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Asia
13 Apr 2015

First steps towards an Asian land bird monitoring programme

Participants from the four countries agree to a monitoring framework for East Asia
By Felicia Wee

Question: How do we know that many bird species are declining?

Answer: In Europe and North America there are decades of observations and data, gathered by scientists and amateurs that allow us to make accurate estimates of changes in populations over time.

In East Asia, this data has been lacking for much of the region. However, a new agreement between China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Russia is the first step in developing a coordinated monitoring of migratory birds across the region.

In the 1990s, Japanese ornithologists compared nationwide breeding bird survey results from the 1970s and 1990s. They noted some species, such as the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, had shown significant declines in numbers and distribution. In the first decade of this century, the highly gregarious Yellow-breasted Bunting was also found to be in steep decline. It was speculated that many other migratory land birds in Asia were also declining, however, there were very few researchers available to carry out detailed studies on land bird populations, and so a coordinated framework of joint study was never established.

In November 2010, the idea of land bird monitoring in Asia was raised at a meeting on migratory bird conservation between the Republic of Korea and Japan. It was further discussed at meetings between China, Republic of Korea and Japan and between Russia and China.

These four countries came together for the first time and reached a consensus on moving a regional monitoring scheme forward at the East Asian Land Monitoring Workshop, co-organised by the National Institute of Biological Resources of Korea (NIBR) and BirdLife International, which took place in Jeju, Korea in March 2015.

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BirdLife International has been working with these four founding countries on developing a land bird monitoring scheme. At the 26th International Ornithological Congress held in Tokyo in August 2014, BirdLife International organised a Round-table discussion on land bird monitoring and conservation in Asia. Opinions from ornithologists at the round-table was presented at a side-event jointly organised with the NIBR at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Pyongchang, Korea in October 2014, which helped to bring Korea, China, Russia and Japan representatives to consider the feasibility of a land bird monitoring scheme.

At the bilateral meetings between China, Republic of Korea and Japan held in Deqing, China, November 2014, Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Officer of BirdLife International Asia Division (Tokyo Office) was nominated by the three countries as the international coordinator for developing this monitoring scheme. At the Land Bird Monitoring Workshop in Jeju, his coordinator role was again confirmed by all four countries.

BirdLife and BirdLife partners will play a useful part in linking countries and NGOs together, and to provide technical support. At the workshop in Jeju, Dr Richard Gregory of RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) was invited to present the experience of the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme as an example for development of a similar scheme in Asia.

Two types of monitoring have been proposed: standardised bird ringing, and field census techniques. While bird ringing has the advantage of revealing secretive species, it would be labour intensive and expensive to cover a wide range of many sites over Asia. Field surveys by volunteers could fill the gaps of survey sites and raise public participation and awareness of common birds.

“In the last decade birdwatching has become increasingly popular in China. We believe birdwatchers will play an important role in data gathering”, said Simba Chan. “With sufficient training and reference material in their national language, it should not be difficult to start a wide range monitoring scheme in China and many other Asian countries.”