From Poland to UK – A Kingfisher’s Record Flight

November 1, 2011 by  
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A kingfisher from Poland has reportedly set a new record for the longest migration distance between the Continent and the United Kingdom, by flying a distance of more than 620 miles from its Polish habitat to the Orford Ness National Nature Reserve in Woodbridge, Suffolk. The ringed bird was captured, and later released, by members of the Felixstowe-based Landguard Bird Observatory who were carrying out routine studies on bird ringing at Orford Ness.

The previous record set by a bird of this species was 603 miles, traveling from Marloes, Pembrokeshire to Irun in Spain. The last ringed kingfisher found to have traveled from Europe to the UK, traveled 509 miles from Aken, Germany, in October 2008. While it still needs to be confirmed where exactly the kingfisher was ringed in order to establish the correct distance, Poland is further east than any of the other destinations recorded, making it a record-breaking flight irrespective of where in Poland the bird originated. While kingfishers routinely breed in Poland, a small number are known to migrate to the United Kingdom in autumn, presumably to escape areas that face long periods of freezing conditions.

While acknowledging that bird ringing is not a perfect science, the National Trust warden for Orford Ness, Duncan Kent, pointed out that over a period of time huge amounts of information are collected, providing insight into how long birds live, how far they travel and other valuable data for research purposes. Orford Ness site manager for the National Trust, Grant Lohoar, noted that the capture of the ringed kingfisher highlights the importance of this practice as a tool for conservation, as it allows researchers to identify individual birds.

Research carried out at Orford Ness is considered to be of utmost importance as, with its reed beds, marshes and lagoons, the area serves as a critical stopover site for migrating birds. Landguard Bird Observatory volunteer, Mike Marsh noted that if the kingfisher is indeed confirmed to be from Poland it will be one of the longest migrations for this species recorded in the database for bird ringing. The British Trust for Ornithology will follow up with Polish authorities to determine the point of origin of the record-breaking kingfisher.

Rice Farmers Support Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

October 25, 2011 by  
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Beginning this fall, and continuing through to 2014, rice farmers participating in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) will work with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture on a pilot project aimed at benefiting waterfowl and shorebirds by adapting certain rice production practices. Seventy farmers in Colusa and Glenn County, California, have signed contracts to support the MBHI in a project which is the culmination of many years of research and cooperation between rice farmers and conservationists, represented by Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, the NRCS and the California Rice Commission.

Speaking on behalf of the California Rice Commission, Paul Buttner noted that they have worked together in testing practices that appear to make a difference to the birds, while at the same time being acceptable to rice farmers. Under the new agreement, rice farmers will extend the time period that their fields are flooded, either starting earlier or draining the fields later, thereby accommodating the birds’ breeding and migratory needs. Also the depth of the water will be adjusted, specifically at agreed upon times in the season. NRCS Assist State Conservationist, Alan Forkey, explained that generally shorebirds and waterfowl prefer a habitat of between 2 and 6 inches deep, but rice fields are usually flooded deeper than that. This will be adjusted, and instead of draining the fields in January, farmers have agreed to keep them flooded for longer and drop the water levels more gradually.

To accommodate the nesting requirements of the birds, levees between fields will be modified, with sloped levees being flattened to provide a better nesting surface and allow easier access to the water for chicks. Some farmers have also agreed to provide artificial nesting structures. A number of the proposed changes will not only benefit the birds, but will be to the farmers’ benefit as well. For the farmers who have agreed to use portions of their fields as wetlands, incoming water will have the opportunity to warm up a bit before running on to the young rice plants which will be beneficial for them, plus longer periods of flooding the fields will help to degrade the rice plants after harvesting, making it easier to clear the fields.

The cooperation of farmers in implementing the pilot project has been very encouraging, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership will be measuring the results of the MBHI with a view to extending the project to other areas of importance to migratory birds.

Kirtland’s Warbler Population Stabilizes

September 27, 2011 by  
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Kirtland’s Warblers have very specific habitat requirements and are found only in the jack pine forests of Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin. Due primarily to habitat changes, the numbers of these elusive little birds were declining drastically, but thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, recent research by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has revealed that the population not only appears to have stabilized, it may even have grown. More than twenty years ago the Kirtland’s Warbler population in northern Michigan had declined to a count of 167 pairs.

The Kirtland’s Warbler count takes place in the second and third weeks of June each year, as this is the time when they defend their nesting territories and become quite vocal about it. The birds are very elusive and would be difficult to detect if it were not for their distinctive song. Only the males sing, and total population is based on the assumption that each male has a mate. The count carried out in June 2010 recorded 1,747 males, with this year’s count indicating that 1,805 males are resident across their habitat range. Two pairs were located in Ontario and another 21 in northern Wisconsin.

Kirtland’s Warblers select nesting sites in jack pine forests where the trees are between four and twenty years old. In the past, nature would create these new forests as wildfires swept through the area burning down the older trees and making way for seedlings to sprout and grow. This natural cycle has been interrupted by humans who have implemented fire suppression programs in the interests of safety. Even so-called ‘controlled’ fires can get out of hand and are considered too risky an option for reestablishing the natural order of things. So, in order to recreate the effects of wildfire and allow the growth of new jack pine trees and other rare plants in the ecosystem, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service carry out a continuous cycle of cutting, burning, seeding and replanting, over an area of around 3,000 acres.

The program has proven to be successful in a number of ways. The Kirtland’s Warbler population has increased, and snowshoe hares, deer and turkeys are among the creatures that are thriving in the area. Moreover, the program is providing valuable timber without damaging the environment. Although the Kirtland’s Warbler population has grown, it remains on the endangered species list where it has been since 1973. It appears likely that the population has reached its peak determined by the habitat available to it, but with ongoing conservation measures, the Kirtland’s Warbler will still be around in the years to come.

Chinquapin Takes on Irene

September 6, 2011 by  
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Whimbrel birds stand a height of 1.5 feet and are known to be migrating birds, referred to as long haul fliers, as they are able to travel distances of up to three thousand five hundred miles without resting in between and can maintain speeds of fifty miles per hour. Before they migrate they ready themselves by packing on weight, and will weigh approximately double their usual weight before migrating. What is truly amazing is a bird named Chinquapin that took on Hurricane Irene.

Chinquapin is a Whimbrel that was tagged with satellite tracking, enabling researchers and biologists, such as Fletcher Smith (College of William and Mary’s Centre for Conservation Biology), to track Chinquapin’s movements. Whimbrels are shorebirds but move to the high Arctic regions for breeding, with most birds remaining in Brazil during the winter months. To learn more about the migratory patterns of the whimbrels, tracking devices were fitted to a few birds.

Panic erupted as Chinquapin’s device transmitted that he was on a one way collision course with Hurricane Irene. As he entered the hurricane, his tracking device lost signal, leaving researchers expecting the worst and nervously watching their monitors to try and find him. Eventually his transmitter confirmed that he had made it through and was safely resting in the Bahamas. Smith said that it was incredible that some birds are able to increase their energy levels to fly through such horrific conditions. Even though Chinquapin survived, researchers are still no closer to finding out how he managed to survive.

Many birds are either thrown off course, or worst case scenario, killed, while trying to fly through these weather conditions, but it is not the first time for Chinquapin, who made the decision to fly around the 2010 Tropical Storm Colin. Another bird tried flying though the storm and was killed, while Chinquapin’s decision saved his life. Chinquapin is most definitely a very brave and special bird, and researchers will continue their efforts to track Whimbrels to learn more about them and their habits.

Interesting RSPB Survey Results

August 23, 2011 by  
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The RSPB’s wildlife survey would not be possible if not for the loyal participation of the public, who assist in the Make Your Nature Count project. The survey began on the 4th of June and ran to the 12th of June, involving over fifty thousand gardens. Due to the assistance of the participants, the RSPB Make Your Nature Count project could collect the necessary information to compile a report on a variety of bird species to determine how successful the breeding season was. The feedback was extremely positive.

Once all the data was received, it showed that there was an increase in the breeding of robins, and that there was a ten percent increase in song thrushes in gardens across the United Kingdom. The organizer of the RSPB Make Your Nature Count, Richard Bashford, commented that it was very exciting to see the increase of song thrushes, blackbirds and robins, as it means that weather conditions were ideal during the breeding season. Since 2010, blackbirds had increased by fifteen percent. Bashford said that even though the numbers of the song thrushes had increased, it is important to remember that they did go through a period of decline and are slowly beginning to recover and have a far way to go before their numbers are satisfying, even though there are not any guarantees that the same favorable outcome will appear next year. House sparrows also seemed to increase by approximately twenty percent, but are still to be watched carefully. Thirty percent increases were recorded for chaffinches and blue tits.

The survey was performed in rural areas, urban and suburban areas and it was also the first time the public participants were asked to be on the lookout for grass snakes and bats. Almost one in fifty of the participating members reported grass snakes and they are more likely to be found in rural areas. Thirty-three percent of the participants also reported bats. As an added request they were also asked to take note of toads and frogs, as there had been a decline in their numbers over the last two years. The wildlife in any garden impacts the environment, and through the voluntary services of the public the RSPB is able to conduct their surveys and compile their reports to keep constant records on the various species.

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