Sign up for our Free email Newsletter
and get all the latest wildlife news!

Browse Old Articles


Spoon-billed sandpiper surveys imply numbers still falling

02/04/2009 09:03:06

Spoon-billed sandpiper. Photo credit Peter Ericsson/Birdlife International

Spoon-billed sandpiper surveys in Thailand, Burma and Vietnam
Two surveys of the wintering grounds of Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus starkly illustrate the extreme and growing pressures this Critically Endangered species faces. The second annual survey on the coast of Myanmar found one new wintering site, but numbers overall were less than in the previous year. Worse was to follow in Vietnam, where more than 27 individuals were recorded in the mid-1990s, but not a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper was seen in January 2009.

The Myanmar survey was carried out in mid-January by an international team of German, British, Russian, Canadian and Burmese scientists, led by BANCA (BirdLife in Myanmar) and ArcCona Ecological Consulting, Cambridge (UK). In total, 63 birds were found by two teams, operating on the Rakhine (Arakan) coast, and in the Bay of Martaban. The total of 48 birds in the Bay of Martaban was similar to the 2008 figure, but at the island of Nan Thar near the Bangladeshi border, only 14 were recorded, compared to 35 in 2008.

New spoon-billed sandpiper site
A new site with at least one Spoon-billed Sandpiper was found along the Rakhine coast. The survey indicates that the Bay of Martaban, close to Yangon (the capital of Myanmar), may be the most important wintering site for the species in Myanmar. The 48 birds observed are a minimum, and probably well below the total number that winters in the estuary. The survey covered only 25-40% of suitable habitat, and the flocks of waders were difficult to approach. The surveys also took place during neap tides, when some prime feeding areas dry out, resulting in considerable local movements within the bay.

"Taking all this into consideration, the site may hold more than 100 Spoon-billed Sandpiper", said Christoph Zöckler of ArcCona Cambridge. "However, it has no protected status at present, putting the site at risk from development."

Hunting and trapping
At both Martaban and Nan Thar island there was evidence of hunting and trapping, which targets larger birds, but may also entangle and kill small waders. The pressure of an increasing coastal population means that younger hunters may have begun to target smaller birds.

"With the support of a member of a local environmentalist group, we negotiated an immediate halt to trapping with the hunters from two villages which take birds from the island, in return for a small compensation", said Zöckler. "In the longer term the local environmentalist group is being encouraged to develop an economically and ecological sound alternative to hunting, of which community-based eco-tourism seems the likeliest."

No one knows why the Spoon-billed sandpipers have such an unusual bill. Photo credit Chris Kelly.

No one knows why the Spoon-billed sandpipers have such an unusual bill. Photo credit Chris Kelly.

Red River Delta, Vietnam - No sandpipers recorded
The survey in the Red River Delta, Vietnam, was a part of a long-term initiative by the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (SBS) Recovery Team to discover key non-breeding grounds of the species. It was organized in cooperation with the BirdLife Indochina Programme, supported by Japan Wetlands Action Network, and funded by Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund.

Between 9 and 18 January, six expedition members from Russia, Japan and Vietnam surveyed three key locations (Quan Lan, Thai Thuy and Xuan Thuy), where the species had been observed before. In spite of intensive efforts, no Spoon-billed Sandpipers were seen, although over 5,700 shorebirds were counted, and most of them identified to species level.

"There is still a chance that some Spoon-billed Sandpiper are staying in the area, since we didn't cover the whole coast, and because two birds were seen in Quan Lan on 26 December, 2008", said survey member Evgeny Syroechkovskiy. But he added: "We may have missed some individuals, but not any serious numbers."

Enormous pressure on the intertidal areas was observed in many parts of the Red River Delta. "It is likely that local habitat transformation and illegal bird trapping were among the main reason for the species decline in the earlier years", said Syroechkovskiy. However, problems at migratory stop over sites have may have contributed.

"These surveys, and monitoring in Thailand and Bangladesh, are increasing our knowledge of the wintering range of the species, and will enable us to propose coastal areas which need to be protected to ensure the survival of Spoon-billed Sandpiper", said Mike Crosby, Senior Conservation Officer, BirdLife's Asia Division.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the species benefitting from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme. In August 2008, Wildsounds became a Species Champion for Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The programme is spearheading greater conservation action, awareness and funding support for all of the world's most threatened birds, starting with the 190 species classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat.

To read the Spoon-billed Sandpiper account from Rarebirds Yearbook 2009 click rare birds yb sandpiper.pdf

These surveys were supported by Birdfair, WildSounds, Japan Wetlands Action Network and Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund

Courtesy of Birdlife International.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

To post a comment you must be logged in.

New user? Register here


Click join and we will email you with your password. You can then sign on and join the discussions right away.