News archive

July 2015

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Failure to protect English wildlife

Failure to protect English wildlife

The decline in woodland birds has several known and potential causes including a lack of management and increased deer browsing pressure, both of which result in reduced woodland diversity causing less availability of suitable nesting and foraging habitats. In addition, several woodland birds are long-distance migrants, and a decline in the extent or quality of habitats used outside the breeding season and climate change may be affecting these species.

It's not all bad news, though, as numbers of breeding wetland birds have remained broadly stable between 1975 and 2013, while populations of wintering waterbirds have increased by 93 per cent over the same time period.

These figures can conceal localised or species declines, however. The breeding seabird index has been assessed as 'little or no overall change', but there is considerable variation between species. Surface-feeders such as Kittiwake and four tern species have fared less well than sub-surface feeders like Northern Gannet, Common Guillemot, Shag and Cormorant.

Recent declines in species such as Kittiwake is known to be linked with food shortages during the breeding season, and although is not clear what is ultimately driving this, fishing practice and climate change, or some combination of the two, are likely contributory factors.

Read full report on the link below:

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Polar bears vs. Dolphins in Svalbard

Polar bears vs. Dolphins in Svalbard

Polar bears lead a very difficult lifestyle in the regions of the High Arctic. They rely on a high energy-rich diet to maintain their body functions. And in the Arctic, layers of fat are the best way to store energy and get some protection from the cold and harsh environment. Thus, polar bears are constantly on the search for prey with a big layer of blubber. Their search usually takes them along the edge of the Arctic sea ice where they are looking for seals, their main prey. On the archipelago of Svalbard, however, polar bears also move along the ice-covered northern and eastern coasts on their search for food.This behavior also makes them easier to spot for researchers who are trying to assess the ecology of polar bears by tagging the animals and later re-catching them to find out about their wandering routes and growth. In Svalbard, this survey is conducted annually by researchers of the Norwegian Polar Institute by means of ships and helicopters. On one of these survey trips, a team of researchers with Jon Aars came across a previously unknown behavior of Svalbard polar bears: the hunt of white-beaked dolphins, a small dolphin species which is found mostly along the west coast of Svalbard.

Aars and his team found a presumably old and undernourished polar bear on the ice edge of a frozen fjord in the North of Svalbard. When getting closer, they saw that the bear had been just feeding on a small carcass which turned out to be the remains of white-beaked dolphin. The carcass was placed just next to a hole in the ice and the bear was in the process of covering the carcass with snow, another rare behavior of polar bears. The scientists couldn't find another opening in the ice and thus concluded that it must have been a breathing hole kept open by the dolphins. A bit further away, the team found another carcass almost entirely consumed already.The polar bear was immobilized and examined by the team.

From their findings on both bear and dolphin, Aars and his team concluded that the bear had killed the dolphins and had dragged them onto the ice for consumption. Only very rarely, polar bears have been observed to hunt small cetaceans at their breathing holes after they had been trapped by fast incoming sea ice.Jon Aars states that polar bears have not been reported before to hunt dolphins as the latter are rarely found that far north and are not ice-adapted.

Additionally, dolphins are very fast swimmers and very agile and thus hard to catch even at a small breathing hole. More carcasses were found during the course of the summer in the vicinity of the fjord and Aars concluded that one or more pods of dolphins must have been trapped by the ice, then drowned or suffocated and gotten washed ashore where the remains were found by polar bears and other scavengers. "Dolphins may provide a significant source of food for some bears locally over a longer period of time after such an incident", he states. "White beaked dolphins may offer a new prey or carrion food source to bears in an environment where access to ringed seals and bearded seals may decline in future years."

Source: Polar Research (2015) No. 34

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Nuthatch on branch


Members are invited to visit the one acre wildlife garden at Five Oaks Cottage near Petworth, which opens by appointment only during July and September under the National Gardens Scheme. The garden has been featured in several national magazines and has won two awards from Chichester DC; it hosts a variety of wildflowers birds and other wildlife including badgers, nuthatches and tree creepers, weasels, tawny owl, marsh tits, goldcrests, and nesting hornets. Entrance fee £5 per head in aid of NGS charities. Contact Jean Jackman 07939 272443 to arrange date and time to visit, and for directions. Handy for Amberley tearooms and RSPB Pulborough Brooks reserve.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

BirdLife's long path to stopping seabird deaths in Europe

BirdLife's long path to stopping seabird deaths in Europe

BirdLife International have set up a European Seabird Task Force to try to repeat the success of their fight against fishery by-catch in other parts of the world.

Every day across the world, fishermen are out at sea, along coasts or far offshore in search of a good catch. Seabirds are irresistibly drawn to their boats, their bait and the promise of a tasty and easily caught meal.

However, getting too close to fishing gear is dangerous, and unsuspecting seabirds get accidentally hooked or entangled, and then drown. Unintentional deaths like this are called 'seabird by-catch', and it kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds each year. It's also costly for the fishing industry as a hooked bird is an expensive missed chance to catch a fish.

The scale of this problem is enormous, yet for some years there have been very simple ways available to prevent seabirds from being caught. Over the last decade, BirdLife's Albatross Task Force has been on a mission in fisheries around the world, collaborating with fisher communities to create solutions to prevent by-catch. So far, the task force has achieved impressive reductions in numbers killed in southern Africa and South America, but despite their proven success it has been tough trying to introduce the same programme in Europe.

Seabird by-catch is a big problem in Europe, too, but it's often ignored by governments. BirdLife believes that at least 200,000 seabirds across the region are caught each year.

Europe's most threatened seabird species, Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater, is vulnerable to being caught by fishers using long-lines (long lengths of fishing lines with hooks) in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, gradually pushing the species along the path to extinction.

In the Baltic, threatened and declining seaduck species such as Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck are caught in large numbers in fishing nets as they feed by diving. When you consider this in the context of how European seabird populations are faring, it is clear that this is an important problem that needs solving.

To address this, the European Commission adopted the Seabird Plan of Action in 2012, which sets out the path for EU Member States to work towards reducing by-catch. It includes recommendations for monitoring on board fishing vessels, and ensuring that fishermen use proven solutions such as those demonstrated by BirdLife's Albatross Task Force.

Progress has been slow. While governments continue to grapple with how to deal with the issue on the ground, it was clear to BirdLife that a 'Seabird Task Force' was needed in Europe to demonstrate the effectiveness of collecting detailed information on by-catch, and to highlight the most problematic areas, in order to develop solutions for vessels and fishing methods.

The Seabird Task Force was launched this year to establish a European collaborative approach to tackle by-catch. It is currently made up of two expert teams, with one working in the Spanish Mediterranean and one in Lithuania, each led by BirdLife Partners.

In Spain, the team is focused on long-lines, with fishing vessels operating along the Catalan coast, which is a particularly important feeding area for Balearic Shearwater. In Lithuania, the team is working with fishermen who use nets for Atlantic Cod, a fishery which is known to catch large numbers of birds in the autumn and spring.

The current focus is on monitoring the number of birds caught in both regions and fishing gears so that BirdLife can understand the problem in greater detail. The next critical step, beginning in 2016, will be to develop solutions with collaborating fishermen. This will be particularly challenging in Lithuania, because so far there is no accepted 'best practice' for reducing by-catch in this type of fishing net. This means BirdLife will be at the cutting edge of developing and testing possible solutions as we go.

You can read about the task force's progress through its blog, and also find out about the important by-catch work of BirdLife's Partner in Portugal (SPEA).

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Why Birds Don't Have Teeth

Why Birds Don't Have Teeth

Birds like anteaters, baleen whales and turtles don't have teeth. But this wasn't always the case. The common ancestor of all living birds sported a set of pearly whites 116 million years ago, a new study finds.

In the study, researchers looked at the mutated remains of tooth genes in birds to figure out when birds developed "edentulism" an absence of teeth. Ancient birds have left only a fragmented fossil record, but studying the genes of modern birds can help clarify how the bird lineage has changed over time.

"DNA from the crypt is a powerful tool for unlocking secrets of evolutionary history," Mark Springer, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside and one of the study's lead researchers, said in a statement.
Modern birds have curved beaks and a hearty digestive tract that help them grind and process food. But the 1861 finding of the fossil bird Archaeopteryx in Germany suggested that birds descended from toothed reptile ancestors, Springer said. And scientists now know that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs, carnivorous beasts such asTyrannosaurus rex, which had a mouth full of sharp teeth.

But no one knew exactly what happened to the teeth in the evolution of these animals from then until now. "The history of tooth loss in the ancestry of modern birds has remained elusive for more than 150 years," Springer said.

In the new study, the researchers wondered whether the bird lineage lost its teeth in a single event meaning the common ancestor of all birds did not have teeth, or whether edentulism happened independently, in different lines of birds throughout history, the researchers said.

To find out, they investigated the genes that govern tooth production. In vertebrates, tooth formation involves six genes that are crucial for the formation of enamel (tissue that coats teeth) and dentin (the calcified stuff underneath it).

The researchers looked for mutations that might inactivate these in the genomes of 48 bird species, which represent almost every order of living birds. A mutation in dentin- and enamel-related genes that was shared among bird species would indicate that their common ancestor had lost the ability to form teeth, the researchers said.

They found that all of the bird species had the same mutations in dentin- and enamel-related genes.

"The presence of several inactivating mutations that are shared by all 48 bird species suggests that the outer enamel covering of teeth was lost around 116 million years ago," Springer said.

The researchers also found mutations in the in the enamel and dentin genes of other vertebrates that don't have teeth or enamel, including turtles, armadillos, sloths, aardvarks and pangolins, which look like scaly anteaters.

The closest living modern reptile relative of birds is the alligator, Springer said. "All six genes are functional in the American alligator," Springer said.

This tooth finding is one of many that came out of a large-scale scientific effort to study the evolution of birds.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Touching moment herd of horses adopt a penguin

Touching moment herd of horses adopt a penguin

Nuzzling up together on the frosty ground in the Falkland Islands, this might seem like the most unlikely of friendships.
But this herd of horses took in a lonely penguin as one of their own and snuggled up with their curious new companion.
They were also seen playfully chasing after the bird as it stretched out its wings and waddled along the white-topped turf.
The horses also craned their necks and touched their noses with the penguin's beak in the heart-warming snaps.

Sarah Crofts, of the Falklands Conservation group, took pictures when she spotted the unusual alliance as she was feeding her three horses.
They were taken at the Cape Pembrokeshire Nature Reserve, five miles outside of Stanley, the country's capital city.

She said: 'At first I couldn't believe what I was seeing, I think the horses were as shocked as I was.
'I didn't think the horses would take much notice of the penguin but I couldn't believe how fascinated they were with it. I'm really enthusiastic about horses and penguins so it was an incredible moment to witness.
'Horses in Stanley don't normally have contact with penguin so it must have been a real novelty for them.
'At first the herd approached the penguin slowly and with their heads low so they could check him out at eye level.
'But it didn't take long for the horses to become braver and soon they were nose to beak, it was such a lovely moment.
She added: 'The horses were genuinely curious about the penguin and it seemed to turn into a game for them where they'd check him out one by one and then run off.
'After a while it was as if the horses didn't want to let the penguins out of their sights.'
The Falklands is one of the world's great penguin capitals. There are five penguin species on the islands, including king, rockhopper, magellanic, gentoo and macaroni penguins.
Around 500,000 breeding pairs of penguins live on the island, home to a rich array of wildlife.

Read more on the link below