Channel Islands peregrines – not safe yet

Peregrine falcon, a highly skilled predator of flying birds and famous speed star of the skies is one of the most widespread birds on the planet. It sadly became threatened with extinction across most of its range as its numbers plummeted in the 20th century through persecution and the residual effects of organochlorine pesticides. Breeding on each of the main Channel Islands, peregrines became locally extinct in the 1950s.

We are now, however, in more enlightened times. Surely. With persecution outlawed and pesticides like aldrin, dieldrin and DDT banned, the highly adaptable peregrine began to stage a remarkable comeback. Seemingly again a regular sight on every cliff and city cathedral in the UK, the falcon returned too to our islands. After a pair bred in Sark in 1994, the other islands were recolonised, and the first chicks hatched in Jersey after 42 years in 2000. Quickly the wandering bandit (peregrine comes from the word peregrinate, to wander, and it does have wonderful mask) was back and old eyries were reoccupied. Jersey now hosts several pairs with equal numbers across the other islands. We don’t have a cathedral, so they have to make do with St Thomas’ Church although they may not be there every year as all of our pairs regularly move nest sites within their territories.

Poisoned in Guernsey

Now it seems that everyone’s favourite bird of prey (well, it is popularly considered as the ‘fastest animal on earth’) is not quite as safe as we thought. Last year several peregrines, and a buzzard, were found poisoned in Guernsey. Had DDT returned? No, these birds had apparently been directly poisoned, killed, not accidentally, but because they were, well, peregrines. Who would do this? Actually, peregrines have not really been everyone’s favourite bird. People who keep pigeons in particular often don’t like them. Yes, our peregrines do hunt and kill pigeons and although there are lots of wild pigeons on the cliffs and in the town where they live, it is the hunting of owned, racing pigeons that draws ire in certain quarters.

Jamie Hooper sums it up ‘I am saddened that some of our native bird species are still at risk of being killed illegally by a misguided minority. Although birds of prey have slowly recovered from historical persecution, this process of re-colonisation has been significantly impeded by those who wrongly think that raptors should be removed from our natural environment. The scale of the recent killings of peregrines in Guernsey has been particularly devastating to the small local population and we remain keen to eliminate such criminal activity from our island.’

We don’t actually know who poisoned Guernsey’s falcons, despite an offer of a reward, but, as it seems deliberate, the list of suspects can be considered fairly short. That people would deliberately kill a wild bird that only hunts to eat and feed its young when high losses are tolerated among amongst pigeons that get lost, die in storms or simply decide that living wild is much more fun (an estimated 86% of the racing pigeons lost each year fail to return for reasons other than predation by birds of prey) should rule this group out. Of course, it should.

Shot in Jersey

In Jersey, people are sometimes quick to criticise their neighbours so the news that here we had a two-year old, ringed, peregrine shot will come as a shock, I hope. In 2020 a ‘feisty’ but poorly falcon was picked up in December near Ouaisné and died in care at the JSPCA. Examination by Senior Veterinary Surgeon Jo McAllister showed lead shot on X-ray, not enough to kill it outright but enough to prevent it hunting, letting it starve to death instead. Again, we don’t know who shot it but shot it was, and it may have been mistaken for some other bird. A pigeon again? It does show that peregrines are still at risk from people who may not like them and have unilaterally decided to return them to that late 20th century level of threat.

 

In the way of aircraft

Peregrines often seek out their prey by circling high in the sky, above their flying dinners down below. Any good, rising, air current helps them keep airborne and in ‘station’ without them wasting energy. Has using winds blowing up the escarpment along St Ouen’s Bay, been the reason that several have been hit and killed by aircraft as they approach or leave Jersey’s airfield? At least six have been found dead or dying in recent years, most or all juveniles. Juvenile peregrines are, while they are young, larger than adults as they have a lot to learn before they can master the skies like their parents and slowly moult in shorter feathers and keep out of the way of aircraft. While very unfortunate, at least these deaths were accidental, and the bodies have gone for research at the National Museum of Scotland.

Its Jersey’s 20th Great Garden Bird Watch!

The 20th Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch will be held over the weekend of 6th and 7th February

20 years? Yes, the annual Action for Wildlife Jersey and Birds On The Edge garden bird count has reached this significant milestone. Although, it won’t have been undertaken in circumstances quite like these before! Last year, little did we know what was coming. The count has a long tradition of seeming to encourage bad weather so our fear was of the Pest From the West. Did it happen? Does anyone remember February 2020? Well, you warmed up with the RSPB’s UK garden bird watch last weekend so now take part in Jersey’s own watch, one with great significance to our understanding our closest bird neighbours. We really do need as many households to take part as possible. And what else were you planning on doing? 

Song thrushes, who gave us cause for alarm only a few years ago as populations dropped rapidly, show signs that they may be recovering in Jersey. This rather strident singer is getting warmed up around now so, while half their number seem to quietly go about searching for worms on the lawn, the other half sit up in the leafless trees and belt out their (and I’m going to say it) rather monotonous song. Let’s hope that song thrushes feature in this year’s count.

Method for recording

The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to choose one of the two weekend dates (6th or 7th February), look out into the garden for a few minutes, or as long as you like (I just look out the kitchen window) and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. And, of course, red squirrels count again as birds this year. Just for one weekend!

Once you’ve counted the birds (and squirrels) on your chosen day please fill out the form online here.  Alternatively you can download a form here and email to birdsote@gmail.com or fill out the form in the JEP. This year, we unfortunately won’t be involving the garden centres because of the pandemic restrictions. 

Your observations are of great importance in our understanding of the situation with the birds that we live closest too. Don’t forget, how these birds are fairing in the 21st century says a lot about our own lives and our own environment. You can read about the results of our survey to date in the Jersey Garden Birdwatch Report 2002-2020 here

 

Impacts of human activities on Britain’s birds revealed

From Rare Bird Alert

A new study has shown how human activities such as agriculture, deforestation, and the drainage of wetlands have shaped where bird species are found in Great Britain today potentially providing a new approach to setting conservation priorities.

Researchers used data on the geographical distributions of bird species alongside simulation models to predict where bird species would exist today if the effects of human activities on the landscape were removed. In this scenario there were winners and losers among different bird species due to the impact of humans. The study found that 42% of the 183 breeding bird species considered were more widely distributed today than they would be in a human-free world, particularly birds associated with farmland habitats.

Conversely, 28% of species, particularly moorland and upland bird species, were much rarer today than they would be if they were not impacted by human activities.

The researchers say their findings could apply to other parts of the world, too. Dr Tom Mason, previously of Durham University’s Department of Biosciences, but now based at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, said: “Our study suggests that farmland bird species, such as turtle dove and grey partridge, would be less widespread without the open habitats created by agriculture while moorland species, such as golden eagle and greenshank, have probably been negatively affected by the long-term, extractive human use of moorlands by grazing, burning, hunting and forestry.

“We also found that species found in dense woodlands, such as goshawk and capercaillie, would be much more widespread in a ‘human-free’ Great Britain, which would be much more forested than the present day.”

The study produced human-free range-size estimates which were compared against current bird distributions. Conservation managers often use target population sizes, based on past distributions, to guide species’ recovery programmes. The impact of conservation activities can then be assessed by comparing current numbers to historical numbers of bird species.

The authors argue that their approach, which instead uses simulated potential range-sizes as baselines, could complement indicators of short-term extinction risk such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Professor Stephen Willis, of Durham’s Department of Biosciences said: “Our results could lead to reassessments of current conservation priorities. We identified 21 species that were not classified as threatened by the IUCN Red List for Great Britain but which had much smaller current distributions than we predict them to have in the absence of human activities.

 

“This suggests that their ranges are in a more degraded state than currently recognized. Some of these species, such as greenshank, golden eagle and whinchat, are not under active conservation management and could be candidates for higher prioritization.”

The researchers say that considering only recent changes in species’ state can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘shifting baseline syndrome,’ where people set their expectations based on experiences in their lifetime, this can underestimate the plight of species that have declined due to human activities a long time ago. Previous studies have tried to combat this by using historical baselines from past centuries; however, historic species’ records tend to be sparse and are difficult to apply across different species.

The study also identified 10 species that are not currently found in Great Britain, but which might have established themselves in the country in the absence of past human activities. For example, the researchers say that the Kentish plover, which has not bred in Great Britain since the middle of the 20th century, was projected to be found across south-east England in the absence of damaging human activity.

Similarly, the white-tailed eagle, which currently has a small presence, and the black-winged stilt, which is a very rare breeder in Great Britain, would also be expected to be much more widespread than they are now.

The authors believe that their approach could be used to identify areas that are climatically suitable, but where habitat may have been degraded by human activities. The RSPB plans to use this new research as one of a number of measures of how ‘favourable’ breeding bird populations are in Great Britain as it provides an objective measure against which to assess species’ ranges or distributions.

This is important as it helps the RSPB to quantify Favourable Conservation Status and standardize methodology for its assessment. Favourable Conservation Status is an important political standard set for the conservation of migratory species under the Bonn Convention, and for habitats and species protected by EU Nature Directives.

Dr Gillian Gilbert, of the RSPB and one of the study’s co-authors, said, “This work could help to target where habitat and species restoration actions might lead to the return of historically lost species, or even to novel colonists.”

The authors are now planning to extend their approach to also evaluate species’ population sizes, which they hope will lead to lead to unified population targets for species across Great Britain.

Download or read the paper Using indices of species’ potential range to inform conservation status here

Cap de Carteret in 2020

Yann Mouchel, the ranger keeping a close eye on our chough in Carteret, has written an article for Birds On The Edge explaining some of the work his group have been doing to conserve bird species on their coast. 

The French Birds On The Edge if you will.

Anaïs Niobey, from Maison de la Normandie et de la Manche in St. Helier, very kindly translated Yann’s article into English. The original French document can be found below.

The Cap de Carteret is visited each year by an increasing number of visitors. Last spring’s lockdown has given nature some breathing space. The eco-counters located in the area to count the number of pedestrians were put on hold – there had, sometimes, been more than 500 people a day counted on the path called “Sentier des Douaniers” (literally: Path of Customs Officers).

Beaten by the wind and the ocean spray with very important sunshine when warmer weather comes back, life on the side of a cliff is not always easy. And yet, plants and animals have been able to develop coping strategies to withstand these extreme living conditions.

At first glance, one could say that the cliffs of Carteret are similar to those of Rozel or Flamanville and the tip of la Hague (all in the North of La Manche County). They are more modest, let’s recognize it, but even though they have a number of animals and plants in common, each of the capes of the Cotentin has its own set of specifications that makes them unique thanks to their geographical orientation or their geology.

The Nez de Carteret can be proud of its cliffs, though lower than those of the Nez de Voidries. It is at the heart of West Cotentin capes’ maritime history and a real ecological gem for Normandy.

And this year, this cape welcomed a new tenant: the peregrine falcon. With a wingspan of 95cm to 115cm, a height of 50cm and a weight of 750 grams to 1.35kg, this raptor is a fearsome predator. The female is a little more robust than the male. It feeds almost exclusively on birds caught in flight (from the size of a blackbird/robin to a pigeon, rarely larger), and its speeds are dizzying because it can fly up to 350 km/h when it dives in the air.

In the 1970s, peregrine falcon populations were severely decimated by the massive use of organochlorine pesticides such as lindane or DDT resulting in a dramatic decline of the species throughout its range. At that time, it only really survived in mountainous areas. However, the ban on these pesticides and efforts made to protect raptors were gradually felt and today we are witnessing, in many places, the return of the peregrine falcon to its areas of origin. In La Manche County, it finds favourable conditions in the sea cliffs or the rocky walls of the quarries.

The peregrine falcon has been seen around the cliffs of Cap de Carteret for several years now. But it quickly finds itself in competition with another rock species: the large raven, which uses the same nesting sites.

From February, every year, the two species compete for nesting sites and it is the pair of large corvids that has been winning the battle. Four young birds were born this year and it’s also not uncommon to see several adult ravens trying to take over the cliff. The known nearby nesting sites are located around Rozel, Diélette and Mount Doville.

After lockdown, we were amazed to discover that the two species had been able to share the cliffs this year; the peregrine falcon’s presence was probably helped by the lack of humans in the area. Nonetheless, these species remain very vulnerable to the disruption caused by outdoor activities. Even more so this year, because everyone naturally had a great need to breathe at the end of lockdown and wanted to go back to nature.

On the Preserved Natural Area, where nature is offered to the public, we decided, with the support of the municipality of Barneville Carteret, volunteers of LPO and an effective watch of the semaphore team, to temporarily close the portion of footpath right above the nesting area and create a diversion, so that the pair of peregrine falcons could raise their three young without any human disturbance. We also temporarily banned the take-off of paragliders and aero-modelling aircraft from the entire site. The paragliders of the “Cotentin Vol Libre” club were invited to the Cape for a presentation on the protection of this natural area and these two emblematic species. 

Information was gradually brought to the visitors and we found that this was generally respected and well understood. Those efforts were rewarded with the fledging of the three young falcons! We reopened the path on 6 July.

When we came out of lockdown, we also intervened in the same way to temporarily protect a small colony of sand martins in the Barneville dunes. Those birds, long-haul travellers, are relatively mobile and settle in different colonies where they dig their burrows in micro sand cliffs of eroded dunes. They can be seen in several places on the shores of the “Côte des Isles” (name of the area around Barneville).

In the future, if necessary, we can collectively reinstate these operations to protect the area and that do not call into question the discovery of these natural sites.

Suffice to say that the Cap de Carteret and the dunes have not yet finished surprising us and that nature is a source of beautiful emotions provided you respect and preserve it. A real challenge is to pass on this legacy to future generations so that they can enjoy it too!

Yann works for the Syndicat Mixte Espaces Littoraux de la Manche (SyMEL) which is responsible for the management of protected coastal sites within the Department of la Manche. 

Map of coastal areas protected by SyMel. Image courtesy of www.SyMEL.fr

 
Loader Loading…
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

The State of the UK’s Birds 2020

From BTO

The State of UK’s Birds reports have provided an annual overview of the status of breeding and non-breeding bird species in the UK and its Overseas Territories since 1999. This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds.

SUKB collates data from annual, periodic and one-off surveys and monitoring studies of birds, such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP), the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) and Goose and Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP). In addition, the 2020 report also includes results from the Nest Record Scheme, Constant Effort Sites (CES) Scheme and Re-trapping Adults for Survival (RAS) Scheme, the latter two schemes collecting demographic information through the efforts of bird ringers.

The report takes information from these and other schemes, research and surveys and delivers information at a country-specific scale, as well as providing an overview for the UK as a whole.

Volunteers play an essential role in bird monitoring in the UK, by donating their time, energy and expertise. The data they collect are vital for conservation, tracking changes in populations and supporting policy development. This year, many monitoring schemes have been adversely affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic and we want to say a special thank you to all of our volunteers for their continued support through this difficult time. Their skill, effort and dedication deserve huge recognition.

Woodland species

This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds. The UK Wild Bird Populations Indicator for woodland species show a long-term decline of 27% since the early 1970s, with declines of 7% evident over just the last five years. More worryingly, when looking at individual trends within the report, some specialist woodland birds have declined dramatically, including willow tit with a 94% decline since 1970 as illustrated by the joint Common Birds Census / Breeding Bird Survey UK-wide trend.

After worrying declines in breeding tawny owl populations were flagged-up by the Breeding Bird Survey, BTO launched targeted survey work on this species during 2018 and 2019. SUKB reports on some of the results from this research, which revealed a decline in site occupancy from 65% in 2005 to 53% in 2018/19. The BTO work has also sought to understand some of the reasons for this change in fortunes.

Results at different scales

Data from many of the surveys covered in SUKB also feed into European-wide schemes and the SUKB report goes from celebrating the publication of the latest European Breeding Bird Atlas, through to finer-scale country-specific results and research. Not bad for an 80-page report!

Country-specific headlines include increases in house sparrow populations in Wales, where work is also taking place to address the pronounced decline in curlew numbers. In Scotland, the fragile status of corncrake is highlighted, alongside increases in farmland species such as tree sparrow and yellowhammer. The Northern Ireland pages look into changing fortunes of seabirds and explore how proposed marine Special Protection Areas may be used to tackling the observed decline. The Northern Ireland pages also examine declines in wintering geese, such as light-bellied brent goose. Finally, over to England and promising results for stone curlew conservation work, as well as reporting back on the English Winter Bird Survey for which 1,485 sites were surveyed by volunteers to help us understand the value of agri-environment options.

As in previous reports, we hear about species from 14 UK Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies – including black-browed albatross, St Helena plover and South Georgia pipit, about the Gough Island Restoration Programme, and discover that 69 species in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are now Globally Threatened.

Closer to home, 25 years of BTO Garden BirdWatch is also celebrated, with goldfinch now the 8th most commonly recorded garden bird, up from 20th back in 1995.

Volunteers

There is a common theme in this report: volunteers. The sheer enormity of their contributions to bird monitoring as a whole is evident throughout this report. Most of the surveys and schemes covered here are only possible thanks to the dedication and skills of the thousands of volunteers who give up their time to help monitor birds and in turn, inform conservation action. Thank you.

Who produces this report?

SUKB 2020 is produced by a coalition of three NGOs: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), together with the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England (NE), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and NatureScot.

Download The State of the UK’s Birds 2020 here 

 

Chough report: October 2020

Sacré bleu!

“Sacré bleu, c’est crave à bec rouge!”…Is what I imagined the Frenchman exclaimed on the morning on the 23rd when a red-billed chough appeared in the skies of Normandy. Why so alarmed? Choughs are only found in three locations in France: the Alps, the Pyrenees, and a tiny population on the north west corner of Brittany. This was a first! Well, a first for a long time.

The man in question is Yann Mouchel a park ranger for the Conservatoire du Littoral, La Manche, based at Cap de Carteret. Yann has followed Birds On The Edge for the last few years after meeting a group of visiting Jersey Botanists. So, whilst surprised by the sight he wasn’t overly shocked. In fact Yann had been dreaming of this moment…and so had we.

For the chough in question was none other than a Jersey chough! Unmistakable from the leg rings adorning the bird. Our first confirmed report of a Jersey chough dispersing off-Island. In France no less. 

Yann first noticed the bird around 10am at the Nez de Carteret. It had lost one of its plastic colour rings which hampered identification. With the remaining rings we could narrow it down to just a few options. We set to work trying to dwindle it down further by confirming which birds were still flying around Jersey.

I think the chough in Carteret is one of this year’s chicks. We had not got round to naming her other than by her ring combo dark blue over mauve.  She has been absent at the Sorel supplemental feed since the 21st.

The alternative option is Bean who went missing over a year ago. Whilst I would love it if our little hand-reared Bean was still alive, it seems more likely that a youngster has dispersed off-Island.

The other news Yann shared was that the chough was lame. He speculated that the resident peregrine pair might be to blame. Having looked after these birds for so long, my initial reaction was a desire to rush over to Carteret with a vet.

Two things put a stop to this: COVID and reality. Travel restrictions and impractical 14-day quarantining (impractical for zookeepers at least) prevent me from leaving the Island. Then of course is the reality. We want the choughs to disperse. It is natural.

For now I’m resigned to stare longingly across the waters and rely on Yann monitoring her progress.

If you want to travel virtually from Jersey to Carteret and learn more about where the chough is choosing to hang out then visit Google Earth. I have put together a presentation which you can access here and click on Presentation. Please be aware you may be asked to download Google Earth if viewing on a tablet or smartphone. 

Domestic flights

The rest of our October news seems relatively boring now. Although at the time it wasn’t as the following happened before the 23rd. In fact, think of it as the prelude to the Carteret story as the flock were well and truly on the move this month.

We had our first Airport sighting. Two birds had been checking out one of the hangers. An interesting choice of residence. Think they might need to find a new estate agent. Airport staff have not seen them since. 

These two could be the same birds we reported on last month flying below the runway. We also know a pair are using the dunes and the sand pits both in close proximity to the airport.

Moving away from the Airport, the pair at Corbière are still doing well. This month they were joined by other choughs who made daily visits to Corbière. One of Durrell’s long term volunteers lives near the lighthouse and kept seeing small groups of four or six flying over her garden.

Another first has been sightings of choughs foraging in the horse fields near the Portlet Inn. Portlet adjoins Noirmont, an area we have seen choughs visit before.

In fact our second release in spring 2014 saw one radio-tracked bird end up by Noirmont Manor. Sadly never seen again, but over the years other choughs have been reported flying around. This month a small group seemed to be targeting the area and clearly finding food.

Biological diversity evokes human happiness

From PHYS.ORG 

Researchers have found that more bird species in the vicinity increase the life contentment of Europeans at least as much as a comparable increase in income.

Under the current pandemic conditions, activities out in nature are a popular pastime. The beneficial effects of a diverse nature on people’s mental health have already been documented by studies on a smaller scale. Scientists of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the University of Kiel examined for the first time whether a diverse nature also increases human well-being on a Europe-wide scale.

To this end, the researchers used the data from the “2012 European quality of Life Survey” to study the connection between the species diversity in their surroundings and the life satisfaction in more than 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. Species diversity was measured based on the diversity of avian species, as documented in the European breeding bird atlas.

“Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, the iDiv, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and he continues, “According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species.”

Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity, since they are among the most visible elements of the animate nature—particularly in urban areas. Moreover, their song can often be heard even if the bird itself is not visible, and most birds are popular, and people like to watch them. But there is also a second aspect that affects life satisfaction: the surroundings. A particularly high number of bird species can be found in areas with a high proportion of near-natural and diverse landscapes that hold numerous greenspaces and bodies of water.

“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income,” explains Prof. Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center. This result becomes particularly obvious when both values increase by ten percent. Fourteen additional bird species in the vicinity raise the level of life satisfaction at least as much as an extra 124 Euros per month in the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 Euro per month in Europe.

According to the study, a diverse nature, therefore, plays an important role for human well-being across Europe—even beyond its material services. At the same time, the researchers draw attention to impending health-related problems. “The Global Assessment 2019 by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies of avian species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that the biological diversity is currently undergoing a dramatic decline. This poses the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation, therefore, not only ensures our material basis of life, but it also constitutes an investment in the well-being of us all,” adds Methorst in conclusion.

Download the paper The importance of species diversity for human well-being in Europe here

Birds in the Channel Islands – an update

A little later than most years, well 2020 has had its challenges; we are pleased to update the list of the bird species recorded in the Channel Islands. As in previous years, the list has been updated to include all birds recorded across the islands up to the end of the last year, in this case 2019. So no bearded vultures yet.

Firsts and other notable records

One species, booted warbler, joined the list after sightings in both Guernsey and Alderney in September. This warbler, more at home in eastern Europe and Central Asia, was the 378th species on our list.

There were further firsts for individual islands, a pallid harrier in Guernsey and a desert wheatear in Jersey while Alderney saw its first dusky warbler, barred warbler, thrush nightingale and olive-backed pipit.

Sark saw its second ever mute swan, Jersey a second pallid harrier and Caspian tern and Alderney its second common rosefinch. Jersey’s second and Guernsey’s third glossy ibis may be the sign of things to come as this waterbird increases its range and numbers, following on from all those egrets.

A good year for some

There were some notable arrivals in the islands with common cranes seen in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney in October although numbers varied suggesting that while the birds may have all been from one migrating flock it didn’t seem that the same individuals were moving between islands.

Another much wanted species, European nightjar, was recorded on all four of our main islands in 2019 with one staying ten days in Sark in spring. The one autumn record was, sadly, of a dead bird picked up in Jersey. Cirl bunting continues to breed in Jersey but this year bred in Guernsey too where birds were present for much of the year: a single was seen in Alderney.

Updates

Away from the birds themselves, the latest report details local birding groups and how to contact them. A pleasing addition this year is the Facebook group Sark Bird Sightings

Competition?

There’s no way birders ever become competitive, but for the record there have been 338 bird species recorded in Jersey, 331 in Guernsey, 303 in Alderney and 227 in Sark. Alderney passed the magic 300 mark with their olive-backed pipit in April.

Download the updated report A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands here

UK on course to miss most biodiversity targets

From The Guardian

The UK is failing on its long-term biodiversity targets and seeing “relentless” declines in wildlife, according to UK Government data that shows public sector investment in conservation falling in real terms by 33% in five years.

Out of 24 biodiversity indicators, 14 showed long-term decline, including continued deterioration of UK habitats and species of European importance, as well as a decline in priority species, according to the 2020 UK biodiversity indicators report, which gives the most comprehensive overview of the action the government is taking on the most pressing wildlife issues.

“The picture is a painfully familiar one of relentless decline in species and habitats,” said Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link. “Unfortunately, there were no surprises in this report – I would have liked to be surprised. It’s an alarmingly familiar picture.”

A lot of the data was used in the RSPB report that found the UK government failed on 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010. The data was also part of the 2019 State of Nature report, which found that populations of the UK’s most important wildlife had fallen by 60% in 50 years.

The report showed that in 2018/2019, government funding for UK biodiversity was 0.02% of UK gross domestic product. “One thing that jumps out is the rather worrying decline in public sector spending on biodiversity,” said Prof Richard Gregory, head of monitoring conservation science for RSPB. “With the climate and biodiversity crisis, nature-based solutions are part of what we should be doing, so it’s crazy we’re not investing in this.”

Natural England, which is sponsored by Defra, has seen its budget cut by £180m since 2008, and continued cuts are having a huge impact on the protection of habitats, conservationists warn. “It’s a real ski-slope decline in funding. Government agencies cannot act to do the really great things they want to do … They need to put money there to have real action,” said Gregory.

Generally, habitat “specialist” species do worse than generalists; farmland birds have declined by 55% since 1970 and woodland birds have declined by 29%. These declines are not just historical – numbers have continued to drop in the past five years.

The report did show some improvement in the designation of protected sites, such as an increase in sustainably managed forests and fisheries.

Conservationists say that if the new Environment Land Management programme is designed well, it could bring a significant boost to nature funding, but it is not being rolled out until 2024. The issue has been worsened by the significant financial losses many charities have faced and projects being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This report shows just how far we have to go,” said Green Party peer Natalie Bennett. “Not only are we running out of time to tackle the climate emergency, there is also increasingly little time left to reverse this catastrophic decline in nature and wildlife.”

Joan Edwards, director of public affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “There’s a loss of woodland and farmland birds, long-term decline of pollinators, and the condition of important habitats is deteriorating. We need investment and action on the ground to put nature into recovery and we need it now.”

A Defra spokesperson said the report showed positive signs in terms of the contribution of UK forests in mitigating climate change and the increase in bat populations. “However, there remain huge ongoing pressures on the country’s biodiversity, and many of our native species are in decline, which is why we must continue to act to restore and enhance nature.”

Read the report UK Biodiversity Indicators 2020 here 

Plastic found lining UK seabird nests on a worrying scale

From The Conversation

From the packaging our food comes in to the clothes we wear, plastic is everywhere. We know that seabirds eat it and get tangled in it, but we are only just beginning to explore the impacts this has on their health and survival. This is really important, particularly in the UK and Channel Islands where many species, such as the northern gannet and Manx shearwater, breed in greater numbers than anywhere else in the world.

Many seabird species are in drastic decline. A recent report found that in the last 18 years, the UK population of European shags has fallen by 24%, kittiwakes have reduced by half and Arctic skua populations have shrunk by 70%.

But what is behind these declines remains something of a mystery. Overfishing and climate change are thought to be key drivers, but despite knowing that plastic is widespread in their environment, we currently lack even the most basic data on which seabird species are affected by this pollution and how.

Before we can effectively deal with any threat posed by plastic pollution, we need to understand the scale and type of effects it’s having. A new study is a first step towards this, uncovering evidence that Scottish seabirds are not only ingesting plastic, but they appear to be accumulating it in their nests.

Unpicking the impact of plastic

The study looked at five European seabird species – cormorants, European shags, great black-backed gulls, herring and lesser black-backed gulls. The latter four of these are of “Conservation Concern” in the UK according to the RSPB, while cormorant, shag and herring gull are included in Jersey’s ‘red list’ due to their declining or vulnerable populations.

Plastic pollution was intimately intertwined with the nesting behaviour and daily lives of these species, possibly affecting their breeding success and survival. 32% of herring gull nests, 53% of great black-backed gull nests and, worryingly, 80% of European shag nests contained plastic. Even worse, 39% of herring gull pellets – regurgitated bits of indigestible food – also contained plastic.

Plastic in nests is known to ensnare adults and chicks, often with fatal consequences. For some species, the nest must keep the egg warm and dry. It’s not clear whether plastic could be altering how well the nest warms its occupants or allows liquids to drain, but any changes could affect hatching success. Equally, the range of colours plastic comes in may affect the nest’s camouflage, making eggs and chicks more vulnerable to predators.

The study found clear differences in the type of plastic in herring gull nests from that contained in their pellets. This may reflect differences in where this species collects its food and its nest material. The ingested plastic was a variety of colours and types, including fibres, packaging and hard fragments, suggesting it might be found in an urban environment or in a landfill. But the nest plastic found was only sheet packaging, the sort more likely to wash up on the shore closer to their home.

This kind of information can help us begin to understand how effective different efforts might be. If the plastic used for making nests is collected from the shore before nest building begins in early spring, like during beach cleans, it could limit the impact on particular seabird species.

As nationwide lockdowns have eased during the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented levels of plastic waste have been left on UK beaches. We’re only just peeling back the surface on how this pollution harms wildlife. But as the evidence mounts, the urgent need to prevent plastic entering the environment becomes ever clearer.

The study The prevalence and source of plastic incorporated into nests of five seabird species on a small offshore island can be seen here