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).



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.

Great Knots Tracks SW 5-7-2017
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.

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.

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!”.

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.

Great Knot 7LLYL (“Green”, with tag ID 59 ) in Taiwan in May 2017. Photo: Mr. Liu
Vastleggen in volledig scherm 11-7-2017 100156.bmp
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.


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!

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!


Vastleggen in volledig scherm 24-4-2017 161835.bmp

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.

Map MeinypilgynoChukotka May2017
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.

PavelTomkovich MeinypilgynoChukotka May2017
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.

EgorLoktionov_MeinypilgynoChukotka May2017
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.

Picture 1 29 May

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.

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

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.

Fullscreen capture 2017-05-15 64056 PM.bmp

Tracking finds Great Knots sites! Liaohekou and Yingkou coast in Liaodong Bay of international importance but currently not a tentative World Heritage Site

What the tracks of satellite tagged birds told us

Five of the tracked Great Knots are currently (11 May 2017) at the Yingkou coast of Liaodong Bay. This is remarkable as voiced by Theunis Piersma: “The Great Knots that went north, select Yingkou coast over Yalu Jang!”. Prof dr. Zhengwang Zhang (Being Normal University) replied with “We should pay more attentions to this site”.

Map 1: Track of Great Knots converging on the coast of northern Bohai Bay, at Yingkou coast of Liaodong Bay. The track on one Great Knot staging in Yalu Jiang is visible on the right (close to the border with North Korea)

The team at work

Hebo Peng, RUG PhD student based at Royal NIOZ, is ground-thruthing sites used by satellite tagged birds and he reported on 8 May 2017:

“We just arrived Gaizhou, Yingkou this afternoon, will survey the benthos and shorebirds in Liaodong Bay from tomorrow. Besides, we will also try to survey a shoal in the Shuangtaizi Delta, but the closing of the fishing season began from 1st May this year, so it may be hard to find a ship to the shoal. Let’s see what will happen in this important area!”

The team has surveyed the area every year since 2015, because earlier a similar number of satellite-tagged Great Knots have been staging at that area. The consistent use of the area in the three last year shows the potential importance of this region! Last year the team made a video of one of the satellite -tagged bird – 6LBBR – at Gaizhou at the head of Liaodong Bay.

Fullscreen capture 2017-05-12 71735 AM.bmp
Map 2. Tracks on 5 Great Knots (thick lines) and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits (thin lines) at Yingkou coast where Hebo Peng is sampling benthos and following foraging birds. The area called Gaizhou is on the right, in the corner of the bay (Melville et al. 2016)

Where is this site?

The northern coasts used by the birds are in the province of Liaoning, near the town of Yingkou. Importantly, the site in not on the tentative list of sites to be considered on the World Heritage List of sites of outstanding universal value coast in the Bohai Gulf and the Yellow Sea of China, see http://www.eaaflyway.net/china-adds-several-critical-migratory-waterbird-sites/.

How should we name the area that covers the mudflats currently being used by the 5 Great Knots and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, and are the sites protected? We asked the experts.

Nicola Crockford (RSPB) remarked that the northern coast of Liaodong Bay was put forward in the IUCN Situation Analysis as key intertidal area (MacKinnon et al. 2012). It is mostly taken up by the Liaoning Liaohekou National Nature Reserve (formerly Shuangtaizihekou NNR), which makes up 80,000 ha of protected area (see Map 3).

Map 3: Liaodong Bay key area, as identified in the IUCN Situation Analysis (MacKinnon et al. 2012). The light purple line denotes the approximate border of the key area. Red lines show the area of the IBA named Shuangtai (Shuangtaizi) Estuary and Inner Gulf of Liaodong, which after the name change of the river is now Liaohe Estuary (or Liaohekou)

Simba Chan (Birdlife China) says that Liaodong Bay is actually the entire ‘northern Gulf’ of Bohai Bay; in 2009 recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and was then named Shuangtai (Shuangtaizi) Estuary and Inner Gulf of Liaodong (Chan et al. 2009).

Prof dr. Zhijun Ma (Fudan University) reports that the site is recognized as Laobian-Yingkou coast Nature Reserve and Liaoning Liaohekou National Nature Reserve which is one of China’s top 21 priority wetlands. For details see the paper by Xia and colleagues in Biological Conservation (Xia et al. 2016). Both sites are of high importance (see Map 4).

Map 4: Priority sites in Liaoning following Xia et al. 2016. In red: Laobian-Yingkou coast Nature Reserve and Liaoning Liaohekou National Nature Reserve (NNR). In green two other unprotected sites: Panjin Nanxiaohe/Liaohe (also called Yingkou Wetland Park and Ridao Saltwork Yinghekou. Note the high irreplaceability value for the two Liaoning sites

Also David Melville and colleagues have reported that Gaizhou (at the head of Liaodong Bay) is a previously unknown site that is of international importance for Great Knots and four other shorebird species and two gulls, however it is threatened by development (Melville et al. 2016)!


Chan, S. (Editor-In-Chief), M. Crosby, S. So, W. Dezhi, F. Cheung & H. Fangyuan (2009) Directory of Important Bird Areas in China (Mainland): Key Sites for Conservation. BirdLife International. 231 pp. Available at ChinaBirdNet.

MacKinnon, J., Y.I. Verkuil. & N. Murray (2012) IUCN situation analysis on East and Southeast Asianintertidal habitats, with particular reference to the Yellow Sea (including the Bohai Sea). Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 47. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. 70 pp. Available at the EAAFP website.

Melville, D.S, H.-B. Peng, Y.-C. Chan, Q. Bai, P. He, K. Tan, Y. Chen, S. Zhang & Z. Ma (2016) Gaizhou, Liaodong Bay, Liaoning Province, China – a site of international importance for Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and other shorebirds. Stilt 69-70: 56-60. Available at Research Gate.

Xia, S., X. Yua, S. Millington, Y. Liua, Y. Jia, L. Wang, X. Hou & L. Jiang (2016) Identifying priority sites and gaps for the conservation of migratory waterbirds in China’s coastal wetlands. Biological Conservation: doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.07.025.

Bohai 2017 Update 2 – 3 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 second of this season. The team reports:

“The weather this season has been amazing, as it was last year. This fine weather has allowed us some great scanning from the sea wall where we do most of our resighting work, either on incoming or outgoing tides, while the birds are close enough to read colourband combinations, engraved leg flags (ELF) and score breeding plumage and abdominal profiles. Mornings are by far the best for observations as the sun is behind us.”

Here is the link to the full story Bohai 2017 Update 2.

Vastleggen in volledig scherm 8-5-2017 150748.bmp


At the Luannan seawall GFN meets the New Zealand Ambassador of China, the President of China Wildlife Conservation Association, and Hebei Province’s Deputy Director General

Report from Theunis Piersma, Luannan, Hebei, China, 5 May 2017

As the strong southerly wind turned to a veritable storm from the northwest, blowing over tripods and dusting the air, the delegation in company of the New Zealand Ambassador to China, Mr John McKinnon, arrived on the Luannan seawall. At a neap tide, some of the Red and Great Knots gracefully remained on the mudflats in front of the seawall to be watched by the Ambassador and representatives of the national, provincial and local governments.

Chris Hassell, Adrian Riegen, and Ady Boyle

John McKinnon was accompanied by our close colleague and GFN associate Adrian Riegen of the Pukorokoro-Miranda Naturalists Trust in New Zealand, and by Chen Kelin of Wetlands International. In the presence of Mr Chen Fengxue, President of China Wildlife Conservation Association and former Vice Administrator of State Forestry Administration and Mr Wang Shaojun, Deputy Director General, Department of Forestry, Hebei Province, Theunis Piersma presented Mr McKinnon a copy of Marathon Migrants. Marathon Migrants is the photo-story of the global connections put into existence by our shared shorebirds, with a foreword by Mrs Maggie Barry, the Minister of Conservation of New Zealand.  It was a special moment to show the Ambassador the page with a hopeful final episode on the future of the Luannan foreshore illustrated with a photo made by Jan van de Kam at the same location more than 10 years ago.

Mr Chen Fengxue, President of China Wildlife Conservation Association and former Vice Administrator of State Forestry Administration and the New Zealand Ambassador to China Mr John McKinnon, together with Theunis Piersma
Theunis shows the Ambassador the page with a hopeful final episode on the future of the Luannan foreshore illustrated with a photo made by Jan van de Kam at the same location more than 10 years ago

Despite the fierce wind, it was a great opportunity to share some time with such a distinguished and politically powerful crowd showing so much interest in the shorebirds on the mudflats. We hope this bodes well for the future of the Luannan intertidal foreshore, the muds which are so crucially important as a critical refuelling area for the red knots connecting New Zealand and Australia with far northern Russia, and for many other shorebirds.

Further reading in Chinese:

  1. The New Zealand Embassy’s official wetchat account about the field trip written by the Ambassador, which can be found here.
  2. The press release on the website of the Forestry Department of Hebei Province, which can be found here.

(Photos by Adrian Boyle and Theunis Piersma)

Theunis Piersma in conversation with the New Zealand Ambassador to China, Mr John McKinnon
New Zealand Ambassador to China Mr John McKinnon is instructed by GFN’s Chris Hassell
Spotting Red Knots and Great Knots!