Lesotho vultures threatened


This video is called Adult Lammergeier.

From BirdLife:

Wind farm in Lesotho could cause the local extinction of vultures

Thu, Jan 24, 2013

Vultures, such as the Vulnerable Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres, have a higher risk of collision with wind turbines. Thus appropriate assessment of the collision risk to these species must inform the decision as to whether the site is suitable for development.

BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife International are very concerned that the proposed development of a wind farm at Letseng in Lesotho could have severe impacts on the already declining populations of Cape Vultures and Lammergeiers. South Africa and Lesotho share the responsibility of safeguarding the populations of Lammergeiers and Cape Vultures in the Lesotho Highlands and the surrounding escarpment of South Africa.

PowerNET Developments (Pty) Ltd propose to erect 42 wind turbines (each with a capacity of 850 kW) near Letšeng-La-Terae, on the north-eastern escarpment of the Drakensberg. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed Letseng Wind Farm is in its final stages of completion. The avifaunal specialist report, compiled by well-respected ornithologist Dr Andrew Jenkins, indicates that even with mitigation, the anticipated impacts of the project on highly unique and sensitive avifauna will be of high to very high negative significance, rendering the project unsustainable.

While wind energy is fairly new to southern Africa, poorly located wind turbines elsewhere in the world have had significant impacts on bird populations. Impacts include loss of habitat, disturbance and mortality through collisions with the turbine blades. In Smøla, Norway, for example, wind farms caused the local population of White-tailed Eagles (also known as Sea Eagles) to plunge by 95% – reducing the number from 19 eagle pairs to only one pair.

Such devastating impacts have not occurred at all wind farms. “The considered location of wind farms is the key to ensuring that impacts on birds are kept to a minimum”, says Samantha Ralston, Birds and Renewable Energy Manager for BirdLife South Africa. Among other things, turbines should be kept well away from areas frequently used by collision-prone birds such as large-bodied raptors.

Collision-prone vultures cannot observe political boundaries

Vultures play an important ecological, economic, cultural and aesthetic role. They are scavengers and by disposing of waste and carcasses they help control populations of other disease-carrying scavengers and pests. In this way they help protect human health, as well as that of domesticated animals and wildlife.

Unfortunately, vultures appear to be particularly prone to colliding with the turbine blades. High collision rates have been observed in Griffon Vultures at wind farms in Europe, most notably in Tarifa, Spain. The Griffon Vulture is a close relative of the Cape Vulture. A recent study in Tarifa, Spain, estimated that 0.22 vulture deaths occurred per turbine per year. This was reduced by approximately half with the introduction of mitigation, but even with mitigation one can expect that for every 10 turbines at least one vulture will be killed every year.

The proposed Letseng wind farm is located in habitat that is critical for both Lammergeier and Cape Vulture, both threatened species. Lammergeier is listed as regionally Endangered and Cape Vulture as Vulnerable in South Africa. Birds do not observe political boundaries and the populations of both species span South Africa and Lesotho. A further decline of birds in Lesotho, will severely impact the viability and survival rates of the vultures in South Africa. Using population models, scientists have demonstrated that even a small increase in adult mortality could cause the rapid decline and even local extinction of these long-lived, slow-breeding birds. “BirdLife South Africa has learnt from its partners in Europe and North America that incorrectly located wind farms can cause massive mortalities of vultures and eagles”, says Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa. “For this reason, we will strongly oppose any wind farm developments which we believe will result in significant impacts on Lammergeier, Cape Vulture and other threatened South African birds”, he added.

Responsible sustainable development must be consultative

BirdLife South Africa fully recognises the need to move towards generating clean energy and supports the responsible development of a renewable energy infrastructure in southern Africa. BirdLife South Africa therefore encourages wind farm developers to work with them to help identify suitable sites for wind energy to minimise the impact on birds and the environment while delivering lasting sustainable development. For example, prior to siting a wind farm, a Strategic Environmental Assessment should be undertaken as this enables avoidance of areas that are known to be environmentally sensitive.

Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Regional Director for Africa says development is vital, but must progress in an environmentally sensitive manner. “Development is underpinned by healthy ecosystems and the biodiversity therein. The choices we make now must not negatively affect Africa’s ability to develop in future”, he said.

BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife International are calling on PowerNET Developments (Pty) Ltd to voluntarily withdraw the EIA application. BirdLife South Africa is also encouraging the public and partners to comment on the EIA report. Further information can be obtained from Samantha Ralston (at energy@birdlife.org.za or 083-6733948).

Controversial wind farm in Lesotho gets the go-ahead: here.

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Shetland fire festival


This video from Shetland says about itself:

The Up Helly As song, sung by Guizers and accompanied by the Lerwick Brass Band.

By Peter Frost:

The guizers and the galley

Thursday 24 January 2013

There are hundreds of reasons to visit Shetland’s magical islands. I go as often as I can, usually in summer when Britain’s most northern isles enjoy almost continuous daylight.

That means you have endless time to watch sea mammals such as seals, dolphins and whales and seabirds from comical puffins to majestic sea eagles.

There are many ancient sites and even a chance to visit the home of Scotland’s second best known poet – communist Hugh MacDiarmid – who lived on Whalsey, one of Shetland’s many islands.

Local ceilidhs are held in the countless halls offering a chance to hear and dance to the legendary Shetland fiddlers and other traditional music.

Best of all are the endless expanses of dramatic rugged coastal scenery.

That continuous daylight in summer has to be paid for, and in midwinter Shetland can be a dark and gloomy place until the islanders brighten it up with an amazing fire festival – Europe’s largest. They call it Up Helly Aa.

For 24 hours on the last Tuesday of January (this year the 29th) the capital town of Lerwick and the whole of the islands of Shetland go mad.

However dark and dreary, the proud boast is that “there will be no postponement for weather.”

As we are talking about Britain’s most northerly corner – on the same latitude as southern Greenland – that is some boast.

Gales, sleet and snow or flooding have never yet stopped the event.

The Jarl – leader of the festival for just one day – will have been elected a dozen years before and will have been planning the longest day of his life since then.

Today he will don his raven-winged Viking helmet, grab his axe and shield and embark on a 24-hour sleepless marathon.

On the evening of Up Helly Aa Day over 800 heavily disguised men form ranks in the darkened streets of the old whaling port of Lerwick.

They shoulder stout wooden poles, topped with paraffin-soaked sacking.

On the stroke of 7.30pm a signal rocket bursts over the Town Hall.

The torches are lit and the amazing, blazing procession begins, snaking half a mile astern of the Guizer Jarl, standing proudly at the helm of his doomed Viking longship.

The guizers circle the dragon ship in a slow-motion Catherine Wheel of fire. Another rocket explodes overhead. The Jarl leaves his ship as the torches are hurled into the galley.

As the inferno destroys four months of painstaking work by the galley builders, the crowd sings The Norseman’s Home.

Then the Vikings are off. More than 40 squads of guizers visit a dozen local halls in rotation.

At every hall each squad performs its “act.” Each guizer will dance with at least one of the local women, sink a dram or two and maybe snatch a bowl of mutton soup and a bannock.

It’s a fast and furious night – so fast and furious in fact that the next day is a public holiday.

That’s not the end of it, for throughout the rest of the winter each gang of guizers will hold their own squad dances for family and friends.

The Viking roots of the Up Helly Aa traditions go back 12 centuries and more but today’s format is in fact just over a century old.

Today’s torchlit procession and galley burning echo pagan Norse rituals at the cremation of great chieftains, and religious ceremonies to mark the sun’s return after the winter solstice.

If you should miss the Lerwick Up Helly Aa or if it gives you the taste for more of the same, there are another eight fire festivals in various districts of Shetland during the late winter.

Summer visitors to Shetland can discover more about the festival at the Up Helly Aa Exhibition in the Galley Shed, St Sunniva Street, Lerwick.

Shetland’s fine museum also has extensive photographic archives of the festival down through the years.

Rare bird’s first ever nest discovery


This video from Brazil is called Stresemann’s Bristlefront – Merulaxis stresemanni – Entufado-baiano. Male and female – One of the world’s rarest birds.

From Wildlife Extra:

First nest ever discovered of one of the world’s most endangered birds

Stresemann’s Bristlefront nest discovered in Brazil

January 2013. The first known nest of one of the world’s rarest birds – the Critically Endangered Stresemann’s Bristlefront – has been discovered in Brazil. Of perhaps equal significance is that strong evidence of active nestlings was also found.

Rediscovered in 1995 – May be just 15 birds alive

The Stresemann’s Bristlefront is one of the world’s most threatened bird species – unrecorded for 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1995 near Una, Bahia, in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region. The world population estimate is fewer than 15 individuals. Its population is declining owing to fires, logging, and the clearance of humid valley-floor forest for cattle ranching and agriculture.

Nest tunnel

On October 30, 2012, Dimas Pioli and Gustavo Malacco, two Brazilian researchers visiting Fundação Biodiversitas’ Mata do Passarinho Reserve discovered the bird’s nesting tunnel entrance, a tennis ball sized hole, located about three feet from the ground in an exposed dirt vertical edge that contained overhanging vegetation. Nesting tunnels are typical for the ground dwelling Tapaculo family, to which the Bristlefront belongs. The hole is estimated to be approximately six feet deep. It was surveyed and filmed with a micro-camera and further data should be published shortly in an ornithological journal.

Probable chicks

“This is the discovery of a lifetime made all the more gratifying by the fact that not only have we found live adult birds, but we have also found strong evidence of several chicks as well,” said Alexandre Enout, the Reserve’s Manager. “It is urgent that we protect more of the natural Atlantic Forest in this area and reforest areas where forest has been lost. The best way to save this species is by increasing its potential habitat.”

Stresemann’s Bristlefront

The 8-inch long, medium-sized, long-tailed bird has distinctive, long, pointed forehead bristles and a slender dark bill. The female is cinnamon-brown above, with duskier tail and is a bright cinnamon-rufous below.

Atlantic forest reserve protects Critically Endangered yellow-breasted capuchin

American Bird Conservancy is working closely with its in-country partner Fundação Biodiversitas to protect and acquire land in and around the 1,500-acre Mata do Passarinho Reserve in northeast Brazil. This reserve protects a key fragment of Atlantic Forest which provides the environment required by the bird. About 245 bird species have been recorded in the reserve, 37 of which are endemic to Brazil. In addition to being the only know site for the Stresemann’s Bristlefront, it is a critically important site for the Endangered Banded Cotinga and the Critically Endangered yellow-breasted capuchin monkey.

The Atlantic Forest is one of the most endangered forests in the world. Over 500 years ago it extended along the coast of Brazil into Paraguay and northern Argentina. Forest coverage has now been reduced to less than 10 percent of the original area due to logging and conversion to agriculture and pasture.

92% of amphibians are endemic

Despite so little forest remaining, the Atlantic Forest remains extraordinarily lush and is a treasury of biodiversity and endemic species. The forest harbours around 20,000 species of plants, with almost 450 tree species being found in just one hectare in some areas. Approximately 40 percent of its vascular plants – 52 percent of the trees – and up 60 percent of its vertebrates, including 92 percent of amphibians are endemic species, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. The Atlantic Forest has spectacular bird diversity, with over 930 species, about 15 percent of which are found nowhere else. Because most of the region’s forests have been cleared during 500 years of exploitation, many species are now threatened with extinction and, sadly, many others have already been lost. Nearly 250 species of amphibians, birds, and mammals have become extinct due to the result of human activity in the past 400 years and more than 11,000 species of plants and animals are considered threatened in the Atlantic Forest today.

French war in Mali war crimes


French soldier in Mali with skull mask

This photo of a French Foreign Legion soldier, part of the invasion of Mali, shows the real face of that war.

That war is not “against Al Qaeda terrorism” (supported by the French government in Libya, and still in Syria). It is not for women’s rights, human rights or secularism.

It is in support of a military dictatorship.

It brings death, mainly to Malian civilians.

By Ernst Wolff:

Reports of atrocities emerge as France escalates Mali war

24 January 2013

Only thirteen days after starting a war in Mali, France is massively escalating its troop presence there, even as reports emerge of escalating ethnic killings by French-backed Malian troops.

On Tuesday the Malian regime extended the state of emergency declared on January 11 for three months. At the same time, French and Malian troops set up positions in central Mali around the strategic airfield at Sévaré.

The airfield was reportedly the main initial target of the French intervention. Paris wanted to keep it from falling into the hands of the northern-based Malian opposition, so France could use the airfield to fly troops and equipment into the region.

French forces are also blocking journalists from reporting from the war zone, to slow the stream of reports of killings of and atrocities against civilians by French and French-backed Malian forces. In Sévaré, at least 11 people were killed at a military camp, near its bus station and its hospital. “Credible information” pointed to about 20 other executions, with the bodies “buried hastily, notably in wells,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported.

A witness said the Malian army “gathered all the people who didn’t have national identity cards and the people they suspected of being close to the Islamists to execute them, and put them in two different wells near a bus station.” The soldiers allegedly poured gasoline into the wells and set them ablaze to hide the evidence.

Residents of Mopti in central Mali said that the Malian army had arrested, interrogated, and tortured innocent civilians, because the army thought that they were involved in the rebellion. Many Tuareg, who originally controlled the north, fled south when the Islamists took over and are being singled out for reprisals. Amnesty International claims to have evidence of extrajudicial killings of Tuareg civilians, the indiscriminate shelling of a Tuareg camp, and the killing of livestock.

A woman of the Fulani ethnic group described her situation: “The army suspects us—if we look like Fulani and don’t have an identity card, they kill us. But many people are born in small villages and it’s very difficult to have identification. We are all afraid. There are some households where Fulanis or others who are fair-skinned don’t go out any more. We have stopped wearing our traditional clothes—we are being forced to abandon our culture, and to stay indoors.”

The Malian army has a record of ethnic killings. Last September a truck with eighteen preachers from Mauritania crossed the border at Diabaly on their way to Bamako for a conference. Though none were armed and they had papers indicating their mission, all were massacred by the troops manning the border checkpoint.

Asked about abuses committed by Malian forces in an interview Wednesday on France 24 television, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cynically commented, “There’s a risk.”

Amateur cell phone videos on the internet show huge blasts and fireballs in living areas, and bloggers from Mali are reporting numerous casualties. The United Nations has reported that thousands of people have been forced from their homes over the past ten days. An estimated 230,000 people are now displaced across the country. According to Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, the violence could soon displace up to 700,000 in Mali and around the region.

The Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that people in the north were increasingly heading into the desert, as Algeria had closed its borders. Many are fleeing on foot because they cannot afford boats or buses.

Sory Diakite, the mayor of Konna, who fled to Bamako with his family after a French raid, described the bombing of his town. He said that during the assault in the first days of the war, people “were killed inside their courtyards, or outside their homes. People were trying to flee to find refuge. Some drowned in the river. At least three children threw themselves in the river in order to avoid the bombs. They were trying to swim to the other side.”

The constant increase in the number of soldiers, the massive build-up of ever-deadlier weapons and the increasing willingness of its allies to step up their support signify that such violence will only continue to escalate.

France is deploying more soldiers and more high-tech weaponry. Some 2,150 French soldiers are in Mali, and their number will rise to 5,000 by the end of the month.

The African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) will comprise almost 6,000 soldiers, instead of the initially planned 3,300 soldiers, costing around $500 million.

The Gazelle helicopters that participated in the first wave of French air attacks are being replaced by Tiger helicopter gunships, which have a longer range and greater firepower. “Cheetah” units based in France have been placed on alert, including a number of Leclerc heavy tanks and units armed with truck-mounted 155-millimeter artillery pieces.

So far nearly 1,000 African troops from Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Burkina Faso have arrived in Mali. Senegalese troops and up to 2,000 soldiers from Chad are on the way. Their transport is being provided by France’s allies: Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Emirates, and Canada. Italy approved sending 15 to 24 military instructors to work alongside the European Union (EU) in training Malian forces and also agreed to provide logistical support with at least two cargo planes.

US forces began their mission in support of the Mali war on Monday. Five four-engine C-17 planes took off from the Istres-LeTubé airbase in southern France, loaded with French cargo which they dropped off in the Malian capital, Bamako.

According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, British forces were on “high alert” for possible deployment in Mali, in case France asks for help. The British foreign ministry denied the report, however.

Yesterday French Rafale and Mirage jets bombed targets near Gao, Timbuktu and Ansongo, a town near the border with Niger. Col. Oumar Kande, ECOWAS military and security adviser in Mali, said, “It is possible we will win back Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal in a month, but it is impossible to say how long the overall war will last.”

Kande’s words are in line with remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said that the Mali war might last years or decades.

Canadian armed forces are deeply implicated in the French invasion of Mali: here.

National garden bird count results


Here are the final results, after earlier provisional results, of the national garden bird count in the Netherlands this year. Results of earlier years are here.

Total number of counts in the Netherlands: 48.735

House sparrow 215.083 Great tit 160.711 blackbird 142.667
4 Chaffinch 130.707
5 Blue tit 99.342
6 Jackdaw 67.207
7 Wood pigeon 59.438
8 Collared dove 58.490
9 Starling 56.083
10 Robin 47.966