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Armchair Travel with Naturetrek
Armchair Travel with Naturetrek

Episode 3 · 2 years ago

Reintroduction of the Northern Bald Ibis in Andalucía, with Niki Williamson

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

With fewer than a thousand birds remaining in the wild, the Northern Bald Ibis is a bird on the edge of extinction, but with a successful reintroduction programme underway in Andalucía and intensive conservation work in Morocco, there is hope for this species yet…

Welcome to another need to track podcast, where we being wildlife to you in your living room. In this episode, it seems Punk is not dead. As to leader, Nicky Williamson talks to us about the reintroduction of the northern bald eyeb this in Andalusia. And I'm your host, Sarah Frost, Nature Tres Marketing Manager and bringing this podcast to you from lockdown in Alson. Welcome to another NAT to trek podcast. Now joining me today is total leader, Nicky Williamson. Now, Nikki has worked and volunteered for the RSPV for twelve years, managing habitats, honing her birding skills and brandishing power tools with varying levels of success, and for eight years she was part of an advisory team working with natured friendly farmers to make the countryside a better place for wildlife. She's also been involved with Operation Turtle Dove, working to ensure a future for this desperately declining bird. As well as the UK, she's worked on vital projects with conservation grade in west Africa, but now lives in southern Spain, near Tarifa, where she works full time as a wildlife guide, and she's joining us on the line now from lockdown in Sun Spain. Nikki, hello, welcome, how are you? Hi, hi, everybody. Hi, Hi, Sarah, nice to see you. Nice to see you too. So how is life going in lockdown? Yeah, it's okay, it's okay. We're getting there. We're I know we're one of the lucky ones because we live in a small village outside Tarifa, so we can at least look out and out of our windows and see the beautiful countryside. We've been get to see some migratory birds, migrating raptors going right over our house sometimes, so we've got some nature to keep us entertain things. Yeah, that's always got a knockillers on hand. It's yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So, I know you've worked on projects a lot in the UK and also in West Africa. INS Today you're going to be talking and about something that's particularly close to your heart, and that is the northern bald ibis. Now I know what the Bald Iyeb this look like. I'm from, many of our listeners do to, but can you just describe them for people who aren't familiar with them? Yeah, well, what I but they're just quite extraordinary, lucky really, and a lot of people immediately look at them and say that they're ugly, but I think they're there anything but that. They have this extraordinary iridescent plumage which covers their kind of, you know, Turkey sized body and really really shines when it cattus the sun. But so from the neck down, absolutely gorgeous immediately. But then their heads are bold, as a name suggests, and this strange, raw looking, painful looking pink mask covers their entire face and ends up in a huge downcerved bill. Just really extraordinary looking bird. The plumage starts with a kind of Mohawk from halfway back on the head, this enormous kind of feathered crest, and they always just look a little bit confused by their own appearance sometimes. I always think we get to see them a lot at a nesting colony near here and they just have this kind of extraordinary air of bafflement, I always think. But the way they behave to eat towards each other is just so endearing and charismatic. They preen each other, they go to huge lengths to when they're building the nest. They bring back gifts to one another when they're renewing the nest at the beginning of the breeding season. So you might see a female sat in the nest, for example, and the male will turn up and he will have brought some gift for her, which could be anything from a TWIG, a kind of useful gift, right, a child, Charlie. Yeah, really know how to cheat their ladies. Yeah. Yeah. Or sometimes I've come back with something really disgusting, like to use tissue or something like that.

But she'll be equally pleased whatever it is that he's brought and that. Yeah, the interactions are just really fantastic to see really charismatic bird. Wow, looky female bald ibis with a used tissues. How lovely. Well, the name northern bald iyebis suggests that there's a southern counterpart is is that the case? Yeah, there's the southern bald iyebiss is in South Africa. It's quite similar looking but different. It has a much whiter face with the red on the top. But the northern bald ibis is very much a separate species. That used to cover in the range was huge at used to cover the whole of Europe, but it's retracted right into a couple of very small remaining areas now. So that's it's really very, very endangered species. So that's their current status. So they are they critically endangered or it's it's got better recently. At one point the they were in the top ten most endangered birds of the world because all of their existing world populations had dwindled to a few individuals. But thanks to especially thanks to ongoing conservation work in the core population in Morocco, they've actually been downgraded from critically endangered to endangered in two thousand and eighteen. So there's some light at the end of the tunnel for them. Certainly. Okay. So presumably you're going to tell us about your work and conservation with the board, diebs. But why is this conservation needed? What's gone wrong to bring them so close to extinction? And presumably they haven't always been in need of conservation or so close to extinction. So can you just describe for our listeners what has happened to their population of the last hundred years or so to bring them to the point that they are now? Yeah, basically it's this kind of perfect storm of all the things that we hear about that resulting species becoming endangered. I suppose the top culprit you would say is agricultural intensification, as it often is, there is a big hit. They feed largely on large bodied insects, you know, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, frogs, young nestlings, if they find them, can kind of Omnivorous, but large bodied insects being a big part of their diet. So of course when DDT was broadly used in the S, that was it a huge impact. Lots of habitat through agricultural extension, habitat degradation, but also persecution because in the past they've been revered, as you know, kind of almost religiously iconic birds in some areas, but also because of the way they appear, their kind of feared as evil spirits or witches. So they've been shot and persecuted as well in their history. So basically all these things have just come by loss of nesting sites as well their cliff nests, and finding cliffs to nest on near enough to the pastures that then need to feed on becomes increasingly difficult as human population expands and areas are taking up. So all these things are kind of combined to just really almost wipe them out. You know, at one point there were just a couple of hundred birds left. So yeah, they came very, very close to the edge of disappearing altogether. Wow. And what is there the species level? Now, what's the population level? So there's still less than a thousand of them in the wild. There's the main population is in Morocco, into sort of nearby areas in Morocco and they're as a sort of mentioned. They're they're doing well, they're increasing. There's a roundabout seven hundred birds in the wild. They're truly wild...

...remnant population. Then there's a population in Turkey of around just over two hundred birds, but they're migratory and so many a lost on migration that they've actually started taking the population into captivity. So they're free during the breeding season to reproduce, but then they're taken into captivity to prevent the migrating because so many die or a shot or are in some way lost on migration that they can't be allowed to do that anymore. Then, apart from that, there was a small population in Syria was rediscovered in the early two thousands. That really small, maybe twenty, and they dwindled back down to nothing again. There's just one female bird left and then a court this. The civil war started there and it was that populations considered extinct again. So and of course, that it's such a shame and such a challenge for them. We're presumably so so much of the habitat that the ball diver needs to forage and find food is now sadly, obviously occupied with refugee camps and and things like that. Presumably. Yeah, it's just apart from anything, it's just impossible to get in and continue any conservation work there. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so there's just no way to even think about were introducing them there. No, no, no, so what conservation efforts are being done and any areas where we where we can work, or at least when lockdown is lifted. Yet you are able to to help out. What is it you've been working on yourself? Well, what we we're particularly lucky here in the straits because there's a really very successif successful, reintroduction project which was started in two thousand and four. It was a partnership, as quite a number of partners in there, but the main ones being fairly local zoo where there's a they're very experienced in captive breeding and the local authority as well, they reintroduced birds onto nearby military lands where there's cliffs and, you know, obviously very low intensity graze pastures because it's military lands, and a lot of peace and quiet for them to just kind of get on with being ibises. So they started there and they reintroduced the first thirty birds and two thousand and four and then they carried on a think it was is rather about two hundred birds were reintroduced over the first the sort of first phase of the project, the first five years, and by two thousand and eight they had their first nest and by two thousand and fourteen they had pretty much filled every available nesting site on those cliffs. And as they do, the way the colonies reproduces, when they sort of fill a space, a small number of pairs will tend to branch off and go and start a new colony somewhere else, which is what's happening in Morocco, incidentally, at the moment. But here that happened in two thousand and fourteen. Five pairs left the main colony, found some random little cliffs next to a car park and some cafes alongside the main road and and said well, this looks perfect we'll try here and they've been really successful. The same ten pairs that colonies been going on since then. It's still there. Certainly last year when we were looking there were an additional two pairs were trying to talk of squeeze in along the other side and they were. We were seeing chicks with three and four sorry nest sorry with three and four chicks in them, making use of the surrounding area. There's lots of pasture land, low intensity grazing, that sort of thing. So it's really fantastic to be able to take people there to see them as well, because obviously they're they're just right next to the road. And and what do the locals think of that?...

Are they are they interested in them, the same way that in Britain there's a growing interest that with the public of wanting to get into into bird watching. Are People, are the locals interested in them there, or is it really just tourists are going to see them? I think that the ground work done for the project was done exceptionally well. There is a lot of community work went into explaining to people what was happening and when, when the people when the birds turned up there on these cliffs? The locals really took them to heart, you know, and I think also it's because so many birders go to see them at that continues the interest and obviously, you know, you can go into those cafes and Sundays and a lot of the customers there are birders and they can really get interested and see why it's beneficial to have the birds they're one of the cafes has changed its logo to feature a northern bald ivers and it's last years. So definitely taken to heart. And then they've built a little hide and Interpretation Center opposite the colony now as well, so it's a wellknown attraction now. Yeah, that's brilliant. And of course all of these people that are going there to see them staying in local accommodation. They're providing income, they're spending money in cafes, restaurants and and what have you, and it obviously helps the local economy. So I assume people will see benefits that way as well. So they're doing well in that car park in particular, it seems. But how is the overall Spanish population doing? What about the threats that they might have? Well, obviously it's interesting this year because of the because of the lockdown and which activities are considered considered essential work on which aren't. You know, monitoring work is obviously depleted this year compared to others, but certainly until last year they were. The wild population here is holding steady at about about eighty birds in the main colony and then there's this additional sort of ten to twelve pairs in the roadside colony. So yeah, they're doing well. They were in the initial phases of the project. You know, when you have a population that's this small, kind of small accidental threats can can make a really big difference to their success. So I know in the first few years there were problems with them hitting power lines in the area of areas of power lines where they were getting electroccuted, but they funded quite extensive repair work to stop that happening because you know, one small area where they're constantly getting electrocuted makes a huge difference to a tiny amount of animals like that. Certainly recent worries for the roadside colony there was, what was it two years ago now, I think, there was a roving eagle owl and it came into that area. It's a lovely little area. Next to a river and there's also a colony of cattle grits and the trees down there. So it came down and it wiped out the entire breeding cattleague that colony and then it moved on to the northern bald eyebis colony. So I think it took basically it was almost farming them. It was just going back night after night and just taking one chick, t chicks, and it took a while to figure out what was happening. You know, they thought maybe it's some kind of Musclid, you know, a stoke type Predator, but they eventually caught it on camera. So they captured the bird and relocated it to somewhere else and it left one chick. That year. One chick survived and we were really concerned that they wouldn't go back because they're very their colony nests. You know that they they're tightly bonded as a colony and we were worried that the the trauma of just having seen an entire generation wiped out would mean that they wouldn't nest there anymore. But you know,...

...they came back and none of the breeding adults were lost and the following year was probably the most successful ever in terms of fledge chicks. So so that was great that there is resilience as that you know. So hopefully they'll continue to do well. Wow, so they know, are spreading across Spain, despite the challenges that they're they're having like this, considering natural challenges as well as the threats from from humans, which you just outlined, and with records coming from Spain and, I read, France and Italy. Well, could we, you know, expect balled ibis and the UK in the near future, or is this never to be expected? Well, well, that would be a thing, wouldn't there? There that they're certainly mobile and I think, you know, we've seen from the reintroduction project on the cliffs they've relocated to this one, you know, a few miles away, where we can see them on the colony. They've also been observed and quite regularly, small groups of them actually just fly across the Straits to Morocco, groups of six to ten, sort of that kind of size, you the same kind of size, like as if they're looking to start a new colony over there, which is great because, like, we're used to seeing things like short tone eagles struggling against the winds and go oh, it's too difficult, and then there's this incredible bird just goes across for the day just to see what happens. And also last year, actually they were a group tried to spread north and they got as far as extra Majura in Spain, which, unfortunately they were then shot. Somebody shot them for no apparent reason, because that would have been the real if they had made it. In my head I always imagine they might have made it to Mon Frague, which is this amazing mountainous area of extra majority that some of Nature Chrek customers probably no quite well, I can just imagine that they could have set up there and that would have been the real mark of success that this small colony of eighty birds in southern Spain were now recolonizing Spain in big numbers. So that would have been fantastic. I think a way to go before you'll be getting them on your lockdown garden birding less one can only hope. Yeah, yeah, okay, so they seem to be doing fairly well. And Andalusia, and is it actually easy to see these? But it's if someone was to come to Andalusia a nature clients, for example, and wanted to see the ball divers. How easy is that work? And they go well, I mean it's in the breeding season. It's just fantastic because the hide that's been built now is meters away, it's across the road and you can watch them really any time. You know they'll be turning up there and I think the first records this year back on the nesting colony were in late February and they'll be through right through the breeding season. You can see them close. All this charismatic behavior really, really fantastic. But even outside that, you know, once the autumn comes and the chicks and adults have moved off the nest, they tend to turn up in the it's a little bit more of an adventure going to find them, but we always try and they could. Of course, this isn't. This is what you do, isn't? Yeah, and yeah, you so, it's acts, don't you? You're guiding our guests to go and find them. Yeah, I mean, obviously it's there's many, many attractions in the in the Straits, but the northern bold iyebiss is such an iconic sort of birds. You know, it's it's fantastic and they're quite confiding that throughout there. It's just part of their behavior that they're always found close to...

...human activity. Part of that is avoiding predation or because of the pastures that we ourselves have created in the past for them to use. They're quite associated with humans. So when we do find them out on the fields you can really get quite close to them that they're really astonishingly tame almost, even though they haven't been raised as Tame Birds. They're just a naturally very confiding birds. So you can get really, really good used them out in the countryside as well. Wow, that sounds wonderful. It sounds quite tempting actually, especially right now. Yeah, you should come out. Definitely. Will show you the bold divers. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you've strangely tempted me to it. They do. They do sound quite charming animals really, when you know people look at them and think, oh, it's a faith only a mother could love. Yeah, right, what what do you think the what effects do you think the lockdown will have on the population? It's an interesting one, isn't it? I mean just the brief sort of moments that I get to wonder outside. It's when I'm taking the dog out, I really get the impression that everything's so alive and nature's really moving back into spaces where it wasn't before. You know, we have a much bigger spotless starling reast right in the middle of the village than we've ever had before. You can really hear them in the evening. But for the bald I this it's a little bit different because, especially on this roadside site, that's most likely that they chose that because of the proximity to human beings, you know, all the bars and the traffic and the car park, means that they're much like less likely to get predated. So it's interesting. It's going to be really interesting to get back out there and see how the colonies doing once, once we're allowed to go out and see. But hopefully they'll be doing just as well as ever and it'll turn out that they don't need our help that much after all. Any with all of these abandoned bars and restaurants, you facts to see all of these wonderful presents that are in the divers nests with lovely bottles of beer and think that have been taken back to the females of upgraded from twigs and you ains. I'm gone to a sing forks and knives and things like that. Ray did the kitchens idea, and Nicki. We're hoping that lockdown, for everyone's sake, of course, ends as sooners it's able to put. Looking beyond that, what do you think the future holds for the ball diver? Is the outlook good? Well, let's hope so. Sorry. Yeah, certainly for our small colony in Spain the future looks pretty bright. They're the really hanging on against all the odds and that when that colony broke away and headed north, that was such a positive sign that that's the beginning of something really special and it would be so fantastic to think that they start recolonizing the the whole of Spain from our small little project here in Andalusia. Well, let's hope, with the work, with public engagements and getting people on board with actually protecting these magnificent birds, that when the time comes that they do decide to break north again, there will be received in the same way, but we'll have a warmer welcome and very much hope to be able to anticipate seeing them on indeed major tractors in the likes of extre Madura, as you've suggested. So we'll we'll keep our fingers cross very firm so lutely. Yeah. Well, Nicki, has been a pleasure talking to you and having their likewise, that Qui shot insight into the oneful life and conservation of the bald ibis. If you'd like to travel with Nikki to...

...see bold ibis, are indeed any other throws that Nicki may be guiding? You can see her tours on her profile on our website. To bewt NA. To check could at UK and just go to her profile. Thank you very much. To listen to more of our podcast, just go through our podcast web page and need to check could at UK. Forward Slash podcasts. Thanks for listening. Thank.

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