Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Wader Quest World Watch - show your solidarity for the world's waders/shorebirds and those that work to preserve them.

Finally we are in the run up to the World Watch weekend and we hope that we will be joined by many people across the planet in order that we can see as many waders/shorebirds as possible between us in one weekend.

By participating you will be showing your solidarity with other birders around the world who care about what is happening to our wader populations and by doing so you can;

  • let the people in China and North and South Korea know that you care about what is happening in the Yellow Sea; 
  • send your thanks to the thousands of volunteers around the world who protect breeding beaches such as those of the Piping and Snowy Plovers in America and the Hooded Plover in Australia;
  • show your appreciation for the breeding programmes that are being carried out to save species from extinction such as those of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Black Stilt and Shore Plover; 
  • stand shoulder to shoulder with people involved in a myriad other projects around the world who are fighting to save struggling wader populations.

The best thing is that you can do all of this simply by going birding wherever you happen to be in the world next weekend; show your support and concern in this uncomplicated and enjoyable way.

In its simplest form there are just two things you need to do.

1.       Go out and see waders/shorebirds wherever you are in the world.
2.       Send us an email telling us what you have seen and where.
It’s that easy; no registering required just plain good old-fashioned bird watching... oh! And an email.

If however you would like to turn this into more of an event or become more involved here are some suggestions as to how you can enhance your experience but none of these are a requirement to participate by any means; 
  •           see if you can get others who may not already be shorebird lovers, especially young birders, to join you and introduce them to the joys and challenges of wader/shorebird identification;
  •           get sponsored to raise money for Wader Quest projects;
  •           if you are a photographer, send us your best photos from the weekend and we will select some to create the Wader Quest 2016 calendar;
  •           if you film birds send us some footage and we can compile a short film about the event perhaps using your footage;
  •           if you like to make counts of the birds you see, enter your results on ebird or some other citizen science forum thus making a valuable contribution to our knowledge of these lovely and incredible birds.

Above all we want you to have fun, enjoy your waders/shorebirds and know that you are a part of a large community of people across the world who are doing the same thing, more or less at the same time, in order to bring awareness of the problems these birds face to the fore.
So why not join us? Make a note in your diary now.

For our part, on Saturday we will be fundraising at a Christmas Lights celebration in our local town, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamsgire, UK, if you are in the region come and say hello at our stand and on Sunday we will be travelling up to RSPB Titchwell and will spend most of the day there enjoying the waders to be seen so again, if you are in the area, look out for us and come and say hello.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Martin Mere North-West Bird Watching Festival

This past weekend we attended the WWT Martin Mere Northwest Bird Watching Festival. We had so much enjoyed ourselves last year that we were determined to return and we were very glad we did. It was a terrific weekend and we met loads of really interesting and friendly people, most of whom were fairly local, so we would otherwise not get the chance to meet them perhaps.

Our stand at Martin Mere before the crowds arrived.

Among our fellow speakers were our old friend and Trustee David Lindo, Mike Dilger who we had the pleasure of meeting for the first time and Mark Avery who was gone before we had a chance to say hello. The other speaker was Nigel Jarrett from WWT Slimbridge who spoke about the captive breeding programme from the heart and with much passion. We also had the chance to have a bit of a chat with him during his busy day to hear how things were going down in Gloucestershire. Elis attended all the talks (except Mark's which she couldn't get into as it was sold out), which she enjoyed very much while I held the fort on the stand, which I enjoyed equally.

The charming and affable Nigel Jarrett in whose capable hands rest the fortunes of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive breeding programme, and a safer pair of hands you will not find.

We enjoyed seeing some old friends such as Duncan and Julian of Wildsounds in whose company we enjoyed a laugh filled evening along with Paul Hackett and John Macintosh of digiscoping fame. (Boy I wish I'd had that steak!) We were visited on the stand by old friend (old as in long term, not elderly) Alan McBride who despite tipping the odds with a major outlay was unsuccessful in winning the raffle.

Mike Dilger holding forth.

The raffle had first prize of a £100 voucher from Trailfinders the travel agents who organised most of our travel details when we did the world trips last year (seems like a lifetime ago now). This was won by Peter Hugo. Second prize was the book Facing Extinction which has been signed by Debbie Pain one of the authors was won by Gary Hynes an the third prize, the book Bird Identification was won by Debby Smith who was delighted with her prize but feared her other half would purloin it before very long!

David Lindo, The Urban Birder... likewise holding forth.

The raffle was drawn by a lovely young placement student at the WWT called Erin Madden, she, with a friend who preferred to remain anonymous, drew the winners and we had lengthy conversation about what she planned to do for her dissertation which she planned to do about Northern Lapwings. We wish her the very best of luck for the future as it is always a delight to see such young and enthusiastic people coming along behind to pick up the conservation mantle when we can no longer carry it. It makes everything that we are doing, which after all we are doing for future generations as well as for ourselves, all worthwhile.

Erin making the raffle draw.

We were very pleased with the interest that our stand attracted with a good number of sign-ups as sponsors and much interest in the Wader Quest Collectables merchandise. What was especially pleasing was that this year as many people had heard of us as had not unlike last year when very few knew who we were or what we were trying to achieve.

They say always save the best for last... but then they also say there is always an exception to every rule... oh well, 

Whooper and Mute Swans seen from the car on the way into Martin Mere each morning, a lovely sight.
Photo: Elis Simpson

Monday, 17 November 2014

Saving farmland breeding waders.

Mountain Plovers and Black-tailed Godwits don't seem at first glance to have much in common, but in one respect they do.

In the USA the Mountain Plover is traditionally a bird that breeds on the open short-grass Prairies. This habitat, like so many others has changed beyond recognition for the large part due to the expansion of agriculture swallowing up great swathes of it. The areas that are left have often been changed too with the irradication of Prairie Dog towns and the loss of grazing North American Bison. All this has meant that birds, such as the Mountain Plover, that depend on this habitat naturally, have suffered a loss of range and therefore their population is in decline (65% in 40 years). The Mountain Plover is considered to be Near Threatened as a result.

Mountain Plover on wintering grounds in California.

However, the Mountain Plover has proved to be adaptable and has, in certain areas, started to breed on the arable land that has replaced the traditional Prairie habitat.

Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus incubating on farmland. Photo: Clay Edmondson.
This ability to adapt however has not been altogether without its problems as whilst they are prepared it seems to share their lives with farmers, the practices of these farmers have not been a great friend to them. Studies show that up to 70% of farmland nesting Mountain Plovers lose their nest to farm machinery.

Farming operations. Photo: Larry Snyder.

Hope though, is on the horizon. In the latest Wader Quest e-newsletter (available to sponsors of Wader Quest) Angela Dwyer of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Colorado wrote an article about a project in Nebraska to get farmers more aware of the Mountain Plover's situation and, for the most part, they have been willing and indeed enthusiastic (with the added incentive of compensation payments) about locating and avoiding the Mountain Plovers' nests.

Landowner marking a nest. Photo: Larry Snyder

It has been a great success and the plovers are doing much better now with marked nests having a survival rate of 79% as opposed to 30% of unmarked nests.

Newly hatched chick. Photo: Ross Lock.

In a  similar vein, but in different circumstances, in The Netherlands Astrid Kant, who also featured in the recent e-newsletter, started a one-lady campaign to save the Black-tailed Godwit as farming practices changed to the detriment of the birds' breeding success, she has now been joined by a few other Dutch godwit enthusiasts across the country.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa in a Dutch meadow. Photo: Astrid Kant.

The cutting of hay meadows has got earlier and earlier. Whereas in the past a pair of godwits had time to hatch and fledge their young before the cutting began in mid June the dates for this have got progressively earlier. Now this can sometimes occur as early as mid-April, as it did this year, meaning that breeding is interrupted by the destruction of eggs or young or even prevented entirely.

In order to mark them you have to locate the nests in the first place which is not easy as it sounds;
this is what a Black-tailed Godwit nest looks like! Photo: Astrid Kant.

Black-tailed Godwit chicks. Photo: Astrid Kant

Once again Astrid who became passionate about saving these young birds and eggs 25 years ago has striven to get the farmers on-side and to a great extent she has been successful, many of them now work with Astrid to seek out nests, mark and avoid them while carrying out their farming activities.

Godwit family.

Astrid with chicks and a bewildered looking farmer. Photo: Astrid Kant.

These two examples show how it is possible to work with farmers, whether as an institution such as the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory or as a passionate individual such as Astrid, who is an inspiration for anyone who thinks that they cannot make a difference. Individuals, if determined enough and driven by passion can, and do, make a difference across the world in the same way that dedicated researchers and scientists can, and do, while working with larger organisations.