[The spoonie team are back from Myanmar, so Nigel Clark has provided an update]
We are just back in Yangon having spent the last 8 days on an expedition to resurvey the waders that winter on the upper Bay of Martaban. The team consisted of Nigel Clark from the BTO, Guy Anderson, Graeme Buchanan and Rhys Green from the RSPB, Geoff Hilton from WWT and five ornithologists from BANCA (the organisation in Myanmar that has taken on the task of saving spoonies in the country). To get the 10 of us out into the middle of the estuary for a week required a fleet of 7 boats, each about 6 foot wide and 25 foot long and 14 experienced local boat handlers.
Living in these conditions for a week is a strange experience. The boats settle down on the flats on every falling tide in places where the boatmen know are away from the tidal bore that comes in on every tide. This means that they are also areas where a lot of soft mud settles. As a result mud gets everywhere if you are not careful to clean off the clingy mud every time you get into the boat. Remarkably the cooks managed to produce fantastic local food on tiny simple charcoal stoves in the bottom of the boat.
Our days were governed by the tides and as soon as the tide went out we would fan out from the boats to survey the mudflats looking for flocks of small waders when we found one we would count the number of each species and hope to find a spoonie before moving on to the next flock. We did this for up to 7 hours a day traveling a total of 6 to 15 km a day but making sure that we were back close to the boats before the bore arrived! Luckily that boatman could predict it well and gave us a time that we must be back so we were close to the boats long before the bore arrived. This also meant that we could observe bird movements on the rising tide and assess the total number of birds in the area.
Time and tide wait for no-one (Guy Anderson)
So how did we do? The results were simply staggering! When we added up the totals of each species each day we counted a total of 145 thousand bird days. Taking into account the days when we might of counted birds seen on other days we believe that the minimum number of birds in upper Martaban is 90 thousand which is a substantial increase on previous counts.
We also had a total of 184 sightings of spoonies most of which were in scan samples where we counted all the waders in each flock. A rapid analysis by Rhys suggested that there may be about 155 in the upper bay now which is a similar number to previous surveys. This is very encouraging as we had predicted that the population was declining by 26% per year. If that was still happening then we would have only found 40 or less.
The big surprise was that we only found one colour marked bird which on first sight seems different to the proportion marked in the surveys we did in China in the autumn. This could be just chance or could suggest that there is some population segregation going on. We need to do a full analysis before we can decide which is the case, but it does show how difficult it is to understand the movement patterns of this charismatic species.
It is now time to catch up on sleep and prepare for the long flight home, but it is less than that flown by a spoonie each year!
Searching for spoonies (Guy Anderson)
Lenke Balint, our Partner Development Officer for South East Europe writes:
There is a now a once in generation opportunity to stop, once and for all, the senseless slaughter of migratory birds during their spring migration and put an end to the concessions awarded to the Maltese hunting community.
We have heard from our partner, BirdLife Malta, and the national Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting (CASH) that the Maltese Prime Minister has announced the 11 April 2015 is the date for a spring hunting referendum.
Although the date is earlier than expected - leaving CASH limited time to campaign for banning spring hunting; we welcome this landmark decision from the Maltese Constitutional Court. BirdLife Malta has said the process leading to the Court’s decision was a particularly lengthy one - which the hunting lobby tried to delay several times. However, at last, the Maltese people have the power to vote on this issue which is an historic moment for democracy in Malta.
The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, declared that the referendum result will have immediate effects. If the people vote to retain spring hunting, the season would be opened on April 12, 2015. If the people voted to abolish spring hunting, the hunting season would be cancelled. Romina Tolu, Campaign Coordinator for CASH, said: ‘with the referendum taking place before the spring hunting spring season would normally open, this gives the people the opportunity to stop spring hunting immediately. The hunters may have already had their last spring hunting season’.
The EU Birds’ Directive expressly forbids the killing of migratory birds in spring, but Malta’s government continues to derogate (opt out) from this EU law, allowing turtle dove and quail to be hunted. Sadly, because of this, other protected migratory birds also fall victim to illegal hunting practices every spring.
The RSPB strongly opposes any weakening of the Birds’ Directive. We welcome and support BirdLife Malta’s campaign, SHout (Spring Hunting Out) to abolish spring hunting. We are providing key technical advice and financial assistance to ensure a successful campaign in the run up to April’s referendum. CASH was established in early 2014, when fourteen Maltese organisations joined together to campaign for the abolition of spring hunting, under BirdLife Malta’s leadership.
To keep up-to-date with live updates on the referendum to abolish spring hunting: www.springhuntingout.com and https://www.facebook.com/SpringHuntingOut
For more information about our work in Malta, contact Lenke Balint, Partner Development Officer for South East Europe: email@example.com
Simon Tonkin of Conservation Grade sees the future for turtle doves.
A turtle dove - photo by Simon Tonkin
Is it because Turtle Doves cannot raise enough broods to sustain the population in our countryside or the onslaught of hunting? Is it because our countryside is becoming increasingly not fit for wildlife?
Yet the Turtle Dove is not a bird that just hangs-out in the UK, it transverses the globe from north to south in search of summer seed rich habitats in the UK or wintering areas in the Sahel. Passing many countries on it’s route to feed and shelter or maybe even stop to breed in one of the many European countries the species passes through and nests in.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us”
Will these symbols of love not arrive back in the summer in the future heralding the warmer and lengthening days? Will the last Turtle Dove be doomed to die in captivity just like her cousin the Passenger Pigeon?….and of course what of it? does it really matter?
“I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart”
Looking into the future as it is we will continue on our way, continually depleting the world of it’s riches losing more species, but we will nonetheless continue on, not much will change, until suddenly one day you will being telling your children’s, children of the riches you lost them. YOU stood by and did nothing, whilst an iconic species deeply rooted in our culture was lost forever. Never to be heard filling the air with its purring or seen with it’s rufous wing and pink flush underneath. This beauty will be stripped from our countryside and it is you and I that will have been responsible.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it:’ “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life”
Of course you would be forgiven for thinking that the future looks bleak indeed it currently does for for our Turtle Doves but yet there is the opportunity to change the path. At desperate times often there emerges a hero, maybe even two or maybe even a whole army of them, kind hearts that make the change for the better.
In the Turtle Dove’s case a whole army of kind folk that keep Christmas in their hearts the whole year for the Turtle Dove; Birdlife partners, Individuals and organisations just like Conservation Grade, and of course we are very proud to be part of this important band of heroes. It will be take an an army of Turtle Dove saviours with super human powers whether it be running or walking huge distances, using the power of persuasion or super human vision of ‘if you build it they will come’ or perhaps super human mental strength to battling the evils of bad policy, problematic hunting or fighting the big issue, the way in which the countryside is managed and how little room there might be for our Turtle Doves, not just in the UK, but across the flyway.
STOP! SUPERHERO! ……YES!…YOU!!!!
We need you to join the fight, your super-powers are invaluable! you have a superpower that we need and that is the power of…..’the consumer’
So how about it hero? want to rewrite the future with us?……why are you still reading this? go be Fair to Nature, and be that hero!…..(cape optional) and keep Christmas in your heart the whole year.
“Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate aye reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost”
Keep Christmas in your heart the whole year and ensure farmers across the flyway create Turtle Dove friendly habitats through you buying Fair to Nature. Photos by Simon Tonkin