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... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Red Kite deliberately shot in Northern Ireland

A red kite found dead in County Down had been deliberately shot RSPB Northern Ireland has confirmed. The female bird was discovered near Katesbridge on 20 May and it was recovered by the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group.

Red kites were persecuted to extinction more than 200 years ago. Back in 2008 RSPB NI joined forces with the Welsh Kite Trust and the Golden Eagle Trust to reintroduce the species to Northern Ireland’s skies.

The current population is thought to stand at around 14 breeding pairs and, although no further releases are planned, the charity is continuing to monitor the population. It’s thought the population will only reach a sustainable level once around 50 pairs are established.

The bird which was found shot was born in Wales in 2010 and was part of the re-introduction scheme’s final release.

It was also ‘adopted’ by Ballyclare High School in 2011 and given the name Fawkes. Teacher Dr Adrian Witherow said: “We are extremely disappointed about what has happened to Fawkes. Both the staff and pupils at Ballyclare High School were fully behind the red kite re-introduction scheme and it is a real shame that the bird which we have followed for a number of years has been deliberately targeted.”

The bird was found near a nest site usually occupied by a male and female known as Black K and Black M. Worryingly, they have not been seen in recent months and their nest, which was freshly lined in preparation for breeding, has not been active for weeks.

Scientists warn of species loss due to human-made landscapes

Study found 35 percent fewer bird species in agricultural habitats

Date:July 2, 2015

Source:University of Exeter

Research led by the University of Exeter has found a substantial reduction in bird species living in cultivated mango orchards compared to natural habitats in Southern Africa. The results, which are published today in the journal Landscape Ecology, highlight the value of assessing habitats prior to land use change to predict the impact of agriculture on biodiversity.

The researchers monitored bird populations across cultivated mango orchards and natural habitats in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere region in South Africa. They found that replacing a natural habitat with an agricultural landscape can result in a substantial decline in the richness of species living within the region.

The scientists were aiming to ascertain whether agriculture could add novel habitat elements and thereby support additional bird species complementary to those already present in the natural areas -- but found that in contrast, there was a loss of 35% of the bird species within the farmed land.

Britain's longest-running bird survey hits the web

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has been counting Grey Heron nests since 1928 and now it has made it easier for its army of volunteer surveyors by allowing them to record their observations on the internet. 

The Heronries Census has covered 400,000 nests since it began. The survey collects annual counts of ‘apparently occupied nests’ in UK heronries and uses the data to monitor the population sizes of both Grey Herons and Little Egrets.

Counts are made at heronries by the BTO’s volunteers. It is one of the simplest surveys and requires no special skills. 

So for 88 years, it has provided an annual estimate of the total UK breeding population of Grey Herons: this is the longest series of such data for any bird species in the world!

Until now, most counts have been mailed to BTO on special cards but, from 25 June, the option of direct online input of data became available to the observers for the first time.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Special bird species makes Hammonasset home


Dozens of bird lovers flocked to Hammonasset State Park in Madison on Wednesday to help track a special  species of bird, the Purple Martin.

East of the Mississippi, the winged wonders totally rely on humans for housing and need special care.

Colonies of the Purple Martins have made Hammonasset State Park their home, even though the species is originally from Brazil.

On Wednesday, members of the Menuntuck Audubon Society continued a decade-old tradition of banding the very young days-old chicks from the nests they installed in 2005.

"We're going to ban all the chicks that are between 10 days and 22 days old,” said Terry Shaw, of the Menuntuck Audubon Society.

Each colony in Connecticut will get a different colored band so when spotters see their band color they will know exactly what colony they came from.

A Deep Dive Into the Skeleton of the Oldest-Known Modern Bird

A fossil found in China may offer new clues about avian evolution
Smithsonian Magazine 
July 2015

About 130 million years ago, when pterosaurs still dominated the skies, the bird whose fossil remains are pictured here waded along a lakeshore in northeast China. To paleontologists this ten-inch-tall specimen, recently studied by Min Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues, is a giant step forward because it represents the oldest example ever discovered of a modern-looking bird. The bird had fanned tail feathers, fused clavicles (creating a wishbone) and an alula, a wing feature that improves maneuverability during flight. To be sure, it’s not the oldest bird; that distinction still belongs to Archaeopteryx, which dates to 150 million years ago and is celebrated for showing that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Still, Archaeopteryx itself led to an evolutionary dead end, with no descendants alive today. The new species, Archaeornithura meemannae, belonged to the group that gave rise to modern birds, and pushes back their earliest known appearance by five million years.

Flying without wings: Losing feathers has a detrimental effect on migrating birds

Birds that moult at the wrong time of the year could be disadvantaged, according to a study by scientists at Lund University, Sweden. Birds depend on a full set of feathers for maximum efficiency when flying long distances, but the study shows that moulting has a detrimental effect on their flight performance.

The researchers trained a jackdaw to fly in a wind tunnel and measured different types of drag experienced by the bird. "We expected the bird not to be able to glide at the lowest speeds that it could glide at before moult and our results confirmed this", says Marco Klein Heerenbrink, who is involved in the research.

The results imply the bird could not fully compensate for the missing feathers during moult. This suggests that if a migratory bird departs prematurely before it has fully moulted, it is likely it will need more energy to make the journey and may need more stopovers too.

Past water patterns drive present wading bird numbers

Wading bird numbers in the Florida Everglades are driven by water patterns that play out over multiple years according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Florida Atlantic University. Previously, existing water conditions were seen as the primary driving factor affecting numbers of birds, but this research shows that the preceding years' water conditions and availability are equally important.

"We've known for some time that changes in water levels trigger a significant response by wading birds in the Everglades," said James Beerens, the study's lead author and an ecologist at USGS. "But what we discovered in this study is the importance of history. What happened last year can tell you what to expect this year."

From 2000 to 2009, scientists examined foraging distribution and abundance data for wading bird populations, including Great Egrets, White Ibises, and threatened Wood Storks. To do the research, they conducted reconnaissance flights across the Greater Everglades system, an area that includes Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. They found climate and water management conditions going as far back as three years influenced current bird population numbers and distribution.