Water voles back in Scottish Highlands


This is a video from England about a water vole (and a male mallard).

From Wildlife Extra:

Water vole returns to RSPB site in Scottish Highlands after 20 year hiatus

The endangered water vole has returned to RSPB Insh Marshes after 20 year absence.

The small chubby rodent, which inspired the character Ratty in the children’s novel Wind in the Willows, was last seen at the reserve in Strathspey more than two decades ago and ecologists believe its reappearance is a result of work to eradicate American mink.

Predation by the American mink and habitat loss has led water vole to being the UK’s fastest declining mammal with numbers having dropped by 90 per over the last 40 years.

However, since 2011 the Scottish Mink Initiative has worked alongside organisations and landowners like the RSPB to eradicate mink from large parts of northern Scotland, including the Cairngorms National Park and Insh Marshes. This has allowed water voles to re-establish themselves in those areas.

RSPB Officer, James Silvey, said: “Water voles are extremely important mammals because they’re a really good sign of a healthy wetland environment.

“ It’s great to see them returning to Strathspey and we are hopeful this population will go from strength to strength. However, we have to remain vigilant to ensure that mink remain absent from the area.

“RSPB Scotland will continue to support the Scottish Mink Initiative in its efforts to remove mink from as much of the site as possible. People in the area can help protect water voles too, by looking out for them and reporting any sightings to us so we can monitor their populations.”

Rare subtropical butterfy and moth in Belgium and the Netherlands


Oleander hawk-moth

The Butterfly Foundation in the Netherlands reports today about two subtropical insect species, seen recently in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The oleander hawk-moth was seen in Ostend in Belgium.

This video is about a geranium bronze butterfly (Cacyreus marshalli).

The geranium bronze butterfly is originally from South Africa, but was transported to the Mediterranean region. On 27 August Frank van der Putte saw it on an allotment near Middelburg in the Dutch Zeeland province.

Rare shrikes, bee-eaters nest in Dutch nature reserve


This is a red-backed shrike video from Belarus.

Dutch conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten reports that this summer, two rare bird species nested in their Duin en Kruidberg nature reserve.

This summer, there was a red-backed shrike nest there; for the first time since 1978.

There was a bee-eater nest as well.

Good burrowing owl news from California


This video from the USA is called The Burrowing Owl‘s Cozy Home.

From the San Jose Mercury News in the USA:

Alviso: ‘Charismatic’ burrowing owl protected by special habitat

By Andie Waterman

08/26/2014 12:04:21 PM PDT

SAN JOSE — As a crow perches on a mound of earth, a pint-size chestnut-feathered owl emerges in front of it. The crow sits still, but the owl leaps forward, collides with the crow head-on and knocks it backward. The owl swoops away.

The confrontation in Alviso was captured on a motion-sensor camera that is documenting the rising population of burrowing owls at a South Bay preserve — a trend that runs counter to an overall decline in the species.

And the photos and videos are providing a look at how the owls live.

“We get a look at the secret lives of burrowing owls,” said Stephanie Ellis, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS).

Josh McCluskey, burrowing owls project manager for SCVAS, is among those who have been reviewing the footage of the western burrowing owl since the March installation of motion-sensor cameras that monitor a 180-acre owl habitat near the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility in Alviso.

Since 2012, a partnership between the Audubon Society and San Jose’s Environmental Services Department, with the help of environmental studies experts and students from San Jose State and De Anza College, has created ideal conditions for the burrowing owl habitat.

That year very few owls lived on the Alviso site. Now there are 14 adults and 29 chicks.

“This is the one place where their population can be built up to repopulate other areas, to be able to create habitats for them elsewhere,” said Shani Kleinhaus, burrowing owl environmental advocate with the Audubon Society. “This is the one place where the population is increasing in the Bay Area.”

The burrowing owls — who are on average 9 inches tall and weigh a quarter of a pound — are the only species of owl that lives in underground burrows. They are found in various places in California, such as the Bay Area and Imperial Valley, and also some locations in Mexico and Canada.

They are unusual among owls, according to Philip Higgins, biologist for the city of Mountain View, because they don’t have ear tufts, are awake during the day as well as at night and do not hoot.

The Bay Area’s burrowing owl population in the mid-1980s was estimated to be around 560 to 640 adult owls, three-fourths of them in the South Bay. By the 1990s the population had decreased by about 50 percent, and in 2009 there were only an estimated 70 adults left in the South Bay.

Two years ago, Higgins warned the burrowing owl — listed by the state and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a “species of conservation concern” but not yet endangered — could become extinct by 2032.

A plan to create buffer zones to protect the owls was drawn up that same year by Higgins and Lynne Trulio, professor of environmental studies at San Jose State. They blamed the decline on habitat loss and lack of sufficient prey.

When the then-San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant (now the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility) filed an environmental impact report in 2009 for future development of 2,600 acres of mostly barren land around the plant, the Audubon Society sought a dedicated space for the owls, and the city allocated 180 acres for the habitat.

Volunteers from the Audubon Society and city staff members began building artificial burrows and dirt mounds on the Alviso site for the owls, who make a mess in the burrows and then leave. The mounds attract squirrels, which create tunnels that owls can move into later.

Owls “can move to the next burrow, then the ground squirrels will move back in and the ground squirrels are very clean and they’ll clean it all out and make it nice and neat,” said McCluskey. “And then the owls will move right back in.”

Volunteers also mowed the grass for the owls, which need grass to be shorter than 5 inches to scan the area for predators and prey, and put in perches to make scanning easier.

A year later, they saw more owls in the area, six adult pairs and 10 chicks.

“I like to call it a recipe and the recipe was really basic, like pound cake,” said Ken Davies, the city’s environmental services department compliance officer. “Put three things in there and you get this nice thing.”

In addition to the Alviso site, owls are still present and protected at Shoreline Park in Mountain View, Moffett Field, and Mineta San Jose International Airport. But the Alviso habitat is considered ideal because it is restricted from the public and can be controlled.

“The only way to save them is to use existing sites,” said Higgins. “If you lose one of (the sites), you’re just increasing the chances of the bird becoming extinct in the area.”

Installing motion-sensor cameras in March of this year made it easier to keep track of the owls, and gave observers insight into owls’ lives.

Much of the city staff and Audubon Society’s work involves the grind of separating photos of windswept brush from owl photos. But there have also been photos of young owls divebombing into each other to practice their hunting skills, and a video of an owl chasing a squirrel out of its burrow.

“They’re a very charismatic bird,” said Kleinhaus —… They come out during the day. … They’re real acrobats, they can hover, they can flip, they can do very amazing stuff.”

Taita Hills, Kenya, new natural history guidebook


This video is called Taita Hills, Kilimanjaro, Kenya.

From BirdLife:

Welcome to Taita Hills, Kenya – a guide is now available!

By Obaka Torto, Wed, 20/08/2014 – 11:15

A guide to Taita Hills’ unique natural history has just been released. This book, authored by Lawrence Wagura, a naturalist and fieldworker based at the National Museums of Kenya is the first published guide for this important site. In simple language, backed up by colourful pictures, Lawrence comprehensively describes the site: he includes, among other topics, its history, geography, value, indigenous culture, and various types of plants and animals found there.

A Guide to Taita Hills Unique Natural History book cover
A Guide to Taita Hills Unique Natural History book cover

The book is not only useful for visitors and researchers; Lawrence also intends to use it as a tool for educating the youth and other residents of the Taita Hills on the value of conserving the site.

“With support from teachers, I have already been giving talks in schools in the area and I often take students for educational trips to the forests. I will now distribute free copies of the book to the schools, and in future use them for my educational talks”, says Lawrence. “With the initial support I got, only 400 copies of the book were printed. Although a good start, these copies are not enough. Some of the copies will therefore be sold to those who can afford to pay and the proceeds used to print even more copies that can be freely distributed to schools and communities”, he adds. Lawrence hopes that the book will also encourage tourists who venture into the lower Tsavo plains and other areas to include a visit to the Taita Hills, thus bringing income to the communities.

Located in south-eastern Kenya, the Taita Hills forests form part of the Eastern Arc Mountains and are part of the Eastern Afromontane global biodiversity hotspot. The hills rise from the Tsavo plains at 600 to 2200 metres above sea level. They have patches of rain forest at the hill tops, which act as water towers feeding the lowlands. They also support 34 globally threatened species. They are therefore categorised as an Important Bird Area (IBA), a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site. They host over 200 bird species including the two rare, endemic and Critically Endangered birds: the Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis and Taita Thrush Turdus helleri.

Lawrence is excited about this initiative and thanks all who supported him in collecting information, editing the book and its printing. He is happy to see the fruits of over five years spent undertaking field observations in the Taita Hills. Printing of the initial copies of the books was supported by BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat and Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner) as part of a project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

Story by Mercy Kariuki – BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat