Category Archives: Conservation

Tracking ‘pekinensis’ Common Swifts

By Terry

 We know very little about the migration route and wintering grounds of pekinensis Common Swifts.  This project, a collaboration between Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and the Summer Palace, aims to change that by using ultra-lightweight geolocators.   


A 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with one of the ultra-lightweight geolocators.

A ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with an ultra-lightweight geolocator.

In December, during a BirdLife drinks reception coinciding with a work visit to London, I had a chance encounter with Dick Newell who, as anyone who knows him will testify, is passionate about Swifts.  He coordinates the Action For Swifts website and helped to organise the International Swift Conference in April this year, as well as being involved in all manner of swift conservation projects.

During our conversation, covering a range of Chinese birds, we spoke about ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts, the subspecies of Common Swift that breeds in China.  Dick waxed lyrical about how cool it would be to develop a project to fit geolocators to the ‘pekinensis‘ Swifts in Beijing to find out where they spent the winter (thought to be southern Africa), and what route they took to and from China.  I briefed him on the annual swift ringing programme that took place at the Summer Palace, Beijing, arranged by the Beijing Birdwatching Society (BBWS) and straight away his eyes lit up….  “Perfect.  Leave it with me” he said…  If I could speak to the BBWS about their willingness to participate in a geolocator project for their swifts, Dick would investigate sourcing some geolocators and arrange a visit to Beijing with Lyndon Kearsley from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a very experienced ringer and a veteran of projects to fit geolocators to Common and Pallid Swifts in Europe.

A few short weeks later, with the generous help of Susanne Åkesson from Lund University in Sweden, Dick had sourced a total of 31 geolocators and we were arranging dates for Dick and Lyndon to visit Beijing to work with, and train, the BBWS folks to fit this amazing technology to the resident swifts.

Saturday 24 May was the big day and, after rising at 0400, I met Dick and Lyndon, together with Wu Lan from the BBWS (who has worked miracles to ensure the Chinese authorities were comfortable with the project) and by 0515 we were in the pavilion at the Summer Palace where the very efficient BBWS team had already erected the nets and had started to catch swifts.

Retrieving the first 'pekinensis' Common Swift (Apus apus) from the net.

Retrieving the first ‘pekinensis’ Common Swift (Apus apus pekinensis) from the net.

Lyndon set to work and, having trained several teams from the BBWS the previous evening about how to fit the geolocators, the first pioneering birds began to be fitted with their ultra-lightweight backpacks.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

Lyndon Kearsley preparing the geolocators.

These geolocators do not allow the birds to be satellite-tracked – that still requires technology too heavy for a swift – instead, to collect the data, the birds must be re-trapped at a later date.  That is why it was so fortunate that almost all of the birds fitted with geolocators today had been ringed at the same site in previous years, proving that the individuals to whom the backpacks have been fitted are site-loyal.  This gives us all hope that there will be a significant re-capture rate next year, allowing us to find out for the first time where these birds spend the winter and what route they take on migration.  Exciting stuff!

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

Lyndon and Zhang Shen from Beijing Birdwatching Society fitting a geolocator.

It was heartening to see the interest shown by the BBWS and, despite the rain that persisted throughout, it was a real family occasion with many young children, students, parents and grandparents turning out to volunteer.  There were huge smiles all around when the swift carrying the first geolocator was released… It powered into the air, seemingly oblivious to both the special package it was carrying and the excitement among the group that, very soon, we will know much more about the famous Summer Palace swifts of Beijing.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

The BBWS took the opportunity of the swift ringing to brief visiting school children about the importance of bird conservation.

Having come directly from working with Common Swifts in Europe, it was interesting that both Dick and Lyndon said very early on how ‘brown’ these pekinensis birds are compared with Common Swift in Europe and also how the call was closer to Pallid Swift than Common… We hope to record some calls over the next few weeks to enable some analysis and comparisons with nominate Common and Pallid to be made.

A huge thank you to Dick and Lyndon for sourcing the geolocators and visiting Beijing to fit them, as well as training the BBWS team and spreading the word about swifts at universities here; to Wu Lan and the team at BBWS, especially Ms Fu Jianping and Mr Zhao, who have been instrumental in making everything happen at this end, and to the authorities at The Summer Palace for allowing this project to go ahead and for taking so much interest in these special birds that have chosen this most famous of Beijing landmarks as their home.

Seeing this project set up from nothing in less than 6 months, the lesson that I draw from all this is that I should drink more beer!

Some more photos from the day below.

The data centre.  Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

The data centre. Volunteers from the BBWS log all the vital statistics during the ringing programme.

Lyndon releasing a 'pekinensis' Swift fitted with a geolocator.

Lyndon releasing a ‘pekinensis’ Swift fitted with a geolocator with Dick in the background recording the moment.



Cryptic Forest Falcon

Once thought extirpated.

Extirpation refers to local (rather than global) extinction. A 40 year gap existed since the Cryptic Forest Falcon had last been seen along the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Then some good news. Ornithomedia regularly posts on the Birding Frontiers Facebook page. Here’s their report:


The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest stretches along Brazil’s coast to Uruguay, reaching inland northeastern Argentina and eastern Paraguay. Formerly covering nearly 1.5 million km ², its area is more than 100,000 km ² today, only 2% remained intact!

Although still very rich, the biodiversity has suffered from such destruction, and many plant and animal species are on the brink of extinction. The good news is so rare and welcome. In the December issue 2013 Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, we learn that José Eduardo Simon and Gustavo Rodrigues Magnago observed and recorded July 29, 2012  a Carnifex Minton ( Micrastur mintoni ) in the Reserva Natural Vale, in the Brazilian state Espírito Santo. The last observation that some raptor in the Atlantic Forest dated 1972, and some ornithologists even thought he had disappeared from this ecosystem.

Read the full story >>> HERE <<<

Introducing Dovestep & little running challenge!

Learning from the demise of the Passenger Pigeon

by Tristan Reid

Remembering Martha; the last Passenger Pigeon and running parallels with the shocking decline of the European Turtle Dove 

I am currently reading A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg in preparation for writing a review for Birding FrontiersThe story of the Passenger Pigeon is very much linked to my activities in 2014; so as a prequel to my forthcoming review I thought I should share my relationship with this sadly extinct pigeon!

Martha the last Passenger Pigeon (creative commons)

Martha the last Passenger Pigeon (creative commons)

I can safely describe myself as a passionate conservationists with slightly ‘off piste’ methods! When I get an idea in my head, I tend to run with it., expand it and refuse to let it go; no matter how crazy people tell me it is! That said, my plans for 2014 are not really that extreme!

The European Turtle Dove is a beautiful bird that is one of those species that pretty much everyone will have heard of (whether they are a birder or not). It is a species that has been engrained in our culture and consciousness for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. It is without a doubt, considered and iconic British birds!

I remember hearing the evocative purring of the Turtle Dove regularly as a child every summer. I remember marveling at their aesthetics watching them singing from telegraph wires along field edges and roadsides daily during summer holidays. Sadly these childhood memories are all too distant now as this species seems to be in free fall decline. The worrying personal statistic is that I have seen more Oriental Turtle Doves in the UK in past five years than I have European Turtle Doves!


Turtle Dove © Jane Tavener - please check out here awesome blog:

Turtle Dove © Jane Tavener – please check out here awesome blog:

This is not just a UK problem either. A Dutch friend of mine told me that last year was the first year he can remember failing to see a Turtle Dove in the Netherlands!

Turtle Doves are one of the fastest declining birds in Europe. We have lost 93% of the UK population between 1970 and 2011 and there has been an overall decline in Europe of 69% since 1980.

Scary stuff!

There is hope of course; we haven’t lost this species yet! The RSPB is working hard with its partners under the umbrella of the project Operation Turtle Dove. They are building on research into the Turtle Dove breeding grounds in England; establishing feeding habitat over core breeding range through advisory and farmer initiatives and researching into factors operating during migration and at wintering areas. So there is real hope!

Knowing that we needed to raise much needed funds for and awareness of Operation Turtle Dove my good friend Jonny Rankin hatched a fantastic plan! After a bit of discussion we came up with the project name DoveStep!

Part of team DoveStep (Tristan Reid (right) & Jonny Rankin (left) Photo © Tprmod Amundsen/

Part of team DoveStep (Tristan Reid (right) & Jonny Rankin (left) Photo © Tormod Amundsen/

DoveStep is a 300 mile walk across the Turtle Doves historical core range; starting at the RSPB reserve Lakenheath in Suffolk and finishing in the superb Cleveland reserve RSPB Saltholme. I will be joining Arctic adventurers Jonny Rankin and Robert Yaxley for the full route of the walk. The walk leaves Lakenheath on  March 29th and arriving into Saltholme RSPB on Thursday 10th April. You can find out more about this project here:

2014 is a significant year in relation to pigeons and learning conservation lessons. 2014 marks one hundred years since Martha the last Passenger Pigeon dies and that species became extinct! The Passenger Pigeon was once one of the most numerous birds on the planet; yet it was allowed to go extinct. The species demise is largely believed to have been caused by habitat loss and hunting; causes that mirror the decline of the European Turtle Dove.

It is my view that we should never forget Martha and we should learn from the mistakes that allowed her species to disappear permanently from this planet. We cannot allow the same fate to remove the Turtle Dove from the experiences of our children!

I decided that I needed to build onto the work of DoveStep and use the poignancy of Martha and the significance of 2014 to continue to raise funds for and awareness of Operation Turtle Dove.

My plan is to run no less than 1000 miles (including no less that fourteen marathons) during 2014. The project is called ‘1000 miles in memory of Martha’.  You can read more details about this project here:

My first marathon will be a fairly grueling montane trail marathon; the Grizedale 26! It will take place on February 23rd (in just three weeks time). I need all the support an encouragement I can get for this one: so please do check out my facebook page and give it a ‘like’:

  • You can donate to the cause  via my Just Giving page here:
  • Alternatively you can donate with your mobile phone by sending a text to 70070 with the code DOVE75 followed by the amount you would like to donate (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10).

If donations exceed £1000 I will have a tattoo depicting the Passenger Pigeon & Turtle Dove tattooed onto my back (what, you didn’t expect there to be any ink involved…….:-) )