Close
Close
Close

News

Shorebirds have been intensively studied in some parts of the world, but much less so in other areas. Take Myanmar, for example: this country in southeast Asia has a continuous coastline of almost 3,000 km. It is a place with abundant intertidal mudflats and mangroves, yet, the importance of this country’s coastal wetlands was not documented until 20141. Even after the significance of this coastline was known, few of the intertidal sites or mangroves had any formal protection, in part because the in-depth monitoring needed to describe the site for protection hadn’t yet been done. Now, thanks to work by Zockler and colleagues2, published in this issue of Wader Study, we know enough about this incredible place – in particular the Myeik Archipelago in southern Myanmar – to recommend protection. Their surveys found over 35,000 birds representing 32 wader species as well as gulls, terns, egrets and herons. Importantly these species included four globally threatened and eight near-threatened species. These data show that the area qualifies as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. [caption id="attachment_12900" align="alignnone" width="700"] The landscape of the Myeik Archipelago and one of the boats used for fieldwork. (photo: Christoph Zöckler)[/caption] Why did it take so long for this area to be surveyed? There are numerous reasons, but two practical ones are that the area is remote and there was a lot of area to cover. The region surveyed by Zockler and colleagues covered 620,000 hectares. To give some context, a perfect square-shaped hectare is 100 metres on every side. The grassy area inside a 400-metre running track is typically just over a hectare. Now imagine 620,000 running tracks or an area about the size of the state of Delaware. Now take that area and stretch it out in a narrow 5–10 km band of mangrove and mudflat about 250 km long. It took eight separate surveys, conducted from December 2013 to November 2017, to cover the area and some key areas were surveyed repeatedly. Much of the area is covered with mature mangrove forest and is largely untouched by human interference. It must have been beautiful to see, but some parts of it were difficult to access for study. The intertidal flats consist of deep mud that is impossible to walk on. Local people use wooden sledges to move around, but that was impractical for large scale surveys. Instead, the researchers used small boats, most about 9 meters in length. These boats were sturdy enough to cross larger areas of water, even during rough seas, but still small enough to access shallow areas with shallow water. Four to six shorebird observers worked and slept on these study boats along with a boat operator. In areas too shallow for the 9-meter boats to enter, the researchers used 3-meter fishing boats, hired on site, which carried two observers plus a driver. Beyond the boats, binoculars and spotting scopes were needed to survey and identify the birds to the species level. Digital cameras were also used to capture images that could be magnified to identify species. Finally, modern technology was used to tag bird records with GPS coordinates through a mobile phone application. The researchers recorded more than 35,000 water birds and point out that the Myeik archipelago might support even higher numbers since they were not able to visit all sites suitable for water birds in the survey area. Still, the surveys were enough to show that certain areas of the site are particularly important. For example, Sakhan Thit in the north and Bokpyin in the south alone hosted over 25,000 water birds, including several globally near-threatened species. The Bokpyin area had the highest concentration of globally red-listed species, and all six globally threatened species occurred there – some in significant numbers. For example, up to 60 of the globally endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer were counted during the study period. The critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea was found at two sites. One Far-Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis was observed among a flock of almost 2,000 Eurasian Curlews in the Bokpyin area – the first record of this species for Myanmar. Finally, a Crab Plover Dromas ardeola was observed among a flock of over 100 Gull-billed Terns north of Bokpyin, only the second record for Myanmar. The Myeik archipelago is clearly important, but it is also under threat. Coastal development is the biggest danger because the archipelago is close to the booming city of Myeik. The southern town of Bokpyin is likely to expand too, threatening intertidal mud and sandflats, as well as the mangroves north and south of town. Hunting is another potential threat. Villagers in the area report that hunters set up their traps whenever there are flocks of about 1000 water birds. What is really needed is formal protection for the region. The authors propose the creation of Ramsar sites within the area and the results of their research justify this designation. According to the Ramsar convention, any wetland which meets at least one of the Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance can be designated by the appropriate national authority to be added to the Ramsar List3. The surveys show that the Myeik archipelago meets four of the nine Ramsar criteria.
  1. The area harbours rare species including six globally threatened and nine near-threatened water birds.
  2. The area supports critical life cycle stages of species such as the Lesser Adjutant Stork Leptoptilos javanicus, which nests in all five sections of the surveyed area.
  3. The area supports more than 20,000 water birds (numbers from all five survey sections amount to over 35,000 waders, gulls, terns, egrets and herons).
  4. Finally, the area supports more than 1% of a global flyway population for several species as outline in Table 4 of the paper.
However, the researchers point out that, though a Ramsar designation would protect the key areas for water birds in the region, it might not cover the adjacent mangroves and other coastal habitats. They therefore recommend the creation of an overarching UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which would encompass the Ramsar sites as core areas. If the researchers are successful in their proposal for conservation of the site, then this research is an example of how impactful shorebird monitoring can be. The site will, of course, need further monitoring. The researchers point out that current funding levels will not allow for annual surveys of the entire area and recommend that key areas be surveyed regularly to provide insights into populations trends and species responses conservation measures and ongoing threats and pressures. Zockler and colleagues aren’t the only authors whose work highlights the importance of surveys and monitoring of shorebirds. Also in this issue of Wader Study, Colwell and colleagues report on monitoring at the local level to confirm the importance of Humboldt Bay, California, as a site of Hemispheric importance under the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). On a larger scale, Hope and colleagues synthesize data from monitoring at a national level to update information on the population sizes, trends and distributions of 52 shorebird taxa that regularly visit Canada. This type of assessment for conservation prioritization was last done in nearly 20 years ago during the development of the Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan. Basic ecological monitoring sometimes gets the short shrift in a world obsessed with “new and shiny things”. Studies in this issue of Wader Study remind us that effective conservation can’t happen without knowing what is important, where it lives, what it needs to thrive, and whether or not interventions are working. Good old fashion monitoring gives us this information and remains important for shorebird protection at local, regional and national levels. Add page numbers before publishing. 1. Zöckler, C., T. Zaw Naing, S. Moses, R. Nou Soe & T. Htin Hla. 2014. The importance of the Myanmar Coast for waterbirds. Stilt 66: 37–51. 2. Zöckler, C., S. Moses & Thu Lwin, S. 2019. The importance of the Myeik mangroves and mudflats, Tanintharyi, Myanmar for migratory waders and other waterbirds. Wader Study 126(2): 129-141 3. Ramsar. 2019. Designating Ramsar Sites. Accessed 11 Aug 2019 at: https://www.ramsar.org/sites-countries/designating-ramsar-sites and https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/library/ramsarsites_criteria_eng.pdf 4. Colwell, M.A., E.J. Feucht & C. Polevy. 2019. Winter abundance of shorebirds on Humboldt Bay, California, USA. Wader Study 126(2): 116-124. 5. Hope, D.D, C. Pekarik, M.C. Drever, P.A. Smith, C. Gratto-Trevor, J. Paquet, Y. Aubry, G. Donaldson, C. Friis, K. Gurney, J. Rausch, A.E. McKellar & B. Andres. 2019. Shorebirds of conservation concern in Canada – 2019. Wader Study 126(2): 88-100. PDF is available for download here: https://www.waderstudygroup.org/article/12952/
Spotlight: Monitoring shows the importance of Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar

Shorebirds have been intensively studied in some parts of the world, but much less so in other areas. Take Myanmar, for example: this country in southeast Asia has a continuous coastline of almost 3,000 km. It is a place with abundant intertidal mudflats and mangroves, yet, the importance of this country’s coastal wetlands was not documented until 20141. Even after the significance of this coastline was known, few of the intertidal sites or mangroves had any formal protection, in part because

The IWSG Small Projects Grants aim to support shorebird studies that otherwise will not go ahead. This could be all sorts of projects related to waders (shorebirds): ecological and/or conservation research, pilot studies looking at biological aspects of a single or a few species, or counts of staging birds at unexplored sites. Or something completely different! Application is open for IWSG members who have a project idea that could be undertaken if supported with a small amount of money (currently 1000 Euros per project). In the below link you can find a description of criteria and the application form. The IWSG Executive Committee has appointed an evaluation committee that will judge the applications, and decide which project will be awarded. Application form - IWSG Small Project Grants Call Applications should be submitted by December 1st 2019, and a decision will be made before 1st of May 2020. Details on the previous recipients of the IWSG Small Grants there: https://www.waderstudygroup.org/projects/small-grants/ [caption id="attachment_8912" align="aligncenter" width="330"] ©Darío Podestá. 2016 IWSG Small Project Grant winner, Glenda D. Hevia collecting data from Two-Banded Plover nests during fieldwork at Península Valdés, Patagonia Argentina.[/caption]   Featured image: ©Jannik Hansen
The IWSG Small Project Grant call is now open

The IWSG Small Projects Grants aim to support shorebird studies that otherwise will not go ahead. This could be all sorts of projects related to waders (shorebirds): ecological and/or conservation research, pilot studies looking at biological aspects of a single or a few species, or counts of staging birds at unexplored sites. Or something completely different! Application is open for IWSG members who have a project idea that could be undertaken if supported with a small amount of money

Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia, is widely recognized as an important site for shorebirds in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway with 23 migrating species regulary occuring on and one of the largest populations of the ‘Critically Endangered’ Far-Eastern Curlew in Australia. The bay also welcome internationally significant numbers of Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lesser Sand-Plover, Curlew sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-Necked Stint and Pacific Golden Plover. This Ramsar site is threatened by a marina plan project which would permanently destroy essential shorebird feeding habitats. Sign the petition relayed by BirdLife International: "International pressure will play a key role in ensuring this precious Ramsar site is protected for migratory shorebirds. Please sign the petition" [caption id="attachment_12840" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Bar-tailed Godwits roosting at Moreton Bay. ©Chris Walker.[/caption] Featured image: Far-Eastern Curlew ©Duade Paton. Link to a short ABC News video about the Queensland Toondah Harbour Development there: https://youtu.be/BxL62EPIgPA
“Marina plan threatens to destroy final stronghold of Endangered curlew” | sign the petition

Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia, is widely recognized as an important site for shorebirds in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway with 23 migrating species regulary occuring on and one of the largest populations of the ‘Critically Endangered’ Far-Eastern Curlew in Australia. The bay also welcome internationally significant numbers of Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lesser Sand-Plover, Curlew sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-Necked Stint and Pacific Golden Plover. This Ramsar site is

Publication update - 26/08/2019: Referred to it by the LPO, The French Council of State modified the decree allowing hunting of 6000 Curlews in the 2019/20 season, fixing the quota at ZERO to meet France's obligations under Bird Directive and AEWA, with immediate effect. No more curlews to be shot this season!  https://twitter.com/numenini/status/1166281289818939392?s=20 Publication update - 05/08/2019: Considering the France's lack of compiliance with AEWA, the IWSG has submitted a call to UNEP AEWA to undertake an Implementation Review Process: https://twitter.com/WaderStudy/status/1157331246793527298 Original post: A French decree allowing the hunting of 6 000 Eurasian Curlew have been subject to public consultation. The 2019 hunting season will start the first Saturday of August in the Public Maritime Domain and on 15th September in remaining areas. In a letter sent this week to the French ministry, the expert committee on adaptive management, mainly formed by academic researchers, regrets that its concerns and recommendations have been not addressed by the government. The expert committee recommended, in its Opinion to the Minister of the Ecological and Solidary Transition, to not authorize any curlew harvest throughout the national territory, including the Maritime Public Domain, until significant knowledge gaps and related uncertainties linked to available data on the demography of the species, the spatial distribution of populations and hunting practices, have been addressed. The previous hunting bag of Curlew was estimated to be 6 961 individuals in 2013/14 (Aubry et al. 2016). The quotas of 6 000 individuals proposed in the decree were not supported by any adaptive harvest management (AHM) process because the expert committee was not able to evaluate the impact of hunting on the population dynamics and therefore could not decide on any sustainable hunting bag.
The expert committee on adaptive management in its Opinion about Eurasian Curlew AHM: “It is not possible to determine the level of a sustainable harvest without information on overwintering curlews in France, the winter destinations of European breeding populations, and therefore on the different populations subject to hunting in France. Access to harvest data is essential to determine i) their level accurately, ii) the origin of birds hunted by the stable isotope method, and iii) the age of the birds captured (notably on the basis of data that has been collected for more than ten years). The lack of information on these three parameters results in a set of many unverifiable assumptions that made the projections of the sustainable demographic models unsafe. For example, if the hunting bag in France is 9 500 individuals (the upper confidence interval of hunting bag estimates in 2013/2014), and it is made up of 70% of West-European birds and the harvest rate is independent of age, then the European harvest would consists of 6 650 individuals including 5 320 adults. On the other hand, if the harvest is 4 400 individuals with 10% of West-European birds with a hunting rate two times larger on juveniles, then the harvest on European populations would consists of 440 individuals including 265 adults. Between those two possible scenarios, there is a factor of 20 in the estimated harvest levels, a too important gap to build pertinent recommendations.” Complete expert commitee Opinion (in French) at: http://www.oncfs.gouv.fr//IMG/pdf/gestion-adaptative/Avis-CEGA-Courlis-cendre.pdf
As a reminder, according to the International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Eurasian Curlew (Brown 2015), France has promised to ensure that any harvest of Curlews is sustainable or otherwise to apply a complete moratorium of hunting until the AHM process has been established. France was the last European country to hunt Eurasian Curlew, classified as Vulnerable in both European regional and EU27 assessments of the European Red List of Birds due to the undergoing rapid population declines across the European part of its extremely large global range. [caption id="attachment_12596" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Much has been done, in terms of financial and human investments in Europe, to try to recover, or at least prevent further declines of Curlew breeding populations (7 Life programmes granted by the EU since 2007 according to the Life programme Database of European Commission 2018). To coordinate all these efforts for the recovery of the Eurasian Curlew, the species is part of the recent International 2018-2028 Multi-Species Action Plan for the Conservation of Breeding Waders in Wet Grassland Habitats in Europe (Leyrer et al. 2018). Image: (c) D. Allemand[/caption]   Link to the 30/07/19 adopted decree at: https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000038864820&categorieLien=id Aubry P., Anstett L., Ferrand Y., Reitz F., Klein F., Ruette S., Sarasa M., Arnauduc J.-P. & Migot P. (2016) Enquête nationale sur les tableaux de chasse à tir - Saison 2013-2014. Résultats nationaux. Faune Sauvage, 310 - Supplément 1, I-VIII. Brown D.J. (2015) International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata arquata, N. a. orientalis and N. a. suschkini. AEWA Technical Series No. 58. Bonn, Germany. Leyrer J., Brown D., Gerritsen G., Hötker H. & Ottva L. (2018) International Multi-species Action Plan for the conservation of breeding waders in wet grassland habitats in Europe (2018-2028). Report of Action A13 under the framework of Project LIFE EuroSAP (LIFE14 PRE/UK/002). NABU, RSPB, VBN & SO. Featured image: ©F. Cahez
Zero Quota for the hunting of Curlew in France!

Publication update - 26/08/2019: Referred to it by the LPO, The French Council of State modified the decree allowing hunting of 6000 Curlews in the 2019/20 season, fixing the quota at ZERO to meet France's obligations under Bird Directive and AEWA, with immediate effect. No more curlews to be shot this season!  https://twitter.com/numenini/status/1166281289818939392?s=20 Publication update - 05/08/2019: Considering the France's lack of compiliance with AEWA, the IWSG has submitted a call to

On July 5, 2019, the World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe “the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I)” into the World Heritage List, at the 43 session of the World Heritage Convention. The site features intertidal areas of the Yellow Sea/Gulf of Bohai which are of global importance for the gathering of shorebirds species that use the East Asian-Australasian flyway including 17 globally threatened migratory shorebirds species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered) and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (Endangered). [caption id="attachment_12575" align="aligncenter" width="626"] The two components of the property are (i) the Jiangsu Dafeng National Nature Reserve, the southern section and Dongsha Experimental Zone of Jiangsu Yancheng National Nature Reserve and the Tiaozini area and (ii) YS-2 the middle section of Jiangsu Yancheng National Nature Reserve. The total area of the two components is 188,643 ha plus a buffer zone of 80,056 ha.  (c)Unesco World Heritage Convention https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1606[/caption]   Read more: East Asian-Australasian Flyway : https://www.eaaflyway.net/coast-of-yellow-sea-bohai-gulf-of-china-phase-i-inscribed-on-the-wh-list/ BirdLife international: http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/yellow-sea-shorebird-habitats-secure-world-heritage-listing?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+BirdLife-news-posts-blogs+(BirdLife+Posts)&utm_term=Feed+Post Unesco World Heritage Convention: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1606/   Featured image: © Yancheng Broadcasting Television
Coast of Yellow Sea- Bohai Gulf of China inscribed on the World Heritage List

On July 5, 2019, the World Heritage Committee decided to inscribe “the Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of the Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I)” into the World Heritage List, at the 43 session of the World Heritage Convention. The site features intertidal areas of the Yellow Sea/Gulf of Bohai which are of global importance for the gathering of shorebirds species that use the East Asian-Australasian flyway including 17 globally threatened migratory shorebirds species such as

Climate and ecosystems are changing, but predation on shorebird nests has changed little across the globe over the past 60 years, finds an international team of 60 researchers (Martin Bulla -Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Jeroen Reneerkens - NIOZ University of Groningen, Emily L. Weiser - U.S. Geological Survey, et al.). The study published in Science on 14 June 2019 challenges a recent study finding that shorebird eggs are more often eaten by predators due to climate change, and more so in the Arctic compared to the tropics. The research shows that these claims could be due to a methodological artefact. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6445/eaaw8529
Comment on “Global pattern of nest predation is disrupted by climate change in shorebirds”
  No evidence for increased egg predation in the Arctic
  Response to Comment on “Global pattern of nest predation is disrupted by climate change in shorebirds”
Vojtěch Kubelka and co-authors response to comment of Bulla et al. reafirming their previous outcomes: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6445/eaaw9893
   
Featured image: Knot on nest at the study site near Nome, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA (photo:James Johnson).
No clear evidence that “the Arctic is no longer a safe haven for shorebirds”

Climate and ecosystems are changing, but predation on shorebird nests has changed little across the globe over the past 60 years, finds an international team of 60 researchers (Martin Bulla -Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Jeroen Reneerkens - NIOZ University of Groningen, Emily L. Weiser - U.S. Geological Survey, et al.). The study published in Science on 14 June 2019 challenges a recent study finding that shorebird eggs are more often eaten by predators due to climate change, and more so

The 2019 meeting of IWSG will be in Morecambe, United Kingdom on 20–23 September. As well as the usual mix of fascinating talks from far and wide during the weekend, there will be several local excursions on Friday and a workshop on managing predator impacts for the conservation of breeding waders on Monday. All information - Registration and abstract submission - are there: 2019 Morecambe, UK
2019 IWSG conference – Morecambe | Don’t forget to register and submit your abstract by July 31

The 2019 meeting of IWSG will be in Morecambe, United Kingdom on 20–23 September. As well as the usual mix of fascinating talks from far and wide during the weekend, there will be several local excursions on Friday and a workshop on managing predator impacts for the conservation of breeding waders on Monday. All information - Registration and abstract submission - are there: 2019 Morecambe, UK

We are happy to announce that we have chosen to award the 2018 IWSG Small Grants to:  

Thomas Mondain-Monval (UK) for the project "Identifying the wintering grounds of Common Sandpipers in the UK using stable isotope analysis".

Through analyses of the stable isotope signature of feathers and toenails of common sandpipers the project looks to see 1) where birds breeding in Cumbria, UK, spend the winter and whether this influences reproductive success; (2) whether wintering birds primarily use coastal or inland habitats and (3) compare the wintering locations of birds identified through stable isotope analysis and geolocators. [caption id="attachment_12466" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Thomas @TMondain conducts a PhD research project at Lancaster University on factors affecting the common sandpiper at each stage of its lifecycle with the aim to aim to construct a model of population change. His birds birds were equipped with geolocators on red leg flags (left tarsus) and yellow ring with a black two alpha code (on right tibia).[/caption]

Christian Höfs (Germany) and Tim van der Meer (Netherlands): "Dotterel distribution and site faithfulness in Ammanäs, Sweden".

Through colour-ringing the project aims to highlight the site faithfulness of the Dotterel, coupled with a remote sensing based species distribution model, which predictions  will be evaluated on the basis of the colour-ring study results. The ultimate aim is to shed light on the knowledge of the species distribution and  predict their response to environmental change. [caption id="attachment_12471" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Christian and Tim have started a colour-ringing project on the Eurasian Dotterel in 2018 as the basement for further geo-tagging and habitat studies. https://overthetreeline.wordpress.com/colour-ring-projects/eurasian-dotterel/[/caption] The IWSG Small Grant Committee received many interesting and worthy project proposals. We encourage all members to consider applying for the next round of IWSG Small Grants. It will be announced on this webiste and IWSG social media, when the 2019 round is open.   Featured image: Dotterel in the breeding grounds, ©Christian Hoefs.
The 2018 IWSG Small Grant winners

We are happy to announce that we have chosen to award the 2018 IWSG Small Grants to:   Thomas Mondain-Monval (UK) for the project "Identifying the wintering grounds of Common Sandpipers in the UK using stable isotope analysis". Through analyses of the stable isotope signature of feathers and toenails of common sandpipers the project looks to see 1) where birds breeding in Cumbria, UK, spend the winter and whether this influences reproductive success; (2) whether wintering birds primarily

Pictures shared by David Stroud. A definitive new global synthesis of the state of nature, ecosystems and nature's contributions to people — the first such report since the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published in 2005, and the first ever that is inter-governmental — has been approved by representatives of 132 Governments during the the seventh session of the IPBES Plenary (#IPBES7), 29 April – 4 May 2019, Paris. Prepared by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries, balancing representation from the natural and social sciences, with additional contributions from a further 250 experts, working with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services will inform better policies and actions in the coming decade. David Stroud was happy to shared with us that the final IPBES plenary where governments have just adopted the global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services was chaired by Bar-tailed Godwit as you can see there: [caption id="attachment_12346" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Bar-tailed Godwit at the IPBES7. (c) D. Stroud,the 4th May 2019, Paris.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_12347" align="aligncenter" width="330"] the seventh session of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Plenary, have take place from 29 April to 4 May 2019 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. (c) D. Stroud,the 4th May 2019, Paris.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_12350" align="aligncenter" width="330"] Bar-tailed Godwit at the IPBES7.[/caption] The repport will be publicly launched at a press conference on Monday, 6 May 2019 in Paris.
Godwit presiding over the final IPBES 7th plenary session

Pictures shared by David Stroud. A definitive new global synthesis of the state of nature, ecosystems and nature's contributions to people — the first such report since the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published in 2005, and the first ever that is inter-governmental — has been approved by representatives of 132 Governments during the the seventh session of the IPBES Plenary (#IPBES7), 29 April – 4 May 2019, Paris. Prepared by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries,

Like finding a needle in a haystack. You can imagine a researcher muttering this phrase while peering through a spotting scope and trying to find a rare Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea amid a large flock of nearly identical shorebirds. The distinctive spoon-shaped bill is often hidden from view making the bird especially hard to find. Even after a glimpse of the iconic bill, the researcher must watch until both legs can be seen well enough to determine if the bird has a leg flag. This often takes a while, and yet time is limited, because the survey must be completed while the tide is high. As the tide falls, the birds will spread out onto mudflats that stretch 50 km out to sea. The researcher cannot follow. Surveys are restricted to the upper mudflats because if humans venture out too far, they are at risk of drowning! In this issue of Wader Study, Chang and colleagues explain why they conduct research like this; why they have banded together from across the globe to count Spoon-billed Sandpipers in Tiaozini, China. They report how field data, collected over two consecutive years, was combined with sophisticated statistical models to produce a reliable estimate of the number of Spoon-billed Sandpipers using this important coastal region1. [caption id="attachment_12905" align="alignnone" width="700"] Spoon-billed sandpipers at Tiaozini are mixed in with other much more numerous shorebird species. (photo: Guy Anderson/RSPB).[/caption] Spoon-billed Sandpipers truly are like needles in a haystack. The world population is only about 700 individuals and they are one of the world’s most threatened migratory bird species. On their way between breeding sites in the Chukotka region of Russia and wintering sites in south-east Asia, the birds rely on a small number of staging areas around the Yellow Sea. Spoon-billed Sandpipers were first recorded at Tiaozini and other sites within the Dongtai-Rudong mudflats of Jiangsu Province in 2008. They need these sites to rest and moult during fall migration. Establishing a reliable estimate of the number of Spoon-billed Sandpipers using these sites is vital because of the perilous conservation status of the species and because the mudflat habitat in the Yellow Sea as a whole is itself threatened. Finding this estimate, and putting it into the context of the wider world population, is what Chang and colleagues set out to do. They conducted field surveys on the mudflats at Tiaozini from 2 – 10 October 2017 and 5 – 15 September 2018. As described above, the first step was finding the birds and the second was identifying individuals. How does one identify an individual Spoon-billed Sandpiper? The best way was to make use of plastic leg flags with unique engravings. Most of these flags had been applied to adults and chicks on the breeding grounds in Russia as part previous studies. The researchers considered birds with such flags as “individually marked”. [caption id="attachment_12903" align="alignnone" width="700"] Juvenile spoon-billed sandpipers are rare at Tiaozini in autumn (over 95% of birds are moulting adults). This individual was leg-flagged as a chick on the breeding grounds in Russia. (photo: Guy Anderson/RSPB).[/caption] The researchers’ work on the mudflats provided two vital data points needed for statistical models used to estimate the overall population of birds: (1) the number of individually marked birds present and (2) the proportion of marked versus unmarked birds seen during the surveys. With these two values in hand, the researchers could estimate the total number of birds present by dividing the model-averaged estimate of the number of marked birds by the proportion of marked birds. The researchers used closed population capture-recapture models which assume no arrivals, departures, or deaths of birds at the study site during the survey periods. This is reasonable because the birds were moulting their primary wing feathers during the surveys and were thus unlikely to be able to fly large distances. Furthermore, the survey periods were very short (7 days for 2017 and 9 days for 2018) and, although some deaths could occur, the number would be low – only 0.5% to 0.7% of adults. The combination of field data and statistical modelling produced similar estimates (high repeatability) of the number birds on the mudflats within the Tiaozini study area over the two years. The estimates were 220 birds in 2017 and 224 birds in 2018. Because there was no evidence of population change between the years, the researchers averaged the two values for a best estimate of 222 birds (95% confidence interval 196–258). Now, 222 birds may not seem like a lot, but let’s put this in the context of the world population. To be specific, the world population of adults since nearly all of the birds observed in this study were at least one calendar year old, thus the population estimates refer to adults. This number was estimated at 533 individuals in the fall of 20142. If this estimate is valid for 2017 and 2018, then about 40% of the world population of adult Spoon-billed Sandpipers was at Tiaozini in those autumns. Why are these mudflats so important to Spoon-billed Sandpipers? The researchers speculate that a high tidal range, a large area of mudflat available during the tidal cycle and a thin layer of fine mud on top of firmer sand may be important to foraging birds. The site may also be a refuge for birds displaced from other areas where the habitat has been degraded or lost. Loss of habitat is a large part of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper’s problem. Mudflats in Tiaozini are threatened, as are mudflats all over the Yellow Sea3. Considerable areas of habitat have disappeared for land reclamation projects, wind and solar power generation farms, aquaculture ponds and rice fields. Where habitat remains, it is being degraded by the invasion of Smooth Cordgrass Spartina alterniflora which makes mudflats unsuitable for most shorebird species. [caption id="attachment_12902" align="alignnone" width="700"] Mudflats at Tiaozini from the sea wall constructed to create aquaculture ponds and ricefields. Further land claim has ceased, but clumps of Spartina are colonising the remaining flats and may render the site unsuitable for most shorebirds in a few years if not controlled. (photo: Guy Anderson/RSPB).[/caption] The mudflats of Tiaozini are clearly important for about 40% of adult Spoon-billed Sandpipers, but where might the others be? The researchers have found birds elsewhere in Jiangsu Province and, though these sites have not yet been rigorously surveyed, they might contain another 20% of the adult population. Farther afield, two satellite-tagged adults were tracked to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea where they spent the 2018 moulting season4. There remain many sites in the Yellow Sea that need to be surveyed systematically. Spoon-billed Sandpipers are the needle in the haystack. There may be only 222 of them using the mudflats at Tiaozini, but they forage amongst millions of other birds that depend on the mudflats of the Yellow Sea5,6. Many of those shorebird species are also in decline – some perilously so5. Preserving habitat for a rare but charismatic species like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper saves habitat for other species as well. In this way, standing on a mudflat and searching for a metaphorical needle in a haystack may help save the haystack for all. 1. Chang, Q., G.Q.A. Anderson, K. Brides, J.A. Clark, N.A. Clark, R. Hearn, K. Leung, D.S. Melville, E. Weston, J. Weston & R.E. Green. 2019. A high proportion of the world population of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper occurs at Tiaozini, China, during the post-breeding moult. Wader Study 126(1): 35–42. 2. Clark, N.A., G.Q.A. Anderson, J. Li, E.E. Syroechkovskiy, P.S. Tomkovich, C. Zöckler, R. Lee & R.E. Green. 2018. First formal estimate of the world population of the Critically Endangered spoon-billed sandpiper Calidris pygmaea. Oryx 52: 137–146. 3. Murray N.J., R.S. Clemens, S.R. Phinn, H.P. Possingham & R.A. Fuller. 2014. Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea. Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment 12: 267–272. 4. Green, R., N. Clark, G. Anderson, E. Weston & B. Hughes. 2018. Satellite tagging of spoon-billed sandpipers reveals the importance of intertidal habitats in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for migration and post-breeding moult. Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force News Bulletin 19: 31–33. 5. Studds, C.E., B. E. Kendall, N. J. Murray, H. B. Wilson, D. I. Rogers, R. S. Clemens, K. Gosbell, C. J. Hassell, R. Jessop, D. S. Melville, D. A. Milton, C. D.T. Minton, H. P. Possingham, A. C. Riegen, P. Straw, E. J.Woehler & R. A. Fuller. 2017. Rapid population decline in migratory shorebirds relying on Yellow Sea tidal mudflats as stopover sites. Nature Communications 8: 14895. 6. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2014. Filming Migratory Shorebirds on the Yellow Sea Accessed 17 Mar 2019 at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F84v0CFN4Pw (for a short look at the Spoon-billed Sandpipers and other birds using the Yellow Sea) PDF is available for download here: https://www.waderstudygroup.org/article/12091/
Spotlight: Counting Spoon-billed Sandpipers in Tiaozini, China

Like finding a needle in a haystack. You can imagine a researcher muttering this phrase while peering through a spotting scope and trying to find a rare Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea amid a large flock of nearly identical shorebirds. The distinctive spoon-shaped bill is often hidden from view making the bird especially hard to find. Even after a glimpse of the iconic bill, the researcher must watch until both legs can be seen well enough to determine if the bird has a leg flag. This