How Northern Ireland’s endangered birds are getting the space to thrive

Many of Northern Ireland’s bird species are heading for the brink – but the RSPB is celebrating after a bumper summer delivered a hugely successful breeding season.

Numbers of breeding common terns rocketed by 45% on its Northern Ireland reserves in just one year, while the threatened lapwing is up 38%.

Curlew and redshank, which are included on the ‘red list’ of species of conservation concern, rose by 18% and 22% respectively, while black-headed gulls are up 29%. Breeding pairs of amber-listed snipe are up 36% since summer 2012. Continue reading

Glendale teacher helps track bird populations in Wyoming

For nine days last month, Anne Reinhard tracked songbirds in Wyoming for a study on the effects of human development on bird populations.

Anne Reinhard wading in Karns Meadow. (Photo By Johnny Jauregui)

Anne Reinhard wading in Karns Meadow. (Photo By Johnny Jauregui)

Reinhard, who teaches Spanish at Clark Magnet High School and coaches students as they develop their senior projects, worked alongside fellow instructors and scientists to study four species of songbirds in developed, semi-developed and undeveloped areas of Jackson Hole.

Reinhard has gone bird watching with the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society but had never participated in scientific research. She said the experience was eye-opening as she chased after the American yellow warbler, the black-headed grosbeak, the song sparrow and the American robin.

She worked with eight Los Angeles Unified teachers who also volunteered for the trip through Earthwatch, a nonprofit environmental organization that encourages volunteers to work in scientific fields.

At night, the teachers bunked in cabins at the Teton Science School. By day, they joined scientists in a vast search for the birds’ nests and monitored ones that were already on the scientists’ radar.

“It was a lot of crawling over things,” she said, followed by logging data onto Excel spreadsheets, including the measurements of vegetation surrounding the nests and the lengths of birds’ wings, feathers, beaks and their overall weight, when they were able to capture the birds.

When Reinhard’s group discovered more than a dozen new nests, they marked their locations with ribbons placed about 10 meters away so they would not be too visible.

The scientists have studied the birds for nearly a decade in hopes the data will reveal where the songbirds’ nests are most successful.

In the mid-2000s, scientists worried about the dwindling number of yellow warblers but over the years, data has revealed that the birds thrive in the most developed area in their study in an open green space that contains a creek and marshland.

“They had expected there would be less diversity and a lower population in the developed area,” Reinhard said.

Reinhard said that gathering research alongside scientists made her discover that “rather than giving you definitive answers, [research] really gives you a lot more questions.”

The information collected from the project will be folded into a comprehensive land management plan for Teton County.

“It was really something we were contributing to,” said Reinhard, whose trip was sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation. “It really made me feel we were doing something worthwhile.

Now with school back in session, Reinhard said she will encourage her students to participate in similar research.

“The broader my experience is, the better the resource I am for the kids,” she said.

Source: Kelly Corrigan|



Woodpecker population surges in metro Detroit as birds discover emerald ash borer delicacy

Red-bellied woodpeckers are common in Michigan -- and their population is increasing. / Free Press file photo

Red-bellied woodpeckers are common in Michigan — and their population is increasing. / Free Press file photo

That tapping noise outside isn’t in your head.

The Detroit area’s dubious distinction as ground zero for an invasive species of ash-tree-destroying bug has led to an unexpected side effect: a surge in the population of at least two species of woodpecker, according to a new study.

Researchers at Cornell University and the U.S. Forest Service examined woodpecker populations in metro Detroit as well as up to 62 miles away.

They also compared the area to woodpecker populations in five other Midwestern cities where the emerald ash borer effects have not been as severe. The results: The Detroit area has a noticeably higher population of red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.

An emerald ash borer / Free Press file photo

An emerald ash borer / Free Press file photo

“One of the easiest ways to find an infested tree when you’re out in the field is to find a tree that’s been heavily attacked by woodpeckers,” said Andrew Liebhold, an insect scientist for the U.S. Forest Service and co-author of the study. “They destroy the bark of the tree, preying on the emerald ash borers. It almost looks like the tree exploded.”

Curiously, two other species of woodpecker, downy and hairy woodpeckers, had population declines after the emerald ash borer’s arrival, though in the last few years have begun recovering, the study found.

The reasons are unclear, but Cornell bird scientist and study co-author Walt Koenig said it could be that the other woodpecker species crowded them out of nesting habitat or that they were slower on the uptake about the new addition to their diet.

“Some species really aren’t very good at taking up novel food items,” he said.

The ash borer is believed to have arrived in the Detroit area on wood packing materials on either a ship or cargo airplane, Liebhold said. While it may have arrived in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was first detected in the area in 2002, he said.

In the emerald ash borer’s native range in east Asia, trees have evolved a resistance and the beetle only feeds on dead and dying trees, Liebhold said. But in North America, without the evolutionary history between the ash borer and trees, unprepared healthy trees are attacked by the beetle and killed, he said.

Earlier research shows woodpeckers will eat up to 40% of emerald ash borer larvae and pupae in an area. But more woodpeckers may only slow, and can’t stop, what appears coming — the eradication of ash trees in the U.S., he said.

“We’ve been watching it for the last 10 years now, and it’s just blowing up,” Liebhold said. “The way it has spread in the northeast is probably a little faster than any of us predicted. In 40 years it may be over.”

Mark Wloch of Southgate, a bird-watcher, welcomes more woodpeckers, but not what’s bringing them.

“It’s always good to have more birds like that,” he said. “But it’s not good to have ash borers.”


Scots linnet numbers down to 20-year low

A Linnet, showing its characteristic red breast and forehead. Picture: Contributed

A Linnet, showing its characteristic red breast and forehead. Picture: Contributed

POPULATIONS of one of Scotland’s smallest and most tuneful finches have plummeted to their lowest levels in 20 years, a new report revealed yesterday.

The number of linnets recorded in the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) annual breeding bird survey almost halved between 2011 and 2012 (by 49 per cent) to a record low since monitoring began in 1994.

Once a favourite with people who keep caged birds, due to their melodious song, linnets were already red-listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern list after populations across the UK previously dropped by an estimated 57 per cent between 1970 and 2008.

The latest survey also showed that while linnets suffered the greatest percentage fall, swifts were also in the top three hardest-hit bird species with numbers falling by 42 per cent in Scotland – the third year in a row where populations dropped. That followed a fall of 57 per cent in swifts north of the Border since the mid-1990s.

Experts said the late spring and recent bad weather may have caused the latest “alarming” declines, which brought calls for greater action to help the most threatened species survive. It was not all bad news, however, as several species that had been declining since 2008 rose significantly in the past year, including wrens, one of Scotland’s tiniest birds, where numbers increased by 66 per cent.

Goldcrests also saw a reversal of fortune, with previously falling populations increasing by 34 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

Jeremy Wilson, head of conservation science at RSPB Scotland, said: “In under 20 years, we have lost more than half of our kestrels, lapwings, curlews and swifts. This is deeply concerning and should act as a wake-up call, not just to conservationists, but also landowners, government agencies and the general public.

“We can all play a part to help give nature a home, be it by providing suitable habitat, improving legislation or increasing research to understand the causes of decline. If we fail to do this, we run the serious risk of losing these species from our countryside forever.”

Kate Risely, survey organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “While swifts can be hard to monitor, a recorded 40 per cent decline in these charismatic birds rings alarm bells.” However, she added: “Many birds are declining in Scotland, but it’s good to see that numbers of wrens and goldcrests are showing signs of recovery after being hit hard by cold winters.”

The yearly survey which records population trends for 61 bird species in Scotland is based on counts by volunteers conducted in 380 1km squares across the country. Linnets were recorded in just 87 of the survey sites last year, a fall of 49 per cent on the previous year. Total UK population numbers are estimated to be about 430,000, the BTO said.


Lundy bird populations soar after rats eradicated

The island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel. Photograph: Robert Harding Picture Library/Alamy

The island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel. Photograph: Robert Harding Picture Library/Alamy

A project to eradicate rats from a rocky island off Devon has resulted in a tenfold increase in the population of an endangered burrowing seabird that nests there, conservationists have revealed.

Wildlife charities are delighted that the removal of rats from Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, has apparently led to a dramatic boost to the number of Manx shearwaters and other birds on the island.

A similar project costing £750,000 is due to get under way this autumn on two of the isles of Scilly, St Agnes and Gugh, to wipe out the descendants of brown rats that swam to shore from shipwrecks.

But while residents and bird lovers are celebrating the success on Lundy and the plans for Scilly, some animal rights activists are angry that rats are being killed. They accuse those behind the cull of targeting the rodents to boost the tourist industries on the islands, which depend to a large extent on birdspotters.

Survey teams from the RSPB who returned to Lundy 10 years after the launch of the seabird recovery project found that the number of breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters had leapt from 300 to 3,000. Puffin numbers had increased from just five birds to 80, while razorbills and shags had also made substantial gains.

Helen Booker, RSPB senior conservation officer in the south-west of England, said: “This is such an exciting result, better than we expected, and the rate of increase is an indication of just how important rat-free islands like Lundy are as breeding site for seabirds.”

David Bullock, head of nature conservation for the National Trust, which owns Lundy, said “Once the rats had gone from Lundy, the number of pairs of shearwaters went from hundreds to thousands in matter of a few years.”

He said such a rapid recovery must have been aided by birds from other colonies, probably including those on islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, settling to breed on Lundy.

The results will provide encouragement for a similar project on St Agnes and Gugh, 28 miles off the south-west tip of mainland Britain. Here an estimated 3,100 brown rats are blamed for preying on Scilly shearwaters as well as storm petrels, terns and the Scilly shrew, a rodent found only on the archipelago.

From this autumn, poison bait will be laid for the rats as part of a 25-year Isles of Scilly seabird recovery project, which is being run with cash from the National Lottery, the EU’s Life fund and other sources.

It follows a 25% fall in bird numbers in recent years. The project is deemed feasible because the islands are surrounded by deep water, and so it is thought unlikely once the rats there are removed that others will be able to repopulate it.

It is deemed particularly important because St Agnes and Gugh are close to the uninhabited island of Annet, which has significant colonies of seabirds.

Jaclyn Pearson, project manager for the Isles of Scilly recovery project, said it had the backing of the 75 residents of St Agnes, though some of the children had taken some convincing.

She said the bait stations were designed to be accessible only to rats, and a stock of the antidote had been ferried across in case a cat or dog got to the poison. The islanders will cull the extra rabbits likely to be hopping around once the rat population decreases.

The Animal Aid campaign group accused the Lundy and Scilly projects of condemning rats to an “awful death” for commercial reasons. It suggested that other factors – including too many tourists – could be causing the falls in seabird numbers.

Its director, Andrew Tyler, said: “Rats don’t sell tourist tickets but birds do. They are making a judgment that the birds are important and rats are disposable. We do not accept that premise.”

• This article was amended on 30 July 2013 because the original called Animal Aid a charity. This has been corrected.


ND working to import sage grouse from Montana

In this undated image provided Friday July 19, 2013 by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows an adult sage Grouse. Wildlife officials are hoping to move 60 sage grouse from Montana to North Dakota to boost a waning population.

In this undated image provided Friday July 19, 2013 by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows an adult sage Grouse. Wildlife officials are hoping to move 60 sage grouse from Montana to North Dakota to boost a waning population.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Wildlife officials hope to move as many as 60 greater sage grouse from Montana to North Dakota over the next two years to boost a waning population.

The proposal is part of a multistate effort to improve conditions for the birds and keep the federal government from listing them as endangered. Officials in Western states fear that federally mandated protections could severely restrict ranching, grazing and energy development.

“We’re trying to find a happy medium where we can still produce and capture the energy that we need, and still keep the birds protected,” said Aaron Robinson, sage grouse biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “Everyone needs to give a little. The sage grouse are already giving. They’re being wiped off the landscape in their entire range, and now it’s time for the other side to give a little.”

Scientists say the sage grouse has lost half of its traditional range and also has been hit hard by the West Nile virus. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined sage grouse deserved federal protection but that other species were of higher priority. The agency has pledged to make a final decision on listing the sage grouse by late 2015.

Far southwestern North Dakota is on the edge of the sage grouse’s historic range. The bird’s population in that area peaked at 542 males in 1953, and has steadily declined in the past three decades. Sage grouse hunting was halted in the state in 2008 for the first time in nearly half a century after a steep population drop officials attributed to the West Nile virus.

This year’s survey found only 50 males. Wildlife officials would like to see five times that number.

With help from a report the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued in March, North Dakota is beefing up its sage grouse conservation plan, though it’s largely technical updates to its 2005 plan. It calls for measures ranging from limits on energy development to incentives for habitat conservation, and adds the proposed bird transplant from Montana.

Montana wildlife officials are trying to determine whether its population is stable enough to lose 30 females; if so, they will be brought next spring to North Dakota’s Bowman County.

It’s critical that the females meld into the existing population, according to Brian Rutledge, of Fort Collins, Colo., who oversees the National Audubon Society’s Sage Brush Initiative.

“Frankly, the success rate (of transplants in other states) has not been great,” Rutledge said. “That’s largely because we’ve been trying to restore birds to areas where they no longer exist.”

Moving the birds across state borders is unusual, Robinson said, though the birds in southeast Montana, northwest South Dakota and southwest North Dakota are part of one big population.

“We’re just taking birds essentially from the same overall population and trying to bolster areas where the birds aren’t doing as well,” he said.

If the first transplant be successful, another 30 birds will move in 2015. The total cost of the project is estimated at $170,000, with Game and Fish covering half and Fish and Wildlife the other half.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council, a trade association supporting more than 350 energy companies, said it supports efforts to keep wildlife species from being listed as endangered. A council task force is reviewing the Game and Fish’s sage grouse plan in advance of an Aug. 1 comment deadline, Vice President Kari Cutting said.

The Little Missouri Grazing Association, which represents ranchers in the region, has no immediate concerns about the potential transplant of birds, President Brian Gerbig said. The association already is doing work to monitor the condition of sage grouse habitat, hoping to show that cattle can co-exist with the birds, he said.

“We’re trying to do what we can to keep them off the endangered species list,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can predict what that would lead to.”