Tuesday 26 February 2019

Mapping Urban Stock Doves in Manchester

Posted by James Richardson & Stu

A quick search for scientific literature on Britain’s five ‘native’ columbids was revealing. For various reasons, Columba livia returned a whacking 3778 papers, while Woodpigeon had 147 papers, Collared Dove 130 papers, and Turtle Dove 78 papers. It was no surprise that Stock Dove was in last place with just 21 papers mentioning it by name, and only five in which the self-effacing Columba oenas was anywhere close to centre stage in an ecological study.

Stock Dove Columba oenas (Photo: Chris Cant  https://www.flickr.com/photos/81624096@N00/4290268363n)
This neglect is not for want of somewhere to study them - Stock doves are fairly widespread across UK and Europe, even in large urban areas such as Manchester. But the species seems to be patchily distributed, easily overlooked, and its detailed ecological needs far from understood. Unusually for a pigeon, it is a cavity-nester, and this might put stress on its demographics, especially in urban areas where large trees are not everywhere to be found. While their wood-pigeon cousins have seen a boom in population over the last few years, stock doves continue to have an Amber conservation status.

This Masters project (with Stu and Alex Lees) aims to map stock doves’ distribution in Manchester and then investigate the different environmental factors of this distribution. Basically what we will do is to find as many habitat patches which contain stock doves and compare the habitat and location characteristics of these with areas where they are not present. Underpinning this, a field survey will be done within the M60 ring road to identify as many locations with stock doves as possible.

Modelled distribution for stock doves within the M60 ring road
Choosing where to survey

The project draws heavily on Citizen Science data - historical data for the species from Manchester Birding forum and eBird has 448 sightings at 32 different sites. The current recorded locations of stock doves from MBF and eBird were used in a species distribution model to predict other suitable habitat in Manchester. The OS Greenspace map was used which designates land based on its usage, for example, playing fields, park, or cemetery. Environmental layers that contributed to the Maxent model came from OS open data, OS master map, DEFRA and the Forestry Commission. The ‘environmental’ layers used in this model were:
•    OS Master map descriptive layers
•    Size of OS land packet
•    Proximity to water course
•    Proximity to woodland
•    Land management of site

From the output model areas of high likelihood of stock dove presence were identified by producing cells with a value based on the sum of all their neighbours. These cells were then put into groups and identified as predicted stock dove habitat.

The historical data shows a reasonably consistent view of the locations where stock doves are found. While the spring field survey will concentrate mainly on new sites, it would also be great to get more recent records for some of the locations that haven’t had a recording for the last 5 or more years. If Manchester birders can keep an eye/ear out (we know you do already!) for stock doves in the coming year, we would really appreciate the help click here.

Stock Dove pair in Birchfields Park, Manchester (Photo: Alex Lees)

Choosing When to Survey

The predicted sites will be visited between March and May when there should be the highest chance of viewing/hearing stock doves. Looking at the historical data most stock dove sightings per proportion of all sightings were between March and July, whereas most overall sightings were in March and April.

The following new sites will all be visited during Spring 2019
* Broadoak Park
* Gorton Reservoirs
* Clayton Vale
* Salford Sports Village
* Highfield Country Park
* Broad EES Dole
* Platt Fields Park
* The Cliff/Kersal Dale
* LIVIA Silverdale
* Tom Husband Leisure Complex
* Buile Hill Park
* Northenden Golf Course
* Blackley Forest
* Didsbury Golf Course
* Philips Park, Clayton
* Fog Lane Park
* Wythenshawe Sports Ground
* Bolton Road Playing Fields
* Newton Heath
* Mersey between Wilmslow Road and Mersey Vale Nature Park
* LIVIA Forest Bank
* Broadhurst Park
* River Tame East of Reddish Vale
* Manchester Ship Canal near Trafford Centre
* Near Ashcroft Bridge over Irwell
* Gosjac A.C. Fishing Ponds near Mersey Vale Nature Reserve
* Birchfields Park
* LIVIA The Nursery
* Willow Grove Cemetery
* Queen's Park
* Chorlton-Cum-Hardy Golf Course
* Brookdale Golf Course

These sites will also be revisited as there are no recent recordings of stock doves:
* Ashton Moss
* Boggart Hole
* Weaste (Cemetery and WTW)
* Northern Cemetery
* Hough End Playing Fields

More about this project can be read here.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Our Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop on dry forests

Posted by Stu & Christian Devenish

In early August, our Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop on dry forests took place in Lima, Peru. There has been a whole series of calls for workshops recently, usually in support of project proposal planning for the Newton Fund applications and bringing together early career researchers with more experienced academics. The Newton Fund is a £735M funding scheme managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Newton fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 active partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare. Some of this research is in the environmental field so these funds could go a long way to bridging knowledge gaps on ecological/conservation issues in biodiverse countries, perhaps. Countries covered by the Newton Fund are those who are potential recipients of Overseas Development Agency funding – generally the lower and middle income countries of the world. The workshop was organised by MMU and our partner university in Peru, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, through Armando Valdes.

Above - Toby Pennington on dry forests generally and DRYFLOR in particular; Below - Armando Valdes introducing the session on capacity building (Photos: Alex Lees)

We were able to fund the attendance of around 36 people at the workshop, roughly split equally between UK scientists, those from Peru itself, and those from other eligible Latin American countries (Argentina and Colombia). We wanted folk from a mix of relevant disciplines, and also ones at different stages of their careers – from old silverbacks like myself to early career researchers. In addition to academics, we also wanted staff from NGOs and, of course, from government agencies. The aim of the workshop was to discuss and produce a road map for important research in the region’s dry forests.

Nice mix of dry forest ecologists at different stages of their research careers from Argentina, Peru and UK (Photo: Alex Lees)
The event started with a fantastically informative talk on South America’s dry forests by Toby Pennington from University of Exeter. He coordinates DRYFLOR, a network of (mainly) botanists mapping and tracking plant species in drylands across the region from Mexico and Colombia in the north to Argentina in the south. Toby stressed how extensive (more so than wet forests in South America) and how important in terms of carbon, biodiversity and livelihoods they are. They are neglected when compared to their more glamourous cousin in the Amazon Basin. We then turned our attention to the NGO perspective on what are the challenges in implementing dry forest conservation by Gina Rodríguez from Fundacion Ecosistemas Secos in Colombia).

Left - Gina Rodriguez presenting on challenges to dry forest conservation; Right - Kelvin Peh talking us through the TESSA toolkit for ecosystem service evaluation (Photos: Alex Lees)
 The second day focused on research approaches and methods that can help us to understand the important issues discussed on Day 1. This included a very informative talk by Kelvin Peh from University of Southampton on the TESSA toolkit for assessing ecosystem services. We broke into groups to discuss issues around measuring biodiversity, ecosystem services, remote sensing, and working with local communities. Finally, we heard about country-specific research needs from Colombia (Andrés Avella), Peru (Maria de los Angeles La Torre), and Argentina (led by Santiago Veron). The final day of the workshop, chaired by Armando Valdés, focussed on capacity building and how we can help to facilitate research linked to conservation action in the dry forests. 

We rarely escaped the confines of the workshop hotel but did see this urban Osprey and a few other nice species on the Miraflores oceanfront (Photo: Alex Lees)
After the workshop, we flew to Iquitos for the Peruvian Ornithological Congress at Universidad Científica del Perú. This was a very enjoyable and productive four days meeting local students as well as some of the big names in Neotropical ornithology. Stu delivered one of the plenaries on wildlife trade impacts, while Christian spoke about his research on Peruvian Plantcutters in northern Peru, and ran, alongside Renzo Piana, an ex-PhD student from MMU, a workshop on endangered species in Peru. Stu even managed a day of birding in the Reserva Nacional Allpahuayo-Mishana, which brought the only new bird of the trip, Mishana Tyrannulet.
Plenary speakers at the congress receiving Honorary Doctorates from UCP (Photo: Diego García Olaechea)
This work was supported by a Newton Fund Researcher Links grant ID 2017-RLWK9-359523202, under the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia partnership. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and  CONCYTEC and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit www.newtonfund.ac.uk.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Biodiversity surveys on Gunung Slamet

Posted by Christian Devenish & Stu

After several months of preparation – obtaining permits and local permissions, appointing staff, buying equipment and sorting logistics - we were finally ready to start our mountain surveys to support placement of new protected areas or extensions of existing PAs in the uplands of Java (see previous post). The project, funded by Rainforest Trust, kicked off at Slamet, a large and biologically very important mountain in Central Java. This portion of the fieldwork is also supported by Chester Zoo who have a keen interest in bird species affected by the Asian Songbird Crisis.

Into the field (Photos: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)
The six week stint on Slamet started with some preparations in Purwokerto, a nice town of a quarter of a million folk to the south of the mountain. A visit to the local bird market was interesting – a lot of bird market surveys get done in Java and Sumatra, especially in the huge central markets like Pramuka market in Jakarta, and Bratang market in Surabaya. Perhaps ‘underwatched’ are the small provincial markets and town shops that presumably sell a lot of birds across Java. At Purwokerto, 10-12 shops and stalls had an interesting mix of the exotic and local.

Purwokerto bird market held a variety of birds - exotic lovebirds, the expensive Jalak Putih (Black-winged Myna), as well as locally-caught birds from Slamet (Photos: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)
Lovebirds of all colours made up an encouraging number (as they are captive-bred) of the birds for sale, as did Zebra doves and other columbids. Some of the more expensive species were also present – including a couple of Black-winged Mynas and White-rumped Shamas, and leafbirds both from Java and Sumatra. Other birds of particular conservation concern that were certainly wild-caught included Ruby-throated Bulbul (Vulnerable), Orange-spotted Bulbul (Near-threatened), and Chestnut-capped Thrush (NT). But there was a definite local flavour to the birds on sale – with species such as Mountain Leaf Warblers, tailorbirds, Little Pied and Indigo Flycatchers, and Rufous-tailed Fantail all said to have come locally from Slamet.

Fieldwork on Gunung Slamet (Photos: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)
Our team assembled in a hotel in Purwokerto – Christian and Stu from MMU, field ornithologist, Ridha Junaid, from Burung Indonesia, Rick Stanley and Gabby Salazar, experienced PhD students/wildlife recorders from USA, Ganjar and Arya, students from the local university, and guides Pak Karso, Pak Karbo and his son, and a team of porters – with all the equipment and rice, we were not travelling light. A quick trot through paddies and a waterfall recreational area – and we were at the forest edge, at around 700 m a.s.l. The northern side of the mountain is largely deforested below 2,000 m – hence our keenness to survey the steep southern slopes which have retained much of their forest, and we hope, its wildlife.

Javan Gibbons were recorded several times around 7-800 m (Photo: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)
Even from our camp close to the edge of the forest, we could see and hear both Javan Gibbons and Javan Hawk-eagles. We had several sightings in the local area, boding well for their populations on the mountain. During the first day, an important job was to test both the camera traps and audio recorders. Both sets of tech seemed to be working OK so we deployed all 14 recorders and 20 cameras along two transects ranging from 700 m to over 1,200 m a.s.l. This is quite low in the schemes of things at Slamet – perhaps more of the interesting and target species will be located higher up, perhaps in the 1,500-2,200 m altitudinal range. Nevertheless, some good sightings were had (Javan Trogon; Pin-tailed Parrotfinch), and good mixed flocks encountered which bodes well for fieldwork higher up the mountain. Less encouraging were accounts from local people about the extent of trapping on the mountain – the whole area appears to be peppered with small hunter trails and there seem to be very few places that are inaccessible to trappers.

Above - sonogram of Javan Gibbon caught on one of the recorders; Below - the real thing - audio associated with this record.

We left the team, having finished Site 1 on Mountain 1. The team has been joined by Bas van Balen and Fajar, a research assistant from Burung with experience camera trapping on Sumatra– they head further up the mountain on a different trail, spending around two weeks camping up as high as 2,200 m. The fieldwork on each mountain will be divided up into sites, each taking around a week to complete. After arriving and making camp, the first day will be spent in two teams positioning the audio recorders and cameras. Detailed habitat data will be gathered at each recorder location – details of tree girths, understorey density and presence/absence of a whole range of habitat features (e.g. bamboo, rattans).

The first mammal caught on our cameras - the poorly known Sunda stink badger Mydaus javanensis
 The cameras and recorders will be left out to record constantly for three full days and nights so there will be terabytes of data to be analysed. That leaves around three days before taking the tech back in to search more extensively across the site for the key species of birds, mammals and frogs that we are targeting. We will record the GPS locations of these species and take habitat data from those points to allow us to build a picture of their spatial distribution, habitat requirements, and reaction to human pressures. All this, in turn, will, along with detailed socio-economic data from local stakeholders, feed directly into decisions about where additional protected areas should be ideally located to secure Java's most important montane wildlife populations.  

Monday 1 October 2018

Heightening protection for Java's mountain wildlife

Posted by Stu & Christian Devenish

It is more than three years since Nigel Collar and I first discussed the need for extensive surveys of birds and other key endemic taxa across a whole range of mountains in West and Central Java. All of these mountains, including ones such as Gede-Pangrango which are well-known to many birders, are understudied, some have not been visited by biologists for half a century. This is a knowledge gap that needed to be filled quickly – the mountains are packed with Javan endemics; forest loss on most mountains has been significant, especially on their lower slopes; and heavy trapping for the cagebird trade has brought about reportedly precipitous declines in species such as Javan Green Magpie and Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush. 

Above - montane forest on Gunung Slamet; Below - the bird market at Purwokerto, Central Java (Photos: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)

Our recent review of ‘the state’ of West Java’s mountains including analysis of forest cover change (Higginbottom et al. in press), funded by the Shearwater Foundation, highlighted a series of around 20 mountains/blocks, all needing biological and socio-economic surveys fast. Coupled with this was a need and a desire by Indonesia’s Environment Ministry to consider expanding their protected area network in upland Java to better protect the country’s key species.

Maps showing the locations of mountains we intend to survey, and forest cover and loss since 1990 (from Higginbottom et al. in press)
A finding of our ‘Shearwater’ work was that forest inside of protected areas has indeed fared better than that outside of formal protection. This brought the project to the attention of Rainforest Trust, an NGO/Not for Profit which aims, through increasingly imaginative means, to expand the world’s protected area coverage. Finally, after much huffing and puffing, we are there – a four year project coordinated by Burung Indonesia, the BirdLife partner in Indonesia, which aims to identify priority areas for conservation in the Javan uplands – ones which have important populations of key species and habitats and the conditions under which these can be protected into the future – and to take one or more of these areas right through to designation as official protected areas.

Project preparations in the Burung office in Bogor with L>R Rick Stanley, Christian Devenish, Ria Saryanthi, Ridha Junaid & Stuart Marsden (Photo: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com).
One of the first steps in this pipeline to protection is to conduct socio-economic studies in and around the candidate mountains, and to survey as well as we can the wildlife they contain. With up to 20 mountains to cover, this is no mean feat. We need to find out how local communities use the forest and perceive its value and how this might change under protection. We also want to know about patterns of bird trapping and which areas might serve as sanctuaries or release sites for threatened birds in the future. Not least we need to know which species from a range of taxonomic groups survive on which mountains, where they occur and in what kind of numbers in which habitats. We certainly cannot survey everything everywhere – so the choice of taxa, locations and methods have taken a great deal of thought. 
Capacity building in action. Above - Ridha (far right) joined our bird surveying workshop in Bogor as a student a couple of years ago. Below - Ridha talking birds with local students as a researcher on the Rainforest Trust project.

Finally, we have plumped for a system of week-long surveys at multiple sites within mountains. We have also decided on a fusion of controlled and relatively high tech surveys using remote cameras and acoustic recorders arranged along transects, and more extensive ‘quick and dirty’ encounter rate searches for key species. Records from the latter may feed into spatial distributional analyses (such as ENFAs) which will help to identify hotspots for protection at the local level. Key groups we are focusing on are birds of course, ground-dwelling mammals and primates such as Javan Gibbon, and selected amphibians.

Above - The fieldwork is quite tech-heavy compared to our usual projects. Below - We will be surveying remotely and actively birds, mammals and amphibians (Photos: Gabby Salazar www.gabbysalazar.com)

Our first survey has just started on Gunung Slamet in Central Java, the most easterly of our mountains and one that has special significance on account of its large size and relatively isolated position. With additional funding from our friends at Chester Zoo, we have around six weeks on various parts of the mountain. We have a team of 8-10  in the field comprising Ridha Junaid and a researcher from Burung Indonesia, Rick Stanley and Gabby Salazar, experienced PhD students/wildlife recorders from USA, two students from the local university (capacity building is a key component of the project), and Pak Karso and his excellent team of local guides. Periodically, they will be joined by Bas van Balen, Christian, myself and a whole series of other people over the next 18 months as they move from mountain to mountain.