World Bird News February 2016

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Record-breaking wintering numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpipers in China

Record numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Critically Endangered shorebird, have been discovered wintering in China, says conservationists from the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS, BirdLife International Partner in China).

On 30 December 2015, HKBWS volunteers Jonathan Martinez and John Allcock found at least 30 Spoon-billed Sandpipers near the Fucheng Estuary in south-west Guangdong Province, some of this land is located within the Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve. This was the highest number ever found in China during winter, but the record did not even last a month

At the end of January further coordinated counts in Guangdong Province, including members from the Zhanjiang Bird Watching Society and staff from the Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve Management Bureau. Together they counted at least 45 individuals from a four locations, with Fucheng Estuary having the highest count (38 individuals).

Jonathan Martinez, commented: ”These numbers are a massive increase on just three individuals counted at Fucheng during our inaugural mid-winter survey in 2012. That year, we found long lines of mist-nets were found flanking shorebird roost sites. We counted hundreds of dead birds, and literally thousand of nets”.

Since then the Zhanjiang Bird Watching Society, and government officials from the Zhanjiang Forestry Department have taken sustained measures to clear the illegal mist nets. In addition, there were educational activities carried out by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and Zhanjiang Bird Watching Society to help raising awareness to the local communities.

“Our work has made Fucheng mudflat an attractive place for Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other waterbirds”, says Jonathan Martinez. The estuary in Fucheng is clearly of global importance for the species”.

Seven of the Guangdong birds were marked with coloured flags or rings on their legs. One of this was tagged with white leg flag engraved “MA”, this bird was also recorded last winter in the same place. The unique markings enable individual birds to be tracked as they travel along the East Asian—Australasian Flyway.
“As most of the individual birds found here are marked in Russia it also is becoming very important for development of cooperation conservation work along the lines of bilateral agreement on migratory birds signed by both the governments of China and Russia, for which SBS is the key model species”, said the Chair of the SBS Task Force Dr Evgeny Syroechkovskiy.
The global population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper numbers fewer than 400 adult birds. A large proportion were already known to use coastal wetlands in China whilst on passage between breeding grounds in Russia and principal wintering quarters in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“With other known sites still to be surveyed we hope that further wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers will be discovered in Guangdong and South China”, says Jonathan.

“This newly discovered wintering location is the third known biggest one in the world. This again proves exceptional importance of China for the survival of this Critically Endangered species”, commented Evgeny.

The surveys were part of the international Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force winter census by Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force under EAAFP (East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership) between 26th January to 6th February, 2016.

The actions to stop the illegal trapping have been supported with a grant from the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF).

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Reclamation of Yellow Sea causing serious declines in migratory shorebirds

Reclamation of Yellow Sea causing serious declines in migratory shorebirds

Migratory Bar-tailed Godwits roosting on an active dredge-dumping site on the Yellow Sea on 20 April 2012 (David S. Melville). The material was being excavated from a channel to improve access to the Donggang Fishing Port, Liaoning Province. The infilled area is planned to be part of an industrial park to be built on an area of intertidal mudflat that was excised from the Yalujiang National Nature Reserve by a boundary adjustment in 2012.

In-depth studies have indicated that rapid declines in three species of shorebird that migrate between Siberia and Australia is due to land reclamation along China's Yellow Sea coastline.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology has revealed 20% reductions in the survival of three shorebirds that use Yellow Sea mudflats to refuel while migrating along the East Asian—Australasian Flyway. The three species – Red Knot Calidris canutus, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica – nest in different areas of north-east Siberia but rely on staging posts in the Yellow Sea before wintering together in Western Australia.

By individually marking thousands of birds with colour rings, an international team of scientists calculated the annual and seasonal survival of the three species from 2006– 2013. They found that the birds' survival rates remained constant on breeding and wintering grounds, but declined markedly from 2010 onwards during and immediately after each migration.

Led by Professor Theunis Piersma (Royal Netherlands Insitute for Sea Research), the team concluded that the declines stemmed from the loss of habitat and food on Yellow Sea mudflats – a result of land reclamation. Between 1990 and 2013, the area of shallow seas and intertidal flats along the Yellow Sea shrank by an average of 4% per year, with the rate of loss doubling towards the end of the period.

"This research", says Piersma, "delivers proof that land reclamation around the Yellow Sea puts many migratory birds at risk". Piersma fears that continuing land reclamation will result in "a further halving of the shorebirds' populations within three to four years. To halt further losses, the clearance of coastal intertidal habitat must stop now".

"Shorebird populations worldwide are declining and their habitats are under stress from human factors including land-use change, but the loss of habitat in the Yellow sea is particularly alarming, " said Ade Long at BirdLife International.

Survey confirms Chinese Crested Terns in Indonesia

A survey team led by Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia) and BirdLife’s Asia Division has confirmed a wintering site of the globally threatened Chinese Crested Tern Thalasseus bernsteini in eastern Indonesia.

At least one adult and possibly one first-year Chinese Crested Tern were seen in a flock of up to 250 Greater Crested Terns T. bergii near Seram Island (approximately midway between Sulawesi and Papua). Threats to the site and the birds were assessed in detail during the one-week survey that was carried out in mid-January 2016, and the team also visited local university and government institutions to raise awareness of the nearby presence of this Critically Endangered seabird.

Despite its name, the Chinese Crested Tern was first found near Halmahera, in the Wallacea region of eastern Indonesia. However, since its discovery in 1861 the species had not subsequently been recorded in Indonesia (apart from an unverified record in Bali) until December 2010, when a lone bird was photographed near Seram. As a result of this initial sighting (and further reports in 2014/15), BirdLife and Burung Indonesia believed the area to perhaps be a regular wintering site. A survey team was formed, including local conservationists and three university students from Hong Kong.
“Although the number of Chinese Crested Terns found during the survey is low, it does confirm that the species is a regular wintering bird to the Seram Sea, and it is very likely that Wallacea is a main wintering area for this species. As the local authorities and community are starting to be aware of and feel proud of its presence, it will surely only be a matter of time before more sightings are reported from the region,” said Simba Chan, adding that more surveys and outreach work are planned by BirdLife around Seram in the future.

“The involvement of local communities in conservation actions is one of Burung’s main strategies,” added Ria Saryanthi, Head of Communication and Knowledge Center, Burung Indonesia. Burung has been focusing its work in the Wallacea region which includes Sulawesi, the Lesser Sundas and the Moluccas, since it was established in 2002.

It is also hoped that another recent project – in China itself – may help to build more knowledge of this little-known species. In August 2015 some 31 crested tern chicks (probably all Greater Crested Terns, which share the colony with their rarer relatives) were banded at Tiedun Dao, the largest Chinese Crested Tern colony. The birds were ringed with numbered red bands, the first step in a systematic study that aims to investigate the movements of the colony’s terns.

Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (OPCFHK) Foundation Director Ms. Suzanne Gendron said, “The Foundation has been supporting the conservation efforts on Chinese crested terns since 2008. We are excited to know that after years of efforts, there is a higher hope for the recovery of this critically endangered species. I believe our sponsored students benefit from and are inspired by Mr. Simba Chan’s passion and experience.

The Seram survey was sponsored by the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong and BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme. The team would also like to thank Craig Robson for his invaluable advice.

What are the world’s most critically endangered sites?

What are the world’s most critically endangered sites?

You've heard of many of the world's critically endangered species. The Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Danger are the world's critically endangered sites.

How do you effectively conserve the world's birds and other nature with limited resources? You need to prioritise important places for conservation to succeed.

Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are the sites of international significance for the conservation of the world's birds and other nature. BirdLife has identified 12,000 IBAs worldwide.

But some of these sites are under most immediate threat from damage or destruction and need our urgent attention: these are the IBAs in Danger.

For several decades now BirdLife International has been the global authority to maintain the Red List of Birds. Since 2013, it has also been publishing the list of IBAs in Danger which are the most threatened sites as identified by BirdLife Partners on the basis of monitoring data. The new, up-dated 2015 list launched today has 422 IBAs in Danger in more than 100 countries.

What threatens the most threatened sites?

The most common threats to IBAs are agriculture, water management, fires, hunting, logging, collecting animals and plants and disturbance.

Unfortunately, protected areas are not immune from these threats as over half of the IBAs in Danger identified have at least partial protection at the national or international level.

Two-hundred of these sites are wetlands, including 70 that are overlapping with existing Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. There are also 11 World Heritage Sites on the list, including such outstanding areas as Doñana in Spain and Everglades in the USA.
The BirdLife Partnership’s response

Taking up the challenge, BirdLife Partners, local conservation groups, other NGOs and government agencies are already taking actions at two-thirds of these IBAs. Recent successes include the European Court of Justice´s decision to condemn Bulgaria for not protecting Kaliakra, a global stronghold on the Black Sea coast for wintering Red-breasted Goose.

A year ago, we reported on the successful fight of Panamanian organisations to restore the protected area status of Upper Panama Bay, a wintering site for millions of migratory waterbirds. Last December, Rosabel Miro, Executive Director of Panama Audubon Society (BirdLife in Panama) received the Disney Conservation Heroes award for her role in this process.

Unfortunately, there are also IBAs for which help came too late. Thyolo Mountain Forest Reserve in Malawi has been lost through conversion to agriculture fields and its recovery is highly unlikely. BirdLife invites all relevant stakeholders and the conservation community to work hard to avoid further IBAs in Danger to slip into oblivion.
Birds: the messengers

Birds provide a practical focus for conservation areas. They have been shown to be effective indicators of biodiversity in other animal groups and plants – especially when used to define a set of sites for conservation. So although the IBA network is defined by its bird fauna, the conservation of these sites ensures the survival of a correspondingly large number of other animals and plants.

What next?

BirdLife International is working hard with its Partners to respond to the growing threats faced by IBAs through campaigns to raise public awareness. It has also helped Partners to develop effective site safeguard measures. During recent years, BirdLife Partners have been active at 232 IBAs in Danger, carrying out a diverse range of activities at the local and national level.

Through the Partners, BirdLife works with an estimated 2500 voluntary Local Conservation Groups around the globe to monitor and care for ‘their’ IBAs.

You can help by sharing the story map to raise awareness of these critically endangered sites, and continue to support BirdLife, especially when an urgent IBA in Danger campaign needs support.

Turkey needs your help to create its first breeding bird atlas

Turkey is one of the most fascinating countries in the Western Palearctic for birdwatchers: the location of the country at the crossroads of continents has resulted in diverse habitat and bird species.

Rare and endangered species such as the Yelkouan Shearwater, White-headed Duck, Purple Swamphen, Caspian Snowcock, See-see Partridge, Audouin's Gull, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Brown Fish-owl, Pallid Scops-owl, four species of vulture, Rüppell’s Warbler, White-throated Robin and Krüper’s Nuthatch are found here – either breeding or stopping over during their migration.

In spite of its rich biodiversity, bird studies and conservation only started in Turkey in the early 1990s (Doga Dernegi, the BirdLife Partner in Turkey, began work there in 2002). But while some surveys were undertaken in smaller areas, the country as a whole was never covered. All that changed in 2014, when Turkey was invited to be a part of the second European Breeding Bird Atlas.

Over the next three years, in collaboration with the European Bird Census Council (EBCC), a group of Turkish birders will help to collect breeding bird information of representative squares (important areas will be marked in a grid so that all ground is covered systematically) in the country. This study will shed light on the distribution and abundance of breeding bird species and enable the improved bird conservation in the country.

Your help is needed to complete as many squares as possible in the coming years. Access to large parts of the country is still considered safe. If you are planning a birding holiday next spring to Turkey and are willing to contribute your data, or even better, spend three days to count one square, please contact the Turkish Atlas Team: e-mail

Birdfair breaks fundraising record in a bid to help migratory birds

Migratory birds have been handed a welcome boost by fundraising efforts from Birdfair 2015 after a cheque of £320,000 was today handed over to BirdLife International to help vulnerable migratory birds in the Eastern Mediterranean

Birdfair Co-Organiser, Tim Appleton, said: “I’m delighted that Birdfair 2015 has smashed the previous year’s fundraising record. A lot of hard work from organisers, volunteers, sponsors and attendee’s goes into this event, and we are proud to raise an enormous amount of money to support BirdLife Internationals work in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The funds from the this year’s fair will be used to help BirdLife’s work on migratory birds, to prevent the illegal killing in the East Mediterranean", said Patricia Zurita, BirdLife International's CEO. "Bringing the death toll down from 25 million to 0 is a big challenge, but only with strong partnerships like the one BirdLife has with the BirdFair we can make it more possible”.

Hundreds of millions of migratory birds make their journey between Europe and Africa each year.
BirdLife International report shows that 25 million migratory birds illegally killed each year
More than 25 birds using flyway between Europe and Africa under threat of global extinction

The Eastern Mediterranean is used by hundreds of millions of migratory birds twice yearly on their migration between Europe and Africa, each spring and autumn. These birds face many threats on their epic journey including illegal killing, with a recent BirdLife International report revealing 25 million migratory birds are illegally killed each year.
The money raised will go towards a project aimed at reducing the scale and impact of illegal killing of migratory birds, and to improve protection and laws throughout the region.

“Birdfair will continue to support many more important conservation projects in the future and we’re delighted that in 2016 we will be raising funds to help save Important Bird Areas in Africa”, Tim Appleton explained.

"The success of the Birdfair shows that people really care about nature both in the UK and also abroad”, said Patrica Zurita. "BirdLife International is deeply grateful to the Birdfair organisers. Your support over the last 25 years has helped us strengthen our conservation results and your partnership through the last 25 years has meant we are able to improve the way we deliver safer habitats for birds, nature and people.”

Over the next three years, Birdfair will support BirdLife International’s project focusing on the world’s most endangered Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), and this year’s emphasis will be on saving IBAs in Africa. More than 12,000 IBAs have been identified to date and collectively they represent the largest global network of important sites for wildlife.

The British Birdwatching Fair is jointly organised by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.

Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the birdwatching industry whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation. This year's event will be held at Rutland Water from 19-21 August.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2016 |  World Bird News February 2016

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