Avifauna

A Glimmering Day at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

Snow Geese lit the Middle Creek. The natural connection they developed over time instituted a school of an incredible ecosystem.

The sky of Lancaster and Lebanon counties, Pennsylvania gets covered by Snow Geese every morning and evening since the mid-February 2017 and will continue until the end of March depending on the temperature rise and food availability. This human-made wildlife conservation site supporting diverse species year around, providing critical shelter to migratory birds since 1972. Not only human beings but also birds like shelducks are concerned about their security and future of existence. Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area provides absolute security and adequate ecosystem services for their well-being in general. Surrounding farmlands are a critical source of food besides the lake itself. Some observers might be dismayed observing waterfowl from a decent distance. All through the lake banks, there is fence keeping human away from migratory ducks and swans and other animals, which apparently protecting animal during their stopover at the creek. An onlooker can easily understand that how freely and confidently those birds are moving around. Snow Geese and Tundra Swans are an innately social animal; they love to stay together in a group. Rarely, an isolated swan is found in nature. During a flight, they fly in a ‘V’ formation in a group also called skein. As it was twilight on the horizon, small skeins were returning to the lake from nearby farmlands. Among big birds, Snow Geese and Tundra Swans are perhaps less aggressive than Canada Geese. During my visit, I haven’t seen a single fight among them but did witness two separate territorial battles of Canada Geese. This year is quite extraordinary because of two reasons – early arrival of Snow Geese and their astonishing number. Scattered gaggles of Snow Geese are present all over the lake surface. It is so difficult to photograph them under bright sunlight. Thousands of geese temporarily make middle creek their home to regain energy before heading to the north as temperature start rising in the East Coast of the USA.

Tundra Swan: character-wise they are so gracious than others. Hundreds of them were floating on the lake surface in small and medium gaggles. They do follow order at all doings and certainly enjoy togetherness. Few giggles were even accompanied by American Black Ducks, American Coot, and Great Blue Heron.

Geese Fight: Right before the dusk, witnessing a 15 seconds battle of 2 male geese wing to wing made my day. The male Canada Geese was hanging with a female geese mortified me by losing a duo with an intruder geese. The other geese stopped whatever they were doing to watch and honk. The second one, carnival barker, ultimately won the fight and took the girl away.

Other species I observed includes Common Merganser, Mallard, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Song Sparrow, Sparrow sp, ring-necked ducks, Northern Flicker, chickadees and few others.

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Categories: Avifauna, Natureholic, Uncategorized, Wildlife of North America | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vulture Reintroduction in Europe

Europe has recently seen a rise in  healthy population of different vulture species. Griffon Vulture, one of the old world vultures, has been reintroduced successfully in France. Like all other family members of its kind, Griffon Vultures are  scavengers. During the mid-twentieth century, the vulture population in entire Europe declined drastically and was affecting some of the major ecosystems. Out of four major vultures found in Europe, Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus), Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), France, Italy, Bulgaria, Turkey and Former Yugoslavia had lost most of their populations (Schenk 1972). At that time, only Spain had noteworthy vulture population (estimated 2000 pairs of Griffon and 200 pairs of Black vultures) within its territory with insignificant movement in neighboring countries (Bernis 1966, 1974). Besides Griffon, Bearded Vulture was reintroduced in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria through a 20 year conservation project (1972-1992). There was a critical time in the middle of last century, vulture species (Griffon, Bearded, Turkey, Black and others) were becoming critically endangered all over Europe. Different long-term and short-term initiatives were taken by France, Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Spain and Turkey which helped improve the vulture  population.

In France, Bulgaria and Italy, the vulture populations declined largely due to unprecedented development activities after World War 2. It was widely acknowledged that, poisoning, shooting, starvation, wire collision, electrocution, injury, old age and imprinting are common reasons behind endangering vulture populations, not only in Europe but also in Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China). According to SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vulture From Extinction – a consortium of international organizations), 97% of vulture population have declined in Asian Sub-continent, which is quicker than that of any other species. In Europe, other causes of non-predatory death includes malnutrition, disease, and catastrophic events (Whelan 2008). Vultures are exceptionally dependent on carcasses of wild and domestic animals. They are also known as cleaners of nature. Domestic animals are frequently treated with NSAID (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), which is one of the major threats for the vulture population. RSC’s (Royal Society of Chemistry) study shows that, Veterinary painkiller like NSAID has caused for 99% of India’s vulture death between 1992 and 2007. This deadly drug is still being widely used in different countries in Europe and threatening the vulture.

The most important task vulture does for the ecosystem is consume carcasses. Dead bodies of wild animals and farm animals are primary food source of these gregarious bird species. All the vulture soars in the sky for whole day surveying the earth’s surface for food. To maintain ecological balance, the vulture plays an important role in environmental health. They are important spiritually, economically and environmentally. As scavenger, vultures are able to consume carcasses more effectively and efficiently than any others (Whelan 2008). Before the disappearance of Griffon Vulture from Massif Central and the Alps in France, (also known as  of ‘raptor war’) most of the carcasses were cleaned through natural process. Water bodies in France and other neighboring countries along the Alps were contaminated with carrion, which was effecting entire ecosystem, starting from human being to small cats and birds. Tons of abandoned wild remains were polluting air, water and soil across Alps. Though there is limited information about adverse consequences before introducing ‘vulture restaurants[1]’ in France, in 1960s, national level conservation activities began. Vulture restaurants were the first such initiative to restore Griffon Vulture population by delivering safe food (Terrasse & Terrasse 1970).

[1] Open place where safe and uncontaminated food is provided for vultures.

Vultures, importantly stop spreading diseases from carrions in wild. Scavengers are capable of digesting almost all harmful pathogens found in carcasses. They break down dead bodies and help decomposers to further break them into chemical elements. Decomposition and the recycling process of dead biomass are heavily depended on vulture species.

To strengthen conservation efforts, some legal actions facilitated restore vulture population in European countries. Since 1970s, bird shooting was legally prohibited in France. Announcing protecting areas across counties (France, Spain, Italy, Turkey and others) to protect natural resources also assisted to grow vulture population. To protect birds, in Europe, Bird Directive was developed in 1979. Spain has banned using NSAID in the beginning of twenty first century. Whereas, other European countries are still in the political process to regulate veterinary medicines.

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European communities are well-known for their environmental friendliness. Vulture reintroduction projects were widely accepted by the community. Since vultures hardly show up into urban or semi-urban areas or highly populated areas, their wolf-like misconceptions are discounted. A number of Non-government Organizations (e.g. Vulture Conservation Foundation) along with government agencies are working together to resolute unexpected issues. The Alps and the Grands Causses are free zones for vultures. Another inventiveness, ‘Farmer Feeding Places’ within the Griffon Vulture foraging areas (mainly in Grands Causses), involving community into the process made the path easier. Remarkably, reintroduced Black Vultures followed Griffon’s feeding zones and were able to uphold their distinctive characteristics.

Photo: (@ Naimul Islam_2012) Bearded Vulture soaring over the Alps (Valais, Switzerland)

Categories: Avifauna, Natureholic | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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