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Armchair Travel with Naturetrek
Armchair Travel with Naturetrek

Episode 3 · 1 year 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 talksto us about the reintroduction of the northern bald eyeb this in Andalusia. AndI'm your host, Sarah Frost, Nature Tres Marketing Manager and bringing this podcastto you from lockdown in Alson. Welcome to another NAT to trek podcast.Now joining me today is total leader, Nicky Williamson. Now, Nikki hasworked and volunteered for the RSPV for twelve years, managing habitats, honing herbirding skills and brandishing power tools with varying levels of success, and for eightyears she was part of an advisory team working with natured friendly farmers to makethe countryside a better place for wildlife. She's also been involved with Operation TurtleDove, working to ensure a future for this desperately declining bird. As wellas 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 fulltime as a wildlife guide, and she's joining us on the line now fromlockdown in Sun Spain. Nikki, hello, welcome, how are you? Hi, hi, everybody. Hi, Hi, Sarah, nice to seeyou. 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 knowwe're one of the lucky ones because we live in a small village outsideTarifa, so we can at least look out and out of our windows andsee the beautiful countryside. We've been get to see some migratory birds, migratingraptors going right over our house sometimes, so we've got some nature to keepus entertain things. Yeah, that's always got a knockillers on hand. It'syeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So, I know you've worked onprojects a lot in the UK and also in West Africa. INS Today you'regoing to be talking and about something that's particularly close to your heart, andthat is the northern bald ibis. Now I know what the Bald Iyeb thislook like. I'm from, many of our listeners do to, but canyou 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 ofpeople immediately look at them and say that they're ugly, but I thinkthey're there anything but that. They have this extraordinary iridescent plumage which covers theirkind of, you know, Turkey sized body and really really shines when itcattus 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 upin a huge downcerved bill. Just really extraordinary looking bird. The plumage startswith a kind of Mohawk from halfway back on the head, this enormous kindof feathered crest, and they always just look a little bit confused by theirown appearance sometimes. I always think we get to see them a lot ata nesting colony near here and they just have this kind of extraordinary air ofbafflement, I always think. But the way they behave to eat towards eachother is just so endearing and charismatic. They preen each other, they goto huge lengths to when they're building the nest. They bring back gifts toone 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, andthe 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 itis that he's brought and that. Yeah, the interactions are just reallyfantastic to see really charismatic bird. Wow, looky female bald ibis with a usedtissues. How lovely. Well, the name northern bald iyebis suggests thatthere's a southern counterpart is is that the case? Yeah, there's the southernbald iyebiss is in South Africa. It's quite similar looking but different. Ithas a much whiter face with the red on the top. But the northernbald ibis is very much a separate species. That used to cover in the rangewas huge at used to cover the whole of Europe, but it's retractedright into a couple of very small remaining areas now. So that's it's reallyvery, very endangered species. So that's their current status. So they arethey critically endangered or it's it's got better recently. At one point the theywere in the top ten most endangered birds of the world because all of theirexisting world populations had dwindled to a few individuals. But thanks to especially thanksto ongoing conservation work in the core population in Morocco, they've actually been downgradedfrom critically endangered to endangered in two thousand and eighteen. So there's some lightat the end of the tunnel for them. Certainly. Okay. So presumably you'regoing 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 soclose to extinction? And presumably they haven't always been in need of conservation orso close to extinction. So can you just describe for our listeners what hashappened to their population of the last hundred years or so to bring them tothe point that they are now? Yeah, basically it's this kind of perfect stormof 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 oftenis, 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 beinga big part of their diet. So of course when DDT was broadly usedin the S, that was it a huge impact. Lots of habitat throughagricultural extension, habitat degradation, but also persecution because in the past they've beenrevered, as you know, kind of almost religiously iconic birds in some areas, but also because of the way they appear, their kind of feared asevil spirits or witches. So they've been shot and persecuted as well in theirhistory. So basically all these things have just come by loss of nesting sitesas well their cliff nests, and finding cliffs to nest on near enough tothe pastures that then need to feed on becomes increasingly difficult as human population expandsand areas are taking up. So all these things are kind of combined tojust really almost wipe them out. You know, at one point there werejust a couple of hundred birds left. So yeah, they came very,very close to the edge of disappearing altogether. Wow. And what is there thespecies level? Now, what's the population level? So there's still lessthan 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 ofmentioned. They're they're doing well, they're increasing. There's a roundabout seven hundredbirds in the wild. They're truly wild...

...remnant population. Then there's a populationin Turkey of around just over two hundred birds, but they're migratory and somany 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 intocaptivity to prevent the migrating because so many die or a shot or are insome 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 rediscoveredin the early two thousands. That really small, maybe twenty, and theydwindled back down to nothing again. There's just one female bird left and thena court this. The civil war started there and it was that populations consideredextinct again. So and of course, that it's such a shame and sucha challenge for them. We're presumably so so much of the habitat that theball diver needs to forage and find food is now sadly, obviously occupied withrefugee camps and and things like that. Presumably. Yeah, it's just apartfrom 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 thinkabout were introducing them there. No, no, no, so what conservationefforts are being done and any areas where we where we can work, orat 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'reparticularly lucky here in the straits because there's a really very successif successful, reintroductionproject 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 localzoo where there's a they're very experienced in captive breeding and the local authorityas 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, anda lot of peace and quiet for them to just kind of get on withbeing ibises. So they started there and they reintroduced the first thirty birds andtwo thousand and four and then they carried on a think it was is ratherabout two hundred birds were reintroduced over the first the sort of first phase ofthe project, the first five years, and by two thousand and eight theyhad their first nest and by two thousand and fourteen they had pretty much filledevery available nesting site on those cliffs. And as they do, the waythe colonies reproduces, when they sort of fill a space, a small numberof pairs will tend to branch off and go and start a new colony somewhereelse, which is what's happening in Morocco, incidentally, at the moment. Buthere that happened in two thousand and fourteen. Five pairs left the maincolony, found some random little cliffs next to a car park and some cafesalongside the main road and and said well, this looks perfect we'll try here andthey've been really successful. The same ten pairs that colonies been going onsince then. It's still there. Certainly last year when we were looking therewere an additional two pairs were trying to talk of squeeze in along the otherside and they were. We were seeing chicks with three and four sorry nestsorry 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 themas well, because obviously they're they're just right next to the road. Andand 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 thepublic of wanting to get into into bird watching. Are People, are thelocals interested in them there, or is it really just tourists are going tosee them? I think that the ground work done for the project was doneexceptionally well. There is a lot of community work went into explaining to peoplewhat was happening and when, when the people when the birds turned up thereon 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 thatcontinues the interest and obviously, you know, you can go into those cafes andSundays and a lot of the customers there are birders and they can reallyget interested and see why it's beneficial to have the birds they're one of thecafes 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 andInterpretation 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 aregoing there to see them staying in local accommodation. They're providing income, they'respending money in cafes, restaurants and and what have you, and it obviouslyhelps the local economy. So I assume people will see benefits that way aswell. 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 thatthey might have? Well, obviously it's interesting this year because of the becauseof 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, butcertainly until last year they were. The wild population here is holding steady atabout about eighty birds in the main colony and then there's this additional sort often to twelve pairs in the roadside colony. So yeah, they're doing well.They were in the initial phases of the project. You know, whenyou have a population that's this small, kind of small accidental threats can canmake a really big difference to their success. So I know in the first fewyears there were problems with them hitting power lines in the area of areasof power lines where they were getting electroccuted, but they funded quite extensive repair workto stop that happening because you know, one small area where they're constantly gettingelectrocuted 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 yearsago now, I think, there was a roving eagle owl and it cameinto that area. It's a lovely little area. Next to a river andthere's also a colony of cattle grits and the trees down there. So itcame down and it wiped out the entire breeding cattleague that colony and then itmoved on to the northern bald eyebis colony. So I think it took basically itwas almost farming them. It was just going back night after night andjust taking one chick, t chicks, and it took a while to figureout what was happening. You know, they thought maybe it's some kind ofMusclid, you know, a stoke type Predator, but they eventually caught iton camera. So they captured the bird and relocated it to somewhere else andit left one chick. That year. One chick survived and we were reallyconcerned that they wouldn't go back because they're very their colony nests. You knowthat they they're tightly bonded as a colony and we were worried that the thetrauma of just having seen an entire generation wiped out would mean that they wouldn'tnest there anymore. But you know,...

...they came back and none of thebreeding adults were lost and the following year was probably the most successful ever interms of fledge chicks. So so that was great that there is resilience asthat you know. So hopefully they'll continue to do well. Wow, sothey know, are spreading across Spain, despite the challenges that they're they're havinglike 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 balledibis 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 thereintroduction 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'vealso been observed and quite regularly, small groups of them actually just fly acrossthe Straits to Morocco, groups of six to ten, sort of that kindof size, you the same kind of size, like as if they're lookingto 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 gooh, it's too difficult, and then there's this incredible bird just goes acrossfor the day just to see what happens. And also last year, actually theywere a group tried to spread north and they got as far as extraMajura in Spain, which, unfortunately they were then shot. Somebody shot themfor no apparent reason, because that would have been the real if they hadmade it. In my head I always imagine they might have made it toMon Frague, which is this amazing mountainous area of extra majority that some ofNature Chrek customers probably no quite well, I can just imagine that they couldhave set up there and that would have been the real mark of success thatthis small colony of eighty birds in southern Spain were now recolonizing Spain in bignumbers. So that would have been fantastic. I think a way to go beforeyou'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'sif someone was to come to Andalusia a nature clients, for example, andwanted to see the ball divers. How easy is that work? And theygo well, I mean it's in the breeding season. It's just fantastic becausethe hide that's been built now is meters away, it's across the road andyou can watch them really any time. You know they'll be turning up thereand I think the first records this year back on the nesting colony were inlate February and they'll be through right through the breeding season. You can seethem close. All this charismatic behavior really, really fantastic. But even outside that, you know, once the autumn comes and the chicks and adults havemoved off the nest, they tend to turn up in the it's a littlebit more of an adventure going to find them, but we always try andthey 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, butthe 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 oftheir behavior that they're always found close to...

...human activity. Part of that isavoiding predation or because of the pastures that we ourselves have created in the pastfor them to use. They're quite associated with humans. So when we dofind them out on the fields you can really get quite close to them thatthey'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, reallygood used them out in the countryside as well. Wow, that soundswonderful. It sounds quite tempting actually, especially right now. Yeah, youshould come out. Definitely. Will show you the bold divers. Yeah,yeah, yeah, you've strangely tempted me to it. They do. Theydo sound quite charming animals really, when you know people look at them andthink, oh, it's a faith only a mother could love. Yeah,right, what what do you think the what effects do you think the lockdownwill have on the population? It's an interesting one, isn't it? Imean just the brief sort of moments that I get to wonder outside. It'swhen I'm taking the dog out, I really get the impression that everything's soalive 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 thevillage 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, especiallyon this roadside site, that's most likely that they chose that because of theproximity to human beings, you know, all the bars and the traffic andthe 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 thereand see how the colonies doing once, once we're allowed to go out andsee. But hopefully they'll be doing just as well as ever and it'll turnout that they don't need our help that much after all. Any with allof these abandoned bars and restaurants, you facts to see all of these wonderfulpresents that are in the divers nests with lovely bottles of beer and think thathave 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 didthe 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 theoutlook good? Well, let's hope so. Sorry. Yeah, certainly for oursmall colony in Spain the future looks pretty bright. They're the really hangingon 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 specialand it would be so fantastic to think that they start recolonizing the the wholeof 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 actuallyprotecting these magnificent birds, that when the time comes that they do decide tobreak north again, there will be received in the same way, but we'llhave a warmer welcome and very much hope to be able to anticipate seeing themon 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 anyother throws that Nicki may be guiding? You can see her tours on herprofile on our website. To bewt NA. To check could at UK and justgo to her profile. Thank you very much. To listen to moreof our podcast, just go through our podcast web page and need to checkcould at UK. Forward Slash podcasts. Thanks for listening. Thank.

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