Migratory shore birds gather in their many thousands on mudflats, sand bars and river banks. Somehow, they are able to live cooperatively and peacefully in close proximity to birds of their own and many other species. This has many advantages for individual birds. Field Ornithologist Ricki Coughlan reveals more of the amazing lives of migratory shore birds.
Chris Hassell from the Global Flyways Network (GFN) begun in 2006 explains how it came into operation and why it is important for research into migratory shorebirds. The GFN is a very large group of researchers under one umbrella. It was begun by Professor Theunis Piersma (Nederlands University Nederlands Institute for Sea Research) and Dr Alan Baker (Ontario Museum) who both felt the need for a very broad collaboration of scientists looking at migratory birds across the globe. Given that there are seven global flyways for migratory birds, the collaboration was seen as a way of spreading the known science about migratory birds, a goal which is being achieved.
Chris Hassell, long term researcher with the Global Flyway Network (GFN), looks at the current state of play for intertidal mudflats, from Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach in Western Australia to Bohai Bay in China and the now defunct Saemangeum in South Korea. The GFN continues longitudinal research in north-western Bohai Bay in China with hundreds of thousands of birds still flowing through that area on their northward migration to their breeding areas in the Arctic. There is now a Memorandum of Understanding that has been signed between local government, the Paulson Institute and World Wildlife Fund China to establish a nature reserve there. Signed in July, this will hopefully lead to some on-ground action and management of the intertidal mudflats. The actual destruction of the mudflats has stopped in the immediate study area and the claimed areas are being developed. If a nature reserve is established on site it would be very different from reserves in Australia. It would have fisherman on it, fishing nets and a commercial salt pond behind. There may well be industry to the left and right but it would not be concrete and that is the scale GFN is working at because the pressures in the Yellow Sea coastline are constant. In South Korea the Saemangeum mudflats closed down with a 33km seawall enclosing two river mouths and a huge estuary that was extremely important to many species of birds, especially Great knots. Saemangeum has not been developed 11 years later. There are no birds and many hundreds of fishermen lost their livelihoods. The survival consequence for displaced birds is not just immediate but from diminished survival rates in following years. Dr Danny Rogers is currently analysing data from the 14 year count by the GFN of coastal bird species that rely on intertidal mudflats. The final report, due out at the end of the year, will document the state of bird species in the north-west Australian sites of Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach. Then we will have a clearer picture of the changing tide for shorebirds.
Chris Hassell, from the Global Flyway Network, looks at new research into the migratory shorebirds that inhabit Roebuck Bay at this time of the year.The satellite transmitter work uses newly developed, light weight solar-powered backpack harnesses suitable for both the larger birds (such as the Bar-tailed godwit), and now, for a medium sized bird, the Great knot. The Great knots are fitted with handmade transmitters that only weigh 5gm, an innovative product of the company Microwave Telemetry. The Great knot is under enormous pressure, affected by the loss of mudflats in the Yellow Sea in China, so this satellite tracking will give a detailed insight into how individual birds use the Yellow Sea and Roebuck Bay.
Chris Hassell, from the Global Flyway Network, brings the latest news from China on migratory shorebird habitats, under threat from development. There's a glimmer of hope, with the strong involvement of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) China and Wetlands International in efforts to conserve sufficient of the wetlands for migratory shorebirds use.