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The 17th Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force (SBS TF) News Bulletin is now available here. To read previous news bulletins and find out more about Spoon-billed Sandpiper, please visit the SBS TF page of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership. Contents of the The 17th SBS TF News Bulletin:
  • Foreword from the Editor
  • Guest Editorial by Minister Min Kyi Win
  • Workshop on SBS National Action Plan in Mawlamyine, Myanmar
  • 11th SBS Task Force Meeting in Mawlamyine, Myanmar
  • Gulf of Mottama Survey – a personal account
  • New Wintering site in Tanintharyi, Myanmar
  • China-Russia Bilateral Meeting and field Survey in Jiangsu Province
  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper in South China – update
  • Results from Satellite tagged Spoon-billed Sandpiper
  • China adds critical sites in the Yellow Sea to the World Heritage Tentative List
  • Survey of southward migrating waders Kamchatka late summer 2016
  • SBS and People: Pyae Phyo Aung
  • SBS and People: Saw Moses
  • How many Spoon-billed Sandpipers are there?
  • Two new major donors from America
  Featured image: Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Calidris pygmaea.®Harrison, J. J. Pak Thale, Petchaburi, Thailand, January 2013.
17th Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force News Bulletin available

The 17th Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force (SBS TF) News Bulletin is now available here. To read previous news bulletins and find out more about Spoon-billed Sandpiper, please visit the SBS TF page of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership. Contents of the The 17th SBS TF News Bulletin: Foreword from the Editor Guest Editorial by Minister Min Kyi Win Workshop on SBS National Action Plan in Mawlamyine, Myanmar 11th SBS Task Force Meeting in Mawlamyine, Myanmar Gulf of Mottama Survey –

Based on decades of bird counting effort by volunteers across Australia and New Zealand, Dr Studds from University of Maryland (Blatimore, US) and their co-authors have assessed population trends of ten shorebird taxa that refuel on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats. After accounting for the shared evolutionary history among taxa, migration distance, breeding range size, non-breeding location, generation time and body size, they found  that Yellow Sea reliance was the single most important predictor of variation in population trends. In other words, more a species relies on the the disappearing Yellow Sea mudflats, the faster they are declining! "Scientists have long believed that loss of these rest stops could be related to the declines, but there was no smoking gun,” Dr Studds said. Full article published in Nature Communications: Studds, C.E., Kendall, B.E., Murray, N.J., Wilson, H.B., Rogers, D.I., Clemens, R.S., Gosbell, K., Hassell, C.J., Jessop, R., Melville, D.S., Milton, D.A., Minton, C.D.T., Possingham, H.P., Riegen, A.C., Straw, P., Woehler, E.J. & Fuller, R.A. (2017) Rapid population decline in migratory shorebirds relying on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats as stopover sites. Nature Communications, 8, 14895. Interview of the authors: http://birdlife.org.au/media/loss-of-key-shorebird-refuelling-areas/ [caption id="attachment_9457" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Total abundance between 1993 and 2012 for ten EAAF migratory shorebird taxa. ©Nature communication.[/caption] Featured image: Far Eastern Curlew are among studied shorebird species with the hightest Yellow Sea reliance. Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis. ©Kenji Nishikawa, September 2010.
New study highlights vital importance of Yellow Sea

Based on decades of bird counting effort by volunteers across Australia and New Zealand, Dr Studds from University of Maryland (Blatimore, US) and their co-authors have assessed population trends of ten shorebird taxa that refuel on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats. After accounting for the shared evolutionary history among taxa, migration distance, breeding range size, non-breeding location, generation time and body size, they found  that Yellow Sea reliance was the single most important predictor of

      A handful of red knots with the tiniest transmitters on their backs have left Mauritania, where they spent the winter, and are now heading north. For the first time, the cutting-edge solar-powered transmitters allow scientists to track and trace the exact whereabouts of these small shorebirds migrating from Africa to the Arctic. The birds are expected to stop over to feed in the Wadden Sea, the plentiful mudflats on the Dutch-German-Danish coast that fall dry during low tide. Professor Theunis Piersma, bird migration ecologist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and University of Groningen, hopes to find out how each bird uses the various ecosystems on its route. The data could unveil whether and how the birds’ behaviours are affected by human wadden systems management and climate change.   [caption id="attachment_9392" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Red knot with satellite transmitter just released at Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania (photo: Benjamin Gnep).[/caption]

Unburdenend by featherlight transmitters

In January, the birds were equipped with the lightest satellite transmitters currently available: only two grams, including battery and solar panel. Apparently unburdened, the birds immediately surprised the scientists by moving around at far longer distances across their winter habitats than previously thought based on the well-known method of colour-ring observations.

Interconnected ecosystems and climate change

Theunis Piersma, the leader of this project, hopes that these ‘satellite knots’ will show the connections between West Africa, the North-West-European Wadden Sea and the breeding areas in Siberia. 'Now that the transmitters have become so light that even knots can fly with it, we can see in unprecedented detail how the birds make use of all these interconnected areas. They can show us how changes in one area affect ecosystems elsewhere. In our rapidly changing world it is extremely valuable that this advanced technology allows us to collect this vital information as soon as possible.'

Join the birds online

The general public can follow the movements of the birds across the globe on the website www.waddenflyways.nl. Which birds make it to their breeding grounds and back and how do they do it? The comments of scientists along the route are made available via blogs on the website.   Map with live tracking-data and blogs: www.waddenflyways.nl [caption id="attachment_9397" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Map with live tracking-data and blogs at https://www.nioz.nl/en/waddenflyways[/caption]   More information: Kim Sauter, head of communications NIOZ, kim.sauter@nioz.nl 00 31 6 25 32 60 70 Theunis Piersma, bird migration ecologist NIOZ, theunis.piersma@nioz.nl www.nioz.nl April 24th 2017   Featured photo: Recently sat-tagged red knot in Mauretania, West-Africa | Picture: Benjamin Gnep
New bird-watching: Track & Trace migrating birds with featherlight satellite-transmitters

      A handful of red knots with the tiniest transmitters on their backs have left Mauritania, where they spent the winter, and are now heading north. For the first time, the cutting-edge solar-powered transmitters allow scientists to track and trace the exact whereabouts of these small shorebirds migrating from Africa to the Arctic. The birds are expected to stop over to feed in the Wadden Sea, the plentiful mudflats on the Dutch-German-Danish coast that fall dry during low

Of the 28 shorebird species using the Pacific Americas flyway, eleven percent have declined, and none are increasing (43% are stable and 46% have unknown trends). National Audubon Society and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have announced the release of the new Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy, based on the consultation of 85 experts from more than 53 unique institutions in 15 countries. From a selection of 21 target shorebird species (the most representative species), the strategy sets conservation targets, identifies major threats and effective actions needed to restore and maintain shorebird populations throughout the Flyway, between Alaska and Chile. Based on threat-ranking of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, the strategy focuses on the following main identified threats: climate change, development, invasive species and problematic native species, disturbance from recreational activities, water use and management, aquaculture and shoreline and wetland modification. Learn more and read the Strategy at: https://www.shorebirdplan.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Pacific-Americas-Strategy-2016.pdf [caption id="attachment_9360" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Senner, S. E., Andres, B. A. & Gates, H. R. (Eds.) 2016. Pacific Americas shorebird conservation strategy. National Audubon Society, New York, New York, USA. Available at: http://www.shorebirdplan.org.[/caption] Featured photo: Surfbird, Calidris virgata, February 2013 Nicaragua ©JacobKlinger
New Pacific Americas shorebird Conservation Strategy

Of the 28 shorebird species using the Pacific Americas flyway, eleven percent have declined, and none are increasing (43% are stable and 46% have unknown trends). National Audubon Society and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have announced the release of the new Pacific Americas Shorebird Conservation Strategy, based on the consultation of 85 experts from more than 53 unique institutions in 15 countries. From a selection of 21 target shorebird species (the most representative species), the

We are very happy to announce that the April issue of Wader Study is published online!: http://www.waderstudygroup.org/publications/waderstudy-vol-124-issue-1/   Featured photo: Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, ©Dominic Sherony
April issue of Wader Study is published online!

We are very happy to announce that the April issue of Wader Study is published online!: http://www.waderstudygroup.org/publications/waderstudy-vol-124-issue-1/   Featured photo: Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, ©Dominic Sherony

Imagine. You are driving very slowly along the coast of Barr Al Hikman, a tropical intertidal ecosystem in Oman. You scan high water line for flocks of shorebirds and marvel at the abundant birdlife. When the vehicle can go no further, you continue your scan on foot. You have even seen turtles, dolphins and whales while studying the birds at this amazing site. Now imagine that you are alone on an ocean beach in northern California. The water laps at the sand as you walk slowly, stopping occasionally to use your binoculars or spotting scope to scan for Snowy Plovers. It’s nesting season and you are visiting two to three times a week because you’ve detected nesting adults. It was the best of fieldwork. Of course, I am sure the researchers could tell you that it was also the worst of fieldwork; perhaps on a surprisingly wet day in Barr Al Hikman, when the sabkha – a mixture of sand, salt and mud – was suddenly like quicksand; or perhaps in the pouring rain on a northern California beach full of nests destroyed by predators, unleashed dogs or vehicles. For many shorebird biologists, fieldwork can be the best of times and the worst of times. This issue of Wader Study contains articles about two very different field sites on nearly opposite sides of the northern hemisphere. In their study, de Fouw and colleagues1 report on broad waterbird surveys conducted during the winters of 2007/08, 2013/14 and 2015/16 in Barr Al Hikmann – a study area that had last been surveyed in 1990. In a very different study, Colwell and colleagues2 summarize 16 years of data focused on a color-marked breeding population of Snowy Plovers in northern California. At their site annual surveys are required as part of a species’ recovery plan. At both sites the researchers were counting shorebirds and looking at how their numbers were changing over time. And in both studies, the researchers found that shorebird numbers increased. For years, shorebird conservationists have been reporting decreases in shorebird numbers worldwide3. So increases are good news, right? Well, yes and no. Increases in at least some sites are undoubtedly better than decreases at all sites across a flyway or within a population. However, the studies under the spotlight here remind us that increases in shorebird numbers at one site don’t necessarily mean all is well in the flyway – or even at the site. [caption id="attachment_9349" align="alignnone" width="700"] Crab Plovers, Flamingos and other waterbirds at Barr Al Hikman. Photo: J. van de Kam[/caption] Researchers studying at Barr Al Hikman wanted to update data on the number of birds using the site and confirm the area’s importance within the network of intertidal ecosystems that make up the Asian-East African migratory flyway. They found that at least 42 species of waterbirds use the site regularly and they counted more than half a million birds. Shorebirds were by far the most dominant species group with total numbers of 300 to 400 thousand in each survey year across 23 species. Impressively, for 18 of the 23 shorebird species, the numbers wintering at Barr Al Hikman exceeded 1% of their flyway population (the critical minimum threshold value that defines an area of conservation concern) and for nine of these species, at least 10% of the flyway population was found at Barr Al Hikman. The study clearly confirmed that Barr Al Hikman is the single most important wetland for wintering birds in the Middle East, not only with respect to the number of birds, but also in terms of species diversity. Additionally, the surveys revealed that the number of birds wintering at Barr Al Hikman has increased. Compared to the numbers seen during surveys in 1989/90, the researchers found that general waterbird numbers had almost tripled, with large shorebirds increasing two-fold and small shorebirds increasing five-fold. What is causing the increases? Perhaps conditions have improved throughout the Asian-East African flyway and shorebird populations are increasing everywhere. For shorebirds that breed in the difficult-to-reach High Arctic, this question is usually examined by monitoring numbers in wintering areas. If increases are found in a number of wintering areas, then it’s a good-news story. Unfortunately, as de Fouw and colleagues discuss, the Arabian Gulf is developing rapidly and human impact on marine systems is high. Increased shorebird numbers are not being seen throughout the flyway. For example, a 2008 study in the United Arab Emirates paints a picture of shorebird decline as a result of major loss of wetlands due to coastal development4. Perhaps birds from that site now find a haven at Barr Al Hikman – one of the remaining sites for shorebirds in the Middle East. Barr Al Hikman is still relatively pristine, but is under threat from export-driven fisheries including plans for a large aquaculture shrimp facility. If the increased numbers at Barr Al Hikman stem from the redistribution of shorebirds due to the loss of their original wintering habitat at other sites in the flyway, then the increase actually indicates that the flyway populations are threatened. This makes long-term conservation of Barr Al Hikman all the more important. [caption id="attachment_9350" align="alignnone" width="700"] Male Snowy Plover at Eel River Wildlife Area, Humboldt Co, California. Photo: Elizabeth Feucht.[/caption] In northern California the story is very different. Colwell and colleagues have solid data not only on population size, but also on population productivity and immigration rates. Over 16 years, they kept detailed histories of 353 marked and breeding individuals (159 males; 194 females). The population at their site decreased dramatically from 74 to a low of only 19 between the years of 2001 to 2009. Then from 2010 to 2016 the population rebounded, growing at an annual rate of 22% to 72 birds in 2016. Had things turned around? Was the site now productive? Unfortunately not, productivity averaged around 0.85 of a chick fledged per male, which is below what is needed to even maintain, never mind increase a population. Instead, the authors argue that, much like at Barr Al Hikman, recent growth stems from immigration. Their data showed that over the past 12 years, immigrants from more northerly sites comprised about 65% of the population. But unlike Barr Al Hikman, the authors do not think the site is a haven; rather, based on the productivity and immigration data, the authors conclude that the Snowy Plover subpopulation in coastal northern California (Recovery Unit 2) is a demographic sink. Not the best of sites, even if it might be the best of fieldwork at times. Colwell and colleagues point out that no predator management occurs on their site, despite evidence that predation is the main cause of low reproductive success. They further point out that most immigrants to their site come from areas where active predator management has resulted in consistently higher productivity (as also highlighted for Red-necked Phalaropes in Nome, Alaska in a paper by English and colleagues, also in this issue of Wader Study5). They urge agencies responsible for the Snowy Plover in northern California to expand predator management and also note that that management of human recreational use of plover habitats is most effective on federal and state lands where enforcement also occurs. This tale of two sites and these two important studies emphasize the importance of thorough and nuanced research on shorebird demographics within the context of conservation within the flyway or the larger threatened population as a whole. There is often more to increasing numbers than meets the eye.
  1. de Fouw, J., A. W. Thorpe, R. A. Bom, S. de Bie, K. Camphuysen, B. Etheridge, W. Hagemeijer, L. Hofstee, T. Jager, L. Kelder, R. Kleefstra, M. Kersten, S. Nagy & R. H.G. Klaassen. 2017. Barr Al Hikman, a major shorebird hotspot within the Asian-East African flyway; results of three winter surveys. Wader Study 124(1): 5-16.
  2. Colwell, M. A., E. J. Feucht, M. J. Lau, D. J. Orluck, S. E. McAllister & A. N. Transou. 2017. Recent Snowy Plover population increase arises from high immigration rate in coastal northern California. Wader Study 124(1): 21-29.
  3. Wetlands International. 2012. Waterbird Population Estimates, Fifth Edition. Summary Report. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Available from wpe.wetlands.org.
  4. Green, M., & C. Richardson. 2008. Loss of wader habitats in the United Arab Emirates. Wader Study Group Bulletin 115(1):50-51.
  5. English, W.B., E. Kwon, B. K. Sandercock & D. B. Lank. 2017. Effects of predator exclosures on reproductive success in Red-necked Phalaropes. Wader Study 124(1): 26-32.
PDF can be found here
Spotlight: A tale of two study sites with increasing shorebird numbers

Imagine. You are driving very slowly along the coast of Barr Al Hikman, a tropical intertidal ecosystem in Oman. You scan high water line for flocks of shorebirds and marvel at the abundant birdlife. When the vehicle can go no further, you continue your scan on foot. You have even seen turtles, dolphins and whales while studying the birds at this amazing site. Now imagine that you are alone on an ocean beach in northern California. The water laps at the sand as you walk slowly, stopping

Tracks of all Bar-tailed Godwits (top), and detailed tracks at the Jiangsu coast on 10 April 2017 (below) - a dot indicates the location of the bird when its transmitter was detected by a satellite

Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits highlight the importance of the Jiangsu coast, China for migratory shorebirds

Five Bar-tailed Godwits, fitted with satellite tags, which departed northwest Australia late March have arrived at the Rudong coast, central Jiangsu Province, China after a 6,000 km flight of appr. 5 days. One bird relies entirely on the worldwide unique Dongsha shoals and the other birds in that region are along the coast off the shoals.

The birds are expected to rest and feed here before continuing to Bohai Bay/northern Yellow Sea where they will fatten up for the final leg of their migration to breeding grounds in Siberia.

The Rudong coast, having some of the largest remaining tidal flats in China, provides a rich fishing ground for people as well as a vital refuelling stop for migrating shorebirds, 15 species of which occur in internationally important numbers – including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

Most of Jiangsu’s intertidal flats are threatened by development plans under which hundreds of square kilometres would be lost to land claim projects, wind farms etc. The Chinese Government, however, announced on 28 February 2017 that the Rudong coast has been placed on a tentative list for nomination as part of a Yellow Sea World Heritage site – recognising the value of the area for migrating birds as well as the unique geological feature of the offshore radial sand ridges.

‘The arrival of these birds further demonstrates the importance of this coastal area for migrating shorebirds’ said (Sir) Professor Theunis Piersma of University of Groningen, who is leading the satellite tagging project. ‘Other birds are still airborne and we await with interest to see where these will make landfall’.

The satellite tagging project is a joint programme of the University of Groningen, the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the Global Flyway Network, and is supported by the MAVA Foundation, WWF-Netherlands and China, BirdLife International and small private benefactors. For further information contact Yvonne Verkuil at the University of Groningen.

Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits highlight the importance of the Jiangsu coast, China for migratory shorebirds

Tracks of all Bar-tailed Godwits (top), and detailed tracks at the Jiangsu coast on 10 April 2017 (below) - a dot indicates the location of the bird when its transmitter was detected by a satellite Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits highlight the importance of the Jiangsu coast, China for migratory shorebirds Five Bar-tailed Godwits, fitted with satellite tags, which departed northwest Australia late March have arrived at the Rudong coast, central Jiangsu Province, China after a 6,000 km flight

Professor Jenny Gill has been awarded at the BOU 2017 Annual conference the BOU’s Union Medal for her outstanding contribution to the British Ornithologists’ Union - having served as President from 2011 to 2015 - and contribution to ornithology. Congrats! [caption id="attachment_9194" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Jenny Gill - University of East Anglia, UK- receives the BOU's Union Medal at the 2017 annual conference of the British Ornithologists' Union.[/caption]
BOU’s Union Medal – Jenny Gill

Professor Jenny Gill has been awarded at the BOU 2017 Annual conference the BOU’s Union Medal for her outstanding contribution to the British Ornithologists’ Union - having served as President from 2011 to 2015 - and contribution to ornithology. Congrats!

Oscar “Wally” Johnson, the undisputed world expert on Pacific Golden-Plovers, and Susan Scott, a popular-science writer, have combined their knowledge and enthusiasm to create a book for everyone who admires the exceptional birds known as Kōlea in Hawaiian. With easy-to-understand, yet scientifically accurate, text and outstanding color photographs, Hawai‘i's Kōlea: The Amazing Transpacific Life of the Pacific Golden-Plover is a handy, reliable source of information for both general readers and ornithology specialists. Read more: University of Hawai‘i press   [caption id="attachment_9184" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Johnson, Oscar W. & Scott, Susan (2016) Hawaii's Kōlea: The Amazing Transpacific Life of the Pacific Golden-Plover. University of Hawai's Press Latitude 20. 80pp.[/caption]   Featured image: Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva ©Benjamin Keen, Nov. 2012 - Hawaii.
New book |Hawaii’s Kōlea: The Amazing Transpacific Life of the Pacific Golden-Plover

Oscar “Wally” Johnson, the undisputed world expert on Pacific Golden-Plovers, and Susan Scott, a popular-science writer, have combined their knowledge and enthusiasm to create a book for everyone who admires the exceptional birds known as Kōlea in Hawaiian. With easy-to-understand, yet scientifically accurate, text and outstanding color photographs, Hawai‘i's Kōlea: The Amazing Transpacific Life of the Pacific Golden-Plover is a handy, reliable source of information for both general

The minutes of the December 2016 annual Alaska Shorebird Group (ASG) meeting are now available! Read the minutes The ASG held its annual meeting on 6 December 2016 in Cordova, Alaska during the Alaska Bird Conference. Papers and posters on shorebird studies and conservation were given over the following few days at the 2016 Alaska Bird Conference A whole session of the meeting was devoted to studies and conservation of shorebirds. Read talk abstracts Other ASG resources include:     [caption id="attachment_9099" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Black oystercatchers Haematopus bachmani observed during 2016 surreys in Prince William Sound. Photo ©Matthew Prinzing, SCA Intern, USFS. Retrieved from the 2016 annual summary of new or ongoing studies of Alaska shorebirds.[/caption]   Featured image: Western sandpipers Calidris mauri at Cordova, Alaska. ©2005 Arthur Morris/Birds as art.
Alaska Shorebird Group | 2016 annual report & meeting minutes now available

The minutes of the December 2016 annual Alaska Shorebird Group (ASG) meeting are now available! Read the minutes The ASG held its annual meeting on 6 December 2016 in Cordova, Alaska during the Alaska Bird Conference. Papers and posters on shorebird studies and conservation were given over the following few days at the 2016 Alaska Bird Conference A whole session of the meeting was devoted to studies and conservation of shorebirds. Read talk abstracts Other ASG resources include: List of newly