Bohai 2019 Update 5: 30 May

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. Chris Hassell, Adrian Boyle, and Matt Slaymaker post regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the latest.

GFN now assist Beijing Normal University (BNU) with counts and we choose the most suitable tides and count all the coastal sites on the same tide cycle. We record all shorebirds and waterbirds and have amassed a great data set over the years. We think the huge increase of Red Knot in the area since 2017 is ‘real’, but we are still not 100% sure if we were unable to locate some birds during 2016 and 2017 or they didn’t arrive at Luannan and were using other sites in the Yellow Sea region. Our ‘sense’ was that the birds were not here (see reports from 2016 and 2017).

Red Knots feeding on the mud in front of a local fishing boat at Nanpu. Photo: Adrian Boyle

The rogersi subspecies of Red Knot have started to leave for their Chukotka breeding grounds while the piersmai subspecies are still arriving at Luannan. A very important factor influencing their numbers is the amount of food available in the mud. Hebo Peng of the University of Groningen had very encouraging news, stating:
The main food of shorebirds in general and Red Knots in particular is very abundant in Nanpu this year, Potamocorbula bivalves were found in the highest (average) density over the last five years. Other shellfish species also show a high density in this area, which means that Nanpu wetland is still healthy and can support large numbers of shorebirds.’

Read the full report here on the Global Flyway Network Australia website.

Bohai 2019 Update 4: 21 May

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. Chris Hassell, Adrian Boyle, and Matt Slaymaker post regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the latest.

As of the 18th of May, the GFN team had recorded 106 Red Knots, 51 Great Knots and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits that had been individually colour-banded in Northwest Australia (NWA). They have also now recorded 118 individually identifiable shorebirds with yellow engraved leg flags (from NWA) comprising 71 Great Knots, 32 Red Knots, 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Ruddy Turnstones and a single Sanderling.

TAU, a Red Knot Calidris canutus piersmai from Broome, feeding in a salt pond at Nanpu. Photo: Adrian Boyle

Read the full report here on the Global Flyway Network Australia website.

Bohai 2019 Update 3: 10 May

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. The team (Chris Hassell, Adrian Boyle, and Matt Slaymaker) posts regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the latest update, with as highlight the visit of the New Zealand Ambassador to China, Clare Fearnley.

Chris Hassell presented a book written by Theunis Piersma to the Ambassador on Theunis’ behalf, as he had left the day before. Photo: GFN

Chris: “Talking of visitors, Kath Leung joined us for her fourth visit and added a great skill set to our scanning efforts. Professor Zhang, various, PhD students and volunteers from Beijing Normal University were and are here. Zhang has been a great financial and scientific collaborator of our studies here. The inspiration for the creation of GFN and its scientific leader, Theunis Piersma, was with us for an all too brief period. Theunis joins us in all our fieldwork and then we bombard him with questions whenever we are (k)not scanning. It is a very busy and productive time. The Bohai field team would like to take this opportunity to thank Theunis for the huge amount of fund raising he does to keep the Bohai work going and all his continually positive encouragement to us.”

Professors Zhang and Piersma with one of the fishermen we see every day. Photo: GFN

Read the full report here on the Global Flyway Network Australia website.

Bohai 2019 Update 2: 27 April

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. The team, Chris Hassell together with Adrian Boyle, veteran of 11 Bohai seasons, and Matt Slaymaker, posts regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the second of this season. The team reports:

It has been a week that has given us a little of everything; from wind and rain to blue skies and sun. From great scanning to fog with 10-metre visibility.

Shorebird numbers continue to increase in both overall numbers and diversity. Many of the regular species are continuing to arrive and have been joined by small numbers of scarce migrants such as Asian Dowitcher, Nordmann’s Greenshank and Little Stint. A count on the 26th totalled around 26,000 birds at Nanpu, our main site, with many more along the neighbouring sections of coast. Numbers seem to be broadly similar to this time last year, but we are also due a big increase in the coming days, particularly of Red Knot and Curlew Sandpiper…..

A typical scene in the saltponds. How many shorebird species can you see?

Bohai 2019 Update 1: 20 April

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. The team, Chris Hassell together with Adrian Boyle, veteran of 11 Bohai seasons, and Matt Slaymaker, posts regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the first of this season. The team reports:

It is always a relief to return to find the mudflats intact and the expected birds present and correct. Our core survey site, the Nanpu mudflat, was earmarked for nature reserve status; however, this doesn’t seem to have happened. The site and surrounding area is fundamental to the survival of the numerous species that pass through annually and we had hoped this positive development would offer some additional protection. We are still trying to find out the exact reason why reserve status has not been given and hope to be able to provide more information in future updates. For now, the mudflats are still here and being heavily used by the shorebirds that we all love.

Matt scanning at Zuidong.

AWSG Satellite Tracking Project 2019 – UPDATE #3+4

This is a guest blog from the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG), edition March 2019.

In February 2019, the AWSG deployed Oriental Pratincoles with satellite tags, for the first time in history. Here we post regular updates on their whereabouts, and on the movements on Little Curlews and Whimbrels that where also issued satellite-tags in Broome, NW Australia.

Oriental Pratincole – All on the go and where they will stop, we really don’t know!  (by Grace Maglio)

Three of the four birds are now in Mainland Southeast Asia, SEC and SHE in Cambodia, and SEP in Thailand. SUN is now in East Malaysia. While SHE remains in the Tonle Sap Lake floodplains, SEC, SEP and SUN are currently located in areas of intensive agricultural use.

Oriental Pratincole ready to release with transmitter (Photo by Tom Clarke)
Tracks of the four Oriental Pratincoles
Bird ID –
Engraved Leg-flag
Approximate distance 80 Mile Beach to release location
SUN 2,540km
SEP 4,350km
SHE 4,000km
SEC 3,840km

SUN – In 4 days time between 9-13 March, SUN made a flight 1,450km northwest from Ashmore Islands and reached Central Kalimantan, approximately 5km from the Barito River and 10km from the village of Rantau Kujang, in the Jenamas District of Borneo. Between 13-23 March SUN travelled approximately 570km and is now in the Sri Aman District of East Malaysia, 26km west of the town of Sri Aman (Malay translation – “Town of Peace”), which is situated on the Lupar River.  This District consists of highly modified, agricultural land trading in Palm Oil, Rubber, Pepper and Timber.

This location is approximately 2,540km from the release site at 80 Mile Beach in North West Australia.

SUN passes by Ashmore Islands, Indian Ocean to Central Kalimantan
SUN travels north to East Malaysia

SEP – On 12 March, SEP was located in the populated Pati Regency, Central Java, Indonesia, using agricultural land surrounded by many villages in the area.. SEP is now located 2,600km from this area, in the Khan Thale So District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Thailand. Again, SEP is in an area dominated by agricultural use, 3.5km west of the town of Nong Suang.

SEP travels from Central Java to Thailand
SEP, in agricultural land, 3.5 km from Nong Suang, Kham Thale So District, Thailand

SEC – After departing Broome, SEC remained in the West Kalimantan Region, Borneo, for approximately 11 days. Around 12 March there was a brief stopover at Pulau Serasan, (Serasan Island) – part of the southern group of Islands making up the Natuna Regency, Indonesia. Between 14 and 15 March, SEC travelled a distance of approximately 850km to its latest location 23km off the coast of the Vietnam-Cambodian border. On 15 March, SEC was positioned 23km off the coast of the Vietnam-Cambodian border. From 20 March and 190km from this previous location, SEC was located 40km north east of Phnom Penh in the Prey Veng Province, Cambodia. This province is considered the “great green belt” of Cambodia, where agriculture and aquaculture dominate and less than 4% of the original native vegetation remains. 

SEC is approximately 3,840km from the release site at 80 Mile Beach in North West Australia.

SEC’sflight from West Kalimantan region to the coast of Vietnam
SEC, 40km north east of Phnom Penh, Thailand

SHE – Four weeks in and SHE continues to inhabit the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, Cambodia and seems to be utilising a relatively small area available to it.

SHE at Tonle Sap Lake Biosphere Reserve, Cambodia

Little Curlew – Slight movement (by Inka Veltheim)

On 17 March, LS moved northwards approximately 200km to the grazed grasslands at Roebuck Plains, near Broome. This is probably the first step in its northward migration. LS moves large distances in the Roebuck Plains/Roebuck Bay area and has moved about 40 km from the plains to the south of the bay in the past week. At present, it seems to be on Thangoo Station, not far from Bush Point.

Little curlews LL and LU continue to move locally at Anna Plains. LK and LY appears to have been stationary for the last 2 weeks and it is possible the tag has fallen off the birds or that the individuals have died.

Little Curlew movement over the past week
Little Curlew ‘LS’ before releasing (Photo by Olivia Gourley)

Whimbrel (by Katherine Leung) There is still a month to go until the anticipated departure date. Both KU and LA remain at their marking locations, Roebuck Bay and 80 Mile Beach respectively.

Roebuck Plains Station (Photo by Katherine Leung)

AWSG Satellite Tracking Project 2019 – UPDATE #2

This is a guest blog from the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG), edition March 2019.

In February 2019, for the first time in history, satellite tags were deployed on Oriental Pratincoles (during the non-breeding season in NW Australia). So everything you read here is brand new! Below you also find an update about the Little Curlews and Whimbrels that AWSG follows with satellite-tags.

Oriental Pratincole in the hand. Photo: Pat Macwhirter

Oriental Pratincole – All departed

All four satellite-tagged Oriental Pratincoles have now left Australia on northward migration. The leading bird has  been in Cambodia for over a week, settled by the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, where it could well stay to breed.

The other three are still on migration through Indonesia and Borneo. The tagged Oriental Pratincoles left Australia from the north-west. The birds could very well complete their migration in the next ten days or so. It will be particularly interesting to see where the individual breeding locations will be!

Migration tracks of the 4 Oriental Pratincoles. Map: AWSG

Individual reports of four Oriental Pratincoles with a PTT satellite-tag

1. SUN – Our interstate traveller has left the country

At the time of the last update, SUN was positioned 60km north-west of the Legune Airport. SUN reached this location around the 25 February. Legune Station is a 3,000km² cattle station which also contains the Legune Coastal Floodplain, a site of conservation significance (including an important and significant shorebird site), between the Victoria and Keep Rivers in the Northern Territory.  SUN remained in this area until 8th March.

SUN using Legune Coastal Floodplain, Northern Territory, Australia. Map: AWSG

Around the evening of 8 March, SUN left this site and commenced migration with the next position being recorded 140km north-east of the Ashmore Islands, travelling approximately 700km between the times of 18:38 on 8 March and 20:12 on 9 March. SUN was located 900km from the release site on 11 March.

SUN’s departure from Australia on 8 March 2019. Map: AWSG

2. SEP – From outback explorer to city living (well, almost)

During the last reporting period SEP spent its time exploring the remote outback of NW Australia. On 4 or 5 March, SEP ended its outback tour, next land-based location was in the Pati Regency, Central Java, only 8km east from the city of Pati, this location is 1,790km from the release site.

SEP’s movement since transmitter deployment in February 2019. Map: AWSG
SEP – From the remote outback of northern Australia to a populated area in Central Java. Map: AWSG

3. SHE – Our first world traveller foraging and roosting on Tonle Sap Lake, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve

SHE remains on the floodplains of Tonle Sap Lake where SHE has been for 15 days, (from 23 February – 10 March). This lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, an important area not only for the flora and fauna of the region but this lake also supports almost 50% of the Cambodian human population, who depend on the lake’s resources. SHE remains approximately 4,000km from the release site.

SHE – utilizing the floodplains of Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Map: AWSG

4. SEC – In West Kalimatan, “The Province of a Thousand Rivers” 

After staying ‘close to home’ for just over 2 weeks, (8 – 25 February), SEC began its migration around 26 February, via Roebuck Plains, before heading in a more westerly direction towards Borneo. At the time of the last report, SEC was located in the south west corner of Borneo, 5km north of Air Hitam Village. On 3 March and a further 330km north, SEC was in the Landak Regency, 45km north east of Pontianak, the capital of the West Kalimatan Province. SEC is located approximately 2,500km from the release site.

SEC travelling to Borneo. Map: AWSG

Little Curlew and Whimbrel

Little Curlew – No change to movement

The Little Curlew are still mainly feeding on the grazed grasslands of Anna Plains Station and adjourning occasionally to the nearby coastal beaches/mudflats of 80 Mile Beach. Whilst most birds have ranged around for up to 50km or more, the movements of one bird are rather circumscribed and it maybe that this is in fact a reflection of a bird we have lost and/or a transmitter which has been shed.

Little Curlews at Anna Plains Station. Photo: Katharine Leung
Local movement of the Little Curlews near 80MB and Anna Plains, NW Australia. Map: AWSG

Whimbrel – Still in the territories of NW Australia

KU and LA are both demonstrating high site fidelity as in previous years: KU are constantly using the mudflat near Crab Creek (east of Roebuck Bay) and Dampier Creek (west of Roebuck Bay; while LA remains at its favourite section of 80 Mile Beach 45-48km south of the Anna Plains Entrance.

Whimbrels roosting during high tide in Roebuck Bay. Photo: Katherine Leung


(contributed by Clive Minton)

The extensive and expensive satellite tracking program we have set up in NWA this year has only been possible through the efforts and generosity of a large number of people and organizations. It is difficult to know where to start with the formal acknowledgements so I will list them – but not in any particular order of priority.

  • The members of the AWSG NWA 2019 Wader and Tern Expedition are particularly thanked for their efforts in the field in catching, banding and deploying transmitters on a range of species.
  • Landowners are especially thanked for permission to go onto their property to enable us to catch various species in order to deploy the satellite transmitters. In particular we thank Anna Plains Station for giving us the freedom to roam over large areas of grazed grassland when counting and catching target species.
  • AWSG acknowledges the Yawuru People via the offices of Nyamba Buru Yawuru Limited for permission to catch birds on the shores of Roebuck Bay, traditional lands of the Yawuru people.
  • AWSG acknowledges the Karajarri and Nyangumarta people for permission to catch birds to be marked for this project on the shores of 80 Mile Beach, traditional lands of the Karajarri and Nyangumarta.
  • The cost of the satellite transmitters, which cost around $5000 each, and the satellite downloading costs (around $1000-1500 per month) have been met by a variety of sources. Private individuals (Charles Allen and Doris Graham) have made most generous individual contributions. Kate Gorringe-Smith and her team of artists involved in The Overwintering Project made a large, generous donation from funds raised during their various public exhibitions. The annual NWA Expedition members, collectively, also provided significant funds. However, it will still be a year or two before we can repay all current debts.

AWSG Satellite Tracking Project 2019 – UPDATE #1

Guest blog from the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG), edition March 2019

This is the fifth year the AWSG’s North-west Australia Waders and Terns Expedition team has fitted satellite transmitters on migratory waders. Five 5g transmitters were fitted on Little Curlew with the hope for more success to compare to the previous studies in 2013 and 2015; and five 2g transmitters were, for the first time in history, deployed on Oriental Pratincole.

Meanwhile, the two satellite transmitters which were deployed on Whimbrels during the 2017 NWA Expedition are still transmitting. We are, therefore, anticipating to send out combined updates on all 3 species in the coming migratory and breeding season.

CHAPTER 1: Oriental Pratincole – History in the making

(report prepared by Grace Maglio)

Prior to 2004, it was thought that the population of Oriental Pratincole in the East Asian Australasian Flyway was around 75,000 birds. In February 2004 during the annual NWA expedition, participants observed an unprecedented, extraordinary number of this species along Eighty Mile Beach and the surrounding plains.

A formal count was organised, and through ground and aerial based counts, it was estimated that 2.88 million Oriental Pratincole inhabited the area that year. This was probably due to the plague proportions of grasshoppers occurring at the time and unfavourable weather conditions in other parts of northern Australia.

Photo2_by Bob Brinkman
Oriental Pratincoles on the plains near Broome, NW Australia. In 2004 and 2010 record numbers of 4 million and >0.5 million resp. were reported by Sitters et al. (2004) and Piersma & Hassell (2010). Photo: Bob Brinkman

Catching and banding has been regularly undertaken on Eighty Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay since 1981. Oriental Pratincole have been banded in the hope that some insight into their movements both in Australia and during their migrations and breeding may be revealed.

Yet despite over 620 Oriental Pratincoles being marked in Australia over the years, there has only been one recorded resighting made by Chien-Hua CHEN from the Taiwan Wader Study Group, of a marked bird (plain yellow flag) breeding in Taiwan. The ecology and movements of this species are therefore still largely unknown.

As a result of this knowledge gap, we have prioritised studying the movements of Oriental Pratincole using Solar 2-gram Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTTs) produced by Microwave Telemetry Inc. On the 8th February, we caught 14 Oriental Pratincole with a cannon net, on Eighty Mile Beach, 42 kilometres south of Anna Plains Station, (GPS coordinates Lat.-19.482245° Long.121.190040°), and five PTTs were fitted.

Photo1_by Pat Macwhirter
On the five Oriental Pratincoles that was fitted with a PTT transmitter in February 2019, Anna Plains, NW Australia. The solar panel is nicely visible. All five birds were released at the catch location. Photo: Pat Macwhirter

The Oriental Pratincoles were also banded, with a metal ID band and a yellow engraved flag (ELF), morphometrics taken and the PTTs were fitted to the birds using a leg loop harness. The identification details and weights are shown in the table below. Unexpected and exciting results quickly emerged.

PTT ID Metal ID ELF Weight (grams)
83590 052 81470 SEA 108
83591 052 81473 SUN 107
83593 052 81476 SEP 110
83595 052 81478 SHE 119
83596 052 81480 SEC 109

First reports of the five Oriental Pratincoles fitted with a PTT in February 2019

1. “Exploring the outback”: movements of SEP – 8/2 to 1/3/1

Oriental Pratincole SEP: 11/2 Roebuck Plains
12/2 south of the Gibb River Rd, 36km south west of Lennard River Gorge
17/2 50km south of Fitzroy crossing
18/2 30km south of Purnululu National Park (approximately 800km from the release location)
20/2 returning west, 70km south west of Tunnel Creek National park (north of the Great Northern Highway)
23/2 25km north of Noonkanbah Airport
28/2 26km north of Camballin Airport. Map: AWSG

2. “Over state border”: movements of  SUN – 8/2 to 1/3/19

At the time of this report, SUN was located 1200 km from the release site and has flown approximately 2100 km in total. The route taken is given with approximate distances.

Oriental Pratincole SUN: 12/2 37km south west of Camballin Airport
19/2 40km south of Lake Argyle
20/2 10km east of Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory (off the Stuart Highway)
23/2 located 60km south west of Pine Creek, Northern Territory
28/2 60km north west Legune Airport. Map: AWSG

3. “Our world traveller”: movements of SHE 8/2 to 1/3/19

Between 8 and 16 February, this bird remained on the Plains within 25km of the release site. Around the 16th February SHE had left the mainland heading north over the sea from Eighty Mile Beach.

In the early hours of 18th February signals were picked up from Sulawesi (about 1900km from the release site), 3.5km north of Singkalong Province of South Sulawesi. Later the same day SHE was detected 21km south of Laut Island in the Riau Archipeligo, a further 1500km north west of its location earlier the same day.

On the 20th February and about 850km further north SHE was located 36km east of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. On the 22nd February SHE made a short hop to 20km north west of the town of Krakor, in the Pursat Province, SHE was still at this location on the 1 March.

SHE is now enjoying a lakeside view at the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, on the floodplains of the Tonle Sap Lake. This is over 4000km from the release site. It will be interesting to see if she subsequently remains in this area to breed or moves on elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Oriental Pratincole SHE on 23 – 27 February 2019 on the floodplains of Tonle Sap Lake (Cambodia, SE Asia). This is over 4000 km from the release site in Broome, Australia. Map: AWSG

4. “Anna Plains and beyond”: movements of SEC 8/2 – 1/3/19 (with a quick flight over Roebuck Plains on its way to Indonesia)

From the 8 to 23 February, SEC has remained within the boundaries of Anna Plains Station. The location data shows the distances travelled: first 20 km south, then 30 km north and on one occasion SEC ventured 40 km NE (east of the Great Northern Highway). However, in the early hours of 26 Feb SEC seems to have left Anna Plains, flew via Roebuck Plains and continued north over the Indian Ocean to Indonesia.

From the signals received, SEC has made its way north west, over Bali, and has landed in SW Indonesia, 5 km north of Air Hitam Village. More recent signals, but of low accuracy suggests it may have resumed its northward movement towards Borneo.

5. “Going nowhere”: movements of SEA 8/2/19

The transmitter on this bird ceased to transmit after the release on 8th February.

The only movement received for Oriental Pratincole SEA at Anna Plains, NW Australia, February 2019. Map: AWSG


CHAPTER 2: Little Curlew – Adding to our knowledge

(report prepared by Inka Veltheim)

 14/2/19 – 1/3/19

Little Curlew occur widely on grasslands across northern Australia, with their numbers and locations varying markedly from year to year, dependent on weather and feeding conditions. In February 2019 few were present in the Broome/Roebuck Plains area, probably because January had been a relatively dry month.

When we arrived in the Anna Plains area on the 3rd February few Little Curlew were present there or on the adjacent Eight Mile Beach. However, over the two-week period until we left on 16th February numbers of Little Curlew steadily built up with ten to fifteen thousand being eventually gathered together in the Plains/Beach area 20km south of Anna Plains Station (and probably many more elsewhere).

Photo3_by Pat Macwhirter
One of the five Little Curlew fitted with 5-gram Microwave Telemetry satellite transmitters on 14 February 2019, Anna Plains, NW Australia. Photo: Pat Macwhirter

Fourteen Little Curlew were cannon netted as they roosted on the beach on the incoming tide on 14th February. Five were fitted with 5-gram Microwave Telemetry satellite transmitters. Since then all five Little Curlews have remained in the same general area of Anna Plains Station and 80 Mile Beach, some 20km south of the Anna Plains Station Homestead. All individuals are mostly feeding within the floodplain habitat, with occasional movements into the intertidal area. Variation in distances moved ranges between 18–30 km along the length of the beach and 12–15 km along the width of the beach between the edge of the floodplain and the intertidal area.

Tracks of Little Curlew – LL, LU, LS, LY, transmitted between 28 February and 3 March 2019. Map: AWSG

Little Curlew LK has not transmitted since 21st February and it appears we may have lost this transmitter or bird. Prior to transmissions ceasing, the movements were restricted to within 2 km for the length and 8 km for the width of the floodplain and intertidal area. The remaining four (LL, LU, LS, LY) last transmitted between 28th February and 3rd March.


CHAPTER 3: Whimbrel – Still alive and transmitting!

(report by AWSG)

The two Whimbrel fitted with satellite transmitters in February 2017, LA at Eighty Mile Beach and KU at Roebuck Bay, Broome are both still transmitting. KU successfully migrated to the northern hemisphere breeding grounds in both 2017 and 2018. It is hoped that the transmitter will last sufficiently long to give us a third year of data on this bird. The second bird (LA) was in its second-year of life when fitted with transmitter in February 2017 and did not migrate back to the breeding ground in 2017 but subsequently migrated in 2018 without successfully breeding.

Whimbrel LA and KU fitted with satellite transmitters in February 2017 at Eighty Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay, Broome are still transmitting.  LA is famous for smartly dodging the  2018 cyclone. Map: AWSG

In February 2018, LA was the bird that famously dodged the ‘Anna Plains cyclone’ by moving 145 km south for a few days while the cyclone passed. It is to be hoped that the transmitter will last long enough to plot its track second time to the northern hemisphere this year.



The AWSG would like to thank Kate Gorringe-Smith and the Overwintering Project for their generous donation to cover some of the purchase cost of the satellite transmitters.

We are again enormously grateful to the Stoate Family of Anna Plains Station for hosting the Expedition.

AWSG acknowledges the Karajarri and Nyangumarta people for permission to catch birds to be marked for this project on the shores of 80 Mile Beach, traditional lands of the Karajarri and Nyangumarta people.

This project would not have been possible without the fieldwork efforts of the AWSG NWA2019 Expedition members

Considerable thanks are due to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions not only for providing two vehicles and trailers but also for finically assisting the participation of four Expedition members from the East Asian – Australasian Flyway.

The godwits are back in The Netherlands! With the earliest sighting ever of RUG colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits in Fryslân

Report by Jan Kramer, Leeuwarden, 26 February 2019

On 23 February 2019 three bird watchers independently recorded in Wommels, Fryslân the earliest spring sighting ever in Fryslân of colour-marked Black-tailed Godwits of the University of Groningen program. The godwits were part of a flock of 300 birds foraging and bathing in a small wetland called Skrok, which is managed by Natuurmonumenten.

Jan Kramer1
Part of the flock of 300 Black-tailed Godwits, with one bird marked by the University of Groningen program, at Skrok (Wommels, Fryslân), Saturday 23 February 2019, around 16:30. Photo: Jan Kramer

In the flock the three birders saw at least seven colour-ringed godwits – these were marked in Fryslân as part of the long-term demographic project of the University of Groningen. One of them, visible at the far right of the above photo, is called “R4RYYY”. He is ringed on 5 May 2014 on the farmland of Murk, the Frisian godfather of nature-inclusive farming, which is near Wommels indeed. In the years that followed, R4RYYY invariably arrived with the first groups of returning godwits at Wommels. From 2015 to 2018 he always was seen between 3 and 13 March (see table), but this year he is seen very early!

Year First spring sighting of R4RYYY in Fryslân
2015 13 March
2016 12 March
2017 3 March
2018 12 March
2019 23 February

Another bird in the group, the adult male B1LRLL, was ringed near the town of Idzegea on 6 May 2017 and has now been spotted at Wommels for the first time. This bird was seen in a wetland area in Senegal last November!

These observations of 23 February are the earliest spring observations ever in Fryslân of our godwits. So far the earliest season observation of godwits in Fryslân ever was on February 24, 2008 at Oosterlittens. To be clear, outside Fryslân in some stopover areas, for example in the Landje van Geijsel, our birds are regularly observed early in the season but those birds are not yet in their breeding areas.

Jan Kramer2
Just before sundown, these godwits arrived on 23 February 2019 landing just in front of the bird-watching hide at Skrok. They immediately started foraging. Photo: Jan Kramer

The next day, on 24 February 2019, there is another arrival, this time of the very famous godwit ‘Amalia’. Amalia carries a solar-powered satellite transmitter since February 2013. Just as in other years he arrived in the area called Skrins, which is near Skrok, close to the town of Oosterlittens and also managed by Natuurmonumenten. Skrins is not so far from his permanent breeding area. And yes, Amalia is a guy. He is named after the town in Spain where he was issued his transmitters. From 2013 to 2018 he always arrived in Fryslân between 8 and 27 March (see table), but this year he is much earlier! Also for Amalia this is his earliest arrival ever in Fryslân.

Year Spring arrival of Amalia in Fryslân
2013 18 March
2014 17 March
2015 08 March
2016 11 March
2017 14 March
2018 27 March
2019 24 February

For the current position of the positions of the satellite-tagged Black-tailed godwits, see:

 Is this normal?

Although these are indeed very early arrival and observation dates, interestingly enough a 5-week difference in spring arrival is quite normal for individual Dutch godwits. The RUG godwit research group just published a paper about the timing of migration in Frontier in Ecology and Evolution. The paper shows that the variation in migratory timing among individuals godwits is larger than currently observed in any other migratory bird species. Especially the repeatability of spring arrival is very low. More here: (

So Godwit Amalia and R4RYYY are not special in that respect…

R4RYYY 2019 feb 25 Skrokbij Wommels foto a Jan Kramer
On 25 February Jan Kramer took this photo of R4RYYY: “If you attribute some human behaviors to this bird, you could assume that he is enthusiastically flapping his wings because he is happy to be back in Fryslân”


Jan Kramer thanks the RUG team for the data on the life histories of the resighted birds.



Finding young spoonbills – with dataloggers

Blog by Petra de Goeij, January–February 2019

What Eurasian Spoonbills do and learn in the first years after they are born determines what routines they will have as adults. To see how they establish their habits, we give young spoonbills a GPS-tag before they leave the colony on Schiermonnikoog in The Netherlands.

The GPS-tag regularly sends SMS messages, so we generally know where the birds are, but the detailed information on location and movements that is stored in the tag can only be downloaded if a bird is close to one of our mobile antenna stations.

Since some of these young birds may never come back to the antenna stations in The Netherlands we follow them. When we know that the youngsters are “reliably” present at a wintering location we travel to this location, to download the detailed history of their wanderings and daily activities.

This trip Petra de Goeij and Arne van Eerden from the University of Groningen are targeting as much as five tagged spoonbills in Portugal and Spain. This blog gives an impression of the work. (Photos: P. de Goeij)

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Petra de Goeij and Arne van Eerden from the University of Groningen are in Portugal and Spain to find tagged young Eurasian Spoonbills. Here Arne is scanning flocks. Petra’s equipment to download the data is ready to go.

28-29 January 2019: Merida, Spain

Our first target is a young spoonbill near Merida, Spain, that was colour-banded and GPS-tagged on Schiermonnikoog in 2016. He is an almost three year old bird now, but has not been back in the colony. We notice that he has started to grow a small crest, so hopefully he will come to the Netherlands this spring.

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The first target is this young spoonbill in the middle of the flock. Near Merida, Spain

When we finally connect to the tag of spoonbill for which we traveled all the way, we see his tag has so much data that the download will take over 9 hours! Let’s see how far we get.

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The first data download of our Merida spoonbill!

While we are trying to download the data of our Merida bird, people with yellow vests appear. It turns out that a huge team of around 50 people works here every day to try to get rid of an exotic water plant. And unfortunately the last two days of our stay they are working in the favorite area of our spoonbill. Eventually, the spoonbill disappears from the reservoir. Although we do not get all data, we manage to download 5 MB from the tag. That means that we have a large chunk of its data, and we have created more space in the tag’s memory to store new data!

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This is not exactly what you think: they are targeting exotic aquatic plants that are overgrowing the reservoir

30-31 January 2019: Montijo, Tagus estuary, Portugal

After our partly successful “data grab” in Merida, Spain, we move to the Tagus estuary near Lisbon. Here we are so fortunate to get guidance from our colleague Josh Nightingale, who helps us to find our next young spoonbill near the town of Montijo. He, the spoonbill, has been sending his SMS messages from a pond behind a sewage farm. Josh speaks Portuguese and convinces a farmer that we are okay too.

Soon enough we are downloading data from this second young Spoonbill! We manage to download all his data, and looking at the data it is clear he has spent most of his time in ponds near the salt marshes of the estuary.

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A day in the rain with Josh Nightingale at the Tagus estuary (Montijo), in an area behind a sewage farm and pig farms. A special smell, but we are downloading data and of course are happy, for the moment. It cannot always be romantic…

1-2 February 2019: Evoa rice fields near Lisbon, Portugal

 Today, at the Evoa rice fields near Lisbon, the spoonbill team meets with the godwit team (Jacob de Vries and Bob Loos from Global Flyway Network). We jointly observe 450 Eurasian Spoonbills and 20,000 Black-tailed Godwits in one pond: Bob and Jacob are scanning godwit flocks for birds with rings at one side of the pond, and we are “reading” the rings of our spoonbills at the other side.

And again, we were looking for a young spoonbill with a GPS transmitter. But today no luck. About 200 spoonbills flew away when a photographer approaches them. Maybe the tagged bird was in that flock? As always, the equipment is ready-to-go to download data from the Spoonbill’s GPS tags. We wait for the spoonbills to come back…..



This research is conducted by Tamar Lok (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research), Petra de Goeij (University of Groningen), and Theunis Piersma (RUG, NIOZ, Global Flyway Network).