Category: Birds

Flamingo Breeding in South Africa Under Threat: How You can Help Save the Lesser Flamingos of Kamfers Dam, SA

In 2006, internationally renowned ornothologist, Mark Anderson, initiated the construction of an artificial island in Kamfers Dam near Kimberly in South Africa in an attempt to increase breeding activity amongst the Lesser Flamingos. The Lesser Flamingo is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of limited breeding sites around the world and their unpredictable breeding habits.

This significant, S-shaped island is one of only six breeding sites in the world and as such plays an indispensible role in the conservation of the species. Sadly, however, the island is currently being destroyed by rising water levels and according to Anderson it could be totally submerged within a few weeks. “This is an absolute disaster,” he stated. In addition, Kamfers Dam and its flamingos also face other threats such as pollution and a proposed housing development next to the dam.

Successful Breeding of Flamingos at Kamfers Dam

Anderson says that there are perhaps 60 000 Lesser Flamingos at Kamfers Dam. “Three years ago, using high resolution aerial images and working with Danish Researchers, we counted more than 83 000 Lesser Flamingos.”

The artificial island has thus far seen the birth of about 22 000 chicks with the third successive breeding event underway. Anderson says that the first chicks were spotted on Tuesday via webcam.

Pollution and Rising Water Level Threatens Species

Over the last few years several scientific tests have been done which indicated that the water is very polluted.

 

This pollution is caused by raw sewage that flows into the dam as a result of an inadequately equipped sewage plant which the Sol Plaatje Municipality in Kimberley failed to upgrade over the years.

Anderson says that the municipality currently has a plan drawn up by consultants “but apparently no money to implement it.”

In addition, Anderson says that more that 50 percent of the chicks during the last breeding event suffered from Avian Pox Virus.

Anderson explains that the water level of Kamfers Dam is rising due to the fact that more people are living in Kimberley and subsequently producing more effluent water. Another contributing factor is leaking pipes.

He adds that as a result of this, the water is too deep for the Lesser Flamingos to forage and the island is in the process of flooding which will have a devastating effect on the Lesser Flamingos. A total of 5 000 sand bags have already been packed around the island in an attempt to stop the erosion.

The Northgate Housing Development

Anderson was a former employee of the Northern Cape’s Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation but was suspended last year when he voiced his concern regarding the proposed Northgate Housing Development next to Kamfers Dam.

Anderson is currently employed by Birdlife South Africa as their Executive Director.

He explains that the development will cause disturbance from people and their pets, “possible pollution as the development is in the dam’s catchment as well as more sewage on an already stressed sewage works.”

One of the reasons why the artificial island was built in the first place was to provide a safe haven for the Lesser Flamingos to breed as there were too many disturbances by humans and animals which prevented them from breeding successfully before.

No development has taken place yet and there are currently legal battles being fought regarding the proposed development.

Save The Flamingo Association

The Save The Flamingo association is a non-profit organisation that is committed to conserving Kamfers Dam and its flamingos. Thus far, the petition has been signed by over 7 000 people, however more support is needed in order to convince the local authorities about the severity of the issue.

In addition, donations can be made on the organisation’s website which will be used to conserve Kamfers Dam’s flamingos and to address immediate problems that are threatening their survival.

It is easy to argue that if one is not involved in the wrongdoing, no evil is committed, however, if one only idly stands by, you become part of the problem and will surely witness the extinction of yet another precious species under the callous hand of man.

As John Donne said, no man is an island and as such we all need to stand together to conserve our planet and its species.

Birds of the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico

The Sierra Madre Occidental (SMO) runs like a spine through Mexico, from Southern Arizona to the South of Mexico. It is found closer to the Pacific coast, but in the northern mountains, in Arizona, Sonora, Chihuahua, and Durango, it is interior, occupying an arid region. Some of the most remarkable birds of North America are found in these mountains of Northern Mexico.

Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico: Birding Habitats

The northern mountains are arid, and their higher elevations are covered with pine-oak forest. Dry forest and shrubs are found in lower elevations, and standard desert (most notably, the Chihuahan to the east, and the Sonoran to the west) surround the range. Canyons are cut into some of the rocky hillsides of the SMO, and around them, diverse flora thrives. Conifers, such as pinyons, pines, and firs, as well as several types of oak are found in the mixed forests that blanket the SMO, providing ideal habitat for hundreds of species of birds, some of which are endemic to the mountains.

Birds of North America’s Sierra Madre Occidental: Birds of Prey and Others

The Golden Eagle is the most majestic species of the Occidental range. It is the largest bird of prey in Northern Mexico (the second largest in the nation, after the Harpy Eagle), often weighing over 10 lbs. Golden Eagles feed primarily on rabbits and hares, squirrels, and other small mammals, but they are opportunistic predators, sometimes snatching lizards, snakes, other birds, and even baby deer.

Other birds of prey in the SMO include Red-tailed Hawks, Common black-Hawks, Harris’s Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, and Crested Caracaras. Owls, such as Whiskered Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Spotted Owls, and a few types of pygmy-owls are the most prevalent nocturnal predatory birds in the mountains. Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures commonly soar the skies above canyons in the SMO. Ospreys and Kingfishers are found in parts of the Occidental range, where they prey exclusively on fish.

Mexican Doves, Fowl, and Water Birds of the Montane Pine-Oak Forests

Several species of doves, such as Mourning Doves, Inca Doves, White-Winged Doves, and many ground doves are found with abundance. Montezuma Quails, Elegant Quails, Gambel’s Quails, Northern Bobwhites, and Wild Turkeys are some of the notable ground-dwelling birds found throughout the montane pine-oak forests of Northern Mexico. Ducks and even some other waterbirds live around the mountains as well.

 

Woodpeckers, Common Birds in the Mountains of Northern Mexico

Several types of woodpeckers, many of which are found in corresponding environments in the Western and Southwestern United States, such as Acorn Woodpeckers, Gila Woodpeckers, Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers, Arizona Woodpeckers, and the critically endangered and possibly extinct Imperial Woodpecker (endemic to the Sierra Madre Occidental), are found in the mixed pine-oak forests of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Durango.

Songbirds and Other Birds of North America’s Sierra Madre Occidental

Trogons, such as Eared Quetzals, Elegant Trogons, and Mountain Trogons, are found in the SMO, as are motmots, numerous types of jays, crows and ravens, and songbirds like warblers, chickadees, and several species of titmice. Towhees, thrashers, sparrows, shrikes, flycatchers, wrens, bluebirds, finches, cardinals (Pyrrhuloxia and Northern Cardinals), orioles, tanagers, buntings, and several types of hummingbirds are also found in the SMO. Swifts, swallows and nighthawks are some of the aerial insect feeders, and nightjars thrive in the montane forests. Greater Roadrunners are common in the drier parts of the SMO, where they feed on small reptiles. Exotic birds, like parrots are also found in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Northern Mexico.

Wild and wonderful, the Sierra Madre Occidental of Northern Mexico has some of the most diverse and remarkable birds of North America in its forested parts. It is a great place to visit for birdwatching, hiking, and experiencing nature up close.

Birds of the Scottish Uplands: A Hostile Mountain Environment Supports a Range of Bird Life

Scotland’s uplands (broadly defined as land above 700m in elevation) are a fragile environment. Boggy, rocky, with little tree cover and exposed to some of the worst excesses of the country’s weather, they nevertheless provide a home for a range of birds. Some are permanent residents, some only summer visitors and some are found nowhere else in Britain.

The Birds of the Scottish Uplands

The uplands in general are fragile. Animal life is sparse and yet the tough and unforgiving environment is home to many birds which are of international importance,either in terms of their limited numbers or because of their special habitat requirements. These birds are under threat from a number of areas, including climate change, afforestation or other land use changes and developments such as wind turbines.

Dotterel, a Rare Breeding Species in the Mountains

One of the most characteristic upland birds is the dotterel. Summer migrants to the UK, dotterel can be seen in spring and autumn in some eastern areas of England on their way to and from their breeding grounds; but between mid-May and August they are found only on the high mountain tops of the Grampian and Cairngorm mountains (the National Nature Reserve of Ben Wyvis is a good place to look).

Dotterel are attractive birds, unusual in that the females are more brightly coloured than the males. Their speckled chestnut and white plumage, together with their relative tameness, made them a target for Victorian collectors, contributing to their decline (the RSPB estimates that there are only around 750 breeding males in Scotland each year). They are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, making it an offence to damage or disturb their nests.

Ptarmigan, Thriving on the High Tops

Though the ptarmigan has a wide range throughout Europe it’s found nowhere else in the British Isles apart from the high Scottish mountains. A permanent resident, it is unique among British birds in that it changes its plumage with the seasons, from brown in the summer to white during the winter, so as to make itself less conspicuous. It is adapted to living in cold environments – being noted for its feathery feet.

 

Despite being restricted to high mountain areas, the ptarmigan is in fact not rare, with an estimated breeding population of around 10,000 pairs. The birds can be seen on many Scottish mountains, with the largest population on the Cairngorm plateau. It is considered to require no special protection at present and may legally be shot, although some agencies have concerns about the species’ future if global warming has an impact upon its sub-alpine habitat.

Snow Buntings: a Breeding Species Under Threat

So few pairs of snow buntings nesting in the United Kingdom (RSPB estimates indicate fewer than 100 pairs) that the precise nesting sites are not publicised. They are, as their name suggests, birds of cold environments and nest on the ground in the Scottish mountains. The migratory birds can, however, be seen in larger numbers at sites in the east and north of the British Isles in spring and autumn on their way to Arctic breeding grounds.

Like dotterel, snow buntings are attractive birds, white underneath with a black back. They are at risk not only from disturbance by walkers and by developments such as skiing areas, but because they are so specific in their habitats they are also under threat from climate change. Figures quoted by the National Trust for Scotland suggest that a relatively small rise in global temperatures could substantially reduce the suitability of their already-limited breeding space.

Other Scottish Upland Birds

The mountains support many other birds, though few are as restricted in their range as those listed above. Ring ouzels, for example, can be seen in numbers in the Scottish uplands but are found on the high ground of the rest of the United Kingdom as well, while golden plovers occupy the higher land to breed and move to the lowlands in winter.

Both of these birds along with others such as the golden eagle, hen harrier and merlin, are at risk from a variety of different factors, including development, disturbance and (particularly in the case of the birds of prey) human persecution. Even where the birds are found elsewhere, the relative inaccessibility of the Scottish uplands is vital to their conservation.

What is an Endemic Bird Area? Important Places for Bird Conservation Around the World

Endemic bird areas (EBAs), defined by BirdLife International, are geographical areas home to at least two endemic bird species whose ranges are restricted to a relatively small area. Because restricted range species are particularly vulnerable to the threat of extinction, EBAs should be high on our list of habitats to protect. Though the focus is on birds, however, the idea has great significance for the conservation of other species, and of biodiversity in general.

The History of Endemic Bird Areas

Endemic bird areas were described in the 1992 publication Putting Biodiversity on the Map. The authors pointed out that relatively small areas, mostly in the tropics, are home to large numbers of threatened species. Identifying and protecting these species-rich areas, they argued, would conserve the maximum number of species.

In general, species-rich areas also have large numbers of bird species, including endemic birds with restricted ranges; therefore birds are a good indicator of biodiversity and the need for conservation. Initially, 221 EBAs were identified.

In 1998, the book Endemic Bird Areas of the World cemented the connection between endemic birds and biodiversity, and argued that it’s critically important to protect these areas: “At the ecosystem level, biodiversity underpins the ecological processes that are vital to human life, for example in influencing global climate patterns, in mediating the carbon cycle, in safeguarding watersheds, and in stabilizing soils to prevent desertification” (p. 13).

Birdlife International now recognizes 218 EBAs and lobbies for their conservation.

Endemic Bird Areas – Features and Facts

Factual information about EBAs helps us understand why we should protect them, and how easy it would be to do so:

  • The currently designated EBAs account for only 7,300,000 square kilometers of Earth’s land surface (4.5 percent).
  • More than three quarters are in the tropics or subtropics.
  • Many are islands or mountain ranges.
  • All but seven percent of Earth’s 2500 endemic birds live in EBAs.
  • Each EBA is home to at least two restricted-range endemic birds and some have as many as eighty. Endemic species of other life are also common in these areas.
  • A diversity of human culture and language is typical in EBAs.

From a global perspective, the most important feature of EBAs is that they contain significant numbers of the world’s threatened species in relatively small areas, as well as vast numbers of other organisms. They offer an opportunity for maximum conservation with minimum effort.