Great Knot 7YRYB was seen again

A report from David Chan (volunteer for Coastal China Survey) on 12/5/2018:

It was a sunny day after a few days of rain and disappointment. Not many Great Knots were seen on the mudflats at Lianyungang for the past few days. Hebo brought us to this last site hoping to find more knots there, especially a Great Knot carrying a solar-paneled satellite transmitter (also called a PTT – Platform Terminal Transmitter -, or simply “sat-tag”). From its location data we knew it was there. Fortunately, we counted a few thousand Great Knots foraging near shellfish farms. So besides continuing the foraging study of Great Knots by filming them, the next task, obviously, was to find our sat-tagged friend, the bird carrying the satellite transmitter, who led us all the way to this site.

Throughout the whole day, we scanned different flocks of Great Knots hoping to find it. The light turned softer at the golden hour and sunset was near but we did not want to give up on scanning. In a flock of resting knots, two Great Knots with colour-rings caught our attention. Looking closely, we saw an antenna attached on one of them. Immediately we knew that this was the bird!

This sat-tagged Great Knot at Lianyungang was coded 7YRYB. 7YRYB was banded with a yellow flag (Roebuck Bay, Australia) and four colour-rings (Yellow-Red-Yellow-Blue, so YRYB). 7YRYB was a she (identified by DNA techniques) banded 29/09/2016 at Richards Point in Roebuck Bay and fitted with a satellite tag. Yet, her migration journey was not ordinary. After banding, she flew two thousand km to Papua New Guinea and stayed there for the whole breeding season of 2017 (see Chris Hassell’s blog on 19/04/2018).

Her northward migration this year started on April 10 with a four thousand km direct flight to Taiwan. Surprisingly, one local birder Mr Lin Jer An was able to photograph her on April 16th and took a video the next day (see Chris Hassell’s blog). It is always delightful to see photos of birds carrying a PTT tag doing fine. She left Taiwan around April 20th and arrived at Jiangsu Province on the next day.  After a few days, she flew north to Lianyungang and we saw it on May 8th.

It was a joyful moment watching the seemingly fattening 7YRYB feeding at Lianyungang. Direct observation and foraging videos help us understand the birds’ condition and behaviour (you can watch the video above). Unfortunately, the building of a big port nearby might affect this section of mudflat and the thousands of shorebirds that stop here during their migration. An all too familiar issue in coastal China but some good news is also out now (more information in Wader Study, also in Mandarin, and on

Her migration journey was amazing, from Australia to Papua New Guinea, and from Papua New Guinea to China. She revealed some interesting movements and brought people caring and studying shorebirds along the flyways together, from Australia, Alaska, Taiwan and China. Migratory birds like 7YRYB connect scientists, conservationists and bird-lovers. We hope the stories of 7YRYB may raise awareness about their survival and the threats they are facing.

We wish her all the best on the coming journey and breeding season. Godspeed.

David Chan

12/05/2018 (World Migratory Bird Day 2018)

[David works with Ginny (Ying Chi Chan) from Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and University of Groningen, The Netherlands].

Please note this article is derived from raw data and has had no checking or statistical analysis applied to the PTT data.

Fantastic observations, and a big worry!

[This was shared in translation at HKBWS’s Forum and Facebook]

Exciting times! Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits have started to leave their non-breeding grounds in Northwest Australia to migrate north to their Asian staging areas. Six of the Bar-tailed Godwits (two from Broome, four from 80 Mile Beach) are in the air, with one already at Tiaozini, Jiangsu, China!

Lee Tibbitts was the first to remotely see the migration starting. On 6 April she messaged after looking in the satellite data: “Great Knot 833 was flying along Taiwan about 10 hours ago. Maybe you will see an influx of birds soon”.

LeeTibbitts_Great Knot 833 et al nearing Taiwan 20180406
Great Knot 833 flying by Taiwan on 6 April 2018

Indeed on April 9 Ginny Chan reported that Great Knot 833 has just arrived at Jinjiang, Fujian, China. Ginny Chan and team are currently at the China coast for field work, and they have actually seen this satellite-tagged bird at Jinjiang! It’s in a group of 79 Great Knots and looking good. According to Chris Hassell at its last three resights in Roebuck Bay, Broome, it had been scored as 75% breeding plumage already! Chris saw it last at Richard’s Point in Roebuck Bay on 29 March 2018, and now a mere ten day later it is at Jinjiang.

Jinjiang, Fujian, China – the tide is quite high. Photo: Ginny Chan

Ginny further reports there are other Northwest Australia Great Knots in the flock. She photographed the yellow flagged 1XA (the AWSG scheme) and satellite tagged Great Knot 833 who is colour-ringed with 6LYBY (the GFN scheme).

A bitter taste

Of course, we are excited that migration has started, but this year it has a bitter taste. To prepare for their long flight to Arctic breeding areas up to 70,000–80,000 Great Knots (of the total population of 290,000) refuel at the most northern staging site in the Yellow Sea, Yalu Jiang National Nature reserve in Liaoning, China. But something is wrong there. David Melville (research scientist involved with China shorebirds for a few decades) says: “Word is spreading that there is no food at Yalu Jiang and that they would be better off staying at Broome!?”. What if Great Knot 833 goes there?


The most important food source for the thousands of shorebirds staging in this reserve, small clams, has crashed. This means that Great Knots, after a long-distance flight in which they will lose nearly half their body weight, will find insufficient food at this major northern Yellow Sea stopover. This strongly reduced food supply means there is going to be a lot of competition and likely a die-off.

You may know that IUCN lists Great Knot as ‘Endangered’, while the Australian Government consider it to be ‘Critically Endangered’. In other words, Great Knots have a hard time already, and losing more birds is a risk we cannot take.

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.

Ginny Blog 19 May 2
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!

Ginny Blog 19 May 1
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!

Ginny Blog 19 May 3
Diaokou mudflats

News from the field – Spring 2017: Satellite-tagged Great Knot spotted!

This blog is available in Chinese at the website of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society.

logo HKBWS

Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan from Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and University of Groningen, The Netherlands, reports – observations from 9 April 2017:

On our quest to visit sites where the Great Knots (carrying 5 gr solar-powered satellite transmitters) are directing us, we ended up in Raoping, Guangdong, China. The Raoping site features a beach fringed by narrow mudflats, a habitat that seems more suitable for beach-dwellers like the Sanderling than for Great Knots. Nevertheless our satellite-tracked Great Knot stopped there. Worth to check it out!

The site we visited near Raoping, Guandong

Our first afternoon out was sunny and we encountered a small flock of Great Knots but our bird that according the tracks we received from its satellite transmitter should be here, was nowhere to be seen. Then a thick fog came. However just before sunset we realised a few other birds flew into our flock. And that included the satellite-tagged bird!

Great Knot w transmitter photo Ginny Chan
Great Knot with a satellite transmitter at Raoping, China. Photo: Ginny Chan
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The position of the tagged birds near Raoping on 9 April 2017

One and a half years ago, we caught it in Roebuck Bay, Northwest Australia and deployed the transmitter. (More about this work at Global Flyway Network Australia). I felt so glad to see this beautiful bird again with breeding plumage. Seeing the same bird in places more than 4500 km apart, made me marveled at their amazing super-journeys.

Roebuck release photo Ivan Tse
Great knots with satellite transmitters being released in Roebuck Bay, Northwest Australia. Photo: Ivan Tse
Waders Roebuck Bay, Broome, W.Australia
Great Knots and other shorebirds at a roost in Roebuck Bay, Northwest Australia

It is great that we can observe this bird and its flock mates forage, and that we can sample their food. With the data we have collected at this site and other sites we hopefully will be able to explain why the birds choose this site, and why they stay for as long as they do.

The next morning we saw the bird with satellite transmitter again. The birds were very ‘jumpy’ and flew up very high at times. That is a sign that they were ready to migrate!

As we prepared this blog, on 30 April 2017, we know that the bird indeed left Raoping on 10 April 2017 to fly to the northern Yellow Sea. Since 13 April it is has been in Yalu Jang Nature Reserve near Donggang where it still is.

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Flight path of the Raoping Great Knot. Position on 30 April 2017 was Yalu Jiang Nature Reserve
Hebo sampling photo Ginny Chan
Curious fisherman observing how Hebo sorts out the sample. Photo: Ginny Chan
Great Knots flight Raoping China photo Ginny Chan
A flock of Great Knots over the sea. Photo: Ginny Chan
Raoping Ginny Chan
Finally, a team photo! Photo: Ginny Chan

News from the field – Spring 2017: Looking for Great Knots at Yangjiang in Guangdong Province, China, revealed a surprise!

Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan from Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and University of Groningen, The Netherlands, reports – observations from 7 April 2017:

Each year in spring we survey the staging sites that we know our Great Knots, carrying 5 gr solar-powered satellite transmitters, have visited. Some sites will be relatively unknown, because hardly anybody has observed shorebirds there.

Vastleggen in volledig scherm 1-5-2017 104446.bmpOn 7th April we were at a coastal site at Yangjiang in Guangdong Province, China, that was also new to us.

We were walking out onto the mudflat, seeing flocks of Sanderlings flying out from their roost. Watching the flock of small shorebirds I thought:  “Probably there could be a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in there”. And when I looked through my telescope – there was one! Actually there were two of them around! One was in breeding plumage, and the other still in its pale non-breeding plumage.

It turned out that the bird with non-breeding plumage was flagged as ‘1X’. This Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a youngster from the captive hatching and hand-raising program in Russia which aims at giving a head start to increase the fledgling production of the local breeding populations (Click here to visit the Saving Spoon-billed Sandpiper website.). This bird is the first one of its cohort that was resighted!

Great Knots and Red Knots are highly dependent on mudflats. We have learned that whereabouts of the birds we track indicate good quality mudflats, which also supports many other shorebird species. Therefore, our tracking work is very important for discovering important shorebird areas in the EAAF, a crucial first step in conserving them.

Zhang Ping, one of our volunteers, sampling the Yangjiang mudflats
Lines of fishing nets, a common sight on Chinese mudflats


News from the field – Spring 2017: First stop Leizhou, the tropical mudflat

Ginny (Ying Chi) Chan reports – observations from 5 April 2017:

Every spring we literally ‘follow’ the satellite-tracked birds by visiting their staging sites. At every site we sample their food and observe their foraging behavior. We hope to understand how they are using these places and we document potential threats to the birds – and their food. In this field expedition we collect valuable data for the PhD projects of Hebo Peng and me. It is the third year we conduct this expedition, and we were excited to visit and re-visit staging sites of our birds!

Leizhou Peninsula, our first stop

This year our first stop was the Leizhou Peninsula in the tropics of the southern Chinese Sea. Hebo and I met up with two enthusiastic volunteers, Ping and Yueheng, and we are ready to brave the mud!

On our first day we arrived slightly early, and the tide was still high and mudflats were not yet exposed. We had to wait for at least an hour. Meanwhile, Zhang Ping, our volunteer from Sichuan Province in the inland of China, was very excited, because it is the first time he saw the sea! However, he was not impressed by the amount of rubbish in the dunes and beach.

Leizhou playing beach
Ping and Yueheng – this years’ volunteers – checking out shells and playing with sand in the dunes

We did manage to find good flocks of Great Knots and Red Knots on the mudflats. After 3 days, we finished our survey with good amount of foraging bird videos and benthic samples. We also found a horseshoe crab, which is heavily poached and endangered. A peregrine falcon was circling around a stretch of the mudflat which might explain why it was empty of birds when we were there.

Leizhou sampling
Ping sampling the mudflats
Leizhou scoping
Ginny looking for birds

Time to go to the next site! However it was the last day of the Qingming festival and not easy to travel anywhere. All bus stations were packed with people, hired cars were already filled up with customers, and there are no trains in this region. Well, we did managed…

Leizhou sunset
Flock of knots and fishing boats at sunset
Leizhou horseshoe crab
A horseshoe crab with a broken tail



Leizhou travelling

Leizhou travelling2
With all our luggage and gear it was quite impossible to get on the buses packed with people (this bus was driving out of the station)