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

Acknowledgements

(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

Fig1
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.

Fig2
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.

Fig7
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.

Fig11
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.

Fig12
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.

Fig13
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.

 

Acknowledgements

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.