Griffon vulture visits Vlieland island


This 3 August 2015 video, by warden Carl Zuhorn, shows a griffon vulture on a black pine tree on Vlieland island in the Netherlands. A carrion crow tries to drive the vulture away; but the big bird hardly pays any attention.

This video shows the same vulture, also on 3 August 2015, at the Vierboetsduin dune on Vlieland.

Griffon vultures are rare in the Netherlands. This individual has a yellow colour ring with number RO4. That proved that the vulture came all the way from Spain, where it had fledged last year. It had been on Texel island before going further north to Vlieland.

Vlieland warden Anke Bruin writes that the last news is that the bird was seen near Kroon’s polders on Vlieland. Maybe it will feed on dead gulls: in August, quite some young gulls die from natural causes.

Good Iberian lynx news from Spain


This video is called Spain’s Last Lynx – Nature Documentary.

From the BBC:

Iberian lynx returns to Spain from verge of extinction

25 July 2015

An intense conservation campaign has brought the Iberian lynx back to the south of Spain from the verge of extinction barely 10 years ago, Guy Hedgecoe reports from Spain.

At the La Olivilla lynx breeding centre in Santa Elena, in southern Spain, a group of conservationists are in an office, gathered around a TV monitor.

On it they watch an Iberian lynx cub learn to hunt by playing with a domestic rabbit in one of the centre’s compounds. The lynx, the size of a small cat, is only a few weeks old but already has the sharply pointed ears and mottled fur that make the species so recognisable.

It swipes playfully at the rabbit with its paws, but still has a long way to go before it graduates to killing its own prey.

When it does, it will probably be released into the wild, following in the tracks of many other animals born in captivity here.

Just over a decade ago, the Iberian lynx, also known as Lynx pardinus, was on the verge of extinction, with only 90 animals registered, in the Andujar and Donana areas of southern Spain.

‘Saving the species’

But an intense campaign over recent years has brought it back from the brink, with 327 lynxes believed to be roaming southern, central and western Spain, as well as parts of Portugal, last year.

“We’re on the way to saving the species,” says Miguel Simon, director of the Iberlince lynx conservation programme.

“Losing this unique natural treasure would have been as bad for us as losing the Great Mosque in Cordoba or the Alhambra in Granada.”

In June, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) improved the status of the Iberian lynx from “critically endangered” to “endangered”. In its appraisal, the organisation saw the mammal’s recovery as “excellent proof that conservation really works“.

Around 140 specimens have been released into the wild, with the Iberian wildcat programme borrowing reintroduction techniques used by German conservationists.

Not all good news

But this success has not been cheap. Between 2002 and 2018, the programme will have received €69m (£49m; $76m) in funding, mainly from the European Union.

Much of that money has gone into three breeding centres in Spain, including in Santa Elena and one in Portugal.

Teresa del Rey Wamba, a veterinarian who works on the conservation programme in southern Spain, says that prior to the animal’s recent comeback, a lack of appropriate prey was a major problem, as was illegal hunting.

Clamping down on poaching and encouraging the growth of rabbit populations – the lynx’s favoured food – were therefore key, with private landowners, local governments and hunting federations all supporting the programme.

But it is not all good news. Last year, 22 lynxes were killed by vehicles on Spanish roads.

Miguel Simon says that while this is a problem, it also reflects how the lynxes’ movement has increased as their numbers have risen.

His team has overseen the installation of underground tunnels, custom-built for the animals to cross busy roads, and more are planned.

Of greater concern however is a recent outbreak across southern Europe of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a highly contagious virus that has been killing off the lynxes’ staple diet since 2011 and reducing their reproductive rate.

In light of this threat, the IUCN decision to take the lynx off the “critically endangered” list was incorrect, according to Emilio Virgos, a lynx expert at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

“If all the data we have so far about how lynxes live and survive and reproduce are correct, and we have no reason to think otherwise, the number of lynxes… will drop drastically,” he says of the outlook for the next few years.

He warns that extinction is still a possibility within decades.

While Mr Simon is worried about the rabbit virus, he describes such forecasts as “alarmist” and points to an emergency plan to boost rabbit numbers. Its success, he says, will depend in great part on continued funding.

“The battle for conservation of the lynx is never-ending,” he says.

What is a lynx?

A medium-sized cat which lives in the wild
There are four different species – Eurasian, Iberian, Canada and Bobcat
The Eurasian lynx is the biggest – about 60cm tall – roughly the same size as a Labrador
The Iberian lynx is one of the rarest smaller wildcats in the world – mainly found in parts of Spain and Portugal
The Bobcat is found in North America while the Canada lynx lives in Canada and Alaska
Most lynxes are listed as threatened or endangered and are prized by poachers for their fur
Lynxes are usually only active at night and hunt deer, rabbits and hares for food

Shearwaters smell their way, new research


This video from Spain is called Balearic Shearwater, Sa Cella, Nest 20.

From the Royal Society Proceedings B in Britain:

Pelagic seabird flight patterns are consistent with a reliance on olfactory maps for oceanic navigation

1 July 2015

Abstract

Homing studies have provided tantalizing evidence that the remarkable ability of shearwaters (Procellariiformes) to pinpoint their breeding colony after crossing vast expanses of featureless open ocean can be attributed to their assembling cognitive maps of wind-borne odours but crucially, it has not been tested whether olfactory cues are actually used as a system for navigation. Obtaining statistically important samples of wild birds for use in experimental approaches is, however, impossible because of invasive sensory manipulation.

Using an innovative non-invasive approach, we provide strong evidence that shearwaters rely on olfactory cues for oceanic navigation. We tested for compliance with olfactory-cued navigation in the flight patterns of 210 shearwaters of three species (Cory’s shearwaters, Calonectris borealis, North Atlantic Ocean, Scopoli’s shearwaters, C. diomedea Mediterranean Sea, and Cape Verde shearwaters, C. edwardsii, Central Atlantic Ocean) tagged with high-resolution GPS loggers during both incubation and chick rearing. We found that most (69%) birds displayed exponentially truncated scale-free (Lévy-flight like) displacements, which we show are consistent with olfactory-cued navigation in the presence of atmospheric turbulence.

Our analysis provides the strongest evidence yet for cognitive odour map navigation in wild birds. Thus, we may reconcile two highly disputed questions in movement ecology, by mechanistically connecting Lévy displacements and olfactory navigation. Our approach can be applied to any species which can be tracked at sufficient spatial resolution, using a GPS logger.

Great bustards wintering in Spain


Great bustard

Great bustards are wintering on traditional farmlands in Spain: here.

This is, again, a November 2011 blog post from my blog.co.uk blog.

Save Balearic shearwaters


This video is called Balearic Shearwater allopreening 2013.

From BirdLife:

Keeping an eye on Balearic Shearwater

By Pep Arcos, David García, Daniel Oro, Meritxell Genovart & Maite Louzao, Sat, 04/07/2015 – 06:46

It’s been over a decade that Balearic Shearwater has held the dangerous title ‘Critically Endangered’, which puts it at the very top of the European Red List of Birds. To make sure it doesn’t disappear before our very eyes requires some very careful monitoring at sea, where it spends most of its life, and also on land where it breeds. But so far we haven’t been doing enough to ensure the conservation of this species and if we wait any longer, we might notice too late that it’s gone forever.

Balearic Shearwater may not be the most colourful bird, it’s rather brownish and could be mistaken for a gull by an untrained eye, but it’s special. Only found as a breeder in the western Mediterranean’s Balearic Islands where it nests in caves, crevices and under rock boulders in inaccessible sea cliffs and small islets. We think there are just a little over 3,000 breeding pairs, and maybe a global population of about 25,000 individuals. It’s long lived, most likely some birds live over 30 years though we have no sound data on this, it begins mating at 3 years of age, and lays a single egg per year. Losing adult birds is therefore of serious concern, as they are not quickly or easily replaced. Unfortunately, the population has been steadily declining as a consequence of several threats, particularly fisheries bycatch at sea and predation by invasive species on land. This trend is alarming and scientists say it could become extinct in slightly over half a century.

Over the last decade, we’ve learned quite a lot about the Balearic Shearwater’s ecology at sea. Nearly all of its breeding colonies, plus the main Spanish marine hotspots, which were identified by SEO/BirdLife’s marine team have now been designated Special Protection Areas(SPAs) under the Birds and Habitats Directives. Rat eradication has been addressed in some colonies. This is all good but we need to do more to safeguard the species. For one, management plans for these SPAs haven’t been implemented, and wider conservation action at sea is also missing. Furthermore, despite being one of the priorities highlighted in the Species Action Plan, we still don’t have a proper breeding monitoring programme in place. Without monitoring, we cannot understand the dynamics of the population, and so updating its conservation status and assessing the suitability of conservation actions (e.g., reducing bycatch rates) are impossible or at least unreliable.

Two recent initiatives are trying to address the gap created by the lack of monitoring programmes, one in W Mallorca (where colony monitoring had already been conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s) and another in the southernmost of the Balearic Islands, Ibiza and Formentera. Here we describe the latter, where SEO/BirdLife is directly involved, working closely with researchers from AZTI-TecnaliaIRBI and other institutions, with support from the Natural Reserves of West Ibiza Islets. Most of the work is in Sa Conillera islet, off west Ibiza, and it began in 2011, within the framework of Interreg Project FAME, in close collaboration with LPO and CEBC-CNRS. Geolocators have been placed on a number of birds so we can better understand their movements in the Atlantic outside the breeding period. They’ve also been GPS-tracked during the breeding period, which has allowed us to monitor their habits during breeding as well.

On top of monitoring movement, about 120 nests are checked at least twice each year in Sa Conillera and the islets of Es Bosc and Espartar, which are close by. First, during the incubation period, nest occupancy and identification (and ringing if required) of adults is done at each nest. Late in the season, nests are visited again to ring and find out which chicks have fledged. Surveys of other colonies are being conducted in parallel in other islets of Ibiza and Formentera, with particular attention to the Natural Park of Ses Salines. These efforts were also supported by another major project, LIFE+ INDEMARES, as well as the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) and the Ibiza Preservation Fund (IPF).

Monitoring is just one step forward to saving this Mediterranean jewel, the most threatened bird in Europe. But to be sure the species doesn’t vanish forever we must set up monitoring programmes in other Balearic Islands. Also, we can’t forget what happens at sea, because this is where this species spends most of its life. With this in mind, SEO/BirdLife and BirdLife Europe’s new European Seabird Task Force is now working with fishers to find ways to ensure they keep catching fish rather than seabirds.

Gull, turtle, seal conservation works


This video from Spain shows Audouin’s gulls, with chicks.

From BirdLife:

Gulls, turtles and seals, three marine triumphs

By Bruna Campos, Mon, 06/07/2015 – 14:30

Marine wildlife in Europe has long been suffering because of human activities. Although we have a lot of work to do still, here are three marine stories that show the Nature Directives work when they are put to good use.

1) A special gull – and you thought they were all the same!

We all remember the gulls in ‘Finding Nemo’, portrayed as lazy, dumb, and incapable of saying anything besides one word: ‘mine’. Gulls are a group of seabirds that have a pretty bad reputation (a.k.a. ‘the flying rats’). Like rats, gulls are often perceived as dirty and diseased scavengers of food. They stir negative emotions like gangs of thieves would – stealing your sandwiches before you’ve even had a chance to take a bite!

As a side note, a gull’s klepto-parasitism isn’t just against humans, although we tend to think very highly of our species, we find a gull’s behaviour very offensive – that they would dare steal or eat our food without permission. However, I would like to introduce you to another side of the gull. Watch one long enough and you’ll notice an incredible display of acrobatics, patience, and simply straight out cheekiness (in a cute way). Like most other parents, gulls are protective and very aggressive against anything approaching their nest – hence the famous sky dive attacks you may have already experienced. Like many seabirds, they mate for life – although divorces do happen with some social problems for a couple of years.

There are 20 species of gull in Europe, and although they share a similar build, they are all quite different, some having more pronounced looks than others. One in particular, Audouin’s Gull, which can only be found in the Mediterranean, is unlike many of its cousins because it rarely scavenges. Rather, it’s a specialist coastal and pelagic fish eater (not to say that they wouldn’t pass off diving for an easy fish that has been thrown away by a fisher at sea). It was one of the world’s rarest gulls in 1975, with only 1,000 pairs. Protection under the Birds Directive led to the creation and implementation of a European action plan which has helped secure its survival, especially in Spain.

Several projects were implemented that contributed to successful re-colonisation of breeding islands and the control of invasive black rats which were predating colonies. Today, with the most recent assessment of the European birds (the European Red List of Birds), we can say that the Audouin’s Gull has the lowest level of extinction risk with around 21,000 pairs. But we must be cautious. Although there has been improvement, particularly in Spain, much more still needs to be done across the Mediterranean to ensure that this gull continues to survive, such as implementing safe fishing gears to stop fishers from accidentally catching gulls in their fishing lines and nets.

2) Sea turtle’s little helpers are saving the day

Sea turtle volunteers run the beaches of Zakynthos in Greece (for Brits, the island is also called ‘Zante’). Before tourists can sprawl all over the sand, sea turtle ‘human little helpers’ make sure they know exactly what is going on with the turtles. How are they doing this, you might wonder? Well, they get up very early and work all morning before daybreak to find out the number of nests laid and their location. They also spend countless nights tagging as many turtles as they can that stride up on the beach to nest. They then run around the beaches alerting tourists about these wonderful creatures, and to not sit in places on the beach where they might break some eggs.

How is all of this relevant to the ‘Nature Directives’? Well,  Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the creature these little helpers are working hard for, are protected by the Habitats Directive. These turtles are widespread and highly migratory, and are endangered globally. So it is only with strict nature legislation and management plans that we can stop their decline. Little helpers please continue doing what you are doing now – you’re making a difference, and we hope in the future to see loggerhead numbers increase.

3) The seal that tried to be common

Take a boat trip along the Frisian coast: can you spot that seal? Probably yes! Lucky you, because if it wasn’t for the Habitats Directive, that seal could be long gone by now. Despite being called ‘Common Seal’, during the last 100 years intense hunting and disease caused its decline in Europe. To help them recover, shooting was banned. However, seals were then hit hard in the 1980s by a disease called phocine distemper, which causes uncontrollable periodic population crashes. Although disease and pollution still threaten the species, hunting restrictions, habitat protection and improved management, especially working with fishers, have helped increase numbers to now over 81,000 in Europe. Thanks again for helping Nature Directives.

These marine comebacks remind us that it is in our power to prevent the loss of a species forever. Nevertheless, we are very far from ensuring the safety of our seabirds and other marine creatures and we must do more. The Birds and Habitats Directives are here to help us with this, but their implementation is fundamental to secure the continued survival of all our marine animals.