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.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

No birds of peace, these quail fight for their masters

The birds look so fragile — tiny legs, chubby bodies, easily held in one hand. But in the fighting ring, face to face, and cheered on by gamblers, quail can release a fury of feathers, beaks and claws when two aggressive males are forced to do battle.

Many Pakistanis take part in animal fighting as a form of entertainment — pitting dogs, chickens, bears and even eagles. Among the most popular, at least in the northwestern borderlands, are quail fights.

Keeping quail is a tradition said to be a centuries-old, part of the ethnic Pashtun culture. And it goes back further still: nearly 2,000 years ago, even the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius partook.

Quail fighting was banned in Afghanistan under Taleban rule, but since 2001, the pastime has been revived in Pashtun enclaves such as Kabul and Kandahar.

Across the border in Pakistan, quail fighting is embraced by largely older men who are proud to be part of what they see as a vanishing part of rural life.

“I have been keeping birds since before I had a mustache and beard,” said Dost Mohammad, about 75. The grey-haired, long-bearded farmer balanced a bright red bag on his left hand. In the dark underneath the heavy fabric, he gently cupped his prize quail.

Mohammad, who also owns peacocks and fighting chickens, was among several men who discussed bird fighting — some called it “wrestling” — in a small village near Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They showed how they handle and feed the birds, defending a practice seen as cruel by outsiders and animal rights activists. 

It is legal to hunt and keep quails in Pakistan, although those who do so are required to get a license from wildlife officials. But gambling on the bouts is illegal, and raids by police are routine. Last month police busted nine gamblers and confiscated $ 80,000 in cash, a newspaper reported. 

Waxwings extend their winter stay in Lancashire

3:44pm Friday 26th April 2013 in News

BIRDWATCHERS have reported ‘unprecedented’ sightings of a rare bird on an estate in Burnley, the latest date they have ever been seen in Lancashire. 

Yesterday, twitchers recorded 13 waxwings feeding on berries at Barnes Court, on the Brunshaw estate. 

The birds have normally migrated back to Scandinavia by the end of March but the unusually cold and prolonged winter has seen them stay here. 

The RSPB estimates only 100 or less of the species winter in the UK, normally in eastern England and Scotland. Allen Rycroft, 66, from Cliviger, is a member of East Lancashire Ornithology. 

He said: “There have been several sightings in the past few weeks of waxwings at Barnes Court and Grindleton Avenue. 

“Waxwings have never been seen here this late. Our records show the latest ever sighting in Lancashire was in 1996, on April 17, in Darwen. 

“They are a real treat to see with magnificent plumage. It’s great that they’re here in the middle of Burnley.” 

The waxwing is a plump bird, which is slightly smaller than a starling. 

It has a prominent reddish-brown crest with a black throat, a small black mask round its eye, yellow and white in the wings and a yellow-tipped tail. 

It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor, when the population on its breeding grounds gets too big for the food available. 

Bird Navigation: Great Balls of Iron

Apr. 25, 2013 — Every year millions of birds make heroic journeys guided by Earth's magnetic field. How they detect magnetic fields has puzzled scientists for decades. Today, the Keays lab at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna has added some important pieces to this puzzle. 

Cells from the inner ear of pigeons stained with a chemical 
that turns iron bright blue in colour. (Credit: IMP) 

Their work, published in Current Biology, reports the discovery of iron balls in sensory neurons. These cells, called hair cells, are found in the ear and are responsible for detecting sound and gravity. Remarkably, each cell has just one iron ball, and it is in the same place in every cell. "It's very exciting. We find these iron balls in every bird, whether it's a pigeon or an ostrich" adds Mattias Lauwers who discovered them "but not in humans." It is an astonishing finding, despite decades of research these conspicuous balls of iron had not been discovered. 

This finding builds on previous work by the lab of David Keays who last year showed that iron-rich cells in the beak of pigeons that were believed to be the magnetic sensors, were really just blood cells. "These cells are much better candidates, because they're definitely neurons. But we're a long way off to understanding how magnetic sensing works -- we still don't know what these mysterious iron balls are doing." said Dr Keays. "Who knows, perhaps they are the elusive magnetoreceptors" muses Dr Keays "only time will tell." 

Why Elk Are Robbing Birds

Sonya Auer, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 

Date: 26 April 2013 Time: 07:18 PM ET

Sonya Auer, of the Department of Environmental Conservationat the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, recently won the Elton Prize, from the British Ecological Society for her research and writing.She contributed this article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

Plants and animals in a given area form an ecological system of interacting species. Impacts on one, or just a few, species can ripple throughout the system and have indirect effects on other species within a larger community. 
red faced warbler

Many plants and animals are sensitive to shifts in temperature and precipitation and subsequently relocate to more suitable climates or reschedule their seasonal activities. 

One of the most challenging tasks facing ecologists today is determining how species are responding to rapid changes in climate, and the consequences. In the high-elevation canyons along the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in central Arizona, I worked with my colleague Thomas Martin of the U.S. Geological Survey to study how more than two decades of changing winter temperatures have hurt spring breeding success for birds. This harm results not just from changing temperature, but stem indirectly from climate impacts on elk, small predators and even the forest the birds inhabit. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Elephant Bird Egg Fetches Over $100,000 At Christie's Auction In London

LONDON -- A massive, partly fossilized egg laid by a now-extinct elephant bird has sold for more than double its estimate at a London auction. 

Christie's auction house said Wednesday that the foot-long, nearly nine-inches in diameter egg fetched 66,675 pounds ($101,813). It had been valued at 20,000 to 30,000 pounds pre-sale, and was sold to an anonymous buyer over the telephone after about 10 minutes of competitive bidding. 

Elephant birds were wiped out several hundred years ago. The oversized ovum, laid on the island of Madagascar, is believed to date back before the 17th century. 

Flightless, fruit-gobbling elephant birds resembled giant ostriches and could grow to be 11 feet high (3.4 meters). Christie's says their eggs are 100 times the size of an average chicken's. 

Tweet of the Day: David Attenborough to present BBC Radio 4 birdsong series

Naturalist will join other presenters for new weekday 90-second show at 5.58am highlighting songs of 265 UK birds

Sir David Attenborough will attempt to reclaim tweeting for the birds in a year-long Radio 4 series, Tweet of the Day, featuring the songs of 265 birds around Britain. 

Like the dawn chorus, each 90-second episode will air at the beginning of the day, just before the Today programme, starting with the cuckoo in the first programme on 6 May. 

Along with the birdsong, the series will tell the story of the bird through science, social history, culture, literature and music. 

Along with species with which listeners may already be familiar, such as the blackbird, nightingale and swift, it will also feature lesser-known species such as the storm petrel, a sea bird that frequents rocky beaches and has a song described by one ornithologist as "like a fairy being sick". 

There will also be birds spotted only by the most devoted of twitchers such as the black-browed albatross, a Falklands resident that once turned up on the northern tip of Shetland. 

Attenborough, who will present the first month's worth of programmes with other presenters to include Springwatch's Chris Packham, said: "I'm delighted to be involved in this series. 

"I've seen some of the most incredible animals on my travels around the world, but Tweet of the Day is a nice reminder of the teeming world of birds on my doorstep. As a non-ornithologist, I might even learn a little too." 

The series, which is being made by the BBC's natural history unit, will air every weekday at 5.58am on Radio 4. Many of the songs will come from the BBC's archive, along with new recordings, including the "barks" made by great crested grebes as part of their mating ritual. 

Return of the bird king —Mehboob Qadir

Musharraf seems to have missed the basic lesson that humility and benevolence are the first steps in public service and not boastfulness and spite

Somewhere in the childhood books one had read the story of the infamous bird king who had brought about untold misery to his subjects just because he could not see beyond his own beak and because he had grown fond of his own plumage. More than that, he was not prepared to listen to sane advice or straight talk as he became too full of himself, and like his plumage, he was overstuffed with the mistaken notion of self-importance, and thus of his self-assigned indispensability for his kingdom of feathers and twigs. What he also failed to realise was that the kingdom he had acquired was not genuinely his and that he became the bird king by chance and collusion, not through due process.

As the story goes, there was a bird kingdom without a king who had been shot out of the skies by a reckless poacher some time ago. Quite disrespectfully, the town taxidermist still had its preserved body placed in his shop window. The bird assembly had been looking for a suitable candidate when one fine morning they spotted a big grey bird with an impressive gaze and regal plumage perched on a branch of a pine tree in the city’s central park. It looked majestic in appearance surveying the panorama in a dignified silence. The bird assembly went into session and elected the great grey bird as their king. 

Read on:

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Fields project is just right to save the twite

MORE than 230 fields across the South Pennines have now been cultivated to increase the chances of a songbird’s survival.

Four years of the Twite Recovery Project, marshalled by the RSPB, has seen 330 hectares turned into foraging habitat for the tiny creature, also known as the Pennine finch.

The threatened twite is known to have been a frequent visitor to moorland around Cliviger, Worsthorne and Hurstwood.

Project officer Kerry Gowthorpe has been working with landowners to reseed fields with common sorrel and autumn hawkbit, and develop new pastures.

The knock-on effects are also said to have benefitted other species, including brown hares, chimney sweeper moths, lapwings and curlews.

Later this year Kerry and the RSPB will work with Natural England on a major twite survey, to see how effective their work has been since 2010.

Fifty-three farms are currently signed up with the recovery project. Kerry is hoping their ongoing efforts will balance out the toll taken on the songbird’s population by the last harsh winter.

She said: “This survey will allow us to measure population change since the first national survey in 1999 and prioritise conservation action.” 

Home for high-fliers: ultimate bird house with own swimming pool

A Swedish homeware company has produced a luxury bird house, complete with swimming pool and garden furniture. 

With a nut-filled kitchen and infinity dipping pool, it is the last word in back garden comfort. 

This unusual bird house has been designed by Clas Ohlson, a Swedish homeware company, to encourage birds back into gardens.

The "ultimate birdhouse" has two storeys, a swinging perch and even a predator alarm to avoid a nasty surprise for the occupant when it is tucking into the nut feeder. 

Recent research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that some of the UK's best-loved bird species are declining sharply. The numbers of house sparrows and bullfinches have dropped by 17 per cent and 20 per cent respectively since 2012. 

Gardeners are encouraged to make their gardens more bird-friendly by creating shelter and food for birds. The RSPB recommends installing bird houses and providing the animals with a source of water, such as a bird bath. Its website provides a list of suitable foods to leave out for birds

Anyone who would like to encourage birds into their garden can create their own concept birdhouse by downloading blueprints from Clas Ohlson's Facebook page

Israel & Jordan Collaborate to Save Endangered Bird

A badly injured Egyptian Vulture, an endangered species, was discovered within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan after it hit a power line in the Jordan Valley. This Egyptian Vulture had a dislocated wing and slightly broken beak, in addition to having an extremely low body temperature and was suffering from dehydration. The injured bird, however, was born in Israel in 2012 as part of a program run by the Nature and Parks Authority in the Carmel region to increase the number of endangered birds in the region. This bird was raised in the nature and was released into the wild. So far, a total of 19 Egyptian vultures have been released into the nature as part of this program. 

Thus, when this endangered Egyptian Vulture was found in Jordan, the Jordanian authorities contacted the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and told them that they could take the bird in order to treat it, provided that they came to Jordan to pick up the bird. Noam Weiss agreed to make the trip. “Because the vulture is a rare bird, we needed special permission from the Jordanian monarchy,” Weiss said. “In the past it wasn’t possible to get authorizations, but this time, fortunately, it happened immediately.” In fact, the only Jordanian requirement was that a Jordanian citizen partook in the transfer of the bird to Israel and the Israeli Veterinary Service issue authorizations, which occurred within a record amount of time so that the bird could be healed quicker. 

“When we got to the border, we were again asked to show the paperwork and the bird, and on the Israeli side, they did not give up on any security check, but they conducted them as quickly as possible,” Weiss said. The injured Egyptian Vulture is presently receiving medical treatment at the Safari Wildlife Hospital in Ramat Gan. As the injured Egyptian Vulture is undergoing various tests, it is still unknown whether or not the bird will succeed in being able to return to the wild or the bird will be forced to live in the Hai Bar Nature Reserve. However, this case exemplifies that when there is joint cooperation between Israel and her Arab neighborhoods, wonderful things can be accomplished. In this case, it was saving the life of an endangered bird, yet joint cooperation between Israel and the Arab world can succeed to accomplish many other wonderful things as well. 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Is no landscape safe? Open Spaces Society fights turbines in Forest of Bowland area of outstanding natural beauty

Forest of Bowland is the only breeding site for Hen harriers in England
The Open Spaces Society, the leading pressure-group for common land, has objected most strongly to plans from Community Windpower Ltd to erect 10 wind turbines on common land in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Lancashire. The application has been submitted to Lancaster City Council and is the company's third attempt to put turbines on the lovely Claughton Moor and Whit Moor. 

The Open Spaces Society is backing Stop Claughton Turbines and many other objectors to the scheme. The original plan was for 20 turbines, which was rejected by the council, then for 13 and now for 10. 

Kate Ashbrook, the society's general secretary, said: ‘The hillside is in the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is common land and open country where people have the right to walk. If wind turbines are allowed here, in this beautiful, popular and much loved place, no landscape can be safe. 

‘The development conflicts with the statutory purposes of the AONB and would destroy people's quiet enjoyment of the area. Because it is common land, the developers would need consent from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for works on the common, in addition to planning consent. The Open Spaces Society is by law notified of all applications for works on common land and would definitely object to this one. 

‘We strongly urge Lancaster City Council once again to reject this damaging application,' Kate concludes. 

New Zealand changes fishing rules to protect sea birds

Plan to save seabirds heralds changes to fishing practises

April 2013. The New Zealand Government has released a statement of intent to save native seabirds, including endangered albatrosses and petrels, from being killed by commercial and non-commercial fishing activity. The statement is much welcomed by NZ conservation body, Forest & Bird.

15,000+ seabirds die annually from coming into contact with commercial fishing operations
The National Plan of Action for Seabirds (NPOAS) was released by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Forest & Bird was part of the stakeholders' committee that formulated the NPOAS, along with representatives of the fishing industry. The latest assessment estimates that more than 15,000 seabirds die annually from coming into contact with commercial fishing operations inside New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone alone.

Every one of New Zealand’s 10 endemic albatross species is under
severe threat from the fishing industry - Photo: Craig McKenzie
6 species at ‘very high risk'
Six species in the new risk assessment are considered to be at "very high risk" from fishing activity, including the black petrel and the flesh-footed shearwater.

Black petrel
"Forest & Bird is pleased that the Minister for Primary Industries has decided that an initial priority is to create a species-specific action plan for the black petrel. This species only breeds on Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands, and is at risk from commercial and recreational fishers, particularly in the Hauraki Gulf," says Forest & Bird's Seabird Advocate, Karen Baird.

Cuckoos return to UK

First cuckoo
April 25th, 10.32am. We just heard a cuckoo outside the Wildlife Extra office in Herefordshire. Having followed the BTO cuckoo migration all the way to Central Africa and back, we were surprised to hear a cuckoo here in Herefordshire as as yet, as far as we know anyway, none of the BTO cuckoos have made it back yet, and at least one is still in Africa.

Has anyone else heard a cuckoo yet?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Extraordinary 'Lady' osprey lays 2 more eggs, 65th and 66th of her lifetime

Lady lays yet more eggs 

April 2013. The record breaking osprey, known as ‘Lady', at the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve in Perthshire has laid two more eggs, the 65th and 66th of her lifetime.

The osprey, affectionately known by many as ‘Lady', has been returning to Loch of the Lowes, near Dunkeld in Perthshire, for an incredible 23 years. The female osprey and her mate are now incubating the eggs, which will take five to six weeks. Last year, one of three eggs hatched and the chick was satellite tagged by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. 

The whole laying process was seen live on the nest camera, which is available to view online

Scottish Wildlife Trust Perthshire Ranger Emma Rawling said: "The first egg was laid on 18 April amid very high winds and with an intruder osprey in the vicinity. The second arrived just after 1 am on 21 April but it wasn't until first light we got a good view of it as she rolled it delicately with her beak in the nest. 

Third egg possible?
"We are over the moon as this effectively doubles our chances of having chicks hatch this year at this famous nest. We are also hoping our bird might equal her historic average of three eggs, as she is stilling mating with the male. If this happens, the last egg would be laid sometime over the next day or two. Our 24 hour nest protection now becomes even more important. We will be monitoring the nest for as long as the ospreys are here and we hope we'll see the eggs hatch in a few weeks' time. 

"We're still learning so much about osprey behaviour. Having the camera in the nest and so many enthusiastic visitors and viewers around Loch of the Lowes at the moment makes this time of year incredibly exciting." 

Fish Was On the Menu for Early Flying Dinosaur

Apr. 22, 2013 — University of Alberta-led research reveals that Microraptor, a small flying dinosaur was a complete hunter, able to swoop down and pickup fish as well as its previously known prey of birds and tree dwelling mammals. 

U of A paleontology graduate student Scott Persons says new evidence of Microrpator's hunting ability came from fossilized remains in China. "We were very fortunate that this Microraptor was found in volcanic ash and its stomach content of fish was easily identified." 

Prior to this, paleontologists believed microraptors which were about the size of a modern day hawk, lived in trees where they preyed exclusively on small birds and mammals about the size of squirrels. 

"Now we know that Microraptor operated in varied terrain and had a varied diet," said Persons. "It took advantage of a variety of prey in the wet, forested environment that was China during the early Cretaceous period, 120 million years ago." 

Further analysis of the fossil revealed that its teeth were adapted to catching slippery, wiggling prey like fish. Dinosaur researchers have established that most meat eaters had teeth with serrations on both sides which like a steak knife helped the predator saw through meat. 

But the Microraptor's teeth are serrated on just one side and its teeth are angled forwards. 

Prince Charles's activity centre nest egg ruined by rare peregrine falcon

PRINCE Charles’s plans to create an activity centre in a world ­famous ­wilderness have been a rare bird. 

Published: Sun, April 21, 2013 

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb protected birds close to their nesting sites 

The Prince’s Duchy of Cornwall ­estate failed in its efforts to develop an unused quarry on Dartmoor, Devon, ­because of a peregrine falcon. 

The protected bird of prey saw off the developers after planners said they feared the project at ­Merrivale, near Yelverton, would ­force it to abandon its home and breeding site. 

Members of the Dartmoor National Park development management committee kicked out the Duchy’s project earlier this month on the grounds that the falcon cannot be threatened by a commercial enterprise. 

Under the law, it is an offence to ­intentionally or recklessly disturb protected birds close to their nesting sites during the breeding season. 

A pair of peregrines were reported to have been seen mating at the site in March. They also attempted to breed in 2012 but were unsuccessful. 

The RSPB opposed the Duchy’s scheme, which would have included a zip wire, climbing walls and kayaking facilities. 

We should allow the ­peregrine falcons to enjoy their ­freedom. They have been there a considerable number of years 

Natural England, the Government’s advisor on safeguarding the nation’s natural heritage, was also against the development and warned that it had the legal power to refer the application to the Secretary of State if necessary. 

Currently, there are just 87 peregrine falcons in Devon, with a similar number in neighbouring Cornwall. 

Committee chairman Helen Jenny said that when members attended the quarry and approached a pool area a pair of peregrines were disturbed and took flight. 

John Nutley, also a member of the committee, said: “We should allow the ­peregrine falcons to enjoy their ­freedom. They have been there a considerable number of years.” 

His colleague Bill Hitchins, originally in favour of the plans, said the ­local ­authority was in danger of laying itself open to some sort of legal challenge if it accepted the Duchy scheme. 

He said: “I support the recommendation to refuse this. I’ve changed my mind.” 

The committee decided to reject the scheme by 12 votes to three. 

Homeward bound: Bird reunites with master after five years

This is a tale of love. 

Er, excuse me. This is a tale of Love Love. 

That’s the name of a scarlet macaw bird named Spike — nicknamed Love Love — who was separated half a decade ago from his master. 

How Mike Taylor of Great Falls got his bird back was thanks to work by a dedicated bird sanctuary, helpful friends and relatives and a sprinkling of good luck and coincidence. 

Plus, it helped that Love Love hates women. 

Sunday afternoon, Taylor was reunited with Love Love in Butte at Montana’s Parrot & Exotic Bird Sanctuary. 

During the last five years, Love Love might have been put up for adoption but for the fact that he attacks women who try to hold her, said Lori McAlexander, executive director of the sanctuary. 

“I don’t even handle him because he will bite me,” McAlexander said. Still, she had a pretty good relationship with Love Love, even if she kept her distance from him for safety’s sake. 

“He plays peekaboo,” she said. 

Love Love might have spent the rest of his life — macaws can live up to half a century, according to the San Diego Zoo — pining for Taylor. 

But let’s go back to where this all started — more than five years ago, when Taylor and his then-fiancee decided to rescue a scarlet macaw from a Utah shelter. 

“We adopted the bird together out of Salt Lake City,” Taylor said in an interview. It was something of a wedding present from his future wife to Taylor. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Confusion over Maneka Gandhi raid at Lakadganj bird market

Aparna Nair, TNN | Apr 22, 2013, 01.56 AM IST 

NAGPUR: The Maneka Gandhi led raid at Lakadganj bird market on Sunday morning was shrouded in confusion till evening as it could not be decided as to who the action taking authority would be in this case.

While the People for Animals (PFA) called in the forest department for the raid who later took the confiscated birds and their owners to Seminary Hills, the department itself said that as the birds were not in the scheduled list they couldn't take any action in the case. The raid was joined by the Lakadganj police too. 

Initially, PFA thought that the forest department was responsible for taking action as Karishma Galani of PFA said, "We know that the forest department would say that the birds don't come under the scheduled list and that is why we have called for a copy of the judgment of Gujarat high court which the bans sale of any kind of birds." 

The forest department too was unsure about the applicability of the judgment and till evening it did not receive a copy of the judgment. Gandhi clarified, "Even though the birds do not come under the scheduled list, according to the Gujarat high court judgment, the sale of any bird is illegal and this is applicable in Maharashtra too." But after the department received a copy, it maintained that the matter was to be dealt by the local police. Till evening the birds and their owners were kept in Seminary Hills. 

"Ten partridges, five young rabbits, 74 pigeons, 55 lovebirds, four African cockatiels, 16 African lutino brids and a guinea pig were confiscated in the morning. Among them, two pigeons were dead, while many other birds had injuries on their head, wings and legs," said Galani. A complaint was lodged in Lakadganj police station. "Apart from the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act, a case will also be lodged under IPC Sections 428 and 429," said Galani. 

The birds have been presently kept at the Maharajbagh Zoo. 

Draft report studies impacts of Texas launch site

Updated 2:33 pm, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A proposed rocket site in South Texas won't significantly disrupt endangered species if officials take precautions such as avoiding launches during times the animals are most active, according to a federal study.

The draft environmental impact statement released Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration is an important factor in California-based SpaceX's pursuit of the site near where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The final report is a necessary precursor to the FAA issuing licenses allowing SpaceX to launch rockets there, but not a guarantee they will issue them. Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico also are competing for the site.

The Texas site is less than three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and is bordered on three sides by state park land that's managed by the federal government as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It's just a short sandy walk to Boca Chica Beach.

SpaceX, run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, currently launches most of its rockets from Florida's Cape Canaveral, but it's looking for additional launch capacity. Without space shuttles, NASA is relying on private companies such as SpaceX, whose Dragon capsule made its second successful trip to the International Space Station last month.

Gilbert Salinas, vice president for the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which has been courting the project, said he "anticipated some very good, positive feedback with some small risks to the project that could be mitigated."

aplomado falcon
A public meeting to take input on the draft report is scheduled for May 7 in Brownsville.

The report acknowledged the project likely will "adversely affect" some endangered species, including the piping plover, northern aplomado falcon, jaguarundi, ocelot, and sea turtles. But it lists several steps SpaceX could take to lessen those damages.

Among them are conducting pre- and post-launch surveys for the birds and avoiding launches at dusk and dawn, the most active times for the cats. It also suggests avoiding night launches during turtle nesting season.

The report said development for the launch site would occur within 20 acres of the 56-acre site.

"It's important to note that SpaceX is very experienced in ensuring that our sites have a minimal environmental impact," said Christina Ra, SpaceX's Director of Communications, in an email last month. "Almost all launch sites (including SpaceX's launch sites at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) are on environmental preserves or habitats. This provides general isolation for both the launch site and the preserve."

Salinas repeated the common comparison to NASA's Florida launch facility at Cape Canaveral, where rockets and wildlife have coexisted for decades. Cape Canaveral is overlaid with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

But there are significant differences.

Pigeon brunch in Montreal? Large falcon hunts in heart of city during rare visit

Published Monday, April 15, 2013 7:28PM EDT 

MONTREAL--A powerful bird of prey described as the "Lamborghini of raptors" took part in a rare hunting expedition Monday in the heart of Montreal.

Its victim was an unsuspecting pigeon in one of the city's most densely populated neighbourhoods.

The gyrfalcon, which escaped from its owner last September, was spotted on an apartment balcony clutching the freshly caught pigeon in its talons.

Feathers flew as the falcon moved about the porch with its kill before it swooped away above the Plateau-Mont-Royal district. The predatory bird belongs to the world's largest falcon species.

Its owner, who identified the bird from photos, said he's been trying to find the falcon since it bolted during a training exercise in the western Quebec town of Hudson last fall.

The female, bracelet-wearing bird was only about four months old when it flew the coop and Carl Millier hadn't even given it a name.

Millier was saddened by the loss and is pleased to see his falcon appeared to be alive and well.

"Whenever you spend time with a bird and you lose it, for sure (you're sad)," Millier said in an interview.

"I tried for about a week to find the bird in my area."

But catching the falcon is far from a lock for Millier, who figures he has only a slim chance of actually getting it back.

The falcon, he said, was photographed last Wednesday around 250 kilometres from Montreal in Quebec City. The identification number on the bracelet was visible in one high-resolution photo.

Millier, who had begun training the gyrfalcon for the sport of falconry, also runs a business that uses predatory birds to patrol airports. The goal is to keep other birds from flying into airplane engines.

In falconry, trained gyrfalcons are used by expert handlers to hunt game birds, often in eye-popping fashion as they dive-bomb their prey from great heights.
A bird of prey identified by a local bird expert as a gyrfalcon

"Due to its size, its hunts are quite spectacular," said Millier, noting his wayward, three-pound bird is particularly imposing for a gyrfalcon.

"That's enormous."

A McGill University wildlife expert said gyrfalcons have been coveted for centuries for their falconry abilities, characteristics that made them popular with kings and emperors.

"The gyrfalcons are the largest and most powerful of all the falcons," David Bird said.

"That's the Lamborghini of raptors."

While a few pairs of peregrine falcons are known to nest in Montreal, Bird said gyrfalcon sightings are very rare in the city because they usually live in Arctic regions.

Pallid Harriers amongst rare birds shot in Malta

International volunteers arrive for spring conservation camp as spring hunting derogation claims first victims

A juvenile Pallid Harrier, one of Europe’s rarest birds of prey, 
found in Gozo with shotgun injuries yesterday.
 As few as 310 pairs remain in Europe. Photo by Jez Toogood
April 2013. BirdLife Malta has recovered a Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), one of Europe's most threatened birds of prey, which was found with shotgun wounds by a member of the public in Gozo.

This is the second Pallid Harrier known to have been shot in the Maltese Islands in little more than half a year. In September last year, a juvenile male was recovered, again in Gozo. The young bird, making only its third journey between Europe and Africa, which was not seriously injured, was sent to the Centro Recupero Fauna Selvatica, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Sicily. There are estimated to be as few as 310 breeding pairs of Pallid Harriers left in Europe, where it is undergoing steep population decline since the 1970s.

"When you consider the small numbers of the bird left in Europe, the impact of having two even to individuals shot on their migration could be catastrophic."

Other protected birds that have been shot in the first few days include a European Bee-eater, a kestrel and a Common Cuckoo

Conservation camp
Spring Watch, BirdLife Malta's annual spring conservation camp has got underway with 40 international volunteers joining local conservationists to help monitor spring bird migration, and deter and report illegal hunting during Malta's spring hunting derogation period. The camp starts on the 4th day of the season and participants will operate in teams at locations around Malta and Gozo until the end of the season on the 30th April.

"The hunting season opened a full two days earlier this year and Spring Watch volunteers have been sorely missed in these first days," said Christian Debono, BirdLife Malta's Conservation and Policy Officer.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Florida Biologists Initiate Captive Breeding for Endangered Grasshopper Sparrow Species

Apr 19, 2013 04:41 PM EDT | Michael Briggs

Biologists are initiating a captive breeding program for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, an endangered species that is not found anywhere else in the world. 

According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the species could go extinct in three to five years if officials do not step in to save it. The group announced the captive breeding program Thursday and while it is not the preferred solution, the 20 eggs collected will hopefully give the birds a chance. 

"Captive breeding is labor intensive and challenging. It is generally done as a last resort and there are no guarantees. But we have to try," Larry Williams, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach. "This is an emergency and the situation for this species is dire. This is literally a race against time." 

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, there are only 200 Florida Grasshopper Sparrows left in the wild. The Dusky Seaside Sparrow, the Grasshopper Sparrow's cousin, went extinct 1987 under similar circumstances. 

The eggs should hatch within 11 to 13 days, and the end goal is to release the birds into the wild in two to three years, according to biologists. 

"We know it's going to be hard," Williams said. "They're small birds living in dense vegetation and they're secretive by nature." 

The program will cost $68,000 and be covered by grants. Florida Grasshopper Sparrows are about 5 inches long and have flat heads with short tails and black and gray feathers. The birds were added to the federal endangered species list in 1986. 

A cocktail of problems have added to the decline of the sparrows. Williams believes a gender imbalance is a possible reason for the bird's decline, along with fire ants, which eat their eggs. Disease and a hit to the species' genetic diversity could also be to blame. 

"We're trying to prevent a unique part of Florida's landscape from vanishing," Williams said. 

(Source: Tampa Bay Times) 

Adorable ducklings offer hope for the world's rarest bird (Video)

Stephen Messenger
April 19, 2013

With a wild population which stands at around 22 individuals, Madagascar Pochards are believed to be the most critically endangered bird in the world. But thanks to the recent hatching of 18 adorable young hatchlings in captivity, conservationists are hopeful that this species of duck can be brought back from the edge of extinction.
photo: Wikipedia

Although these ducks were once common throughout Madagascar, decades of habitat loss and the predation of invasive species, they were believed to have been wiped out entirely by the early 1990s. But when a small group of less than two dozen was rediscovered clinging to survival along the shores of a remote lake in 2006, biologists from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) set about trying to revive their numbers.

And now, for the very first time, those endangered Madagascar Pochards have successfully bred in captivity -- producing a batch of offspring that nearly doubles their numbers in the wild.

Did I mention they're adorable?

Falcon Family Shuts Down UK Cell Phone Tower

By Ian Chant 
Good news? A family of endangered peregrine falcons has taken up residence in a U.K. cell tower. Bad news? Since U.K. endangered species laws prevent people from messing with the nests of endangered birds and potentially disturbing their rare offspring, technicians are unable to conduct maintenance on the tower and have been forced to shut it down, leaving customers in the area lacking a cell signal until July, when officials — and customers — hope the baby birds will have grown old enough to leave the nest.

While the birds usually make their homes in rocky cliff tops, where they have a minimal effect on cell phone coverage, this family seems to have more of an affinity for human society, making them kind of a hassle for customers of Vodafone, the company that owns and operates the tower. Vodafone is reviewing its options and trying to get a backup plan in place according to a statement, but until they do, customers are out of luck and out of touch.

The affected tower is near the town of Southampton, though it’s exact location is being kept a secret to prevent it from becoming a destination for well-meaning gawkers who could disturb the flying family. The peregrine falcon was almost wiped out in the 1960s after pesticides crippled its ability to breed effectively, and there are just 1,400 breeding pairs of peregrines left in the U.K. today. That being the case, messing around with a nest of the birds is taken pretty seriously, and can be punishable by jail time.