Eurasian birds 2016 highlights


This is a video series by BirdLife Europe and Central Asia.

From BirdLife:

Birds of a Feather: Our partners’ highlights from 2016

By Gui-Xi Young, 16 Jan 2017

From the wild North Atlantic to the Caspian Sea; from the fjords of Breiðafjörður to the Iron Gates on the Danube, from the high Pyrenees to the Kazakh Steppe – how better to bask in the spectacular natural beauty of Europe & Central Asia than with a bird’s eye view? Here are just some of our partners’ highlights from 2016!

2016 was a busy year for the BirdLife Europe & Central Asia family – a partnership of 48 national NGOs in 47 countries. As the old proverb goes, ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ and, together, our local to global approach to nature conservation shows just what the power of many can achieve for birds and people alike. We rounded-out the year with a stunning victory – the safeguarding of the EU’s Nature Directives. But there are so many other stories to tell.

Science: The BirdLife Gold Standard

At BirdLife, science is the Gold Standard; it’s the very foundation of our approach to nature conservation. Year on year, our partners raise the bar for ornithological knowledge and push forward the frontiers of learning – and 2016 was no exception. For example, our Kazakh partners, ACBK conducted their country’s most extensive census of rare geese species and other water birds to date, while over in Croatia, BIOM finished a benchmark three year study of national bird distribution, establishing a whole new baseline for future bird atlases. Meanwhile, many partners have been embracing innovative techniques for data-collection with some fantastic results, such as DOPPS (Slovenia) equipping a White-backed woodpecker with a telemetric logger for the first time in Europe. And in neighbouring Hungary, MME launched its Bird ID mobile app that has been downloaded by 50,000 users since April.

This commitment to evidence-based advocacy has earned world-wide recognition for our network of IBAs (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas) which are sites of international significance for the conservation of threatened birds as well as other plant and animal species. Happily, thanks to our partners’ hard work, we made many welcome additions to this spectacular network: from Finland’s Baltic coast to the floodplain of Belarus’ River Iput to Lakes Mashankul and Khozhakul in Uzbekistan and more.

Taking Flight: Our Research in Action

In a bid to protect key natural habitats from man-made threats, our partners are actively engaged in long-term ecological restoration and sustainable management projects, working closely with local communities, other NGOs, government agencies and private businesses to find innovative ways for birds and people to peacefully coexist. Last year, SOS/BirdLife Slovakia completed work with local farmers in Medzibodrožie to pump water back into the drying wetlands of the region. Nature’s response was nothing short of amazing: Great bitterns began to return, several pairs of the very rare Ferruginous duck were spotted, and a whole new colony of waders – Purple heron, Great White egret, Black-crowned Night Heron – was established!

Their success will certainly be encouraging for those embarking on (or continuing) equally ambitious projects in 2017. In the … Mediterranean alone, BirdLife Cyprus will be working to restore the Akrotiri Marsh to the thriving mosaic of diverse habitats it once was, SPNI will endeavour to secure the future of Israel’s Sdom Saltmarsh – home to the only viable population of the endangered Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar – while BirdLife Malta will be writing the next chapter of the Salini Salt Pans’ 600 year history, having recently been awarded land-management responsibility for the marshlands that attract great flocks of flamingos during migration season. There are exciting times ahead further north as well: OTOP, for example, will be developing the eco-tourism potential of Poland’s Beka nature reserve, while neighbour BirdLife Belarus undertakes a huge project to recover over 1000 ha of peatlands in Białowieża Forest National Park, to the certain benefit of raptors, owls and woodpeckers.

Flights of Imagination: Engaging the Public

Of course, none of this could be achieved without widespread public support. Time and time again, across all our countries, young and old alike come out in full force to enjoy – and when necessary, defend – nature. Last year, our determined French partner LPO continued its tireless fight to strengthen France’s Biodiversity Law by collecting a staggering 669,102 signatures to give to Minister of the Environment, Ségolène Royal, against the use of neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide that has been killing off our bees.

Some fine-feathered fun has also been order of the day: great new events have popped up on the annual calendar, with the BirdLife Suomi’s ‘Finnish Bird Fair’ and SVS/BirdLife Switzerland’s ‘Festival of Nature’ joining more established events such as SPEA’s ‘Sagres Birdwatching Festival’ in Portugal and SOF/BirdLife Sweden’s national ‘Garden Bird Count’ – all attracting tens of thousands of visitors and participants. In Romania, SOR’s popular ‘Bucharest Got Wings’ project saw members of the public place home-made bird feeders and nest boxes all around the capital’s parks and squares – much to the delight of local blue tits and great tits. And, who says politics can’t be fun? APB BirdLife Belarus organized an election with a difference – ‘Bird of the District’, with the noble Kingfisher claiming a superb victory: long may he reign!

Some of our partners even managed to get their members to break a sweat: in Turkey, Doğa volunteers ran the Istanbul Marathon to raise funds for the threatened Imperial Eagle; in Belgium, our Flemish partner’s two-day challenge of hiking, biking and canoeing – ‘Expeditie Natuurpunt‘ raised €133,000 for nature conservation projects; and in Israel, SPNI’s fantastic ‘Champions of the Flyway’ competition – a real-time bird spotting ‘race’ live on Twitter – raised $80,000 for our Greek partner’s (HOS) efforts to tackle illegal bird killing.

Art has often taken inspiration from the natural world – Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Carnival of the Animals’, Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Young Hare’, John Constable’s great rural landscapes…– and the BirdLife family is continuing this rich creative tradition in all sorts of imaginative ways. Both LOB in Latvia and BirdLife Cyprus held very successful drawing competitions, with both the former’s ‘Bird of the Year’ competition and the latter’s ‘153 Birds’ (i.e. the 153 species affected by illegal trapping in Cyprus) receiving hundreds of submissions.

Meanwhile, in the world of sound and vision, there were some quality contributions to film, television and radio. Gregor Subic’s poignant documentary ‘The Endangered Treasure of Ulcinj’ told the story of our Montenegrin partner’s (CZIP) efforts to save Ulcinj Salina, one of the most important bird wintering sites in Europe, from being turned into a luxury tourist resort. On Spanish television, SEO/BirdLife earned more than 5 million viewers for their stunning documentary series, ‘Red Natura 2000’. And BirdWatch Ireland filled the radio waves with birdsong, collaborating with presenter Derek Mooney’s on his ‘European Dawn Chorus’ broadcast, a much-deserved winner of a Rose d’Or (Europe’s most prestigious broadcasting award) for Radio Event of the Year.

Numerous activities have focused on inspiring the next generation of bird lovers and nature conservationists: the Caucasus are leading the way with both AOS’ ‘Bird Camp Besh’ in Azerbaijan, ASPB’s ‘Dsegh Eco-club’ combining birdwatching, outdoor training and classes for young students. And in Belgium, our Walloon partner Natagora has developed a video game about biodiversity that has been adopted by many schools. After all, if children these days can memorize the names of 500 different ‘species’ of Pokémon, then why not 500 species of birds?

Onwards & Upwards!

We can all agree that the finest moments come when we finally see species protection measures pay off and bird numbers rebound. 2016 has given us many fine examples to give us hope in 2017. BirdLife Austria celebrated its most successful breeding season for Imperial Eagles and in Georgia, an adult pair was spotted performing diving flights near an artificial nest recently built by SABUKO – a remarkable sighting in a country with no more than 40 breeding pairs. Over in Bulgaria, after years and years of active efforts from BSPB, a second colony of Dalmatian pelicans finally started breeding on Belene Island.

In Serbia, BPSSS advanced its decade long struggle to save the Red-listed Turtledove by securing a moratorium on its hunting for another year. SVS/BirdLife Switzerland has also observed a record – 153 breeding pairs of the endangered Little Owl. Going northwards to Norway, there is new hope for seabirds: after concerted efforts by NOF, the government will start its seabird Action Plan in 2017. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the RSPB is enjoying a ‘boom time’ for Bitterns – a thickset heron that has bounced back from local extinction at the turn of the 20th century to near full recovery!

On that positive note, we shall draw to a close. While this whistle-stop tour cannot possibly do justice to all our partners’ achievements and hard work, it does provide a lot of inspiration as we move onwards to 2017 and continue looking upwards to the skies. Just look at what we can achieve together – as we proclaimed during the Nature Alert campaign, ‘All for Nature, Nature for all!’

Gui Xi Young is a writer and editor with BirdLife Europe & Central Asia.

European roller video


This is an European roller video.

European Muslims’ numbers overestimated


This video says about itself:

Young Muslim Americans react to Islamophobia

14 January 2016

Fusion interviewed a group of young, Muslim Americans about the rise of Islamophobic rhetoric in the U.S., and common misconceptions about Islam and Muslim people.

Dutch NOS TV reports today about a poll by Ipsos Mori.

How many Muslims are in the Netherlands? 19% of all residents, Dutch respondents estimated. The real 2010 figure was 6%.

How many Muslims are in France? 31% of all residents, French respondents estimated. The real 2010 figure was 7.5%.

How much of terrorism in Europe is by Muslims? All of it, the racist extreme right says. Most of it, the ‘moderate’ ‘center right‘ says. In fact, international police organisation Europol calculated that in 2009, 0,4% of all terror attacks in Europe were by Muslims. Most terrorism in Europe is by white nationalists.

European Ice Age hunter-gatherers destroyed forests


This video says about itself:

1 March 2011

Join a small group of ancient Europeans as they teeter on the brink of annihilation, struggling with the most extreme living conditions anyone has ever faced, from encroaching sheets of ice that swallowed every bit of fertile land to a climate that was, on average, 70 degrees colder than it is today.

For these humans, survival meant more than simply keeping warm; it meant abandoning their hunting and gathering lifestyle and finding a whole new way of living – a way of living that endures to this day. Go back in time 24,000 years to the last Ice Age and watch in awe as Ice World brings this amazing stuggle to life. Through computer graphics and reconstructions, you’ll see how the earth’s climate shifted over time, eventually covering much of North America and Europe with two-mile-thick ice sheets.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Ice Age hunters destroyed forests throughout Europe

28 November 2016

Large-scale forest fires started by prehistoric hunter-gatherers are probably the reason why Europe is not more densely forested. This is the finding of an international team, including climate researcher Professor Jed Kaplan of the University of Lausanne and archaeologist Professor Jan Kolen of Leiden University. Publication on 30 November in PLOS ONE.

Deliberate or negligent

This research has generated new insights on the role of hunters in the formation of the landscape. It may be that during the coldest phase of the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers deliberately lit forest fires in an attempt to create grasslands and park-like forests. They probably did this to attract wild animals and to make it easier to gather vegetable food and raw materials; it also facilitated movement. Another possibility is that the large-scale forests and steppe fires may have been the result of the hunters’ negligent use of fire in these semi-open landscapes.

Large-scale impact of humans on landscape

The researchers combined analyses of Ice Age accumulations of silt and computer simulations with new interpretations of archaeological data. They show that hunters throughout Europe, from Spain to Russia, were capable of altering the landscape. This first large-scale impact of humans on landscape and vegetation would have taken place more than 20,000 years before the industrial revolution. The Ice Age is often presented as an era of extreme cold and snow that was ruled by mammoths, bison and giant bears. But the researchers show that humans were also capable of having a significant impact on the landscape.

Layers of ash

Searching for evidence of this human impact explains why there are conflicting reconstructions for this period. Reconstructions of the vegetation based on pollen and plant remains from lakes and marshland suggest that Europe had an open steppe vegetation. But computer simulations based on eight possible climate scenarios show that under natural conditions the landscape in large areas of Europe would have been far more densely forested. The researchers conclude that humans must have been responsible for the difference. Further evidence has been found in the traces of the use of fire in hunting settlements from this period and in the layers of ash in the soil.

Previous Leiden research already suggested human intervention

The team from Lausanne was made up of climate researchers and ecologists Jed Kaplan, Mirjam Pfeiffer and Basil Davis. Archaeologists Jan Kolen and Alexander Verpoorte from Leiden University also worked on the research. An earlier publication by Leiden’s Human Origins research group, that was published in Current Anthropology, had already suggested that hunter-gatherers from the Stone Age may well have modified the natural environment considerably through their use of fire. The new publication in PLOS ONE confirms this hypothesis and may be one of the earliest examples of large-scale human impact on the landscape throughout the whole of Europe.

Common cranes video


This is a Dutch 8 November 2016 video about common cranes.

EuroBirdwatch 2016 report


This 3 October 2016 video from Eibergen in the Netherlands is about EuroBirdwatch. Especially meadow pipits and chaffinches were seen.

From BirdLife:

5.8 million and counting – EuroBirdwatch 2016

By Gui-Xi Young, 2 Nov 2016

40 partner organisations, 1,070 events, 24,115 people and 5.8 million birds – welcome to EuroBirdwatch 2016.

You may have heard the old expression ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ but what about ‘it’s raining blue tits and wagtails’? Well, there is a first time for everything – this year, news of EuroBirdwatch 2016 made it onto the weather forecast on Swiss national television. And while the weatherman didn’t actually forecast ‘light showers’ of starlings broken by ‘sunny spells’ of sparrows, he did make a very accurate prediction for the first weekend of October: birds, birds and more birds!

Since its launch in 1993, EuroBirdwatch has steadily become a beloved fixture on the annual BirdLife calendar. Every October, our national partners across Europe and Central Asia host hundreds of local birdwatching events open to all. Experienced birders, inquisitive newcomers, the young and old alike turn out in their droves to observe, identify and count passing birds during the natural event of the season – the great autumn migration where millions of birds make their epic journey southwards to wintering areas in the Mediterranean and in Africa. There really is something for everybody: fun activities designed for children, public bird ringing, ornithological excursions, and photo exhibitions. But the stars of the show are, of course, the birds: from barn swallows, dunlins, sand martins … to Cory’s shearwaters, great cormorants and many, many more.

This year’s spectacle of the skies certainly did not disappoint. The data, pooled by BirdLife Switzerland (this year’s coordinating partner) speaks for itself: 40 partner organisations, 1,070 events, 24,115 people and 5.8 million birds.

For those impressed by sheer numbers, the huge flocks of chaffinches and starlings observed in so many participating countries must surely stand out – 161,245 starlings in the Netherlands and 265,102 chaffinches in Lithuania alone. Meanwhile, those who delight in the thrill of a rare sight will no doubt appreciate Slovakia’s first registered sighting of the Radde’s Warbler (Phylloscopus schwarzi) – a brown and buff little passerine known for its vagrant wanderings from its Siberian breeding grounds.

The aim of EuroBirdwatch is not only to share the joy of birdwatching but also to educate by introducing wider audiences to the specific needs of migratory birds and the potential perils they face along their flyways twice a year. In light of this aim, special mention must go to Montenegro where young pupils from a local school in Podgorica painted nesting houses for peregrine falcons which will be redistributed around the whole country. Could this be a new generation of future birders, conservationists and ornithologists in the making?

For a full overview of the birds counted – country by country and species by species – visit the EuroBirdwatch 2016 website.

Protect Atlantic Ocean wildlife


This video is called North Atlantic Seabirds, Iceland, 2015. Including puffins and kittiwakes.

From BirdLife:

OSPAR Wild – Protecting the Amazon of the Atlantic

By Marguerite Tarzia, Maria Dias & Ana Carneiro, 2 Nov 2016

Following rigorous and highly innovative scientific analysis, BirdLife has submitted a landmark proposal to OSPAR, requesting international protected status for an area in the North-East Atlantic – an area described as a veritable ‘treasure trove’ of marine biodiversity. Marguerite Tarzia (BL Europe), Maria Dias (BL International) & Ana Carneiro (BL International), who steered this impressive collaboration of over 60 seabird scientists, share their exciting tales from the deep…

A map that holds the secrets of the wild high seas…a map that pinpoints the precise location of untold treasures – ‘X marks the spot!’ Sounds like you have dived right into a Jules Verne novel doesn’t it? Is this fabled Atlantis finally found? Are we 20,000 leagues under the sea? Well, here at BirdLife, we find science to be stranger, and more spectacular, than fiction. Welcome to the majestic ‘Evlanov Seamount & Basin’, a veritable treasure trove of marine biodiversity far out in the North Atlantic.

Following rigorous, and highly innovative, analysis by a massive collaboration of over 60 seabird scientists, our marine team has identified an ecologist’s paradise – an ocean hotspot so rich in sea life biodiversity it could be described as the ‘Amazon of the North-East Atlantic’. For one, it’s a seabird magnet, being the area of the high seas with both the highest number of bird species (it’s an important foraging ground for at least 18) and the highest number of individual birds. It is estimated, conservatively, that the area supports at least 2.9 million seabirds throughout the year. Moreover, the area has been found to be an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) for 12 species, including the threatened Atlantic Puffin, Bermuda Petrel, Northern Fulmar and Zino’s Petrel as well as long-distance migrants such as the indefatigable Arctic Tern, which undertakes the longest migration of any other animal.

And that’s not all. The area is also consistently frequented (and for long periods of time) by some of the ocean’s most iconic creatures: marine megafauna such as Blue and Mako Sharks, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, and Leatherback Turtles. Sei Whales have also been tracked here from the Azores during their northward migration in summer. Interestingly, it appears that as these animals approach this unique area, changes in temperature and currents spur their natural instinct into action, prompting them to begin foraging activities.

Paradise Found

So, how was this ecologist’s paradise found? The answer is beautifully simple: we followed the birds. Seabirds are an intrinsic part of the ‘circle of (marine) life’ – what flies above the waves can tell us a lot about what swims below. Also, as they are more easily monitored than their underwater counterparts, they are an ideal ‘homing beacon’ to use to identify important marine biodiversity sites – it’s a little like taking pigs out in search of truffles. Thanks to our Seabird Tracking Database – the largest collection of seabird tracking data in existence, built in collaboration with more than 160 scientists around the world – we were able to plot a direct course to this very special site by following over 2000 individual tracked birds.

OSPAR

In October, we presented these amazing findings to the OSPAR Convention (for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic)[1] and proposed that the site be safeguarded with the internationally recognised designation of Marine Protected Area (MPA). If this proposal is accepted by OSPAR, the MPA would be the first of its kind in the high seas of the North East Atlantic to be identified using seabird data as the main source of evidence. Moreover, it would fill a major gap in the global network of marine protected areas. High seas areas are hugely important for seabirds, particularly as a key stopover during the migration period or as a final winter destination. This is an important rest and recovery time after the energetic breeding period. However, it is also a dangerous time and winter ‘seabird wrecks’ (i.e. when thousands of birds die due to severe conditions far out at sea) are well documented in the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, so far, very little has been done to either identify important biodiversity rich ‘high seas’ areas or to protect them. The matter is also further complicated when sites worthy of MPA status lie in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). This is precisely the case with this proposed site – it lies in the ocean equivalent of no-man’s land. It is therefore vital to secure international cooperation on this front.

Our proposal was the just the first step and in the coming months, our search for ‘OSPAR Wild’ will highlight the ‘importance of being earnest’. We now wait, impatiently, with bated breath as 15 national governments (the signatories of the OSPAR Convention) slowly deliberate over our proposal. The scientific analysis clearly shows that this area is extremely important for seabirds and entirely merits protected status as an MPA. The governments in question need to now step up their game and answer a simple question: do they want to protect our marine environment or see it waste away while in the debating chamber?

Marguerite Tarzia is European Marine Conservation Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Maria Dias is Senior Marine Science Officer, BirdLife International

Ana Carneiro is Marine Technical Officer, BirdLife International

For more information, contact Marguerite.Tarzia@birdlife.org

[1] OSPAR is named after the 1972 Oslo Convention on dumping waste at sea (OS) and the Paris Convention on land-based sources of marine pollution (PAR). It is a legislative instrument regulating international cooperation on environmental protection in the North-East Atlantic, involving the cooperation of the EU and 15 national governments: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.