in New Zealand, where is particularly prominent in costal urban areas, with a bold and loud nature. However, it's estimated that just 27,800 breeding pairs remain and the main offshore breeding colonies have suffered population plummets of 80 to 100 per cent since the mid-1960s.
Graeme Taylor, Seabird Scientist at the New Zealand Department of Conservation, said: "Red-billed Gulls have bad press because they are too friendly and too aggressive, they do not endear themselves to people. People see these big groups of birds hanging around for food and think 'they're fine' – it is very hard to break that perception. But in reality, they have had quite a substantial decline and [this] is ongoing."

Only one Red-billed Gull colony is considered to be thriving in New Zealand (Richard Collier).
Three main factors are contributing to the decreasing numbers of Red-billed Gull. Fish stocks are plunging, with changing marine conditions and intensive fishing resulting in less food for chicks. Additionally, coastal grounds which have been converted to support livestock and agriculture have threatened their natural breeding grounds. Furthermore, introduced pests – such as stoats and rats – eating young has further decimated an already vulnerable population.
To adapt to this increasingly challenging landscape, the gulls have become excellent scavengers. However, even that poses issues with improved waste management storage and facilities mean the there's less rubbish to consume than ever before. On top of this, young birds that grow up being fed by people at the height of summer often die when winter nears, as they never learn the skills to forage in the ocean.
Despite these problems, the protection afforded at the Royal Albatross Centre, at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula, could simultaneously help Red-billed Gull. Extensive predator control work to protect Northern Royal Albatrosses has also benefited the local gull population and there are now some 2,000 nesting pairs at the colony, though it's poignant that this is the only thriving colony in New Zealand.
Hoani Langsbury, Manager of the Royal Albatross Centre, said: "These aren't a pest, they are a key part of the marine environment out here on the edge of the Pacific. Stealing chips from humans is a learned behaviour. We;re in discussions with schools at the moment to try and improve relations between young people and the seagull population. This is their natural environment – it is us that have to adapt to them. The seagull is inherent to the character of our beaches. It would seem a quiet, deserted sort of place if they were to disappear."

Seized raptor eggs successfully hatch

The International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Gloucestershire has successfully hatched and raised several of the birds of prey smuggled into Britain by Jeffrey Lendrum – the self-proclaimed "Pablo Escobar of the falcon egg trade" – who was arrested at Heathrow Airport in June 2018 with £120,000 worth of rare birds' eggs. 
ICBP now has three Cape Vultures, reclassified as Endangered four years ago, with only one other centre in England known to have the species. Eggs belonging to other species, including African Fish Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk and African Hawk-Eagle, were among those also successfully hatched.

Only two centres in England are home to Cape Vulture (Bill Pickard).
Lendrum had attempted to smuggle 19 eggs from South Africa by strapping to his chest in a sling hidden beneath a heavy coat, but was caught by customs officials and sentenced, despite claiming the eggs were collected for "research". Holly Cale, ICBP Curator, said: "We have never had Cape Vultures ... so this is another species we are able to learn about and study. It's something that is likely to attract a lot of interest once visitors get to know about them."
Jemima Parry-Jones, director of the ICBP, added: "This kind of crime is heart-breaking because it puts everybody like us into disrepute and at the same time Lendrum impacting the wild bird population in its native countries by depleting it. On 26 June 2018 we had a call from customs saying they had stopped someone at Heathrow with 19 fertile eggs strapped to his body. Two had already hatched by the time we got there and one Black Sparrowhawk was broken in Lendrum's body pouch."
"An African Fish Eagle died three days after hatching due to a yolk infection so we were left with 17 birds altogether. We collected them in a portable incubator and brought them back to an incubator at the centre until they started to hatch. They were then fed three times a day and weighed. Now they have grown, the birds are fed once a day.”
Although hand-reared – and therefore able to live only in captivity – it is hoped any offspring they produce will eventually be released back into their native environment in southern Africa.

Space running out as Kakapo numbers explode

With 2019 set to be a bumper breeding season for Kākāpō, space is running out on the predator-free islands which play host to its burgeoning population.
The birds have started breeding earlier than expected, with the first chicks of the season having already hatched. New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) Kākāpō Operations Manager Deidre Vercoe says 2019 is shaping up to be by far the biggest Kākāpō breeding season on record, with almost every breeding-age female expected to lay eggs. She explained: "So far, things have got off to a great start with the birds mating earlier than expected.
"Unfortunately, fertility has been particularly poor this year, potentially due to the number of young males breeding for the first time. Less than half of these eggs will hatch into a Kākāpō chick, and not every hatched chick will make it to adulthood.
"However, we're still hoping for anywhere between 30 and 50 chicks. With a population of 147 adults, this will be a huge boost for this taonga."

Kakapo is currently listed as Critically Endangered, but targeted conservation appears to be paying dividends (Jake Osborne via Flickr).
As of 8 February, 151 eggs had been laid. This is in contrast with 2016, when only 122 eggs were laid during the whole season. The current population of Kākāpō lives offshore on small, predator-free islands such as Whenua Hou, Pukenui and Hauturu.
With a population boost expected, the DOC is now facing the problem of where to place the new arrivals. Kākāpō Ranger Bronwyn Jeynes said they have their eyes on a few options and are weighing up the pros and cons of each island: "The islands are full. We have to find new homes that are predator free, as Kākāpō have real trouble surviving in locations with introduced predators."
She added that the mainland would be an option in the future if the population continued to rise.
Due to the birds beginning breeding so early, the team are moving eggs and chicks to be hand reared in an effort to encourage 'double clutching' – meaning they could nest twice in one season. DOC's Kākāpō Recovery Programme has been working on innovative new approaches to improve the breeding success of the Critically Endangered parrot. Two such projects are 'Smart Eggs' and an assisted breeding programme. Both projects are experimental in their nature, but have the potential to dramatically increase the success of Kākāpō breeding.

Kakapo is a flightless parrot; its name comes from the Māori word 'Kākāpō', meaning "night parrot" (Jake Osborne via Flickr).
Assisted breeding is essentially a helping hand for Kākāpō to ensure that the species is getting the most out of the breeding season. It involves semen collection, sperm analysis and artificial insemination. This is to ensure that all founders are genetically represented, and also to increase fertility, since multiple matings greatly increases the likelihood that a female will have fertile eggs. Assisted breeding allows conservationists to replicate this with females who don't choose to mate multiple times themselves. These efforts will focus mainly on any second clutches.
Smart Eggs are 3D-printed eggs that mimic the sounds that would come from a real Kākāpō egg just prior to hatching, which helps Kākāpō mums better prepare for the arrival of their chick, thus improving the care they get in those critical first days.
You can follow the latest on the breeding season (including regular mating and egg updates) through the Kākāpō Recovery Facebook Page or sign up to the Kākāpō Recovery enewsletter.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Northern Goshawk photo ID guide

An encounter with either of Britain's two Accipiter hawk species is always an exciting moment. However, although Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Northern Goshawk are often straightforward to identify on a good view, a brief or distant sighting can be deceptive, particularly for those unfamiliar with the larger species. As a result, Eurasian Sparrowhawk is frequently misidentified as Northern Goshawk in Britain.

Northern Goshawk (The Netherlands, 28 December 2014). An encounter with an Accipiter is always exciting. This hunting Northern Goshawk is causing a typical panic, scattering Woodpigeons and Stock Doves in all directions (Ran Schols /

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

This feisty small Accipiter is widespread in the Palearctic, its range stretching from the Canary Islands and Madeira in the west to Kamchatka in the Russian Far East. It occurs throughout Britain and is, along with Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel, one of our commonest raptors. It is largely resident, although there is some evidence of limited immigration from the continent.
Encounters are typically brief, most frequently seen hunting low and fast along woodland edges and roadside hedges but also in gardens. This is the ultimate ambush predator of small birds, relying on surprise and the speed of its pursuit. It will even chase small birds on foot. In early spring, however, Eurasian Sparrowhawks can be seen displaying high over their breeding woodlands, allowing a more extended view.
This is a small raptor, most similar in size to a kestrel, though – as in all birds of prey – the females are larger than the males. The Accipiter shape is very distinctive, with short and broad wings with a strongly rounded wing-tip – ideal for rapid manouevring in confined spaces. When not hunting, the flight lacks the aerial mastery of the falcons and appears a little weak – a very characteristic ‘flap, flap, glide'.
Apart from the wing shape, typical components of Eurasian Sparrowhawk's silhouette are a small head, long tail (longer than the breadth of the wings) which is rather narrow at the base and has quite 'square' corners. The main confusion risk lies with the larger female. Although not truly of Northern Goshawk size, they can sometimes appear strangely large, particularly when displaying. At such times, the slow, ponderous wing beat and the expanded white undertail coverts can create the impression of a much larger bird.
A normal Eurasian Sparrowhawk view reveals little plumage detail but, if seen well, the adult males are beautifully blue-grey above and delicately barred rusty-orange below with orange on the cheeks also. Adult females are drabber, brown-grey above and barred brown below. Juveniles are brown above with subtle dark bands across the upperwings in flight, and are marked with coarse brown transverse barring on the underparts.

Northern Goshawk

This species has an even larger range than Eurasian Sparrowhawk, occurring throughout the Holarctic. This is, however, a much rarer bird in Britain, with a population of just a few hundred pairs. It is unfortunately a heavily persecuted raptor and would otherwise certainly be more widespread.
This is a forest-dweller rather than a bird of open country, so casual encounters with hunting Northern Goshawks are infrequent. This is a species best sought on sunny, breezy days in late winter and early spring when birds display over breeding territories. Once the display period is over, they seem to melt away once more, remaining for much of their time beneath the woodland canopy. The species is resident here and is rarely sighted away from its breeding areas. Records of the species elsewhere, therefore, demand particular scrutiny.
This is a much larger species than Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The males having the sam size wingspan as a Carrion Crow, while that of the females is similar to that of Common Buzzard. Judging size on a lone bird in the sky is difficult, however, and, as noted above, female Eurasian Sparrowhawks can appear disconcertingly large.
Northern Goshawks are best identified on structure. Compared with Eurasian Sparrowhawk, they are larger headed, longer necked and heavier bodied, while the wing structure differs too, being longer, with a longer 'arm', a more pointed 'hand' and bulging secondaries forming a slight 'S' curve in the rear edge of the wing. There are differences in the tail, too, which appears slightly shorter (comparable to the wing breadth), broader based and has rather rounded corners. On a rare perched view, the tarsi are thick and powerful in contrast to the rather spindly legs of a Eurasian Sparrowhawk – a clear indication that goshawks take much larger and more powerful prey such as pigeons, corvids and squirrels, rather than small passerines.
This combination of larger size and heavier structure gives Northern Goshawk a stronger, steadier flight and a more powerful wing action than Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The species has an impressive presence in the air, causing mass flushes of Wood Pigeons and Rooks. The display flight is particularly heavy and ponderous, with the heavy-bodied structure accentuated by strongly expanded white undertail coverts. While confusion with Eurasian Sparrowhawk is an ever-present risk, another potential confusion species is Hen Harrier and, elsewhere in northernmost Europe, Gyr Falcon.
Both adult male and female Northern Goshawks are a cold steely grey above with grey barring below and a much stronger face pattern than Eurasian Sparrowhawk comprising solidly dark crown and ear coverts and a prominent white supercilium. Juveniles are a rich warm brown above with slightly stronger dark bands across the upperwings in flight. The most striking feature, however, is the underparts pattern which comprises large vertically aligned drop-shaped streaks, very different indeed from the barred underparts of juvenile Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (The Netherlands, 10 May 2008). Adult male Eurasian Sparrowhawks are creatures of real beauty: small and fragile looking, slim bodied with long, slender tarsi and toes and a bright fiery eye set in a rather bland, 'open' face. When seen well, as here, they are splendidly colourful too, washed powder blue-grey above and finely barred deep orange below (Marc Guyt /

Northern Goshawk (Nord-Trøndelag, Norway, 2 March 2010). Adult Northern Goshawks look much less fragile than their smaller relatives. Note here the substantial size of the body (making the head look rather small), the 'full' chest and vent and the very thick, powerful tarsi. In both sexes, the colours are much more subdued than those of Sparrowhawk – cold grey above and very finely barred grey below – with a bolder face pattern comprising dark ear coverts and crown and a narrow white supercilium (Steve Knell).

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Hanko, Finland, 12 October 2005). The male's bright eye and blue-and-orange plumage hues are evident here also, but note too the typical proportions: a deep chest but slim body, short, rounded wings and a long tail with a narrow base and rather square corners (Markus Varesvuo /

Northern Goshawk (Helsinki, Finland, 29 March 2017). Flying Northern Goshawks are impressive. Note that the body is deep and broad throughout its length, the head is quite prominent, the wing has a long, rather pointed 'hand' and the tail is broad with a rounded tip. The face pattern is particularly striking on this bird, indicating a male. Note also the very fine barring on the underparts and the very pale underwing. The billowing white undertail coverts are typical of adult Northern Goshawk, but they may also be shown by Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Dick Forsman /

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Goor, The Netherlands, 18 July 2009). The subdued colours of this perched Accipiter resemble those of Northern Goshawk, but note the rather lighter build and more slender proportions, notably the long, thin tarsi, and the rather plain and bland face pattern with only a faint supercilium. All these features are typical of Eurasian Sparrowhawk. The pale lemon-yellow eye, variegated upperparts with rusty-brown feather tips, irregular dark rufous-brown barring on the upper breast and contrasting paler primaries all indicate that this is a young bird (Han Bouwmeester /

Northern Goshawk (The Netherlands, 25 January 2005). The very heavy-looking body of this bird suggests at once that it is a Northern Goshawk, a diagnosis readily confirmed by its small-looking head, thick, powerful tarsi, solidly dark ear coverts and prominent white supercilium (Chris van Rijswijk /

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Limburg, The Netherlands, 28 October 2014). Though significantly larger than the male, female Eurasian Sparrowhawk has a similar structure in flight: a rather slender body, noticeably short, very rounded wings and a long tail with a narrow base and square corners. The rather bland face pattern can also be seen here. Ageing flying birds can be difficult, but the fine barring in the underwing coverts and regular upper breast barring suggest that this is an adult (Ran Schols /

Northern Goshawk (Helsinki, Finland, 8 October 2008). This bird perfectly shows the distinctive flight silhouette: a prominent head, deep, heavy body, rather broad 'hips', broad-based tail with rounded corners and relatively long wings with a pointed 'hand' and bulging secondaries forming an 'S' shape in the trailing edge of the wing. Note the fine underparts barring contributing to a very pale underside (Tomi Muukkonen /

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Croxton, Norfolk, 9 January 2010). This young Eurasian Sparrowhawk (note the variegated upperparts with rusty-brown feather tips and rather irregular barring on the upper breast) shows the typical structure of the species: a slender body and long, thin tarsi and toes. The petite proportions indicate that this is a juvenile male (Richard Brooks).

Northern Goshawk (Utrecht, The Netherlands, 27 February 2015). Juvenile Northern Goshawks, unlike their smaller cousins, show distinct longitudinal drop-shaped marks on the underparts. The face pattern is more subdued than that of adults, but the heavy structure is the same. Note the typical large body, small-looking head and thick tarsi and toes (Walter Soestbergen /

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Seaforth, Lancashire, 25 August 2011). Typical Eurasian Sparrowhawk structure is evident here – short, broad wings with a blunt, rounded 'hand', a slim body, particularly at the rear, and a rather narrow-based, square-cornered tail. The plain-looking face is also usual of this species. Ageing flying birds is tricky, but the irregular dark brown markings on the upper breast indicate this is a juvenile (Steve Young /

Northern Goshawk (Helsinki, Finland, 26 January 2006). This flying juvenile Northern Goshawk is showing its streaked underparts to perfection – note also the slightly ochre hues below. Just as obvious, however, is its powerful structure: a prominent head, broad body, pointed wing-tip and broad-based tail with rounded tip (Markus Varesvuo /

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

New project to monitor Europe-wide butterfly trends

A major new European Union (EU) Pilot Project will monitor population trends of butterflies to assess the health of the environment and inform future EU biodiversity and agricultural policies.
Butterfly populations are highly sensitive to environmental change, providing an early warning of impacts on ecosystems. This new study of population trends in different habitats across Europe will assess biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change and land use intensification.
The project, ABLE (Assessing Butterflies in Europe), is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation Europe, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Germany), Dutch Butterfly Conservation (The Netherlands) and Butterfly Conservation (UK). The team will work with partners across the EU. It is being funded by the EU for an initial period of two years.

The new project will aim to assess the fortunes of butterflies Europe-wide, including the iconic European Map (Tamás Nestor).
Butterflies are already regularly monitored with the help of thousands of volunteers in 11 EU countries. The new project will build on the data collected by these existing networks and expand monitoring to cover at least eight additional EU countries, focusing on those in southern and eastern Europe. This will provide more representative trends across Europe from which to assess the health of the environment and inform EU policies, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the Common Agricultural Policy. The data will also contribute to the assessment of the health of Europe's pollinators as part of the EU Pollinator Initiative.
Dr David Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who leads the partnership, said: "By using data gathered systematically by thousands of volunteers, we will produce high-quality information on butterfly populations across Europe. We will use this to produce trends for species in grassland, woodland and wetland habitats as well as an overall measure of the state of Europe's butterflies.
"We will also examine the impact of climate change and the impact of EU policies and initiatives such as the Natura 2000 network of protected sites and the Common Agricultural Policy."
Mihail Dumitru, Deputy Director General of  DG Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission, added: "Many important habitats for butterflies and other pollinators, such as semi-natural grassland, occur on agricultural land, and we welcome this Pilot Project to extend butterfly monitoring and work on developing new indicators of biodiversity."
Dr Chris van Swaay, Chair of Butterfly Conservation Europe, said: "Butterflies are highly sensitive indicators of environmental change. They also represent insects which are vital parts of the food chain as well as being important pollinators. There has been widespread concern about the decline of insects in recent years and the project will give us a more comprehensive assessment across several EU Countries of a high profile component of this critical group."

Critically Endangered plover enjoys record breeding season

Four young Shore Dotterel have been released on Motupatu Island at New Zealand's Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre.
The species is Critically Endangered, with some 250 birds estimated to be left in the world. The centre is hoping to release more juveniles in the coming weeks, with 21 set to enter the wild on 25 March – combined with the four birds already released, this accounts for roughly 10 per cent of the global population.

Only 250 Shore Dotterel remain, rendering the wader Critically Endangered (Matt Jones).
Shore Dotterel – also known as Shore Plover – is endemic to New Zealand, and the recent releases provide a boost for one of the world's rarest shorebirds. The success comes following six juveniles from five pairs being released on Waikawa Island last year. All of the breeding projects fall under the work of The Shore Plover Recovery Programme, which began at Pūkaha in the early 1980s.
Mireille Hicks, Lead Shore Plover Ranger at Pūkaha, said: "This season has been very full-on. Together with the Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust this would be our most successful year yet; between us we have so far raised 46 Shore Plover chicks – and there are more on the way! We have seven breeding pairs in total, two of which are breeding in their first season, which was incredible.
"We also have a breeding pair that was very unexpected, as the male had an injured wing and the female had an issue with her feathers. Due to these injuries they could not be released into the wild but by breeding in captivity they are actually contributing to the survival of their species.
"Shore Plover is a very special bird because it's naturally very curious, but it nests on the ground and is very small – it almost 'shakes hands' with predators! They are also very nervous birds and can be easily frightened away from their nests. Many people do not know about how critical the situation is, which is something we'd like to change. Each bird is precious."

Pile of dead animals discovered in Monmouthshire

The RSPCA has launched a public appeal after an apparent wildlife killing spree was discovered in Chepstow, Monmouthshire.
The 'horror film' collection of dead animals included a decapitated deer, as well as Canada Geese, Eurasian Teal, Mallard and two unidentified birds of prey. The grim discovery was made on New Year's Day, with RSPCA Cymru urgently appealing for information and details on the apparent killings.

The gory discovery was made on New Year's Day, with the RSPCA believing the animals were dumped from a passing vehicle (RSPCA).
Shockingly, a decapitated deer and its severed head, as well as a separate deer skin and rib cage, were also found at the site. The location – St Pierre – is very close to the A48 and the RSPCA believes it's likely that the animals were dumped from a vehicle having been poached, killed for sport or gruesome entertainment.
Sian Burton, RSPCA Animal Welfare Officer, said: "This site at Hayesgate was like a horror film with a pile of dead wild animal bodies, and body parts, strewn across the floor. A deer carcass, removed deer head, separate deer skin and rib cage have all been found, as have two Canada Geese, two Mallards and what I believe to be a bird of prey. 
"It was so sad to witness this pile of dead bodies. It seems very likely that someone has gone on a killing spree and taken the lives of these animals for so-called sport or entertainment, and dumped them here.
"We're urgently appealing to the local community for information. This is a rural location - and we're hoping somebody witnessed something, or can shed any further information on what happened to these poor animals."
Anyone with information is urged to contact the RSPCA inspectorate appeal line on 0300 123 8018.

Immediate action needed to save newly discovered hummingbird

World Land Trust (WLT) has launched an urgent appeal to save habitat in southern Ecuador frequented by the recently described Blue-throated Hillstar, which is under imminent threat from mining.
The metal-rich landscapes of Ecuador have seen an increase in industrial mining over the past 30 years and mining corporations have recently gained the rights to mine the hillstar's habitat in order to extract metals. Swathes of Ecuador's tropical forests have also been cleared so that metals such as copper, gold and lead can extracted from large open pits, which have proven a disaster for local wildlife.
WLT has launched the Save the Blue-throated Hillstar appeal, which aims to raise £30,000 to enable its partner Naturaleza y Cultura Ecuador (NCE) to extend a Water Protection Area to include the hillstar's 70,000-acre range. By incorporating the hillstar's habitat in this area, it will have government-level protection and will eliminate the threat of mining, saving the rare hummingbird's habitat.

Blue-throated Hillstar was formally described as recently as 2018 (F Sornoza).
"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 hillstar population.
"This situation is the perfect example of why habitat conservation is so important. Habitat loss is one of the greatest causes of species extinction worldwide, and for every habitat we lose, we eliminate a stronghold for numerous plant and animal species. For species such as 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 want to ensure it is protected because they rely on the clean freshwater collected in the mountain ecosystem. With the funds from this appeal, NCE will extend the proposed Water Protection Area so the total area protected will be almost 200,000 acres (79,000 hectares) and also provide water for at least 470,000 Ecuadorian people.
"Mining is happening in lots of areas in Ecuador," explained Bruno Paladines Puertas, Head of Community Development at NCE. "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 and the mining concessions will be lifted."
As well as Blue-throated Hillstar, a new species of frog, Tik Tik Rain Frog, was also discovered in August, found very close to the eastern border of the proposed protected area. This unique páramo habitat is also home to Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir and the magnificent Andean Condor, among many other species. These mountains are still relatively unexplored by naturalists and, by protecting them, more species new to science may be discovered in the future.
By donating to help save Blue-throated Hillstar's habitat today you will be securing a future for this species and perhaps also some that have not yet been discovered. You can find more information and donate online at or call the WLT office at 01986 874422.

The páramo habitat which WLT aims to save is also home to threatened mammals such as Spectacled Bear (Nigel Simpson).