Archive for surfbirds archive

India’s tigers come roaring back according to new report

India’s tiger population has significantly increased according to the 2014-15 India tiger estimation report released today. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in numbers– from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014. Continue reading

Urgent action needed as poaching of South Africa’s rhinos hits record high

Despite increased efforts to tackle the surge in rhino poaching, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2014 – highlighting the need for urgent international action to address the crisis ahead of a critical global meeting on the illegal wildlife trade in Botswana in March. Continue reading

Duck adapting to climate change twice as well in EU protected areas

The smew – a rare but striking winter visitor to the UK – is doing twice as well within areas protected by EU wildlife laws as they spread northeast across Europe in response to climate change, according to a new study.

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How to Green Birding’s ‘Big Year’

Tim Boucher (@tmboucher) blogs frequently on birds and birding for Cool Green Science. He has seen 4929 bird species around the world.

For some birders, the end-of-year frenzy isn’t about shopping and returning. It’s about racking up as many bird species as possible in the last few weeks of the year in that peculiar activity known as the Big Year.

As popularized by the movie “Big Year” (adapted from Mark Obmascik’s much darker book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession), this competitive birding event sees these extra-insane birders — who have been crisscrossing the country all year trying to set a record for the most species seen in a single annum — pull out all the stops to get just a few more as close in on December 31.

Birding in New Jersey. Photo © Anita Gould/Flickr.

Birding in New Jersey. Photo © Anita Gould/Flickr.

Right now, for instance, someone in Seattle might be booking a flight to New York to try to see that Cassin’s Kingbird at Floyd Bennett Field at the southeastern tip of Brooklyn. This wayward semi-tropical bird is “countable” because it is on the checklist of the American Birding Association. While in the neighborhood, the birder will no doubt stop by the West Village to tick the equally lost Couch’s Kingbird.

As dramatic as it sounds, the Big Year has some downsides for nature and people. Here are three that loom large:

1. Economic cost (which I’d estimate at ~$100,000 per birder): Few birders can afford to take a year off work, much less foot the bill for this obsession. The Big Year puts some birders in big debt. Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of North Wales saw 4,327 different species during their year-long tour of six continents. To do it, they had to sell their house. When that money ran out, they had to borrow money from family. All in all, it cost about $40 per bird.

This cost is generally unavoidable. In addition to the extensive planned travel, Big Year birders have no choice but to chase rare birds around the country (mostly by flying). When the chance to add something that others may not get comes up, an extra set of flights must happen.

2. Massive Environmental Costs. All that flying and driving carries an enormous carbon cost. One birder reported flying almost 200,000 miles and driving over 50,000 miles. That Big Year belched about 200,000 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.**

3. The HUGE birding cost. Most big years are limited to a single country and entail chasing every rarity. It is not uncommon to take a flight just to see one bird. Even if you don’t care about anything but birding (the basic definition of birder), think about all the birding you could be doing for that money and effort on well-planned, intensive but focused birding trips. That kind of scratch could fund 10 good, intensive trips — and maybe more — supporting local eco-tourism efforts (especially local bird-guides), staying in eco-lodges, and leaving enough left over to donate a hefty amount to conservation.

Introducing the Green Big Year

Some birders have found a way to reconcile their need to see as many bird species as possible with their concern for the environment — the Green Big Year.

Green Big Years are done by bike and on foot. Using public transportation (buses/metro) to do one is still under debate because, while it uses no additional fuel per person, it still entails the use of fossil fuel. There are no official rules, so each Green Big Year birder has the option to consider using public transportation at some point.

Here are some great examples of recent Green Big Years:

* Dorian Anderson – Biking for Birds – hopped on his bike in Boston in January and cycled the country without even a support vehicle. He racked up over 17,000 bike miles, 500 miles by foot, and 617 birds species – almost double the previous Green Big Year record. Through donations, he has also raised $45,000 for conservation.
* Arizona’s Ron Beck covered 3,067 miles and hiked between 500-600 miles; he raised $4,500. If he happened to see a bird while traveling by car, he would return by bike before adding it to his list.
* In California, Mark Kudrav has done two Green Big Years, reaching 326 species and 4,781 miles without using any fossil fuels.

Green Big Year is now a thing. It has a website, a forum, a book (by Richard Gregson, who originated the concept in 2008), and even a T-shirt.

Even allowing for dozens of blown tires and other bike repairs, the cost of the Big Green Years is miniscule compared to the traditional carbon-fueled version.

How to Green Your Birding Whether You Do a Big Year or Not

Everyone can green up their birding without doing a Big Green Year and even without traveling dozens of miles by bike:

* Fill that car! Most birders don’t carpool. They should.
* Don’t make a special trip to see that Summer Tanager that forgot to migrate. They are easy enough to see all summer with the other neotropical migrants.
* Be the weirdo who walks the flat two or three miles between ponds — say, at Bombay Hook. (Pro hint: You may even see more birds that way.)
* Do you really need to see three Snowy Owls? Won’t one do?
* Combine birding with trips taken for other purposes by adding on a couple of days in the area.

Most of all, substitute quality for quantity. Spend more time birding your local area and getting great views of the birds that come your way. One sad truth about most of the big numbers racked up in international birding: they involve only frustrating glimpses of the birds, and even the best views are usually short.

But with intensive local birding, you can find and monitor nests — nothing better than watching the parents hatch the eggs, feed the chicks, and see the young fledge! You can also learn the variation in song and plumage, observe fascinating behavior, and every so often, an unusual species will cross your path.

Birding this way is deeply satisfying, super-easy on the wallet, and easier on the environment.

Full disclosure – in 1992 I took what could be considered an Accidental Greenish Big Year. Two friends and I took a year off, flew from South Africa to the western hemisphere, and birded the US for four months (mainly out west), Guatemala for two weeks, Costa Rica for two months, and Ecuador for three months. The last three countries we used public transport, hitchhiking and lots of walking. Species seen – 1700!

**[car 51,000 = 47,000 pounds of carbon; plane 193,000 = 142,820 pounds of carbon]

Timothy Boucher is a senior conservation geographer at The Nature Conservancy, where his work ranges from complex spatial analyses to extensive field studies, focusing on ecosystem services and linkages between human well-being and conservation. He has worked on global to local issues, done fieldwork spanning six continents, assessed land use and habitat conditions, and participated in numerous field expeditions. He is also an avid birder and amateur photographer as well as a regular cycling commuter.

BirdLife Bulgaria supports rewilding of Rhodope Mountains

The Rhodope Mountains, located southeast of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, comprise a beautiful and wide mountain range known locally as the Mountains of Orpheus, reputed to be the birthplace of the mythical musician. Continue reading

The top recommended bird field guide for each and every country on the planet

A blog answering the question “Which bird field guide do I need to purchase for the country I have decided to go to next?”

The staff of Birding Ecotours have put together one of the most informative and useful blogs available to birders. The big question that all birders have to ask repeatedly (some lucky ones more so than others….!) is “which is the best bird field guide for the country I have just now decided to visit”? Being serious world birders themselves, the Birding Ecotours team have pooled their first-hand knowledge and generated an article that answers exactly this question. The answer to this question “Which field guide do I need to purchase for my trip?” is now made very easy: the article at summarises the pertinant information all in one simple site. There are a plethora of field guides out there, but not all of them are the best for the particular country you might be visiting. This blog site discards all but the top field guide (or two if there are in fact two comparably good guides) for each country. The blog site (shown at the above url) is divided into seven sections, one for each continent. How to use the blog is very simple – if you’re visiting West Papua, for example, all you need to do is go into the link shown above, click on Australasia and find the destination you’re going to. In this case, you’ll then find that the blog authors recommend the hot off the press new book shown here:


And, the blog site also feature some plates from the book (in this instance):

Interestingly, not all the books recommended in this blog are brilliantly top-class field guides. A great many of them (such as the above example) most definitely are absolutely first class field guides. But some countries, quite simply, are just not covered by superlative field guides. In those cases, the blog nevertheless recommends the best available for wherever you have decided to go. There are certain regions, for example (e.g. Zambia) that do not have their own field guides, yet recommendations for those countries are still made on this blog. For Zambia, the best option is to use the sub-Saharan Africa guide shown in the blog: this awesome book covers a vast tract of the world’s second largest continent. It makes birding in Zambia slightly trickier because one has to sift through a myriad irrelevant paintings of species not occurring in Zambia, but at least you can be rest assured that each and every Zambian bird species will comprehensively be included in the suggested book for that country. Even White-chested Tinkerbird is illustrated, in fact! This tiny bird is a would-be Zambian endemic enigmatically known only from a single specimen!

The blog has been in draft form for several months, simply because the Birding Ecotours team truly needs and humbly asks for feedback and comments as a field guide recommendation site is always a work in progress.

Why was this blog written? Because this is one of the most frequently-asked questions in the birding world: “I have booked onto a tour to country X and I want to know what field guide to purchase”. It’s an amazingly useful summary that every birder should know about.

Human development and biodiversity conservation can go hand in hand, study finds

A development scenario involving reduced meat consumption and crop waste, as well as less energy-intensive lifestyles can help us reach global development goals while also protecting biodiversity, according to a new study. Continue reading

New sea creature discovery: ‘fairy’ found on north Devon coast

A new variety of sea anemone has been found off the coast of north Devon. Just 6mm tall, the tiny animal was spotted by retired teacher Robert Durrant in Hele Bay, near Ilfracombe. Continue reading

Rare turtles discovered thousands of miles off course

Two turtles have been washed ashore in the North West thousands of miles from their usual feeding grounds. Continue reading

Solar farm shock decision will destroy legally protected wildlife site

A decision to build on a legally protected area of lowland acid grassland – one of the largest areas of this flower-rich habitat in England – has been met with disbelief. We are shocked at the decision to develop this site which has legal protection for its national wildlife significance. Continue reading