2014: Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Spoon-billed sandpiper
State of art, its conservation

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmeus) is a Critically Endangered species with a population now estimated at fewer than 100 breeding pairs or about 300-400 individuals. Its breeding range is confined to a narrow strip of coastal tundra in Chukotka and Koryakya in the far north-east of Russia. From here, it migrates down the eastern coast of Asia, through the Russian Far East, Korean Peninsula and the Yellow Sea coast of China, before wintering along the coasts of SE Asia Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Inner Gulf of Thailand, covering 14 different range states and territories.

Adult Spoon-billed Sandpiper in its beautiful breeding plumage in Chukotkan breeding grounds. © Christoph Zöckler

Adult Spoon-billed Sandpiper in its beautiful breeding plumage in Chukotkan breeding grounds. © Christoph Zöckler

Conservation need

A major decline in the breeding population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers was detected in 2000, and has continued since. It largely arises from negative impacts in non-breeding areas. First year birds appear to spend their second summer in the non-breeding grounds, where they apparently suffer high mortality, based upon low return rates to the breeding grounds and their high susceptibility to threats on the non-breeding grounds.
Major threats to the species appear to be habitat loss, mostly to coastal development, and hunting and trapping activities, as well as pollution. Coastal development and reclamation of mudflats are taking place at an industrial scale throughout the species’ migratory and wintering range. Analysis of satellite images of six key areas for waders in the Yellow Sea region of China and Korea suggests that around 35% of intertidal habitat has been lost since the early 1980s. Spoon-billed Sandpipers winter in countries in south-east Asia with rapidly developing economies, and suitable habitats occur in estuaries that are often attractive for developers for e.g. deep ports and reclamation. More directly, bird trapping for larger waders on wintering areas has been found to be prevalent, with spoon-billed sandpipers being caught or poisoned as by-catch. Mitigation efforts have been initiated on some of the major wintering areas where hunting is a pressure on the species, with some apparent early success.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks in Chukotka, Russia. © Christoph Zöckler

Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks in Chukotka, Russia. © Christoph Zöckler

Ten years Recovery Team Work

In 2004 the SBS Recovery Team was founded in Edinburgh during the Waterbirds around the World Conference. Now a Task Force, celebrating the ten years anniversary, the team is looking back over ten years of an increasing and immense conservation effort. What started with a handful of Arctic shorebird enthusiast, alerted by the declines on the breeding grounds, led to a major conservation movement. Many international and flyway country organisations, companies and governments joined in. In 2008 the Task Force drafted a CMS Species Action Plan contracted by BirdLife International which has been updated by an implementation plan. Today the conservation effort is coordinated by the SBS Task Force of the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP). Almost all of the 14 range countries are represented and many countries have several active members. Birdlife International was the first international organisation to recognize the threat of the species and the need for action. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper features up front at BirdLife’s Species Extinction Preventing Programme, creating a lot of support for its conservation. One of the first Champions was the Norfolk based Bookshop Wildsounds, who continued to support the species since 2009. In 2011 the decline continued and although first successes in hunting mitigation showed promising results in Myanmar and Bangladesh the threats on the wintering grounds remained persistently. In 2011 WWT together with Birds Russia stepped up with the conservation breeding programme, establishing a captive population of 26 adult birds that hopefully soon will breed in captivity. That year the New Zealand Travel Company ‘Heritage Expeditions’ joined as Species Champion. They not only donated to the conservation of the species but also helped surveying the Koryak coast for remaining breeding birds and also directly supported the transport the precious cargo of freshly taken eggs and chicks for the captive breeding project. A year later, in preparation of re-introducing captive bred birds and also to reduce juvenile mortality, WWT and Birds Russia initiated a head-starting project in the main breeding site in Chukotka. These two ambitious projects would not have been implemented without the generous support of the RSPB. More info on conservation breeding http://www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com/

There are many more projects and initiatives along all the flyway countries and further information can be found in the recent newsletter http://www.eaaflyway.net/wordpress/documents/tf/Sbs+Bull+12_%20Aug-2014_web%20version.pdf

Previous issues and more information about the Task Force can be found on here http://www.eaaflyway.net/our-activities/task-forces/spoon-billed-sandpiper/

Ten years successful conservation work in all flyway countries is agood reason to celebrate our anniversary. We like to thank all our donors and supporters, who contributed with financial and technical support, many of them right from the beginning, such as the Keidenran Nature Conservation Fund and the Manfred-Hermsen Foundation, but among many others also BirdLife International with its Species Champion Programme, US FWS, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, CMS, BBC WildLife Fund, IUCN’s SOS Initiative, Hong Kong Ocean Park, Disney Foundation and the RSPB, who stepped up their support in recent years. Another important reason to celebrate is the huge network of committed people that have joined the Task Force and is enjoying working on SBS conservation.

Current Conservation Status

In 2014 for the third year the breeding population in Meinypilgyno is stable. It is still early to say, but we may have halted the decline? The head-starting project is working. Lime-green ‘8’ is one of 9 head-started birds in 2012, was resighted in Taiwan this April. This indeed was sensational. For almost two years the bird has been elusive somewhere on the wintering grounds, survived all the pressures on migration and now, two years old, the bird was on its way back to the breeding grounds. Even more astonishing is the fact that our Russian team in Meinypilgyno, Chukotka managed to find the bird on the remote breeding grounds about 30 km from its birth place. Not only that. They confirm it’s a female and breeding with a nest of three eggs and the male is now, in July leading one chick. It looks promising for the set of 16 released young in 2013, which are hopefully return next year. Two of those have already been observed last winter in China and Thailand. We reported in our last newsletter No 11. Congratulations to WWT and BirdsRussia, who are skillfully and patiently executing this project.

Lime green ‘01’ arrived again in Rudong, Jiangsu China, just in time for World Shorebirds Day! © Cheng Dong Ming

Lime green ‘01’ arrived again in Rudong, Jiangsu China, just in time for World Shorebirds Day! © Cheng Dong Ming

There are still many questions, such as, where are the other eight birds released in 2012? What happened to the other four 2013-flagged adult birds that did not return in 2014? Is adult mortality higher than we thought? Also, we still patiently wait for the captive population to start breeding. But there is no doubt we have created a huge network of active conservationists and observers along the flyways, raised awareness in every country and internationally and set up many ambitious conservation programmes in almost all flyway countries.

But we cannot be complacent. Let’s use the momentum created for the species and continue with our efforts to save the species and its crucial habitats along the entire flyway.

Dr Christoph Zöckler, Coordinator SBS TF, September 2014


One thought on “2014: Spoon-billed Sandpiper

  1. Pingback: Celebrating World Shorebirds Day | The Afternoon Journal

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