[As you may know it’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, but you won’t see one of these in your garden! The amazing team on Ascension brings us news of the continued spread of frigatebirds back onto the mainland – an exciting conservation success.]
The discovery in December 2012 of the first two frigatebirds nesting in 180 years on the mainland of Ascension Island, a small UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, caused a lot of excitement and also intrigue as to what would happen next. The Ascension Island Government Conservation Department has been carrying out routine searches of Letterbox Peninsula, the area where the first nest was found, and made a recent discovery of 12 new nests that truly marks the return of the frigatebirds to the mainland.
The Ascension frigatebird is found nowhere else in the world and is considered Vulnerable to Extinction by the IUCN, indeed it is one of the 32 Globally Threatened British Birds found in the UK’s Overseas Territories. Frigatebirds are large seabirds that are known to steal other bird’s food in flight and the males are well-known for their impressive red pouches that they can inflate to form a heart-shaped balloon during courtship displays.
Displaying male frigatebird (Sam Weber)
For over a century, these seabirds have been confined to breeding on the small outlying islet, Boatswainbird Island, after taking refuge there from the feral cat population on Ascension’s mainland. Cats were introduced onto the island in the early 19th Century to control introduced rats and mice, but instead made a significant dent on the seabird populations. The RSPB initiated a project in 2002, supported by funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to remove feral cats from the island that proved successful, with Ascension being declared feral cat free in 2006. The seabirds began to return to nesting on the mainland immediately, starting with the masked boobies, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the island’s most iconic seabird began its return.
Male frigatebird with his egg (Sam Weber)
Dr Eliza Leat, Seabird Conservation Scientist on Ascension Island, led the surveys and made the exciting discovery along with fellow fieldworker Kenickie Andrews. On finding the first nesting frigatebirds, Dr Leat commented “I was delighted to discover a frigatebird nesting on the mainland, close to the nest site that successfully fledged a chick last year. We continued walking around Letterbox checking every group of frigatebirds perched on the rocks and to our astonishment found at least one nest at each place we checked. To date we have found twelve nests and we have our first mainland frigatebird chicks of 2014. We are minimising disturbance to the frigatebirds by monitoring the nests using camera traps, which can provide us with really valuable data on how frequently each chick is being fed and how often they are left alone. Having frigatebird nests on the mainland is an excellent opportunity to find out more about these endemic birds and what challenges they face in raising their young.”
Welcome to the world! One of this year's chicks (Sam Weber)
Dr Nicola Weber, Head of Conservation on Ascension Island commented “It is fantastic news that our frigatebirds appear to be recolonizing the mainland and the 12 nests are more than we dared to hope for after the discovery of the first nest during the last breeding season. While the current team are lucky enough to be in the position of documenting this return and studying these magnificent seabirds, we are indebted to the efforts of all of the people and organisations that have been involved in this 12 year project to return the frigatebirds to Ascension Island.”
Funding for the seabird restoration work on Ascension Island has come from the FCO, Defra’s Darwin fund, the European Union and the RSPB. Organisations involved include, RSPB, Wildlife Management International Ltd., Ascension Island Government and the Army Ornithological Society.
For more information about conservation efforts on Ascension Island, please visit the Ascension Government website.
As you probably know, the RSPB in the UK Partner of the global BirdLife family. But did you also know that if you want to find out about species, Important Bird Areas, Endemic Bird Areas and much more in your country or abroad, you can visit the BirdLife Data Zone.
You won't be alone – last year almost 2 ½ million unique visits were made to the Data Zone, from 221 countries and territories (89% of the globe) – and of the 28 that missed out, 6 are uninhabited or have tiny resident populations, and North Korea doesn't allow general Internet access. While the top twenty does contain the usual suspects, there are some surprises…
Next time you need information, visit the Data Zone (and if you live on Pitcairn, we'd love to have a hit from you!)
You can search for species…
…as well as Case Studies from State of the World's Birds…
…and find information on publications, taxonomy, Endemic Bird Areas, country profiles and much, much more.
[Dora Querido, the RSPB's EU Life+ Project Officer, reports from Bulgaria…]
From time to time I ask myself how come I work for a conservation organisation but spend most of my days detached from nature sitting in front of a computer screen? Well, the 9th of January 2014 was not one of those days…
07:30 – we're off and heading to Durankulak Lake to see red-breasted geese taking off from their roosting site. It turns out that this is a very easy way to tick off an Endangered species. The sunrise is beautiful and the geese are flying in huge flocks – we are a happy team already!
Sunrise at Durankulak, spotting red-breasted geese (Dora Querido/Nicky Petkov)
08:30 – visit to the Project Field Station.
09:00 – back to town for a meeting and induction into the day's work. Peter Cranswick from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is charging satellite tags and preparing harnesses because there are geese in the catching area - it sounds too good to be true.
11:00 – meeting with local farmers involved with the project.
13:30 – lunch. [Nice to see everyone gets a good feed in the field! Ian F]
14:30 – we set off to Kaliakra to visit the wind farms to get a better understanding of the conflicts that arise between energy generation and the geese in the winter.
15:45 – fog too thick to see anything! We head back.
16:05 – Nicky knocks on everyone’s doors yelling: “Hurry up!!! They caught some geese!”
16:20 – we arrive at the catching area as the last white-fronted goose is being taken out of the net, and help move the birds out of the fields and in to the area where they will be processed (aged, sexed, ringed, weighted, etc).
Handling and measuring red-breasted geese (Luigi Boccaccio)
??:?? – oops, I lose track of time - it is getting dark and someone distributes head torches, that's all I know. I take responsibility as record keeper, Luigi helps carry geese in and out of the processing area, and Lenke assists with the neck and leg rings. I am excited to ring a red-breasted goose with the help of Kane Brides, the WWT A-ringer on site, and later a white-front. Once the recording is done, the heaviest birds (3 red-breasted and 4 white-fronted) are tagged. The remaining are release together in the field (Luigi and I have to learn quickly how to carry two geese at the same time - luckily, I am given red-breasted, which are much smaller). Totals: 40 birds, 12 red-breaded and 28 white-fronted.
19:00 – we watch Peter and Anne putting GPS tags on both species of goose.
20:30 – back to the hotel and out for dinner after changing clothes. The year could not start any better!
A well-earned celebration (Peter Cranswick)
[In February last year, the LIFE+ “Safe Grounds for Redbreasts” project caught 121 birds and tagged 11 red-breasted geese with GPS tracking devices in northern Bulgaria. You can read more about the project on the website.]