Wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers found in Myanmar
Sightings of 84 Spoon-billed Sandpipers Eurynorhynchus pygmeus at two coastal wetland sites in Myanmar have cast new light on the winter distribution of this Endangered species, and confirmed that these wetlands are of international importance for their biodiversity.
The known global population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper has plunged alarmingly in the last few years to only 200-300 pairs.
“The number of breeding pairs in Chukotka, Siberia, fell by 50 percent between 2006 and 2007, and no birds have been seen this year at their traditional wintering sites in Bangladesh”, says Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Vice President of the Russian Bird Conservation Union (BirdLife in Russia).
The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team which found the birds included staff from Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), BirdLife International’s Partners in Russia and Thailand, and members of ArcCona Consulting (Cambridge, UK and Kiel, Germany) and the Japan Wetlands Action Network (JAWAN).
ArcCona’s analysis of satellite images, combined with the experience of previous surveys in India, Bangladesh and Thailand, and with historical records of the species in Myanmar, suggested that potentially suitable habitats existed in the south-western state of Arakan (Rakhine) in the Bay of Bengal, and Martaban (Mottama) Bay near the Thai border.
“Thirty-five Spoon-billed Sandpipers were counted at one high-tide roost in Arakan, including one juvenile ringed at the breeding ground in Chukotka last summer. The team at Martaban found a total of 48 Spoon-billed Sandpiper, scattered over the huge mudflats of the bay but included a flock of 39 birds. The Arakan coast has never been surveyed before, and Martaban Bay only marginally in 2003,” explained Christoph Zöckler of ArcCona Cambridge.
"...no birds have been seen this year at their traditional wintering sites in Bangladesh" —Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Vice President of the Russian Bird Conservation Union
“Our surveys have covered only a small section of the promising Arakan coast,” Christoph Zöckler added. “Although small-scale reclamation of the mudflats for prawn ponds has been observed, the coastal zones are largely healthy ecosystems, which provide both crucial habitat for tens of thousands of arctic waders, and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of people.”
Htin Hla of BANCA said he was surprised and delighted by the findings. He said that BANCA will work with the international community to provide a more secure future for the species.
“This is an important piece of the jigsaw,” said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “If present trends continue, Spoon-billed Sandpiper faces extinction in the next few years. If we are to save the species, we need to identify and conserve not only its breeding sites, but its migration stopover sites and wintering grounds too.”
The Arakan team also recorded Indian Skimmers, several pairs of Sarus Crane and a huge number of wintering Bar-headed Geese. At Martaban, an estimated 50,000 waders are believed to include globally significant numbers of Broad-billed sandpiper, Lesser Sand-plover and Pallas’ Gull.
"This work provides further illustration of the global importance of Myanmar for biodiversity conservation” —Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division
Simba Chan added: “The coast of Myanmar is still relatively intact, but most of the tidal area along the eastern asia flyway is under very heavy development pressure. This work provides further illustration of the global importance of Myanmar for biodiversity conservation.”
The surveys would not have been possible without the full support of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar. The survey team logistics were managed in Myanmar by WATT (Wildbird Adventure Travel and Tours). The Main sponsor for the survey work is Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund. Additional contributions by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in the UK), Asia Bird Fund of BirdLife International, the Manfred Hermsen Foundation (Bremen) and private Russian sponsors.
The BirdLife International Partnership has been committed for a number of years to surveying and monitoring habitats in Myanmar. In the early 2000s The Wild Bird Society of Japan (BirdLife partner in Japan) assisted the Myanmar authorities to survey and compile a national wetland inventory. That helped Myanmar's ratification of the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Designated Moyingyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary is an inland wetland located close to the Martaban (Mottama) coast. Those earlier surveys did not include the Arakan (Rahkine) coast.
Credits: The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Team