Aphae Island leg flag sightings, Spring 2017
Loss of key refuelling areas – will this mean extinction of migratory shorebirds?
Media Release April 13, 2017
“Migratory shorebirds, amazing global travellers that cover immense distances every year, are in trouble,” said Doug Watkins, Chair of the Australasian Wader Studies Group, a special interest group of BirdLife Australia.
“Populations of these iconic birds, that spend half of the year in Australia during their non-breeding season, have been declining for decades, despite conservation efforts. A new international study has identified where in the flyway the declines are occurring,” he said.
The study has revealed a major hurdle far from away the birds’ Australian habitat, said co-author Associate Professor Richard Fuller from The University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences.
“Migratory shorebird populations are plummeting in Australia,” lead author Dr Colin Studds said. “While we are seeing this here with declining numbers, the thing affecting their populations is actually happening thousands of kilometres away in north-eastern Asia.”
Dr Studds, an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the new study showed that a critical factor in the shorebirds’ decline was how dependent they were on mudflats in the Yellow Sea, between China and South Korea, during migration.
“The shorebirds, including species of godwit, curlew, and sandpiper, are ‘cultural keystones’ in Asia and some are found nowhere else in the world,” he said. “The Far Eastern Curlew has been designated as critically endangered and many species are facing dramatic changes in population numbers.”
Many birds follow a migratory path from their non-breeding grounds in Australia to breeding sites in the Arctic, via rest stops in the Yellow Sea—a corridor known as the East Asian -Australasian Flyway . These staging sites are vital to the shorebirds’ successful migration as many shorebirds fly long non-stop flights and reach these critical sites in desperate need of food and rest.
“These birds may spend several weeks refuelling before they continue their migration,” he said.
“Scientists have long believed that loss of these rest stops could be related to the declines, but, there was no smoking gun.”
The new study provides one. The researchers analysed citizen science data collected between 1993 and 2012 on 10 key species to see if a relationship emerged between reliance on the Yellow Sea as a migration stopover and rate of population decline.
What they found was dramatic.
The more a species relied on the Yellow Sea mudflats during migration, the more quickly they were declining.
Even though the birds only spend 1–2 months of the year on the Yellow Sea mudflats, it was the most important factor in determining the population trend, they found.
Associate Professor Fuller said the study was founded on decades of effort counting birds by volunteers across Australia and New Zealand.
“Without this effort the study would have been impossible,” he said.
The results of these counts were also instrumental in allowing the AWSG and BirdLife Australia, together with the University of Queensland and various governments and non-government organisations to formulate the Shorebirds Conservation Action Plan. This Plan monitors the status of shorebird populations, identifies threats and sets out what needs to be done to save the shorebirds in the East Asian -Australasian Flyway.
Australia has signed bilateral migratory bird agreements with China, Korea and Japan to protect migratory birds, yet the birds have continued to decline.
“Every country along the migration route of these birds must protect habitat and reduce hunting to prevent these birds declining further or even going extinct,” said Associate Professor Fuller.
“We are particularly excited that China and Korea have recently begun the process of listing parts of the Yellow Sea as World Heritage Sites. This could prove a vital step in halting these dramatic declines we are seeing.”
The study, published in Nature Communications involved scientists from UQ; University of Maryland; Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of New South Wales; Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Victorian State Government; Victorian Wader Study Group; Global Flyway Network, Western Australia; Phillip Island Nature Park, Australia; Ornithological Society of New Zealand; Queensland Wader Study Group; Imperial College London; Avifauna Research and Services Pty Ltd, Australia; and the University of Tasmania.
Associate Professor Richard Fuller, Brisbane, email@example.com; +61 458 353 102
Dr Colin Studds, Baltimore, firstname.lastname@example.org; +1 410 455 3054
Bonanza trip visit to King Island!
March 28 and April 6, 2017
This was the VWSG's 18th catching visit to King Island. The main objectives were to deploy the remaining 30 geolocators, collect more data on pre-migration fattening, monitoring for avian viral infections and the collection of data of percentage juveniles.
Highlights of the trip were:
- A count of 843 Turnstones along the west coast – the highest total since March/April 2010 and 246 birds above last year.
- A total catch of 216 Turnstone, again the highest since March 2010.
- A record percentage of juveniles (31.0%) indicating an exceptionally successful breeding season for Turnstone in the 2016 northern summer.
- Retrieving 16 more geolocators, bringing the 2016/17 season’s total to a record 46 units retrieved.
To read the full trip report click
Preliminary results from geolocators deployed on Red-necked Stints at Yallock Creek in Western Port, Victoria
The VWSG deployed 60 Migrate Technology lightweight Intigeo geolocator s(0.3g) on Red-necked Stint at Yallock Creek on 9 April, 2016. A team was successful in retrieving 7 of these on 7 Jan 2017 at Yallock Creek and an additional 3 from a catch on Barrallier Island (Western Port Bay) on 21 January making a total of 10 retrievals at this stage. Data was successfully retrieved from 5 of these devices.
Overall the 5 birds that migrated did reach the Arctic breeding grounds and returned to Westernport Bay. Birds departed Yallock Creek between 11 April and 6 May with the majority between 11th and 22nd April. On northward migration, the birds seemed to make several stops in Australia before departing our shores, with most overflying Northwest Australia to either East Timor or Indonesia (Java and Sulawesi). The longest flight of their migration was to either Taiwan or Hainan (3000-3500km). From there they made their way up the coast of China to the area of the Shandong Peninsula and Bohai Bay where they might spend up to a week, and then they all flew inland to the lakes around the China, Mongolia, Russia border. Unfortunately, full light values were not obtained so it was not possible to define tracks to the breeding grounds (which appear to be in northern Siberia).
It is interesting that of the 5 records, 3 birds would appear to have successfully incubated and there is some indication of some brooding. Birds departed the Arctic between 3 July and 12 August, and returned through the Daursky Wetlands near the Russia/ China border, then south along the China coast to areas such as Taiwan and Hainan, Vietnam and Indonesia. All had returned to Western Port by the end of October.
Coastcare Volunteer Forum : 29-30 April 2017
You are invited to the the Coastcare Volunteer Forum, which is being held at The Nobbies Centre on Phillip Island. Register for the forum at Eventbrite
April 6, 2017 - and Bar-tailed Godwit TO did it again
The exciting story of Bar-tailed Godwit TO continues. Everyone knows the story that this bird was seen on all its migrations on Aphae Island, South Korea (see news from 2016). This year is now the 7th year in a row that this bird visits the same staging site in the Yellow Sea; it was seen first on April 5th and again on April 6th. Godwits are back since March 28 and there have been already some sightings of several orange ELFs of returning birds but also two first for Aphae Island. Exciting times...
Ruddy Turnstone ATZ does it again!
Ruddy Turnstone ATZ is certainly doing more than his share for the flyway.
He first volunteered on 4.3.2006 aged 1 so would now be aged 11 years. He was given Orange 4X/Yellow. At the beginning of our project we had a great deal of problems with ink fading, and so it was that 4X was replaced with ATZ in March 2009. On 11.4.2013 he joined the geolocator project, wearing a geolocator donated by the students of the Newbery Park Primary School (Millicent). The children were in the field when the geolocator was put on, and then again when it was retrieved the following season.
And each season thereafter ......
ATZ was recaptured 27.11.2016, and his 5th geolocator deployed. By now the ink on ATZ had faded to such an extent that it was unreadable in the field. And so ATZ is now wearing VAZ. Ken has plotted all 4 northern and southern migrations below. He also advises that ATZ has probably successfully bred in all 4 years. And this is only part of the story – 4X/ATZ/VAZ has been caught in the same general area a total of 11 times!
Thankyou to all who have worked hard over many years to collect this data. And especially thankyou to ATZ !!!
Upcoming field work January 10, 17 and 20/21
Tuesday 10 January: CLONMEL ISLAND. Catching Caspian and Crested Tern chicks. Boat(s) leave Port Albert at 0900
Tuesday 17 January: THE NOBBIES, PHILLIP ISLAND. Catching Crested Tern chicks. Meet at The Nobbies car park at 0900
Friday 20 January and Saturday 21 January: BARRALLIER ISLAND, WESTERN PORT. Catching Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. By boat from Warneet. Net setting on Friday, departing 1500. Stay overnight at Harewood, Tooradin (at Pat McWhirter's home). Go out to catch 0615 Saturday. High tide 2.81 at 0824.
As you all know, we are now into the most intensive period of the year’s field work. It would be greatly appreciated if everyone can put their maximum effort into ensuring that we have adequate teams for each activity. Please contact Rob Patrick or Penny Johns if you are available to assist.
To see what was last year's news, please click on one of the following:
If there are any references to information you can't access through these archives, please request the information from Birgita Hansen.