Reintroducing the griffon vulture in Bulgaria: an interview with Emilian Stoynov

Emilian Stoynov, vulture conservationistEmilian Stoynov and colleagues created the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) in Bulgaria in 2000 to support a project to reintroduce griffon vultures in the country.

Emilian has been involved with vultures for many years and in 2007 won the Whitley Award for work with reducing the threat to wolves, bears and vultures from humans and poison in Bulgaria.

A book summarising the griffon vulture reintroduction process from 2010 to 2015 has just been published.

How did you become interested in working with vultures, and how did you come to be a part of this reintroduction project?

When I was a child I was interested to explore nature. At that time there was not much literature to find and to learn about nature. First I wanted to work on plants. Just around 1985 the first edition of the Red Data Book of Bulgaria was published and I tried to buy a copy and start studying the species. But when I had enough money from my parents and relatives around New Year’s Eve, I did not succeed to find the Volume I of the book- plants. I found after checking a lot of book stores in Sofia the Volume II- animals. It was only one copy of the book and part of it was missing (reptiles and amphibians), but the birds were there. I found that some of the rarest birds were the vultures and they were historically found in the area of my father’s birth town – Kotel. Here I started to wish to meet vultures in nature. After some time I became a member of Bulgaria Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) – now BirdLife Bulgaria – which was just established and was in charge of the conservation of last colony of griffon vultures in the country in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. I was first a volunteer and later was working for the project for conservation of vultures in this area. Then I started to think about restoring the population in other sites in Bulgaria. I tried to organize feeding sites in other parts of the country where vultures historically were present, but this was not enough to restore the old colonies. Then I saw what was done in Massif Central in France by Michel Terrasse and his colleagues from FIR/LPO– namely reintroduction of griffon vulture through release of captive bred but also rehabilitated birds from Spain. Thus I decided that this should be done also in other parts of Bulgaria. BSPB were not very willing to work on reintroductions, which is why it was necessary to create a new NGO to work on reintroductions – Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) – created in 2000.  Then I married Nadya Vangelova- and we went to live in her town – Blagoevgrad. The nearest historical place for vultures was Kresna Gorge (only 25 km away from the town) and it appeared it was still suitable for vultures, but they were gone extinct in the 1960s due to a mass and well organized state level poisoning campaign targeting terrestrial predators. Ten years later after the establishment of FWFF we succeed to implement the reintroduction of the species in Kresna Gorge, which is now presented in the current book.

Tell us about the Kresna Gorge in terms of biodiversity – what sort of place is it, and how do vultures fit into the ecosystem?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

The Kresna Gorge is one of the very few places in Bulgaria with Mediterranean climate. This, in combination with steep slopes and rocky outcrops, makes the area very interesting for biodiversity. Some species of Bulgaria’s reptiles are found only here. Autochthonous loose forests of Juniperus excelsa were declared nature reserve and many southern species of birds are found here. In terms of vultures’ suitability, the area still has well preserved extensive livestock breeding and transhumance practice, where the herds are moved in the nearby high mountains Pirin and Rila, home to two of the three national Parks in Bulgaria. So it is the combination between deep valley with mild winters and high mountains with alpine pastures that makes the habitats suitable for vultures. Extensive livestock breeding and the presence of large carnivores like wolf and bear are additional benefits for the vultures. The last also poses a threat for the vultures, because the conflict between livestock breeders and carnivores some times leads to illegal poison baits use, which is the biggest threat for the vultures. We found that providing the feeding sites for vultures make it safer for them. Also, some people are concerned that it may be unnatural to feed vultures but because we dispose mainly of – although not only – food coming from the nearby villages, this makes the process rather natural.

Why was there a need to embark on a reintroduction process – how did the griffon vulture lose its place?

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the situation of the vultures of the Balkans and Europe became worse and worse based on extensive livestock breeding decline but mainly on direct persecution and non-deliberate poisoning. Not least the habitats changed especially in Bulgaria, where vast areas were reforested and thus the vultures no longer were able to search for and find food. In the 1960s nearly every available carcass for the vultures was poisoned and they went extinct from the entire country. In 1970 all large European vultures were considered extinct from the country. Only a small colony of less than 30 birds and 2-3 breeding pairs survived in Eastern Rhodope Mountains on the border with Greece. Although the conservation measures helped this colony to increase from 2-3 pairs to about 80 nowadays, the range of the species did not extend and still is only in Arda River Valley in Eastern Rhodopes. In the 1970s the large vultures were still surviving in Greece, but with time the bearded and griffon vultures have gone extinct from the mainland. The only black vulture colony in the Balkans is found in Dadia National Park in Greece close to the Bulgarian border. So we saw there is now suitable source of vultures where from they may recover naturally and that is why we decided to establish 5 new colonies – 4 to the north along the Balkan Mountain chain where we work in close cooperation with other NGOs such as Green Balkans and Bird of Prey Protection Society, and to the south west, Kresna Gorge. The last is also close to the small and declining population of the griffon vulture in FYR of Macedonia. But with the newly established colonies, it seems the situation gets a bit stabilized now. The summering, wintering and migrating birds on Balkans now have some more safe areas – read the book for the Reintroduction in Kresna Gorge to find how it works.

In short – if we want to have forests, wolves, but also vultures we have to reintroduce and organize feeding sites for them in our modern world dominated by man.

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

Reintroductions are quite a hot topic at the moment.  One of the main concerns is finding accord between conservationists, landowners and the public regarding the benefits of such actions. Was this a problem for you in Bulgaria?

This is manageable. Especially with friendly species like the vultures it is a small concern for the local people in the very beginning and then they just appreciate the lovely and gorgeous birds flying high in the sky. The proper communication and involvement with local people is crucial for the success of any such initiative.

What are some of the major challenges the team faced during the years of the project?

The development of the network for receiving in-time information about livestock carcasses was very important and it took quite some time. Establishment of the first nucleus of griffon vultures also was a challenge. We did it twice until we found what the most important thing is. It was the food that should be provided not only in large quantity, but also at the best place for the vultures, and in summer to be provided frequently in small amounts so as not to decompose.  We hardly learned that decomposed carcass is not an appreciated food source for vultures. They prefer fresh carcasses. Or at least not rotten meat. When we found that and made an effort to overcome it we saw the success.

Would you say that the process has been a success, then?

Yes, this is a success story. Of course we would like to see some more achievements in successful breeding and increase of the number of the breeding pairs of griffon vultures, as well as the return of the black and Egyptian vultures as breeders in the area. And one day also the return of the bearded vulture too.

Are there any lessons learned from this project that might have application for reintroduction practice in general?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

There are two things: the vultures will not survive in the modern world without managing the carcass disposal. We could not have forests and wolves and also to have vultures just on their own. The last should be supported through feeding sites, at which the carcasses from the local villages and farms would be disposed and made accessible to vultures.

We developed a good method for individual identification of the vultures through so-called visual marking. We use cameras with long lenses and take pictures of every bird seen in flight. Then we compare the characteristics of the plumage. This way, even birds not marked with rings or wing-tags could be distinguished. The method is well described in the book.

If you could make one change to policy in Bulgaria, or beyond, that would be of benefit for vulture conservation, what would it be?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

In the vultures’ range (either historical or current), where suitable habitats are still found, every natural or national park authority should be involved in maintenance of feeding site(s) for vultures. This should be one of the basic management practices for all protected areas that have an administration body. This way a large network (e.g  Natura 2000 sites) of vulture safe areas will be established and the coherence of the habitat and space restored.

Some adaptations of the legislation concerning poisoning of wildlife and domestic cats and dogs should be done especially in Bulgaria. The use of poison baits in natural environment should be treated as an act of hunting. Nowadays the Bulgarian legislation does not treat the poison bait setting for dogs and cats. Only if a game species and/or protected species is affected the law could be applied.

How are the vultures doing today, and what are the next steps, for the project, and your own work with the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna?

The vultures are preparing for the new breeding season. They are now making the very attractive simultaneous flights as breeding displays and seem very much enthusiastic especially in warm and windy days.

The next step is the reintroduction of the Eurasian black vulture, within the frame of the new Bright Future for Black Vulture in Bulgaria project LIFE14 NAT/BG/649, in cooperation with Green Balkans, Vulture Conservation Foundation, EuroNatur and the regional Government of Extremadura. I hope in future a similar story and a book will be issued for the black vulture in Kresna Gorge and Balkan Mountain in Bulgaria, where the species is now extinct for more than half a century.

I would like to mention here my colleagues and friends that work hard for all this to happen – Hristo Peshev, Lachezar Bonchev, Atanas Grozdanov, Nadya Vangelova and Yavor Iliev.

Buy the book here

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015 [English / Bulgarian]

How to choose a nest box camera

Bird Boxes
Installing a camera into a bird box is a great way to keep an eye on the nesting birds in your garden. Image by Simone Webber.

Deciding which nest box camera to choose involves a complicated tiptoe through competing technologies and equipment. Before you start watching birds you have to decide what sort of system is best for you and, crucially, how much money to spend.

The first question you need to consider is whether to choose a wired or wireless system.

Wired systems have a cable running from the nest box back to your house or classroom, which carries both power and the television signal. This results in excellent image quality but may not be ideal if you have children or pets in your garden, or if a cable running to your bird box will interfere with the gardening. You will also need to feed the cable into your house, either by drilling a hole in the wall or by feeding it through an open window.

Wireless systems do not require a cable to run between the bird box and the television but instead transmit images to a small receiver situated inside the house. However, a power supply will still be required for the camera (i.e. from a shed or outbuilding) and the signal can be compromised by other wireless devices in the area or by trees and other structures between the nest box and the house.

Next you will need to consider whether you require a complete kit or just the camera.

Nest Box Camera Starter Kit

If you are new to this particular aspect of watching and listening to birds, a complete kit, such as the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit is a good and economical choice. This starter kit includes a bird box with a camera mounted in the roof, which provides colour footage during the day and black ­and ­white at night. A 30 ­metre cable plugs into your television and supplies the camera with power. Another option is the Gardenature Nest Box Camera System, which includes a bespoke red cedar nest box made to RSPB and BTO guidelines. A small sliding drawer at the top of the box houses the Sony CCD camera, which adjusts automatically depending on light levels. A 30 ­metre cable connects the camera to your television.

Nest Box Camera with Night Vision

For the handyman or woman who wants to put a system together themselves, either in a bespoke or existing nest box, the Nest Box Camera with Night Vision is a good choice. The tiny camera will focus from a few centimetres to roughly 30 metres, with high definition for excellent daytime and night ­time images. The camera comes with a 30 ­metre cable and extension cables are available to purchase separately. The Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit is a great option if you want to fit a wireless camera to your own bird box.

What about watching on your computer?

All of the cameras and kits that we sell come with either a cable or wireless receiver that will connect directly to your television. If you want to view or save your footage onto your computer then an additional USB capture device is required. These are available both for Windows and Mac operating systems and come with all the software you require to get started.

 

How to choose a pair of binoculars

Image from hawkeoptics.co.uk
Image from hawkeoptics.co.uk

 

A good pair of binoculars are invaluable for identifying all sorts of animals at a distance and are a fantastic addition to the naturalist’s field kit. However, there are many different makes and models available, all with different specifications, and choosing a pair can be confusing. In this post we will take a look at the anatomy of a pair of binoculars and explain the things you need to know in order to make an informed decision about which binoculars are right for you.

Magnification

Binocular models generally have two numbers in their description. The first of these relates to the magnification. (For example, 8 x 42 binoculars will have a magnification of 8x). In general, binoculars have a magnification between 8x and 12x. As you would expect, the higher the magnification, the larger objects will appear when looking through them. As magnification increases the field of view is reduced, although higher quality models maintain a good field of view even at higher magnifications. You will also need to hold your binoculars steady with higher magnifications as hand shake will have a greater effect.

Lens Diameter

Dawn on river scenic
Larger diameter objective lenses provide brighter images during dusk and dawn. Image by Dan Cox via Public Domain Images.

The second number in the binocular model description (e.g. 8 x 42) refers to the diameter of the objective lens. Standard size binoculars tend to have objective lenses of 32mm to 42mm whilst lenses in compact binoculars usually measure 25mm. Larger lenses can dramatically improve low light performance and are particularly good for use at dusk or dawn. The trade off is that larger lenses are heavier.

Opticron Adventurer
Opticron Adventurer Porro Prism (left) and Roof Prism (right) binoculars

Prism Type

There are two main styles of binocular:  Porro Prism and Roof Prism. Porro prism binoculars have widely separated objective lenses which are further apart than the eyepiece (ocular) lenses. This gives them a “dog-leg” like appearance. Roof Prism binoculars have objective and eyepiece lenses which are in line with one another, resulting in a more streamlined and compact instrument. Traditionally, roof prism binoculars would produce an image that was less bright than that of an equivalent porro prism model, due to reduced light transmission. However, modern binoculars, particularly high quality ones, have remedied this problem through innovations in lens coatings. All of the binoculars sold by NHBS are of the roof prism style.

Glass Type

Glass of binoculars
The type and quality of glass have a huge impact on image quality. Image by Bicanski via Public Domain Images.

The type of glass used to manufacture the lenses can vastly affect the quality of the image. Two types of glass to look out for are extra-low dispersion (ED) and fluoride (FL) glass. These reduce chromatic aberrations giving clearer and sharper colours and reduced colour “fringing”. (Fringing is the blurring that can occur between light and dark parts of an image).

 

 

Lens and Prism Coatings

Lens coatings reduce the amount of light that is lost between the objective and the eye (ocular) lens helping to produce a brighter and sharper image. Lenses which are multi-coated have multiple layers of lens coatings. High quality binoculars are fully multi-coated which means that they have multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces.

Roof Prism binoculars have a particular problem with “phase shift” where the polarisation angle of the prism causes the light passing through to be split into two slightly out of phase beams. This results in an image which has lower resolution and may look slightly blurred. Prism coatings correct this problem by forcing the split light back into phase. Look out for binoculars with Phase Correction (PC) prism coatings.

Other Key Comparison Features

As well as the physical characteristics of the binoculars discussed above, there are a number of other specifications which you might want to consider.

Field of View – The field of view is how wide an image can be seen at a specified distance (usually 1000m). A wide field of view is useful for large landscapes and for fast moving animals.

Close focus – The close focus is the minimum distance at which the binoculars are able to focus. People interested in viewing insects using their binoculars would be advised to choose a model with as small a close focus as possible.

Eye relief – This is the maximum distance from the eyepiece lens that the eye can be positioned at which the full width of the image is visible without vignetting (darkening of the image around the edges). Longer eye relief is useful for those who wear glasses.

Weight – The weight of the binoculars is incredibly important, as it is likely that you will be carrying them around for long periods. Higher quality models of comparable specification will tend to be lighter than more entry-level models, and those with larger objective lenses will weigh more than those with smaller ones.

Price – Although we have mentioned this last, your budget will most likely be one of the key things to consider when choosing binoculars. Entry level models such as the Hawke Optics Vantage or Opticron Oregon 4 LE are great value for money and ideal for the beginner or infrequent user. However, if you are using your binoculars in a professional capacity or will be looking through them for a considerable amount of time each day, then choosing something of higher quality will be beneficial. Top of the range models such as the Zeiss Victory and Swarovski EL produce a superb quality image and can be used continuously for many hours without causing severe eye strain. They also come with the assurance of 10 year warranty. For most users, there will be a model in between these two extremes that will be perfect for you and your budget.

The NHBS Binocular Range

At NHBS we stock a large range of binoculars made by Minox, Hawke Optics, Opticron, Nikon, Zeiss and Swarovski. These range from economical and compact models up to full size, top of the range varieties. All of the models we sell have a roof prism design, come with a case and neckstrap and are waterproof.

Still unsure about which binoculars you need? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email customer.services@nhbs.com for some advice.

 

The Week in Review – 12th December

Dragonfly
Dragonfly use neurological calculations which allow them to actually predict the movements of their prey. Photo by John Flannery.

News from outside the nest

This week…we learned why pufferfish build sandcastles and how it has taken us such a long time to observe this particular behaviour.

A study published this week in Nature showed us how dragonflies go beyond mere reflexive responses and actually predict the movements of their prey as they are hunting.

This short guide helped us to address the most common questions posed by “climate change challengers”.

We discovered the OceanAdapt website which lets members of the public search and download geographic data of more than 650 species of fish and invertebrates and track how these have changed over time…a hugely valuable resource for fishermen and scientists.

Camouflage in the natural world is incredibly common and well understood. However, a paper published this week by the Royal Society revealed a new kind of camouflage exhibited by the beautiful harlequin filefish: smell camouflage.

And finally…we were amazed by this extraordinary bird that disguises itself as a caterpillar.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Useful and fun: these cute animal head torches are a great stocking filler for young outdoor enthusiasts.

 

 

The Week in Review – 28th November

SNOWstorm - a research project monitoring the breeding grounds of snowy owls
Project SNOWstorm has been monitoring breeding snowy owls in the Canadian Arctic since the 1980s. Image by Erin Kohlenberg.

 

News from outside the nest

This week…we were fascinated by the intelligence and dexterity displayed by this octopus gathering and storing a coconut shell to use for protection.

We caught up on project SNOWstorm – a research endeavour which monitors the summer breeding areas of snowy owls in the Canadian Arctic.

We discovered how the flight of hummingbirds is more similar to that of insects than that of other birds.

November was Manatee Awareness Month: This vulnerable species, long time provider of fuel for mermaid myths, now number less than 10,000 in the wild.

The mystery of large numbers of dead porpoises washing up on the Netherlands coast was finally solved, with grey seals proving to be the surprising culprit.

A PhD student at Brunel University, London, created an ingenious DIY microscope to measure cell motility, saving himself hundreds of thousands of pounds.

And finally…a unique way of dealing with invasive species: The first beer made from invasive pond weed and zebra mussels went on sale in Minnosota.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Irish Bats in the 21st Century summarises the considerable body of bat research and surveillance that has been undertaken in Ireland in the 21st century, much of it by citizen scientists.

Mammals of Mexico is the first English language reference on the 500+ species of mammals found in diverse Mexican habitats – from the Sonoran desert to the Chiapas cloud forests.

The Ridgid SeeSnake CA-25 is an affordable endoscope with a 17mm waterproof camera head.

This Ultra High Resolution Nest Box Camera from Gardenature comes with a nestbox designed to BTO and RSPB guidelines and contains everything you need to start watching straight away.

 

How to choose the trail camera that’s right for you

Bushnell Dipper
This video of a dipper was taken with a Bushnell Trophy Cam and is a great example of what can be captured with an entry level camera.

UPDATE November 2017 – This post has been updated to reflect the trail cameras currently available.

Trail camera technology is developing all the time and the range of products on the market constantly expanding. While this is exciting, it can also be incredibly confusing, especially when you’re trying to choose which model is best suited to your needs.

Here are six things you should consider when trying to choose the trail camera that’s right for you:

1. Type of LEDs

The infrared LEDs on a trail camera provide the illumination needed to take pictures at night. Generally speaking, these come in two types: standard or low glow. Standard LEDs have a shorter wavelength which means that they will emit a small amount of visible light when activated. This will be seen as a small red flash. Low glow LEDs, having a longer wavelength, do not produce this tell-tale red glow so have obvious benefits for wildlife photography. Low glow types, however, will have a shorter range than standard LEDs.

2. Trigger speed

Trigger speed is the time taken for an image or video to be recorded after the infrared motion sensor has been triggered. If your subject is fast moving then a quicker trigger speed will help to ensure you capture great images. Fastest trigger speeds are currently around 0.07 seconds (e.g. the Spypoint Force-11D).

3. Picture and video resolution

As with any type of camera, image and video resolution are important, and the image quality you require will depend on what you will be using your footage for, along with your budget. Most trail cameras will give you the option to alter the resolution using compression or interpolation methods. This can be useful if you are deploying your camera for long periods, when memory card capacity may become an issue. It also means, however, that you should check the resolution of the camera image sensor as the advertised megapixel value often relates to the interpolated resolution (* see note below for a definition of interpolation).

4. Does it have a viewing screen?

Having an image preview screen in your trail camera is beneficial in two ways: Firstly, it allows you to quickly check the images that you have recorded without having to remove the SD card or plug it into a laptop. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it lets you take a few test images. By walking (or running) in front of the camera and checking the image captured, you can be assured that your camera angle and position is exactly right. The Bushnell Aggressor range and Spypoint Force-11D all have a good sized viewing screen.

5. Camera settings

All trail cameras will give you some control over the capture settings. Most will allow you to change the number of images taken per trigger as well as the length of video recorded. It is usually possible, as well, to specify the delay between photos and/or trigger events. Time lapse options allow you to take photographs at regular intervals between hours of your choice, and some cameras, such as those in the Bushnell range, can be set with two separate time lapse windows. This is useful if you are interested in both dusk and dawn activities.

6. Wireless functionality

Cameras with wireless functionality will send images directly to your mobile phone or email account. This offers huge time saving benefits, as well as reducing the amount of disturbance at your survey site. Several cameras now have wireless capabilities, and some will even allow you to alter your camera settings remotely. An activated SIM card is required to use these features. All of the cameras in the Ltl Acorn range are available with wireless capabilities.

 * Interpolation is where the software inside the camera produces a larger image by adding pixels. These extra pixels are created by application of an algorithm which uses adjacent pixels to create the most likely colour. 
 

Our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers

Title Image

These days there’s an app for everything and everyone. For those of us with a passion for nature and the outdoors, they provide a fantastic way to improve our knowledge and identification skills, record and share our findings and even contribute to scientific research. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers. Most of these are designed for UK users, but if you’re based in other countries, have a dig around at the App Store or on Google Play; there’s bound to be something there to inspire you.

All of the apps listed are available for iPhone and Android and they’re all free. So if you’re needing some inspiration to get outside and start exploring, look no further.

Project Noah

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Project Noah

Explore and document wildlife wherever you are in the world with this educational app. Discover new organisms, record and share the specimens you find and help scientists collect important ecological data.

Birdtrack

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Birdtrack

Produced by the British Trust for Ornithology, BirdTrack lets you create logs of your bird sightings and create year and life lists. View your local hotspots and see what species have been seen in your area.

BatLib

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Batlib

The BatLib app contains ultrasonic calls of the most common European bat species, transformed to a sound that you can hear. Extremely useful to compare with the sounds heard using your heterodyne detector and a great tool for those new to bat detecting.

Nature Finder

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Nature Finder

The Nature Finder app from The Wildlife Trusts is a brilliant way to plan your wildlife excursions and learn about the animals you see while you’re there. It includes a map of more than 2000 nature reserves, lists of events, information on UK wildlife species and a directory for all 47 Wildlife Trusts.

Mammal Tracker

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Mammal Tracker

Identify and submit your records of mammals when you’re out and about with this mammal tracker app and contribute to the Mammal Society’s mammal population map of the British Isles. Submit a photograph if possible so that mammal experts can verify your sighting.

iGeology

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - iGeology

Discover exactly what’s beneath your feet and how the hidden geology affects the landscape you see with this app from the British Geological Society. Includes over 500 geological maps of Britain, available to view in 3D or from a birds-eye view.

Roger’s Mushrooms

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Rogers Mushrooms

With detailed descriptions of over 1500 species of mushrooms and fungi across Europe and North America, Rogers Mushrooms app is a must for both beginner and expert mycologists. It includes multiple images of each species in different stages of maturity, along with a detailed description. Choose between the free Lite version or the Pro version for a price of £2.50.

ForestXplorer app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Forest Xplorer

Find out more about the trees around you with this app from the Forestry Commission. As well as a picture gallery and tree identifier you can download trail maps, see events happening in your local woodland and share your findings with your friends via Facebook or Twitter.

PlantTracker app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Plant Tracker

Join forces with the Environment Agency, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to help map some of the UK’s most problematic invasive plants. Learn how to identify these species and submit geo-tagged photographs whenever you come across them.

OPAL Bugs Count

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Opal Bugs Count

Be a part of the nationwide bug hunt with this Bugs Count app. Learn about common groups of bugs, contribute to scientific research by taking part in a Species Quest and view the beautiful gallery of bug images from the Natural History Museum.

 

The Week in Review – 17th October

Monarch Butterfly
There are difficult days ahead for this fascinating and beautiful species. Photo by Deborah, Flickr Creative Commons

News from outside the nest

We have been keeping an eye on the webcam at Dorset Harbour following announcements that the largest flock of spoonbills ever to be seen in Britain were sighted on the Brownsea Island Lagoon.

The Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and we were as astounded as ever by the standard of photographs on display.

We read about the plight of the Monarch butterflies, their astounding migrations and the efforts being taken to save them from extinction.

Evolving in leaps and bounds, quite literally; poisonous cane toads in Australia are jumping straighter and farther, allowing this invasive species to expand into new territories at an alarming rate.

We learned some fascinating things about how birds cope with turbulence from an eagle wearing a black box flight recorder.

The beautiful Nature is Speaking series from Conservation International has kept us entranced.

And finally…Raffia the camel became the first animal to be involved with Google Maps in efforts to capture images of the Liwa Desert in Abu Dhabi.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The second addition of British Soldierflies and their Allies contains beautiful photographs alongside illustrations of key indentifying features. It also includes the most up to date information on species’ status.

Sex on Earth is a highly readable work that celebrates and investigates the hows and whys of sex on our planet.

Build-in sparrow boxes are now available in a terraced version, providing space for three nesting pairs. Choose from red or blue brick or face them with your own to perfectly match your building.

The Ltl Acorn 6310 is available with a choice of night vision LED types (standard or low glow) and is the latest addition to the range available at NHBS.

 

Six eponymous bird name facts

The Eponym Dictionary of BirdsThis month sees the publication of Bo Beolens’, Michael Watkins’ and Michael Grayson’s The Eponym Dictionary of Birds – a major publication with over 4,000 entries to fascinate the curious-minded birder. Each entry explains the biography behind the people commemorated in bird names, from lesser-known but dedicated collectors to officers, dignitaries and royals. Such as:

Passerini’s Tanager and Salmon’s Jacamar

Professor Carlo Passerini (1793-1857), an Italian entomologist and an early enthusiast of scientific photography, and Colonel Thomas Knight Salmon (1840-1878), a British railway engineer whose lung disease forced him into retirement and to opening a naturalist’s shop, are perfect examples of the hundreds of entries concerning those dedicated relative unknowns whose efforts have added rich threads to the natural history of birds and beyond. Salmon’s health deteriorated and he travelled to Colombia for the better climate where he spent seven years. He died in England leaving a collection of 3,500 bird skins.

Adelie Penguin

This entry exemplifies a theme of dedicating the naming to one’s spouse, in this instance Adelie Dumont d’Urville (1798-1842), the wife of Admiral Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont d’Urville, who first found this penguin. Various places in and around Antarctica were similarly honoured, including the Adelie Coast.

It is not only the eponymous common names that are included. So many latin names contain dedications too, for instance:

The Red-headed ParrotfinchErythrura cyaneovirens gaughrani was named after American waterpolo player Dr James ‘Jim’ Alan Gaughran – who, apart from appearing at the 1956 Olympic Games and acting as head coach of Stanford University’s waterpolo team from 1969-1973 – was with duPont on the 1970 expedition to Western Samoa during which the parrotfinch holotype was collected.

Dig around and it won’t be long before you discover some familiar territory:

Lewis’s Woodpecker is named after Captain Merriweather Lewis (1774-1809), one half of famous explorers, Lewis and Clarke. Their expedition of over 4,000 miles across the North American continent was rich in discoveries, not least the collection of the holotype of this woodpecker. It was collected in near Helena, Montana, and is now in Harvard, perhaps the only bird specimen left from the expedition.

Finally, it must be worth mentioning that the Great Egret has been known as Queen Victoria’s Egret. Victoria was opposed to the feather trade and ordered her regiments to stop wearing plumes in their uniform, giving her a royal place in bird conservation.

The Eponym Dictionary of Birds

 

 

 

 

Birds and Climate Change – authors James Pearce-Higgins & Rhys E. Green discuss the impacts and responses

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses has just been published by Cambridge University Press. This key topic is given a broad critical review by James Pearce-Higgins, a Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology, and Rhys E. Green, Principal Research Biologist at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Honorary Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Cambridge. We asked them a few questions about the priorities and processes involved.

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation ResponsesGiven this is such a vast subject, is it possible to summarize what we know currently about the impacts of climate change on birds – and also how we know it?

There has been an increasing wealth of scientific information published in recent decades, documenting the impacts that climate change has had on birds, which we review in the first part of the book. One of the best documented impacts is that the timing of spring migration and breeding outside of the tropics has become earlier in response to warming. There is also strong evidence that the abundance within bird populations has changed in response to changes in climatic variables through time. This has occurred through a range of different mechanisms. In response to climate change, these processes have led to significant changes in the composition of bird communities through time, and to shifts in species’ distributions, which have tended to move poleward by an average of over 7 km per decade.

The precise impacts of climate change vary across the globe, with changes in temperature being much more important in temperate and higher latitudes, whilst variation in rainfall is the most important cause of change in the tropics, and to long-distance migrants. Although there is a burgeoning evidence base about climate change impacts on birds, much of this research is from Europe and North America. We show in a key graph how little research effort there has been in the tropics, where we have shown the ecological processes are different, and where the majority of bird species are found. Long-term monitoring of bird populations, breeding and migration are an important resource for climate change studies. These studies have been done both by volunteer enthusiasts and academics, but mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and outside the tropics. Addressing this monitoring and research gap should be a high priority.

Much of the long-term monitoring data required to study the impacts of climate change upon birds is necessarily collected by volunteers (citizen scientists) because this ensures that the data are sufficiently extensive and sustainable in the long-term. Thus, information about the changes in the timing of migration and breeding is collected through bird observatories and schemes like the BTO’s nest record scheme, whilst large-scale information about bird populations and distributions is collected by standardised monitoring by volunteer birdwatchers, such as through annual breeding bird surveys and periodic atlases. Ringing (banding) and nest record schemes provide information about birth and death rates, which can help identify the processes behind these changes. These data are complemented by professional studies which are often more intensive and particularly have helped to understand the ecological mechanisms of change.

What sort of conservation responses are available?

The second part of the book examines potential conservation responses to climate change. The first step in this is to predict the future impacts of climate change on birds, which is covered by its own chapter. Here we link projected range changes and extinction risk to the amount of climate change, and show that increasing amounts of climate change will threaten an increasing number of species. We then review the options for adapting conservation action to climate change, building on a range of tools already used by conservationists. These include deciding which species and places are priorities for conservation, the protection and management of a network of core sites, habitat protection and creation to enhance connectivity, management of the wider landscape to reduce other threats and more intensive methods such as translocations. We believe that it is important to build on the foundations of existing conservation management, so that the threat of climate change does not divert resources away from existing and important conservation action. Reducing the impact of other threats on species will increase their ability to cope with a changing climate and may be sufficient, in some cases, to compensate for the negative effects of climate change.

Maintaining and extending the existing protected area network, alongside initiatives to improve the management of sites in that network, will be vital in helping species adapt to climate change. For example, protected areas can provide opportunities for colonisation of areas where the climate has become suitable for a species because of climate change. However, we recognize that with increasing magnitude of climate change, this adaptation challenge will become more difficult, and require more radical solutions. The final chapter in this section also considers the additional complication that the ways in which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, and other climate change mitigation, will also have a significant impact on bird conservation. Some renewable energy options are likely to have negative impacts on birds, whereas prevention of the release of carbon stored in forests and bogs because of inappropriate land use change, such as deforestation and drainage, is likely to be beneficial for the bird species which inhabit those habitats.

Can you give some specific examples of responses underway, and what sort of levels of success these are demonstrating?

There has been recent criticism that because climate change will result in shifts in where species are found, that a static network of protected areas will no longer be useful. However, a number of recent studies are reviewed which demonstrate that by protecting large areas of extensive semi-natural habitat, protected areas in fact ensure the existence of suitable areas of habitat for species to move into. This has been particularly demonstrated for wetland and heathland nature reserves in the UK. There has also been much discussion about the potential for the creation of stepping stones and corridors to help create more connected landscapes through which species may move more easily. This literature is also discussed, which demonstrates that these interventions may benefit 30% of bird species studied, or fewer. Indeed, for the most sensitive habitat-specialists, such as tropical forest specialists, about 50% of a landscape may need to remain forested to ensure connectivity. Evidence is also building for the potential to manage sites appropriately to increase their resilience to climate change. In particular, the blocking of drainage ditches in the UK uplands may raise water levels and reduce the vulnerability of peatland ecosystems to summer drought, which will benefit a range of upland bird species, such as the golden plover.

Global change demands global responsiveness – how much agreement is there over the priorities?

Priority setting will be an important aspect of conservation responses to climate change, and a range of different ways in which priorities may be assessed exist. We review a number of these in the book, as well as suggesting a number of ecological traits likely to be associated with species vulnerability to climate change. Whilst there are an increasing number of examples of these being applied to particular regions or countries, there remains a lack of consensus over priorities across continents or biogeographical areas. The need to address this is recognized, and as discussed in the chapter on conservation in a changing climate, there is potential to use existing policy instruments, such as intergovernmental agreements, to achieve this. Given the potential threat that human responses to climate change may also pose to birds, whether the impacts of renewable energy generation, or other potential changes in land-use and other sectors discussed briefly in the final chapter of the book, this consensus needs to extend to other areas in order to be effective.

What future developments are on the horizon in extinction risk assessment, and are you positive about the potential impact of conservation responses overall?

One of the most significant chapters in the book reviews the literature predicting the effects of climate change on birds, and provides guidance for how this should be used. There is considerable potential to extend these to include information about population size, rather than just occurrence, and to make them more process-based, incorporating information about demographic rates and the mechanisms by which climate change may affect the species of interest. This has been achieved in a small number of cases, producing models which may be useful to inform future decision making about conservation responses to climate change. Such development will be particularly valuable, because it will help to assess the likely potential impact of conservation responses, relative to the likely magnitude of future climate change. However, this detail comes at a cost, and will not be feasible for most, or even many species.

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses