Nigel, the lonely New Zealand gannet, dies

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

2 February 2018

Nigel the gannet dies alone after living years with concrete decoys.

Some animals are destined to spend the end of their lives alone. If that isn’t a cheery thought for a Friday, at least you haven’t fallen in love with an inanimate object. WATCH ‘NO MATES’ NIGEL HANG OUT WITH HIS CONCRETE PALS.

Nigel the lonely gannet dies as he lived, surrounded by concrete birds. New Zealand conservationists mourn loss of celebrated bird that was lured by replica gannets in the hope of establishing a breeding colony: here.


Antipodean Albatross problems

This 2016 video is called Antipodean Albatross – Antipodes Island New Zealand.

From BirdLife:

22 Dec 2017

Two males for every female: Antipodean Albatross in breeding crisis

Antipodean Albatrosses court for years, mate for life and work together to raise their young – but human activity is causing a sex ratio imbalance that is destroying their lifelong romance. This year, they have been uplisted to Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to worrying population declines.

By Jessica Law

The “live slow, die old” strategy has been working for the Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis for millennia. Breeding exclusively on a few New Zealand islands, this majestic bird mates for life, laying a single egg with each breeding attempt. Since it takes a whole year to hatch the egg and raise the chick, they are only able to reproduce once every two years. But they don’t even start thinking about breeding until they are at least seven years old – sometimes more like twenty – and even then, the process entails a long and drawn-out courtship involving song and dance routines, and spanning over several years.

It sounds like a Jane Austen novel, but investing a lot of time and energy in safely raising a few healthy young is a strategy that has paid off – until now. Recent surveys of Adams Island and the Antipodes Islands have shown a steep decrease in population size and the number of nests found. The Antipodes Islands, which house the largest population – nearly half of the world’s Antipodean Albatrosses – are showing the biggest decline. Here, numbers have fallen by a staggering 12% a year in the past 13 years. And the overall population is estimated to have more than halved in the decade between 2004 and 2014.

What could be the reason for this catastrophic decline? There are many likely causes. Warming oceans are decreasing the albatross’ food supply, meaning that they need to travel to new areas to find food. Antipodean Albatrosses are specialists in low-energy flying, riding updrafts created by the wind and waves and covering vast distances while rarely needing to flap their wings. However, their increasingly arduous journeys are putting them in the paths of fishing boats. And that’s where the problems begin.

An army of bachelors

Antipodean Albatrosses are mainly scavengers, plucking squid and fish from the surface of the waves or plunging into the water in shallow dives. So it’s no wonder that they are attracted to fishing boats and the discarded delicacies they provide. Unfortunately, many albatrosses end up being accidentally impaled on the baited hooks of longline fisheries. In fact, in 2006 a single fishing trip in New Zealand waters ensnared 58 Antipodean Albatrosses on longline hooks.

But the impact isn’t an equal one – twice as many females are being killed as males. This is because the females are the ones who have changed their foraging range. In previous years, they remained largely around New Zealand. But tracking data since 2011 shows they have started venturing both further north and much further east to the coast of South America. This means they now overlap with a far greater number of fisheries where they are at risk of being killed.

This is creating a serious imbalance in the sex ratio of the population. With two males for every female, far fewer breeding pairs are able to form, and an army of bachelors is left over. This significantly reduces the species’ potential to raise the next generation and build up their population again – instead, further declines are predicted. In fact, if the current rate of decline continues, in 20 years’ time there will be fewer than 500 pairs left.

One up, one down

More encouragingly, another albatross species has moved the opposite direction on the IUCN Red List this year. With its imposing silhouette and severe expression, the Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris is one of the most iconic seabirds in the Southern Hemisphere. And they seem to be on the increase. On the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), both aerial and land-based surveys have shown that their population has risen by 4% a year between 2005 and 2010, and Chilean populations are showing a similar improvement. And since these archipelagos hold some of the highest numbers of breeding individuals, we can be confident that the population as a whole is on the up.

In fact, there are now estimated to be 700,000 breeding pairs globally. As a result, this year the Black-browed Albatross was downlisted from Near Threatened to Least Concern – following on from an encouraging precedent set in 2013, when it was downlisted from Endangered to Near Threatened.

But the change isn’t simple – although the overall population is increasing, on the island of South Georgia (Georgias del Sur) it has actually been declining by an estimated 1.8% a year between 2005 and 2014. This is a separate population with a different foraging range, and their situation needs to be addressed. And Black-browed Albatrosses everywhere are plagued by similar bycatch issues to their Antipodean counterparts: it was found that just one Argentinian trawl fishery was killing an estimated 13,500 Black-browed Albatrosses every year, with far more globally. So there is still much work to be done on this species.

The Albatross Task Force

Bycatch is a problem for the whole albatross family. An estimated 100,000 albatrosses a year of multiple species are dying as accidental bycatch in longline and trawl fisheries. But help is at hand. The Albatross Task Force, set up in 2006 and led by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) for the BirdLife International Partnership, has spent more than a decade working alongside fishermen to introduce measures that will prevent seabirds from getting caught in this way.

They have braved storms, seasickness and extreme climates and spent over 5,000 days at sea to build relationships with those in the fishing industry. Because fishermen don’t want to catch seabirds. In fact, seabirds actively obstruct the fishing process. One seabird can eat up to ten pieces of bait, intended for fish, before they get hooked. So the Albatross Task Force are in a perfect place to work with the fishing community to find solutions that suit everybody – the key to long-lasting and sustainable conservation.

And their heroic work is paying off. After years of lobbying by BirdLife partner Aves Argentinas, this year the Argentinian fishing authorities announced the mandatory use of bird-scaring lines on all freezer trawlers from May 2018 onwards. Thanks to the Task Force’s advocacy in Namibia, 100% of trawl and demersal longline vessels now have bird-scaring lines, which have been constructed in collaboration with local women’s group Meme Itumbapo. In South Africa, there has been a 99% reduction in albatross deaths in the hake demersal trawl fishery following the introduction of similar measures.

Overall, nine out of the ten fisheries originally pinpointed as bycatch hotspots have now committed to adopting regulations to protect seabirds, and the Task Force’s work continues in earnest.

The start of something great

It’s not all plain sailing – in 2016, 39 albatrosses were killed in a commercial tuna fishing venture off the West Coast of New Zealand due to the skipper’s (illegal) failure to use bird scaring lines. And it’s not just bycatch that we need to worry about. This July, a survey by Auckland Museum and the University of Tasmania discovered that over a third of seabirds found dead on Australia and New Zealand’s beaches had eaten plastic.

Invasive species are also a big problem – back in the world of the Antipodean Albatross, Auckland Island pigs are thought to have been responsible for almost extirpating the bird from this island.

So there’s a long way to go: 15 out of the world’s 22 albatross species are still globally threatened. But the Albatross Task Force has shown us what it’s possible to achieve, and with enough support, in the coming years we can take these successes to a new level.

We hope that, some day, all the sad stories will once again be replaced with epic romances.

I was privileged to sail past Antipodes island and see the beautiful albatrosses there. One should hope there will be effective anti-bycatch measures.

Good kiwi news from New Zealand

This video says about itself:

Kiwis for Kiwi

12 November 2015

The kiwi bird is a huge icon of New Zealand. Unfortunately it is also threatened with extinction. I followed the Department of Conservation for their biggest kiwi release yet. FIFTY kiwi were released on the same day. Pretty memorable experience. I took my camera so you guys can enjoy it too!

From BirdLife:

5 Dec 2017

Stars of the Red List: two kiwi species are no longer Endangered

Not one, but two of New Zealand’s kiwi species are in recovery thanks to nearly 30 years of egg rearing, predator control, and community devotion.

By Kevin Hackwell, Chief Conservation Advisor – Forest & Bird

Whoever said dinosaurs are extinct has never seen a kiwi. As dusk approaches, you can hear their calls echoing from New Zealand’s native forest. As you venture in, you spot their large, three-pronged footprints imprinted in the earth. And there’s nothing to prepare you for the sight of this unique flightless bird. Eyewitnesses have said that the only real way to describe a kiwi is like a vestige from the Jurassic era: big and heavy, it moves in a completely unique way, swaying its hindquarters to power its thick, strong legs. It’s a surreal sight.

But unlike its dinosaurian ancestors, it doesn’t look like the kiwi needs to fear extinction any time soon. Thanks to nearly 30 years of dedication from government bodies, local conservation groups and the Maori community, two species of kiwi have become the stars of the 2017 Red List: Rowi Apteryx rowi and Northern Brown Kiwi A. mantelli have just been downlisted from Endangered to Vulnerable.

It’s a true underdog success story: the Rowi (also known as Okarito Kiwi) has increased from a mere 160 individuals in 1995 to 400-450 adults today. And in some areas the Northern Brown Kiwi’s populations are estimated to be growing by over 2% a year.

The reason for their decline was an age-old one: invasive species. In this case, stoats, ferrets and feral cats preying upon the eggs and chicks. And even the adult birds weren’t safe, with many Northern Brown Kiwis falling prey to wandering dogs – often the beloved pets of ever-spreading human populations at the top of New Zealand’s North Island.

Something needed to be done. And so, in 1991, the Department of Conservation joined forces with the Bank of New Zealand and Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) to create the National Kiwi Recovery Program. They knew that the best way to achieve something great is to break it into clearly-defined, manageable stages: these became the Kiwi Recovery Plans.

The first Kiwi Recovery Plan involved gathering information: how many kiwis were left, where were they living, and what comprised their biggest threat. Nest predation, especially by stoats, was found to be the main cause of decline. Following lobbying by Forest & Bird, five large kiwi sanctuaries were established in the wild, with a commitment of NZ$ 2 million a year for research into how best to manage the kiwi and control the impacts of predators.

But while they were busy researching methods of stoat control, faster action needed to be taken to increase juvenile survival. And so, Operation Nest Egg was born.

Kiwis lay the largest egg in relation to their body size of any bird species: up to a whopping 20% of the female’s body. Operation Nest Egg ensured that this huge amount of energy didn’t go to waste. The project removed kiwi eggs from the wild, hatched chicks in captivity and then raised them either in captivity or in a predator-free crèche. Once they reached a stoat-safe weight of around one kilogram, they were released back into the wild. And it worked – the technique was found to increase juvenile survival from a heartbreaking 5% to an encouraging 60%.

Using the knowledge and tools developed in the kiwi sanctuaries, the third Kiwi Recovery Plan focused upon rolling out pest control on a landscape scale. It achieved this through empowering communities to get involved in managing their own kiwi populations, which led to a proliferation of community-led projects throughout New Zealand. The emphasis was on managing the birds as part of a healthy, functioning ecosystem, where kiwi acted as an indicator of the health of the habitat as a whole. By helping the kiwi, the community would also benefit a suite of other native flora and fauna.

In some cases, the focus continued to be on Operation Nest Egg. Other groups created ‘kōhanga kiwi’ sites, where kiwi populations are built up in locations where predators are absent or scarce (for example islands, or behind predator-proof fences). Offspring are then translocated to create new populations on the mainland, or to supplement existing wild populations.

Since the publication of the third Recovery Plan, significant advances have been made in the understanding of how best to control introduced predators to protect kiwi, especially in the North Island. Work at the kiwi sanctuaries has improved the ability to protect kiwi in situ over large areas, including through the use of aerial toxins to control stoats.

A better understanding has also been developed of the limitations of ground-based pest control. When using either traps or toxin baits, a particularly important discovery was the need to occasionally introduce a phase of the other technique to target those stoats that had become either trap – or bait – ‘shy’.

The ability to reduce the threat of dogs has remained a significant challenge to kiwi recovery, especially for kiwi populations that are located in close proximity to humans. Whether they are pets, working dogs, hunting dogs or feral, they can all kill adult kiwi.

In Northland, it has been shown that the average lifespan of an adult brown kiwi is only 13–14 years, compared to the 30–40 years of all other brown kiwi populations. This is mainly due to predation by dogs. And as a long-lived species with low reproductive rates, the loss of adult kiwi from a population – cut off in its reproductive prime – far outweighs the impacts of predation on juveniles.

Where dogs are an issue, even a single dog can easily turn the tide for a local population and can quickly undo years of conservation work.

Despite the considerable successes of the third Recovery Plan, unmanaged populations on the mainland continue to decline by around 2% a year. This was recognised by the Government in 2015, with a commitment for extra funding to turn the 2% decline into a 2% gain per year across all five of New Zealand’s kiwi species.

The fourth Kiwi Recovery Plan (2017–2027) is now awaiting publication and will set the ambitious goal of building kiwi populations from 70,000 to 100,000 by 2030.

To achieve this target, the Plan proposes to roll out predator control over even larger areas, with greater cost-effectiveness than ever before. Landscape-scale predator control will be taken to a new level, particularly for species in the South Island, where kiwi populations are often dispersed across vast areas of rugged terrain, and only a small proportion of kiwi currently receive any form of management.

The Plan also proposes to expand kiwi management on the back of the government’s proposal to make all of New Zealand predator-free by 2050. Since New Zealand pioneered the technology in the early 1960s, invasive species eradication operations have grown at an exponential rate. Because of the significant growth of knowledge around pest control over the past decade – much of it coming out of kiwi recovery research – it is predicted that this exponential trend will continue.

The Predator-Free initiative has nationwide support and has been enthusiastically adopted by community conservation groups, local Maori communities, philanthropists and everyday New Zealanders.

In both scale and breadth, kiwi recovery is one of the most unique and successful conservation partnerships in New Zealand. The Kiwi Recovery Group has expanded from only three original members to include Maori, captive management practitioners, independent researchers and community representatives. It doesn’t just create the Recovery Plans: it also provides regular expert advice to the Department of Conservation and field conservationists on how to put them into action.

Work stretches from the top of Northland to Stewart Island (Rakiura) in the south, with active participation from hundreds of diverse stakeholders. And it benefits all five kiwi species, so when the next Red List is published, there is every chance that the threat status of other kiwi species will enjoy a positive upgrade.

This beloved and iconic bird has been the catalyst for advances in technology and habitat recovery that have benefited the whole of New Zealand’s ecology. It’s time for New Zealand’s honorary dinosaur to look towards the future.

Dog helps saving New Zealand parrots

This video says about itself:

This Amazing Dog Helps to Save Endangered Parrots | National Geographic Short Film Showcase

2 October 2017

Ajax is a highly trained border collie who helps locate New Zealand’s endangered kea. This elusive alpine parrot lives in some of the most remote regions of the country’s South Island.

Australasian bitterns in New Zealand

This video from Western Australia is called Australasian Bitterns.

From BirdLife:

24 Jul 2017

Seeking the elusive “Swamp Boomers” of New Zealand

On a small lake in central Hawke’s Bay, the quest is on to find one of New Zealand’s least understood species before it vanishes forever.

By Lauren Buchholz

The first boom came as a surprise. As I navigated my kayak through the marshy northern reaches of Lake Whatuma, I could hear the whistling of dried raupō plants, the slap of water against the kayak’s hull, the high, eerie calls of black swans. Then, in a pitch so low I could almost feel it, a boom reverberated from the reeds. It was the throaty call of a male Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus.

A few metres from my boat, bittern scientist Dr Emma Williams steered her kayak towards the sound. A sleek black Labrador-cross was in the bow of the boat, tail wagging beneath her fluorescent “Conservation Dogs” coat. “Good girl, Kimi,” says Williams, pushing reeds aside as the pair disappeared into the raupō.

Williams, a wetland bird expert, is at the forefront of Australasian Bittern research in New Zealand. Known as matuku to Māori, these heron-sized birds sport striped plumage that mimics the raupō-filled wetlands in which they live.

Bitterns will “freeze” rather than fly on being discovered, pointing their long, thin beaks skyward and swaying for better camouflage. Spotting a bittern can feel like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack – if the needle were the colour of straw.

The team of volunteers accompanying Williams’ search at Lake Whatuma was prepared for the challenge. We went during the spring mating season, when males of this usually silent species can be heard “booming” from their territories. The sound is created by the bird deeply inhaling and then deflating a bagpipe-like sac near its throat. The resulting booms helped us locate the bitterns’ hideouts.

As well as the bitterns’ calls, we had Kimi. The first conservation dog in Australasia trained to track bitterns, Kimi has a nose for scents raupō couldn’t conceal. She stood at attention and sniffed for birds as Williams pushed their kayak through the reeds. When paddling became impossible, Williams jumped into the thigh-deep water and follow Kimi through the raupō. I paddled out into the lake with one of the other volunteers to keep an eye out for flushed birds. We excitedly called Emma on the radio when a disgruntled male bittern emerged in front of us: “You found one!” we said.

During this trip, Williams was searching male bitterns’ territories to locate females and their nests as part of her doctorate for Massey University. Her goal was to capture and attach a transmitter to a female or chick, which would provide data on these elusive birds and fill in some longstanding research gaps. Unfortunately, while we heard and spotted several male bitterns, we were unsuccessful at finding females this year.

Bitterns are notoriously difficult to study, and data on the species is limited. What is known is that 90% of bitterns’ wetland habitats have been destroyed and that ongoing habitat loss remains their biggest threat. An estimated 900 Australasian Bitterns remain in New Zealand, with about 1000 living in Australia and 50 in New Caledonia. “Bitterns are ranked as a nationally-critical species in New Zealand,” says Williams. “That’s the same threat level as kākāpō. Kiwi and kōkako are more common.”

Unfortunately, Australasian Bitterns – assessed as Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List – receive nowhere near the same amount of attention as their famous counterparts. Williams isn’t sure whether this has more to do with their elusive nature or with the fact they thrive in habitats humans tend to marginalise. Even a national stronghold for the species – the Waikato’s renowned Whangamarino wetland – is routinely flooded and drained for agriculture, drowning territories as well as nests. In the face of such massive fluctuations, Emma grimly expects this population to disappear within a couple of years.

“In 2010, it was common to hear 50 or more bittern calls at Whangamarino within a 15-minute period,” says Williams. “Our biggest problem was that there were too many calls and birds for observers to keep track of! Now we’re lucky if we find seven birds in the entire 7100ha wetland.”

New Zealand rainforest penguins

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Unravelling the secret (marine) life of the Fiordland penguin

31 May 2017

Our first video, choker full of info on Fiordland penguins – what we know about them (not a lot) and what the Tawaki Project aims at learning about the species. Consider it a kind of an origin story.

From BirdLife:

4 July 2017

Penguins of the remote rainforest

Grab a kayak, hiking boots and become an expert at crawling through rocks if you want to discover New Zealand‘s hidden Fiordland Penguins, or “tawaki”. But why are they going hungry?

By Shaun Hurrell

There’s a saying that says biting insects exist to protect beautiful places from humans. In Fiordland, which forms the remote and rugged southwest of the South Island, this almost rings true, wherein hides mainland New Zealand’s hidden rainforest penguins. “Most New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise a tawaki as a native species”, says Thomas Mattern, researcher at Otago University, and penguin specialist part of The Tawaki Project.

Despite striking yellow feathers above their eyes, Fiordland Penguins Eudyptes pachyrhynchus are hard to see. Named after a Maori god that walked the earth, Tawaki, they are actually quite a timid species and live in small scattered colonies in the steep and water-weathered forests of New Zealand’s fiords, a place only accessible by water or multi-day treks through clouds of irritating biting sandflies. Whilst thousands of tourists brave bad weather for boat trips into these stunning landscapes, the plight of the tawakiis not well known. On Stewart Island too, they do not want to be found, shrouding themselves in very dense vegetation, rock crevices and even sea caves only accessible underwater. With a range that has retreated since the arrival of humans, you can see why they might be so timid.

“We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”

“To date, little is known about their ecology”, says Thomas. He, together with Robin Long – who works as a ranger for the West Coast Penguin Trust and grew up in this remote environment – are now experts at crawling between jagged rocks and kayaking through rain-splattered fiords to find these 55 cm tall penguins, as part of the Tawaki Project, to learn more of their breeding and foraging success by using camera traps on nests and fitting waterproof GPS tags. Last summer, El Niño hit the penguins hard: data loggers revealed some tawaki heading 100 km out to sea to search for food. “A lot of chicks died of starvation”, says Thomas. “We found some with just sticks and mud in their stomachs.”

Unfortunately, most crested penguin populations have been declining during the last century, and tawaki do not seem to be an exception, listed by BirdLife as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The population is estimated to range between 5,500 and 7,000 birds, and at some sites their numbers are believed to have declined by as much as 30% in just ten years. Whilst sandflies help keep some humans away, human-introduced stoats trigger cameras as they prey on penguin eggs and chicks. Also, rising ocean temperatures probably disrupt prey availability, fisheries may compete for resources or result in accidental bycatch, and pollution from oil exploration could also become a major problem for these birds. Funding for more research is key: “We are only beginning to understand the threats tawaki face”, says Robin. “We need to know a lot more to come up with effective ways to protect the species.”

Read more about the penguins of New Zealand.

Tangled and drowned: new study links penguin declines with fishing activity: here.