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31  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Other Wildlife Chat / Other Wildlife / Re: Red Slender Loris –Loris tardigradus on: December 14, 2012, 06:54:47 am

A team of Sri Lankan researchers has discovered a strange white Langur monkey in the rain forests of Southwestern Sri Lanka

This is a new colour morph of the purple faced leaf Langur (Semnopithecus vetulus) which is endemic to the island.

The research team included Galle Wildlife Conservation Society's Madura A de Silva and Nadika C Hapuarachchi, and Nations Trust Bank Primate Conservation Project's P A Rohan Krishantha. The team has discovered over 30 monkeys of this new colour form in 14 troops. The new colour morph was named as the Galanthus (snow white) colour morph. Galanthus colour morph was observed among troops mainly from rain forests and rain forest associated habitats.

"Sri Lanka has four subspecies of the purple faced leaf langur from four different geographical zones. The new colour morph belongs to the Southern purple faced leaf langur (Semnopithecus vetulus vetulus)," said Hapuarachchi.

According to researchers, all white individuals had black naked parts of the face and beige to ashy brown crown hair. None had red eyes and body and limbs were white, sometimes with ashy patches. They have identified adults, juveniles and infants of both sexes of this new colour morph.

The researchers also observed that most rain forests, in which these individuals are observed, are adjoining commercial lowland tea plantations and tea smallholders. Therefore, the encroachment of rain forest by tea cultivations has been a major issue related to the Galanthus colour morph.
32  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Begging elephants of Udawalawe on: November 09, 2012, 01:49:05 pm
Wild elephants along Udawalawe National Park fence for food have become a tourist attraction in recent times, but wildlife enthusiast frown on this practice as it poses a grave danger to both humans and animals.

I have seen many passersby throw plastic bags full of bananas and other fruit at the elephants who are virtually begging along the main road bordering the national park.

 This is perhaps the only place in the world where people can feed wild elephants.

 Taking a leaf from the experience in other countries, Sri Lankan authorities could turn the feeding of wild elephants into a money spinning enterprise while making it safe for both beasts and animal lovers.

 I suggest that the wildlife authorities set up elevated structures at a few places along the park border where people can climb and feed wild elephants. Guards could be placed to ensure that the food that is offered is free of any plastic or any such material that could be dangerous to the animals.

  A fee could be charged to get on the platform from where people can throw fruits at the elephants at a safe distance. An organised system of feeding such as this would ensure revenue for the wild life department which can also regularise and charge fees from the suppliers of fruit who may be allowed stalls within the premises.

 I am attaching a couple of picture to illustrate how dangerous it is for people to get so close to the animals across an electric fence and feed elephants. The elephant too could be hurt in the process.

I hope this will be favourably looked at by the authorities, including president Mahinda Rajapaksa who has taken initiatives recently to make a difference at Yala.

Isnad News Paper Cutting
33  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds Chat / Sri Lanka could be in path of world’s longest insect migration on: October 29, 2012, 03:19:26 am
Last year same period: Waves of Dragonflies were reported from the west coast and other areas. The world’s longest insect migration was documented from India-Maldives-Africa and this observation hints Sri Lanka too could be a hub in its path. Public support is sought this year to unravel this mystery�

On October 20 last year a large swarm of dragonflies were spotted in Sri Lanka’s west coast by a bird watcher Nashath Hafi. The insects had been seen heading south from areas including Moratuwa and Kollupitiya. Subsequent investigations confirmed this unusual influx of insects

A Globe Skimmer Dragonfly found last year soon after the wave of dragonflies

Speaking to the Sunday Times Sarath who lives by the coast in Dehiwela said, “the cloud of dragonflies took a few hours to pass our area. The insects were everywhere and some even ended up inside houses”. Members of the fishing community at Dehiwela helped to catch a few dragonflies that were still hovering around.

An investigation into the phenomenon by consulting biologists revealed a possibility of a mass migration of dragonflies spanning India – Maldives and all the way up to East Africa. The path covers a distance of around 14,000 kilometres and could be called the world’s longest insect migration.

Maldivian-based biologist Dr. Charles Anderson initially revealed the amazing phenomenon based onthe dates the dragonflies appear in the Maldives and India.

The Maldive Islands lack surface freshwater as the soil absorbs all rainwater. This indicated that dragonflies which spend their larvae stage in fresh water cannot breed in these tropical islands. Yet, every year millions of dragonflies appeared in the Maldives which the biologist who had been living in the islands for many years found puzzling. He also noted the insects appeared in the Maldives in October.

So Dr. Anderson investigated the concentration of dragonflies in other areas.�He noted the dates dragonflies arrived in the Maldives and India demonstrated that the insects travelled from southern India –a distance of some 500 – 1000 km. Subsequent investigations also revealed an increase of dragonflies in Seychelles islands in Africa and the arrival dates in the Seychelles matched with a possible mass migration.

Dr.Anderson based on his data calculated the Dragonflies first appear in the capital city of Maldives on 21st of October on average. Quite interestingly the wave of Dragonflies was observed in Sri Lanka on 20th October highlighting the possibility that the island too was part of the path of the India-Africa dragonfly mass migration.

Checking photos of the species of dragonflies found in Sri Lanka Dr.Anderson was able to confirm it was the same species known as Globe Skimmer, or Wandering Glider, scientifically categorised as Pantala flavescens.

A Dehiwala resident showing a dragonfly caught on the beach

The biologist also noted the dates of arrival of dragonflies and occurrence coincided with the southward passage of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which creates certain wind patterns that could assist dragonflies in their journey across oceans.

The Meteorological department confirmed the ITCZ would cross Sri Lanka next week. So it is likely that this year’s mass movement of the dragonflies could occur in next few days.

Inspired by this mass movement of dragonflies, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) that studies bird migration has launched a MigrantWATCH programme.

It calls on members of the public who may notice the mass movement of dragonflies, to note down the date and time of observation, the location, the direction they fly and the approximate number of dragonflies if possible.

All data should be sent to MigrantWATCH program via email at:, by post: MigrantWATCH, FOGSL, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo-03

New species of dragonfly found in Sri Lanka�

Sri Lanka is listed with having 118 species of dragonflies of which 43 are endemic to the country. Recently a new variety was discovered by Nancy van der Poorten – a well known researcher into dragonflies who made the discovery from Kudawa at the western edge of Sinharaja rain forest.

The new Dragonfly – Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai

The variety belongs to a genus referred to as Macromidia. Genus is a categorization of species that has similar characteristics and this is the first time a dragonfly of this genus has been discovered from Sri Lanka.

The species similar to a species found in India’s Western Ghats is separated from its Indian cousin by a distance of 750 km and could therefore be endemic to Sri Lanka.

Researchers however point out, until certain aspects of the Indian dragonfly are studied in detail, it would not possible to confirm the differences scientifically.

Until such time the latest discovery of Dr. Nancy van der Poorten has been designated as a Sri Lankan subspecies and named Macromidia donaldi pethiyagodai, honouring Rohan Pethiyagoda who made several discoveries of new species.

By Malaka Rodrigo
(Sunday Times)
34  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds Chat / Young Flamingos’ privacy preserved on: October 28, 2012, 06:17:17 pm
The last time I had seen a really large flock of flamingoes was in 1975 at Malala, the largest fresh-water lagoon, just east of the Hambantota town. In June that year, after a lapse of several years, a flock of 2000 flamingoes made their appearance in the lower section of the lagoon, close to the sand dunes. They remained in the vicinity until the end of December.

A point I could not help noticing as I stood gazing at the flock was that the majority of them were immature birds, with no pink about their bodies of scarlet markings on the wings. Individuals in full adult plumage represented about 5 percent.

The Common or Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, is mainly a migrant species, known to visit us from north-west India in October and go back there the following April.

Yet, large flocks of them have been observed in the Hambantota area right through the year, including young birds. Could these young ones have been born in Sri Lanka and, if so, where?

The problem of juvenile flamingoes has been worrying bird-watchers here for several decades. Many of them believed that there existed a breeding place of the birds in some remote corner of the island.

Even Vincent Legge, that foremost ornithologist, was not completely immune to the belief.

For instance, in his great work “A history of the Birds of Ceylon”, published in 1880, he says: “It is for the most part, as I could ascertain, a migratory species. But it is said by the Moor men on the South-East coast to breed between Yala and Batticaloa. That the flamingoes nest in Ceylon is, I think, probable.

I have been informed that young birds have been brought to Hambantota from the direction of Batticaloa, and their perculier mode of nesting was likewise described to me with tolerable correctness.”

W.E. Wait, writing on the subject about 50 years later mentions “There are also traditions which, however, have never been verified that a breeding place lies in the extreme south of the Eastern Province.”

Cicely Lushington, too, quotes Wait and says further that young birds are light-brown in colour and have no scarlet in the wings. W.W.A. Phillips endorses both these points of view. But Oliver L. Austin Jr., author of the “The Birds of the World” states that the flamingo nested “formerly” in Sri Lanka.

G.M. Henry in “A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon” (1955) gives his point of view as follows: “In Ceylon it is mainly winter visitor, but a good many loiter through the South-West monsoon, and it has often been suspected of breeding on remote lagoons in the Eastern Province, and while it may have done so, in time past, when the country was very much wilder, it seems improbable that it could nowadays find a suitable country for the purpose.”

Douglas Raffel of “In Ruhunu Jungles” – fame, after closely studying a flock in a lagoon off Hambantota suggests, “I have seen flamingoes hive in large numbers during eleven months of the year. And I know others who saw them in December, too. So I am quite sure now they are residents.”

A.E. Buttler of Hambantota, who counts half century of bird-watching on the South-East costal belt, thinks it improbable that breeding ever took place, except, perhaps a few centuries ago. From his experience he maintains this is an improbability for the following reasons – First, at the time of the year when breeding takes place in the Great Rann of Kutch (their breeding place closest to Sri Lanka) with the on-set of the South-West monsoon, the rainfall here is dropping off and with the dryness that follows the lagoons begin to dry up gradually. Secondly, when dry in many of these lagoons around Hambantota, salt is harvested and has been so from remote periods.

On the other hand, as long as the water is shallow there is continual procession of people netting fish and prawns in these stretches of water.

Hence, if there is any breeding in Sri Lanka (the possibilities are even remoter now) it can only be near Jaffna Peninsula in that uninhabited North-East corner.

Yet, a Mr. Bunker, writing from Jaffna in October 1965 contended, “I doubt if the area is large and unvisited enough to make this (breeding) possible.

We see flamingoes around the peninsula very seldom, at any time of the year. It seems unlikely that this should be so if large numbers are breeding here.”

To quote Leslie Brown, an authority on the Flamingoes, “They would be likely to breed at a time when the water was slowly receding, leaving exposed large areas of sticky mud in which to build their nests. The breeding grounds were likely to be near the outlets of fresh water streams where conditions for the newly hatched young might not be too harsh.”

On the strength of these authoritative evidence, one cannot but presume that these birds, do, in fact, breed in Sri Lanka and that, perhaps their extreme shyness at nesting, coupled with the possibility that no one has had the time or the facilities to search for them has preserved their privacy through the ages.

by K.G.H. Munidasa
Sunday Observer
35  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds Chat / he bird with a beak from ear to ear on: October 28, 2012, 06:10:00 pm
It was believed that the Ceylon Frogmouth or 'Gembi-kata Bassa' is a rare breeding resident in Sri Lanka found nowhere else in the world. However, recent surveys conducted in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in the Aanaimalai Hills in South India have recorded that the same bird as ours is found there.

While at least five species of Frogmouths are found in South-East Asia, the Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moni-liger) is the sole representative of the family Podargidae in the island.

Frogmouths are characterized by their wide, short, stout beak, with gape extending to almost behind the eye, hence its name. Owing to its bizarre appearance and apparent rarity, very few people have seen it in the wild, since it was first described by Edward Blyth in 1846.

W.E. Wait (1931) describes the Ceylon Frogmouth as "A sluggish, strictly nocturnal bird frequenting thick bamboo jungle or dense forest growths. During the day it lies fast asleep across a branch with its bill turned upwards."

G.M. Henry (1955) has this to say; "It sleeps on a branch with beak pointing upwards. In this position its lichen-like plumage suggests a dead snag on the branch. It sleeps soundly and may sometimes almost be seized in the hand before it awakes." Its call is variously described as "a rapid coorroo, coorroo (Legge); "a loud whistled scream Wheeeeoooo (male) and Wheee-ooo-what (female) (Ben King) or "resembling the screech of a fishing reel running out slowly," (Henry).

According to the Annotated Checklist (1978 revised edition), the Ceylon Frogmouth has a wide distribution, in small numbers, throughout the forests and well-wooded areas of the lowlands and the central hills to altitudes of 6,000 feet, but is seldom seen. Most specimens of the bird have been recorded either from Sinharaja or Bibile, with occasional sightings from a number of places such as Kitulgala, Labugama, Handapanagala, Uda-Walawe, Nilgala and Moneragala.

By K.G.H. Munidasa
36  Nature Article & Trip Report / Top Nature Article / Community participation in forestry conservation vital on: October 28, 2012, 01:54:35 pm
We learnt a lot about forests in school. We understood that forests provide the oxygen we breathe, remove carbon dioxide, help clean the air and moderate the climate. We learnt about forests regulating our supply of fresh water, helping prevent erosion and flooding, creating habitat for wildlife and providing recreation and spiritual opportunities. Forests, we were taught, are also the main source of wood for paper, furniture and building materials.

However, when we became adults, most of us did not give much thought to what we learnt in school. In spite of the number of times we have hiked through the national parks and been impressed by their beauty and diversity, we never gave much thought to the importance of forests to our existence.

According to environmental experts, Sri Lanka’s forests are facing a number of threats with regard to their sustainability. Deforestation is one of the most serious of these issues. For example, during the past two decades, we lost nearly 21 percent of our forest cover or around 490,000 ha. It is, indeed, a heinous crime.

Jungles and forests are the backbone of a society, not only because of their natural economic importance, but also because of their importance in maintaining ecological equilibrium.

Trees and forests help in formulating the seasons and, also act as a cleanser of the air surrounding human society and help in maintaining ground water levels and the water cycle too.

Let’s check out a few facts about deforestation:

Woods are fast dwindling
There is a dire need to preserve forest cover. Most predictions have forewarned that forests could disappear altogether within the next 200-300 years. When forests deplete, we also shrink our wealth of natural resources. They contain many different species of plants and herbs. Honey, resin and many other minerals sourced from forests are lost when we raze them out.

Reasons for deforestation
Agriculture is the prime cause of deforestation; most of the jungle cover is razed to the ground to grow cash crops and food grains. Farmers also reduce forest cover to turn it into grazing land for cattle and livestock. The second biggest driver of deforestation is chopping of trees for timber. Sometimes overgrazing and wildfires also reduce forest cover.

As more and more trees are cut, the fertile soil will gradually turn into a barren desert. One of the biggest hazards of deforestation is desertification. When the shady trees are chopped down, the soil is exposed directly to the harsh, hot sun. It, therefore, dries out very quickly. The frequency of rainfall also declines as trees have a big role to play in completing the water cycle.

Climate Changes
The incidence of natural calamities will increase due to deforestation. Areas where the forest cover has altered are more likely to be stricken by floods, cyclones, storms and fires. This mainly happens because more carbon dioxide is released into the air, altering its basic composition. Thickset forests usually sop up greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide in the air.

Effect on soil

Cutting down trees also changes the composition of soil and the nutrients in it are lost. Roots hold the soil together and in their absence rain water washes away nutrients. Deforestation leads to soil erosion and increases its salinity. Even the carbon composition of the soil is affected by deforestation. Soil turns unfertile and such land cannot be cultivated for agriculture.

Threat to animals
Jungles are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The lives of animals as well as the flora and fauna are affected greatly when trees in their vicinity are destroyed. Some of them can even become extinct. The extreme temperature changes caused by deforestation also affect animal life. Trees make their surroundings cool during the day and retain heat at night, balancing the temperature.

Local participation
The writer believes that in Sri Lanka, the plans to protect forest ecosystems have failed to address the needs and knowledge of local forest-dependent communities. Local community participation is the key strategy to current forestry conservation and management.

If wildlife and all the protected areas are to survive, it is imperative that conservation activities and communities are in harmony so that it does not constrain community livelihoods. For conservation of natural resources of the forests to be realised effectively, there is the need for integrative management that considers local communities’ stake in conservation.

The writer believes that the key issues to be addressed are:

* Identification of communities living around the forests and their socio-cultural activities,

* Identification of the contribution of local communities to the conservation of the forests and factors limiting their participation,
* The role of community-based organisations, achievements and challenges,
* The extent of human-wildlife conflicts and possible conflict mitigation strategies,
* The importance of natural resources to the local communities,
* Analysis of options to be used by the management as entry points to elicit community participation in forestry conservation.

Conserving forest resources requires stakeholders to trust one another and commit themselves to sustainable forest use. Legal or administrative procedures may have to be reformed or power redistributed to build relations of trust. Mutual trust often takes time to develop, especially if stakeholders have no previous experience of sharing decision-making or management responsibilities.

Local communities
In conservation projects, villages or local communities are sometimes identified rather broadly as a single stakeholder. It is important to question this assumption and others about local communities.

Local communities are homogeneous entities. In terms of land holding, power, and knowledge, most communities are characterised more by their differences than their similarities.

Women and men may have different interests in a forest. Landless people may desire access to the forest and its resources for other purposes than landholders. If only community leaders (who are usually male landholders) are involved in a participatory process, other interest groups within the community risk being neglected. A common source of conflict is the failure to consider the views of all community members.

Local communities live according to stable traditional values. The idea that rural communities do not change or acquire new knowledge, habits and interests is wrong. Social and cultural traditions change as people are exposed to new options, ideas and technologies. Local communities depend on the forest for their livelihood and therefore have an interest in protecting it. It is true that many people living in tropical forest areas are highly dependent on forest resources. In many countries, however, infrastructure development and access to urban labour markets have reduced local dependence on forests and forest products.

Local people like the forest and therefore want to protect it. Cultural perceptions of forests differ from group to group. Many social groups have ways of thinking about and acting towards forests which may seem conflicting to outside observers. For example, although people may ‘like’ and value forests for providing fuel wood, food, medicine or timber, they may at the same time associate them with negative meanings. Thus, forests are linked to notions of backwardness and danger, and have negative connotations for many people .

Local people practise superior forms of landscape management. Recent studies of indigenous forest management systems have shown that they can retain 50-80 percent of the biodiversity found in neighbouring natural forest ecosystems. Local or indigenous people’s knowledge should not be idealised and it should not be assumed that their knowledge or culture alone has sustained their management systems. Rather, traditional management systems should be assessed together with local people to determine which aspects can be most effectively incorporated into conservation efforts.

Top-down management
Community participation in conservation of forestry, therefore, needs to be promoted for its continued preservation. This will be in line with the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the goal on environmental sustainability.

Striking a balance between satisfying the livelihood needs and wise use of natural resources within the forestry reserves to ensure sustainability is, therefore, the biggest challenge.


37  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds Chat / Mating of owls - on: October 28, 2012, 01:45:09 pm
Indian Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum radiatum. "Breeding resident in the Low-Country Dry Zone and lower Hill Zone. Moderately plentiful, in small numbers, in the southern and eastern areas of the Dry Zone and ascends the Hills to altitudes of 3,500 feet. Breeds from April to August in the Eastern Province. K.G.H. Munidasa has observed in a tree near Muwangala in the Gal Oya Valley a pair mating in April (1966), May 15 (1965) and June 13 (1965) and young being fed in August (Ceylon Bird Club)"

Annotated checklist of the Birds of Ceylon (1978 revised edition)

February 22, 1964 - A pair of jungle owlets was mating on a dead branch at 5.30 pm. Prior to this they sat close to each other uttering a crooning note croo, croo, croo and their white cheeks puffed up rhythmically.

May 7 Mating was still in progress. The courting pair started to frequent a tree quite in the open on the bole of which was a large (dia. 8 ins.) natural cavity. Here they regularly perched on one of two branches, close to the cavity.

The pair of owlets was seen together in the morning. They were preening each others head and calling. As they called they lowered their heads on to the breast. I was sure they were nesting somewhere, nearby, but I could not find the place.

May 15 The pair of owlets were observed mating at dusk. Soon afterwards, they entered the cavity of a tree together and remained there for some time.

May 17 The pair was calling in broad daylight (1.30 p.m.) in an open branch in scrub. One of them attacked a Palm Squirrel, which passed close to it.

May 18. They were seen again in the same scrub at 3.30 pm. After a shower of rain. One of them selected a perch on a dead branch, overlooking an expanse of open ground. From this commanding position it twice swooped down on the ground like a Roller, and returned to a different branch, each time. I watched this one for over an hour, during which it changed its perch thrice.

June 7 The pair of owlets were abroad at 5.30 am. While one being mobbed by a pair of Bulbuls, the other sat on a branch 100 yards away, contentedly preening its feathers. One of them had lately taken a fancy to a dead tree on the edge of the scrub, where it had two favourite perches.

June 12 One owlet was out at 4.45 pm. when the sun was very bright. It did not pay much heed to the Sunbirds, which hovered about its head.

June 24 One of the owlets came to its usual perch at 7.00 am and remained there until 10.20. About 8.00 am. It appeared to be very drowsy. It yawned showing a pinkish-red mouth. Next, it blinked its eyes a couple of times and then it closed the eyes and remained in that position for about ten minutes. When the sun became hotter it turned its back on it and curled up one leg. All of a sudden, it became alert and dropped on the scrub like a Kestrel. In two minutes it returned to the perch, and swooped down again, but came back immediately. Next, it flew over and sat on the leaf of a plantain tree. At 10.20 am it retired for the morning.

By now I was certain they were nesting. But not in any one of the tree holes I had suspected they were. There was a large rock close by, full of hidden grottos, roofed over by the branches of a giant fig tree. Could they be nesting in a crevice of this rock? I had often seen them perching on the shoulder of the rock.

June 27. At last I found the next of the owlets. It was in a natural cavity 45-50 feet up in a large tree, five feet in girth. The entrance was about 4 inches wide, and as far as I could see from below there was only one young there. It was the hunger note of the young that attracted me to the tree. It was an open place beside the road, that one would have least expected to find a family of owlets to be at home.

The young was fed only during the morning hours, and then after dark. The rest of the day the parents spent their time with the baby inside the nest, in peaceful slumber. Often I would see a parent resting its chin against the doorsteps of the nest with closed eyes. But they, now and again, came out to drive away intruders in the tree. Once, it was an Indian Roller which inadvertently alighted on a branch. The infuriated owlets dislodged the roller off the perch with a single attack.

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July 29 I was away four about ten days, and during my absence the two nestlings had been launched into the world. I found them in the cluster of trees close to the favourite dead tree of the parents. As I watched one of the young flew 30 yards towards me, where one of the parents was holding a large beetle (something similar) in one of its feet. The young owlet alighted on the same branch, and approached the parent uttering a tinkling note. The parent then offered it the beetle which the young took in the beak. From the beak it transferred the food to the right foot and after nibbling away at it for sometime proceeded to swallow it whole.

Like the adults, the young freely used the feet for the purpose of conveying food to the mouth. The young made most amusing gestures. For instance, when studying objects that interested them they would oscillate their bodies from side to side and rotate their heads in a ludicrous manner. Their hunger note could be likened to the tinkling of a small bell (one the Kandyan dancers wear on their ankle). They kept up the cry throughout and intensified whenever the parents came with food. In the act of producing this the mandibles opened and closed, but they were also capable of crying with the beak closed. The young were strangely silent after dark.

July 30 As I approached closer to get a better view of the young, a parent made a warning noise to which the young quickly responded.

K.G.H. Munidasa (Sunday Observer)

38  General Chat / Noticeboard / Re: hi,,, on: October 28, 2012, 01:41:19 pm
Welcome to the Forum.
39  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / The Original 'Twitter'? Tiny Electronic Tags Monitor Birds' Social Networks on: October 15, 2012, 09:18:22 am

If two birds meet deep in the forest, does anybody hear? Until now, nobody did, unless an intrepid biologist was hiding underneath a bush and watching their behavior, or the birds happened to meet near a research monitoring station. But an electronic tag designed at the University of Washington can for the first time see when birds meet in the wild.

A new study led by a biologist at Scotland's University of St. Andrews used the UW tags to see whether crows might learn to use tools from one another. The findings, published last week in Current Biology, supported the theory by showing an unexpected amount of social mobility, with the crows often spending time near birds outside their immediate family.

The study looked at crows in New Caledonia, an archipelago of islands in the South Pacific. The crows are famous for using different tools to extract prey from deadwood and vegetation. Biologists wondered whether the birds might learn by watching each other.

The results, as reported by St. Andrews, revealed "a surprising number of contacts" between non-related crows. During one week, the technology recorded more than 28,000 interactions among 34 crows. While core family units of New Caledonian crows contain only three members, the study found all the birds were connected to the larger social network.

The new paper is the first published study using the UW tags to record animal social interactions.

"This is a new type of animal-tracking technology," said co-author Brian Otis, a UW associate professor of electrical engineering whose lab developed the tags. "Ecology is just one of the many fields that will be transformed with miniaturized, low-power wireless sensors."

Biologists normally tag animals with radio transmitters that broadcast at a particular frequency, and field researchers use a receiver to listen for that frequency and detect when the animal is present. An encounter between small animals would only be recorded if the researcher was nearby.

The UW system, called Encounternet, uses programmable digital tags that can send and receive pulses.

"Encounternet tags can monitor each other, so you can use them to study interactions among animals," said co-author John Burt, a UW affiliate professor of electrical engineering. "You can't even start to do that with other radio-tracking technology."

Other research groups are using the UW tags around the world. Researchers at the University of Windsor in Canada are using them to study mating behavior in Costa Rican long-tailed manikins; a researcher at Drexel University is using them to study the interaction between birds and army ants in Costa Rica; German researchers are putting the tags on sea lions in the Galapagos Islands to study their behavior as they pull up on beaches; and researchers in the Netherlands are studying the social behavior of great ****, a small woodland bird. "It's a big topic right now, the idea that animals have social networks," Burt said. He has been working with field biologists for the last three years to deploy the tags.

"There are other tags that can do proximity logging, but they're all very big and for larger animals. None is as small as Encounternet -- or even near to it."

The smallest of the UW tags weighs less than 1 gram (0.035 ounces) and can be used on animals as light as 20 grams (less than an ounce), about the weight of a sparrow.

Researchers attach the tags to birds with straps that degrade and harmlessly fall off after the battery dies. The tag records nearby pulses, and the signal strength gives an estimate of the other animal's distance.

A typical study using the system includes a few dozen tags and between 10 and 100 fixed base stations. When tagged animals pass a base station the data is transmitted wirelessly from the tag to the base station, and from there to the Internet. Researchers can also reprogram the tags remotely -- for example, they can look at initial results to see when there are few encounters happening, and turn the battery off during those times to conserve power.

Burt completed his doctorate at the UW in 2000, with a dissertation on birdsong communication and learning. He wished that there was a way to automatically monitor bird interactions in the wild, and in 2005 joined forces with Otis, an expert in small, lightweight, low-power electronics. Burt managed the project to develop the tags, with funding from the National Science Foundation, as a research scientist in Otis' group. This fall they founded Encounternet LLC in Portland, Ore., where Burt now lives. He is working to add a GPS component to record the location of encounters, and to add an accelerometer and other sensors that could detect an animal's behavior.

"People are excited about this because for the first time, it allows them to study smaller animal interactions and social networks on an incredibly fine scale," Burt said. "Social networks are turning out to be key to understanding many animal behaviors. People say Encounternet is the only thing they can find that can collect that information."

40  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / Climate Change to Fuel Northern Spread of Avian Malaria on: October 15, 2012, 09:12:35 am

Malaria has been found in birds in parts of Alaska, and global climate change will drive it even farther north, according to a new study published September 19 in the journal

The spread could prove devastating to arctic bird species that have never encountered the disease and thus have no resistance to it, said San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Biology Ravinder Sehgal, one of the study's co-authors. It may also help scientists understand the effects of climate change on the spread of human malaria, which is caused by a similar parasite.

Researchers examined blood samples from birds collected at four sites of varying latitude, with Anchorage as a southern point, Denali and Fairbanks as middle points and Coldfoot as a northern point, roughly 600 miles north of Anchorage. They found infected birds in Anchorage and Fairbanks but not in Coldfoot.

Using satellite imagery and other data, researchers were able to predict how environments will change due to global warming -- and where malaria parasites will be able to survive in the future. They found that by 2080, the disease will have spread north to Coldfoot and beyond.

"Right now, there's no avian malaria above latitude 64 degrees, but in the future, with global warming, that will certainly change," Sehgal said. The northerly spread is alarming, he added, because there are species in the North American arctic that have never been exposed to the disease and may be highly susceptible to it.

"For example, penguins in zoos die when they get malaria, because far southern birds have not been exposed to malaria and thus have not developed any resistance to it," he said. "There are birds in the north, such as snowy owls or gyrfalcons, that could experience the same thing."

The study's lead author is Claire Loiseau, a former postdoctoral fellow in Sehgal's laboratory at SF State. Ryan Harrigan, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, provided data modeling for the project. The research was funded by grants from the AXA Foundation and National Geographic.

Researchers are still unsure how the disease is being spread in Alaska and are currently collecting additional data to determine which mosquito species are transmitting the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria.

41  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / Falcon wins New Zealand Bird of the Year on: October 15, 2012, 08:54:59 am

The New Zealand falcon (karearea) has been crowned Bird of the Year in Forest & Bird’s (BirdLife in New Zealand) eighth annual poll.

This year 10,292 votes were cast in this fiercely contested poll, with the karearea snatching 1261 votes in total, followed by the kokako (965) and the ruru (663).

“The karearea is a bird that’s most worthy of the title Bird of the Year,” says Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell.

“As well as being a top predator that can reach speeds of up to 230km an hour and catch prey mid-flight, it’s a great romantic. During courtship, couples will perform an aerial ballet, swapping food mid-flight, performing mock attack dives or spiralling gracefully landward.”

Despite being an aerial daredevil, it is vulnerable to predation when nesting on the ground and is listed as ”threatened”.

A recent Department of Conservation study suggests that adult falcons are less able to defend their nest from predators than previously thought. “The NZ falcon nests on rocky ledges or on the ground, making it particularly vulnerable to predators such as cats, hedgehogs, stoats, weasels and possums.”

Each year, Forest & Bird volunteers put in thousands of pest-busting hours to keep safe threatened native birds such as the NZ falcon.

In the 2012 Bird of the Year poll, bird ambassadors fought hard to get their bird in the top spot and performed stunts from colouring competitions to sonnet performances. Saddleback campaigner Jackson James Wood even tattooed an image of his bird on to his bicep.

NZ falcon campaigner and comedian Raybon Kan was thrilled by his bird’s win. “I’m overjoyed that democracy has spoken. In tough times, the people need a hero. We need a bird that inspires us – an athletic bird that swoops from the sky, not some wheezy, pedestrian bird that’s a waste of feathers,” he says.

“If you have feathers and can’t fly, don’t complain that you didn’t win Bird of the Year. It’d be like Kim Dotcom trying to win Miss Universe. Not going to happen.”

42  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / Santa Luzia Island – feral cats threaten seabirds on: October 15, 2012, 08:39:07 am
This summer the Portuguese Society for the Study of Bird (SPEA) – our Portuguese BirdLife Partner, carried out a study on feral cat behaviour (feral cats are decendents of domesticated cats that have returned to the wild) and distribution on Santa Luzia Island in Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean. The study is part of a proposed project for the removal of feral cats from Santa Luzia aiming the benefit the ecosystem on the island as they are a threat to the seabird population on the island.

Santa Luzia is a small uninhabited island with 3500 ha belonging to the Western Cape Verdean islands, declared in 1990 as a Natural Reserve. Santa Luzia is currently only visited by fishermen from the neighbouring São Vicente Island and by researchers.

According to local reports cats were recently introduced in Santa Luzia, probably during the second half of the twentieth Century. For 15 days, SPEA’s together with representatives from Biosfera-I, a local association specializing in monitoring and surveillance of feral cats, set up traps in order to catch feral cats in places where these predators have greater activity. After capture, each cat was anesthetized and fitted with a GPS tag. At the end of the 15 day period, six cats were captured. Since then, Biosfera-I technicians are making an effort to recapture the cats and collect the GPS tags.
These data will show us the main areas used by Santa Luzia cats to feed, socialization or to rest and will allow a easier and total removal of feral cats in future.

During the expedition, there was still opportunity to make an exploration of the island cliffs in search of potential breeding seabirds. This information is lacking for Santa Luzia, with registration of no seabird colony.
To our surprise, after 10 days of searching, the first nest was found, with an adult of Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro in incubation position. Although many indicia have been found in other cavities, was not found any other nest. Unfortunately, several feathers, wings and bones of the same species were found in different locations. This survey became even more disturbing when technicians met with about 130 wings of Madeiran Storm-petrel around a single 1om2 site, with clear signs of having been originating from a intensive predation by cats. This fact reinforces the need for immediate action in removing the cats from Santa Luzia Island.

43  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / How Birds Master Courtship Songs on: October 12, 2012, 04:38:42 pm

studying how birds master songs used in courtship, scientists at Duke University have found that regions of the brain involved in planning and controlling complex vocal sequences may also be necessary for memorizing sounds that serve as models for vocal imitation.

In a paper appearing in the September 2012 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Duke and Harvard universities observed the imitative vocal learning habits of male zebra finches to pinpoint which circuits in the birds' brains are necessary for learning their songs.

Knowing which brain circuits are involved in learning by imitation could have broader implications for diagnosing and treating human developmental disorders, the researchers said. The finding shows that the same circuitry used for vocal control also participates in auditory learning, raising the possibility that vocal circuits in our own brain also help encode auditory experience important to speech and language learning.

"Birds learn their songs early in life by listening to and memorizing the song of their parent or other adult bird tutor, in a process similar to how humans learn to speak," said Todd Roberts, Ph.D., the study's first author and postdoctoral associate in neurobiology at Duke University. "They shape their vocalizations to match or copy the tutor's song."

A young male zebra finch, Roberts said, learns his song in two phases -- memorization and practice. He said the pupil can rapidly memorize the song of an adult tutor, but may need to practice singing as many as 100,000 times in a 45-day period in order to accurately imitate the tutor's song.

During the study, voice recognition software was paired with optogenetics, a technology that combines genetics and optics to control the electrical activity of nerve cells, or neurons. Using these tools, the researchers were able to scramble brain signals coordinating small sets of neurons in the young bird's brain for a few hundred milliseconds while he was listening to his teacher, enabling them to test which brain regions were important during the learning process.

The study's results show that a song pre-motor region in the pupil's brain plays two different roles. Not only does it control the execution of learned vocal sequences, it also helps encode information when the pupil is listening to his tutor, Roberts said.

"We learn some of our most interesting behaviors, including language, speech and music, by listening to an appropriate model and then emulating this model through intensive practice," said senior author Richard Mooney, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. "A traditional view is that this two-step sequence -- listening followed by motor rehearsal -- first involves activation by the model of brain regions important to auditory processing. This is followed days, weeks or even months later by activation of brain regions important to motor control."

"Here we found that a brain region that is essential to the motor control of song also has an essential role in helping in auditory learning of the tutor song," Mooney said. "This finding raises the possibility that the premotor circuits important to planning and controlling speech in our own brains also play an important role in auditory learning of speech sounds during early infancy." This brain region, known as Broca's area, is located in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere.

The research has implications for the role of premotor circuits in the brain and suggests that these areas are important targets to consider when assessing developmental disorders that affect speech, language and other imitative behaviors in humans, Roberts said.

In addition to Roberts and Mooney, study authors include Sharon M. H. Gobes of Harvard University and Wellesley College; Malavika Murugan of Duke; and Bence P. Ölveczky of Harvard.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (R01 DC02524) to Richard Mooney; and grants from NIH (R01 NS066408) and the Klingenstein, Sloan and McKnight Foundations to Bence P. Ölveczky; and a Rubicon fellowship from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research to Sharon M.H. Gobes.

44  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / EuroBirdwatch – Fascination by Migration! on: October 12, 2012, 04:22:55 pm
During the past weekend more than 64,000 people observed bird migration in 33 European and Central Asian countries through participation in EuroBirdwatch12, BirdLife Europe‘s annual bird watching initiative to observe and learn about bird migration, as birds fly to their wintering places in the southern hemisphere.

EuroBirdwatch provides a great opportunity to raise awareness on bird migration and promotes needed actions to save threatened bird species and their habitats.

BirdLife Partners across Europe and Central Asia participated organizing more than 2,500 events and visitors observed almost six millions birds passing over head.

“Last but not least, EuroBirdwatch means a perfect chance for all bird lovers to meet and share experiences and enjoy together the miracle of bird migration,” says Zdeněk Vermouzek, director of Czech Society for Ornithology (CSO), the EuroBirdwatch12 coordinator.

As every year, BirdLife Partners across the Europe and Central Asia prepared various events to attract people of all ages to enjoy birds and discover interesting new facts about bird migration. Organisers hoped to excite participants´ interest for birds and their protection and make a difference and bring hope for threatened birds.

Bird observations were collected in each country and referred to the European Centre, coordinated by CSO/BirdLife Czechia.

Ornithological highlights:

◦The three most numerous bird species observed during the European Birdwatch 2012 were: Wood Pigeon, Starling and Chaffinch. All of them belong to typical migrating bird species.

◦In southern Europe, Flamingos were among the most admired birds, whereas in northern countries real rarities like Long-billed Dowitcher, Red-flanked Bluetail or Pectoral Sandpiper were recorded. Eastern countries offered even such rare species like Imperial and Steppe Eagle, Black-winged Pranticole or Great and Little Bustard.

◦Among places for observation of marine birds, Gibraltar was the most attractive providing a chance to observe numerous Cory’s and Balearic Shearwaters as well as Gannets fishing amidst Dolphins.

◦Finnish observers documented about 400,000 Barnacle Geese whereas their Swedish colleagues reported 275,000 Barnacle Geese and almost 370,000 Wood Pigeons.

◦Amazing observation of two hunting Steppe Eagles was reported from Ukraine.
◦Observation of incredible 1,350 worldwide Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwings was reported from Turkey.

45  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / Nature still reeling from New Zealand Oil Spill on: October 12, 2012, 04:17:37 pm

One year on from the Rena disaster, independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) is still concerned at the ongoing environmental impacts of the oil spill, unrecovered containers and the shipwreck.

Forest & Bird Central North Island Field Officer Al Fleming says 350 containers from the ship have not been recovered. “These containers are breaking down, possibly releasing debris and toxic chemicals into the marine environment.

“The wreck is still on the reef, and Forest & Bird is concerned at possible pollution of Bay of Plenty waters from this. Before deciding on whether the Rena wreck should remain, we would like to see an assessment of the environmental impacts,” Al Fleming says.

The loss of an estimated 20,000 birds when 350 tonnes of heavy fuel leaked from the grounded ship has had a terrible effect on populations of many species of birds that live in the Bay of Plenty and further afield. “Bay of Plenty beaches, estuaries and harbours are important nesting sites for many of our shorebirds, including oyster catchers and terns,” Al Fleming says.

The impact of the oil spill on the local New Zealand dotterel population has been of most serious concern. “Dotterels are a threatened species with a population between 1500 and 1800,” says Al Fleming. “After the Rena disaster, 60 adults were removed from Bay of Plenty beaches. Five died from a lung infection while in captivity. No eggs or chicks were removed from the beaches so they were lost as well. This is a significant loss when you’re talking about a small population of birds.”

Forest & Bird is working with central government, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and WWF-NZ on a three-year Bay of Plenty Shorebird Protection Programme to re-establish shorebird populations devastated in the oil spill.

Work has already started on pest control, habitat restoration, an education programme in schools, and raising public awareness of threats to our native shorebirds.

“This year’s breeding season and the success of the shorebird protection programme is critical to the long-term recovery of bird populations,” says Al Fleming.

Forest & Bird is continuing to work with Rena operator Costamare and insurer the Swedish Club to create a fund for the long-term recovery of the region’s environment.

Al Fleming says the oil spill was a tragedy for nature, and Forest & Bird supports the independent review being launched to ensure our environment is safeguarded from future disasters. “I hope the lessons from the Rena can teach us how to avoid other potential environmental catastrophes if we pursue offshore oil and gas drilling.”

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