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Book Reviews: Fighting For Birds - 25 Years in Nature Conservation by Mark Avery

      


Paperback / 325 Pages / Pelagic Publishing (2012) / ISBN 978-1907807299 / RRP £12.99


Review #1 by Mike Everett for British Birds
Quite early in chapter one, reading about Mark Avery’s time as a deer researcher on Rum, I came across the bizarre statement that ‘our base… looked across Mull to Skye and the Cuillins…’ and wondered whether this boded well for the rest of the book. I need not have worried; it must have been an editorial mistake. This is a marvellous account of one man’s work for bird conservation, reflecting Mark’s impressive birding and academic background as well as his sharp intellect, his sure grasp of strategy and his huge commitment to his vocation. His well-known sense of humour is there too, as is that enviable facility at communication which made him such a great asset to the RSPB.

Revealed: The Mystery Behind Starling Flocks (ScienceDaily)

File:Starlings over Gretna - geograph.org.uk - 1069349.jpg
Murmuration of Starlings by Walter Baxter

The mystery behind the movements of flocking starlings could be explained by the areas of light and dark created as they fly, new research suggests. The research found that flocking starlings aim to maintain an optimum density at which they can gather data on their surroundings. This occurs when they can see light through the flock at many angles, a state known as marginal opacity. The subsequent pattern of light and dark, formed as the birds attempt to achieve the necessary density, is what provides vital information to individual birds within the flock.

ID - Collared, Oriental, or Black-winged Pratincole? A comparison

Glareola pratincola02
(Collared) Pratincole in flight by Daniel Pettersson

Is it a Collared, Oriental, or Black-winged Pratincole? How about a Cream-coloured Courser?

Use these pages, containing the most useful online info in one place, to compare features, habits & calls, & identify that Swallow-plover...




Golden Eagles in Southern Scotland: The Facts & the Fiction (Raptor Persecution Scotland)

A new report has been published today detailing the recovery prospects for golden eagles in southern Scotland.
The SNH-commissioned report has been written by two undisputed experts (Alan Fielding and Paul Haworth), both of whom were involved with the impressive Golden Eagle Conservation Framework report that was published in 2008.
The report has only just been made available on SNH’s website so we’ve not had a chance to thoroughly digest its findings – although we intend to come back to it in due course.
Having skimmed through it, it looks like a very detailed analysis of the various issues that could affect the recovery of this tiny population (see here for a previous blog entry on the perilous state of the golden eagle population in southern Scotland), including, of course, the effect of illegal persecution. This photo below shows the graphic effect of persecution on golden eagles in south Scotland – this one was found shot and critically injured on a driven grouse moor in 2012 – it later died from its injuries – see here.
Wanlock Head GE Oct 2012
Shot & Critically Injured Golden Eagle (RPS)
If you haven’t read the new report (and let’s face it, not many people will), you might just base your opinion of it on what has been written in the mainstream media, which would be fine if the media reports were accurate, balanced and didn’t contain any lies.

Summer Yellow-legged Gulls (BirdGuides)

It's unbelievable to think that, just a couple of decades ago, Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) was, for many, an irrelevant yellow-legged 'form' of our familiar Herring Gull encountered only while on holiday in the Mediterranean. Following its elevation to full specific status and the popularity of gull-watching dramatically increasing throughout the 2000s, the prominence of Yellow-legged Gull as a British bird has risen greatly to where it is today.
Yellow-legged Gull is a regular non-breeding visitor across the bulk of England, with notable exceptions being the far north and northwest — Yorkshire is about as far north as the species is regularly seen, and it is particularly rare on the west coast north of Cheshire. It is rather scarce and localised in its appearance in Wales, while it remains a genuinely rare species in Scotland. Its strongholds in England are across the Midlands, East Anglia and the South-East, where it may appear in considerable numbers at the right times of year. It is, however, always localised — generally numbers only turn up at sites where other large white-headed gulls congregate (such as refuse tips, roosts at reservoirs and so on).


Adult Yellow-legged Gull in mid-summer (Photo: Dominic Mitchell)

The species has often been thought of as a target for winter gull watchers but, in reality, the colder months are not the best time to search for Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain. In fact it is about now (mid-July) that numbers are climbing towards their annual peak — each summer witnesses significant post-breeding dispersal as birds move north from their breeding colonies around south and central Europe. Birds begin to arrive in Britain in numbers from late June onwards; non-breeding immatures are generally the first to arrive, followed by adults and juveniles as July progresses. Numbers steadily build throughout the summer, peaking in August and remaining high through September before dropping off again into the autumn.

Spring conditions in the Mediterranean affect migrants breeding in the UK (BTO)

Wood Warbler. Photograph by Edmund Fellowes
Wood Warbler (BTO)
Migrant birds are likely to be particularly vulnerable to climate change because they can be affected by changing conditions on the breeding grounds, wintering grounds or passage areas in between. Many long distance migrants that breed in the UK and winter in Africa are in severe decline, and previous BTO work has shown this can be related to changing conditions in Africa, which affect overwinter survival, as well as to conditions on British breeding grounds. BTO research published last year showed that although conditions in Africa can ‘carry-over’ and affect the timing of nesting in this country, the most important factor influencing breeding was spring temperature in the UK.
A new study by the BTO and the University of Sheffield builds upon the work by considering the impacts of climatic variation in passage regions, as well as the breeding and non-breeding grounds. It focuses on three declining migratory species of regional conservation concern in Europe - RedstartWood Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. Long-term data from the Nest Record Scheme revealed that the strongest factor influencing timing of breeding was temperatures in the Mediterranean during spring migration, with warmer conditions leading to earlier breeding. This may be because warming enhanced food availability during stop-overs, increasing migration speed and improving birds’ condition upon arrival. Redstarts and Wood Warblers, but not Spotted Flycatchers, bred earlier in years with warmer springs in the UK. Overall the study showed that warmer Mediterranean temperatures during spring migration influenced breeding performance more than temperatures on the breeding grounds. It also confirmed the relatively weak effect of climatic conditions in Africa, although conditions in the Sahel influenced redstarts’ breeding success. The work has important implications for the conservation of these declining species and emphasises the importance of conditions during spring passage.
Full citation: Finch, T., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Leech, D.I. & Evans, K.L. 2014. Carry-over effects from passage regions are more important than breeding climate in determining the breeding phenology and performance of three avian migrants of conservation concern. Biodiversity and Conservation. doi: 10.1007/s10531-014-0731-5

New Rural Development Plan offers a lifeline for Irish farmland birds (BirdWatch Ireland / BirdGuides)

BirdWatch Ireland has warmly welcomed the recent announcement by Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney that farmers undertaking actions to conserve critically-threatened farmland birds will get priority access to substantial funding within Ireland's new Rural Development Programme. If properly implemented, this offers hope of halting declines and restoring bird populations in parts of their range.
Ireland's biodiversity is facing very severe threats, as evidenced by declining populations of many farmland birds and losses in extent and quality of many semi-natural habitats in the mosaic of Ireland's farmed landscapes. There has been extensive research in the UK, in particular, which has related farmland bird declines to changes in agricultural practices since the 1970s. Specific causes for these changes included a variety of farming practices, including increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, increased mechanisation and losses of hedgerow extent and quality. These changes in agriculture also took place in Ireland over the same period. The new Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (RDP) offers an opportunity to address many issues threatening biodiversity in the wider Irish countryside.

Grey Partridge
Grey Partridge has been under serious threat in Ireland (Grey Partridge by Tim James)

High neonicotinoid concentrations responsible for bird declines (BirdGuides)

Following the recent revelation in a review of systematic pesticides that neonicotinoids are causing significant damage to invertebrate species and their populations a new study, published in the science journalNature has revealed that the pesticides are also having a significant negative impact on bird species.
Researchers in The Netherlands measured the effect of widespread use of a popular neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, discovering that when the chemical was highly concentrated in surface water supplies, local bird populations showed a significant decline. Birds most affected in the sites sampled included StarlingTree Sparrow and Swallow. These declines were able to be tied in with the introduction of imidacloprid in the country in the mid-1990s, even when allowing for the effects of changing agricultural methods such as the intensification of farming.


Tree Sparrow
Tree Sparrow reproductivity relies on the abundance of insect life, on which neonicotinoids have been proven to have a negative impact
(Adult & Juvenile Tree Sparrow by Steve Whiteley)


Relatively small levels of imidacloprid in the water (around 20 nanograms per litre) were allied to a 30 per cent decline in bird numbers, but many water sources had up to 50 times this amount present. The abstract of the study can be read below:

Bowland hen harrier chicks tagged (RSPB)

Tagged Hen Harrier - Bowland
Juvenile Hen Harrier by Jude Lane

Hen harrier chicks have been fitted with high-tech satellite tags as part of a new RSPB initiative to help conserve England’s most threatened bird of prey.

The chicks, which are approximately four weeks old, are currently being raised in a nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. The site is traditionally the stronghold for the English hen harrier and the RSPB has worked with the water company and its shooting tenants to protect the birds there for more than 30 years.
The hen harrier nest is the first successful one in England since 2012 and one of only three in the whole of England this year.
Chicks produced in the other English nests – one of which is also on the United Utilities Bowland Estate –will also be fitted with satellite tags when they are large enough.
The satellite tags were supplied by Natural England and fitted by Stephen Murphy, the Agency’s lead adviser for hen harriers.
He said: “The lightweight satellite tags weigh just 9.5 grams and are solar recharging, giving an operational life of at least three years. These are fitted to birds on the point of fledge using a lightweight Teflon harness back-pack design. This is where technology can really aid conservation as there is no better way of gaining an insight into the complex dispersal of these iconic birds.” 

Birds and Climate Change - A global review of the impact of climate change on birds (RSPB)

Kittiwake in flight
Kittiwake by Grahame Madge


Birds and Climate Change, a new book released today (July 1, 2014), shows that recent climate change has already had a significant impact on bird populations around the world.
These impacts are projected to become much larger in the future, increasing the extinction risk for many species. However, the book gives reasons for cautious optimism. We have a window of opportunity to reduce the threat that climate change poses if action is taken now. To address this, we need to reduce the future amount of climate change. Increased use of renewable energy can help, although if not deployed carefully, it can also cause unintended but significant problems to many bird species. The other type of action is to adapt existing approaches used to counter threats to bird populations so that they also deal effectively with climate change.

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