[Oversea] Spoon-billed surveys

Spoon-billed surveys

News from BirdLife International

Spoon-billed surveys

Two surveys of the wintering grounds of Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus starkly illustrate the extreme and growing pressures this Critically Endangered species faces. The second annual survey on the coast of Myanmar found one new wintering site, but numbers overall were less than in the previous year. But in Vietnam, where more than 27 individuals were recorded in the mid-1990s, not a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper was seen in January 2009.

The Myanmar survey was carried out in mid-January by an international team of German, British, Russian, Canadian and Burmese scientists, led by BANCA (BirdLife in Myanmar) and ArcCona Ecological Consulting, Cambridge (UK). In total, 63 birds were found by two teams, operating on the Rakhine (Arakan) coast, and in the Bay of Martaban. The total of 48 birds in the Bay of Martaban was similar to the 2008 figure, but at the island of Nan Thar near the Bangladeshi border, only 14 were recorded, compared to 35 in 2008.

A new site with at least one Spoon-billed Sandpiper was found along the Rakhine coast. The survey indicates that the Bay of Martaban, close to Yangon (the capital of Myanmar), may be the most important wintering site for the species in Myanmar. The 48 birds observed are a minimum, and probably well below the total number that winters in the estuary. The survey covered only 25-40% of suitable habitat, and the flocks of waders were difficult to approach. The surveys also took place during neap tides, when some prime feeding areas dry out, resulting in considerable local movements within the bay.

"Taking all this into consideration, the site may hold more than 100 Spoon-billed Sandpiper", said Christoph Zöckler of ArcCona Cambridge. "However, it has no protected status at present, putting the site at risk from development."

At both Martaban and Nan Thar island there was evidence of hunting and trapping, which targets larger birds, but may also entangle and kill small waders. The pressure of an increasing coastal population means that younger hunters may have begun to target smaller birds.