Thursday, 26 March 2015
April 2015 | Issue 274
Ten years ago this month, the world woke to news that Ivory-billed Woodpecker, long thought extinct, had been rediscovered in the southern United States. Amid great fanfare, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology presented the findings from a year-long search by field teams in Arkansas. However, the initial excitement was soon followed by debate about the ‘evidence’ – largely difficult-to-interpret video clips and sound recordings captured by remote devices. For many, the euphoria was replaced by doubt, and ultimately – in the absence of any subsequent sightings – disbelief. Today, the evidence “remains highly controversial”, in the words of BirdLife International.
A decade on, another ‘rediscovery’ is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. But the saga of the Night Parrot in Australia is altogether different, revolving around claims from a controversial figure who has largely withheld evidence from public scrutiny on the grounds of a media tie-up – despite concerns that the species may persist only on unprotected land owned by commercial interests.
Perhaps the key point here is that, while there is an accepted peer-reviewed process for describing species new to science, rediscoveries lack the same procedural scrutiny. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker claims were central to more than $20 million being spent by federal and state governments on recovery efforts before the saga descended into the realm of cryptozoology. In Australia, the future of the Night Parrot appears closely linked to the motives of its ‘rediscoverer’, who reportedly took thousands of dollars in admission fees at his last ‘presentation’ event but continues to keep most of the facts private.
These episodes point to a need for some kind of ornithological ‘treasure trove’ agreement, applicable internationally, which ensures that evidence for claimed rediscoveries is assessed and verified independently, and through which plans to protect such species are developed and publicly embraced. That way, such iconic birds on the edge surely have their best chance of survival.
Friday, 6 March 2015
|First-winter Caspian Gull today in east London - this individual is a little darker on the nape than most I see.|
|This third-winter Iceland Gull first visited the site back in January, and reappeared today after seven weeks.|
|Record-shot confirmation that the Iceland Gull was the same Norwegian-ringed bird from January.|
Here's some more pics of the Caspian, showing a nice pale underwing in the first image and also in comparison with a same-aged European Herring Gull.
Thursday, 26 February 2015
It was some years before I next saw the species in Britain, an indication of just how rare a visitor it used to be, but cranes then settled in small numbers elsewhere in Norfolk. Having done so under their own steam, an obvious question is why reintroduce more when the species has already established itself? Given the significant funding and resources needed for such projects, it’s a fair point, and the same case might also be made against other reintroductions such as White-tailed Eagle and Osprey.
But there are actually very good reasons for doing so. I have been sceptical of the value of some of them previously, but modified my view over time. The presence of released birds in the wider countryside may jar with ‘purist’ birders in the short term, but who can really argue, for example, that several generations on it was a bad idea to re-establish Red Kites in the Chilterns? And think of the iconic and educational value too of the Ospreys at Rutland Water and the White-tailed Eagles on Mull, not to mention the significant benefits to rural tourism.
On a number of levels, reintroductions of native birds are justifiable and should be welcomed. Without a helping hand, many of the species involved are destined to remain rare, teetering on the edge of their range here, or lost forever as part of our avifauna.
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
|Gulls resting at the mouth of Oued Ksob, just south of Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Offshore in the background is the island of Mogador, summer home to one of the world's largest Eleonora's Falcon colonies.|
|Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls provide an ID diversion in a range of plumages.|
|A rather pale first-winter Yellow-legged Gull with a mantle pattern somewhat recalling European Herring Gull ...|
|... but otherwise rather typical michahellis Yellow-legged Gull in flight, with neat tail band, reduced inner primary 'window' and largely dark outer greater coverts, among other features.|
|Adult Audouin's Gull - one of the Western Palearctic's most beautiful larids.|
With gulls there’s always the possibility of surprises, and on Saturday 14th February at Oued Ksob, a couple of miles south of Essaouira, it came in the form of a second-calendar-year Great Black-backed Gull. This species is rare, if not a true vagrant, this far south, and this bird presumably originated from north-west Europe though the species has, bizarrely, been discovered breeding at one site in Atlantic Sahara in recent years.
|A first-winter Great Black-backed Gull, rare this far south, with Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.|
|Second-winter Glaucous Gull - the pale golden eye is probably the best clue to this age.|
|... here looking rather blotchy from behind, with Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls for company ...|
|... and looking very distinctive on the wing as it flies off for a dip in the channel.|
A few other species of interest were seen during the long weekend – more in another post. In the meantime, some phonescoped video footage of the Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls will appear shortly on my Facebook page.