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The Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia is a registered charity (no 282938) and exists to collect, collate and publish data on all aspects of the Ornithology of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia region.

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Sandgrouse 35(2)


Sandgrouse is published twice a year in spring and autumn.

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OSME at the Birdfair 2014
OSME Summer Meeting 6 July 2013
The Omani Owl – a completely new owl species is discovered
Certificate of Recognition
Conservation and Research Fund news
UNDP/BirdLife International Migratory Soaring Birds project website
Additional support for White-headed Duck conservation in Kazakhstan
Discover the natural wonders of Kazakhstan and support conservation
OSME Raffle 2013
New Council members request
Request for recordings of bird sounds
OSME Summer Meeting 2012……

OSME at the Birdfair 2014

14/02/2014, Mike Jennings, a founding member and long-term supporter of OSME, and Arabian bird expert extraordinaire, recently made a very generous donation of 2 copies of his ground-breaking ‘Atlas of the breeding birds of Arabia.’ OSME are extremely grateful for the support of Mike and are planning to use both copies to raise money for our Conservation Research Fund, as well as raise the profile of our work.

We’re pleased to announce that one copy of the Atlas has been donated as an OSME contribution to the 2014 Birdfair auction – and as we understand – we are the first to commit a prize this year!!!

Mike Jennings Fauna of Arabia vol 25 2010

On hearing OSMEs plans, Mike added - “The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia has been a voluntary project involving some 500 observers, national records and others over almost three decades. It has resulted in an atlas that brings together everything known on the distribution, ecology and breeding of more than 270 breeding birds in the Arabian Peninsula. Although for most of that period the project was supported by the Saudi Wildlife Authority, I am very grateful to OSME for its initial financial support back in the 1980s, for various grants over the years on surveys to little recorded areas, and for its general help, support and encouragement since the project started. I am proud to have been one of the founders of the Society back in the 1970s”.

Following the most recent OSME Council meeting on the 8th February our planning for this year’s Birdfair is well underway, and we are looking forward to seeing as many members and supporters, including new ones, as possible. Further information will be available on the web-site, Facebook and Twitter during the coming months.

OSME Summer Meeting 6 July 2013

This year’s Summer Meeting, themed around monitoring bird populations in the OSME region, was again held at the BTO headquarters in Thetford and was attended by 55 members and guests.

Geoff Welch, handing over to new Chairman, Rob Sheldon

Outgoing OSME Chairman, Geoff Welch, handing over to new Chairman, Rob Sheldon at the Summer Meeting/AGM.

Paul Stancliffe from the BTO opened the day by providing a brief update on the ongoing satellite tracking study of Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus. Paul talked at last year’s meeting and within a matter of days the first ever UK Cuckoo turned up in the OSME region! This ongoing study shows that a small number of UK Common Cuckoos regularly pass through Egypt en route to wintering areas in the Congo. Importantly, the study also shows that many birds follow the same route each year and use the same staging and wintering areas. Using the same developing technologies for the study of globally threatened species provides an invaluable tool for conservationists struggling to protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

The second speaker of the day was Marcus Kohler from BirdLife International who gave an overview of the UNDP/BirdLife Migratory Soaring Birds project which focuses on the Rift Valley/Red Sea flyway which runs through the western half of the OSME region. The project, covering 11 countries, focuses on 37 species of soaring bird and is looking to find ways of mainstreaming (integrating) their conservation into five main development sectors – agriculture; energy; hunting; waste management and tourism. The pressures from uncontrolled and unsustainable hunting of birds, not just soaring birds, throughout the flyway is well known and organisations such as SPNL in Lebanon and RSCN in Jordan are devoting a great deal of effort into improving and enforcing legislation, training hunters and raising awareness but there is still a great deal to be done. An increasing problem and one which Marcus talked about in particular is energy production, especially the rapid increase in the number of wind farms being constructed along the flyway. Unfortunately, the ideal locations for wind farms are often also those most favoured by migrating soaring birds so the risk of conflict is very high. Collision with turbines is just one of the risks, others include electrocution, collision with transmission lines and other associated infrastructure, habitat loss, disturbance and barrier effects. The project’s approach is to engage actively with the energy companies and, importantly, the major investment and development banks, in order to find practical solutions such as preparing guidance materials for the siting and operation of wind farms. An additional invaluable tool that is still under development is a sensitivity mapping tool which aims to bring together bird, weather and topographical data to identify those areas of greatest potential conflict so that the planning of future developments can be undertaken to minimise conflicts which will benefit both the energy companies and conservationists. More information on the project is available at - www.migratorysoaringbirds.undp.birdlife.org.

The final speaker of the morning was Wouter Vansteelant who talked about the ground-breaking monitoring and conservation study of migrating raptors at Batumi in Georgia. Although north-east Turkey was known to be important for migrating raptors following studies in the 1970s, it wasn’t until work started at Batumi in 2008 that the scale of the movement and the importance of the eastern Black Sea bottleneck became apparent – 800,000 birds were recorded in the first season and over 1 million birds in 2012! Ten species have been recorded in numbers exceeding 1% of the estimated global population. What sets the Batumi project apart from many other migration studies is that from the start equal emphasis has been given to involving local community members – households, school children, hunters – to build interest and awareness of the importance of the migration and to find ways of delivering tangible benefits from conserving rather than killing birds. Activities have included educational activities for school children, bird guide training courses, promotion of home stays by visiting birders and the launch of the 1st Batumi Bird Festival in 2012 which attracted international media attention and looks set to become an annual event. OSME is proud to have provided support for some of this work previously.

The afternoon’s talks kicked off with Chris Bowden from the RSPB, and Chair of the International Advisory Group for Northern Bald Ibis (IAGNBI), who gave a sobering overview of the fortunes of the eastern Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita population. This population was thought to have become extinct in the wild in 1989/90 when the remaining birds at Birecik in Turkey were taken into captivity but a tiny population of just seven birds was then discovered breeding in Syria in 2002. Despite the declaration of the breeding and feeding areas of these birds as a protected area in 2004 and intensive monitoring and protection work by both Syrian and international conservationists since their rediscovery, the population has gradually declined and this spring only one bird returned from the wintering grounds in Ethiopia. Satellite tracking has identified the migration route and stopover sites for the species and also revealed the many hazards they face, most notably illegal shooting. However, there are two glimmers of hope for conserving this population – four birds were seen on the Ethiopian wintering grounds in 2012/13 so there may still be immature (?) wild birds which may return in 2014; and the Birecik population is doing well and provides a potential source of birds for reintroduction to Syria. Indeed two Turkish juveniles were released in Syria in late summer 2010 and, much to many people’s surprise, successfully migrated as far as southern Saudi Arabia. There are also several projects in Europe aimed at re-establishing the central European population which became extinct several hundred years ago. The Konrad Lorenz Institute has developed a technique for teaching captive bred ibis to migrate between Austria and Tuscany in Italy and a sedentary breeding population has been established in Andalucia, Spain. An International Working Group on the species was established in 2012 and an updated Species Action Plan has been produced. The situation remains dire for the eastern population but the story is far from over.

Rob Sheldon, new OSME Chairman, then gave a fascinating talk about the importance of Central Asia for the endangered White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala – the species for which OSME raised over £1,400 from last year’s raffle and painting auction. White-headed Ducks have four main populations – in Spain, Algeria and Tunisia, Pakistan and Central Asia with the Central Asian population being by far the largest. Significant breeding populations occur in four countries in the OSME region and six OSME region countries are important for passage and wintering birds. The species faces a range of threats including hybridisation with introduced North American Ruddy Duck O. jamaicensis (primarily in western Europe); climate change/drought; and loss of habitat through groundwater abstraction, infrastructure development and increased arable farming. Illegal hunting is also a major problem at some sites. The OSME funds are being used to support research work in central Kazakhstan by the national BirdLife Affiliate, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK). In a pilot area, research is being carried out to determine breeding numbers and distribution, identify important habitat characteristics, study food availability and sample lead in lake sediments and initial results are expected in November 2013. It is hoped that the work will be expanded next year to include satellite tagging and, hopefully, also to include important sites in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

The final speaker of the day was Maxim Koshkin from Kazakhstan who presented preliminary results of his PhD research project on numbers and distribution of Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii in the Kyzylkum Desert of Uzbekistan. Maxim is based at the University of East Anglia and his work is supported by the Emirates Breeding Birds Conservation Centre. Macqueen’s Bustard is highly revered among Arab falconers but numbers have declined dramatically across the species’ range due, especially, to unsustainable hunting. Through a combination of transect surveys, point counts, habitat sampling and monitoring of land use, Maxim is studying the ecology of the species in the Kyzylkum Desert and investigating links with land use such as sheep grazing. Ultimately it is hoped that it will be possible to develop habitat management recommendations and guidelines for sustainable hunting.

The formal part of the day’s proceedings, the 35th Annual General Meeting, saw major changes to OSME Council with the retirement of Mike Blair, Ian Harrison and Geoff Welch. Christine Booth and Chris Lamsdell also stood down as co-opted members of Council. All were thanked for the enormous amount of work they have contributed to the running of OSME. Tristan Reid and Matthew White were elected as new Council members and Rob Sheldon took over from Geoff as the new Chairman of Council. Nabegh Ghazal Aswad, Chairman of the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW) was elected as a new Vice-President. Three important announcements were made at the end of the AGM – Khaled Irani, President of RSCN in Jordan and new Chairman of BirdLife International, sent a personal message expressing a wish to work closely with OSME in the future; at the recent BirdLife World Congress in Ottawa, Richard Porter was appointed a Member of Honour in recognition of his work in promoting conservation throughout the Middle East, especially on Socotra and, more recently, in Iraq; and Ahmad Aidek from Syria became the first recipient of the new OSME Certificate of Recognition as the author of A Guide to the Biodiversity of Deir ez-Zoor Area – see Sandgrouse 35 (2): 167.

Geoff Welch

The Omani Owl – a completely new owl species is discovered in the OSME region

A completely new species of owl to science has been discovered in a remote mountain range in Oman. The bird is being named the Omani Owl, as a tribute to Oman and its people, and details of its discovery are being published today in Dutch Birding.

The owl was first noticed in March 2013 when it called while researchers were making sound recordings of another species. Sound-recordist and author Magnus Robb heard a call so unlike anything he knew that adrenalin immediately started to rush through his veins. However, he and colleague René Pop failed to find the mystery bird again the next night and it was only on the last night of their trip that they heard it again, just before they had to leave for the airport!

Robb and his team are currently writing their fifth title in the Sound Approach series aptly named ’Undiscovered Owls’. So a month later, he was back in the mountains, this time accompanied by colleague Arnoud B van den Berg. Although the owl inhabits vertical terrain and its voice is difficult to hear, they eventually heard one, and were relieved to actually glimpse it perched on a rock, confirming that it was indeed an owl, and one that didn't resemble any species they had seen before.

In May and July the Sound Approach team made two more research trips to look for new individuals, gather photographs and sound recordings, and observe behaviour. After critical analysis, they are thrilled to conclude this is indeed a new owl for science, and the first bird species to be discovered in Arabia for 77 years!

The Sound Approach team plans to continue its studies of the owl in co-operation with the Omani nature conservation authorities.

For the full story, please visit the http://soundapproach.co.uk/omani-owl-diary-of-discovery

Certificate of Recognition

Certificate of Recognition

Plate 1 Certificate of Recognition 2013 – Ahmad Aidek

While many of the problems facing birds and the environment in the OSME region will only be solved by the work of governments and NGOs, a great many individuals are selflessly devoting much of their time, energy and resources to ‘make a difference’ at a local level. OSME feels strongly that such commitment should be recognised and therefore we are launching an annual Certificate of Recognition award which includes £200 worth of books from the Natural History Book Service (NHBS).

We are delighted to announce that the first recipient is Ahmad Aidek from Syria for the production of A Guide to the Biodiversity of Deir ez-Zor Area which was published in 2010 – see plates 1, 2 and 3. This photographic guide to the flora and fauna of the area is for free distribution to local schools, universities, conservation staff and interested locals. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing situation in Syria, it has not yet been possible to send Ahmed his certificate or books.

Ahmad Aidek and local community members

Plate 2 Ahmad Aidek (second from left) with local community members (© Ahmad Aidek)

OSME is now inviting nominations for this year’s award. Nominees should be residents of the OSME region who have made an outstanding individual contribution to the conservation of species or sites locally. This can take the form of research, awareness-raising or practical action. Nominations should be no more than two pages of A4 and clearly state why the action carried out is ‘outstanding’ and provide details of:
the issue that was addressed
the action(s) that was carried out
the successful outcome.

Ahmed Aidek Book Cover

Plate 3 Cover of A Guide to the Biodiversity of Deir ez-Zor Area (© Ahmad Aidek)

Additional supporting material such as photographs, media coverage etc are also welcome. Nominations should be sent by email to the OSME Secretary – secretary@osme.org - by 31 October 2013.
NOTE – self-nominations are not permitted and the £200 award is for books only and cannot be taken as cash.

Conservation and Research Fund news

White-headed Duck)

Due to personal reasons, Christine Booth has regrettably decided to stand down as Chair of the CRF sub-committee. OSME would like to take this opportunity to thank her for all of the work she did to ‘professionalise’ the operation of the CRF. A replacement chair will be appointed shortly. On a more positive note, Maxim Koshkin has now joined the sub-committee and will be advising on applications to the fund from a Central Asian perspective.

OSME is also pleased to announce that the ‘average’ level of grant awarded by the CRF has now been increased to £1,000 and larger grants, up to £3000, will also be considered - see the Conservation page for details of how to apply.

UNDP/BirdLife International Migratory Soaring Birds project website

The Migratory Soaring Birds project, covering 11 countries along the Rift Valley/Red Sea flyway, one of the most important flyways in the world, aims to mainstream birds’ conservation into the strategies, management and activities of the Agriculture, Energy, Hunting, Tourism and Waste Management sectors in each country. This is being achieved through building strategic partnerships with key sector stakeholders and mainstreaming into on-going or planned projects and processes that deal with these sectors.

The project has just launched its new website - www.migratorysoaringbirds.undp.birdlife.org

The website provides all needed information about the project, its latest developments and events and showcases the tools developed and will soon also host the pioneering wind energy sensitivity mapping web-tool which will provide valuable information on the potential impact on birds of wind energy development along the flyway!

Additional support for White-headed Duck conservation in Kazakhstan

To supplement the money raised by the 2012 Raffle, OSME is auctioning an original watercolour painting of White-headed Duck by renowned wildlife artist, Martin Woodcock. Bids in excess of £350 are invited and full details are provided on the linked pdf. This is a unique opportunity to help conservation of one of the region’s globally threatened birds and obtain an outstanding piece of artwork. As always, the more money we raise, the more research and conservation work we will be able to support.

Click here to see the PDF file

Discover the natural wonders of Kazakhstan and support conservation

ACBK, BirdLife in Kazakhstan, is running a series of tours which will enable visitors to see many of the enigmatic and important species of this fascinating country. The profits from the tours will be used to support ACBK's ongoing work to protect the natural riches of Kazakhstan. If you've been thinking about visiting Kazakhstan, now's your opportunity!

For more information including tour itinerary, dates etc click here to see a PDF file.

OSME Raffle 2013

Nature Iraq

This year’s raffle will be raising funds to support work by Nature Iraq on the globally endangered Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis, one of the most threatened passerines in the OSME region. The species is classed as endangered due to its small population size, estimated at 2,500 to 9,999 individuals, which is believed to be declining. The main breeding population is in Iraq, notably the Mesopotamian marshes of south-east Iraq. The species migrates south through Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, before wintering in north-east and east Africa, Since the 1950s there has been considerable loss of its shallow, marshy wetland habitat due to large-scale hydrological projects throughout the Euphrates and Tigris river-basins. More recently, the draining of the Mesopotamian marshes resulted in a huge loss of good quality breeding habitat which must have accelerated population declines. The key threat to the conservation of the species remains habitat loss and degradation, both on the breeding and wintering grounds.

In 2014, Nature Iraq, the BirdLife partner, are planning to undertake much needed research to learn more about the breeding behaviour and requirements, and to use this information to develop a species action plan and identify conservation actions. OSME will directly support ornithologists from Nature Iraq to undertake innovative research using remote nest cameras to monitor nest survival and breeding success of Basra Reed Warblers. The results will be used to inform future habitat restoration projects.

This year’s raffle prizes are:
1st Opticron Imagic BGA SE 8x42 binoculars (value £439)
2nd Naturetrek holiday voucher (value £250)
3rd Birdguides Breeding Birds of the Western Palearctic DVD (value £75)
4th Country Innovtion New Venture waistcoat (value £65)
5th Helm/Poyser books to the value of £50
6th Birdguides Guide to British Birds DVD (value £40)

Tickets, costing £5 for a book of five, are now on sale and can be obtained from the Treasurer, OSME, c/o The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL. However, if you are unable or would prefer not to buy tickets but would like to support this important project, you can make a donation to OSME by sending a sterling cheque to the Treasurer or by debit/credit card via the OSME website – www.osme.org. If you wish to use the website facility, from the Join OSME page of the site, click on the Use credit card link in the side bar and enter the amount you would like to donate in the appropriate box and then click Submit your subscription. This will take you to the checkout page where you can delete the subscription entry by setting it to zero and pressing Recalculate. Then click on Go to Payments to enter your details and complete the transaction. If you are a UK taxpayer, the value of your donation can be increased at no cost to yourself by Gift Aiding it. If you have not yet completed a Gift Aid form, a form can be obtained from the Treasurer.

New Council members request

OSME relies on its volunteer Council members in order to operate efficiently and we are currently seeking new members to join Council. Council members serve for 5 years and Council meets formally three times a year but the majority of OSME business is carried out via email. Whilst a knowledge of the birds of the region is desirable, the most important attributes of Council members are having the time and enthusiasm to actively help maintain and promote the Society and good communication skills. If you would like help maintain OSME as one of the premier regional bird clubs, please contact me.

Geoff Welch
Chairman of Council

Request for recordings of bird sounds

Bloomsbury are doing an eBook of Birds of the Middle East (Porter & Aspinall (2010) and it is planned to include bird sounds. Most of these have been obtained but there are still a few outstanding and if anyone can help they would be really grateful. As well as an acknowledgement there will be a small fee for any that are used, but details haven't yet been worked out.

If you can help please contact Richard Porter - RFPorter@talktalk.net

Below are the vocalisations still needed (all should have been recorded in the Middle East).

Caspian Tit Poecile (lugubris) hyrcanus
See-see Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis
Socotra Cormorant Phalocrocorax nigrogularis
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus
Sooty Falcon Falco concolor
White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalmus
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus
White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa
Yellow-eyed Pigeon Columba eversmanni
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Grey-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus
Pharaoh Eagle Owl Bubo ascalaphus
Arabian Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo (africanus) milesi
Sykes’s Nightjar Caprimulgus mahrattensis
Sind Woodpecker Dendrocopos assimilis
Turkestan Shrike Lanius (isabellinus) phoenicuroides
Iraq Babbler Turdoides altirostris
Afghan Babbler Turdoides (caudata) huttoni
Pleske’s Ground Jay Podoces pleskei
Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus
Turkestan Tit Parus (major) bokharensis
Basra Reed Warbler Acrocephalus griseldis
Variable Wheatear Oenanthe picata
Kurdistan Wheatear Oenanthe xanthoprymna
Saxaul Sparrow Passer ammodendri
Afghan Scrub Sparrow Passer (moabiticus) yatii
Dead Sea Sparrow Passer moabiticus
Asian Desert Sparrow Passer (simplex) zarudnyi
Arabian Golden Sparrow Passer euchlorus
Radde’s Accentor Prunella ocularis
Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus
Eurasian Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguineus
Western Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea

OSME Summer Meeting 2012……

The 2012 Summer Meeting and AGM on Saturday 7 July were again held at the BTO headquarters in Thetford and attended by 43 members and guests. The day had the theme of migration and the first speaker, Paul Stancliffe from the BTO, set the scene by giving a comprehensive overview of the increasing use of technology to reveal the secrets of the migrations of several species. The BTO is focussing on a range of species, the majority of which are in serious decline and where it is important to understand where the problems driving the declines are actually taking place – on the breeding grounds, wintering grounds or en route? Only once this is understood will it be possible to develop appropriate conservation actions. The two main techniques being used are geolocators and miniaturised satellite tags. Geolocators can only be used on species which return to the same breeding area from year to year as the birds need to be recaptured and the data downloaded for analysis. By contrast, satellite tags can be used on any species and provide information on where individual birds are for as long as the tags transmit. To date geolocators have been used successfully on Common Nightingales Luscinia megarhynchos, Common Swifts Apus apus and European Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus and satellite tags on Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus. In all cases the results are confirming the importance of western Africa, especially Guinea and Congo, as a wintering area for these species, something we knew or suspected from ringing recoveries. However, what the data is also suggesting is that Liberia may be an important staging ground for many species, especially on their northward migration. The satellite tagging has also highlighted a ‘bottleneck’ site for Common Cuckoos in northern Italy; the fact that birds from the same breeding area may use different routes on their southward migration; and birds from different breeding areas use different routes to reach the same wintering area. As technology continues to develop, the weight of satellite tags is decreasing which will make it possible to tag a wider range of species. The other significant element of the BTO’s work is that the results from the research, especially the satellite tagging, are being made available via the internet – http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking/. This is proving to be an especially effective means of engaging the general public in bird research and conservation. Whilst the BTO’s work is concentrated on species that breed in the UK and winter in Africa, the techniques are clearly applicable to similar studies of species in the OSME region. Satellite tagging has already been used to great effect to understand the migration routes and wintering areas of Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwings Vanellus gregarius and Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita but the scope for studying other species is enormous. Technology will never replace ringing as the techniques provide different types of information, rather they complement each other and now provide researchers and conservationists with a much greater range of tools for addressing the problems facing so many species throughout the world.

The second speaker of the morning was OSME Council member Helen Demopoulos who gave a fascinating talk about Lebanon where she worked for A Rocha for 15 months in 2007 and 2008. After outlining some of the difficulties of living and working in a country recovering from a long period of unrest, Helen described how the geographical location and topography of Lebanon make the country of outstanding importance for migratory soaring birds. Every year millions of storks, pelicans and raptors pass through in spring and autumn and in several areas birds are concentrated at ‘bottleneck’ sites which makes them easier to monitor but also renders them susceptible to uncontrolled illegal hunting. A key element of A Rocha’s work has been to identify such ‘bottleneck’ sites and other areas of global importance for birds. Where the appropriate criteria are met, such sites have been designated Important Bird Areas (IBAs) by BirdLife International. To date 15 IBAs have been identified, 10 of them being ‘bottleneck’ sites. The other sites are important for globally threatened species such as Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus and Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii and for their communities of restricted-range species. During IBA fieldwork, three new species for Lebanon were discovered – Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura, Scrub Warbler Scotocerca inquieta and Eastern Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens. Additionally the status of several species was re-evaluated for example Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus is now known to be a common breeding species, Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius possibly breeds and European Robin Erithacus rubecula was found to be a common wintering species. A Rocha has also been instrumental in promoting a renewed interest in the traditional hima system – community-based protection and management of natural resources – to help conserve IBAs. There is clearly still much to be discovered in Lebanon and the country offers many opportunities to visiting birdwatchers though the migration will possibly be the greatest attraction. As Helen said in the title of her talk, rather than just being a country with IBAs, Lebanon is, in fact, an Important Bird Country!

The afternoon session started with a presentation on Bird Survey and Ringing in the Western Desert, Egypt, 2010 which was given by Professor Przemyslaw Busse, Krzysztof Stepniewski and Matt White. Professor Busse provided an overview of the development of coordinated networks of ringing sites in Europe, initially focussed along the Baltic, then extending into southwest Europe and finally also taking in southeast Europe and the western fringes of the OSME region. In relation to OSME, initially work was carried out in the Sinai but since 2006 the focus has shifted to the oases of the Western Desert of Egypt, approximately 180 km west of the Nile Valley. Matt White went on to describe the main study areas – Lake Abu Yasser and Lake El Marun. Lake Abu Yasser is a small saline lake surrounded by black desert, low intensity agriculture, mudflats and palm plantations. Lake El Marun is surrounded by steppe escarpments, tamarisk scrub, irrigated alfalfa and fruit and palm plantations. Studies at these sites have been a combination of vantage points counts and ringing. To date 83 species have been recorded, 54 at Abu Yasser and 74 at El Marun, with the commonest being Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and Western Cattle Egret Bulbulcus ibis. Of 30 species of passerine migrant, Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus was the most numerous. Finally, Krzysztof talked about the ringing studies in more detail. A study supported by OSME in 2010 looked especially at habitat preferences of migrants and found that the tamarisk scrub and alfalfa were the most important as these habitats provided plentiful food for migrants as shown by measuring fat scores. Species such as Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus rapidly increased their weight in order to be able to cross the Sahara non-stop while increases were less in Eurasian Reed Warblers A scirpaceus as this species feeds en route. Orientation tests showed that most migrants selected headings facing west, northwest or southwest, the latter being in the direction of Lake Chad which is known to be an important wintering and staging area for many species. Clearly there is a lot more still to be learned.

The fourth talk of the day was by Stoyan Nikolov, from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB, BirdLife in Bulgaria) who is the Project Manager for a new European Union LIFE+ Nature project entitled Egyptian Vulture Conservation Challenges along the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Flyway. In the last 50 years, the global population of Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus has decreased by >50% and the species is now classed as Endangered. The main threats to the species are electrocution, secondary poisoning, direct persecution, disturbance at the breeding grounds and habitat loss. The species uses two migratory flyways, a western one via Gibraltar to western Africa and an eastern one through the OSME region to Chad. To help understand how best to conserve the species since 2009 a small number of birds breeding in Bulgaria have been fitted with satellite transmitters. Most interesting, but also depressing, one bird travelled 5,000 km to Chad but was then killed by local people who saw the transmitter and thought the bird was a ‘bad magician’! Such persecution of tagged birds has been recorded in several parts of Africa and the Middle East which is a great pity as tagging generates a huge amount of vital data but conservationists now have to weigh up the risk of actually endangering the birds they are attempting to study. Whilst much of the LIFE+ project is focussed on conserving the small breeding population of Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans there are clearly things that could be done to help safeguard the species while it is migrating through the OSME region. Future plans include tagging more birds, further expeditions to study birds along the eastern flyway, organising an international conference in 2013 and developing a flyway action plan. There are several opportunities for conservation bodies and active members in the OSME region to assist with some of this work.

The final talk of the day was on Migration through Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates given by OSME Council member, Nick Moran. This demonstrated how regular birding and record keeping by Nick and colleague Oscar Campbell can be analysed to show the phenology of migrants. Between 2007 and 2012, Nick and Oscar covered a range of sites in Abu Dhabi on a regular basis and systematically recorded the species and numbers they observed. Although not scientifically rigorous, the analysis carried out to date shows close parallels to similar studies in Israel and Jordan. Abu Dhabi is already a popular birding location and Nick’s presentation provided a taster for prospective first-time visitors. In relation to spring migration, March is the month with the greatest diversity of species and is the peak time for seeing Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka, Menetries’s Warbler Sylvia mystacea and Daurian Shrike Lanius isabellinus. In April the Daurian Shrikes are replaced by Turkestan Shrikes L phoenicuroides, numerous races of Yellow Wagtail, Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Common Nightingale, Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana and European Roller Coracias garrulus. In May, the key species are Upcher’s Warbler Hippolais languida, European Nightjar, Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis and Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris. Added to these there is a wide range of less numerous migrants and always the chance of rarities! Nick was keen to emphasise that there is a lot more analysis that could be done with his and Oscar’s records and plenty of scope for more detailed studies but his talk highlighted the value of keeping systematic records when out birding and, most importantly, making the data available for scientific study rather than having it ‘locked away’ in a forgotten notebook.

During the 34th Annual General Meeting, the following changes to OSME’s Vice-Presidents and Council members were announced. Imad Atrash and Dr and Mrs Ramadan-Jaradi retired as Vice-Presidents after completing 10 years in office and Guy Kirwan retired from Council after 5 years in office. All were thanked for the important contributions they have made to promoting and assisting with the running of the Society. The following were elected on to Council – Sal Cooke, Phil Cannings and Chris Hughes.

Effie Presentation

Plat 1 Effie Warr being presented with her painting of Basalt Wheatear by OSME Chairman, Geoff Welch (© Geoff & Hilary Welch)

The day had a special end when Effie Warr who, together with her husband John, has made and continues to make an outstanding contribution to the running of OSME, was presented with a specially commissioned painting by Michael Warren of Basalt Wheatear Oenanthe lugens warriae – see plate 1. This distinct form of Mourning Wheatear was recently recognised as a separate subspecies by Hadoram Shirihai and Guy Kirwan and given the name warriae in honour of the tremendous contribution Effie has made to ornithological research in the Middle East.

The day was rounded off by an excellent meal in The Mulberry in Thetford which allowed OSME Council, members and friends to continue discussions in a relaxed atmosphere, renew old friendships and create new ones. A great end to a great day.

Geoff Welch
Chairman of Council

……and Breckland Bird walk

Nolfolk birding

Members of OSME were treated to great views of some Breckland specialities on the morning of Sunday 8 July, following the Summer Meeting/AGM the previous day. Chris Mills of Norfolk Birding (http://www.norfolkbirding.com/) kindly led a tour of heathland and plantation sites, and the weather cooperated nicely. The first stop was an anonymous patch of open ground. Despite the predominance of tall grasses, two Stone-curlews obligingly stood out on some turf in the foreground to be viewed and appreciated. From birders in the group familiar with North Africa, we learned that these birds can form large wintering flocks in Morocco; it is also a familiar species over much of the OSME region. Encouraged by this early encounter, the group then moved on to have a look for Woodlarks. This involved a drive, a walk down a forest track and then a good look at an area cleared of trees. The tree stumps from the clearing operation had been collected into parallel lines stretching across the now open area. Each line of piled up stumps had become populated with shrubs and small trees. Early signs were positive: Whitethroats used the perches provided by the tangled tree roots to launch into song flights, a flock of Linnets settled in a small holly tree, and a pair of Yellowhammers busily ferried food to their unseen nestlings. At the edge of the forest on the far side of the site, a Turtle Dove sat in branches silhouetted against the sky. Then a Woodlark appeared on one of the distant lines of tree stumps. Whilst this viewing clearly meant something to those more familiar with the species, a much better view of two birds a few minutes later allowed a fuller appreciation of some this species’ characteristic features – the white supercilium, relatively short tail and signs of a crest. Unfortunately what some would consider to be the best feature of Woodlarks, their song, was only briefly on offer, though some compensation was provided by a singing Tree Pipit. And a Sparrowhawk added a predatory note to this otherwise peaceful scene, grabbing something tasty on the ground alongside the tree stumps, then spreading its wings around its catch while it disembowelled its breakfast. Round our feet, Brown Silver-line moths were in profusion, and a rather worn Red-necked Footman was identified. All in all, the morning provided a wonderful insight to some of the special wildlife and habitats of the Breckland. Our thanks to Chris Mills from Norfolk Birding for his enthusiastic and expert guiding and to Nick Moran, of the OSME council, for organising the excursion.

Daniel Owen (OSME member)

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