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See more birds

this autumn With our 10 secrets of birding success

September 2011

Britain’s best-selling bird magazine

Young birders Why there is hope for the future!

The secrets of

Perfect plumage How autumn’s moult brings feathers into tip-top shape

Honey Buzzard

Our most mysterious raptor uncovered

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shocking Tragedy in Turkey: rare birds under even more threat

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Uncovering the hidden life of the Treecreeper

Bird Photo of the Year The winners!

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great sites to bird this September

1 Dungeness Obs

Dungeness is built on a triangular shingle peninsula reaching into the Channel. The Obs is nestled with some other cottages. The nuclear power station outflow known as ‘The Patch’ is a great draw for seabirds. Grid ref: TR 084 168 Postcode: TN29 9PP

2 Holme Bird Obs NOA and Holme Dunes NWT Managed by the NOA and NWT, they are near Titchwell RSPB on the north Norfolk coast. The habitat is a natural ‘trap’ for migrating birds. Both sites are reached from the A149 just west of Holme-next-the-Sea. The reserves each require entry fees. Grid ref: TF 717 450 Postcode: PE36 6LQ

3 Frampton Marsh RSPB

Since opening, Frampton Marsh RSPB has become Lincolnshire’s ‘Titchwell’. In the last 12 months, there have been Pectoral Sandpipers, Black Brant, Honey Buzzard, Rough-legged Buzzard, Great White Egret, Temminck’s Stints and Red-necked Phalarope and Spotted Crake. Grid ref: TF 356 392 Postcode: PE20 1AY

4 Orkney

A poor-man’s Shetland? No. Orkney punches well above its weight. Part of the charm of Orkney’s islands is that so few birders visit, so the chances of finding your own rarities is so much greater. But now we have let the cat out of the bag, it is hardly worth visiting… Grid ref: HY 361 120 Postcode: KW17 2JX

5 Scilly

The islands can produce the goods this month, despite reduced chances of North American passerines, a month later. Last year, September brought an Upland Sandpiper, Lesser Grey Shrike Citrine Wagtails, Wilson’s Phalarope and Spotted Sandpiper among its highlights. Grid ref: SV 893 143 Postcode: TR24 0QQ

Tresco has obvious birding charms but the other Scillies harbour rarities, too


10 more top birding sites Try something new this Septem be – we’ve got 10 ne r wildlife walks fo w r you to enjoy. Starts page 55

Jack Hobhouse (Alamy)

OVER THE PAGE The latest bird club news and events


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sort out your feeders clean them thoroughly, and continue to do so throughout the winter, to avoid the risk of spreading disease. Put clean water out for

drinking and bathing, and try adding a new feeder to attract specific species (for example, niger seed to lure Goldfinches).

1. Weather+ 2. Met Office app 3. WeatherPro 4. Weather HD 5. AccuWeather

websites 5weather 1. metoffice. gov.uk 2. metcheck.com 3. news.bbc.co. uk/weather 4. greatweather. co.uk 5. wunderground. com

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One of the first things you have to get used to when you start birdwatching is the fact that birds observe a completely different calendar from us. At this time of year, we’re still on our summer holidays, but they’re well into autumn and winter mode. Last year, large numbers of winter

Take a pelagic trip David Chapman (Alamy)

Garden birds will start to look to your feeders more and more at this time of year, as natural food gets more scarce, so make sure you

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your phone fotolincs (Alamy)

September usually sees powerful westerly winds, building to gales by the end of the month. These can throw American vagrants our way, with the west coast being the best place to look for the likes of Red-eyed Vireo, Buff-breasted Sandpiper (above) or even a dream tick such as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but it can also drive European seabirds ashore – check ‘inland seas’ such as Rutland Water, Draycote Water and Abberton Reservoir, or just your local lakes and gravel pits, for Gannets and skuas.

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apps for 5weather

watch the weather

See great seabirds, such as Manx Shearwater, on a pelagic trip

Visit a migration hotspot Th

ousands You of raptors fly might over Falsterb Sweden o, be September , in – able to combine cheap fligh get a this with No 5, Malmo and t to driv but here we’re there now! e talking about locations such as Dungeness, Spurn, Cley ●Spurn, East and even Yorkshire Scilly. Again, you should see large numbers of ●Cley, ●Bardsey familiar birds, Norfolk Island, plus it’s a Gwynedd good chance to look for localised UK breeders such as Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Honey Buzzard and Osprey as they head across to the Continent. Finally, keep an eye out for genuine rarities – one great advantage of a ‘hotspot’ is that there’ll be lots of ●Scilly Isles other birders there, to share knowledge and sightings with.

●Dungeness, Kent

26 Bird Watching 2011

We’ve already mentioned that seabirds are on the move at this time of year, and this is a great way to get closer to them. Brittany Ferries (www.brittany-ferries.co.uk) runs services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander, and Portsmouth to Bilbao, giving you the opportunity to bird and whale watch as you cross the Bay of Biscay, but there are also plenty of companies running pelagic trips specifically for birdwatching from

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UK

Go here! france Bay of biscay SPAIN

various locations around the UK. Try one for a different angle on some of our real avian riches.

do some ‘vis-migging’

If you want to appreciate just how massive seasonal movements of birds are, this is for you. Hill and ridgetop locations are favourites, plus coastal headlands, but anywhere along a known migration route (these can even follow major roads) will do. Brush up on your calls, because at least some of your ID-ing will be done by ear, get there for dawn, and see what passes over. You’re not necessarily looking for rarities, but you may well see very large numbers of familiar and supposedly sedentary birds such as Sky Lark, Meadow Pipit, and even Blackbird.


This might be Britain’s most underrated and underwatched bird, a gloriously colourful corvid whose habitual shyness renders it invisible for much of the year. But in September, with a little care you should be able to view them easily in or near any oak wood (or even a small oak spinney), collecting acorns and carrying them away to be hidden in hundreds of small caches. Some are dug up later, when food gets scarce, while others are forgotten and seed the oak forests of the future.

visitors, such as Redwings, Fieldfares and Bramblings, arrived by the end of September, and even Waxwings were present in force by mid-October. So, to ensure you’re not caught napping if the same thing happens this year, here are 10 ways to make the most of your birding autumn.

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leave windfalls

David Chapman

seawatching

Those westerly winds we mentioned in No1 can push large numbers of seabirds closer to the coast than usual (although you’ll still need patience and a good scope). Leach’s Petrels appear in western estuaries in force, especially the Mersey/Dee and the Severn, after westerly gales around the end of September, while Pomarine, Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas all start migrating south around this time (and sometimes take short cuts overland).

Autumn sees more Jays come out into the open

4km

Try to leave windfall apples, plums, cherries and berries lying on your lawn, as these form an important food source for a lot of garden birds, especially thrushes. And that’s not only your regular Blackbirds and (if you’re lucky) Song and Mistle Thrushes – Redwings and even Fieldfares arriving from Scandinavia for the winter are occasionally tempted to take advantage and replace some of their lost calories this way.

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look for jays stashing acorns Martin Creasser (Alamy)

ways to 8 kickstart your autumn birding

Astonishingly, a single Jay can use as many as 4,000 acorn storage sites within a 4km radius of the source tree

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make sure your kit’s up to the task

Shorter days and the likelihood of lots of murky, rainy weather means you need to make the most of every bit of light you can get for your

birdwatching. Give your binoculars and scopes a thorough clean (and make a resolution to keep them spotless at all times!) ahead of this

exciting time of year, and never leave home without a waterproof coat and a hardwearing pair of wellies in the car – there’s nothing

worse than having a Little Bittern pop up on the far side of your flooded local gravel pit when you’re only dressed for dancing or fine dining.

10 forget about birds (sort of) Sometimes, the best way to find great birds is to stop looking for them. If you’re having no luck, take a break and go in search of late dragonflies and butterflies, mushrooms (see Mike Weedon’s guide on pages 72-73), or Grey Seals. The latter’s breeding season starts in September, and colonies can be found at locations such as Donna Nook (1), the Farne Islands (2), Orkney (3), Ramsey Island (4) and Horsey Beach (5). You’ll certainly come across all sorts of birds – including some you’d never have thought of looking for – while you’re broadening your nature-watching horizons.

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Oliver Smart

www.birdwatching.co.uk 27


go Steve Newman

TOP TIP presented by

Organise your visit to coincide with the high tide, for the best seawatching.

Site guide Grid ref: NO 495 992 Difficulty

1 Fife

Elie Ness

Sea and grassland species make this site well worth a drop-in visit.

T

he Ness is a small promontory jutting out from the car park, and depending on the time of year, pretty much anything can turn up here. Curlews and Grey Partridge can be seen on the large field to the north of the car park, and Buzzard can also seen soaring above the trees. Sea ducks such as Eider come in very close to the Lady’s Tower on the eastern side, and both the tower and the lighthouse are good vantage points from which to scan for grebes,

divers, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets from the nearby Bass Rock. The two wild rose bushes in the car park, behind the blue container, are worth a look, and Stonechats can often be seen clinging to the grasses on the Ness. The beaches on either side have a variety of gulls and waders, and at high tide you can get some interesting visitors. Kentish Plover has been recorded here, and Little Auk can come close in during the autumn.

The Ness can be combined with a search of the harbour, the shoreline in front of the village and a visit to Chapel Ness, at the west end of the bay at Earslferry. A drive back to the main road along the side of the golf course can also produce some interesting birds. Steve Newman

V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 5 Southern Scotland www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121

Glenrothes 16m

How to get there: The Ness is easily accessed from Elie on the A971 coast road, and is signposted at the eastern end just as you are leaving the village. Postcode: KT9 1DT. Where to park: Parking is in a free designated area directly above Ruby Bay. There are picnic tables, bins and good local information. Distance & time: It’s worth spending some time walking in the area exploring all the harbour and beach site sites along the front down along to Earlsferry. The distance from the Ness to Chapel Ness is about two miles. Terrain: Easy walking throughout with good paths. A narrow concrete bridge crosses the burn to the lighthouse. Facilities: Toilets are in Elie and the village has pubs, newsagents and coffee shops. B&Bs in the village. Pubs in Earlsferry. Accessibility: Wheelchair access is fine on some of the wider paths off the large car park, but these paths get narrow and can be steep in places. Public transport: Buses run along the coast route. Bus times for all services within, to and from Fife are available from www. travelinescotland.com. or by calling 0871 200 2233. Nearest train stations are Leven and Cupar. Sites nearby: Fife Ness (Go Birding, August 2000) – undoubtedly one of the best birding sites for migrants in Scotland, and Fifeness Muir SWT reserve has scrub and trees and well-maintained paths. Kincraig Head is just to the west of Earlsferry. Richard’s Pipit and Snow Bunting have been recorded there. Kilminning, at the east end of Crail airfield, has excellent cover for migrants, and is easily accessed for parking too.

LOcal guide

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The Tower. Good views here of seaducks such as Eider, with gulls and Shags on the rocks to the left. Scanning towards the Bass Rock should bring you Manx Shearwater and Gannet. There’s a bench outside where you can have lunch and look out for Stonechats and other birds on the Ness. The picnic area has a large field to the north, with Curlew and Lapwing

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visible. You can also look down into Ruby Bay for waders such as Redshank and Oystercatcher. Lapland Bunting are recorded at the Ness probably more than anywhere else in mainland Fife, and usually during ‘vis mig’ counts in spring and autumn. If you decide to do a circular walk then have a look along the hedgerow of the main road running parallel to the

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woodland of Elie House to the north of the village. Often Buzzards are seen soaring above here. Look out for Sparrowhawk along the hedgerow. Chapel Ness has great views up the Forth and a walk the road along the golf course can bring you Grey Partridge as you leave the village. Look out offshore for the likes of Long-tailed Duck and Sanderling on the beaches.

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Organisations: The Scottish Wildlife Trust, www.swt.org.uk Fife Bird Club, www.fifebirdclub.org Scottish Ornithology Club, www.the-soc.org.uk County recorder: Malcolm Ware, 07733 991 030, mw160598@hotmail.co.uk Maps: OS Explorer 371, OS Landranger 59. SEPTEMBER 2011


Brian Unwin

TOP TIP presented by

Check cliffs on misty mornings before grounded migrants can disperse.

Site guide Grid ref: NZ 446 422 Difficulty

2 Co. Durham

Horden Coast

American surprise rouses interest in overlooked coastal stretch

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ne of the most underwatched stretches of Durham seaside may receive greater birding attention after a remarkable American vagrant discovery last autumn. The Common Nighthawk – a species not previously recorded on Britain’s east coast – was photographed as it perched in a dead tree by the track that passes through Ash Gill’s woodland on the way to the clifftop car park. This was by no means Horden’s first

trans-Atlantic visitor. A Grey-cheeked Thrush – then only the sixth for Britain – was found dead beside the A1086 in the village centre during the 1968 autumn. More routine passage birds from northern Europe are grounded regularly in autumn, though not on the scale of mid-September, 1960, when Redstarts and Wheatears were everywhere – along the cliffs, in the gills, even on Horden Colliery’s spoil heap, sprawling all the way to the sea.

The colliery closed in 1986 and – apart from pit waste that is gradually eroding from the shore above the high tideline – associated eyesores were greened over in the big landscaping operation that led to the Durham Coastal Path’s establishment. Now birds and the rich plant and insect life of the cliffs can be enjoyed in much more pleasant settings. Brian Unwin

V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 4 Northern England www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121

How to get there: Reached from A1086 which passes through Horden. At roundabout at Horden’s N end, turn on to B1283, then, almost immediately, right on to roadway passing rubbish disposal site and sewage works. At railway bridge, this becomes an unsurfaced track leading to clifftop car park (half a mile). If driving from north on A19, turn on to A1086 at Easington. From south, turn off A19 at Peterlee on to B1320, then left at town centre roundabout into Wessington Way which joins A1086 after a mile (turn right) Postcode: SR8 4AB. Where to park: Clifftop car park at grid ref: NZ 446 422. If unhappy about unsurfaced track condition, use verge near sewage works and walk. Public transport: Regular bus services. Regular SunderlandHartlepool bus services stop at Horden. Distance & time: About three miles, depending upon where you park. Allow at least three hours to check area thoroughly. Terrain: Track to clifftop and paths through gills may be muddy. Coastal path includes some steep flight of steps. Accessibility: Always open. Facilities: Nearest toilets in Peterlee town centre (three miles). Also shops, pubs etc. Sites nearby: Go Birdings – Crimdon (July, 2011); Hartlepool Headland (October, 2009); Seaham Hall (September, 2006); Hurworth Burn Reservoir, December, 2005); Castle Eden Dene (March, 2003).

LOcal guide

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Large arable field N of Warren House Gill may host Lapland and, later, Snow Buntings, if stubble retained well into autumn. Typical woodland birds in trees of Warren House Gill and Ash Gill. In suitable weather, prospect of migrants in more open scrubland at seaward end of gills. SEPTEMBER 2011

Clifftops provide vantage points for offshore wildfowl and seabird passage. Divers, grebes and sea ducks may be on sea in calm conditions. Scrub in steep-sided gill (grid ref: NZ 448 420) opening on to beach S of clifftop car park may hold migrants in suitable weather. This applies also to other gills further S along cliffs.

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On passage Whinchats and Wheatears likely over extensive grassland between clifftop and railway further S. As autumn proceeds this offers possibility of Short-eared Owl and Lapland Bunting, with an outside chance of Richard’s Pipit.

Club contacts: Durham Bird Club, Membership Secretary, Derek Lawrence, 07957 541820, derek_suzy@hotmail.co.uk County recorder: Mark Newsome, mvnewsome@hotmail.com Maps: OS Explorer 308, OS Landranger 88/93.

www.birdwatching.co.uk 57


Where is the next generation of birders? Matt Merritt

34 Bird Watching 2011

Are today’s teenagers losing touch with nature? Are there as many young birdwatchers as there used to be?


youth

t’s a concern you hear voiced in hides, in cafés at wildlife reserves, and at local bird groups and ornithological societies across the country: where are all the young birdwatchers these days? There’s a common perception that, a few years down the line, birdwatching as a hobby, and conservation more generally, will face a major crisis due to the lack of younger people coming in to replace the older generation. Given that the older generation has been responsible, since the Second World War, for turning birdwatching into one of the UK’s largest mass participation pastimes, along the way using their political clout to help shape

the environmental policies of successive governments, you can see why the lack of replacements might be worrying. But is it true, or is the apparent lack of young birders an illusion that eventually gets corrected by the phenomenon of the ‘born-again birder’? I’ll explain. I got interested in birding when I was eight, through a school project, and although nearly all my birdwatching as a child was of a strictly local, garden-based nature, I remained hooked until the age of around 15. Then, all the usual teenage interests started to take over. Now, you never really lose the birding bug, so even when The Housemartins

and unfeathered ‘birds’ (it was the late 80s – we still talked like characters off Minder) demanded most of my attention, and the only woodpecker I was likely to encounter came in a pint glass (what was I thinking of?), I’d still be craning my neck to see if that really was a Redstart at the bottom of the beer garden. Then, in my mid-20s, having been advised to do lots of walking to help my dodgy back, I started taking my binoculars with me to alleviate the boredom. A few Stonechats later, it was like I’d never been away, and I was soon getting positively evangelical about the pleasures of birdwatching.

Buiten-Beeld (Alamy)

I

www.birdwatching.co.uk 35


round-up AUGUST PROMISE FOR AN Rarity

BONANZA With passerines on the move, Richard Millington reports on a month which gave a foretaste of things to come

W

ith summer over and mid-August approaching, the pace of autumn migration stepped up a notch when Fair Isle entered the fray. With the first hint of a south-easterly breeze swinging in off the bottom of a Scandinavian anticyclone, an early Pallid Harrier (a richchestnut-bellied juvenile) arrived on Shetland’s southerly outpost island, along with the first Greenish Warbler of the season. A Citrine Wagtail also made a flying visit, but both of the headline birds lingered for three days, finally departing on 14 August – by which time Shetland had also hosted the first Barred Warblers of the autumn and a sprinkle of other scarce passerines, too. Top of the list was a Western Bonelli’s Warbler near Lerwick on 9th-10th, but Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Common Rosefinch provided good support, while a Short-toed Lark put in a brief appearance, too. The promise of an irruption of Two-barred

Crossbills was also partly realised in Shetland, where several made landfall in early August, but it was further south where the sightings were more teasing; the brief appearance of two Two-barred Crossbills at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire on 12 August took that site’s total to three birds, and that all of them quickly moved on should inspire birders to look twice at any crossbills they encounter this autumn; reports from around northern Europe suggest that more are on the way! The English east coast also received its share of drift migrants in early autumn, with Icterine Warblers being seen at several sites and a male Subalpine Warbler taking up temporary residence at Holland Haven, Essex just prior to mid-month. The first Wrynecks were also seen at east and south coast sites, while a scattering of Melodious Warblers and Woodchat Shrikes (more typical early autumn fare) included long-stayers of the latter on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly and at Chipping

96 Bird Watching 2011

Gary Thoburn

Woodchat Shrike, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, 1 August

Sodbury, Gloucestershire. But, of course, the early autumn does not belong to passerines, but is always shared by rare waders and the odd seabird, although the seawatchers were not really well-rewarded this year. Sure, Wilson’s Petrels were on offer from pelagics sailing out beyond the Isles of Scilly, the odd Sabine’s Gull was seen and a few Cory’s and Great Shearwaters were in the offing, but there was nothing much to really shout about. That said, a possible Atlantic Petrel reported from Gwennap Head, Cornwall, briefly on 6 August did set a pulse or two racing, while an adult Sooty Tern was belatedly firmed up as having scooted down the Suffolk coast on 10 August, so a third mega may yet turn attention seawards. The early autumn of 2011 did, however, show greater promise when it came to waders, as callers to Birdline on 09068 700 222 heard. Ireland, for example, boasted its fourth Red-necked Stint (an adult at Ballinskelligs, County Kerry from 1-3 August), while the Emerald Isle also hosted a Semipalmated Sandpiper and a Wilson’s Phalarope. As for the last two species, Cleveland was able to exactly match the action – amazingly, following an adult Semipalmated Sandpiper that spent the first week of August at RSPB Saltholme, a Wilson’s Phalarope arrived at nearby Seal Sands on 13th, and Teesside rapidly regained its near-forgotten reputation as a rare wader hotspot. Meanwhile, a summer-plumaged Stilt Sandpiper that had arrived in Dorset in late July continued to attract admirers to Lodmoor RSPB Reserve into early August, and the first of the season’s Buff-breasted Sandpipers appeared in the Outer Hebrides and Orkney. In addition, White-rumped Sandpipers were seen in Norfolk and Kent (at Snettisham and Dungeness), a couple of American Golden Plovers, several Pectoral Sandpipers and the odd Temminck’s Stint added variety to the wader list, but the popular Marsh Sandpiper that had graced RSPB Blacktoft Sands for the latter half of July departed from East Yorkshire on 3 August. Quite an assortment of other rarities had also been logged before August was even half-over, and among the most popular were single Black Kites that lingered near Devon (at Ashridge Farm, Kennerleigh) and Cornwall (between Drift and St Just), an adult Bonaparte’s Gull in Durham (near Whitburn), a juvenile White-winged Black Tern

James Hanlon

AUTUMN

Common Rosefinch, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire


UK Bird John Murphy

American Golden Plover, Doonberg, Co Clare, 5 August

George Reszeter

Cory’s Shearwater, Weymouth Harbour, Dorset, 29 July

Simon Stirrup

in Cambridgeshire (at Grafham Water) and the summering White-tailed Eagle in Lincolnshire. Also on the menu, even if not chef’s choice, were the House Crow at Cobh, County Cork, the returning Blue-winged Teal at Haverton Hole, Cleveland, the same old drake Black Duck on Achill Island in County Mayo and the stillpresent drake Black Scoter off Murcar Golf Course, Aberdeen, although some of these had also been on offer during July. Other highlights of July 2011 had included a singing male Western Bonelli’s Warbler at Arnfield Reservoir, Derbyshire, all month; a male Black-headed Bunting on Fair Isle until mid month; and a Lesser Grey Shrike at St Justinian, Wales, at the beginning of July; while a Paddyfield Warbler trapped in Chickerell Hive, Dorset on 21st, a Pacific Swift flying over Spurn, East Yorkshire on 9th and an adult Spotted Sandpiper at Rutland Water, Leicestershire, on 13th-20th were good bonus birds. Half-a-dozen adult Rose-coloured Starlings and Red-rumped Swallows added more summer colour, as did a couple of Hoopoes and several Bee-eaters, while two singing Savi’s Warblers were also on offer in July, as was a singing first-summer male Common Rosefinch in Cambridgeshire (at Melbourn, near Royston from 10th until 26th). Headline-grabbing wildfowl included a Marbled Duck that spent a week Arlington Reservoir, East Sussex (3rd-9th), two eclipse drake American Wigeons and several Ferruginous Ducks. Meanwhile, an adult Eastern Common Tern put in a brief appearance or two in Suffolk, two juvenile Night Herons visited Kent, five Pacific Golden Plovers arrived in July (including two together in Ireland), Whitewinged Black Terns visited Cleveland, Orkney and Shetland, first-summer Bonaparte’s Gulls were seen in Devon, Wales and the Outer Hebrides and a male Snowy Owl reappeared in the Outer Hebrides. Now, with September on the doorstep, the net has widened and birders will be ready to sprint in just about any direction for the rarities which are guaranteed to be arriving, no matter which way the wind blows.

Chris Downes

Marsh Sandpiper, RSPB Blacktoft Sands, Yorks

White-rumped Sandpiper, Snettisham, Norfolk, 3 August

www.birdwatching.co.uk 97


Turkey’s biodiversity:

dying of thirst Some of Europe’s rarest birds could disappear forever because of Turkey’s massive hydro-electric power schemes – Charlie Moores of Talking Naturally investigates an emerging tragedy for nature

The Turkey situation Turkey is a country that has increasingly become a destination of choice for British birdwatchers looking for montane birds such as Red-fronted Serin and Radde’s Accentor, and such sought-after species as Green Warbler, White-throated Robin, and Sombre Tit. But now it is doing the same. So many dams and hydroelectric power stations are being built across the country that incredibly just 10% of the water in its entire river system will be left in situ, and virtually no nutrient-rich sediments will reach floodplains or the sea. Turkey’s biodiversity, according to Engin Yilmaz, the energetic director of Doga Denergi, the BirdLife partner in Turkey, will be dehydrated so severely that “much of it will no longer function.” I spoke to Engin for a podcast in May, after reading about Turkey’s Orwellian Nature and Biodiversity Conservation draft law, and was genuinely shocked by what he told me. In a country where conservationists have tended to keep their heads down, Engin is a brave critic of the ruling AK Party, elected for a third 82 Bird Watching 2011

consecutive term in June. He feels he has no choice but to speak out, because the draft law is an enabling part of what has become known as the Great Leap Forward – an ambitious plan to make Turkey a world economic power by the centenary of the republic’s founding, in 2023. No slouch in economic terms, Turkey already has the second-highest growth rate among G-20 nations after China, but its government claims that, for growth to continue, large-scale development is vital. Development rarely comes without environmental damage, but the scale and direction of Turkey’s plan is shocking. Information circulating in Turkey shows that the government has transferred the ownership of all the country’s rivers to corporations in the energy business, and is planning to build an almost unbelievable 1,738 dams and hydroelectric power plants. At this very moment, 2,000 smaller irrigation and drinking-water dams are also being built. In total 6,200 miles of watercourses will be irreversibly altered. Can this be correct? Massive development proposals often seem unthinkable to virtually all but the ministers who conceive them, but Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated that Turkey’s rivers must no longer ‘run in vain,’ and that 100% of their hydroelectric potential should be harnessed over the next decade. He seems as good as his word. The private companies that now own Turkey’s water have been allowed to fell state forests and bulldoze normal planning restrictions to get to it. Turkish law has been changed to head off 300 lawsuits. Hundreds of thousands of smallholders have already been forced off their land as the water supplies they and their families have used for millennia disappear.

Key areas destroyed

30%

Turkey is home to more than 30% of the global population of NearThreatened European Roller

Woodystock (Alamy)

ater. It makes up more than half the bodyweight of most animals. We need it more than we need food. Deprive us of it and dehydration will quickly stop us performing properly and slowly stop us performing at all. Water drives ecosystems – without it, they fail. Without it, rivers dry up, grasslands wither, woodlands brown, and (ironically) a ‘cascade effect’ takes place where crops across whole regions fail, insect populations collapse and bird numbers plummet. Perhaps we didn’t fully understand it when we waved the ‘energy and irrigation’ train out of the station in the early and mid-20th Century, diverting so much water from waterways like the Colorado in the US, the Murray in Australia, and the Yellow in China that these once-mighty rivers now barely reach the sea in some years. Everyone knows the damage that can be caused it, but that doesn’t stop governments increasingly turning to this vital natural resource to restructure entire economies. From the Andes to the Himalayas, rivers are being plugged, throttled, and enfeebled.

Krys Bailey (Alamy)

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The environmental cost of this ‘Leap’ will be enormous. Doga Denergi has been active in recent years in identifying both Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and the often-linked Key Home of 25% of Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). breeding European In 2006 they published a book White-headed Duck, on the country’s IBAs which listed now Endangered

25%


conservation Ataturk Dam Near Adiyaman, Turkey LMR Media (Alamy)

10%

Turkey is home to more than 10% of the global population of the Endangered Egyptian 184 sites. By 2010, they had identified another 41. The same year, they formally Vulture Peter Arnold (Alamy)

recognised a total of 305 KBAs. A map of the planned developments show them ringing almost every KBA, and Engin estimates that at least 185 out of the 305 are threatened and will effectively be destroyed. And that should matter to every birdwatcher. The pristine forests, stunning mountain scenery, fertile grasslands ringing with the song of Black-headed Buntings, and wide river deltas that Turkey is becoming well-known for are simultaneously being lost. More than 500 bird species have been recorded in Turkey (around 430 are regularly seen) but according to Professor Ihami Kiziroglu, the head of the Environmental Education and Bird Research Centre at Ankara’s Hacettepe University, 95 will see significant decreases in their numbers, while just over 100 face possible extinction. Turkey holds an large proportion of some of Europe’s rarer birds. Among the many that will

be affected, some are already recognised by BirdLife International as threatened or near-threatened with global extinction. It’s not just birds that will be impacted, of course. While the country has no endemic bird species (which is perhaps why birdwatchers have been slow to embrace it), Turkey has five endemic mammals, and still holds large carnivores including Grey Wolf, Striped Hyena, and Brown Bear, and the mountains still apparently hold the very rare Anatolian Leopard. It also has 52 endemic freshwater fish species, 13 endemic reptiles, and almost a third of its plant species are endemic here and on the nearby Aegean Islands – flora which includes perhaps 50 endemic orchids, many already threatened. Most of this astonishing biodiversity is of course found in the Key Biodiversity Areas, over half of which will be destroyed by developments that involve massive road-building programmes, the ripping apart of undisturbed mountain ranges, and the flooding of valleys. www.birdwatching.co.uk 83

Bird Watching Mgazine September 2011  

Britain's best-selling bird magazine

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