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Decade-long Citizen Science project counts China’s waterbirds

By Ed Parnell, 14 Jan 2016
Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis). Image: Li Zai
More than 5,000 Far Eastern Curlew, out of an estimated global population of 32,000 individuals, were counted during the census (Image: Li Zai)

Since 2005, more than 150 volunteers have taken part in the China Coastal Waterbird Census, which, in November 2015, published its third report on the state of the country’s coastal waterbirds

The coastal wetlands of China constitute some of the most important migratory, passage and wintering sites along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Unfortunately, the area also faces some of the world’s most serious conservation challenges. In order to protect and manage important sites along the flyway effectively, reliable data are desperately needed, making the China Coastal Waterbird Census – and the work carried out by its volunteers – of critical conservation importance.

“We discovered at least 10 sites of international importance for birds, yet still without proper protection", said Bai Qingquan, one of the coordinators of China Coastal Waterbird Census Team

The latest report, which covers the period from 2010–11, presents a huge amount of information about China’s coastal avifauna. A total of 161 species were recorded during the survey, including 21 globally threatened species.

Peak counts occurred during April’s northward migration period, when almost 266,000 individual waterbirds were logged from 111 species. Twenty per cent or more of the entire population of the following globally threatened birds were recorded during the latest census: Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered: 103), Saunders’s Gull Saundersilarus saundersi (Vulnerable: 5,451), Relict Gull Larus relictus (Vulnerable: 6,005), Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor (Endangered: 561) and Siberian Crane Leucogeranus leucogeranus (Critically Endangered: 700).

“The China Coastal Waterbird Count, which is organised and implemented solely by volunteer bird watchers has lasted for 10 years and is a great example of Citizen Science”, said Vivian Fu, Assistant Manager of Hong Kong Bird Watching Society/BirdLife International China Programme. “The findings of the census not only display significant scientific value, but also contribute to the conservation of sites and species of international importance. We hope that more and more people will join us in future.”

The report, which is written in Chinese, with an English summary and annotations, can be downloaded here (PDF, 55 MB).

The China Coastal Waterbird Census received coordination support from the The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (BirdLife Hong Kong) and over the years has received financial support from the following donors: The British Birdwatching Fair, the Darwin Initiative; Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong; Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust; the Asian Waterbird Conservation Fund; and Ford Green Awards.