Monday, 29 September 2014

Australian Wader Study Group Conference - Darwin: Guest blog David Lawrie (NZ)

Our disappearing shorebirds
One of the world’s great natural wonders is the migration of shorebirds between their breeding grounds in Alaska and Siberia and their non-breeding grounds in Australia and New Zealand using the East Asian Australasian Flyway. This amazing phenomenon is in danger of imminent collapse because vital staging sites on the migration route are being lost.
This was the conclusion reached at the 9th Australasian Shorebird Conference held in Darwin on the weekend.

The Flyway’s 23 countries include nearly half the world’s human population and some of its fastest growing economies. The combination is applying extraordinary development pressure on tidal flats and wetlands where the birds find food to fuel their journeys.
Paper after paper described accelerating losses to aquaculture, agriculture and urban or industrial infrastructure, particularly in the Yellow Sea. Hunting, pollution and disturbance through recreational pursuits are also significant issues along the length of the Flyway.
Projects aiming to protect shorebird habitat and reduce its loss through remediation and/or restoration were highlighted but the sheer scale and rate of change is overwhelming these efforts.
Traditional livelihoods of the many people in the Flyway who depend on coastal wetlands and tidal flats are also disappearing.

In view of the dire situation facing shorebirds, delegates of the 9th Australasian Shorebird Conference:
• Express their deep concern about the alarming decline in shorebird numbers in the Flyway
• Encourage national governments to work in the spirit of international agreements to protect wetlands and coastal habitat for future generations
• Call on governments at all levels, the business sector and the community to work together to protect shorebirds and their habitat to prevent further losses
• Recognise and acknowledge the important role of the East Asian Australasian-Flyway Partnership as a framework to collaborate in the protection of shorebirds and their habitats.

This post was originally published in the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre face book page

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Why are wader chicks so cute?

Well, there is one thing for sure, they have not evolved this way just so we humans can look at them and go ahhhhhh in a gooey and insipid way!

Wader chicks are among the most adorable of all chicks in the avian world. Those bald and blind nestlings of passerines or the less than elegant squabs of pigeons and even the elegant raptors start life as ungainly monsters and don't even get me started on owls!

Little Ringed Plover chick Charadrius dubius; Norfolk, England. June 2012.

Baby birds come in two forms, those that can pretty much fend for themselves right out of the egg and others that cannot. Each of course has a technical name, the waders and other birds that come in the category of being mobile and self reliant to some extent soon after hatching are called precocial as mentioned in our recent blog about the lapwing being an ideal candidate for Britain's national bird and a guest blog by Angela Dwyer about the Mountain Plovers. This word is similar to precocious and, much in the same way that a precocious child will often behave in a way that is unusually advanced for his or her years, a precocial chick is advanced in its maturity at hatching. Those that are not are called altricial and the chicks are more or less helpless at hatching. These two terms basically refer to the amount of support that they need after hatching from their parents.

This ability to fend for themselves to a large extent is what makes the head starting programme for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper even possible. The eggs can be hatched in captivity and the chicks will feed themselves with no adults around at all. Once strong enough they can then be released into outdoor pens free from the threat of predation and eventually released into the wild to take their chances with the wild fledged birds.

Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis; São Paulo, Brazil. October 2013.

These two terms should not be confused with nudifugous and nudicolus which refer to whether or not the chick remains in the nest; the former being those that leave the nest almost immediately, like our wader chicks, the latter refers to birds like thrushes and herons and the like, where the young stay in the nest for some time and are at the same time, by dint, altricial, relying on their parents for their sustenance.

Australian Pratincole Stiltia isabella; Western Australia, Australia. September 2013.

So, when a wader chick hatches, once it has dried and found its feet, providing its siblings have reached the same stage it will often then leave the nest en famille never to return.

Double-banded Courser Rhinoptilus africanus: Orange Free State, South Africa. September 2013.

To achieve this the birds must have good vision and mobility hence their big eyes and often ungainly feet and long legs which are some of the factors that elicit the ahh factor we bestow upon them.

Killdeer Charadrius vociferus: Texas USA. April 2013.

The other facet of their character is that they are little balls of fluff to all intents and purposes. They will not be kept warm all the time by their parents, so they have to emerge from the egg with insulation, hence the fluff. They would be unable to develop true feathers with the confines of the shell, to do so it would have to be so large that the female would be unable to lay it.

Apart from being fluffy they are almost always intricately patterned, this of course adds to their attractiveness, but as stated this is not its purpose. This mottling and streaking is of course designed to camouflage the birds so that if they sit still in suitable habitat, they will be rendered all but invisible to predators.

At first glance all you can see is this adult Bush Thick-knee Burhinus grallarius. But look again, at the adults feet are two well hidden chicks that you would never notice if the adult was not there. Queensland, Australia. September 2013.

With the possible exception of duckings, wader chicks are undoubtedly the most attractive bird chicks ever. With perhaps the most adorable being the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, there is little that comes close to the cuteness of this little mite.

24 hour old Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus; the cutest chick on earth?
Photo: Paul Marshall WWT

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Hooded Plover: another successful Wader Quest project completed, Thank you!

Today we sent £1,128.50 to the bank account of BirdLife Australia to assist with Hooded Plover protection as part of their beach nesting birds programme.

We received an email from Grainne Maguire, our friend and the project manager, who some of you may have heard on the BBC R4 Shared Planet programme yesterday, about how the money will be used:

"Thank you so much for all your hard work at fundraising, I will make sure that we use this money directly on getting some equipment to protect the hoodies – we've just been out to some new areas that are keen for involvement and they have no materials and we had no funds to help, but we can definitely help these groups get set up now and spread all the good things happening on the coast for the birds."

This is gratifying news indeed, not just for us but for everyone who took the time and trouble to donate to this very worthy cause.

This is what our contribution looks like in hard cash!

We are of course very proud to have now successfully completed two projects but we are, at the same time, acutely aware that we did not do this alone. So, to those of you who have helped whether by buying our pins, earrings, models etc. or allowing us to come and talk to your group or, especially, to those who have donated or become sponsors, we say a very big thank you from the very bottom of our hearts.