The Madagascar pochard, arguably the rarest bird in the world, has bred successfully in captivity, building hope that it can be saved from extinction.
Eighteen pochard ducklings are currently being reared at the specially-designed rearing centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar. This marks a significant step for this Critically Endangered species, which numbers just 22 in the wild.
Our researchers studying the wild population have reported that just two or three of the ducklings that hatched in the 2011/12 breeding season have survived. It’s a similar situation to previous years.
The wild population is restricted to Red Lake, a small lake in northern Madagascar, making the whole species vulnerable to extinction from single catastrophic event, such as a disease outbreak or pollution. It was this dire situation that prompted our emergency expedition in 2009.
With the blessing of the local community, experts from WWT and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust took eggs into captivity to set up a breeding programme. The ducks hatched from those eggs are now two years old and it is these that have bred for the first time.
Conservation breeding is just one part of a complex conservation plan. As well as providing insurance against extinction, it will enable us to release birds on other lakes to expand the population.
So, in tandem, our scientists are studying the remaining wild birds to work out the reasons behind the species’ decline and determine the right conditions for releasing birds into the wild.
Dr Andy Bamford, a WWT researcher, has been in Madagascar studying the wild birds. He spent half a year alongside colleagues from Durrell and The Peregrine Fund in 2011, observing the pochards, and is due to return to Madagascar shortly.
When a species is close to extinction, its last hiding place can literally be just that – the last place it would choose to hide. It appears that is true for the pochards. They are surviving on this lake because it’s so remote, but it is far from ideal for them.
Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food. Few ducklings are surviving beyond a couple of weeks and I suspect that they simply don’t have the strength to dive as deep or for as long as the adult birds in order to get to the invertebrates at the bottom of the lake. They are literally starving to death.
We are conducting our search of lakes and wetlands far and wide in Madagascar – both to look for pochards, but also to find sites where we can release them. We have identified some where the physical conditions are potentially right for the pochard, but a crucial factor will be whether the local community is supportive of the project.
Madagascar is an extremely poor country and if you live by a lake you may well survive on fishing. We suspect that uncontrolled fishing is in part behind the decline of the pochard nationally. As they dive for food they are susceptible to getting caught in nets below the surface and then drowning. Any reintroduction programme will therefore have to be carried out with the support of local communities – to ensure that people, ducks and other wildlife can co-exist happily.
This will be no mean feat, and the many and considerable challenges that lie ahead are daunting – but we are greatly encouraged by our successes so far.
The effort to save the Madagascar pochard is a joint project between WWT, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Government of Madagascar.
It has been generously supported by: the Darwin Initiative, Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa, Fota Wildlife Park, BBC Wildlife Fund, a private donor, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Aviornis UK, and WWT and Durrell members.
Welney regular Baldur (U5B), his mate U5S, and last year's brood of 7 cygnets. David Featherbe
See some feathery favourites at the floodlit swan feeds such as Baldur, Wimble and Toby Two! As well as catching up with our Welney hatched whooper ,‘Junior’, along with parents Romeo and Julietta.
Thousands of wintering swans will be preparing for their spring migrations by catching a feed at WWT Welney. Spectacular evening floodlit feeds at 6.30pm (Thurs-Sun) as well
as daily 12noon and 3.30pm feeds, offer chances to get close to these amazing birds. Some of which are well know to staff at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Welney.
This winter there have been plenty of familiar faces amongst the swans including Toby Two, ringed at Welney in 2008 and Wimble who was ringed in Iceland in 2000. Amongst these individual swans there are whole family groups jostling for a place at the feeds including Baldur and his mate with this year’s brood of five cygnets. As well as the whooper pair Romeo and Julietta and their Welney hatched cygnet, ‘Junior’, who has been mixing with the migratory swans at the feeds. A question that we all would like the answer to is will this cygnet take to the skies this spring and follow the migration to Iceland – its
first ever migration!
Samantha Lee, Public Engagement Officer at Welney comments on the half term activities on offer next week. ‘The swan feeds are a really unique experience and in this cold weather, with the birds brought closer to the hides you really don’t need specialist equipment to be able to enjoy them. It’s incredible to see swans returning to Welney each winter and to get to know some of the birds really well is a privilege.’
‘During half term there is also the chance to learn more about our winter migrants with our discovery trail out on the reserve. Or if visitors need to take a break from the cold and warm up in the visitor centre there will be led sessions on how to make fat-feeders for garden birds from 1.45-2.45pm with activity stations available throughout the day.’
The Ouse washes wetlands site at Welney is the UK’s largest winter roosting site for whooper and Bewick’s swans. Add to this, thousands of wintering duck and you have one of the best winter wildlife spectacles in the UK right on the doorstep. The swan feeds are a great way to learn about these fantastic birds and the amazing migrations they undertake to get to the UK each year.
For more information on the swan feeds and other activities at WWT Welney call the centre on 01353 860711, go to our events page or follow us on twitter @WWTWelney.
Norfolk’s Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Centre, WWT, located in Welney has named the four regional winners in the autumn heat of its nationwide photography competition.
From the creative to the cute; keen photographers in and around Norfolk were invited to submit entries for four photography categories in the first seasonal heat of its national competition; WWT Photography Competition (2011 – 2012).
Ian Taylor, a finance worker, aged 27, from Maida Vale, London, was named winner in the Wetland Wildlife category, with his picture entitled ‘Swans’.
Welney at sunset by Albert Horton
Albert Horton, a retired local Government officer, aged 71, from March in Cambridgeshire, was named winner in the Wetland Landscapes category, with his picture entitled ‘Welney at Sunset’.
Hayley Wincott, a aged from , was named winner in the Wildlife & People category, with her picture entitled ‘Seeking the Hide’.
And, Karenanne Millburn, aged 15, from Downham Market High School, in Upwell, was named Young Photographer, following her picture submission entitled ‘Emotion’.
Seeking the hide by Hayley Wincott
The competition was open to visitors at the nine WWT wetland centres around the UK. Julie Ward, Centre manager at local WWT Welney Wetland Centre, said: “We received over 2,500 submissions across the country, but the quality of the entries from these four fantastic winners caught the judges’ eye and really bought our WWT wetland centre to life. The competition encourages people to get really close to all the fantastic wildlife we have here at Welney; and these stunning images show off some of the most elegant and beautiful array of birds and other animals seen within a stunning wetland landscape during the autumn.”
The autumn seasonal winners have each won a place on an acclaimed photography course, held by nature photography experts Wild Arena. Each of the winners will also now go through to the national finals to be held in autumn 2012, where £50,000 worth of prizes are up for grabs including wildlife photography and activity holidays.
As the winner of the Wetland Wildlife Category, Ian Taylor will also be in with the chance to win a three-day bird of prey photography workshop in the Czech Republic if he is voted the national winner. Though he lives in London, Ian visits the Welney WWT wetlands centre for day trips with his family. Wildlife photography is his hobby, he said: “It can be so difficult to photograph birds in flight. I’d been sat in a hide at the centre waiting for about 40 minutes but nothing was happening. All of a sudden three swans flew up and I was able to get my winning shot. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”
Winner Albert Horton has held his WWT membership for two years. “I am a keen photographer and have been a member of March’s local camera club for many years. I was really happy with my winning photo as soon as I took it. The conditions and the lighting were ideal, so it was just a case of getting the composition and exposure right.”
Emotion by Karenanne Millburn
Young Photographer winner, Karenanne Millburn, has won the Young Photographer category for the last three years. She has been a WWT member for about five years and typically visits the centre with her Mum. “I usually take around 300 photographs every time I visit the WWT centre. I am so pleased to have won. My winning shot was taken just as the sunset was falling, the sky was moody but the sun was still trying to peep through. I really enjoy taking photos and have just secured a place at City of Norwich College doing photography A Level.”
The winter heat of the competition is now open and photographers can enter their prize pictures taken at WWT centres online at www.wwt.org.uk/photo until 29th February 2012. Entrants are encouraged to enter more than two of the seasonal heats to automatically go into the Portfolio Photographer of the Year category and to be in with a chance of winning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica.
Julie Ward says, “Our WWT wetland centre isn’t just for budding photographers; it’s for everyone who enjoys nature, wildlife or simply just a great day out. Winter is truly spectacular at WWT’s Welney wetland centre with the well renound swans that the Fens are so famous for. We have the largest roost site in the UK for bewick’s and whooper swans, so there are some excellent opportuntities to capture the perfect swans-scape. Especially at dusk visitors can enjoy watching several hundred swans dropping down onto the main lagoon, sometimes as many as up to 1,000 swans at a time. It’s like watching snow falling out of the sky.”
For more information on your local WWT wetland centre, please visit: www.wwt.org.uk/welney.
This week we’ve had local media visiting, filming the swans return to Welney and the spectacle at dusk (as it is at its best at the moment). They got some good footage of hundreds and hundreds of swans, whoopers and Bewick’s feeding in the arable land surrounding the Ouse washes, a short distance from the Welney visitor centre.
Earlier in the week one of our volunteers had gone out to see if she could find any birds with idenitication rings on their legs, or maybe even the neck-collared Bewick’s which have electronic trackers on them. She saw several individuals that have been ringed at Welney as recently as 2008, these included, L4C, L5C, L5J, L5K and L5S. But on this morning’s swans awake event a whooper swan with the indentification ring VPC was seen from Lyle hide with a mate and 5 cygnets. On looking up this number back in the centre I’ve found that it is a female whooper swans called Ouse, who is at least 18 years old!
It is amazing to think that some of these birds, like Ouse, have flown over 54,000km (43,000 miles) in their lifetime, migrating from Iceland to Welney and back again! It is worth looking out for these coloured identification rings on the swans around Welney as there are some amazing stories to these birds. If you record these numbers in our main observatory you are helping to contribute to years of research. So next time you visit don’t forget to keep an eye out for these special birds!
Hi all, sorry for the blogging silence but I have been sent to Madadgascar!!
A team of staff from WWT – along with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and The Peregrine Fund and the Government of Madagascar – have been working to reverse the fortunes of the Madagascar pochard. Last year the team travelled to Madagascar at the start of October on an emergency mission to collect eggs from the wild and to rear the ducklings in captivity. Since then the team has been establishing a major conservation project to breed birds, restore wetlands and ultimately reintroduce the pochard to wetlands in Madagascar.
I will be back in the UK on 5 March, ready for the Nene season and beyond. Thank you!