World Bird News April 2017

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2017 |  World Bird News April 2017

45% of Arctic shorebirds are disappearing

Across the globe, 45% of Arctic-nesting shorebirds are decreasing. The Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy aims to identify the threats and develop strategies to save them.
Shorebirds—plovers, oystercatchers, sandpipers, godwits, curlews—can be found along the entirety of the Pacific coast of the Western Hemisphere during some time of the year.

Many species travel from Arctic breeding areas to spend their winter on the beaches and mudflats of North America, Central America and South America, where they share the environment with resident species.
Whether migrants or residents, shorebirds and the habitats they depend upon are exposed to an increasing myriad of anthropogenic threats. Within the Pacific Flyway, 11% of shorebird populations face long-term declines; none are known to be increasing.
Although the challenges are great, they are not without solutions. Across the Western Hemisphere, shorebird scientists, conservationists and managers have come together to tackle the conservation issues across the annual life cycle of this incredible group of birds.
Although there is no doubt that successful conservation depends upon actions initiated locally, isolated interventions will have the best chance for positively affecting populations if coordinated at a flyway scale.
The Strategy follows a logical sequence of setting shorebird conservation targets, identifying major threats and identifying highly effective actions to restore and maintain shorebird populations throughout the Pacific Americas Flyway.
The Strategy is being lead by an international group of more than 85 experts in 15 countries, including BirdLife and some of its Partners.

The intent is to assemble and synthesize information to present a comprehensive approach and to address the most pressing conservation needs in the flyway from Alaska to Patagonia, while considering the human communities that interact with shorebirds. Only with investments in the portfolio of strategies and actions will conservation of this extraordinary group of birds be achieved.

The strategy is not a step-by-step recipe for conservation success but rather a framework for ceaseless collaboration, innovation and accomplishment.
Extensive partner involvement in the development of the Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy will need to be sustained and augmented to achieve success across the flyway and to mold the broad strategies presented here into tangible, spatially explicit actions.

A well-coordinated, collective effort will be needed to achieve overall strategy success; thus, people, and transparent communication among them, are crucial for success.

Readers are encouraged to engage with the strategy’s partners to endeavor to sustain shorebird populations along the Pacific Americas Flyway well into the future.

Stop the Killing: Lebanese President speaks out for migratory birds

Stop the Killing: Lebanese President speaks out for migratory birds

Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun, has made a heartfelt pledge to prevent the annual slaughter of the thousands of migratory birds who fly over the small Middle Eastern state twice a year.
Dozens of storks lie dead on the ground, neatly lined up. Behind them, the men smile at the camera, holding up by their long, silent beaks yet more dead birds. It’s been a good hunt, one worthy of sharing with friends on Twitter or Facebook.

Welcome to Lebanon, where hundreds of such macabre photos offer testimony to what conservationists have been denouncing for years. The little Mediterranean state is a black hole where some 2.6 million birds disappear every year, shot or trapped illegally .
The wealth and diversity of birds packed into this relatively small country (at least 399 species of birds have been recorded here), is the pride and joy of local people, and a massive concern for local conservationists, such as those who work at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (BirdLife Partner).

The country lies on the west side of the African Eurasian Flyway (Red Sea – Rift Valley Flyway) which is considered one of the most important flyways in the world for bird migration. The long perilous journey from Europe and Asia to Africa, via the Sinai and the Red Sea, ends here, in this small stretch of land, for million of birds. In terms of “intensity”- birds killed per square kilometre - Lebanon ranks third, trailing only Malta and Cyprus.

But Lebanon’s days as a high-flyer in the chart no-one wants to top could be numbered, because a new, bird-friendly era has been announced. The announcement came straight from the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, last Saturday with a heartfelt appeal to put the country’s nature first: “It is a shame to turn Lebanon into a wasteland without plants, trees, birds and sea animals, and cutting off trees to erect buildings is a major crime” he said. “ There should be a peace treaty between Man and the tree as well as Man and birds, because we continue to transgress upon them".

A “peace treaty”, in a country that has paid an immense price for numerous conflicts: words do not get stronger than that in Lebanon.

The issue of course is illegal hunting, rife in many areas. According to the President, "There should be a hunting season assigned from September to December, with the State exercising strictness in its execution”.

Music to the ears of SPNL’s crew, and in particular to its Director General, Assad Serhal. “SPNL, with the support of Birdfair and BirdLife International, is promoting responsible hunting practices to support conservation efforts and proper law enforcement” says Serhal. Training for law enforcement officers and hunting clubs – added Assad - mainly on bird identification and hunting law is a crucial step that should start promptly”. SPNL has been working on sustainable hunting and protected areas since its establishment in 1984.

Politicians’ credibility may not be at historical highs these days, but the new Lebanese campaign seems solid enough to dent the usual scepticism. Yesterday ?Tarek Khatib, Minister of the Environment, has announced the opening of the hunting season for 2017 from 15 September until the end of December, stressing that hunters requesting licensing will be subject to close scrutiny. During the press conference, Khatib also pointed out that official hunting clubs were chosen to conduct the examinations and that penalties for violators will be issued through security agencies.

Deep is the satisfaction in the words of BirdLife’s CEO, Patricia Zurita: "Our tireless campaign to end the illegal killing of birds is bearing important fruits. The BirdLife’s GEF/UNDP Migratory Soaring Birds project implemented nationally by the Ministry of Environment and SPNL over the past five years, has provided key guidance and the procedures that are now the backbone of the hunting management in Lebanon. The BirdLife family – added Zurita - today celebrates the political support from the Lebanese President. We are ready to help put this 'peace treaty' in action."

Waterbird’s paradise shortlisted for World Heritage status

Waterbird’s paradise shortlisted for World Heritage status

14 coastal sites across the Bohai Gulf and Yellow Sea of China have been added to a list of sites to be considered for future World Heritage status – it’s potentially fantastic news for endangered migratory birds such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, who depend on these sites’ rich resources to complete their epic journeys.
It’s the question we’ve all been skirting during our ongoing campaign to #SaveSpoonie – why, exactly, does the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea have that distinctive, spatula-shaped beak – the same charismatic appendage that in no small way has helped bring the plight of this Critically Endangered wader to international prominence?

The answer: er, well, no-one really knows for sure (with less than a thousand Spoonies remaining in the world, chances to extensively observe its behaviour in the wild are less than plentiful). You might think that it would use in the same manner as the similar-looking, but unrelated Spoonbill family, who use their flattened bills like a sieve, swaying it from side to side to filter out small invertebrates in the water. However, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has never been seen to do this.

Most likely, as with many waders, the specialised shape of Spoonie’s bill is so it can use it as a tool to forage for food. The leading theory is that it uses it almost like a shovel, upturning the mud to reveal crabs, worms and other invertebrates hidden within.

But the downside of having such specialised feeding habits is this: when you need to make a fuelling stop in the middle of a long journey (such as Spoonie’s epic bi-annual migration between Siberia and south Asia), there are only so many ‘restaurants’ along the way that cater to your tastes.

And if you’re an Asian wading bird, there’s no restaurant more extensive or better-stocked than that of the Yellow Sea. This vast sea, surrounded by and shared between China and the Korean Peninsula, is the largest area of intertidal wetlands on the planet, and its extensive mudflats, sandflats and other costal habitats draw in waterbirds from all around the world faster than a five-star review from the LA Times.

As an example, a sizable population of Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica (Near Threatened) choose this area as their solitary pit-stop during their lengthy journeys between Australasia and Arctic Russia and Alaska. At the time of writing, over 10,000 individuals have already returned to one of the Yellow Sea’s estuaries, Yalu Jiang on the China/North Korea border.

Elsewhere, it’s estimated that as many as 60% of a sub-species of the world’s Red Knot Calidris canutus (Near Threatened) population stop over in the Luannan wetlands of the Bohai Gulf – an area of the Yellow Sea in close proximity to the Chinese capital, Beijing. We could go on: simply, it’s one of the most important areas in the world for migratory waterbirds by almost any metric you wish to use: be it size, numbers, diversity of species or the proportion of these species that are globally threatened with extinction.

But the future of these crucial habitats is currently anything but secure. Popular with humans as well as waders, the Yellow Sea is the most populated coastal area in the world, with an estimated figure of 200 million people and growing. The development needed to accommodate such a dense population of humans has resulted in the loss of critical habitats and feeding areas, with 27 species of waterbirds that frequent the East Asian-Australasian Flyway now threatened with extinction..

It’s a hugely encouraging development which offers hope that the destruction and degradation that has ravaged the Yellow Sea’s wetlands in recent decades can be halted or even reversed. There’s still a long way to go before the future of these sites are secure, however – and there are many vital sites – such as Binhai New Area, in North China, which is visited by nearly the entire world’s population of the Relict Gull Larus relictus (assessed as Vulnerable) – which are not yet on the tentative list. BirdLife will continue its important advocacy work to ensure these vital areas are properly recognised and protected in the future, but until then, visit the campaign page to find out how you can help ensure that will still be plenty of mudflats left for Spoonie to dig into.

Protect a Penguin

Protect a Penguin

Beautiful. Inspiring. Under threat. Penguins are among the world’s most charming and recognisable birds, but from south pole to equator, a web of threats is seeing them slide ever-closer towards extinction. Next week we will be sharing penguin stories from around the world to celebrate the launch of our upcoming global penguin campaign. And you can help us make a difference.

Some birds just grab the public’s attention. Puffins, parrots, albatrosses and owls; they inspire stories and songs, and we decorate our homes with their images. But one group of birds is singled out for more appreciation by the human race than any other: the penguins. If you think about it, it is strange.

Penguins are unable to undertake that most celebrated aspect of avian life – flight. So no revelling in their soaring or aerial acrobatics. In fact, no revelling in any sort of wild penguin behaviour for most people – to many, penguins might as well come from the moon, so limited are the opportunities to see one in its natural habitat.

Indeed, if they did get this opportunity, they’d soon learn of the rather unappealing smell that a colony of penguins creates… However, this rather speaks to how compelling we find penguins, and to our ability (when we want to) to see beyond our limited horizons and think about life out in some of the most remarkable, remote portions of the planet.

And of course, there are is a lot to love about penguins. They’re cute, and while they’re comical on land, they are remarkable swimmers capable of diving great depths and migrating thousands of kilometres each year. The Antarctic species endure some of the most extreme conditions on Earth to raise their young, a feat deemed worthy of a Morgan Freeman voiceover.

They occupy a host of habitats, from forests in New Zealand to the volcanic islands of the Galapagos, and from the beaches of southern Africa to far-flung Subantarctic Islands. Like so many well-loved species though, human appreciation alone is not enough to stop this group of birds from slipping towards extinction.

Of the 18 species of penguin, 10 are listed by BirdLife as either Vulnerable or Endangered on the IUCN Red List, giving them the dubious honour of being the second most threatened group of seabirds, behind only the albatrosses. Like albatrosses, penguins have been experiencing the worst of both worlds. At their land-based breeding sites, predation by introduced species, habitat degradation and disease are driving down numbers.

At sea, oil pollution and the impacts of fisheries – both by depleting prey stocks and through accidental capture in fishing gear – are taking their toll. The spectre of climate change looms over both the terrestrial and marine realms: habitat loss, more frequent, intense storms, and disruption to the marine food web are all heads of the climatic hydra.

There is therefore much to be done at every level – from the local to the global. Undeniably, a lot is already being done. As you’ll read, conservationists from an array of organisations across the world are targeting conservation action for the most threatened penguin species: ranging from the first stepping stone of conservation – better understanding the ecology of some species and what is driving their declines; to more advanced stages – controlling or eradicating invasive animals at colonies; and even establishing brand new colonies.

Indeed, it should perhaps be a source of encouragement that there is not time or space to cover the great many initiatives for penguins, even from within the BirdLife Partnership – never mind the bigger community of researchers, independent organisations and national institutes working to reverse the fortunes of these charismatic birds (we can wholeheartedly recommend reading the Tawaki Project blog to get more of an insight into some of this work for one of the least-known penguins – the Fiordland Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus, or Tawaki, from New Zealand.

At a broader scale, there have been encouraging moves in Antarctica in recent months: the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) (1.5 million square kilometres!) was established in the Ross Sea in October last year, helping protect both Emperor Penguin Aptenodytes forsteri and Adélie Penguin Pygoscelis adeliae (plus much more, of course).

This was possible thanks to the agreement of the European Union and 24 countries, following some remarkable feats of negotiation. Our hope, of course, is that this is just the beginning: BirdLife has been working with the British Antarctic Survey for a number of years now to identify the most important places for penguins in the Weddell and Scotia Seas.
Improved marine protections across Antarctica – and of course in important penguin feeding areas and migratory routes the world over – are a critical piece of the conservation puzzle. Penguins are living indicators of our stewardship of the marine environment, and as such, are telling us that we have more to do.

While conservation efforts are driving forward, it is clear we need to address the threats to penguins at every level: from addressing global climate change at the highest, to ensuring that individual colonies are not pushed to extinction at the most local. If we lose a penguin species (perilously close for the likes of the African Penguin Spheniscus demersus and Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes), what does it say of our society that even the world’s most loved group of birds cannot be spared from man’s excesses?

This should compel everyone, but it is hope and hopeful action – like the Ross Sea MPA – that will keep us going. With this in mind, BirdLife has decided that now is the right time to launch our global Protect a Penguin campaign. With threats on the rise and penguin populations on the decline, we need to act fast, and act decisively, to build support for our conservation work and ensure that the future of these iconic birds isn’t confined to the fiction of cartoons and biscuit wrappers.

To this end, we’re dedicating this month to the penguins. And we’re fighting for their future wherever they may roam. Over the next few articles, we’ll profile the world’s most endangered species – a journey that will take us to such unlikely penguin outposts as Africa, New Zealand and even the tropical waters of an archipelago that straddles the equator.

We also detail the vital work we’re doing to mitigate the threats they face, but only with your support can we scale up our work and show the penguin family just how much, truly, the human race appreciates them.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2017 |  World Bird News April 2017

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