Thursday, 30 December 2010

Protect our Griffon Vultures - Act Now or Wait?

In early 2004, the painkiller Diclofenac was identified as the cause by a US-led team in the deaths of thousands of Asian vulture species such as
The long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris). The Oriental white-backed vultures (Gyps bengalensis) were once the most common large bird of prey anywhere in the world!

Diclofenac is extremely cheap to buy, it has been widely used in South Asia to treat cattle for conditions like lameness, or mastitis - inflammation of the udder.

The trouble was that vultures were feeding off carcasses of dead, treated animals, and the drug was destroying their kidneys.

Is the writing on the wall for the Griffon Vulture?

Rather than wait and put another re-introduction scheme in place after donations and pleas for help in Spain or other parts of Europe, can we all pull together and concentrate on keeping, rather than 'saving' our magnificent Griffon Vulture.

NSAID (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug) called diclofenac.
I have searched for more information on the use and availability of this drug in Spain and have found not much clear information about any ban for its use with livestock. As far as I am aware, it is a legal drug still offered for sale by pharmaceutical companies here in Europe and you can certainly buy it online or over the counter here in Spain for human use.

India successfully imposed a livestock ban for its use in 2006. It idifficult to account for any drugs perviously purchased and what stocks were held by both vets and farmers prior to this date. The logistics involved with any enforcement would be financially problematic for authorities both in India and here in Spain but any pre-emptive ban on diclofenac, for the protection of our vulture species would be a good demonstration of southern EU country member's comittment to conservation and our natural environment.

Other vulture species in Kenya are being poisoned in greater numbers than ever before, possibly due to the push to sell poisons such as rat pellets around open refuse dumps. I know that White Storks also have the same problems at dumps where they eat dead or dying rats, in fact I had to inform my neighbour that the Tawny Owl I caught in his garden had been poisoned by rat poison. It died two days later.
Power-line deaths in South Africa seem to be a mian cause of death for Cape Vultures, and so the list and cuases go on and on...
Is it an on-going fight all over the world or do we simply react to problems like this? The RSPB has an Asian Vulture Appeal which I applaud, but can we do something NOW to prevent a decline or similar extermination of one of the most magnificent and essential birds in nature right here in our own back-yard.
Meloxicam is being recommended with guidelines to vets
as an alternative to Diclofenac

Griffon Vultures use very limited amounts of energy by gliding vast distances, often hundreds of kilometers with just one or two flaps, scouring the countryside for carcasses

Griffon Vultures can live for up to 40 years. The vetinary drug Diclofenac will make such huge ammounts of cash for investors who are in the most unaware of the consequences of one product on vulture species. Read about what has happened in India here

Will sights like this be a thing of the past in Europe?

A griffon Vulture feed

Soaring high above Bolonia beach and the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia.

I'd like to wish you all a healthy and happy New Year and easy slide into 2011!
All the best and thanks for keeping up with the Finnsticks blog, Stephen

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas Flamingoes

It's raining again after a good few weeks of warm sunshine. The temperatures are still high but quite a few heavy thunder storms passed through south-west Andalucia early this morning, in fact they are still rolling in from Morocco and the Atlantic Ocean...
I wanted to show a collection of Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) photos to brighten up the dull weather down here and add a splash of colour to the snow-covered north!

Greater Flamingos are the largest member of the flamingo species and they are the most widely distributed from Central and South America, The Caribbean, South-West Europe, Asia and Africa. These large birds stand at 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, they have a wingspan between 1.4 and 1.7 m (4.5 - 5.5 ft) and they weigh up to 4 Kgs (8.75 lbs).

A flock of mainly juvenile birds, showing more grey-black on open wings than the red panels that adult birds have.

Adult Greater Flamingoes take to the air after a long run with outstretched necks and you can see the deep red panel on the upper wing

Just getting some lift with increased speed

Bright sun on a large flock

They produce one chalky white egg that is laid on a mud mound in shallow water. The nest of each pair is situated approximately 1.5 m (4.9 ft) from neighbouring nests so the chick remains safe from other breeding pairs. Both parents incubate the egg which takes 27 - 31 days to hatch. They will defend their nest during the breeding season, otherwise they are non-territorial.

After the chick first hatches they are fed a substance called "crop milk" which comes from the parents' upper digestive tract. Either parent can feed the chick this way and other flamingos can act as foster feeders. When the chicks are old enough to walk they gather together in creches that are watched over by a few adult birds. By the time young flamingos reach 2 - 3 years of age they will have gained their full adult plumage.

An adult flying overhead

They favor environments like estuaries and saline or alkaline lakes. Considering their appearance, flamingos are surprisingly good swimmers, but really thrive on the extensive mud flats where they breed and feed.

Greater flamingos are likely to be the only tall, pink bird in any given locale. They also have long, lean, curved necks and black-tipped bills with a distinctive downward bend

Two adults in flight showing leg and full neck length and back view of this spectacular bird.

Their bent bills allow them to feed on small organisms—plankton, tiny fish, fly larvae, and the like. In muddy flats or shallow water, they use their long legs and webbed feet to stir up the bottom. They then bury their bills, or even their entire heads, and suck up both mud and water to access the tasty morsels within. A flamingo's beak has a filterlike structure to remove food from the water before the liquid is expelled.

Shrimplike crustaceans are responsible for the flamingo's pink color. The birds pale in captivity unless their diet is supplemented.

Greater flamingos live and feed in groups called flocks or colonies. They find safety in numbers, which helps to protect individual birds from predators while their heads are down in the mud. Greater flamingos also breed while gathered in groups. Once mating is complete, a pair takes turns incubating their single egg. Young flamingos are born gray and white and do not turn pink for two years. In years when wetlands and pools are dry and food scarce, flamingoes may not breed.

Not forgetting the huge numbers of Black-necked Grebes that winter in the pools, marshes and estuaries

Black-winged Stilts landing to roost at one of the salt-pans

Friday, 10 December 2010

Warm Winter Temperatures

A juvenile Black-winged Kite enjoying unusually high temperatures this week with +20oC most days, this the second week of December!

I managed to catch up once more with one of my favourite raptors, the elegant Black-winged Kite, after a few visits to my local patch at La Janda. Exploring the public areas and the other private farmland where I have permissions to go onto huge stretches of this ancient lagoon, is such a joy and I have to keep reminding myself how fortunate I am!

Blue skies, warm air and lots of small birds and mamals active in the warmth of Andalucia allow easy hunting for this beautiful and compact little raptor

The distinctive upper wing of the Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) is fairly long and predominantly grey or white. The bird has dark shoulder panels above and the underwing clearly shows the black wing-tips.
The Black-winged Kite is also referred to by it's old name, the Black-shouldered Kite.

It is a species primarily of open land and semi-deserts in sub-Saharan Africa but in the last twenty years increasing numbers have successfully bred in the Iberian peninsular and it has estabished itself as an expanding species. Worldwide there are several sub-species of this bird but the European Black-winged Kite is from the nominate African species

Their prey include grasshoppers, crickets and other large insects, lizards and rodents. Small birds, rodents including rats, small snakes and frogs have also been recorded. The slow hunting flight is on rounder fuller wings, but it will hover like a Common or Lesser Kestrel. It has on rare occasions been known to hunt prey in flight.
Favourite perches are used for hunting and for feeding but larger prey may sometimes be handled on the ground.

Black-winged Kites are very quiet birds and are rearely heard calling outwith the breeding season. In fact, I have only heard one bird ever utter a short whistle and that was along time ago

Other birds of prey or raptors this week and last have included a few Short-toed Eagles and this rather splendid Booted Eagle. We have also been watching more Hen Harriers and lots of Marsh Harriers, particularly juvenuile birds at La Janda

There are more Common Buzzards around too during winter

Yesterday we found a Griffon Vulture feast at a fallen cow in a field near Alcalá de Los Gazules. This shot was one of yesterday's 'Griffs' coming in to land at the carcass. Unfortunately it was so far off that we only had telescoped views of the feed and their behaviour at a carcass. Access closer to the site was very limited across a large expanse of boggy ground

Eurasian Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) are quite special birds that have a haunting look and always a joy to come across. We have good areas where Stone Curlews can be found but finding birds close up and personal like this isn't easy. We came across four birds yesterday and had some excellent views of these secretive nocturnal feeders

Stone Curlews (the Spanish name is Alcaraván común) are easy to identify by their streaky brown plumage, long-bodied, long-tailed shape and broad white bar across the folded wing. But always it is that eye which grabs your attention, flanked by a puffy white 'bag' underneath and a bold white eyebrow above. In flight they have a long brown body, but rather black and white looking wings with two obvious white bars across the inner wing

In Spain and Portugal they breed on dry, stony arable land, steppe areas and light open heath

In the UK two decades of help from farmers has seen the population of one of our rarest farmland birds more than double. The recovery of the Ston Curlew is a great illustration of the effectiveness of targeted conservation action and conservation organisations working closely with farmers. But, with conservation funding squeezed in last month's Comprehensive Spending Review, the RSPB is concerned that the recovery may be halted or worse as some farmers will miss out on payments.

In the late 1980s, there were only 160 pairs of this threatened ground-nesting bird breeding in the UK — all in southern and eastern England. This year 370 pairs are known to have bred. Most Stone Curlew occur in just two areas: Wessex — especially around Salisbury Plain — and Breckland, on the Norfolk and Suffolk border, with about a quarter of the population nesting on MoD land. (Source BirdGuides)

Mediterranean and Iberian populations are mostly resident, but all other birds are migratory, wintering in southern Europe, north Africa and along the southern edge of the Sahara

White Stork with a colour coded plastic ring - This bird could have been a victim the ringing group from DARVIK, France? who use similar four letter codes, starting on the letter 'A' ...way back in the year 1066 and now seem to be steaming ahead with the letter 'B'. Sadly they never reply to any sightings with photos I send in, even although they publish email addresses of the ringers on a downloadable pdf... See here for a fantastic cluster of various species ringing information

Cranes and Storks a size comparison in flight - A great winter so far for migrating birds

Adult Common Cranes

Two juvenile birds with one adult. Most cranes keep together in family groups in the air and on the ground when feeding

The sights and sounds of wintering cranes at La Janda

Winter sunset at Zahara de Los Atunes, Cadiz province, Andalucia

A common sight at this time of the year, Purple Swamphens along the mail collector canal banks

Swamphen Sundown

Ocellated Lizards have been active again with such warm temperatures and have taken advantage of sunning themselves and feeding this winter