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, 31 May 2017

New Zealand’s ambitious plan to save its birds: Kill every rat

Originally published May 11, 2017 at 5:30 pm Updated May 15, 2017 at 6:31 am 

The idea is to give a second chance to the distinctive birds that once ruled this South Pacific nation before humans arrived, bringing predators along. The goal is so ambitious it's been compared to putting a man on the moon

The Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has set itself an environmental goal so ambitious it’s been compared to putting a man on the moon: ridding the entire nation of every last rat, possum and stoat.

The idea is to give a second chance to the distinctive birds that once ruled this South Pacific nation. When New Zealand split away from the supercontinent Gondwanaland 85 million years ago, predatory mammals hadn’t evolved. That allowed birds to thrive. Some gave up flight altogether to strut about the forest floor.

Then humans arrived, bringing predators with them. Rats stowed away on ships. Settlers introduced brushtail possums — an Australian species unrelated to North American opossums — for the fur trade and weasel-like stoats to control rabbits. The pests destroyed forest habitats and feasted on the birds and their eggs. More than 40 species of birds died out and many others remain threatened, including the iconic kiwi.

Now people want to turn back the clock. Yet the plan sounds impossible. How do you kill millions of vermin across a country that’s the size of the United Kingdom? How do you ensure a few furtive rats won’t undo all the hard work by surviving and breeding?

Scientists are talking about the mission in military terms: choking off pests on peninsulas and then advancing the front lines from there; developing new traps and genetic weapons; winning the hearts and minds of children and farmers alike.


Korat zoo breeding vultures to save them from extinction

NAKHON RATCHASIMA - Zoo keepers have begun a programme to breed vultures and return them to their natural habitat, with the species on the verge of extinction in Thailand.

Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo official Prasert Chanklang said on Wednesday that vultures have disappeared from the wild in Thailand due to changing geographic conditions becoming unfavourable for them. Use of pesticides and chemicals on farmland also drove them away.
Now, the species is to be seen only in zoos. Nakhon Ratchasima zoo has 7 vultures - 3 males and 4 females, he said. 

The zoo is trying to breed the large birds, with three pairs. One pair was seen building a nest, good news meaning that the birds were preparing to mate. Zoo staff were closely monitoring their behaviour. If the pair do mate and lay eggs it would be the first time the rare birds have been successfully bred in Thailand. 

If the breeding programme is successful, the vultures will eventually be released into their natural habitat, Mr Prasert said.

DNA research provides new hope for a bird on the brink

May 26, 2017 
In a fresh bid to save the southern black-throated finch from extinction, researchers are turning to a novel analysis of DNA to help plot a path to survival. Already extinct in NSW, this woodland species is endangered in Queensland, having lost 80 per cent of its range in the last 30 years. Under current development plans for its last stronghold, the Galilee basin, it's predicted to lose a further 57 per cent of its remaining habitat.

Under the cutting edge new plan, researchers will compare the DNA of living wild birds to the DNA of 100-year-old museum specimens that lived before the species' decline.

"Genomics is a powerful new tool in the conservationist's arsenal. Near extinction leaves its mark on a species' DNA, and by decoding this DNA signal, we can glean vital clues about the extent and nature of the black-throated finch's demise", explains scientist and team leader Dr Kerensa McElroy from the Australian National University.

"This will tell us whether the remaining birds have enough of this species' original genetic repertoire to survive and thrive if habitat is restored," says Dr McElroy.

"Changes in specific genes could also reveal previously unknown threats, such as pesticides. Our results will be crucial to the design of future captive breeding programs."

Dr McElroy's enterprising team is turning to crowdfunding to kick-start this high-tech research. With a target of $100,000, this is the largest Australian environmental crowdfunding campaign yet.

Read more at:

Monday, 29 May 2017

Scouting for gulls: Conwy’s rare visitor from the Black Sea coast

Bird Notes columnist Julian Hughes of RSPB Conwy reveals the three rarities spotted in the past week and outlines where to go birding in the coming days

Andrew Forgrave
23:48, 15 MAY 2017

I was doing a waterbird survey on Saturday when local birder Marc Hughes sent a photo to my phone from the other end of RSPB Conwy reserve. 

His hunch was that he’d found a Caspian Gull , but he wanted a better view. And a second opinion. 

The photo looked good, and in the flesh it had a lot going for it as a Caspian Gull.

Identification requires a combination of features, but we remained slightly doubtful because the bill was not the colour we expected.

It was a big call, as it would only be the second ever seen in North Wales, and May is a surprising month to see one.

Marc grabbed a few more photos on his phone, and I scanned through gull pictures on the internet on mine.

When this chunky seabird spread its wings and flew, we became even more convinced that this was a Caspian Gull, but it circled high and disappeared towards Colwyn Bay , having been seen by just five people.