Fake lake attracts rare fowl to Israel

Hundreds of bird species have visited an artificial reservoir; nature advocates want it declared a nature reserve.

A bird spotted at the 'Superlake' reservoir. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

A bird spotted at the ‘Superlake’ reservoir. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

A plan to establish a simple rainwater reservoir near the Superland amusement park got the Rishon Letzion municipality more than it bargained for. Over the past few years, the reservoir has become a magnet for natural flora and a variety of birds, including some rare species.

Now the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is trying to persuade the municipality to protect the area by declaring it a nature reserve. (Because of its proximity to the amusement park, the rainwater reservoir has become known as “Lake Superland.”)

“The water in the lake is of relatively high quality, and the natural flora that has grown there has provided many species of birds with shelter and a place to nest,” Noam Weiss of SPNI’s Ornithological Center, said. “As time went by, we discovered that more than a hundred species of birds were coming there.”

A few weeks ago, some rare birdsong was heard in the area. It came from the moustached warbler (acrocephalus melanopogon), which nests in water flora. Up to that point, moustached warblers were seen nesting only in the Hula Valley, but a few of them evidently decided to settle in Rishon Letzion.

Superland Lake, an artificial rainwater reservoir. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

Superland Lake, an artificial rainwater reservoir. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

“It looks like the proximity of the amusement park and a movie theater doesn’t bother the birds,” Weiss said, referring to a nearby Yes Planet movie theater. The SPNI initially objected to the construction of the multiplex for fear it would jeopardize the wildlife, but ultimately a compromise was reached: The complex was moved a little farther away, forcing moviegoers to a bit of a hike.

“The [birds] are satisfied with the buffer zone the natural flora creates between them and the buildings,” Weiss said, “and the fact that they have the lake at their disposal, a place where they can come eat fish and even nest.”

Raptors such as the greater spotted eagle, which is in danger of extinction, have also been spotted at the lake, as have the Western marsh harrier and the common buzzard. A variety of seagulls, cormorants, herons (including the purple heron), kingfishers and the ferruginous duck, a rare species, have also been seen there.

The Rishon Letzion municipality has avoided additional construction in the area. Mayor Dov Tzur even visited the site recently and heard about its importance, but made no promises for the future.

“We think the municipality must put this asset to use and preserve it,” said Weiss. “It could be turned into a place where people walk along paths around the lake, observe from special lookout points and enjoy, for free, the rich world of the birds who come here.”

Officials at the Rishon Letzion municipality did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: haaretz.com

Chance to see rare birds

HUNDREDS of exotic birds, including some critically endangered, will go on display for the first time in Bahrain next month.

A blizzard of colour can be seen at Al Aziza Birds Kingdom at Amwaj Islands, which features beautifully plumed birds from the personal collection of leading Bahraini businessman Abdulaziz Kanoo.

It houses approximately 400 to 500 winged creatures and will be shown to the public for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The GDN was given an exclusive tour of the facility, where aviculturist in charge Mike Gammond explained about the different species including the exotic toucan and red-vented cockatoo – a critically endangered bird numbering less than 1,000 in the wild.

“The palm cockatoo nests in palm trees and eats palm nuts, hence their name,” he said.

“They’re from Indonesia and the tip of North Australia.

“When they’re ill, their cheeks change colour and become pale.

“They absolutely love pomegranates, so when they’re ill, we give it to them and the colour comes back into their cheeks.”

Rapid bursts of colour are seen at the sanctuary as the birds flock, mate and nest together.

It was the brainchild of Mr Kanoo and Mr Gammond, who breed endangered birds to boost their population and provide buyers with captive-born species in a bid to stop poachers from grabbing birds from the wild.

“I worked in aviculture in Tenerife and Gran Canaria before arriving in Bahrain almost 20 years ago to work for Mr Kanoo,” said Mr Gammond.

Although the birds have strong beaks and can easily injure people, Mr Gammond said he has never been seriously hurt.

“I have been hurt by the birds before, but never seriously,” he said.

“It got to the point where I wanted to cry and had to have some help to get my finger out of a bird’s beak. But what can you do?”

The palm cockatoos, like most of the birds bred at the sanctuary, were hand-reared by Mr Gammond.

Moreover, the exhausting and time-consuming task has paid off as the birds are friendly with Mr Gammond and easily hop from the branches they are perched on to his waiting arm.

“The birds that are being hand-reared have to be fed every two or three hours.

“Then we slowly increase the time between feeds as they grow older, to about every four to six hours, then once a day and so on.

“It is different with each bird and each species though.

“Some in the wild are reared by their parents for up to two years, so some take a long time to fully develop.”

Another critically endangered bird at the sanctuary is the blue-throated macaw, which is native to a small area of north-central Bolivia.

Recent population figures suggest there are about 100 to 150 remaining in the wild.

“These are highly endangered,” said Mr Gammond.

“I’ve been trying to breed them for two years, but haven’t managed it yet. There’s still plenty of time though.”

Mr Gammond said one of the endangered parrots, the hyacinth macaw, has caused quite the commotion at the sanctuary because of its sunbathing habits.

They are the largest macaw and largest flying parrot species with a distinctive blue and yellow rim around their eye and beak.

“The Victoria crown pigeon from Papa New Guinea also like sunbathing,” he explained.

“There has been a number of times when Mr Kanoo would shout out to me and say, ‘Mike, one of the birds is sick’.

“I would come running out and see them sprawled out and laugh and tell him, ‘Oh, no, they’re just sunbathing’.”

The giant reserve also boasts the endangered double yellow-headed amazons, which are popular pets as they are excellent talkers, golden and peacock pheasants, silvery-cheeked hornbills from South Africa that live between 40 to 50 years, and colourful toucans from South Mexico, Central and South America.

Over the years, Mr Gammond has introduced different methods to keep the chicks warm.

“Years and years ago, when there used to be frequent, long powercuts, my wife and I used to keep the baby birds in bed with us to keep them warm,” he explained.

“We’d have them snuggled up against our chests.

“It was certainly an interesting way to introduce her to my job.”

The opening days and timings of Al Aziza Birds Kingdom will be announced soon, and will include a nominal entry fee.

Source: www.gulf-daily-news.com

15 species of bird discovered in Brazil

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Scientists in the Brazilian Amazon have discovered 15 new bird species, the largest ornithological development from the area since 1871

Eleven of the latest discoveries, which include a tree-creeper and crow, are endemic only to Brazil although four species can also be found in Peru and Bolivia.

The habitats for many of the birds are in danger from deforestation, specifically the eastern part of the Amazon. The crow in particular, the largest bird in the latest discovery, can only be found amid the Amazonian forest between the Medeira and Purus rivers. Unfortunately, it’s possible that this habitat in southern Amazonas will disappear entirely before in-depth ornithological study can be undertaken.

Four of the species are from the central-northern region between the Madeira and Tapajós Rivers and just two inhabit the easternmost part of the tropical forest, past the Tapajós River, in Pará. The majority reside west of the Madeira River where eight of the species can be found.

The specific details of the findings will not be fully disclosed until the official publication of a special edition The Handbook of the Birds of the World in July.

Brazilian news reports state that “[t]he researchers have discovered the species through their singing, which was never recorded before.”

The authors of the descriptions belong to three national research institutions-the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo (MZ-USP), Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Inpa), Manaus, and Emí-lio Goeldi Paraense Museum (MPEG), Belém, and to the Museum of Natural Science at the State University of the Louisiania (LSUMNS), United States.

Source:  www.wanderlust.co.uk

Take part in backyard bird survey

BIRDS EYE: A male European blackbird sits among grass.

BIRDS EYE: A male European blackbird sits among grass.

The seventh annual Garden Bird Survey gets under way today, with last year’s results showing that the house sparrow is still the most prolific species in our back gardens.

It seems that a pattern may be emerging, with the 2012 statistics confirming previous years’ results showing silvereyes taking silver, starlings the bronze, and blackbirds back in fourth.

Organiser Eric Spurr says the survey provides valuable data on trends in garden bird populations, which could boost conservation efforts, such as the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Department of Conservation’s rat, possum and stoat control programmes.

The pest control operations have helped to boost native bird numbers in urban bush reserves like Karori’s Zealandia wildlife sanctuary, and the survey shows that populations of tui are relatively high in the Wellington region.

But there is little evidence yet of an increase in native birds in gardens across the region as a whole.

The survey also provides useful information about variations in bird populations throughout the country.

“Yellowhammer counts are much higher in Wellington than anywhere else, and I’m still trying to get to the bottom of that,” Mr Spurr says.

As expected, there are far fewer mynas in the capital than further north. “But for most species, Wellington results are generally typical of the country as a whole.”

In the long term, researchers want to find out whether the number of birds, especially natives such as tui, fantails, bellbirds, kereru and grey warblers, are increasing or decreasing in Kiwi gardens.

Its main purpose is to monitor long-term trends and regional variations, for use by other scientists.

A total of 4060 people participated in survey nationally last year, of which 753 (18.5 per cent) were from the Wellington region.

In total, 156,977 birds were counted in last year’s survey, of which 23,900 were tallied in Wellington.

The survey is done over one hour and should be completed between today and next Sunday, July 7. Anyone who can identify birds in their gardens can take part.

To take part in the survey, go here.

MCB Hawaii protects endangered birds

Three young Hawaiian stilts stand in a mass of invasive pickleweed plants earlier this month near Nuupia Ponds at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (Photo by Todd Russell)

Three young Hawaiian stilts stand in a mass of invasive pickleweed plants earlier this month near Nuupia Ponds at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (Photo by Todd Russell)

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII – Disguised in brown camouflage, they blend into the mud and grass to avoid detection for their survival.

They are infant offspring of Hawaiian stilt, named aeo in Hawaiian, and a species of endangered native birds currently nesting around Nuupia Ponds at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. The base is home to approximately 10 percent of the population, and MCB Hawaii personnel take part in several projects to keep the birds alive.

“We’ve seen a growing population statewide due to increased pest and habitat control,” said Todd Russell, the natural resources manager at the base’s Environmental Compliance and Protection Department. “Their habitat on base is essential to their survival.”

When aeo are newly hatched, their main defense is using their brown fine feathers to conceal themselves in a rocky and muddy habitat. Russell said the chicks are especially vulnerable at this stage because they can’t fly. The infant offspring rely on good camouflage and distractions from adult stilts to escape predators.

“Those first couple of years are the hardest,” Russell said. “But if they make it, their survival rate is very high.”

If they live to adulthood, the birds grow taller with white and black feathers and long pink legs. The aeo is a variety of the species living only in Hawaii, with unique colored patterns. Russell said the birds make nests for eggs from March to mid-September, and right now is the peak season of nesting season.

Marines actively ensure aeo and other native species have room to grow by removing invasive pest plants that push out the birds and their food supply. Combat Assault Company from 3rd Marine Regiment and the environmental department annually host “Mud Ops,” when amphibious assault vehicles train in the mudflats to clear away the invasive mangrove and pickleweed. Mud Ops is held just before birds begin to pair together and when all the birds can fly away safely from the large vehicles.

During the last three years of Mud Ops, Cpl. Matthew McKelvey, a vehicle commander with Combat Assault Company, 3rd Marines, has operated one of the AAVs. He said being able to combine Marine Corps training with conservation efforts makes him proud. McKelvey said the annual training has also been an opportunity to learn more about Hawaii’s natural environment.

“I was surprised at how dangerous invasive plants can be,” said McKelvey, a native of Spring Grove, Ill. “The ecosystem is very fragile.”

Volunteers also clear out invasive plants by hand during Weed Warrior Project outings held all through the year. Russell said the additional effort could make the difference, especially when it takes three weeks for the infant birds to learn how to fly.

“In some nests, all the chicks make it,” he said. “In other nests, none of them survive. The average is about one chick per nest surviving.”

Aeo are also at risk of attack from invasive animals, said Aaron Nadig, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. His office studies the aeo and other native animals in Hawaii.

“The biggest thing we can do is provide a good habitat,” he said. “We can also control invasive predators.”

Nadig said the birds face predators including feral cats, dogs, bullfrogs and mongoose. One of the reasons why no pets are allowed on the Nuupia Running Trail is to prevent the animals from hunting down birds, Russell said.

Aeo chicks have already been spotted this season near Fort Hase Beach and along restricted areas near the Nuupia Ponds Running Trail.

McKelvey said seeing these positive results from his unit’s training is encouraging.

“Mud Ops is a great dual partnership with our unit and the environmental department,” McKelvey said. “It’s good training, and it feels great to help the birds out.”

With help from MCB Hawaii, the aeo have a chance at long life. Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office researchers said so far the oldest bird they’ve encountered is 29 years old.

Source: http://www.dvidshub.net

Is this a sighting of Australia’s most elusive bird, the night parrot?

IS this the first authenticated sighting of a living night parrot, the holy grail of ornithology in Australia?

Bushman naturalist John Young, in night parrot territory, will announce his claimed finding in Brisbane next week. Source: Supplied

Bushman naturalist John Young, in night parrot territory, will announce his claimed finding in Brisbane next week. Source: Supplied

Fewer than 250 of the plump, greenish and black-feathered birds are thought to survive and evidence of their existence is, well, as rare as parrot’s teeth.

Next week, bushman naturalist John Young will present to the world a series of photographs and a 17-second video of a bird he watched for 35 minutes in torchlight. He will say it proves beyond doubt that he has, at last, found the elusive, mysterious night parrot.

The bird, whose habitat is outback Australia, is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as being endangered.

The most recent sighting of a live one was in 1979 at Coopers Creek in South Australia. In 2006, a headless specimen was found in the Diamantina National Park, a couple of hundred kilometres from Boulia.

Mr Young will unveil the formal evidence and photographs at a function at Queensland Museum next Wednesday. He expects to have his doubters. The 60-year-old, a wildlife filmmaker and a lifelong naturalist with a particular interest in rare birds, has regularly had his work attacked by the scientific establishment, whose main criticism is that his work does not stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

To prove the authenticity of the photographs, Mr Young and his naturalist partner Tom Biggs spoke to various scientists and last week invited an authority on the study of night parrots, Steve Murphy, a senior ecologist for the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Management Unit in Kalka in South Australia, to inspect the evidence and give his opinion.

Dr Murphy, who has written extensively on the night parrot and spent years searching unsuccessfully for one, said unequivocally that the bird in the photographs and video was a night parrot.

“Nothing has been as good as this find by John,” Dr Murphy said. “We need to establish the full extent of the distribution of this bird which could easily go extinct. In the bird world, this is the holy grail.”

Sydney-based wildlife research scientist Rod Kavanagh is another to endorse Mr Young’s claim that the bird photographed is the night parrot.

Mr Kavanagh worked for more than 30 years at the NSW government’s forest science centre and had a special interest in nocturnal fauna and owls, and is now an ecological consultant.

“I have had the photographs of this bird, a copy of the video and the voice copy of the whistle sent to me for examination and I have no doubt whatever that this is a night parrot,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“This is a dramatic find, and I am well aware of its significance. Ask any bird-watcher and this is the bird they all nominate as the one they would most like to see.”

Mr Young claimed to have made the find a month ago, but he spent another week in the area where he made the sighting, trying to find the bird’s nest or its partner.

Protection measures had to be immediately implemented and the site secured to ensure as much as possible that the bird was not harmed and that the information did not get out, thereby attracting hundreds of interested bird-watchers to the site.

It was the recorded “whistle” of the bird that Mr Young said led to the find.

He said that in 2008 while he was on a search for the night parrot in far southwest Queensland, he heard a whistle just after midnight that he said had to be the sound of a parrot.

“I assumed it was a night parrot and I mimicked the call and two birds responded about 500m from us and came to about 20m but we could not see them because of the high spinifex and the dark night,” he said.

He recorded the sound and in April 2009 and June last year succeeded in calling up a parrot but was unable to see it.

“On May 24 this year I moved to a further site and at 6.28pm I put the recording on and got the loudest call from a night parrot I had ever heard,” Mr Young said.

“On the 25th we went back to the same place and at 6.38pm a male bird called again. The next night I decided to sit in a clearing. I put my speaker on the ground and played the recordings. Within 15 seconds he came straight up to us, sat behind a tussock calling out for a few minutes and I tried the call again.

“All of a sudden he was right behind us and began whistling and John put the light on and the bird arched its back and fluffed up, and began banging its head on the ground. John lifted the torch up and the parrot calmed and I got my first images.

“For the next 35 minutes or so he remained in the torch light, and whenever it was taken off him, he would begin to run off. It was the most amazing experience.”

Although Mr Young will show the images and answer any questions on Wednesday, a museum spokesman said the institution was not providing any endorsement of Mr Young’s claims, and its theatre had been hired at commercial rates by a private company.

“None of the scientists at Queensland Museum have seen the pictures or endorsed the research,” the spokesman said. “It’s a private function.”

In 2006, Mr Young provided pictures to Brisbane’s Courier Mail of the blue-browed fig-parrot, which he called “the Tasmanian Tiger of the bird world”, a discovery initially endorsed by the Queensland government.

Investigations by forensic photographic expert Gale Spring, associate professor in scientific photography at Melbourne’s RMIT University and whose professional expertise extended to providing expert evidence in the case of the disappearance of British backpacker Peter Falconio, cast doubt about the authenticity of the photographs, and the Queensland government withdrew its co-operation and endorsement of the claim.

Mr Young said he had made the mistake of not keeping the film negative on that occasion.

“There can be no such criticism this time as there are some 600 frames of the night parrot taken on a high-quality digital camera, and the disk is under lock and key,” he said.

“Nobody who has seen these photographs has expressed the slightest doubt about them showing the night parrot.”

David Sproule, an experienced photographer and computer and film-editing expert, examined the images, the computer support data and the photographs. He was able to blow the images up on a laptop screen so even one eye or one feather took up the whole screen.

He said that on the evidence he’d been given, the photographs were real.

“They have not been retouched or photo-shopped in any way,” Mr Sproule said. “These are definitely photos taken of a colourful parrot at night, I am certain of that.

“Whether or not it is a night parrot is for the experts in that field to decide, but I am convinced absolutely that they are genuine pictures.”

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Source: www.theaustralian.com.au