The Albatross Task Force Project

February 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

South Africans are fast gaining recognition for taking initiative and trying new things. Most recently they have enjoyed a lot of success in efforts aimed at minimizing the number of endangered albatrosses killed in fishing nets annually. Conservationists are now looking at how the project can be expanded.

Albatrosses do not generally receive a lot of public attention, but they are certainly no less important than other birds. This large sea bird is currently facing a huge dilemma – as many as three quarters of albatross species are at the brink of extinction. The main cause for their demise is the fact that they are easily entangled in long fishing lines which are dropped into the water to catch fish such as tuna. The bird then swoops down on the baited lines to which it is attracted, quickly becomes entangled in the lines and it is then eventually pulled underwater where it drowns. It would seem to be such a simple problem to solve, but up until now conservationists have not have much success in helping to stem the number of fishing industry-related deaths.

Fortunately a South African initiative called the Albatross Task Force (ATF) project has now found a way to make the lines safer and so reduce the probability of the birds being drawn to them and becoming entangled. The project’s main preservation technique involves attaching brightly colored streamers to the back of the vessels. These streamers, known as tori lines, flap in the wind and scare the birds away, so helping them to avoid becoming entangled. The initiative also looks at educating fishermen so as to help them avoid catching albatrosses. They share specialist knowledge with the fishermen and also encourage them to fish at night when activity is low. Finding more effective ways to keep the lines down under the water is also encouraged. While changing entrenched attitudes takes time, new laws stipulating that no more than 25 birds may be caught during fishing trips is a very powerful motivator.

So far the Albatross Task Force project has been incredibly successful in helping these endangered birds to avoid premature deaths. The project was launched in 2006 and in 2008 the number of birds killed by fisheries in South Africa dropped by an incredible 85%. Expanding the project to encompass other countries is simply the next logical step, and the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is very supportive of the move. Hopefully this creative and forward-thinking initiative will save yet another bird species from extinction.

Shifting Migrations Might Indicate Global Warming

February 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

Each year thousands of citizens in the US get involved with the annual Christmas bird count. They are not professional birders, but their counts do help biologists and other researchers to get a better idea of the grand scale of things. Over time this count has revealed that almost 60 percent of migratory birds are spending their winters further north than they did forty years ago.

According to studies, the American Robin and White-throated Sparrow are just two of the 305 bird species examined which showed a dramatic northward shift in their annual migratory patterns. While this does not prove global warming in itself, it is consistent with the sort of behavior you’d expect to take place in direct reaction to a steadily warming climate. The concern is not so much for the birds themselves, but for other non-migratory bird species and animals that are left behind to suffer through the heat. Kenn Kaufman, field editor for Audubon Magazine, stressed the interdependence of everything in an ecosystem when he said about the trend: “Everything is connected. Birds are not isolated; it’s an ecosystem. It’s a system and something that happens in one area is going to affect everything else.”

While bird ranges can change for a number of different reasons, such as urban sprawl, supplemented diets and deforestation, researchers have noted that the most likely explanation for why so many different migratory birds over such a broad area are choosing to winter further north is most likely global warming. The shift is not just affecting one or two species from one or two areas – its affecting a large number of species from a large number of areas. The phenomenon is simply too widespread to be attributed entirely to only one localized cause.

So where does the report released by the National Audubon Society leave bird lovers? It refreshes in our minds the need to not contribute to the many factors causing global warming. Not only can we change our own lifestyles and encourage others to do likewise, but if we live in an area where there are non-migratory birds, we can try to be aware of their needs, providing them with food, water and shelter so that they can survive the conditions as best as possible.

Hen Harrier to be Released into English Wilds

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

The hen harrier is one of the most endangered birds of prey in Britain. Their numbers have fallen incredibly in England in the past, with just ten breeding pairs having been counted last year. While this bird species was once very widespread across Britain, it now seems its domain is limited mainly to Scotland where there are about 630 breeding pairs.

The main reason behind the dramatic decline of hen harriers in England is systematic persecution – namely, the shooting of these birds in their natural habitats in the Pennines and the Peak District. This is an area where these birds come to prey on grouse chicks and it is here that they are most ruthlessly persecuted. However, it seems that government officials are not content to sit back and watch extinction in action. Natural England, a government conversation agency, has been hard at work at drafting up plans to save the hen harrier in England. They would like to reintroduce the bird into the ranges that it formerly inhabited, such as lowland farms, heathland and upland areas including the Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest areas. All this will hopefully take place during the course of the next two years. Until now their plans have been put forth somewhat clandestinely, with the proposals gaining approval from bird conservation organizations, environment ministers and moorland and country sports organizations. The detailed proposals will be officially released to the public in early April.

Why all the secrecy? It seems it is feared that there will be some opposition from certain conservationists and landowners. Caution certainly is the order of the day, since these birds can pose a threat to resident land owners in the proposed areas for release. Farmers in the area are already struggling with a surge in the number of sparrowhawks, red kits and buzzards and the addition of another feathered predator will no doubt only add to their worries. Some landowners use their estates primarily for pheasant and partridge shooting and are concerned that the birds could get in the way. Basically there are fears that the widespread and non-specific reintroduction of these birds of prey could cause havoc to a number of already established farm and gaming practices. What’s more, Scottish sheep farmers are already complaining about decreases in stock numbers due to the much higher numbers of hen harriers in those parts of the United Kingdom. While the reintroduction of the hen harriers to the English wilds is widely supported due to the fact that they are endangered, it seems it is hoped that conservation officials will choose wisely as to how many of these birds will be released and where they will be allowed to make their new home.

Jekyll Island To Host National Bird Education Gathering

February 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

Like flocks of gulls converging on a rocky point, more than a hundred bird educators and enthusiasts are due to flock to Jekyll Island for the 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering from February 22, 2009. The various bird lovers will be coming from schools, bird refuges, national parks, bird clubs and nature centers especially for the event.

The 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering is an open event that can be attended by pretty much anyone with an interest in birds, bird education and various bird conservation efforts. It is a five day event that is designed to encourage those in attendance to explore various wildlife viewing areas and grow in appreciation for birds and other animals. The Bird Education Network (BEN) Committee worked hand in hand with the Council for Environmental Education and Flying WILD when organizing the event. Jekyll Island was chosen especially for its truly exceptional birding and nature-based, tourist-orientated activities.

During the gathering, attendees will likely spent plenty of time exploring the wonderful and diverse facets of Jekyll Island. Guided field sessions will not only involve walking, but kayaking and canoeing. Birders will be able to travel through the inter-coastal waterways and the Okefenokee Swap during their many outdoor adventures. When they head indoors they will be presented with a vast array of events to choose from. They can enjoy listening to guest speakers or visit the many exhibitions that will be erected specifically for the event. As they make their way along they will be able to share their knowledge and experience with other birders as well as learn more from old and new friends. Topics for discussion at the event will include urban-based bird education, helping families to connect to nature and climate change and its effects on birds. Most of the indoor events are scheduled to take place at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

Jekyll Island is home to more than 250 different bird species and has been included in the Colonial Coat Birding and Nature Trail for this reason. Birders will be able to spot Roseate Spoonbills, Painted Buntings, Woodstorks and Bald Eagles, amongst other things, in this delightful wilderness area. If this sounds like your idea of a great week or weekend, make sure that you don’t miss out on the 2009 Bird Education Network National Gathering.