Birdwatch, April 2017

Steve Jones reports from Dol.

Wood sandpipers by the pond. Wood sandpipers by the pond. Photo: Steve Jones

The pond near the airfield has given me the most sightings without doubt this year, March and April being no exceptions. So much so that I have shortened “my patch” significantly. Last year and the beginning of this year I used to regularly go in to Jelsa via Vrbanj and stop along the roadside, but as nearly all of my new sightings have been coming from near the airfield and the pond, for the last six or seven weeks I have been concentrating on that area only. I am out almost every morning at a variety of times whilst new arrivals keep coming in.

Wood sandpiper. Photo: Steve Jones

4th April brings a new sighting to me and another new one to the Island that I have recorded: the Wood Sandpiper. Initially there were just two, but at various times during April there have been up to eight along with the previously seen Green Sandpiper. When I first saw it, it was in a group of four waders, three of whom flew off as I arrived. I was almost 100% sure, but not quite, that it was an Adult Wood Sandpiper, slightly different to the Green Sandpiper which appeared in March. As both these birds are new to me, it is confusing when there are just small variations between them.  I also read they can be confused with the Solitary Sandpiper. However, in the end, after consultation with birdwatching friends in the UK, I was able to confirm that it was a Wood Sandpiper.

That day, I did a check with the Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve site (not the best comparison site to use, but it gives an idea, and they are at just over 100 species at the moment). They get a lot of sea birds and waders which we don’t. I also looked up Wood and Green Sandpiper in 2016 and both were sighted at the Warren in August. My guess is they were heading south after breeding up north. I am puzzled “our” waders haven’t moved on.

6th April I heard my first Nightingale and heard my first Scops Owl (Ćuk) of the season, although have since been told the Scops was being heard in Pitve some time back in March.

Scops owl. Photo: Steve Jones

Managed to pick up the Hoopoe down by the pond on 7th April.

Hoopoe. Photo: Steve Jones

On the 8th April the sandpipers were joined by another new species for me on the Island – Greenshank.

Common greenshank. Photo: Steve Jones

I did try and get a photograph of both birds in the same shot so that you can get a size comparison but was not terribly successful.

Greenshank with wood sandpiper. Photo: Steve Jones

9th April I briefly see another new species for me here a Little Ringed Plover, one very poor photograph and it was gone. I have seen it just once since, in flight.

As the month has continued more and more Swallows are arriving and I am also seeing just two Alpine Swifts, presumably the same ones as arrived in March.

Sub-alpine warbler. Photo: Steve Jones

The Sub-Alpine Warbler continues to call and is not as elusive as the Nighingale. I eventually manage to get a picture of it on 13th April.

Sub-alpine warbler. Photo: Steve Jones

13th April. I was in Jelsa to see the Maundy Thursday all-night Procession off, and heard three Scops owls calling. One call seemed to be coming from the park by the car park, another from up by the old diving school and one opposite. I  tried to get a picture but wasn't lucky enough for that.

On 14th April I was driving the car and saw what I thought was a Wheatear. On stopping and getting binoculars on it I was pleasantly surprised by another new bird for the year although not new to me on Hvar: the Whinchat.

Whinchat. Photo: Steve Jones

While at a neighbour's later in the morning of the 14th I heard a Chiff Chaff calling. This is another bird that I haven’t managed to see here but the call is quite obvious, and very similar to last year when I heard it on 22nd March 2016. I can only presume it was passing through, as on both occasions I only heard it on the one day.

I continue to see Serin, Yellow Wagtails, Linnets, Corn Buntings and Hoopoes as the month goes on.

Little egret. Photo: Steve Jones

15th April, yet another new species for me to record here on the Island - a Little Egret. Similar to the other waders it is very wary of me and wouldn’t let me get too close and equally I don’t like to put the birds up unnecessarily. However I managed to get several shots. It's always fascinating to watch the Little Egret, even though I have seen it many times before. It has black legs and yellow feet, and it wiggles its foot in water so as to distract prey, and then strikes like a dart at whatever its target is, nothing substantial from what I can see.

Little egret wading. Photo: Steve Jones

17th April, there were two female Hen Harriers flying for some considerable time before heading off in Vrbanj direction – superb display.  Sad that I still can’t get a picture of a bird in flight.

18th April, I saw a bird I couldn't identify. Later I found out it was a curlew sandpiper, another new one for me!

Curlew sandpiper. Photo: Steve Jones

20th April, yet another bird I didn't recognise! I found out later it was a female Ruff –  confirmed by three sources from my not-spectacular picture. A real shame it wasn’t the male, I would have recognised that instantly. I also saw what I am 99.9% certain was a purple heron. I've never seen one before, it didn’t land, and I couldn’t get a picture but I am seriously tempted to list it, it really couldn’t be anything else. In the afternoon there was another new one to me and of course to the Island since I have been recording: Red Footed Falcon – I saw a pair hunting, couldn’t get any decent pictures, but just enough to ID.

Red-footed falcon. Photo: Steve Jones

21st April, I went to Jelsa again, but no sign of Bee-Eaters: I've been expecting them each day, as from my notes they appeared on April 10th last year. Swifts were also earlier last year, and I had my first 2017 sighting just this morning. As I'd been seeing two Alpine Swifts for several weeks, I had expected to see the Swift sooner. And I've only heard one cuckoo calling so far. I saw the Red Footed Falcon again, but mostly  rear view only, as above, so I couldn't get any decent photos. Still you can’t have it all!

22nd April. On my way to the ferry, I saw a pair of turtle doves. As I am away for the rest of the month, I expect I will miss the arrival of the bee-eaters. But it has been a rewarding month. I have taken over 200 pictures, mostly of the sandpipers down at the pond. Mainly so I could study the differences between the Green and Wood Sandpiper, as both birds were new to me, and the birds are pretty small and often missed. It has got more difficult to see them in the last two weeks, as the pond vegetation has grown somewhat. Narrowing my patch has certainly paid off. I've been out almost every day, and have been pretty well picking up things as they just come in, which is fantastic. Even so, I still wonder what I miss. Last week, for example, I could hear an unfamiliar call but couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to see the bird without blatantly trespassing.

Sightings in April 2017
* Heard, not seen, identified through the call.

© Steve Jones 2017

There are more of Steve's pictures of beautiful birds on his personal blog spot, 'Bird Pictures on Otok Hvar'.

 

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Eco Environment News feeds

  • Farmed kelp could produce plastic substitutes, beauty products and food supplements. Just steer clear of seaweed chocolate

    Think sun, sea, Skye – and seaweed. It’s early summer off the west coast of Scotland, and Alex Glasgow is landing a long string of orangey-black seaweed on to the barge of his water farm. It emerges on what looks like a washing line heavy with dirty rags, hoicked up from the depths. And yet, this slippery, shiny, salty substance might, just might, be going to save the planet.

    When it comes to sustainability, seaweed is about as shipshape as it gets. Minimal damage to the environment, check. No use of pesticides, check. Diversifies ocean life, check. Uses no land, check. And, in the case of Skye’s seaweed farm, spoils no one’s view, check.

    Kyla Orr and Martin Welch of KelpCrofters check the crop from their boat

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  • Most comprehensive analysis ever of conflict-driven climate impacts shows emissions greater than those generated by 175 countries in a year

    The climate cost of the first two years of Russia’s war on Ukraine was greater than the annual greenhouse gas emissions generated individually by 175 countries, exacerbating the global climate emergency in addition to the mounting death toll and widespread destruction, research reveals.

    Russia’s invasion has generated at least 175m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), amid a surge in emissions from direct warfare, landscape fires, rerouted flights, forced migration and leaks caused by military attacks on fossil fuel infrastructure – as well as the future carbon cost of reconstruction, according to the most comprehensive analysis ever of conflict-driven climate impacts.

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  • Diving with marine life such as blue sharks is growing in popularity in the UK, spurred by footage of encounters on social media

    We have only been waiting in the grey Atlantic swell a few moments when the first flash of metallic blue appears in the water. A blue shark, a few miles from the coast of Penzance in Cornwall, emerges from the depths. It is time to get in the water – but part of my brain rebels.

    “It’s not what you think it will be like … not that ingrained fear that everyone has about sharks. But until you get in the water with them, that fear will remain,” the guide says to the group.

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  • Bangalow Koalas and private landholders have planted more than 377,000 trees across the region

    In 2016 a friend phoned Linda Sparrow about a 400-metre stretch of koala trees on the western edge of Bangalow, a small regional town in northern New South Wales.

    The landscape in the region had long since been cut back by loggers and farmers, and there were precious few eucalyptus trees left to provide refuge for koalas looking for food or shelter.

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  • Hexton, Hertfordshire: On the chalk hills in early summer, green is dominant – but only until the yellows take over

    The rain-soaked chalk hills are a celebration of green: the green of crimped agrimony leaves and glaucous sedge blades; of horsetail, hogweed and unripe wayfaring berries. Greenery everywhere, energising everything. I hear it in the whitethroat’s scratchy bursts, see it in sunlight on spent cowslips and feel it in the pull of my breath as I climb the hill. I wonder if it’s the heightened sensitivity of the human eye to green light that has brought on this verdant synaesthesia. Whatever the reason, the intensity of colour fuses and confuses my senses, making it hard to spot the green orchids I’ve come here to see.

    But as the path narrows, the abundance of orchids – all of them common twayblades (Neottia ovata) – is such that I almost tread on one. Kneeling in the grass for a closer look, I can see inflorescences rising from pairs of egg-shaped leaves, each with a slender downy stem and green flowers held aloft on short stalks. Every year I’m astonished by the huge personalities of these miniature blooms. The labellum (the lower modified petal) is deeply forked like a pair of legs, and banded with two dark green stripes that mark a nectar-bearing groove.

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  • Captive breeding in Norway has built up numbers endangered by the climate crisis and golden eagles but only a more diverse population will survive in the long term

    Deep in the Norwegian mountains, amid a vast expanse of bright snow and howling winds, Toralf Mjøen throws a piece of meat into a fenced enclosure and waits for a pair of dark eyes to appear from the snowy den.

    These curious and playful arctic foxes know Mjøen well. He has been the caretaker at this breeding facility for 17 years, going up the mountain daily to feed them at their enclosures near the small village of Oppdal, about 250 miles north of Oslo.

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  • Many people fear the UK’s draughty old properties are too great a challenge for the technology

    Heat pumps could be the single largest step a household can take to reduce their carbon emissions while saving money on their bills. But many in Britain fear that, even though millions of homes across Europe have benefited from the shift away from gas or oil boilers, the UK’s draughty old homes could prove too great a challenge for the technology.

    The concern is unsurprising given that the UK has some of the least energy efficient homes in Europe. A study by the smart home company tado° monitored 80,000 users across Europe to find how quickly properties lose heat when outdoor temperatures fall to zero. It found that UK homes lost on average 3C after five hours without heating, compared with just 1C in Germany and 0.9C in Norway.

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  • Pennsylvania families worry about rising cases of rare cancer with well pads near homes and stalled House bills

    One evening in 2019, Janice Blanock was scrolling through Facebook when she heard a stranger mention her son in a video on her feed. Luke, an outgoing high school athlete, had died three years earlier at age 19 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

    Blanock had come across a live stream of a community meeting to discuss rare cancers that were occurring with alarming frequency in south-western Pennsylvania, where she lives.

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  • Porto Alegre’s poorest neighborhoods, often closest to rivers and with the worst infrastructure, bore brunt of crisis

    It had been raining for nearly a week when the floodwaters first reached Marcelo Moreira Ferreira’s home in Porto Alegre, the capital of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul.

    His wife and their four children left to seek shelter with relatives, but Ferreira, 51, wanted to stay: his father had built the modest one-storey structure and he had lived there his entire life.

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  • Having created a watchdog for the environment, the government took its teeth out and muzzled it. Can public outrage rouse the Environment Agency to action?

    When Helen Nightingale joined the National Rivers Authority, the predecessor to the Environment Agency, in 1991, she thought of her work as a calling. She had been fascinated by nature since she was a child, when she used to poke around in the earth on her father’s allotment, looking for worms and beetles. In her job, Nightingale spent most of her time walking along the rivers in Lancashire and Merseyside, taking water samples and testing oxygen levels. She was responsible for protecting rivers, and she often learned about sewage and pesticide pollution from members of the public who called a dedicated hotline. “They’d phone you up and say, ‘There’s something wrong.’ And you would go out straight away,” she recalled. “You stood a much better chance of figuring out what was wrong if you could get there quickly.”

    Nightingale, who has a Lancastrian accent and curly blond hair, investigated pollution like a hard-nosed police detective inspecting a crime scene. She would visit dairy farms, industrial estates and sewage treatment plants, dressed in a raincoat and boots with steel toe caps, and usually started with the same question: “Can I look at your drains?” The work was demanding, and the pay, when Nightingale started, was just £9,500 a year (the UK average at the time was around £12,000), but she was proud to be protecting the environment. “It was a dream job,” she told me. “If we sat in the office, our boss would say, ‘Why are you here? Go out and look at something.’”

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Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

  • A landmark treaty to protect the world’s oceans could go into effect soon — but experts argue it must consider climate change if it is going to succeed.

  • The ocean feeds us, regulates our climate and sustains economies. Yet numerous threats are devastating the health of marine ecosystems. In honor of World Oceans Day, we take a dive into efforts that are charting anew course for our oceans.

  • It’s easy to take what happens under our feet for granted.

    Whether you know it or not, thousands of species of mites and springtails are scurrying about the soil like tiny essential workers. By feasting on and excreting decaying matter, like leaves and wood, these critters move planet-warming carbon into the soil, improve its structure and supply nutrients that help plants grow.

    But scientists are digging up new findings that show heat and drought, often exacerbated by climate change, are taking a massive toll on mites and springtails, Sofia Quaglia reported for The New York Times.

    When the soil dries up, so too do their soft bodies. Using data from 38 studies on mites and springtails, researchers found that prolonged dry spells can slash their numbers by an average of 39 percent. And a one degree Celsius rise in temperature can cause a nearly 10 percent drop in springtail populations.

    “They really do bad,” Gerard Martínez-De León, an ecologist at the University of Bern, told The New York Times. “If there are very high temperatures for, let’s say, one week, two weeks, one month, this affects them directly. Probably as much as the lack of moisture does.”

    Though the underground world is incredibly rich — harboring more than half of Earth’s biodiversity — soils, and the critters that live in them, are understudied. And that lack of understanding might be the biggest problem facing soil invertebrates, Quaglia writes. If we don’t know how species contribute to the ecosystem, we don’t know what will happen if they’re lost.

    “Soil has been like a black box,” Leticia Pérez-Izquierdo, researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change and co-author of the study, told The New York Times. “And we’re now starting to open it.”

    Everything we do know points to the critical role healthy soils, and the organisms living them, play in stabilizing the climate.

    Take fungi. A Conservation International study found that intricate underground fungal networks work together with plants to absorb massive amounts of carbon — equivalent to more than a third of the world's annual fossil fuel emissions.

    Conservation and restoration activities that protect soil are becoming increasingly urgent. The United Nations has warned that 90 percent of the Earth’s topsoil — where crops, forests and more grow — could be degraded by 2050, in part due to intensive farming practices. Degraded soil not only stores less carbon, contributing to climate change, but it also is less drought tolerant — which, in turn, makes it more vulnerable to climate change.

    Fortunately, there are ways to break this downward spiral. For example, land management practices like no-till farming, sustainable grazing and planting cover crops can enhance agricultural production, increase soil fertility and boost carbon storage, while reducing the loss of topsoil through erosion. That’s a win-win-win for people and the planet.

    Further reading:

  • There’s only one place on Earth where reef manta rays are truly thriving. A new study finds that this manta haven is even more special — and threatened — than previously thought.

  • Fishing is a way of life in Peru. But one of it's most important fisheries is not immune from human-made pressures like overfishing and mining. Now, a new protected area is offering a new lease on life.

  • Our health is personal, but health risks are not. Around the world, entire populations — both human and wildlife — are facing new health challenges, all driven by the same culprit: environmental degradation.

  • Around the world, more than 3 billion people have been affected by extreme weather over the past 20 years — but those impacts are very unevenly distributed, according to a new Conservation International study.

  • A bold initiative to regrow 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon has made substantial progress despite some unexpected hurdles, according to an upcoming report.

  • On a tiny island in the Philippines, fishermen and green sea turtles live side by side in hard-earned harmony. That wasn’t always the case. Slowly and steadily, they have returned, a story of against-the-odds compromise.

  • On an expedition to Bolivia's Zongo Valley, a team of researchers recently discovered 20 species completely new to science, and rediscovered several species that had not been seen for decades.