As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

How Birds Would Fare Under the White House Budget and Infrastructure Proposals

Birds and people need smart investment in our environment to keep our communities safe, air and water clean and our climate habitable.
February 14, 2018

WASHINGTON — “Last year’s White House budget proposal failed to invest in American’s most cherished places as well as the clean air and water birds and people need—and it was largely rejected. It’s time to align the budget with our values and find real solutions to the challenges facing birds and the American people,” said Sarah Greenberger, Audubon’s senior vice president of conservation policy, in response to the latest federal budget proposal from the White House.

“Millions of birders, hunters and outdoor lovers—from all political backgrounds—rely on bedrock environmental protections and strong federal investment to protect the cherished natural resources that the White House’s budget and infrastructure proposals put at risk.

Golden eagle suspected of being killed and dumped at sea near Edinburgh

GPS data from the endangered young eagle, that was tagged by environmentalist Chris Packham, stopped transmitting before randomly restarting out at sea

Fri 16 Feb 2018 11.12 GMTLast modified on Fri 16 Feb 2018 11.13 GMT

A young golden eagle may have been illegally killed near Edinburgh and dumped at sea after its satellite tag inexplicably stopped transmitting and then restarted in the North Sea.

The golden eagle was tagged by broadcaster and environmentalist Chris Packham and the campaign group Raptor Persecution UK at a nest in the Scottish Borders last summer, and named Fred, after the landowner’s grandson.

After the eagle fledged from what was the only nest in the region, GPS data from its tag revealed Fred spent several months in his parents’ territory before, this year flying north to the Pentland Hills, “woodland hopping” close to Edinburgh’s bypass.

On 20 January, Fred roosted overnight in trees overlooking a grouse moor. At 10am on 21 January, his tag suddenly stopped working.

On the evening of 24 January, the tag began transmitting again – some 10 miles off the east coast of Scotland beyond St Andrews. The tag continued to provide GPS data until 26 January, showing a final position 15 miles offshore.

Dr Ruth Tingay, of Raptor Persecution UK, said: “It is beyond doubt that Fred’s disappearance is highly suspicious. Golden eagles don’t generally fly out for miles over large bodies of sea water but even if Fred had done so, apart from defying everything we’ve learned about Scottish golden eagle behaviour, we would have seen excellent tracking data plotting his route given the reliability of his tag.

Fighting for love: Dominant male pheasants learn faster

February 14, 2018, University of Exeter

Dominant male pheasants learn faster than their downtrodden rivals, new research shows.

A group of 18 male pheasants - vying for the attention of 16 females - were repeatedly placed in front of two tunnels, and had to remember which was clear and which was blocked.

The researchers, from the University of Exeter, found dominant males were better at remembering which tunnel was clear - with top third of males 40% more successful at the task than the least dominant third.

It is unknown whether dominance makes males better learners, males become dominant because they are better at learning, or both are due to other characteristics.

"The higher a male pheasant's social rank, the better their performance on this task," said Ellis Langley, of Exeter's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour. "They each tried the task 14 times, and by the end of the experiment the more dominant males were more accurate overall. "We can't be certain why this happens. One possibility is that the dominant males are higher quality individuals - and these qualities include both cognitive function and social dominance.

"It's also possible that pheasants differ in stress levels according to their social rank, so subordinate malesmay be more stressed and have less energy to devote to learning."Future research will explore these possibilities."

High-altitude birds evolve similar traits via different mutations

February 19, 2018, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

On the Himalayan-enveloped Tibetan Plateau and the Altiplano plateau of South America – the world's two highest tabletops – a select few bird species survive on 35 to 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level.

All extreme-altitude birds have evolved especially efficient systems for delivering that precious oxygen to their tissues. But a new study led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Chinese Academy of Sciences has found that these birds often evolved different blueprints for assembling the proteins – hemoglobins – that actually capture oxygen.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that many species from the two plateaus underwent different mutations to produce the same result: hemoglobins more adept at snaring oxygen from the lungs before sharing it with the other organs that depend on it.

Those mutational differences often emerged even among closely related species residing on the same plateau, the study reported.

"You could imagine, just because of the different ancestral starting points, that the Tibetan birds maybe all went one (mutational) route, and the Andean birds typically did things a different way," said co-author Jay Storz, Susan J. Rosowski Professor of Biological Sciences at Nebraska. "But that's not what we saw. Across the board, there weren't really any region-specific patterns.
"In both cases, it seems like there were many different ways of evolving a similar alteration of protein function."

Carefully managed fire can promote rare savanna species

February 14, 2018, University of York

Carefully managed fires generate the maximum diversity of birds and mammals in savannas, new research from the University of York suggests.

In the first continent-wide study of the effects of fire on bird and mammal diversity in the African savanna environment, researchers have found that increasing "pyrodiversity" boosts the variety of species of mammals by around 20% and of birds by 30% in savannas with high rainfall.

The researchers observed that varied burning regimes enabled geographically rare birds such as the Rufous-tailed Weaver and the Black-bellied Sunbird to live alongside more common species.

They now hope to be able to provide conservationists and local populations with guidance and advice on how to use fire as an effective tool.

Lead author of the study, Dr Colin Beale from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: "Fire is often viewed as homogeneous, but in reality there is a range of different fires characterised by variation in size, intensity, season and frequency of burning. We found that in wet savanna increasing the range of different types of fire in an area allows a wider number of species to thrive.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Rewrite the bird books: new breeding site found for one of world's rarest birds

17 Feb 2018

The White-winged Flufftail (Critically Endangered) has just been confirmed to be breeding in South Africa – not only Ethiopia as previously thought – thanks to a discovery by BirdLife South Africa’s hidden camera traps. This sheds new light on the bird’s conservation.

By Jessica Law

Everything we thought we knew about the White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi has been shaken up by recent footage captured by camera trap technology. At Middelpunt Wetland in South Africa, a site previously thought to cater only to non-breeding visiting Flufftails, strange photos were recorded. They depicted intriguing wing-flapping behavior, with both males and females displaying their white wing feathers. Could it be that something more than feeding was going on? It seemed almost too good to be true. But later, the ultimate proof appeared – the unmistakable image of a rotund, speckled juvenile scuttling through the undergrowth. This new knowledge changes everything.

Monday, 19 February 2018

#EpicDuckChallenge shows we can count on drones

Date:  February 13, 2018
Source:  University of Adelaide

A few thousand rubber ducks, a group of experienced wildlife spotters and a drone have proven the usefulness and accuracy of drones for wildlife monitoring. A new study showed that monitoring wildlife using drones is more accurate than traditional counting approaches.