Jan 31

It’s been a busy weekend for bird watching in the UK, with thousands of people taking part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

In last Thursday’s blog, I wrote about the importance of this annual event for monitoring the UK’s garden bird populations, and how it could show the effects of a cold winter on different bird species. Now the results are flooding in to the RSPB, and once analysed they will add to over 30 years of valuable data on the UK’s birds.

Photo of male chaffinch

The chaffinch topped my Big Garden Birdwatch, with at least nine individuals seen feeding.

A Birdwatch in Bristol

Although I’m not lucky enough to have my own garden – unless you count a tiny square of concrete – I was able to join in the Big Garden Birdwatch with a friend. And despite the chilly weather, there were plenty of birds to be seen.

Photo of a mistle thrush perched on blackthorn, swallowing a sloe berry

Some species were not so obliging - two mistle thrushes only turned up after my count had ended.

In addition to a small flock of chaffinches, there were several garden regulars such as blue tits, great tits and a robin, while blackbirds enjoyed apples put out on the lawn and a hungry jackdaw dropped in to pinch the remains of a sandwich.

Photo of house sparrows

Conspicuous by its absence? Despite being the most commonly recorded species in last year’s Big Garden Birdwatch, house sparrows are in decline across the UK - I saw none in my survey.

Other species were around but not recorded on the day, such as the dunnock and European starling, although the latter was seen flying nearby. Some once common species, such as the house sparrow, were noticeably absent.

The RSPB predicted that recent cold weather would result in increased sightings of more unusual garden visitors, such as redwings, fieldfares and possibly even the beautiful waxwing. Unfortunately no-one had told this to our birds, and no rarities were recorded on the day!

Photo of brambling standing in snow

The brambling, an attractive but more unusual garden visitor.

What did you spot?

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch? What birds did you see? We would love to hear about the birds that visit your garden – whether that’s in the UK or anywhere else!

Read more about the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

Find out about species found in the United Kingdom on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 31

Two rare takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) have been reintroduced into Wellington’s world-first urban wildlife sanctuary, ZEALANDIA. Nicknamed ‘Puffin’ and ‘T2’, the birds will help rangers at the sanctuary educate visitors about the role of conservation in protecting New Zealand’s rarest bird.

Photo of takahe

This unique flightless bird is roughly the size of a hen, making it the world’s largest rail.

A New Zealand oddity 

Once widespread on both the North and South Islands, the flightless takahe is a real New Zealand oddity. It was thought to be extinct for around 50 years, before being ‘rediscovered’ in 1948 in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in the South Island. 

It has since been introduced to the five offshore islands of Tiritiri Matangi, Kapiti, Mana, Maud and Rarotoka. Thanks to an intensive programme of captive breeding, translocations, stoat control and deer culling, the takahe population has seen a gradual increase from a low of 112 birds in 1981 to the current population of 225 birds.

Photo of takahe in shallow water

Formerly known as Porphyrio mantelli, the takahe was recently split into two species: the extinct Porphyrio mantelli and the surviving Porphyrio hochstetteri.

Long road to recovery 

The takahe pair is the 17th native species to be re-introduced to the urban sanctuary, and by far the rarest species to be released. This is also only the second such translocation of the takahe into the wild on the North Island. 

The birds – a retired breeding pair from Mana Island – haven’t produced chicks for some years now and are being taken out of the breeding population to create room for younger birds. 

“Very few New Zealanders and even fewer tourists have seen a takahe in the wild,” said ZEALANDIA chief executive Nancy McIntosh-Ward. 

“Most takahe outside of captivity live on off-shore islands or in remote mountain reserves. We’re very excited to have the chance to share these beautiful birds with our visitors, and raise awareness about their long road to recovery.”

Watch a video of a takahe walking in its mountain habitat on ARKive

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 28

Nineteen Critically Endangered Philippine crocodiles have been released into the wild as wildlife officials endeavour to save the species from extinction. 

Philippine crocodile

Philippine crocodile

Conservationists of the Mabuwaya Foundation raised the rare reptiles for 18 months at a breeding centre in the Philippines, before setting them free in a national park in the remote north of the country – one of just two remaining natural habitats for this species.

Verge of extinction 

The Philippine crocodile has plunged to the verge of extinction due to habitat destruction, dynamite fishing and persecution by humans who consider it dangerous. But conservationists are confident that the young crocodiles, which are only 35 to 50 centimetres long, will be safe. 

“The Philippine crocodile is the world’s most severely threatened crocodile species with less than 100 adults remaining in the wild. It could go extinct in 10 years if nothing is done,” said Marites Balbas, spokeswoman for the Mabuwaya Foundation. 

“There is enough food and people are educated on how to protect them. We actually have groups in the local community who guard the sanctuary. They are aware that killing crocodiles is prohibited.” 

Population increases by a fifth 

This release continues a programme that began in 2005, in which dozens of captive-raised Philippine crocodiles have been released back into the wild in the Sierra Madre Natural Park in the northern province of Isabela. 

If they survive, the number of known Philippine crocodiles in the wild will increase by roughly a fifth. 

Find out more about the Philippine crocodile on ARKive

To read more on this story, see the Independent article.

 Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 28

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

I studied Zoology at the University of Glasgow and then went on various research expeditions around the globe to further my interest in wildlife conservation. This eventually led me to ARKive and I have been working as a Species Text Author for just over a year now.

My main role is writing the species texts that accompany the media but I also work on the blog and write the odd e-newsletter.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am working on some texts for the new Jewels of the UAE chapter and recently completed texts on the ruddy shelduck and the collared kingfisher.

I have also been doing quite a bit for the ARKive blog recently – us Text Authors tend to write the articles for the In the News series

What animal skill would you most like to have?

This is tough, but being able to soar over huge mountain ranges like the Andean condor might be fun.

I really don’t like the cold very much though, so I wouldn’t mind having a coat like the Arctic fox or the muskox. Is that a skill?!

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

I think Oliver Reed would have been pretty entertaining. I would also love to meet Zinedine Zidane as he is a footballing legend. But they both have pretty wild reputations, so I might need someone to keep them under control. Muhammad Ali would probably have been good at that, as well as providing some funny quips, so he is my third person.

Where in the world would you most like to go?

I have been watching Michael Palin’s Himalaya recently which has really made me want to go to northern India and Nepal.

I would also like to explore more of the UK, especially the Outer Hebrides and the Shetland Isles.

Which celebrity do you most look like?

Basically anyone with a small head, a small mouth, and a large nose.

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

I’ve been fortunate to have seen some pretty cool wildlife over the years, including a giant anteater in Venezuela and river dolphins in Bolivia. I also visited a beach called Grande Riviere in Trinidad, which has the largest concentration of nesting leatherback turtles in the world, with hundreds of turtles coming ashore to nest in a single night.

But I think seeing a Scottish wildcat is the most special as it is so elusive, and rare, as well as being the only wild cat species in the UK.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

I’m really not sure; there is a lot to choose from. But I do like the pictures of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and the douc langurs.

I’m also a fan of the ARKive’s wild celebrities game – it’s pretty addictive, and for a very brief time I proudly held the office record, which Liz, a fellow Text Author, later stole from me. I think the record now stands at around 17,000. Can you beat it?

Tell us an animal related joke.

What do you get when two giraffes collide?

A giraffic jam.

Jan 28

A 10-year-old international plan to conserve sharks has largely failed according to a report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the Pew Environment Group

Only 13 of the top 20 shark-catching countries have developed national plans to protect the endangered creatures. The authors of the report have urged an FAO fisheries committee meeting next week to urgently review the management of shark fisheries.

Photo of juvenile blacktip shark caught on longline hook

Juvenile blacktip shark caught on longline hook

Shark populations have been falling worldwide, mostly due to overfishing to satisfy demand for shark fin soup in East Asia. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, with nearly a third of species at risk of extinction. 

In 2001, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) approved an international plan aimed at conserving sharks after it found that a serious monitoring and control program was lacking for international shark trade. 

The 10 recommendations to governments agreed back in 2001 included identifying and protecting key shark habitats, ensuring catches are sustainable and minimising waste and discards.

Photo of fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

Fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

Indonesia alone catches 13 percent of the world’s sharks, according to the report, and other big catchers include India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, the United States, Japan and Malaysia. The top 20 shark-catching nations collectively account for 80% of the global shark catch. 

“With 30 percent of shark species now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is little evidence that the plan has contributed significantly to improved conservation and management of these animals,”  TRAFFIC said in a statement.

Photo of dead tiger shark caught in beach protection net

Dead tiger shark caught in beach protection net

Many sharks are top predators, and there is an abundance of biological evidence to show their removal can have major impacts on the rest of the ecosystem. 

“Where shark populations are healthy, marine life beneath the waves thrives; but where they have been overfished we see that world fall out of balance,” said Jill Hepp, Pew’s global shark conservation manager. 

“Shark-catching countries and entities must stand by their commitments and act now to conserve and protect these animals.” 

Watch a video of tiger sharks attacking black-footed albatrosses on ARKive

To read more on this story and download the report, see the TRAFFIC article

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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