As of 1 January 2001, the journal Ornithos goes from quarterly to bi-monthly, making it an even more up-to-date source of information for the active birder and ornithologist. The most recent issue (Vol. 7-3) contains a typically rich selection of articles. The main papers cover the current status of Griffon Vultures, the identification of Spanish and Italian Sparrows (with particular reference to Corsica), and the results of a campaign of ringing Black-winged Stilts in western and Mediterranean France between 1983 and 1994. The latter project has shown that post-breeding stilts move south to staging posts in southern Spain and Morocco, before continuing to wintering grounds in west Africa south of the Sahara. The majority do not return to the breeding grounds in their first year. There was is evidence of much intermixing, especially of younger birds, from different parts of France and the rest of Europe when it came to subsequent breeding attempts. At least six birds ringed in west France, but none from the Mediterranean, were seen subsequently in England. Other articles in the same issue deal with Little Gull and Arctic Tern migrations, and there is another in the series 'points chauds', this time the autumn seawatching site of la jetée du Clipon, near Dunkerque. From the pictures of the birders assembled behind their telescopes, the term 'chaud' is purely figurative!
Various goodies on offer, for your benefit and that of the LPO, in this 40-page booklet. Various books and CD-ROMs would be useful, not only for the information about the birds concerned, but also to brush up on the French language. Two new books of particular interest are 'Oiseaux Menacés et à Surveiller en France', and 'La Migration des Cigognes Noires'. There are also illustrated books on the 'Lac du Der', 'La Brenne' and 'La Camargue', three areas particularly popular with UK visitors. For holiday-makers, there is a series of walking guides ('balades nature') to Provence, Brittany, Pays-Basque and Corsica, among others. 'Chemins de Nature en Loire-Atlantique' is another new book covering this attractive west-coast region. Teachers and parents could well find the range of publications aimed at children useful for the younger learner of French.
Census figures for Aquitaine indicate breeding totals for White Storks in 2000 of 59 pairs in the Gironde département (including 33 at the parc ornithologique de Teich), raising 176 young. In addition there were 43 pairs in les Landes and seven pairs in Pyrénées Atlantiques. All steady increases over previous years.
The fourth Nuit de la Chouette will take place on 24 March 2001, an annual event aimed at raising public awareness and appreciation of owls, especially the Little Owl, across France. There are many guided walks and exhibitions that the public are encouraged to join, so if you are in the country at that time it would be worth checking to see what is on locally. More information is available on http://www.parcs-naturels-regionaux.tm.fr.
The 2000 season for vultures breeding in France was a good one, on the whole. The reintroduced population of Griffon Vultures in Les Grandes Causses produced 54 young to the flying stage, from 75 pairs, the same as 1999. Four Black Vultures fledged successfully from the same region. In the Alps, there is an ongoing Griffon Vulture reintroduction programme in several areas (Gorges du Verdon, Vercors, Baronnies). This last area produced 5 fledged young this year. Adult birds are still being introduced into the Alps, but it is interesting to note that birds from elsewhere in France and Spain are also settling down to breed here. On the other hand, a bird ringed in the gorges de la Jonte in May 1998 was seen in Lithuania in July/August this year, 2000 km north-east and the first seen in that country since 1949. The overall French population is currently estimated at 593 pairs (Ornithos 7-3: 116122). Lammergeiers also has a record year, with 11 young fledged in the French Pyrenees, two in Corsica and one in the Alps.
Cormorant numbers in France, as elsewhere in western Europe, have been increasing over recent years, to the concern of fisheries and anglers. In January 1997 the national total counted was 74,874; two years later it had risen to 83,080. A controlled cull has been authorised by the government, and the results have been published recently for the 1999/2000 winter 12,097 birds were shot (the authorised maximum was 14,623). For 2000/2001 the authorised total has been increased to 15,785. The LPO is monitoring the situation carefully to see if this slaughter makes any difference to the viability of the fisheries concerned, or to the population of wintering Cormorants.
In partnership with the town of Moulins, LPO-Auvergne has recently created an interpretative centre dedicated to the natural heritage of the River Allier. One of the main tributaries of the River Loire, the Allier has remained relatively untamed and has retained its natural characteristics throughout its whole length. The section of the river between Vichy and Moulins is particularly important, and has been awarded the status of réserve naturelle since 1994. The area is of international importance, with no fewer than 100 breeding bird species, including Stone Curlews and Kingfishers among others.
The new centre, opened on 11 September, is designed to be a focal point for those wishing to know more about the natural riches of the river, with a strong educational slant, but also acting as a source of information for tourists visiting the surrounding Auvergne region. The centre itself occupies the recently restored and converted water pumping station of the town of Moulins, and contains dioramas illustrating the wildlife and human activities of the river valley, a jardin d'oiseaux with video cameras bringing bird activity right into the building, and l'espace enchanté, where visitors can listen to and learn the songs of the various birds to be found along the Allier. The centre will be open every day from April to September, with more restricted opening hours in the rest of the year.
All those who signed the petition last year to restrict the length of the French hunting season will be pleased to know that there is no indication that the European Birds Directive is going to be altered in the hunters' favour. Also, the new French law on hunting, which was adopted on 28 June 2000, quotes the relevant clause from the Directive that: 'the species to which hunting regulations apply should not be hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their breeding grounds'. However, in the new French law, this clause is immediately followed by the possibility of exceptions!
The initial proposal for the new law put forward this February by the French government could have been considered as an acceptable compromise between the positions of the hunting lobby and the conservation lobby. As expected, however, after four months of trials and tribulations, and stormy discussions in and out of Parliament, the two houses of Parliament succeeded in changing the text in favour of the hunting lobby. The Senate [the upper house] was particularly zealous in this respect.
To expand on a few details. There are no dates in the law itself for the opening or closing of the season. Decrees, prepared by the Environment Minister, currently Dominique Voynet, will determine the dates within which the Préfets will fix the hunting dates for their départements. For the current season, some waterbirds will be able to be hunted from 10 August. This is an advance, in that previously the season could start as early as mid July. The exact opening date will vary from one département to another, and also with the species concerned. The basic closing date has been set for 31 January, but again with extensions to 10 February for most waders, pigeons and thrushes, and up to 20 February for scoters, Water Rail and Woodcock. This system of exceptions means, for instance, that it would be legal to shoot a Bar-tailed Godwit in early February but not a Black-tailed Godwit. Taking in conjunction with the fact that night hunting has been legalised in 21 départements, enforcing the law becomes virtually impossible during this period.
These dates are not considered acceptable by the LPO (worse was avoided by ardent lobbying) and the LPO will continue to lobby for an opening date of 1st September and a closing date of 31 January, with no exceptions.
The law had to concede the point that landowners had the right to stop hunting on private property if the owner so wished the previous law had been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in April 1999 on this point. However, a number of constraints have been added that make it quite complicated for the owner to ensure that his or her wishes are actually complied with.
A 'day without hunting' has been built into the new law, another advance. Hunting is forbidden on Wednesdays from 06.00hr to Thursday 06.00hr, but (there's always a 'but'!), if the local Préfet so chooses he or she can decide on another day. In addition, the members of Parliament managed to get an exception for pigeon and Turtle Dove hunting between 1st October and 15 November no respite for them.
The new law had been the occasion to provide France with up-to-date hunting legislation, with an emphasis on species protection, but this opportunity has been lost. Nevertheless, the LPO is not resigned to this state of affairs; appeals at a national level are already being prepared and complaints will be sent to the relevant European institutions.
This summer, three young White Storks from nests in the Rochefort area have been fitted with Argos satellite transmitters, to enable their movements to be tracked once they leave the nest. By late August, all three were still in south-west France, making a leisurely start to their journey south. Their movements are being reported on a website (http://www.cigognes.org) an exciting new development in the study of bird migration. Incidentally, there were 87 breeding pairs of White Storks in Charente-Maritime (the LPO's home département) in 2000, making it one of the most significant breeding areas for this species in France.
As last year, various environmental associations, including the LPO, will be organising a demonstration against illegal hunting in this reserve on the north coast of France, between Calais and Dunkerque. Over the past thirteen years hunters have erected and used several shooting butts on the reserve, although hunting has always been completely banned here. The authorities have been reluctant to do anything about enforcing the law effectively, hence once again as many conservationists as possible are requested to assemble at the reserve from 10 am onwards, to demonstrate that birds have friends, and that laws are meant to be kept. It's hardly a stone's throw from England these days, and in previous years many UK birders have come along to lend their support to that of the locals - the more the merrier, certainly the more effective.
Back in the 1960s there were a hundred or so breeding pairs of Lesser Kestrels in southern France, along the Mediterranean coastal strip either side of the mouth of the Rhône. With the rapid changes in agricultural practices that took place in the 70s and 80s, such as the abandonment of traditional stock-raising, and increasing use of pesticides, numbers crashed to just three pairs in one corner of the stony semi-desert of La Crau. Elsewhere in Europe there has been a similar decline, estimated to be as much as 95% over the past thirty years. Local naturalists and bodies such as the LPO's Fonds d'Intervention pour les Rapaces, have been studying and protecting the last few pairs with a certain amount of success. The birds nest in holes in the piles of stones that dot this strange landscape, as well as in the stone buildings used by the shepherds; in addition to protecting these sites, nestboxes have been positioned in strategic spots to encourage new colonies to form, and to increase the size of existing ones. Thanks to these efforts the number of breeding birds has gradually risen to around 60 pairs today. The European Union, under its LIFE programme, as well as other local and national funding bodies, has agreed to support further conservation efforts, not just for the Lesser Kestrel, but for the unique habitat and ecosystem that is La Crau. But contributions from the public are also needed, and to this end the LPO has recently launched a special 'Lesser Kestrel' fund. All donations will be acknowledged with information about the species' current status. And it's not just this one species that will benefit - remember that this the only area where Pin-tailed Sandgrouse still breed in France, and is one of the most important, if not the most important, sites in France for breeding and wintering Little Bustards.
This group, perhaps confusingly named for the English-speaker (the French name for a Buzzard is buse), exists to protect the three species of harriers that breed in France, particularly those that choose to nest in agricultural cereal fields. At a recent meeting several members felt a bit depressed that maybe their efforts were rather in vain. However, over a ten-year period from the mid 80s, it is estimated that of 15,000 pairs presumed nesting, 10,000 nests were located (80% of which were Montagu's Harriers'); 21,000 young were counted in these nests, and of these 5500 only fledged successfully because of the intervention of the watchers. In the case of the Montagu's Harrier, as many as 40% of the young would have perished during cereal harvesting if the volunteers had not been on hand to save them. Far from being depressed, the people taking part in these surveys should feel extremely proud of what they have achieved, and the rest of us should feel duly grateful that our chances of enjoying the sight of these graceful birds is so much higher than it would otherwise have been. Anyone with a particular interest in the study and conservation of harriers should contact Alexandre Millon (email@example.com) who edits their newsletter.
The latest figures show 63,600 oiled birds were counted as coming ashore, alive or dead, along the west coast of France earlier this year, though innumerably more would have died at sea than these figures indicate. Because so many birds were wintering in the northern Bay of Biscay, the toll was much higher than that of previous disasters such as the Amoco Cadiz, for instance, and made worse by the way the winter gales dispersed the oil so widely and foiled any attempts at containment. 82% of the birds were Guillemots, with Razorbills, Gannets and Kittiwakes also badly affected. Nearly 100 Great Northern Divers were killed, a significant proportion out of the numbers wintering on the Atlantic coast. After the rescue efforts for the birds affected this time, the LPO and other conservation bodies are turning their efforts towards changing the law to control the movements of tankers like the Erika much more effectively than has hitherto been the case. To support this work, the singer Nicole Redner is donating half the proceeds from sales of her special CD, Le Fou de Bassan (the Gannet), which contains songs in English and in French, plus instrumentals, on the theme of seabirds and the sea. For more information on this CD, with sample tracks, and a chance to buy it direct, look on http://www.planetcolony.com/fdb or phone 0033 493293318 (or 04 93 29 33 18 from within France).
The first issue of 2000 (Vol. 7, No. 1) has recently appeared. The main contents are:
Also recently published, the first issue of 2000:
As usual, a varied feast. Either (or both) publications are well worth subscribing to if you are at all interested in the birds of France and/or wish to improve your knowledge of the language in a relatively painless way.
The LPO runs a variety of courses and activities, often aimed at young people, who want to help with bird protection in France in a practical way. Among those proposed for this year are: repair of nesting islands for avocets and terns on island of Noirmoutier; restoration of old orchards and wetlands in Lorraine; restoration of woodland, meadows and marshland in Champagne-Ardenne; repair of hides in Loire-Atlantique; camp-based excursions for young people in Auvergne and Loire-Atlantique; day/week courses in Lorraine, les Grands Causses and Noirmoutier; walks in the mountains of the Jura and the Pyrenees; voluntary work, often involving welcoming the public at Gruissan, le Croisec, La Pointe d'Aiguillon, Marais d'Yves, les Sept-Iles, Puy de Dôme, Montagne de la Serre, Ile de Ré, Camargue, etc; discovery weekends in the Cevennes, la Vendée and Lac du Der. Just a selection of practical work that can be enjoyed at the same time as helping the environment and wildlife generally. More details available on request.
On 11 March a Lammergeier was found dead in Bollène-Vésubie in the Mercantour region of the Alpes-Maritimes, and the post-mortem revealed that it had been shot. The bird was identified as 'Mounier', released in the Mercantour national park in 1993 as part of the international reintroduction scheme for this species in the Alps involving Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. The scheme has succeeded in getting the Alpine population up from zero (they were persecuted to extinction over 100 years ago) to about 50 birds at present, but as yet only four pairs can be said to be established, so any losses are extremely serious. It is especially depressing for all the workers involved in the project to lose yet another bird to this way, the fourth since 1993 to have been shot. There is no possibility of mistaking this huge bird of prey, with a wing-span of 2.8 metres, with any species on the list of authorised quarry species. In economic terms it is estimated that it costs around £45,000 to get each individual bird back to the wild, all lost because of this irresponsible and totally illegal action.
The final result was 2,139,256 signatures, of which 2,074,536 were raised in Europe and 1,129,797 were raised in France. The number in Britain was 521,850. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to achieve this remarkable result. No other petition in favour of any conservation issue has collected as many signatures! The petition has already been presented to the President of the European Parliament. At the moment, hunters, conservationists, politicians are lobbying and manoeuvering to get the hunting laws of France and Europe altered. There has been a flurry of reports (Patriat, Lefeuvre, etc.) commissioned and published, with views and facts assembled on the length of seasons, the migratory periods of the various species, the 'traditions' upheld by the hunters, including the practice of hunting at night, the varying fortunes of the birds themselves. The question is next due to be debated at the French Assemblée Nationale on 28 March. The LPO has put forward a 'reasonable compromise' on the questions concerned, and is encouraging all members of the LPO to lobby their MP's to vote in favour of shortening the season to 1 September31 January, restricting the number of species that can be shot, phasing out the use of lead shot, and to outlaw the non-sensical practice of hunting at night.
The storms which ravaged France just after Christmas caused considerable damage to several of the LPO's reserves. In Charente-Maritime, the sea broke through the coastal defenses and flooded the reserves of Moëze and Yves with to up to 2.5 metres of seawater, destroying much of the infrastructure of the sites, including ditches, sluices and observation hides. The salt water has killed many of the amphibians and fish which lived in the fresh water parts of the reserves. At Moëze 60 of the sheep which graze the marshes as part of the management regime were drowned. Thousands of birds, both large and small, were directly killed by the force of the winds; this does not take account of those killed by the oil spilt from the Erika. Elsewhere, nesting platforms for White Storks and nestboxes for owls, not to mention tens of thousands of trees, have been blown down, and must have an effect on the nesting prospects for the coming season.
The widespread use of the anticoagulant Bromadioline in the departments of Doubs and Jura is thought to be causing the deaths of large numbers of birds of prey, most notably the Red Kite. This poison is being used to control rodents on agricultural land, but conservationists and others are calling for its use to be more strictly controlled. Locally, Red Kite breeding numbers have decreased by up to 70% in recent years, but migrants are also being affected. In 1998 bird from the German population was found dead from poison. The LPO has recently made a formal complaint to the European Commission and to the local authorities to do something to find a way of controlling the rodent problem in a way that has no ill side-effects, as has been done in nearby Switzerland, for example.
A high number of Cranes overwintered in northern France this year 700 in Lorraine and 7300 in Champagne-Ardenne. Also, the return migration has been very concentrated this spring. Although flights north-east were noted on 17 January, there were relatively small numbers from then until 20 February. The first big wave took place on 21st February, with 18,400 counted in the Haut-Vienne region alone. On 22nd, it was estimated that 16,690 birds were on the move, with another 15,300 on 23rd. At least 10,000 arrived at the Lac du Der on this last date. Things then went quiet briefly until the second big wave over the weekend of 26-27th February, when 17,520 birds were counted on the move. So, in just one week, about 81,500 Cranes moved across France, the vast majority of the western European population which is estimated at around 100,000 birds. I was in central France at the time, and it was interesting to note the reactions of the ordinary man-in-the-street to the spectacle. For instance, the petrol-pump attendant where I was filling my car said, with a smile, as one group went over 'the winter is over' just as someone in Britain might remark on the first Cuckoo of spring.
The most recent newsletter of Organbidexka Col Libre, which exists to study and protect birds migrating over the Pyrenees, has an interesting article summarising the migration of Booted Eagles. As a single bird has been seen at various places in Ireland, Kent, Cornwall and Somerset over the past year, the status of this species is particularly topical. Out of a total number of 29,112 migrating birds of prey counted at Organbidexka in autumn 1999, 55 were Booted Eagles. This reflects the fact that the population breeding north of the Pyrenees in France is quite low, between 100 and 150 pairs the bulk of Western Europe's birds breed in Spain. It is thought that perhaps a third of France's Booted Eagles use the western Pyrenees as their route south; other pass along the Mediterranean coast and over the eastern passes such as Eyne. Looking at counts since 1981, there have been quite wide fluctuations in numbers from year to year, but no overall trend either upwards or downwards. On the other hand, the numbers passing south in autumn 1998 were the highest for over 15 years (nearly 90 birds), possibly indicating a good breeding season. As ever, therefore, the evidence as to the possible wild or escaped origin of the British bird is confused! Incidentally, the bulk of the raptors passing at Organbidexka were, as usual, Black Kites (15,310) and Honey Buzzards (9755), with a good range of other species in smaller numbers to make this a very worthwhile site to spend a few days in autumn. Visitors are always very welcome.
The report on rare birds in France for 1998 was published in Ornithos Vol. 6, No. 4. A total of three new species were added to the French list: Short-billed Dowitcher, Common Nighthawk and Blyth's Pipit, with two new species reported from 1997: Black-throated Accentor and Tennessee Warbler. The first Willet this century, the third-ever Bufflehead, the second Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, the third and fourth records of both Pacific Golden Plover and Western Sandpiper were also notable. Record numbers included four American Wigeons, nine Ring-necked Ducks, 92 Ruddy Ducks (they are not too happy about those!), four Great Bustards, five Sociable Plovers, 13 Pectoral Sandpipers, 117 Long-tailed Skuas, three Citrine Wagtails, four Greenish Warblers, and a spring record of five singing Little Buntings.
No doubt everyone is aware that in mid December the tanker Erika broke up off the northwest French coast, spilling at least 10,000 tonnes of a particularly heavy and viscous fuel oil into the sea. Much of this has now come ashore along the French coast between Brittany and Aquitaine, and along with it have come large numbers of oiled seabirds. Guillemots have been particularly badly hit but a wide range of other seabirds have been affected, and as the oil has reached the coast, coastal waders and wildfowl have also been hit. That part of the Bay of Biscay is an extremely important wintering area for wildfowl and seabirds that nest further north, and so, as ever with these disasters, it is not just the French birds populations that will be affected, but birds coming from all over northern Europe. The LPO has opened as many rescue and recuperation centres as possible for those birds that can be saved, and other centres in the UK and elsewhere are also helping rescue those that the French conservation bodies cannot cope with due to the large numbers of birds involved. As of mid January more than 54,000 birds have been brought into the various centres, and this of course will be only a fraction of the numbers killed and disappeared offshore. Last week the first of those birds that have been successfully de-oiled and nursed back to health were due to be released into the wild again 15 Guillemots and 5 Gannets at the LPO reserve and rescue centre of l'Ile Grande on the north coast of Brittany, an area which on this occasion has escaped the pollution. A symbolic gesture, hopefully to be followed by more re-releases in the coming months. Inevitably, however, populations will be hit; those of the LPO's reserve of Sept-Iles in Brittany with just 250 pairs of Guillemots, 25 pairs of Razorbills and 250 pairs of Puffins (The LPO's symbol!) are particularly at risk.
All donations towards the costs of rescue of the oiled birds will be gratefully received. For current information the website http://perso.libertysurf.fr/lpo-anjou is updated on a regular basis.
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