Rifleman sighting along Wellington’s west coast marks milestone in pest control

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New Zealand’s smallest native bird, the rifleman, has been spotted in Plimmerton, twice.

Weighing in at a whopping six grams, these palm-sized birds haven’t been spotted west of the Hutt Valley since 1925 – marking a milestone in pest control efforts.

One of the sightings was by Pest Free Plimmerton co-founder, Linda Kerkmeester, who spotted a flock of six riflemen at her place near Karehana Reserve.

“They nest really close to the ground so they don’t stand a chance with cats,” Kerkmeester said. “The birds are a litmus test for how successful our pest control is. Things are going well if we’re seeing these birds.”

The last reported sighting of riflemen west of the Hutt Valley was in 1925, when they were seen in Lower Hutt.

North Island riflemen survive in isolated populations on North Island mountain ranges, with only three populations north of Kaimai Forest Park, according to New Zealand Birds Online.

However multiple sightings have been reported in Wellington’s eastern parts over the last several years, including Eastbourne and in the Rimutaka ranges. They’ve been reported east of Paekakariki in Akatawara Forest in recent times, and on Kapiti Island.

shared via: www.stuff.co.nz/environment/85967823/rifleman-sighting-along-wellingtons-west-coast-marks-milestone-in-pest-control
article: Rachel Thomas
photo: Jordan Kappely

Beavers are back in the UK and they will reshape the land

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Five years ago, tall trees such as birch, aspen, and the occasional oak filled this small space, all lining the trickle of a highland stream. The thick canopy cast a shadow on the plants below, sapping the life from their leaves.

Today, things have changed. The undergrowth is overgrown. Lopsided willow trees dominate, sending hundreds of shoots and stems into the air, each pining for the light above. A thick blanket of green foliage erupts from the peaty soil.

Flora is blossoming, fauna flourishing. With their long cascade of pink bells, foxgloves rise high from the purple moor grass below. Butterflies and bees flutter from flower to flower.

“The biodiversity is booming,” Brazier tells me as we approach the wire fence through a field of coarse grass and rushes. “It’s alive.”

Behind this fence, every species – plant and animal– depends on the behaviour of just one: the Eurasian beaver. Since their introduction in March 2011, a breeding pair of these large rodents has been as busy as, well, beavers.

They have raised a family. They have built a lodge to live in and gouged deep canals through the land for getting out and about. And, of course, they have chopped down trees and built a series of 13 dams from sticks and mud. The woodland stream has been, and is being, transmogrified into wetland.

It is easy to see why beaver are known as “ecosystem engineers”. But it is Brazier and Puttock’s task to find out what these large rodents are engineering exactly.

read more: www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161005-beavers-are-back-in-the-uk-and-they-will-reshape-the-land
article: Alex Riley
photo: Nick Upton

First-time study tracks storm petrels vast flights off B.C. coast

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In a global first, B.C. researchers have tracked several robin-sized seabirds — fork-tailed storm petrels — as they travelled up to 17,500 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island in just over a month.

“This is the first time it’s ever been done,” seabird biologist Luke Halpin said in an interview. “In B.C. and Alaska these birds are not well studied. We really don’t know much about them.”

Fork-tailed storm petrels are found only in the North Pacific, including the west coast of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. Population estimates are old and vary widely, from 300,000 to 1.3 million birds on the B.C. coast.

A research team captured 11 of the petrels — grey birds, weighing 50 to 55 grams apiece — on a breeding colony in late May in the Gillam Islands at the mouth of Quatsino Sound and fitted them with 800-milligram geolocator tags that measure light intensity to estimate the bird’s latitude and longitude. “There is no GPS technology small enough to use on animals this size,” Halpin explained.

The petrels travelled far and wide in search of food, spending four days on average at sea before returning to their nests.

The eggs and chicks can undergo long periods of neglect, infrequent feeding and limited incubation, he noted. “They are fed a very calorific and nutritious meal from their parents” that gets them between feedings. 

“We should know where they feed if we are thinking about their conservation,” said Halpin, noting that their range overlaps that of oil tankers and other ocean-going ships.

After 40 days, researchers recaptured five of the petrels from the breeding colony. “We just pulled them out of the burrows, basically.”

Data from the geolocator tags showed that one bird cumulatively travelled 17,500 kilometres — more than 425 kilometres per day — during that time west of the continental shelf, although the average was 9,600 kilometres.

While one bird flew about 2,000 kilometres during just one feeding foray over a two-week period, most remained 300 to 400 kilometres offshore of the colony. “These birds are highly pelagic, built for spending life on the high seas — travelling long distances, remaining aloft, and expending minimal energy while doing so,” Halpin said.

shared via: vancouversun.com/news/local-news/first-time-study-tracks-storm-petrels-vast-flights-off-b-c-coast
article: Larry Pynn
photo: Ingrid Pollet

Three endangered birds you’ve probably never heard of

You’ll often hear about well-known and charismatic birds like the kiwi, kea and kakapo in the news, but New Zealand is a land of birds and with that comes many lesser-known species like the bittern, kaki and wrybill.

As Forest & Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition comes to an end, spare a thought (and your vote) for these ‘underbirds’ who most New Zealanders have probably never heard of.

The Bittern (Matuku)

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In wetlands around New Zealand, these highly secretive birds use their mottled brown feathers to blend perfectly with the tall grasses and reeds.

Pair this with a tendency to freeze and stick their beak straight up in the air when they sense danger and it’s easy to understand why few New Zealanders know they exist.

The Kaki (Black Stilt)

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Found wading through rivers in the Mackenzie Basin, the kaki is one of the most endangered birds in the world.

Jet black with red legs, kaki were once found throughout New Zealand. But in 1989, their numbers plummeted to an all-time low and there were just 23 birds left.

Today, they are restricted to braided rivers and wetlands in the Mackenzie Basin where the Department of Conservation runs an active breeding programme.

The Wrybill

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These quirky looking creatures are the only bird in the world with a beak that bends to one side – and it always curves to the right.

No one is quite sure why their beaks are bent, but it’s thought to help them dig around under stones in search of food.

Wrybill breed along rivers in the South Island where they are masters of disguise. Their grey feathers blend perfectly with stony riverbeds and their eggs look just like rocks themselves.

read more: www.stuff.co.nz/environment/85851654/three-endangered-birds-youve-probably-never-heard-of
article: Kimberly Collins
photos: Glenda Rees, Craig Mckenzie

Report: Staff shortages hamper US wildlife refuges

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Hundreds of national wildlife refuges that provide critical habitat for migratory birds and other species are crippled by a staffing shortage that has curtailed educational programs, hampered the fight against invasive species and weakened security at facilities that attract nearly 50 million visitors annually, a group of public employees and law enforcement said Wednesday.

The refuges, as well as 178 other federally protected areas dedicated to waterfowl habitat and wetland preservation, attract 47.5 million visitors a year for bird-watching, hunting, fishing and educational activities, but their primary mission is the preservation of critical habitat for fragile species. Many, but not all, are in remote areas.

Because they are focused on wildlife preservation, refuges are less well known by the public than their flashier, selfie-friendly cousins at the National Park Service, yet they have expanded rapidly in recent years as funding has shrunk.

Since 2010, the overall refuge budget dropped by $17 million to $486 million while the system added more than 700 million acres, said Houghton.

Meanwhile, existing refuges are struggling to complete their mission with a staff so pared down that some can’t keep on volunteers because there’s no one to manage them.

“If it wasn’t for volunteers, they’d have to shut the doors,” said Marvin Plenert, a retired manager in Portland who used to oversee the Western region. “It’s pathetic, is what it is.”

read more: www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/sep/21/report-staff-shortages-hamper-us-wildlife-refuges/
article: Gillian Flaccus
photo: Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP

World’s Largest Marine Reserve Created Off Antarctica

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A remote and largely pristine stretch of ocean off Antarctica received international protection on Friday, becoming the world’s largest marine reserve as a broad coalition of countries came together to protect 598,000 square miles of water.

The new marine protected area in the Ross Sea was created by a unanimous decision of the international body that oversees the waters around Antarctica—the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—and was announced at the commission’s annual meeting in Tasmania. The commission comprises 24 countries, including the United States, and the European Union.

South of New Zealand and deep in the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean, the 1.9 million square-mile Ross Sea is sometimes called the “Last Ocean” because it is largely untouched by humans. Its nutrient-rich waters are the most productive in the Antarctic, leading to huge plankton and krill blooms that support vast numbers of fish, seals, penguins, and whales.

Some 16,000 species are thought to call the Ross Sea home, many of them uniquely adapted to the cold environment. A 2011 study in the journal Biological Conservation called the Ross Sea “the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth,” citing intact communities of emperor and Adelie penguins, crabeater seals, orcas, and minke whales.

read more: news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/ross-sea-marine-protected-area-antarctica/
article: Brian Clark Howard
photo: Paul Nicklen, National Geographic Creative

Predator-proof fence saves seabirds in Hawaii

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Newell’s shearwaters once thrived on all the main Hawaiian islands, but after decades of decline, they were added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1975. Today they’re mostly limited to Kauai, where about 90 percent of all survivors live. Because they’re threatened by invasive predators like cats and rats, several young chicks were recently relocated to the island’s first “predator-proof” sanctuary, a 7-acre native habitat encircled by more than 2,000 feet of 6-foot-high fencing.

Like many Hawaiian birds, the Newell’s shearwater has been obliterated over the past century by non-native predators that prey on eggs and chicks. It evolved in Hawaii with few natural enemies, allowing it to nest safely in underground burrows, often around the roots of trees. But when people began introducing cats, rats, dogs and mongooses to Hawaii, these once-safe nests suddenly became easy pickings.

Wildlife refuges can protect important habitats for seabirds, but cats and rats don’t recognize refuge boundaries like humans do. To keep seabird chicks safe from those exotic predators, conservationists have begun to fence off nesting habitats in some parts of Hawaii.

Cats and rats are both notoriously good at accessing forbidden places, but according to KPNWR ranger Jennifer Waipa, this fence is specially designed to keep out even the smallest or nimblest threat to young seabirds. “The mesh is so small that even 2-day-old mice can’t get in, and the fence is buried into the ground,” Waipa tells Else. “And there’s a hood over the top of the fence so nothing can climb over.”

read more: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/predator-proof-fence-seabirds-hawaii
article: Russell McLendon
photo: André Raine/Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

Bream Head’s nesting robins and petrels delight conservationists

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Once driven out of the area by predators, Bream Head’s bird population is back, and they’re breeding much to the delight of Bream Head Conservation Trust rangers and volunteers.

The grey-faced petrels and North Island robins haven’t been seen at the Whangarei Heads reserve for decades. Now they are not only back, they are establishing nests and producing chicks.

“A colony of self-reintroduced grey-faced petrels has been discovered in an area recently been targeted for an extensive pest eradication programme,” BHCT chief ranger Adam Willetts says.

“Six burrows were found in the same area last year, the first time the large grey sea birds, known to Maori as Oi, had established burrows naturally on the Northland mainland, but no chicks hatched due to a few remaining rats or stoats.”

However this year around 20 burrows have been found in the colony.

Willetts and the trust’s ecologist Ben Barr have checked the nests and have found at least nine live chicks.

The discovery of a North Island robin (toutouwai) sitting on a brood of chicks is equally as exciting for the group.

In April and May 40 robins from Mangatutu and Tiritiri Matangi Islands were released as part of a long-standing trust programme.The toutouwai being the first part of a translocation programme which will also see whitehead introduced in 2017.

read more: www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/northland/85176193/bream-heads-nesting-robins-and-petrels-delight-conservationists

article: Annette Lambly
photo: Bream Head Conservation Trust

Seabird conservation: a Q&A with Maria Dias

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An interview with Maria Dias, Senior Marine Science Officer at BirdLife International and Associate Editor of BMC Zoology

Why have we seen declines in the populations of many seabirds in recent years?

Most of the declines in seabird populations that we’ve witnessed in the last decades can be attributed to two major causes:

1) the incidental bycatch in longline, gillnet and trawl fisheries (estimated to affect around 40 % of all threatened seabird species, and primarily responsible for the steep decline of many albatross populations)

2) predation by invasive alien species (such as rats, mice and cats in islands), affecting ca. 75% of all threatened seabirds.

However, seabirds face many other threats, both at-sea and in the breeding colonies: overfishing and/or inappropriate spatial management of fisheries (a well-known example is the population decline of the African penguin, after the depletion of sardines and anchovies through commercial exploitation), pollution, hunting and trapping, human disturbance, infrastructural development on breeding areas, energy production, mining and climate change (through sea-level rise, changes in prey distribution and in wind patterns).

How widespread are these declines in seabird populations  – are they occurring in just a few species, or are seabirds as a whole under threat?

Seabirds are the most threatened bird group and their status has deteriorated faster over recent decades. Almost one third of all species are currently threatened (i.e., classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List), and an additional 12% are near threatened. The declines are widespread across regions, but the most threatened groups are the albatrosses (all the 22 species threatened or near-threatened), the penguins (15 out of 18) and the gadfly petrels (30 out of 39).

How important are seabirds to the overall health of the oceans?

As top marine predators, seabirds play a key role in oceanic ecosystems. They consume ca.70 million tonnes of food every year, an amount that is similar to the global fisheries landings. Therefore, seabirds are important regulators of the marine environment via top-down effects. The major consumers are, by far, krill predators such as the macaroni penguin.

read more: blogs.biomedcentral.com/on-biology/2016/10/10/seabird-conservation-qa-maria-dias/
photo: JJ Harrison

Scientists gave squirrels fitness trackers and found that males are lazy and females do all the work

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A team led by biologist Cory Williams of Northern Arizona University examined the behavioral differences of male and female Arctic squirrels in Alaska. Published in Royal Society Open Science, their work found that female squirrels tend to spend less time above ground finding food, probably because they have to care for their offspring in nests underground. When they aren’t underground, though, they’re more active than their male counterparts.

Arctic squirrels spend much of their time hibernating from the end of the summer to late spring in order to survive the cold winter months. During the few months above ground, they have a hefty to-do list: They have to eat to replenish energy stores lost to hibernation, store energy for next season, and mate.

During the time when they are not hibernating, female squirrels not only have to consume enough to keep themselves going, they have to produce enough energy to gestate and produce milk for their babies during the first few summer months of the active season. When they’re not foraging for food, they’re in the nest caring for their young. This means that when they are active, they’re busy—much more so than their male counterparts.

“It is not clear what [the males] are doing while above ground,” the authors write. “The additional time spent above ground may be simply to loaf/bask in the sun.”

Cool, guys.

read more: qz.com/798926/scientists-gave-squirrels-fitness-trackers-and-found-that-males-are-lazy-and-females-do-all-the-work/
article: Katherine Ellen Foley
photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings