Birding Along the Great Rift Valley Flyway in Israel

July 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Located at the point where three continents meet, Israel has reported sightings of more than 500 species of birds, many of which stop-over during their migration between Europe/Western Asia to Africa along the Great Rift Valley flyway. So, a recent announcement by the Israeli government that it will be investing NIS 37 million (US$10 million) in developing a network of centers along the migration route is welcome news for birding enthusiasts. Three existing bird watching centers are to be upgraded – Kfar Rupin, Eilat and Ma’agan – with four new centers planned for Ein Gedi, Hatzeva, Lotan and Sde Boker, as per the proposal put together by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and Tel Aviv University. The project, which will include a web-accessible computerized bird monitoring database, aims to attract up to 100,000 bird watchers to the region annually, while raising environmental awareness and promoting education and research.

An estimated 500 million birds stop-over in Israel during their autumn and spring migrations, between mid-March and mid-May and November to December. The area of Galilee, with its kibbutz farms and fishponds located on the banks of the Jordan River, hosts migratory birds that take a rest period of several days before completing the last stretch of their trip which spans three continents and covers thousands of kilometers. During this time bird watchers can expect to see vast flocks of pelicans, storks (up to 85 percent of the world’s stork population) and other birds setting up temporary rest-stops.

The Hula Valley Nature Reserve is one of the country’s most famous birding sites and well worth visiting if you plan to go birding in Israel. The reserve, which is listed by BBC Wildlife magazine as one of the world’s most important wildlife observation sites, has an interesting history. In the 1950s most of the lake was drained to make way for farming, with devastating results on the ecosystem and endemic plant and animal life. In 1994, in an effort to restore the balance, part of the lake was re-flooded and soon attracted birds again. Today the reserve is home to tens of thousands of aquatic birds representing more than 200 species and welcomes birders with an informative visitors’ center and a floating bridge with blinds from which birds can be viewed. Hula Nature Reserve stands as testimony to nature’s ability to recover when given the opportunity to do so.

Montecasino Bird Gardens in South Africa

July 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Situated in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, South Africa, Montecasino Bird Gardens is home to more than sixty species of birds, along with a variety of small mammals, amphibians and reptiles from around the world. With pathways winding through lush gardens and a huge walk-through aviary, visitors can enjoy a tropical paradise and get back to nature without leaving the city.

One of the highlights of a visit to this award winning attraction is the Flight of Fantasy show which take place weekdays at 11h00 and 15h00, with an extra show at 13h00 on weekends and public holidays. Staged at the beautifully crafted Tuscan amphitheater, trainers guide talented and colorful birds through a forty minute performance that is both educational and entertaining, with (quite literally) the biggest star of the show being Oliver, the Southern White Pelican.

Features of Montecasino Bird Gardens include the largest collection of South African Cycads in the world, with 37 different species and over 750 plants, the oldest of which is estimated to be older than 2,500 years. The Lorikeet aviary offers visitors the opportunity to feed these colorful birds their favorite treat of nectar, while Macaws and Cockatoos roam freely in the park’s Parrot Gallery. In addition to a variety of frogs, the Frog Room features scorpions and spiders. Reptiles at Montecasino include a six-meter Reticulated Python as well as all of Southern Africa’s most venomous snakes, including the Black Mamba and Puff Adder. Resident mammals include Lemurs, Meerkats, Sloths and Blue Duikers.

Among the latest arrivals at Montecasino Bird Gardens are Laughing Kookaburras and Blue-Wing Kookaburras, Caribbean Flamingoes, Green-Naped Pheasant Pigeons and Keel-Billed Toucans. One of Montecasino’s ambassadors for conservation is Moholoholo the Cape Vulture. Named for the rehabilitation center in Hoedspruit which nursed him back to health after being poisoned by farmers who were attempting to eradicate predatory jackals. Moholoholo was the only survivor of his eighteen member family. Through the dedication of the staff at Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center, the bird was taught to walk and fly again and now helps to educate the public on the necessity of conservation.

Tucson Bird & Wildlife Festival 2012

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

This celebration of the unique biodiversity of southeastern Arizona offers the opportunity to discover and enjoy the Sky Islands and Sonoran Desert as an educational experience. For more information visit www.tucsonaudubon.org

Dates: 15-19 August 2012
Venue: Riverpark Inn
City: Tucson
State: Arizona
Country: United States

Warblers – Specialty Workshop

July 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

The Tucson Audubon Society presents a Warbler Specialty Workshop with Homer Hansen. Learn to distinguish fall warblers, with key structural characteristics and species comparisons, along with warbler vocalizations. For more information visit the Tucson Audubon Society Website.

Dates: 23-25 August 2012
Venue: Tucson Audubon Society
City: Tucson
State: Arizona
Country: United States

Pacific Flyway Migratory Birds Assisted by Rice Farmers

July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Following the introduction of rice as a food crop during the California gold rush, farmers reportedly battled to find the ideal growing conditions for decades before discovering the right combination of terrain and rice varieties which has turned California into the largest producer of medium and short gain japonica (sushi) rice in the United States. Its annual production of more than two million tons of rice makes it the largest rice producer in the nation and contributes over $1.3 billion to California’s economy. However, all of this success has come at a cost to the birdlife that depends on the wetlands that have now been claimed as rice paddies.

The good news is that more than 165 rice farmers have committed to the implementation of a plan to rectify this situation, and working along with the US Natural Resources Conservation Service a system of islands and suitable habitats will be built to provide migratory birds with a place to rest, feed and hopefully breed. An amount of $2 million has been allocated to fund the project in an effort to build up bird populations that have been declining at an alarming rate. California’s Sacramento Valley forms part of the Pacific Flyway which stretches from Patagonia to Alaska, so the planned improvements will make a significant difference to the welfare of migrating birds which already deal with a perilous journey each time they migrate. In addition to building new habitats and islands, the farmers are adapting their irrigation methods for their paddies. Instead of draining the fields completely in winter in preparation for the new season, the farmers will drain the fields slowly, leaving some partially flooded to provide feeding a nesting grounds for water birds, thereby aiding conservation efforts.

Despite the fact that rice paddies now cover up to 95 percent of the native wetland area of Sacramento Valley, dozens of migratory water bird species can be seen here, including American avocets, cinnamon-teal ducks, dunlins, dowitchers and black-necked stilts. Scientists will need at least two years of monitoring and data gathering to determine the success rate of the project, but with the willing cooperation of local farmers, they are hopeful that the new measures, which require only a fraction of the farming land, will result in a significant increase in water bird populations.