Save bird paradise in Montenegro

This 12 June 2018 video says about itself:

The construction of a luxury hotel in Montenegro’s Ulcinj Salina threatens the local economy and thousands of birds who depend on this resting and breeding site. Give nature and people a voice, sign this petition to protect Ulcinj Salina: Share widely to #SaveSalina!

The #SaveSalina campaign aims at the protection of Ulcinj Salina in southern Montenegro. The salina is a nearly 15 km² large wetland area, which serves thousands of birds as resting and breeding site. Since 1935 salt was produced in Ulcinj Salina in a nature-friendly way, which benefited both migrating birds and local people.

However, the salt harvest stopped in 2013 and since then initiatives exist to sell Ulcinj Salina and build a luxury hotel resort on the land. Although the Government of Montenegro is aware about the importance of Ulcinj Salina for the local economy and the international bird migration, it did not show any interest in protecting the site and preventing its degradation. In order to give nature and people a voice, the international campaign #SaveSalina was set up. With international pressure we have a strong tool to push the government to act!

European, worldwide bird news

This 31 October 2017 video is called The Saline: In the Net. It is about Ulcinj-Salina in Montenegro, an important bird haven.

From BirdLife:

3 Nov 2017

The Bird Bulletin – vol. 17

By Gui-Xi Young

The Bird Bulletin – bringing you beak-sized updates from across Europe & Central Asia and beyond!

Thrilla in Manila…for vultures – we’re thrilled to announce that BirdLife’s Vulture Multi-Species Action Plan was officially adopted at #CMSCOP12 in Manila. This ambitious plan, developed with the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the IUCN, aims to save 15 African-Eurasian vulture species by 2029. Read more…

The Fugitive – BirdLife Malta relates the sensational story of an Italian ‘fugitive’ recently found in the Maltese islands: a Bald Ibis named Iris. Read the full story…

In the net – the salt works of Ulcinj-Salina in Montenegro are an important bird haven but it is under serious threat from developers. The new documentary ‘The Saline – In the Net’ tells the full story, with testimony from BirdLife partner CZIP. Watch it on top of this blog post.

Extinction Battlegrounds – A new study has revealed that nearly half of the earth’s highly threatened vertebrates live on islands and 60% of these islands suffer biodiversity loss due to Invasive Alien Species (IAS). The example of Gough Island shows why we must focus conservation where it’s most needed. Read more…

Back from the Brink – RSPB’s latest ‘Nature’s Voice’ podcast discusses the ‘Back to the Brink’ project’s efforts to save the Willow tit whose UK population has plummeted by 94% since 1970. Listen to the podcast.

That’s all for today’s Bird Bulletin – tune in next week for more cheeps, chirps and chatter.

Bye bye birdies!

Pelicans in Albania and Montenegro

This video says about itself:

Saving the huge Dalmatian Pelicans of Skadar Lake

25 July 2016

These huge birds are very vulnerable to human disturbance and seasonal flooding on Skadar Lake, which borders Montenegro and Albania. A team of conservationists is doing everything they can to protect them, involving the local people.

Find out more here.

Rock partridge hunting ban in Montenegro

This video is called Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca) – birding in Slovenia 2014.

From BirdLife:

Rock Partridge hunting in Montenegro banned for three years

By Shaun Hurrell, Jelena Delić, Wed, 03/02/2016 – 10:00

Thanks to increasing pressure and a campaign from the Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds of Montenegro (CZIP, BirdLife Partner) and the Montenegrin Customs Authority, a three-year moratorium has been issued against the illegal hunting, killing and smuggling of Rock Partridge in Montenegro.

This is a great turnaround, from a country where the last official hunting quota was more than the actual number of Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca present in the country…

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued the ban as a result of constant media pressure exposing detailed information about the confiscation of birds at Montenegrin borders.

One high-profile case that tipped the balance detailed an Italian hunter who had 20 Rock Partridge (classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List) and a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola confiscated at Customs in the Port of Bar in December 2015.

Montenegrin Law requires hunting organisations to issue permits to foreign ‘hunting tourists’ allowing them to hunt in specific areas. However, the permit does not allow the transfer of killed animals across the border; this requires a special permit.

Regulation of issuing these permits in Montenegro is weak: interagency cooperation is inefficient and political will to control the hunters, a powerful voting lobby, is lacking. As a result, foreigners do not have the necessary permits to hunt in Montenegro, nor do they comply with regulations for border crossing, and illegal killing occurs frequently.

In February 2015 for example an Italian hunter tried to smuggle 52 Eurasian Woodcocks (a favourite for foreign hunters) across the border: the dead birds were confiscated but no one was punished – so CZIP reacted.

Were it not for their hard work and persistence that led to this latest success, CZIP staff could be banging their heads against the wall – even if birds were hunted lawfully. Prior to the moratorium, Rock Partridge could legally be hunted in Montenegro between October and December. Although the country itself provides an ideal habitat for the species, the species’ population is small (estimated at only 1200 pairs nationally) and frequent summer fires have caused significant habitat degradation. Yet despite this, official hunting quotas allowed for the killing of more individuals than actually existed.

“It’s crazy,” says Darko Saveljic, Ornithologist, CZIP. “Hunting groups submit reports that exaggerate numbers so they can raise the quotas. Providing accurate data is just one other reason why our team has to work so hard!”

In 2015, CZIP filed charges against tourist agencies offering hunting trips in Montenegro, focusing particularly on Ulcinj Salina Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) – a  wetland of great importance internationally for migratory waterbirds and in the process of being designated a protected area. Despite strong evidence, this and other criminal charges were rejected by the prosecution and never reached the courts.

But this latest ban success is one that is slowly becoming a trend in Montenegro.

Media attention and negative comments about hunters on social networking sites are helping change public opinion on illegal killing, even in a country with such longstanding hunting traditions.

Years of filing criminal charges, publishing press releases, holding round-table discussions with hunters and collaboration with the Customs Authority eventually are paying off and are backed by ministerial decisions. CZIP’s request that offenders should face the due processes and consequences of the law was answered after only two days, when the Minister fined the Hunting Association of Piva €1400.

This was a historical first for Montenegro – despite being constitutionally proclaimed as an ‘Ecological State’ over twenty years ago. Moreover, the president of the Association was personally fined for negligence in regulating its activities.

Some hunting associations are already on board with CZIP though. In the coastal area of Tivat, one group have self-banned the hunting of Rock Partridge in response to friendly discussions with the CZIP team, supported by the presentation of scientific evidence showing the hunters what was required for the species to recover.

Working together to break the hunting and smuggling chain

For some years, the Customs Unit at Port of Bar has shown interest in preventing the illegal trade of animals. To date, they have confiscated hundreds of smuggled birds from offenders but without the follow-up success of punishment.

CZIP organised training to help the customs police recognise species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – thus forging strong relationship.

“The Customs Unit at the Port of Bar is the only official authority fighting the smuggling of killed birds in Montenegro,” said Darko. “Without their efforts, CZIP’s achievements in this area would be much diminished.”

Continuing the fight against illegal hunting in Montenegro

CZIP’s fight for nature conservation in Montenegro does not stop here: they have proposed amendments to the law that concerns hunting seasons. With scientifically-established evidence on threatened and overhunted species, shorter hunting seasons are recommended for a number of species: Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca; Common coot Fulica atra; Common Pochard Aythya ferina; and Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur.

Only ten days after the controversial case that led to this moratorium, another confiscation happened when an Italian hunter tried to smuggle 12 Eurasian Woodcocks. Naturally, CZIP made this information public: now all eyes are on the Ministry’s reaction and resolve to combat illegal killing and to force hunting associations to act according to the law.

“Hopefully, through the joint efforts of the Customs Authority and the Ministry, we will reduce the practice of illegal killing by our neighbours from across the sea,” said Darko.

CZIP is also working to promote Ulcinj Salina as an ecotourism destination and recently saved it from developers.

Big anti-NATO demonstration in Montenegro

This 25 October 2015 video says about itself:

Massive Protest against Government’s Pro-NATO Course in Montenegro. And the rule of pro-Western dictator Milo Djukanović who has presided over Montenegro as either PM or president since February 1991. … 20,000 protesters – that’s equal to over 3% of the population. Protest ended when it was broken up by police.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Monday 26th October

MASSIVE demonstrations in Montenegrin capital Podgorica called for the resignation of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic at the weekend.

Police fired tear gas at the thousands-strong crowds on Saturday night while the opposition hurled firebombs and charged the parliament building, chanting: “Milo Thief.”

Pro-EU opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic took part in the demonstrations, shouting: “The dictator must fall” — Mr Djukanovic has held power for 25 years — but the main message of protesters was resistance to the prime minister’s plans to join the US-led Nato military alliance. An invitation is expected in December.

Banners read: “No to Nato” and “For Military Neutrality of Montenegro.” A protesting electrician told reporters: “We are against Nato, but most of all we are hungry.”

NATO-bombed Montenegro protests against joining NATO

This video, recorded in the USA, says about itself:

Noam Chomsky About Serbia, Kosovo, Yugoslavia and NATO War 1.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Montenegro: Protesters cry No to Nato as alliance leader visits

Friday 16th October 2015

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was met with ­protests yesterday during his two-day visit to oversee Montenegro’s bid to join the imperialist alliance.

“We recognise the progress that this nation has made in pursuing reform, in contributing to international security, in promoting co-operation within the western Balkans,” Mr Stoltenberg told Montenegrin MPs.

“In close co-operation with Nato, Montenegro has reformed its armed forces and its intelligence services.”

But protesters rallied in the capital Podgorica with banners reading “No to Nato.” The same slogan has been sprayed on dozens of buildings throughout the city.

The government’s campaign to win support for the bid has come up against memories of Nato’s 1999 bombing of the then republic of Serbia and Montenegro in support of Kosovar separatists.

The US supports Nato membership for Montenegro but Russia opposes it.

Montenegrin government attacks protests with tear gas: here.

Birds ringed in Montenegro, first time

This video is called Ulcinj Salina – the most important bird area in Montenegro.

From BirdLife:

Local volunteers participate in Montenegro’s first ringing programme

By Marija Stanišić, Wed, 09/09/2015 – 11:38

Studies of Montenegro’s birds over the last 20 years have pointed to the importance of the Adriatic Flyway. However, the focus of conservation efforts has largely been on water birds. Song birds – passerines – have largely been ignored. But a new initiative, and the work of volunteers, is changing that.

Hotspots for migrants in Montenegro include the coastal area of the Adriatic Sea, the delta of Bojana and the Skadar Lake basin. One of most important habitats for migrating birds is the area surrounding the River Mareza, 3 km to the northwest of Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital. Migrants feed within a complex mosaic of habitats. Mareza isn’t only a haven for bird visitors – it is also the favorite excursion site of citizens of Podgorica, especially during the summer months.

The participation and support of local people is critical to effective, sustainable conservation. BirdLife’s Local Engagement and Empowerment Programme supports the individuals and organisations who work with the BirdLife Partnership to deliver conservation, for biodiversity and for people, at the local level.

Based on its significance for resting, feeding and migrating birds, Mareza Ornithological Station was established earlier this year, and bird ringing is now being done for the first time with the support of CZIP Montenegro (BirdLife Partner in Montenegro). The need for the organization of this local group arose at the beginning of the year when the Center for Protection and Research of Birds established the Center for Marking Animals in Montenegro. Mareza Ornithological Station was launched for the purpose of studying bird migration in this poorly researched region. The team working at Mareza consists of professionally educated and licensed ringers working with a volunteer group of biology students and nature lovers.

CZIP helped facilitate the permissions required for bird-ringing from the Environmental Protection Agency and also provided mist nets, rings, and other equipment. It also organized a clean-up of the ringing area by a group of its volunteers. The ringing is done every day bringing together many volunteers, aged from 7 to 87 years, all of whom are excited to be a part of this activity. The number of volunteers is increasing every day and the programme is becoming widely known amongst the wider public as a result of stories in the local media.

Filip Matanović, a 15-year old student and one of the youngest CZIP volunteers, spends most of his free time taking part in the ringing to learn more about birds. He explains why:

“The idea of practical work with birds and learning about species and bird characteristics which cannot be learned from books attracted me to take part in the ringing. I like it because it allows the simple tracking and studying of birds and gives direct contact with them. I have mostly assisted by taking birds out of the nets, holding birds and closing the nets. I have learned about warblers, nightingales, learned how to catch and hold a bird properly without hurting it, and how to distinguish adults and juveniles, males and females. Bird ringing is very significant because you can follow the abundance and movement of the bird population and receive more data than by just bird counting”.

Since the beginning of ringing, Filip comes every day and will continue to participate. “The most attractive ringed species which I have seen is the kingfisher, and the most peaceful during ringing is the common nightingale. We have many recaptures, but mostly warblers which were ringed a few days ago”.

The ringing at Podgorica will continue until the end of autumn migration and will provide significant scientific data and maybe new species for the territory of Montenegro. The results will be summarized and sent to EURING and other relevant institutions and will be used to communicate the importance of migration to the wider public in Montenegro.

The bird ringing in Montenegro will help to increase knowledge about migration of passerines in the Adriatic Flyway, including the identification of important sites for these birds. But it will also build capacity of biologists, students, NGOs and local communities to effectively address the purpose of bird ringing, and engage new local enthusiasts and volunteers, like Filip, who will marvel at the miracle of migration. It is the hope of CZIP that in the near future Montenegro will have young, skilled and enthusiastic ringers, who will contribute to the development of ringing as a regular practice for monitoring birds in the country.

The bird diversity in Montenegro and the work of LCG Podgorica can be followed via the Facebook page of the Mareza Ornithological Station; as well as via CZIP’s Facebook page.

Montenegro bird paradise saved from ‘developers’

This video is called Ulcinj Salina – the most important bird area in Montenegro.

From BirdLife:

Bird paradise in Montenegro now safe from developers

By Lisa Benedetti, Wed, 22/04/2015 – 10:42

In a country where people flock to the seaside in waves in summer, it’s not surprising that developers had big dollar signs in their eyes when looking at the picturesque salt flats of Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro.

These coastal wetlands, which for centuries have been one of the most important areas along the eastern Adriatic for many bird species, have been coveted by developers. They tried to turn the area into a tourism haven, but years of campaigning by the Centre for Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP) and partner organizations have recently stopped this. We can thankfully now say that this special place is out of danger as it is in the process of being designated as a protected area. This is great news after the tireless and successful efforts of CZIP and others, with vital support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), to develop ecotourism in the area.

The beautiful and salty Ulcinj Salina is part of the Bojana-Buna Delta, which forms at the mouth of the Bojana River; a natural border between Montenegro and Albania. Millions of birds rely on this bird paradise each year. It’s one of the Adriatic’s most Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA), with an amazing 250 species either nesting or simply stopping in spring and autumn to rest as they travel along the eastern Adriatic’s migratory flyway. Rare species such as the Little Tern and Collared Pratincole breed here, while the Stone Curlew and Eurasian Roller use it to take a break on their long journey. In some seasons, you can also see hundreds of Eurasian Spoonbill and the globally threatened Dalmatian Pelican passing through.

It’s hard to imagine such a place being destroyed and converted into a land full of hotels and golf courses. But this is exactly what almost happened. Over the last decade, there had been mounting pressure from the tourist industry to give investors the stamp of approval to develop the area for their purposes. There were plans to drain and convert the wetlands into hotels and golf courses. That is, until CZIP and communities convinced the government that the area and the unique wildlife warranted special protection and had to be saved.

In a recent and very positive move forward for conservation, the Montenegrin authorities publicly recognised the importance of Ulcinj Salina as an important breeding and wintering site for birds. They are now taking steps to have it designated as a protected area and it will soon also be declared an official Emerald Site under the Bern Convention before the end of this year.

We have too many reminders of what happens to nature and wildlife when natural areas become tourist complexes. As pristine areas become rarer for the masses of people on this planet, they also become rarer for birds and wildlife too. We at BirdLife are glad that the future of Ulcinj Salina is one that can be pictured with countless birds and nature enthusiasts, rather than countless tourists.

Ulcinj Salina’s salt pans could be saved by the very birds it protects: here.

Cave salamander discoveries in Montenegro and Bosnia

This video from Slovenia is called A True Miracle in Postojna CaveProteus anguinus laying eggs in public.

From BirdLife:

Scientific breakthrough reveals evidence of ‘human fish’ locked away in cave system

By Shaun Hurrell, Mon, 09/02/2015 – 10:35

How do you find physical evidence of a rare species when most of its habitat (the subterranean waters of limestone cave systems in the Balkans) is inaccessible to humans? The ‘human fish’ is the largest cave animal in the world. Despite this, Proteus anguinus – a blind, entirely-aquatic salamander commonly known as the olm, and endemic to the Dinaric Alps – is incredibly difficult to find.

The answer was recently provided by the Society for Cave Biology (SCB; Društvo za jamsko biologijo) in a project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) when they found the first physical evidence of the species in Montenegro using new techniques to sample its DNA.

In this region, activities such as water extraction, river damming and agriculture have increased the stress on Proteus and other aquatic cave animals. Limestone habitats like cave systems can be intricate and complex, having taken millions of years to form by natural processes. One wrong move can wipe out entire species, so urgent measures need to be taken in order to save them.

Nick-named the ‘human fish’ by locals because of its skin colour, Proteus are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and in some localities the species is already extinct. However the extent of the decline cannot be estimated without an extensive survey of its distribution – in habitat where access is easy for the human fish, but not so easy for human beings. The purpose of the CEPF project was to solve this problem: to test a scientific method that safely, effectively and accurately determines Proteus presence.

Environmental DNA

SCB, experts in speleological (cave and karst) research, designed a solution based on so-called ‘eDNA’. During the process of skin regeneration, Proteus shed fragments of epidermal cells which are carried away by water. DNA dissolved in water is called environmental DNA (eDNA), and SCB successfully tested and perfected the sensitive and inexpensive technique of identifying Proteus eDNA from samples of water.

After many hours in the field and thousands of water samples, the team have discovered new localities of Proteus in Montenegro and in Bosnia and Hercegovina. This ground-breaking research will give SCB and partners the evidence to appeal and counsel the nature conservation authorities in Montenegro to start all necessary legal actions to protect Proteus in their territories, and to guide the management planning of authorities in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Migratory birds in Montenegro

This video is called Ulcinj Salina – the most important bird area in Montenegro.

From BirdLife:

Growing network is helping Montenegrin migrants

By Martin Fowlie, Tue, 27/01/2015 – 15:22

The BirdLife Partnership is building a growing network of people and organisations who are working together to look after migrant birds in the Mediterranean.

Each country in the Mediterranean faces very specific cultural, social and political challenges as part of their mission to protect migratory birds.

However, the true strength of this international project is the formation of a Mediterranean network, where expertise and experience can be shared between NGOs. The creation of this NGO network and the national level conservation action implemented in eight countries is already generating many wins for migratory birds in a number of countries across the Mediterranean region.

Here is an update from Montenegro.

Montenegro, in the Balkans, is a small country visited by millions of birds. It holds major wetland sites that are crucial places for birds to stop and refuel at during their migration. However birds stopping here are under a massive hunting pressure, with lack of law enforcement blurring the line between legality and illegality.

There are also more problematic visitors to the Balkans – hunting tourists. The organisation of this lucrative and unsustainable business is not yet fully understood, but we do know many Italian hunters exacerbate the problem with a big injection of money.

With many hunters also comes much disturbance, which the birds suffer from immensely in Montenegro. Even legal hunters coming to shoot a particular duck species do not realise they are scaring other species away from important feeding grounds and impacting the rest of their migration.

After many years of effort, CZIP (Centre for the Protection of Birds; BirdLife in Montenegro) has for the first time secured a hunting ban at one of its major wetland stop-overs, Lake Sasko. CZIP has been working with a local hunting organisation and it is actually them that have proclaimed the two-year hunting ban at the lake.

This is an excellent result for CZIP who are now monitoring the birds’ reaction to the ban. Like in the calm after a storm, birds will be able to return to the lake without hindrance and early next year, in the waterfowl census, CZIP will be able to work out the total natural capacity of the lake.

Colliding with wind turbines

With the low morning sun warming tired wing muscles, and oblivious to the luck of their survival, some birds take-off to continue along their migratory route from Balkan wetlands. They are safely fed, rested and watered beyond the gunfire, but these birds still face unknown challenges ahead.

BirdLife Partners are finding dead migratory birds beneath wind farms and powerlines, so sensibly locating energy infrastructure in the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly important.

In Montenegro there is a great opportunity: there are currently no wind farms in the country, so surely developers have a chance to prove their responsibility? With development proposals coming in, it is only thanks to CZIP and their collaborators as part of the Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation initiative that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of prospective wind farms are starting to be taken seriously in the country.

“We have seen some ‘dirty’ Environmental Impact Assessments”, said Darko Saveljic, Ornithologist at CZIP. “One was based on research from less than one day in the field for a whole year.”

After almost a year of difficult negotiations, CZIP have established a new standard for wind farm EIAs that, rather than complementing the investor’s needs, gives appropriate consideration to birds and wildlife. Now developers must go into the field for a certain number of days’ research and involve many ornithologists in order for their EIA to be verified.

“What is most important is that this has been achieved in consensus with all relevant organisations, institutions and all the ornithologists in the country”, said Darko. “So, with continued monitoring of the process, Montenegrin bird fauna should be adequately protected from wind farms in the future.”

More information on the region-wide project is here.