Overview of Kamchatka field season 2017: timing of post-breeding migration suggests Arabian Gulf Great Knot “EI” had a successful breeding season, and many other stories

Dmitry Dorofeev reports:

(Continue reading in Russian: Исследование куликов в эстуарии рек Хайрюзова-Белоголовая)

In the middle of August we finished our field season of 2017 and returned from Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Western Kamchatka. Unfortunately this year we could not involve foreign volunteers. The funds for the expedition were only secured at the end of May and it was impossible to organise all necessary paperwork for visas and the like on time.

Five researchers from different organizations took part in the expedition: Dorofeev Dmitry, Ganiukova Anna, Ivanov Anton, Matsyna Alexander and Shupikova Anna. Our studies were supported by the All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection and the MBZ species conservation fund.

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The field work team of 2017 (from left to right): Anton Ivanov, Anna Shupikova, Dmitry Dorofeev, Anna Ganiukova, Alexander Matsyna. Photo: Alexander Matsyna

The largest part of our activities were dedicated to Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris). This year we modified our trap and caught more than 500 waders, 360 were marked with Black\Yellow engraved flags. We already have five re-sightings from Japan, Korea and China. About 130 birds were juveniles, which is key because it is very important to know if there are differences in migration between adult and juvenile birds.

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Great Knots in from Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Western Kamchatka. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

The next important part of our work was searching and reading engraved leg flags. In the end of the season we had a total of 1526 records in our log book! In 2016 we had about 1800 records, but considering that this year we had only one good scope instead of four, the results were very good. More than 75% of the observations were made with the high quality scope that the Royal NIOZ lend us, just for this field season. For the next field season we hope to find additional funds to buy a high quality scope for the project.

Most of our re-sightings were of Great Knots colour-banded or flagged in Australia, China and Kamchatka. We also collected records of marked Black-tailed Godwits, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red Knots, Red-necked Stints and Dunlins. Observed waders were banded at least at 22 sites within the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, from Chukotka (Russia) to Victoria (Australia) and New Zealand. These data allows to calculate new estimates of the duration of the stopover of individual birds.

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Bar-tailed Godwits in from Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Western Kamchatka. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

On the penultimate day of our field season we had a very nice surprise. While we were out doing observations we recorded the more or less famous Great Knot “EI” who was observed in winter 2017 near Dubai. This male Great Knot had started his southward migration very late so we can suppose that he had a successful breeding season!

Wader counts are also the part of our work. But, unfortunately, not the best part. Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary is rather large, about 50 km2, and it is impossible to make total counts. So we have minimum estimates for the study site. Number of Great Knots varied from 23,0000 in the beginning of July to 4,500 in the middle of August.

Also this year we repeated the benthos survey that we have been conducting since 2015. In total 201 sample were taken on the whole territory within a 500 by 500 m grid. This investigation will help us understand if there are any dynamics in benthos distribution between years.

The last, most important, activity of our team were observations on foraging juvenile Great Knots, that just arrived from the tundra zone to the mudflats, and on foraging adult Great Knots. In previous years we had noticed that juveniles feed much more slowly than adults. We think that juveniles do not have enough experience with feeding on bivalves. At breeding grounds they are used to feed on various insects, changing to bivalves might be a challenge for them.

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Foraging Great Knots in from Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Western Kamchatka. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

The last goal of our studies was collecting information about rare species – Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Far-Eastern Curlew. We have rather detailed data about numbers and distribution of the Far-eastern Curlew in the estuary. From the middle of July till the beginning of August about 300-350 birds were feeding on the mudflats the closest to the camp. At least several dozens of Curlews used the most remote part of the estuary. This year we had not enough scopes and people to look for Spoon-billed Sandpipers. Only in the end of the season we were able to check types of mudflats that is preferred by this species. At that time juvenile birds started their southward migration.

We are planning to present the first data at the IWSG Annual Conference in Prague this September 2017.

We are grateful for all our colleagues from different countries who helped us with information and advice. Especially we appreciate the local people who helped us with storing expedition stuff and accommodation.

 

Migration of the Bar-tailed Godwit Y5RBRL

Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan, Theunis Piersma and Chris Hassell from Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, University of Groningen, The Netherlands and Global Flyway Network Australia, report:

This is a story about the ten thousand kilometer journey of a Bar-tailed Godwit, travelling between the tropics and the Arctic, between pristine and industrial environments, and between different nations and cultures.

Some background facts: menzbieri godwits are somewhat largish shorebirds, who breed in the Russian Arctic and “overwinter” on the hot coasts of NW Australia, and therefore migrate along the coasts of the Yellow Sea in China twice a year. Many intertidal zones along this flyway are threatened. Tracking shorebirds (and their populations) with satellite transmitters on their annual migrations is necessary to target conservation action to the right places. From the tracks, we can identify the (remaining) crucial intertidal mud flats for long-haul migrants in China and along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

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Ginny (Ying Chi) issuing a small solar-powered satellite transmitter to a Bar-tailed Godwit in Eight Mile Beach, NW Australia, February 2017. Photo: Jesse Conklin
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The Karajarri Ranger Group and Chris Hassell releasing Bar-tailed Godwits tagged satellite transmitters on Eight Mile Beach, NW Australia, February 2017. Photo: Yvonne Verkuil

We give Bar-tailed Godwits satellite transmitters in NW Australia, and every spring we literally ‘follow’ these tagged godwits twice! By surveying their staging sites in China, and watching the data come in from the transmitters. This the journey of Bar-tailed Godwit Y5RBRL in 2017:

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Areas used by Bar-tailed Godwit “Y5RBRL” in 2017. Orange starts – staging areas in China in Jiangsu Province and Shandong Province, and on New Siberian Islands; Yellow star – breeding area; Green star – non-breeding area in NW Australia.  Map by Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan

15th February 2017

This bird (a female) with colour-ring combination Y5RBRL was caught, had a satellite transmitter attached, and was released at Eighty Mile Beach, NW Australia on 15 February 2017. What did we learn most from Y5RBRL and her tracks?

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Chris Hassell (GFN) and Emilia Lai (BBO) releasing  Y5RBRL. You can see the antenna of her solar-powered satellite transmitters. Eight Mile Beach, NW Australia, 15 February 2017. Photo: Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan

19th April 2017

Y5RBRL left Eighty Mile Beach and made an impressive non-stop flight of more than 5,700 km to China. In five days she reached the Rudong coast (Tiaozini-Dongsha mud flats) in Jiangsu Province, where she stayed for about a week.

3rd May 2017

She headed further north and reached Diaokou on the coasts of southern Bohai Bay on 3 May. Our field team reached Diaokou ten days later on 13 May.

15th May 2017

On 15 May 2017, our field team reports that they had sighted a Bar-tailed Godwit carrying a satellite transmitter in Diaokou Xiang, Lijin County of Shandong Province. Yueheng (a volunteer fieldworker) saw this special bird with an antenna sticking out. It is very special to actually see a bird with a satellite transmitter in the field, thousands of kilometers away from where you marked it.

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In Diakou: Bar-tailed Godwit “Y5RBRL” carrying a satellite transmitter. Photo: Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan

Diaokou in southern Bohai Bay has been sampled for benthic prey and surveyed for birds since spring 2016. Another tagged Bar-tailed Godwit had stopped there last year. Y5RBRL stayed in Diakou until 25 May, a total of 22 days. It seems to be an important staging site, although we did not see big numbers in both years. It is difficult to find and approach flocks there, because there are a lot of fishermen working on the mud flats and we only had three days to do our work. More regular surveys in this area will be very informative.

From Diaokou Y5RBRL flew to her breeding grounds near Chersky in northern Russia. She didn’t flew non-stop, she stopped at several places in the tundra. Was she looking for a mate or a good place to breed? Or waiting for the snow to melt?

7th June 2017

Finally she reached her breeding location! From our track we infer she stayed at this single site for 26 days. As our transmitters are in a cycle of 8 hours “ON” 25 hours “OFF”, she could have been there for 28 days. It is very likely she attempted to breed but our movement data cannot confirm whether this was successful. The egg-laying takes four days and incubation takes 21 days, so if her chicks hatched successfully, she would have left them for her partner to take care of the chicks. For shorebirds, it is not uncommon that one parent leaves the responsibility of raising the chicks to the partner.

3rd July 2017

After the breeding season she flew further north to the New Siberian Islands. She was at this site ‘fueling up’ for almost 16 days, to get ready for her southward migration.

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Now as we write this in mid August 2017, Y5RBRL has returned to Diaokou for some more fueling. Obviously Diaokou is known to her as a good site to prepare for migratory flights.

What we are wondering now is if she will use the Tiaozini-Dongsha mudflats again before flying to Australia. Why is that such an important question? This staging site, which Y5RBRL used as first landing and refueling place after her long haul flight from Australia, is part of a huge ‘reclamation’ project and the mud flats will soon disappear. Ying Chi and colleagues used the local movements of Y5RBRL and 14 other tagged Bar-tailed Godwits to show that the planned industrialisation overlaps with the areas that the birds feed in on the Tiaozini-Dongsha mud flats and shoals. This result is presented in a Forum paper in Wader Study published by Global Flyway Network and colleagues in early August. We hope that the publication can urge the government to re-assess the plans. If we want to make sure Y5RBRL can keep using her favorite staging sites (and ca. 60,000 other godwits with her) action is needed.

 

In Wader Study: Reflections on the Jiangsu coastal development plans: loss of habitat leads to loss of birds

Report 9 August 2017:

Today a Forum paper was published in Wader Study, authored by Theunis Piersma and colleagues from China, Australia, America and New Zealand, reflecting on development plans of the coastal zone of Jiangsu Province – China.

The international team of shorebird scientists and intertidal experts says that the expected ecological impacts of reclamation of coastal and offshore mudflats in this area warrant new Environmental Impact Assessments.

The team describes in details how our satellite tracking data of shorebirds (see earlier blogs and figure below) together with insights in the functionality of tidal flat zones, emphasize the ecological value of two areas areas that are scheduled to be reclaimed soon: Tiaozini mudflats and the offshore Dongsha Shoals.

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Situation of the southern Jiangsu Province Tiaozini-Dongsha Shoals tidal flats north of the city of Rudong (left) and the reclamation plans in this area for 2009–2020 (the intertidal areas indicated in grey) combined with the density distribution of 15 staging, satellite-tagged female Bar-tailed Godwits in May 2015– July 2017 (right). White to orange coloured squares represent the number of high-quality locations of godwits in a 2 x 2 km area, obtained from Argos satellite tracking. A lack of grid squares indicates a lack of satellite locations, but of course does not mean that such areas were not visited by shorebirds. (Based on Y.-C. Chan, T.L. Tibbitts, T. Piersma et al. in prep.). From Wader Study 124-2: doi:10.18194/ws.00077

By summarizing a broad range of studies on shorebirds, Theunis Piersma and colleagues from China, Australia, America and New Zealand sketch the expected ecological impact of the developments on shorebirds, a.o. on two especially vulnerable species, Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Critically Endangered) and Nordmann’s Greenshanks (Endangered).

The Forum article is Open Access and is available at Wader Study: http://www.waderstudygroup.org/article/10005/

Our study site and major staging site for Red Knots in Bohai Bay, China, may become protected

Chris Hassell of GFN reports:

A step in the right direction!

The East Asian – Australasian partnership reports that our major field site in Bohai Bay, Nanpu at Luannan coast is part of the planned Nanpu Wetland Nature Reserve.

Although in the article there is no mention of GFN or of Beijing Normal University, these two have been instrumental in collecting the data that has led to this ‘step in the right direction’.

The GFN work that has contributed so much has been funded by BirdLife Netherlands (2007-2012), WWF Netherlands (2010-2014, 2016) and Spinoza Premium of Netherlands Organisation Prize for Scientific Research to Theunis Piersma (2014-2016).

www.eaaflyway.net/building-nanpu-wetland-nature-reserve-for-a-healthier-ecosystem/

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News from Kamchatka, June-July 2017: learn about “Green”

The Global Flyway Network Great Knots wearing satellite transmitters that were issued in NW Australia, have started their southward migration back to Australia! Two Great Knots choose to stage at Shchastya Bay, and two in estuaries in W Kamchatka.

Very excitingly, one Great Knot, nick-named “Green” has been photographed by our team member Dmitry Dorofeev who is working in the Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Kamchatka right now.

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Locations on July 2, 2017 of Great Knots staging at Shchastya Bay (two individuals), and in W Kamchatka (two ind, read more about the bird with the green track below). Three Great Knots were still breeding: one is 60 km north east of estuary near the town Anadyr; two other birds were 200 km south of Yala Bay.

Dmitry Dorofeev (from All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection and PhD student in Moscow State University) is at work in Kamchatka studying the post-breeding migration. He reports:

“We started our observations at Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary 27 June. We focus our work on Great Knots, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits.

At this time, the most abundant species here is Great Knot – as much as 22,000–24,000 birds. We think these birds are mainly non-breeders or failed breeders. We counted also about 4,000 Black-tailed Godwits and 400 Bar-tailed Godwits. And we found about 280 Far-eastern Curlews resting at the high tide roosts. Dunlins, Red Knots and Red-necked Stints are present but in low numbers.

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Shorebirds in Khairusova-Belogolovaya, June 2017. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

Besides counting, we search for individually marked birds in the flocks. In total we have already re-sighted more than 200 individually marked Great Knots. Most of these birds were caught and marked at their wintering sites in NW Australia but also we observed marked birds in other areas in Australia (Northern Territories, Queensland), Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Japan and Kamchatka (Russia). Several Black-tailed Godwits from NW Australia and Kamchatka were re-sighted too.

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Scanning flocks for bands in Khairusova-Belogolovaya, June 2017. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

The most successful day was 4th June. We re-sighted about 5 individually marked Black-tailed Godwits and 55 Great Knots, and one of them – coded 7LLYL – had a satellite transmitter!”.

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Fantastic photo from Kamchatka including a satellite-tagged bird. This Great Knot 7LLYL (“Green”, with tag ID 59) was issued a transmitter in NW Australia in in October 2016. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

Great Knot 7LLYL (tag ID 59 – name Green because he is represented by the light green track on the maps) is a male that has been carrying a solar-powered satellite transmitters since October 2016. In spring “Green” migrated north via Taiwan, where he was also photographed. He has been breeding in southern Chukotka (see below map). Since “Green” was photographed in W Kamchatka last week he has moved on to Shchastya Bay.

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Great Knot 7LLYL (“Green”, with tag ID 59 ) in Taiwan in May 2017. Photo: Mr. Liu
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Locations on July 10, 2017 of Great Knots. Great Knot 7LLYL, alias “Green”, has now left W Kamchatka and is in Shchastya Bay – which now hosts three birds. The most northerly location of Green has been his breeding site for this year. We’re curious to learn whether he will return there next year!

More news:

We also want to congratulate Dmitry with the short film about his work and details about a very interesting re-sighting of one of his birds in the Arabian Gulf, which can found on this YouTube channel. More on this topic can be found at website of the International Wader Study Group.

Credits:

Thanks to Dmitry Dorofeev for Whats’apping the photos from his remote field camp.

Thanks for Nicola Crockford semi-daily updates of the whereabouts of the birds on her Twitter account @Numenini!

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Great Knots, still mostly in breeding plumage, staging in Khairusova-Belogolovaya, June 2017. Photo: Dmitry Dorofeev

 

Bohai 2017 Field Updates

The GFN team has been in Bohai Bay, China, during the last weeks, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. Chris Hassell, Adrian Boyle and Bob Loos post regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is an overview of the season.

Read here about the “lost and found” Red Knots. The team found them eventually between the Hangu Power Station and the Hangu Wind Farm, a 29km direct flight form the main Luannan Coast study site.

Or read here about how Red Knots started to use the complex of ponds to forage in during the last few days. As in previous years they prefer the large shallow ponds and forage on any exposed wet sediment and in very shallow water.

In Update 6 the team wraps up the season.

The full reports can be found at the website Global Flyway Network Australia.
Note: most reports have great photographs of birds by Adrain Boyle, and not only shorebird!

 

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New most northerly records of Australia GFN-banded shorebirds: Red Knot and Great Knot observed by Pavel Tomkovich and team in Meinypilgyno, Chukotka!

Monday, 29 May 2017, Chris Hassell from Global Flyway Network|Australia reports:

I have just had two records of Australia banded birds in Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Far East Russia. The birds were observed by our colleague Pavel Tomkovich from the Zoological Museum at Moscow State University and the team of Birds Russia at Meinypilgyno Station. This is a latitudinal novelty! Our most northerly records so far have been from the west coast of Kamchatka (Black-tailed Godwits and Great Knots on southward migration) and a Great Knot at Ola Lagoon on the northern Sea of Okhotsk, on northward migration.

The new records from Pavel Tomkovich’s in Meinypilgyno (see below map) are 1,300 km NE of the Kamchatka site and 1,800 km ENE of the Ola lagoon record. So by far and away the most northerly records for the GFN-Australia shorebird database. One is a Great Knot and one is a Red Knot. The sightings were about 4 km east of the village of Meinypilgyno which has 420 inhabitants.

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The remote(!) location of in Meinypilgyno where the Red Knots and Great Knot were seen by Pavel Tomokovich and this team

The Great Knot is 5RYYL was banded in Roebuck Bay on 22/10/2014 aged ‘2’ in its second year of life (the Australian aging system giving all birds their ‘birthday’ on August 1st.) This bird has only one record from 80 Mile Beach and one from Roebuck Bay. The Roebuck Bay record is from August 2016 presumably passing through on its way to a non-breeding site further south.

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Great Knot 5RYYL in Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, on 26 May 2017. Breeding plumage 100%. Abdominal profile 2. Photo: Pavel Tomkovich

The Red Knot is code 5RLLY. It was banded in February 2016 during an AWSG expedition as age ‘2+’ in its second year of life or older. It is regularly seen in Roebuck Bay. The last sighting there was 26/03/2017. It was next recorded here, where I write this note from, on the Luannan Coast on 25/04/2017 and 5/05/2017. We recorded it as a rogersi on both occasions which of course fits very well with its breeding location. It has also been assessed as rogersi in Roebuck Bay as early as the 21/03/2016.*

Colour-banding re-sightings depend on observers and GFN are lucky to have many skilled volunteer and professional shorebirders throughout the flyway doing just that, observing, recording and reporting. Numbers of records correspond to where those observers are so Roebuck Bay and the Luannan Coast dominate. But we receive many records from far and wide, however never from this far!

Thanks to Pavel Tomkovich and Birds Russia for these records and indeed to all the people who send records for the GFN-Australia database, we appreciate it very much.

*Footnote: ‘In addition to the GFN colour-marked birds two Red Knots with yellow engraved flags have also been recorded and photographed by Pavel’s team. Both of these birds were marked in Broome, north west Australia by the by the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG). However one of them now lives the non-breeding part of its life in New Zealand. Some Red Knot of the rogersi subspecies pass through NW Australia on their first southward migration after hatching in the Arctic. They then move to New Zeland and from our resighting records they then keep New Zealand as their non-breeding location. GFN and AWSG only have a very few records of these birds passing back through Broome on either northward our southward migration in subsequent years. Interestingly, Pavel also reported one plain-white flagged Red Knot from New Zealand – Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre.

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An Red Knot flagged in Australia by the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) and photographed near Meinypilgyno in Chukotka in May 2017. Photo: Egor Loktionov

The Great Jump North: heading to the breeding grounds

Update from Team Piersma in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway, 29 May 2017

Since last week the satellite-tagged birds from NW Australia are leaving their Yellow Sea staging sites where they have been during the past weeks. They are clearly headed to the breeding grounds and some seem to have arrived at their breeding sites.

Zooming in to the tracks shows the direction of birds leaving the Yellow Sea after some good fueling, we hope.

Picture 3 29 May

The breeding grounds in northern Russia are about 4,000 km from the Yellow Sea. The Bar-tailed Godwits were initially ahead of the Great Knots but they are catching up. The Red Knots are still in the south China Sea and Vietnam.

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Picture 2 29 May

Interestingly, some Great Knots have made a stop in Russian (Kamchatka) estuaries on the way, while some seem to fly directly towards the tundra habitats where they breed. Obviously we need to analyse the tracks in detail before any conclusions can be drawn about individual strategies but the team is already pondering these questions.

Theunis Piersma is excited about stopover in the Kamchatka estuaries:

“Have a look at the Great Knots: two just south of Khairusova, and a third flying in!”. This is interesting because the Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary is an important staging site for Great Knots during southward migration. (See the 2013 publication in Wader Study Group Bulletin, now Wader Study).

Picture 4 29 May

Dmitry Dorofeev (from All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection and PhD student at Moscow State University) commented: “It is really interesting! Birds appear to stay in the Moroshechnaya river estuary. This estuary is rather close to Khairusova-Belogolovaya, but the area of mudflat is not very large. Totally there is about 15 km2 of mudflats. The size of mudflats in Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary is about 45-50 km2.” We are still analyzing the data but it seems they have foraged there up to 5-6 days before going on straight to breeding grounds.

These are exciting days in our PTT study. Where will Great Knots from Kamchatka settle to breed? Are the Bar-tailed Godwits indeed settling outside the known breeding range?

We will keep you updated as the breeding season progresses.

Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwit in Diaokou Xiang, Lijin County, Shandong Province

Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan, researcher at Royal NIOZ and PhD student at the University of Groningen reports:

Our China Coast field team reports that they sighted a Bar-tailed Godwit carrying a satellite transmitter in Diaokou Xiang, Lijin County of Shandong Province! This individual (a female) with colour ring combination Y5RBRL was caught at Eighty Mile Beach on 15 February 2017. She was released with a satellite transmitter.

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Areas used by Bar-tailed Godwit “Y5RBRL”. Yellow star -1st stop: Rudong, Jiangsu Province.; Red star – 2nd stop: Diaokou, Lijin County, Shandong Province. She arrived at Daikou on the 1st of May, and on 19 May 2017 she was still there.

She left Eighty Mile Beach on 19 April and made an impressive non-stop flight of more than 5700 km to China. In 5 days she reached the Rudong coast. On the 1st of May, she headed north to Diaokou at southern Bohai Bay. Our field team reached Diaokou on 13 May where on the 15th of May, Yueheng (volunteer) saw this special bird with an antenna sticking out!

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Bar-tailed Godwit “Y5RBRL” carrying a satellite transmitter

Diaokou in southern Bohai Bay has been sampled for benthic prey and surveyed for birds since Spring 2016. Another satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwit has stopped there last year. It seems to be an important staging site, although we did not see big numbers in both years. It is difficult to find and approach flocks there, because there are a lot of fishermen working on the mudflat, and we only got 3 days to do our work. More regular surveys in this area will be very informative!

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Diaokou mudflats

Bohai 2017 Update 3 – 12 May 2017

The GFN team is in Bohai Bay, China, to study Red Knots and Great Knots on northward migration. Chris Hassell, Ady Boyle and Bob Loos post regular updates on the Australian Global Flyway Network website. Here is the third of this season. The team reports:

“Well a lot has happened since the last update it has been a busy 10 days!

We have a new addition to this year’s team, Bob Loos from GFN-Netherlands has joined us again as he did in 2015 and 16. GFN’s scientific leader and general head Honcho, Theunis Piersma, also dropped in for his annual visit.

The New Zealand Ambassador to China and Chinese dignitaries visited the Luannan Coast.

We have been pondering why the Red Knot subspecies proportions have changed this year.

And exploring new areas and seeing lots of bands and flags along the way, of course.”

The full report can be found at the website Global Flyway Network Australia.

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