Does the early bird catch the caterpillar?

Willow warbler (6). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO Science

The time that birds decide to breed has a strong impact upon the likely success of raising their young to independence. Pairs of birds will generally time egg laying to maximise the availability of food for their chicks. However, one of the strongest impacts of climate change so far has been to alter the timing of spring. In response to milder temperatures, flowers and insects are all appearing earlier than they used to. Songbirds struggling to match their timing to the changing climate could be facing population declines.

To test this, BTO, in collaboration with The Woodland Trust, Rothamsted Research, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), have collated some of the most comprehensive long-term data on the timing of spring from across the UK. They have related changes in the timing of leaf and flower emergence as well as aphid, butterfly and moth emergence, to changes in the timing of egg-laying, tracked by the BTO/JNCC Nest Record Scheme. Survey data from 1983 to 2010 was used to estimate variation in spring phenology from 280 plant and insect species and the egg-laying phenology of 21 British songbird species to explore the effects on avian population trends and potential underlying demographic mechanisms.

Common whitethroat (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

As expected, in warmer springs, birds do tend to breed late relative to the timing of spring. However, by using data from the BTO/JNCC ringing scheme to monitor changes in the number of fledglings produced by each species per year, the study’s authors found no evidence that these mismatched species were also suffering a long-term decline in breeding success. This suggests that the population declines observed in many British songbirds are not directly caused by the effect of mismatch on breeding success.

These results significantly increase our understanding of the impacts of climate change upon birds by showing there is not a strong link between changes in the timing of spring and long-term trends in breeding success. The heroic efforts of thousands of volunteers recording information on birds, insects and plants were vital in providing the long-term data required to understand the impacts of climate change upon bird populations, and we thank them for their hard work and dedication.

See the paper The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to change in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity here

Plémont – how to create species rich grassland…. or heathland

Plemont headlandBy Jon Parkes 

July 2016 saw the official opening of Plémont Headland and for the first time in over 140 years (before the original “Plémont Hotel” was built in 1874) the public have been free to enjoy this special place.

Creating and protecting “green space” for people has been at the heart of the Plémont debate and acquisition and indeed forms a very important part of the National Trust for Jersey’s ethos. But ensuring that nature has a home is also a vital component of what we do and there has never been a time when action has been so desperately needed.

In 2015 The States Department of the Environment published the results of the Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme after 10 years of collecting data across 38 sites by a team of dedicated volunteers. The results suggest that whilst Jersey’s butterflies might be faring slightly better to those in the UK, the surveyed population has still decreased by 14%, (compared to 29% in the UK). Interestingly Jersey’s butterfly population is doing best in semi-natural sites as opposed to those in agricultural or urban habitats where they are declining. In fact the green hairstreak is one species that is doing particularly well and has been recorded as increasing by 458% in the last 10 years as opposed to suffering a 40% decrease in the UK. This could be seen as a strong indication of the importance of managed semi-natural sites such as Plémont.

Ponds

The creation of two ponds at Plémont was eagerly anticipated by the local toad and palmate newt population, who were literally queuing up to jump in upon their completion. For two consecutive years the Eastern Pond has been used by both species to breed. This year, the larger Western Pond has seen a whole new generation of toadlets emerge after metamorphosing from their tadpole stage.

Common toad. Photo by Kristian Bell

Despite the amphibian successes, both ponds have experienced teething problems and most noticeably the appearance of the lime-green algal blooms. Spirogyra is a family of around 400 species of filamentous algae that is commonly found in freshwater and is indicative of clean water that has high concentrations of phosphates and nitrates. It can be easily removed but doing so would jeopardise any invertebrate life or tadpoles that would become encapsulated amongst the tiny strands of algae.

Plemont pond

Another issue the ponds face is loss of water through evaporation, due to their exposed position to the sun, wind and transpiration – the evaporation of water from plant leaves. Whilst there is means to top up the water levels from a well, this would mean the introduction of more nutrients which would cause more algae. The proposed solution is to encourage more oxygenating plants and remove the algae once the toads have emerged from the water, decreasing the level of nutrients over time. Equilibrium will be reached, the water quality will improve and we will have to accept that the water levels will drop in the summer months. As long as there is water during the amphibians’ breeding period (February-June) the pond is serving its purpose and will act much like many natural ponds without constant water inflow.

Reseda luteola Weld R

Grassland

Back in the spring of 2015 you may remember the huge mounds of sandy soil which were spread over the footprint of the demolished buildings. Over 7,000 tonnes of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled soil from La Collette formed the base of what we now refer to as the restoration area. To create a heathland such as Les Landes we would need a free draining sandy soil with a low pH (pH 5-6 ideally) and low nutrient levels. It is easier to maintain a species-rich wild flower habitat when there are fewer nutrients in the soil. If you add fertiliser (or compost or a lot of manure) to the soil, a small number of competitive plants are able to rapidly exploit these extra nutrients. These species then tend to become dominant and other plants are less able to compete for space. Most plants rely on a relationship with fungi and soil micro-organisms in order to grow. Fertilisers have a negative impact on these organisms making it more difficult for the flowers to grow.  With very little choice available, in the quantities we would need, a mixture of sandy soil, sourced from Les Quennevais and recycled sand from La Collette was chosen. Although the average pH was around 8.5, the particularly low nutrient status would mean far less of a burden when it would come to managing the developing vegetation.

Plemont headland 5

Snow bunting, Plemont, November 2017. Photo by Romano da Costa

This June our Conservation Officer, Jon Rault, assisted by the very knowledgeable local botanist Anne Haden, undertook a vegetation survey to assess how things have developed and have some interesting results. Around 50 plant species have so far been recorded including: wild carrot, toad rush, birds-foot-trefoil and small-flowered catchfly. Maritime Duneland plants such as fragrant evening-primrose, sea beet and sea radish have appeared, but this isn’t so surprising considering the origins of the soil, Les Quennevais of course being built on Dunes. Some more invasive plants such as the non-native cape cudweed and spotted medick which may need some management have become quite well established and some more exotic species including echium and Californian poppy have appeared as likely remnants of the holiday camp era.

Lotus corniculatis Common Bird's-foot-trefoil

Oneothera sricta. Fragrant Evening Primrose.Resent soil tests have confirmed that pH levels are still rather alkaline at between pH 8.5 and 8.9 and this is unlikely to change without any intervention due to the amount of concrete based material that must be underneath the layer of imported calcareous sand. Perhaps more encouraging is the nutrient status results from the same soil samples. For example, the amount of available phosphorus is currently between 8.8 and 25.8 mg/l with a “P index” of 0-3, compared to a recently tested former agricultural field which showed levels of available phosphorus at between 66.2 and 153.4mg/l giving a “P index” of between 4 and 7.

Beta vulgaris subsp maritima Sea Beet.Our current situation, with the encouraging results of vegetation surveys, indicates that the soil choice was a good one. Whilst our soil pH is much higher than we would have ideally liked, this is something that can be changed by adding sulphur, an expensive but affective way of raising acidity. As the results from the former agricultural field’s shows, high soil fertility is much more of a problem with no “magic cure”.

The decision on whether to try to acidify our soil in the effort to meet our original vision of creating a heathland is not one that needs to be made straight away and whilst wildlife and people are clearly making good use of the site, we have already achieved much of what we wanted to do.

For the meanwhile, the addition of calcareous grassland to our north coast may be something of an oddity but this may also be its strength and reason to remain as such. A new and interesting patch adding heterogeneity to the landscape is something that’s often lacking.

Further decisions will be required but there will be a need to balance and create opportunities for nature as well as public access and enjoyment.

This piece was originally published in the National Trust for Jersey magazine Discover and is reprinted here with kind permission

Choughs at Sorel Point May 2017. Photo by Mark Sleep

 

Tribute In Light: A chance to study light’s dramatic impact on bird migration

Tribute in Light, New York City. By Glyn Lowe - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28138731From The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds

Billions of birds undertake migratory journeys each spring and autumn. Most of these spectacular movements go unseen, occurring under the cover of darkness. A new study provides some of the most compelling evidence yet that artificial light at night causes radical changes in the behaviour of migrating birds.

“We found that migrating birds gather in large numbers because they’re attracted to the light,” says Benjamin Van Doren of Oxford University, a lead author of the study. “They slow down, start circling, and call more frequently. They end up burning energy without making any progress and risk colliding with nearby buildings or being caught by predators.”

Scientists from the University of Oxford, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and New York City Audubon studied migrant bird behaviour over seven years in a truly unique setting—Tribute in Light in New York City, held to commemorate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Two beams of light–each with 44 xenon bulbs of 7,000 watts—rise into the night sky, mirroring the twin towers of the World Trade Center where nearly 3,000 lives were lost.

“This was a rare opportunity to witness the impact of powerful ground-based lights on nocturnally migrating birds,” says co-lead author Kyle Horton, Cornell Lab, but working at the University of Oklahoma during the study. “This analysis would not have been possible without the help of tribute organizers.”

Well before the results of the study highlighted the effects of the installation, New York City Audubon reached out to the original tribute organizers, the Municipal Art Society, to let them know about the impacts of artificial light on migratory birds. In 2002, the two organisations developed a protocol to save the affected birds. The tribute lights are turned off for approximately 20 minutes when more than 1,000 birds are seen circling in the beams or flying dangerously low with frequent calling. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which took over as tribute organisers in 2012, continued this practice.

Tribute In Light

These brief interludes of darkness during the nightlong tribute provide a unique opportunity for the scientists to quantify changes in bird behaviour in several ways during the alternating periods of light and darkness.

“We had more than 20 wonderful volunteers on the ground counting birds to confirm what was happening in the beams,” says co-author Andrew Farnsworth at the Cornell Lab. “We also used remote sensing tools, including data from local National Weather Service radars, to understand the density and movements of the birds. Acoustic monitors recorded call notes and captured the vocal behavior of birds in the beams. And we ran computer simulations to try to better understand the dynamics of the patterns we were observing.”

When the tribute was illuminated, the study’s authors found that densities of birds over lower Manhattan could reach 60 to 150 times the number that would typically be found in the area at that time. The concentrating effects of the intense light on the birds reached as high as 4 kilometres (2.5 miles). The impact on birds was consistent even on clear nights. (Many previous artificial-light studies focused on nights with poor visibility.) When the light beams were turned off, the birds dispersed within minutes to continue their migrations.

Although Tribute in Light provided a way to measure a specific instance of light attraction, bright nighttime lighting poses problems for birds, even in rural areas. The study’s authors point out that one solution is relatively simple.

“We recommend building lights be turned off for as much of the night as possible, but at least from midnight to dawn during migration season,” says study co-author Susan Elbin of New York City Audubon. “This is true for areas around homes as well as other brightly lit areas such as sports stadiums, construction sites, offshore oil rigs, and large buildings. Migrating is already hard enough for birds without this added danger from artificial light at night.”

The full paper High-intensity urban light installation dramatically alters nocturnal bird migration can be accessed here

Alarm over decline in flying insects

Comma. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BBC News

It’s known as the windscreen phenomenon. When you stop your car after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. And the causes are unknown. “This confirms what everybody’s been having as a gut feeling – the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by,” said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.

“This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.”

Bumble bee. Photo by Mick Dryden

The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989. The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths. Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it. They stressed the importance of adopting measures known to be beneficial for insects, including strips of flowers around farmland and minimising the effects of intensive agriculture.

And they said there was an urgent need to uncover the causes and extent of the decline in all airborne insects. “We don’t know exactly what the causes are,” said Hans de Kroon, also of Radboud University, who supervised the research. ”This study shows how important it is to have good monitoring programmes and we need more research right now to look into those causes – so, that has really high priority.”

The finding was even more worrying given that it was happening in nature reserves, which are meant to protect insects and other living species. ”In the modern agricultural landscape, for insects it’s a hostile environment, it’s a desert, if not worse,” said Dr de Kroon. ”And the decline there has been well documented. The big surprise is that it is also happening in adjacent nature reserves.”

Honey bee. Photo by Mick Dryden

The loss of insects has far-reaching consequences for entire ecosystems. Insects provide a food source for many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles, while plants rely on insects for pollination.

The decline is more severe than found in previous studies. A survey of insects at four sites in the UK between 1973 and 2002 found losses at one of the four sites only.

Dr Lynn Dicks, from the University of East Anglia, UK, who is not connected with the study, said the paper provides new evidence for “an alarming decline” that many entomologists have suspected for some time. “If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate (around 6% per year), it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot.”

Download the full report More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas here

November volunteer activity

JCV 2017

Sunday 5th November 2017 – La Vallette, St John – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details Based at National Trust for Jersey land at La Vallette, St John. This scenic hillside overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour is in need of a bit of JCV TLC.

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site  National Trust for Jersey land at La Vallette, St John: scenic hillside overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour.

Parking  Meeting point is at the bus stop overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour. Parking is quite limited with perhaps space for 2 or 3 cars next to the bus stop; however, there is public parking down on the pier.

(Jersey phone directory Map 4, W4). Google maps here

The task In order to encourage new heather growth and enhance existing patches we are planning to cut and clear bracken and rake off the bracken litter. This will open up the soil and give light and space for any new shoots to thrive. Sycamore saplings and re-growth have been creeping onto the heathland from neighbouring woodland so we will also be aiming to remove these by either cutting or uprooting. In order to give the heathland a real boost we are hoping to have some freshly cut heather seed harvested from another site to rake into the soil.

The task is open to all but, as ever, due to the fairly steep, uneven ground a reasonable level of fitness is required.

We will meet at 10:20 for a 10:30 start. We will work until about 12:30.

Tools needed We will provide some tools and gloves but if you have any of your own then feel free to bring them along.

Clothing needed We will provide protective gloves as well as hand washing facilities and ask that all attendees kindly use them.

Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

Work will finish by 12:30 when cake and refreshments will be served by our super talented baker Kim the Kake.

See you there!

 

Already vulnerable British birds are likely to be the worst affected by climate change

Common snipe. Photo by Mick Dryden (2)From RareBird Alert

Latest research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has found that, although several birds may benefit from a changing climate, particularly in the north, some species will be hit hard and among these are some of the most vulnerable British birds.

Researchers have long investigated the effects that climate change might have on where different species might occur in the future. However, for the first time, scientists at the BTO have investigated how climate change will affect how common different species are likely to be across Great Britain.

Analysing data for 124 different bird species allowed scientists to understand how the whole bird community might change as a consequence of climate change.

Several species (55 of the 124 considered in this study) are likely to benefit from future climate change and their populations may increase significantly by 2080. In contrast, fewer species (11 of 124) are likely to suffer from climate change. This may apparently look like good news, but in reality six of the 11 species that are projected to decline are already included in the British red list of the birds that are at highest risk of local extinction (grey partridge, curlew, grasshopper warbler, ring ouzel, pied flycatcher and yellowhammer), two, curlew and yellowhammer, are on Jersey’s red list (here), and four (red grouse, common snipe, willow warbler and meadow pipit) are currently in the amber list (willow warbler is red on Jersey’s red list!). These species will be at even greater risk of extinction if urgent actions are not taken to improve the habitats and landscapes they require to give them a chance to adapt to climate change.

Ring ouzel (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

In contrast, 40 of the 55 species that are likely to increase are either green-listed, which means they are not currently threatened, or do not yet breed in Britain. This highlights how climate change will more seriously hit those species that are already of conservation concern.

Dario Massimino, Research Ecologist at BTO, and lead author on the paper, said, “This is the first time that count data have been used for future projections on such a large-scale and for so many species, and the findings are very interesting. Gains in the north and west, apparent stability in the south-east and a worsening scenario for those species already in precipitous decline. Without the dedication of BTO volunteers who collect the observations, this type of analysis just wouldn’t be possible; thank you to them all.”

Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist said: “This paper serves as a clear warning that we must rise to the challenge of climate change if we are to avoid seeing species disappear from the UK. We already know that climate change is among the greatest long-term threats to our wildlife and research like this is invaluable by identifying the individual species that could be lost if we fail to act. Using the findings of this work we can plan for the future and the role the UK must play in protecting vital habitats and helping species adapt to a changing world.”

Among the 124 breeding bird species, researchers also considered some which are not yet present in Great Britain but could potentially colonise if they take advantage of higher temperatures. To achieve this, data from the UK Breeding Bird Survey were combined with data from its French counterpart (the Suivi Temporel des Oiseaux Communs). French data were included to better understand how species respond to warmer temperatures that are found in France but yet to occur in Great Britain, and to consider potential colonists such as melodious warbler and tawny pipit.

Tawny pipit. Photo by Mick Dryden

As a consequence of these responses to climate change, different regions of Britain will see net gains and losses in bird numbers. The projections show that the largest gains will mostly be in northern and north-western Scotland and other smaller areas of western Britain. The south-east shows apparent stability, but this is a result of potentially large declines in red-listed species and compensating increases in green-listed species. We are likely to see dramatic changes in the bird community throughout British Isles, but in particular in the west of Scotland.

The full paper Projected reductions in climatic suitability for vulnerable British birds can be accessed here

Birds On The Edge and Durrell: an evening with Dr Julian Hume, Saturday 11th November 2017

timthumbBirds On The Edge and Durrell: an evening with Dr Julian Hume of the Natural History Museum

In the footsteps of a hairdresser: Dodos, giant tortoises and the fossil record of the Mascarenes

Jersey Zoo Discovery Centre – 1900 on 11th November 2017

Animals and plants on islands often evolve in isolation of those on the mainland – a widely studied discipline know as island biogeography (see e.g. site here). Without the same pressures that their relatives might be facing the island forms can become very different to their ancestors. And not just species but the ecosystems that they live in may be very different, having been sculpted by a different set of influences – in the absence of predators unlikely species can become dominant or become landscape engineers like the tortoises in the Galapagos or the Indian Ocean islands and geese and geese-like ducks in Hawaii.

However, when the balance of these ecosystems is upset the whole thing can come crashing down. Unique animals, plants, whole ecosystems can disappear. Typically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the usual culprit that brings about these crashes, or least usual for the last few millennia, is us humans. With help of course, from the plants and animals that come with us.

Lost landCloser to the mainland, the wildlife and ecosystems of the Channel Islands, may not seem like classic examples of island biogeography. However, like more distant oceanic islands we currently have no native predatory mammals (several introduced ones) and none of the normal natural grazers to keep vegetation in check (not since we became islands probably) the latter roles currently partially filled by introduced rabbits and, at least in places, by managed sheep and cattle. And like the Mascarenes, Hawaii and New Zealand we are seeing the impacts of man and the animals and plants we like to surround ourselves with.

Birds On The Edge welcomes Dr Julian Hume, a recognised authority on islands, their unique species, their ecosystems Extinct birds (2)and just what can go wrong with them when man gets involved. Julian will give a talk on Friday 11th November at Jersey Zoo. Julian has authored many books on extinct birds, globally and particularly from the Hawaiian and Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues). However, Julian is much more than an author though, his intense research into his subjects has included reconstructing and painting species known only from bones or travellers notebooks and establishing their niche in ecosystems once untroubled by
humans.

Extinct birds (Hawaii)An expert on the dodo, a species very familiar to Channel Islanders, Julian will talk about his research into the birdlife of Mauritius and his most recent discoveries on the life and observations of Etienne Thirioux, the hairdresser and amateur naturalist, whose contribution to the fossil record of Mauritius has never been bettered. Julian will illustrate his talk with contemporary artwork and his own paintings. He will reflect too on just how easily islands and their natural inhabitants can be changed for ever.

Please come along to this free presentation at Jersey Zoo’s Discovery Centre (formerly the Princess Royal Pavilion) at 1900 on Saturday 11th November. Please come to Zoo entrance a few minutes before 1900 for access.

Julian P Hume website

Julian P Hume Wikipedia 

Julian_Hume

Chough report: September 2017

by Liz Corry

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot
If that bird happens to be a Jersey chough, substitute “earth” for Les Landes and “successive autumns” for lots and lots of insects. For the first time since the choughs have been living at liberty, the entire flock have snubbed their morning supplemental feed in favour of wild pickings out at Les Landes.
20170918_092239

Chough spotting in the middle of Les Landes Racecourse (the red circles indicate choughs, not cowpats). Photo by Liz Corry.

Choughs taking flight at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

They have been flipping over and picking apart cow pats, probing the grass on the spectators’ stand at the Racecourse for cranefly larvae, and scouring the cliff face for anything else they can prise out of the ground.

A group of choughs (under the arrow) and starlings foraging in the spectators’ area of the Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

This is obviously encouraging news for the project. The choughs are clearly content and they are gaining popularity with the public, both locals and tourists who delight in watching their antics. Especially the flying displays.

For the lone observer tasked with keeping track of all 38 choughs it is a roller coaster of emotions; pride, joy, irritation, despair etc. The blessed things don’t stay still nor in one group and it is near impossible to read leg rings. Add to that the inevitable sod’s law factor and you get events such as (1) Racecourse tractor mowing back and forth along your observation site (2) friendly kestrel spotting lunch slap bang in the middle of the foraging chough flock sending them scattering just as you are half way through counting said flock and (3) random 10 minute hail storm!
20170918_120732

La Nethe Falaise is a favourite spot for the choughs to hang out when they are up at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

There is, however, one trick of the trade that can be deployed and moments of need. It should only be practised by a trained professional. It can only be practised by a trained professional since without the recognition from the foster-reared and hand-reared choughs it probably wouldn’t work and you would be left looking like a right Parus major (one for the bird geeks).

Like any species, the offer of free food is too tempting and providing I can get close enough in an area where the birds do not feel threatened I can get the choughs to gather together in one place. Note in the video and photos the choughs closest to me are Ubè and Vicq, both foster-reared, and a couple of the older adults who have known me for four years.

Thirty of the choughs getting a sneaky supplemental feed at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

It is possible to identify most of the leg rings when the choughs are this close. Right up until the point when sod’s law example number 2 comes into play. After that, only the clingy types stay behind begging for more free food.
For the past few weeks the maximum number of choughs at any one time has been thirty-four. There should be thirty-eight. The individuals who appear to be absent most often are Lee and Caûvette, their chick Pink, and Carmine another wild chick hatched this year.

Carmine, a wild chick from this year, was last seen at the aviary on September 2nd. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst it would be nice to assume Pink is with her parents, both chicks are of an age now not to be dependent on their parents. Furthermore they were both showing signs of having nematodes back in August. Failed attempts to catch them up in the aviary meant that they were never treated before they were last seen at Sorel at the start of September.
It is quite possible that Carmine and Pink have sadly perished. Ever optimistic we will continue monitoring the population and ask the public to keep their eyes (and ears) open.

As a footnote, apologies for the media quality this month. The trusty camera has packed up and I am relying on my camera phone!

 

 

Seventy four percent of seabirds ingesting plastic

- 006From Rare Bird Alert

A new report published this month has highlighted the threat marine plastic pollution poses to seabirds in the north-eastern Atlantic region. Researchers found that, of 34 seabird species investigated, 74% had ingested plastic.

The authors of the new study, from the North Highland College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute, part of the University of the Highland and Islands, and the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science collated data from all known studies reporting instances of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation in seabirds around northern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Svalbard, the Faroes and Iceland.

Dr Nina O’Hanlon, of Environmental Research Institute, explains: “Marine plastic pollution is an increasing and global environmental issue which poses a major threat to marine biodiversity. The production of plastic continues to rise with millions of tons entering the oceans each year. Seabirds can ingest plastic, become entangled in it or incorporate it into their nests, causing impacts which may have negative consequences on reproduction and survival.”

- 007

Dr Alex Bond, RSPB senior conservation scientist, said: “The north-eastern Atlantic Ocean is home to internationally important breeding populations of seabirds and an amazing array of other marine life. Solutions to plastic pollution in the oceans require concerted action at its source on land – 80% of marine litter is thought to come from land – especially by producers and users.

“The properties which make plastics desirable are the very things which make it problematic,” Dr Bond continues. “Due to its low cost, approximately half of all plastic items are produced for single-use. Plastic never breaks down, it only breaks up, into smaller fragments which remain in the environment and, as its density varies, it can be found throughout the water column, increasing the number of species which come into contact with it.”

While the team’s research highlights some concerning statistics, its report concludes that more coordinated, comprehensive and detailed investigations are required on plastic ingestion and nest incorporation to assess the full impact marine plastic is having on seabird populations.

Dr O’Hanlon explains: “In the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean, an area of international importance for seabirds, there has been little effort to better understand how marine plastic affects different seabird species over time and regionally. We actually know very little about the current prevalence of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation for many species, several, like the long-tailed duck and Atlantic puffin, which are globally threatened. Only 49% of the 69 species which are commonly found in the region have been investigated for plastic ingestion. We believe it’s vital to have a multi-jurisdictional, coordinated and collaborative effort to gain a more comprehensive and current understanding of this important issue.”

The group’s research was undertaken as part of Circular Ocean, a project funded by the EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, which aims to incentivise the reuse and recycling of marine plastic litter in remote and rural regions.

The full paper Seabirds and marine plastic debris in the northeastern Atlantic: A synthesis and recommendations for monitoring and research can be read here

Puffin. Not in Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden

Storm petrels heard on Shiants for first time. Back in Jersey soon?

European storm petrel. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

Calling European storm petrels have been recorded for the very first time on the Shiant Isles, Scotland this summer, an important milestone for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project, which is working to attract these small seabirds to nest on the islands. The characteristic “churring” call of storm petrels was heard from burrows, their breeding habitat, an encouraging sign that the project’s conservation work is paying off.

The EU LIFE+ funded partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, began in 2014 to provide safe breeding grounds for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds on this cluster of islands in the Minch, five miles off the coast of Harris. A population of invasive non-native black rats on the islands were thought to be limiting the breeding success of the colonies of puffins, razorbills and guillemots, whilst storm petrels and Manx shearwaters were not found there at all.

Following a rat eradication programme in the winter of 2015/16 the project has been focused on monitoring how the wildlife has responded, ensuring the biosecurity of the islands, and attempting to attract storm petrels and Manx shearwaters to breed, as there is ideal nesting habitat for them. It will be March 2018 before the islands can be officially declared free of rats, provided none are found between then and now.

Storm petrel (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

Storm petrels are little bigger than sparrows and only come to shore in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently only nests at a limited number of potentially available sites on offshore islands because of their vulnerability to predation. They are known to abandon and avoid nesting sites where rats or other ground based predators are found.

While these small seabirds have been recorded flying past the Shiants for many years by the Shiants Auk Ringing Group prior to the recovery project beginning there was no evidence that they were landing on the islands or attempting to nest there. Last summer night vision cameras captured footage of several of these small seabirds, but this is the first year their churring has been heard in burrows.

This summer a speaker broadcasting a recording of a storm petrel churring (hear storm petrels here) was placed by some boulder scree near the shore and played throughout the night. The project hoped that this would not only attract storm petrels to the area so they could discover the nesting sites, but also to settle and start a breeding colony there. Calls from birds were recorded from three separate sites close to the speaker.

A night vision camera also captured footage of a storm petrel displaying nesting behaviour; looking relaxed and heading into a burrow. While it’s possible that birds may have successfully bred on the islands this summer confirming this is difficult due to them only entering and leaving their nest burrows in darkness and would have risked disturbing them due to the locations of the calls.

Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “The churring of a storm petrel is very distinctive and we’re delighted that it’s been recorded on the Shiants this summer. While we are still some way off the islands being officially declared rat free these calls indicate that all the biosecurity work we’re doing to keep these islands predator free and make them ideal breeding sites for seabirds is paying off.

“It’s even more exciting to think that the birds may have bred on the islands this year, although the risk of disturbing nesting birds meant we were unable to confirm this. These calls are very positive signs for the future and we hope that next year we’ll be able to record even more calls and footage of the birds. The long term aim is to allow a breeding colony of storm petrels to establish at the Shiants.”

Dr Andrew Douse, Policy & Advice Manager, Ornithology at Scottish Natural Heritage said: “The return of storm petrels as a breeding species on the Shiants is one of the key aims of the project for SNH, so the news of birds recorded calling is very welcome. Storm petrels only occur on islands without rats, which means that they are very vulnerable to the effects that arise from invasive species such as these. The Shiants are an ideal breeding location for storm petrels and hopefully they will go on to become an important stronghold for this species.”

In the Channel Islands we have a healthy population of storm petrels on (rat-free) Burhou (Alderney) but the presence of rats elsewhere, even in otherwise suitable areas of the coast like Plémont, mean that we have nowhere near as many as we could have in the islands with adequate management.

Storm petrel (4). Photo by Mick Dryden