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.

Friday, 30 June 2017

An Afghan bird refuge comes back to life after decades of neglect

By PAMELA CONSTABLE | The Washington Post | Published: June 25, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — Just south of the Afghan capital, on a busy road lined with car repair shops, goat corrals and garbage pits, a narrow lane opens unexpectedly onto a small natural wonder — a picturesque, nearly hidden marsh that is known only to a few Afghans and inhabited only by migratory birds and several families of wild dogs.

The 470-acre site, known as Kol-e-Hashmat Khan, is one of the rare recognized wetland areas in central Afghanistan. Once it drew wealthy sightseers and royal hunting parties, but during four decades of war and turmoil it lay abandoned and neglected. The water filled with sludge, unauthorized settlements sprang up around the edges, and fewer birds stopped to rest or breed in the desiccated marsh.

Now, an ambitious effort to clean up and restore the site, launched several years ago by the Afghan government and local civic groups with support from the U.N. Environmental Program, is starting to bear fruit. Water from the nearby Logar River has been diverted with sandbags, and new reed growth has attracted an increasing number and variety of birds.


Cyclist 'repeatedly attacked' by huge bird of prey that sinks sharp talons into his jersey

Aidan Williams said he has been dive-bombed by the predator on a regular basis on a country lane near his home in Sandon, Staffordshire

ByRachel O'Donoghue

A cyclist has been "repeatedly attacked" by a large bird of prey that tries to sink its sharp talons into into him when he bikes out near his home.

Aidan Williams says he has been dive-bombed by the predator on a regular basis on a country lane near his home in Sandon, Staffordshire.

Experts believe the bird – which Mr Williams thinks could be a hawk – is resorting to the aggressive behaviour because it's trying to protect its young.

But bizarrely, the bird only seems to target him and ignores other cyclists, cars and walkers.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Red-faced encounter: rare new species of parrot discovered in Mexico

Ornithologists stress importance of conserving the blue-winged Amazon parrot, with no more than 100 of the birds thought to be in existence
 Ian Sample Science editor
Tuesday 27 June 2017 12.56 BST Last modified on Tuesday 27 June 2017 14.08 BST

Miguel Gómez Garza was on his final expedition to the Yucatán Peninsula to gather information for his book Parrots of Mexico when it happened. He heard a group of parrots in the distance, but their call was like none on record. So he loitered by a tree full of pods that parrots like for lunch, hoping they would come and feed.

The wait was worth it. When half a dozen parrots flew over to the tree, Gómez Garza noticed their intense red fronts and the beautiful blue tips on their wing feathers. The plumage set them apart from the two species known to live in the area, which both have distinctive white fronts.

“I could not believe it. The different noise belonged to a different parrot,” said Gómez Garza, a vet and ornithologist at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico.

In research published on Tuesday, an international team of scientists describe the new parrot for the first time. Named the blue-winged Amazon parrot, or Amazona gomezgarzai in honour of its discoverer, the bird stands 25cm or so tall and has a loud, short and repetitive call that would not sound out of place on the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.


‘Incredibly rare’ group of exotic birds spotted in Nottinghamshire – for first time in 40 years

By Jamie Barlow -
Jun 27, 2017

‘Incredibly rare’ exotic birds have been spotted in Nottinghamshire for the first time in around 40 years.

Two bee-eaters were spotted by bird watchers at CEMEX’s East Leake Quarry on Sunday and a group of 10 were spotted by staff yesterday (June 26).

Janice Bradley, head of conservation at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, which works with the quarry, said the birds are showing signs of ‘mating behaviour’.

She said: “They were starting to show signs of mating behaviour which is really, really exciting.

“We don’t know if they’re going to breed but it’s interesting that they are not just passing through for 24 hours before moving on. They seem to be staying here and there’s a little group of them.”

Janice said staff at the quarry are making sure the birds are not disturbed and have set up a ‘viewing location’ for people to watch them with telescopes.


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England after researchers find there are only four breeding pairs left in the country

Number of breeding pairs in England fell from 12 in 2010 to just four in 2016
Hen harriers are the most threatened birds of prey in the UK due to illegal killings
The number of breeding pairs in Wales also fell to 35 from 57

By Press Association and Phoebe Weston For Mailonline

Published: 07:50, 28 June 2017 | Updated: 11:19, 28 June 2017

Hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England after the number of breeding pairs fell to four last year, according to worrying new figures.

The fifth national hen harrier survey showed the number of breeding pairs of the bird of prey in England fell from 12 in 2010 to just four in 2016.

Scotland – which is home to 80 per cent of the UK population of hen harriers – saw its number of breeding pairs drop to 460 in 2016 from 505 six years previously.

Hen harriers mainly live in open areas with low vegetation, normally in the moorlands of Wales, Northern England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

In winter they move to lowland farmland and river valleys.

They mainly feed on small birds and mammals and used to hunt free-range fowl which is how they got their name.

Males are pale grey while females are brown with a white rump and long tail.

The number of breeding pairs in Wales fell to 35 from 57 while Northern Ireland also experienced a drop from 59 to 46.

Hen harriers are the most threatened birds of prey in the UK due to illegal killings and destruction of heather moorland and forestry, their natural habitat.

Read more: 

‘Burung Harry Potter’ Owls Found in Indonesian Markets

Concerned scientists look for “Harry Potter” effect to explain Indonesia’s new owl trade.

Monday, June 26, 2017 - 10:15

Olivia Trani, Contributor
(Inside Science) -- In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, owls are magical companions that deliver the post. But in Indonesia, wild owls are stolen from their nests and put in cages in pet markets next to hundreds of winged neighbors. Before J.K. Rowling wrote about Harry’s snowy owl Hedwig, Indonesians rarely kept owls as pets. Now various kinds of local owls are staples in pet markets. Vincent Nijman and Anne-Isola Nekaris from the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group in the U.K. believe this attention toward owls may be partially linked to the “Harry Potter” series, and they fear the new demand rewards an environmentally destructive pet industry.

Bird keeping is a popular pastime in Indonesia. While only 3 percent of American households own birds, roughly 20 percent of urban Indonesian households have feathered pets. A survey estimates that 2.6 million birds are acquired each year. Birds are especially popular in Java and Bali, two southern Indonesian islands, and the larger markets there hold more than 16,000 birds on a given day.

Birds also have special meaning in Indonesian culture: A Javan proverb claims that a fulfilled man must acquire a house, a wife, a horse, a dagger and a bird. In the saying, the bird symbolizes the importance of maintaining a hobby.

Vincent Nijman, an anthropology professor at Oxford Brookes University who holds a doctorate degree in ecology and conservation biology, has studied Indonesian bird markets for more than 20 years. Before the 2000s, he would spot one to two owls, if any, in these shops. Now they’ve become a constant.

“Often we see dozens of them -- up to 30, 40, 50 owls,” said Nijman. The most common owls in these markets belong to several similar species called scops owls, which are the smallest and cheapest owls available. In 2016, TRAFFIC, an organization dedicated to monitoring wildlife trade, found that the Sunda scops owl was particularly popular among bird keepers. This type isn’t considered to be threatened, but some of its 15 Indonesian scops relatives, like the Javan and Siau scops owls, are vulnerable to extinction.

Owls for sale are typically called “Burung Hantu,” which means “ghost bird.” Now Nijman claims the birds are just as often referred to as “Burung Harry Potter.”

Monday, 26 June 2017

Where did the dickcissel get its name? Just as many Pennsylvania birds did: From its song

By Mike Barcaskey For The Times
Jun 16, 2017

I saw a bird this week that reminded me of a day I spent fishing on Raccoon Creek. I was wading the creek, casting small plastic baits for smallmouth bass. I think I was using 4-inch green Senkos that day, and having pretty good luck I might add.

As I fished a stretch of the creek that was bordered by an open field, I caught a glimpse of a bird that immediately piqued my interest. It was a smallish bird, about the size of a house sparrow. In fact, that is what I first thought it was, some type of sparrow. But that wasn’t right, there was too much yellow in the bird’s plumage. So, the rod was set down and the smallmouth momentarily forgotten, as I sneaked my way up into the field. Yellow on a small bird usually gets me thinking warbler, but this bird was working the ground, up out of the weeds and then back down in, probably looking for insects or seeds.

I could see brown and reddish brown on its back with a yellow breast but that wasn’t enough for an ID. Then two more flew out of the weeds in front of me and they both had small black throat patches. That’s what I needed to know, the birds were dickcissels.

The dickcissel is a sparrow-like bird of the fields and prairies of the midwestern United States, more closely related to cardinals than to sparrows. Pennsylvania lies on the eastern edge of its range and the species is a common vagrant to our western counties.

The unusual name comes from the song it makes while perched atop a stout weed or a small tree along a field edge. From its open perch, the bird sings a sharp dick dick dick followed by a buzzed ciss, ciss, ciss. The notes are usually in groups of three.

Many of the more unusual bird names have come from what we humans think their songs sound like. The classic “bird named after its song”, is the whip-poor-will, made famous in folklore and literature. Although not technically a song bird, they will sing endlessly all night long as they are strictly nocturnal. Whip-poor-wills will roost during the day, totally inactive unless disturbed.

The whip-poor-will’s southern cousin, the chuck-will's-widow, sometimes makes it to Pennsylvania, mostly in the southcentral and southeastern counties. It also gets its name from the continuous, repetitive song it sings at night. The song is slower and lower-pitched than that of the whip-poor-will. Another name for the bird is chuckwuts-widow, which also is based on its song.

Can we bring back the pheasant that was wiped out by the war in Vietnam?

16 Jun 2017

The Edwards’s Pheasant, a Vietnam endemic, has been all but wiped out in the wild in the aftermath of the war that once ravaged the land. But a prospering caged community brings hope that it could once again come home to roost

Framed by mounds of white tuft, the ruddy faces of the Red-shanked Douc monkeys peer out from the forest canopies. In the distance, calls of White-cheeked Gibbons echo through the early morning stillness. Underneath, browsing in the shadows of the forest floor are myriad species of deer; among them forages one of the world’s rarest large mammals – the Saola, a bovine that lives in forests so wild and remote, that they were unknown to humans until researchers happened upon the remains of one during an expedition in 1992.

That is a measure of how deep into the wilderness we’ve had to come to get here. We’re in Khe Nuoc Trong, an evergreen-broadleaf forest situated in the Annamese lowlands, Vietnam. It feels like you couldn’t stretch your arms out to yawn without knocking three or four endangered species off their perch. The area is a jewel of biodiversity, but something’s missing. A very important part of the forest’s heritage, in fact. You could spend all morning listening out into the stillness without ever once hearing a guttural “uk-uk-uk-uk-uk” call, which once rang loud and clear through the canopies. A call that belongs, or perhaps once belonged, to the Edwards’s Pheasant Lophura edwardsi (Critically Endangered) – an endemic species that has not been seen in the wild since 2000.

This beautiful bird, whose males are iridescent blue with a flash of red on the face and a white crest, was little known in the wild even prior to its disapperance; it was said to love the dark shadows of ever-wet lowland forests. It was discovered in 1896 and was recorded by French ornithologists during the early 20th Century, but then went unrecorded for almost 60 years. Suddenly, in 1996, it was rediscovered, but almost as soon as it was found, it vanished again. Extensive surveying of its favoured haunts has found no trace of it since.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Those Dam birds: the urban herons of Amsterdam - in pictures

Over the years a large population of grey herons have made an unlikely home in urban Amsterdam. Julie Hrudova documents how the birds integrate into city life

Julie Hrudova
Monday 5 June 2017 12.04 BST

Friday, 23 June 2017

Climate change risk for animals living in prime conditions

June 13, 2017

Animals living in areas where conditions are ideal for their species have less chance of evolving to cope with climate change, new research suggests. 

The study examined whether birds might be able to evolve to adapt to changes to the natural environment within their range - the geographical area where the birds nest, feed, migrate and hibernate over the course of their lifetimes.

It found that populations that experienced both the most favourable conditions, usually at the centre of their species' range, and toughest conditions found at the very edges of the range had the lowest evolutionary potential. The populations that displayed the greatest potential to evolve with changing conditions were found living between the two extremes, the study showed.

The research team, including scientists from the University of Oviedo, University of Málaga, Doñana Biological Station, the University of Exeter and the University of Western Australia, studied data on 12 European bird species.

"We were surprised to find reduced evolutionary potential among birds living in the centre of a species' range," said co-author Dr Regan Early, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"The reasons for this are not clear, but high levels of competition in prime areas might lead birds with certain traits to survive - meaning little genetic variety in the population and consequently little scope for evolution.

"We found that populations of birds on the edge of a species' range - like those in the centre - had a reduced ability to evolve," said lead author Dr Jesus Martinez-Padilla, of the University of Oviedo.

"This is probably because they already live in tough conditions for their species. As climate warms, these populations will probably have to move or die out. This is what might happen to populations of the Pied Flycatcher in southern Europe. These populations have little genetic variation compared to northern populations, so they won't be able to adapt to a changing climate. The birds living in places neither the best nor the most hostile environmental conditions - appear to have the best evolutionary potential."