As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men, and a regular segment on On The Track... about out-of-place birds, rare vagrants, and basically all things feathery and Fortean.
Because we live in strange times there are more and more bird stories that come her way so she has now moved onto the main CFZ bloggo with a new column with the same name as her aforementioned ones...
Just 800 pairs of corn buntings left in Scotland
New research has highlighted the need for urgent action to transform the fortunes of one of Scotland's fastest declining farmland birds. Once widespread across Britain, the corn bunting (Miliaria calandra) is now rare in Scotland with only 800 breeding pairs, confined to parts of the eastern lowlands and the Western Isles. Over a 20-year period, an Aberdeenshire population of this multiple-brooded, crop-nesting bird declined by 91% from 134 pairs to just 12.
The joint study by RSPB Scotland and Dr Adam Watson, recently published in the journal Ibis, found that gradual changes in crop management, particularly an increase in field size and decrease in weed abundance, reduced the availability of safe nesting sites and food sources the species depends on. Allan Perkins, RSPB Scotland Conservation Scientist, said: "Intensive crop management and removal of field boundaries, resulting in fewer weeds and the insects they support, together with earlier harvesting of cereals and mowing of grass has had a detrimental effect on the corn bunting. This is a species that favours low-intensity farming and it is vital that such systems are preserved, or habitats replicated through agri-environment schemes.”
Amy Corrigan, RSPB Scotland's Agriculture and Rural Development Policy Officer, said: "Thanks to good ecological research like this we know exactly what is needed to save the corn bunting in Scotland, and we have the agri-environment schemes and farmers capable of delivering it. However, we currently face the prospect of a lengthy gap in funding for agri-environment schemes due to ongoing negotiations in Europe on the CAP. A break in schemes would be extremely detrimental to conservation effort directed at this once common farmland bird. We hope the Scottish Government will demonstrate its commitment to addressing biodiversity declines, and indeed the livelihoods of those farmers working hard for nature, by ensuring schemes critical to the conservation of vulnerable species like corn bunting can continue during this period of financial uncertainty.
"Scottish Government are currently consulting on their 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity. In it they recognise the need to develop a conservation programme for priority farmland species in a parlous state. We agree and suggest that the corn bunting should be a priority species for this programme."
Flamingo egg – in Sunderland?
Bird experts hatched a cunning plan to keep a rare egg safe. Staff at Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust were on alert to snatch a precious Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) egg.
It will be the first time in six years that one will have been laid at the centre. But wardens, rather than guarding against illegal collectors or poachers, feared the mother may accidentally break it. They were also concerned it may be targeted by gulls swooping on it and taking it away.
Leanne McCormella, trust marketing manager, said: “We are on alert for the egg to be laid by a Chilean flamingo, the first since 2006.
“They only lay one, rather than a clutch, so it can get knocked off the nest by a clumsy flamingo or predated by gulls.
“We are almost 100 per cent sure that our Chilean flamingoes will lay eggs this year.
“They only lay one, so they’re very precious and we need to grab them as soon as possible.”
After being laid, the eggs are swapped for wooden ones, so the adults don’t notice, and incubated in the Waterfowl Nursery until they start “chipping”.
“Shortly before it hatches, the egg is returned to the mum and dad, who then rear the chick, which can live to be more than 60 years old,” said Leanne.
Flamingoes have been part of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s breeding programme for 45 years and have been living at the Wearside centre since 1986.
They live in large colonies, which can be home to between 10,000 and one million birds at a time.
Hours before hatching, flamingo chicks begin calling from inside the egg, establishing a bond with their parents so they can find each other within the colony.
Angus Breeding Success for Rare Marsh Harrier - Birds breed successfully at RSPB Loch of Kinnordy for second year in a row
Marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus) have bred successfully at RSPB Loch of Kinnordy, near Kirriemuir, for the second year in a row. Their breeding success was confirmed by the recent sighting of two juvenile marsh harriers flying over the loch. Last year the rare birds were recorded breeding at the reserve for the first time since records began.
Kim Ross, Tayside Reserves Assistant Warden, said: “It’s fantastic to see marsh harriers returning to breed at Loch of Kinnordy for a second year. It’s like getting our own gold medal following all of the work we have done on the reserve. After their success last year, I was hopeful that Kinnordy could become a regular nest site for marsh harriers. When the pair returned in late March, I was very optimistic and seeing the two juveniles for a second year in a row is wonderful!”
The male marsh harrier returned from its wintering grounds in west Africa during the last week of March and only a week later the female arrived. Straight away both could be seen carrying nesting material to the nest and food passes were observed quite regularly – all signs that showed the harriers were quite comfortable nesting at the reserve.
RSPB Loch of Kinnordy staff and volunteers were initially worried that the wet weather may have an impact on the breeding success. The heavy rain had caused the loch water levels to rise and because marsh harriers are ground nesting birds, there was a concern that the nest may be flooded. However, food passes continued and both adults made regular visits to the nest, indicating that things were fine. This was confirmed by the recent sightings of the juvenile birds.
Surprisingly, the juveniles have fledged almost a month earlier than they did last year. Kim added: “We are not quite sure what the reason for this is. The weather certainly didn’t help them!”
Although regular summer visitors to the Loch of Kinnordy, marsh harriers are rare, with only 360 breeding females in the UK. The species continues to make a slow recovery after being wiped out in the UK in the late 19th century as a result of habitat loss, persecution and pesticide poisoning. Conservation measures at the nature reserve, such as reedbed management, have contributed to the increased presence of the species in the area.
All four harriers can be seen easily from the three hides at the nature reserve. Hides are open daily from dawn until dusk. For more information please see www.rspb.org.uk
RSPB Scotland’s work at Loch of Kinnordy is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage. Individual projects have been funded by Angus Environmental Trust.
Birds of prey centre boss "borrowed rare birds from zoos and sold them on"
THE former owner of the National Birds of Prey Centre in Newent has appeared in court accused of illegally selling rare birds, pocketing himself over £12,000.
Keith Beaven, 67, of Birchfield in Staunton, was at Cheltenham Magistrates Court facing up to 13 charges of theft and fraud.
Beaven issued no plea as he stood accused of borrowing rare birds of prey before selling them on to the tune of £12,500.
He bought the Centre in 2004 before selling it back to previous owner Jemima Parry-Jones in 2008. She and the centre, renamed the International Centre for Birds of Prey, are not connected to this case.
Between 2007 and 2010 he is accused of loaning birds from zoos across the country for a breeding programme that he claimed to be operating.
However, it is alleged this was a ruse to obtain the rare species from zoos, and that he sold the birds on for his own benefit.
The birds in question include eagle owls, black kites, hawk owls, a ural owl, a spotted owl and a boobook owl among others.
In court Beaven was told to return to Cheltenham magistrates on October 9 at 10am for a committal hearing.
Squatters force swallows to build a new home
Lister Cumming from Aberdeenshire said: "The swallows have used the same nests for many years in the eaves of both sides of my sister in law's front door. However in 2012 they returned from their long migration to Africa to find that some squatters had moved and made some substantial alterations to their home."
"These squatters had the audacity to build a second floor on top of the existing nest without planning permission. ...The culprits in this case are wrens!"The evicted swallows had to build a quickly erected alternative nest alongside the squatting wrens. So whilst that appears to have worked out well for both the swallows and the wrens, it must have led to a frosty relationship with the neighbours, especially now the wrens are planning to plant some Leylandii.
Satellite-tracked cuckoo takes surprise route to Africa
A satellite-tracked male cuckoo has taken a "surprising" route on his way back to Africa this summer.
The team from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) monitoring Lyster’s movements thought he would follow the same route as last year.
However, instead of flying west around the Sahara Desert he was tracked 1,000km east on the Algerian coast, ten days earlier than his 2011 route.
The team think favourable conditions could be responsible for the change.
The study has already shown how little time these birds spend in Britain and where in Africa they spend the winter.
Experts hope it may also provide insights into why there has been a 50% decline in British cuckoos over the last 25 years.
Paul Stancliffe, part of the cuckoo-tracking team, told BBC Nature that they "expected Lyster to follow the same route as last year".
"But to our surprise it was 1,000km east after an extraordinary 500km crossing of the Mediterranean Sea," Mr Stancliffe said.
A potential reason for this change in route is that he found it a suitable habitat after having travelled through the same region of Algeria earlier in 2012 during his journey from Africa to the UK.
Another explanation is that he simply drifted off course.
Lyster arrived in Algeria on August 1 and remained there for two days before setting off in the late afternoon of August 3.
He headed southwest, flying diagonally across the Sahara Desert, and is currently in southern Mauritania.
"It will be interesting to see if he makes his way to his 2011 stopover location," Mr Stancliffe told BBC Nature.
Although five birds were tagged in 2011, the only other surviving signal comes from a cuckoo called Chris.
Chris is currently south of the Sahara on the northern shore of Lake Chad, 2,000km north of his 2011 stopover location.
He has followed a very similar route to the one he took last year, flying straight over the Sahara.
To provide further data, another 11 cuckoos were tagged by the BTO this year, taking the total number of traceable birds to 13.
Rare bird sighting
A RECENT sighting at Montrose Basin has had local twitchers twittering to catch a glimpse of a rare bird that rejoices in the nickname of the “flying pig.”
An adult water rail (Rallus aquaticus) and three of its chicks were spotted on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) wildlife reserve by two rangers on July 11 with a second sighting four days later, by which time a fourth chick had hatched.
Its unusual nickname arises from its distinctive call, which consists of a series of grunts followed by a piglet-like squeal and is used in territorial disputes and when the bird is alarmed.
The water rail is also known for its aggressive tendencies and has even been known to kill smaller birds by drowning them.Both sightings were near the visitor centre and the nest is believed to be in that vicinity.
Rare bird killed by rat poison
Wildlife officers are investigating after an endangered red kite (Milvus milvus) was killed by rat poison in Nidderdale. In May 2012 a fieldworker was monitoring raptors on Lofthouse Moor when he found the body of a red kite near a cattle grid.
The bird of prey had been dead for a few days, and it appeared to have been feeding on a baby rabbit when it died. The fieldworker reported the find to police, who suspected the bird had been poisoned.
Natural England sent the bird to the Veterinary Laboratory Agency in Thirsk and Food and Environment Agency at Sutton Hutton, near York. Toxicology tests found the it had eaten rodents poisoned by commonly available rat and mouse poison, and had been poisoned by a combination of banned pesticides.
PC Gareth Jones, Wildlife Officer for North Yorkshire Police, said: “The use of rat and mouse poison is a common problem which puts the lives of Red Kites and other birds of prey in danger.
“It is the responsibility of anyone who puts down poison to control rats and mice, to collect the dead rodents and dispose of them properly.
“It is a great shame that another Red Kite has been killed in North Yorkshire particularly as they are an endangered species and have only recently returned to the county.”
Police are now appealing for anyone with information that might help their investigation to come forward. Contact North Yorkshire Police on 101 – select option 2 – and ask for Gareth Jones or Ripon police. Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111 and the RSPB have a confidential reporting line on 0845 466 3636.
Rare arrivals at Birdland
Excited staff are celebrating a rare and momentous occasion after a black-necked cygnet (Cygnus melancoryphus) hatched at a Cotswold bird sanctuary.
Keepers at the Birdland at Bourton were delighted when a pair of the swans, native to South America, hatched a chick, which continues to thrive.
The cygnet can now be admired swimming around the pond with mum and dad and can often be seen hitching a ride on one of its parents’ backs.
It will take two years for its striking black neck to develop. The parents arrived at Birdland in late 2010 from a private breeder and quickly settled in to their new home on the Trout Pond. Though a nest was built in 2011, no eggs were laid.
However, keepers’ hopes were raised when the male started behaving territorially towards them in late May.
The female started sitting on her nest at the beginning of June and five eggs were laid and, following incubation, all five hatched in July.
Sadly, four of the five chicks did not survive which has been attributed to the parent birds’ inexperience.
Birdland has recently welcomed another new member of its extended family this week – a tiny and rare frogmouth chick.
The chick is being hand reared by assistant head keeper Chris Abbey, who is feeding it a carnivorous diet five or six times a day from 7.30am to 7.30pm.
The chick is the first of its kind at Birdland and it is hoped it will be able to breed once it matures. The owl-like birds present distinct features such as wide eyes and large tongues.
Natively found throughout Australasia, frogmouths typically feed on crawling animals such as caterpillars, beetles, scorpions, and centipedes.