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Birdin' in the office

Posted by on February 22, 2007 11:00 AM | 


Mad as a lorry at work at the moment (mad as a lorry? more like mad as a helicopter gunship...), but here's two things of interest - firstly a Press Association story on wintering grounds of Aquatic Warbler, which came over the wires today...

By Amanda Brown, PA Environment Correspondent.
One of Europe’s last remaining ornithological mysteries has been finally solved, following five years of detective work by an international team of researchers, it emerged today.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said an expedition team has pinpointed the wintering grounds of Europe’s most threatened migratory - the aquatic warbler - in western Africa.
This robin sized bird, nests in summer in the marshes of eastern central Europe - principally Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine - and some pass through southern England on migration to its previously unidentified wintering grounds.
Researchers from the RSPB and BirdLife International have combined state-of-the-art scientific analysis with traditional fieldwork to unravel the secrets that this bird has been hiding.
Earlier this month, the expedition, working with African colleagues, discovered good numbers of aquatic warblers in an area of about 100 square kilometres within the Djoudi National park, in north-west Senegal.
Preliminary estimates range from 5-10,000 birds at this single site. Before this discovery, it was assumed the birds like many other warblers spent the winter in Africa, but no one knew where.
The aquatic warbler has declined dramatically in Europe over the last century, and now its global population is down to 15,000 pairs - largely because of drainage of its wetland nesting sites.
The research team used isotope analysis of aquatic warbler feathers to help narrow their search.
Catching aquatic warblers on the bird’s European nesting sites, researchers took feathers from the birds subjecting them to an isotope analysis. Knowing that the feathers would have been grown on the African wintering grounds, the researchers looked for patterns of isotopes in conjunction with isotope maps which would give a hint on the wintering grounds.
The study revealed that the birds spend the winter at sites in a zone just south of the Sahara. An analysis of the few African records in combination with a computer modelling of potentially suitable climatic conditions led researchers to likely areas bordering the Senegal river.
The RSPB’s Lars Lachmann, who co-organised the Senegal expedition said: “The precipitous decline of the aquatic warbler in Europe has made it the focus of transitional European conservation effort, which is currently showing its first successes.
“However, because this bird spends less than half its time in Europe, it is essential that we know more about where it spends the winter and whether these sites are threatened too.â€?
Although delighted by their discovery, the research team has raised fears for the bird’s future in Africa.
Lars Lachmann added: “Thankfully, substantial parts of the bird’s wintering range fall within protected areas, with the Djoudi National Park alone possibly holding up to a third of the world’s population.
“This wetland, on the southern edge of the Sahara is likely to be threatened by the southward advance of the Sahara fuelled by climate change. This encroachment is likely to limit the water supply for the national park.
“Other sites thought to have formerly held this bird in winter, have long since been converted into farmland and sugarcane plantations, while other potential sites will be placed under even greater pressure by increasing drought conditions.
“Bizarrely, the story of the aquatic warbler in Africa seems to mirror the disastrous loss of the species’ European nesting sites, where the bird now nests regularly at fewer than 40 locations.
“But knowing where they are in winter now provides a starting point to mirror the successful European conservation efforts in Africa.â€?
Future work in the field and with satellite maps will help identify other potential sites in Mauritania and elsewhere in western Africa.
The expedition was financially supported by the RSPB, Defra, the Bonn Convention and the German Ornithological Society.

So, if you're ever down Senegal way, it'd certainly save all those overnight drives down to Dorset and Marzipan Marsh in Cornwall in August to catch up with old Humbug head....
And secondly, thanks to my colleagues on the Welsh Daily Post, who are covering an interesting court case about a Goshawk nest in North Wales....for the story so far....
That's about it for now, Blackbirds singing away before dawn around Dempsey Towers at the moment, anyone seen owt else?
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies.....


Aquatics seem to be fairly rare I wonder if they get these at Woolston Eyes just off the m6 near Warrington.
I've heared they get quite a few different Warblers there.
By the way Woolston eyes is on tv, bbc2 1st March around 6pm ish.
Thanks for the info on taggs John, from your photos it looks like you can get quite close to the birds.
Went to Borsdane Woods in Hindley, one of my local patches.
Saw all the usual plus Goldfinch,greenfinch, treecreeper and one great spotted woodpecker.The grey squirrels seem to be out numbering the birds.

Sorry Gary NO Aquatics at Woolston.
Or anywhere in the northwest for that matter.
If there was one it would spark a twitch of Ivory-Billed Woodpecker proportions (you don't get them at Woolston either).
Aquatics breed in Poland and we get a handful of overshoots each year in the UK in early autumn (August) - mainly in the south west.
Great little birds tho' - I twitched the one at Slimbridge last year - ah, happy memories.

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