GFN on The Luannan Coast, Bohai Bay, China from Global Flyway Network (2016)

Introduction | 2015 | Introduction (28 March) | #1 (26 April) | #2 (01 May) | #3 (13 May) | #4 (21 May) | #5 (31 May) | #6 (06 June)Bohai Bay Field Trip Report for 2016  2017

Visit GFN website to find the original updates

Bohai Bay Field Trip Report 2016

GFN’s Red Knot Northward Migration Through Bohai Bay, China, Field Trip Report (Chris Hassell et al, Apr-Jun 2016) was published.


Bohai update #6

6 June 2016 Hi All Welcome to the 6th and final update from the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay, China. The piersmai Red Knot are still not here in the expected numbers. Not only are the total numbers of Red Knot down, but two more indications, are the lack of resightings and the ‘rog V p scans’ that is the ratios of the two sup-species (rogersi and piersmai) to each other. Some very basic data are below to show this.
We are still recording ‘new’ colourbanded birds, so it seems some piersmai are still trickling through the Luannan Coast, but counts from NWA this non-breeding season will be informative as will any news of unusually large concentrations of Red Knot in the Yellow Sea this northward migration period. More on this in the full report (coming soon – ish). We have now recorded a total of 3,582 marked birds for this season and only a ridiculous low of 119 additional marked birds in the last six days. For the whole season marked birds have been identified from 31 sites on 17 species. Red Knot still leads the way with 2,698 sightings. Of the last 119 resightings, 113 have been Red Knot! (K)not so surprising there are very few other species left here, even Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling, which are still usually numbering in their thousands at this date, are very difficult to find with less than a few hundred of each species. This really has been an unusual migration season through the Luannan Coast, Bohai Bay, China and not just for Red Knot. NON SHOREBIRDS As it is towards the end of the migration season we have not seen a lot of birds in the past ten days. But we have now recorded 230 species since we arrived here. A new addition to list was Red Collared Dove on the 4/6/2016 at the Nanpu seawall. Tiger Shrike and Northern House Martin have also been highlights. Despite having our highest total ever, we still have a few birds that we usually see each year that we haven’t this season – such as Eurasian Bittern, Chinese Egret, Mandarin Duck and Brown Hawk Owl. An enjoyable sight here are the restless and busy tern colonies on islands in the larger salt ponds.

Colony of Gull-billed and Common Terns breeding in one of the salt ponds. © Adrian Boyle

Now forget all that, sit back and relax and look at the people who we share the area with. A picture says a thousand words (apparently), so this will be our longest update ever but with minimal effort! PEOPLE The first time Chris visited here in 2009 there was one PhD student (Yan Hong-Yan, Nicky) undertaking research here. Now there are people everywhere! This is a good thing, as the general knowledge base builds, hopefully towards conservation initiatives. Here is a bunch of images of various folks – except for the wonderful Kath Leung, who was with us here for a few days, but no-one took her picture (sorry Kath)! Thanks to various folk for the images of various folk!

Ann Jones (ABC), Andrew Luck-Baker (BBC) and a couple of blokes from the External Liaison Department, Theunis, Bob, Ady, Chris.
Kerry Hadley and various shellfishers.
Ady, Mr Lui (Young Driver), Chris, Bob.
Drew drove into a paddy field (no we don’t know why either)! He then got Hung Ju Lin to get him out, now that’s delegation!
It can’t always be serious, you gotta have a laugh, Drew running Zhao Jian lying about.
Hung Ju Lin, Micha Jackson, Leiming, Zhao Jian, Mr Guo Shifu (Bird Trapper), Drew.
Jason Loghry sitting in a car (as usual) – you gotta get out to see some birds Jason!
Peter Crighton scanning a salt pond.
I’m getting on a bit and it’s a long seawall!
Mr Lui (Old Driver) looking serious – spends most of his time smiling.
That’s more like it.
Bob loves scanning!
Stylish boots, Ady.
Leiming and friend.
Ying Chi Chan videoing shorebirds.
Our friends in the salt ponds.
Breakfast Man (one of a few)

That’s it, see you next year.

Chris, Ady, Bob

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Bohai update #5

31 May 2016

Hi All Welcome to the 5th update from the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay, China.

Scanning is going merely OK, or could even be described as poor, relative to what it is usually like. But we need to remember that we are thousands of kilometres away from most on the marking sites, so all the records we collect are adding to the bigger picture of migration through the EAAF.

We have now recorded 3,463 birds from 31 sites on 17 species. Red Knot still leads the way with 2,585 sightings. So we shouldn’t be too downhearted!

Spotlight on Species: Sanderling

Breeding plumage Sanderling. © A Boyle

The Sanderling Calidris alba is one of the small shorebirds, like many it is a grey and white bird in non-breeding plumage, but ‘brighter and cleaner’ than many others. It is known in most parts of its global range as a bird of ocean beaches. It has a charismatic and characteristic feeding style. Sanderlings are often seen rushing in and out on ocean beaches as the waves wash on to the sand, feeding vigorously before the next wave and so on. This is not the case here on the Luannan Coast, no waves crashing on sandy beaches here, just the grey sea as a grey tide washing gently across the grey mud! The Sanderlings here, seem to spend a lot of time roosting in groups on the mud, as thousands of other shorebirds feed around them, and don’t start feeding until the tide is well out, and mud with a firmer substrate is uncovered. Sanderlings in Roebuck Bay are only found south of the Bay in the Bush Point area, another habitat with firmer mud. They are also found north and south of Broome at Coconut Wells and Eighty Mile Beach – both ocean beaches.

The Sanderlings here at Luannan use the salt ponds. Despite the lack of ocean beach, this area supports 20 percent of the current estimated EAAF population of 22,000. On the 21st of May this season, Adrian was out on the mudflats with a few thousand Sanderlings scattered over a large area of mudflat, when an Amur Falcon frightened the shorebirds and two big flocks of Sanderlings (and nothing else), landed close to him. As we have often said, if we see an opportunity to count a species, we do so, and don’t just do so on ‘count days’. The total of 4,320 has far surpassed our previous biggest count of 2,430 from 29th May 2013.

Sanderlings breed across the entire high Arctic (they are circumpolar) and their non-breeding range reflects this – with the species found on every continent except Antarctica. They are one of the last species to leave Luannan. Despite this huge area for both breeding and non-breeding, the bird is monotypic (has no subspecies), as the breeding grounds are continuous and not geographically distinct.

The marked Sanderling that we have recorded here come from six banding sites of the EAAF, Australia (four sites NWA, South Australia (two), Victoria), Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve, near Shanghai and Shunkunitai, Hokkaido, Japan.

Map showing all the areas marked Sanderling sighted by us, originate from on the Luannan Coast.


As mentioned at length in Update #4 Red Knot numbers are down on previous years.

We speculated and hoped that they would arrive, but they haven’t, or (k)not in any great numbers. We are only seeing around 5,000 in the area now, very low in comparison with other years, and the questions posed in Update #4 still stand. But some new birds are arriving and we can tell this from our colour band resightings.


We see egg collectors on most days that we are working in the salt ponds. The collectors are taking the eggs for food and are mostly workers in the salt ponds. If they are only taking a few for their own use it may not be a huge problem. How to tackle the issue is difficult, if we contact the authorities (egg-collecting is illegal) our currently friendly association with everyone we meet in the salt ponds may sour.

Since the last update Leiming and his team observed a lady collecting many eggs. Leiming approached her and explained it was an illegal activity. She said that she was unaware that collecting eggs is illegal.

Lady collecting eggs. © Leiming

The lady said she had collected 210 eggs and they were for her own use, but that seems unlikely and the number would indicate they are being sold. The eggs were mostly from the nests of Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt – with smaller numbers of Kentish and Little-ringed Plover. The eggs were confiscated and taken to a conservationist, Mr Tien. We made mention of Mr Tien back in 2012 in #Update 5 (check it out it’s a great story!). Mr Tien had success in hatching, raising and releasing Pied Avocets last year and has five incubators, so the eggs are now in his care and hopefully he will have similar success and the birds will be released back into the wild. We have heard that the eggs have already started to hatch.

Eggs being transported to the incubators. © Leiming.


The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a critically endangered species, trying to survive with many of the same problems our knots are facing. There are a lot of conservation programs going on at the moment to try and help protect this species.

With possibly fewer than 100 pairs left in the wild, it was exciting to find one on the Nanpu mudflats on the 25/05/16 This is our fourth record over the many years we have been surveying this site. All have been in late May or early June. None of the individuals we have recorded have been banded or flagged. Although we would love to see a flagged one here to help understand the migrations of this troubled species, the fact it was un-flagged gives hope that there could be more ‘spoonies’ around than estimated. Most of the well-studied population in Meinypil’gyno, Chukotka, Russia have already got flags on them.

Record shot of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. © A Boyle


Since the last update the weather has remained fair, so limiting the amount of passerines on the seawall. There has been a steady increase in the amount of Lanceolated Warblers, cuckoo numbers and species are increasing. In nearby Beijing recently there have been five satellite tags placed on Cuckoos. Here is a link to more information on this project.

The ‘out of range’ Greater Flamingo has been putting in several appearances again over the past week. Although the Black-headed Gull is a common species here, a flock of 5,640 roosting in a pond is the highest count we have recorded on the Luannan coast during spring.

Some of the large Black-headed Gull flock. © A Boyle

Our record of a Black-legged Kittiwake on the 25th and 26th of May is a rare bird for China and our first record here on the Luannan Coast.

Black-legged Kittiwake at Nanpu 26/05/16. © A Boyle

Our third Bianchi’s type Warbler for the season was in the ‘Magic Wood’ on the 27/05/16 Unfortunately it wasn’t calling so ID was not confirmed once again for this almost identical trio of beautiful warblers from the genus Seicercus.

Our third Bianchi’s Type Warbler. © A Boyle

Despite our talk of low numbers of birds, shorebirds, waterbirds, raptors and migrating passerines, diversity is high. We have recorded 223 species of birds since our first day in the field on the 12th of April. This is our highest total of species in our eight years working here, and, we only look for them in our ‘down time’!

Chris, Ady, Bob

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Bohai update #4

21 May 2016

Hi All

Welcome to the 4th update from the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay, China.

The main story this time around is, where the heck are the Red Knots?! This was from the last update ‘we are not recording big numbers of yellow flagged and colour banded birds yet, but we do expect this to change any day soon.’ Well it hasn’t! We have recorded very few and it is getting intriguing/worrying. The next week of good scanning tides will reveal more.

Scanning is going merely okay, so far we have recorded 2,811 birds from 29 sites on 16 species. Red Knot still leads the way with 2,040 sightings.

Spotlight on Species: Curlew Sandpiper

The Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea is one of the small shorebirds. Like many, it is a grey and white bird in non-breeding plumage; transforming into a beautiful, wine-red, chestnut and white bird in its breeding finery. Curlew Sandpipers breed across the high Arctic tundra, from the Yamal Peninsular (central-west Siberia) to the Kolyuchinskaya Gulf (far-east Siberia). Their non-breeding areas are from sub-Saharan Africa, through to the Middle East and south and south-east Asia to Australia. Despite this huge area for both breeding and non-breeding areas, the bird is monotypic (has no subspecies), as the breeding grounds are continuous and not geographically distinct. In Australia this species has just had its conservation status upgraded to critically endangered, due to the rate of decrease in their non-breeding population in Australia.

The Luannan Coast and the adjacent salt ponds accommodate thousands of curlew Sandpipers during spring migration. Six years ago on May 11th 2010, we saw approximately 80,000 of them leaving the Beipu mudflats on an incoming tide for the salt ponds. They readily feed in the shallows or edges of salt ponds, particularly on windy days when prey is blown against the pond banks. This makes counting them difficult over the vast area of salt ponds. We possibly ‘got lucky’ with the big count, although we are sure those numbers have not been here in the last few years.

The Curlew Sandpipers that we see here come from various countries and banding sites of the EAAF, Australia (six sites North Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland South West WA, Northern Territory), Thailand, Hong Kong, Sumatra, Singapore and Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve near Shanghai. We also record them from a country that is officially outside the EAAF, India.

Map showing all the areas we have sighted Curlew Sandpipers from in Bohai Bay.

The first time we realized that Indian birds were passing through the Luannan Coast, was when in May 2010 Adrian Boyle photographed a bird with just a metal band on its tibia. He knew this was an unusual sight as by 2010, most birds had some sort of additional mark (a ‘flag’ or colourbands) in addition to the metal band. So he took multiple pictures of the bird, and from this we were able to read the metal band inscription and track down its origin. Now India is putting engraved flags onto some of their captured shorebirds, and this season we have recorded several Curlew Sandpipers from Point Calimere in the far south east of Tamil Nadu and another from Chilika Lake, Orissa). PhD researcher Leiming, is studying Curlew Sandpipers as one of his main focus species and is learning how they utilise the salt pond and coastal habitat – when they use each and what their diet is in each habitat.

Curlew Sandpiper from Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu, India 11/05/2010.

                                       Visitors (some more welcome than others)

Visitors still come and go. We have had a visit from the ABC radio journalist Ann Jones who produces and presents Off Track. Her colleague from the BBC World Service, Andrew Luck-Baker was also here. Ann interviewed us (Adrian and Chris) in Australia, and continues to follow us, as we follow the birds on their migration! And does a whole lot more besides! The journalists visit has also coincided with the annual visit of Professors Theunis Piersma and Zhang Zhengwang. Theunis is the ‘head’ of GFN and Prof Zhang is at Beijing Normal University and supervises the PhD students working here along with Theunis. We have been interviewed on the Nanpu Seawall one evening with the birds flying over our heads back to the mudflats from their roosts in the salt ponds.

We have also been accompanied by four officials from the External Liaison Department (it is good to see it is not only Australia that has names that mean nothing for business and Government). They were there to see we didn’t say anything controversial, although they didn’t speak English. We didn’t say anything controversial, just in case!

And to add to our interaction with officialdom, we were once again, driven to the Local Police Station after a young Oil Company Worker took exception to our presence. He thought we were spies, not very good ones I imagine, as each year over the last eight years, we have wandered around in the open on the seawall and mudflats for sixty days without a day’s break! You would think we would have gathered our information by now!

We had to show the photos on our cameras and they even photographed our notebooks and what we had written in them.


As mentioned at the beginning of this Update, Red Knot numbers are down on previous years.

The mid-May count in 2013 was 21,000, 2014 was 27,000, 2015 was 20,000 and this season 2016 it is 11,000.

This season the birds have been ‘missing’ for 13 days or more (10th to 22nd). We have made sure that we have looked at all the coastal sites including West Heihenzi and the north Beipu area and tried to look at them in conjunction with other sites, so the birds couldn’t feasibly escape our attention.

Also, we just get a feeling the birds are not here. When we drive to and from the coast we do not see them in the ponds in anything other than small hundreds. We do not see large flocks flying anywhere.

The questions we are asking ourselves about the NWA birds are;

Have the birds not arrived yet?

Have some of the birds arrived and then moved on as there was not enough food? The birds that are here are looking healthy, BP scores of 4 and 5 are common, and the ratio is the same as other years.

So is there a lack of food? Jason and Ginny indicated that the pots density was lower than in previous years, but with more food close to seawall but they have not carefully analysed the samples yet.

Disturbance of Red Knot flocks is not the reason for the low numbers. There is the same amount of shell fishing activity as last year and less people and activity than in years prior to 2015.

Are they here and we can’t find them – very unlikely we think.

We speculate that they have not yet arrived and we will see them eventually, and hopefully soon, however, why they are late remains a mystery. If they have not arrived yet and they have left Broome – then where are they?


Not a lot of bird sightings to report for this update.

The weather has been nice and most migrants have presumably kept on migrating and not landing for us to look at.

Plus we have not been to the local park for several days, as the tides and the extra searching for the Red Knots has not made it possible.

This year we have seen less numbers of migrating passerines (except the brilliant day mentioned in the last Update #3), and despite the overall numbers, the species diversity has been very good and we currently have 209 species in our list for the trip so far.

A beautiful Yellow Wagtail in one of the salt ponds that we scan. © A Boyle
Female Chinese Grosbeak in the local park. © A Boyle
Male Common Pheasant behind where we stand to scan knots at Nanpu. © A Boyle


There is no other way to headline this part of the Update.

Zhu Bingrun is one of the PhD students from Beijing Normal University working here on the Luannan coast.

His main study species is the Black-tailed Godwit (see Update #3 for more information). He has attached three birds with GPS transmitters. On 01/05/2016 Zhu banded and attached a transmitter to a male Black-tailed Godwit with a metal band and Blue/Yellow flags – the blue engraved H03. The bird moved around the salt ponds, never using the mudflats, and then migrated on 17/05/2016. He flew in a single flight and was still flying when the signal was lost at the Inner Mongolia/China border. Two days later on 21/05/2016 two images were uploaded to Facebook showing the bird had been shot and killed in Sakha Republic of Russia.

Zhu has two more Black-tails carrying GPS loggers. H02 is already in the region where H03 was killed and has not sent a signal for the last two days. H04 is also heading towards the Sakha region.

Zhu would like to thank Mrs Inga Bysykatova, a Siberian Crane researcher in Russia, who passed all the photos and information to him. She’s is now trying to locate where the hunter is, and see if it’s possible to get the transmitter back.

We hope this is a very unlucky occurrence for the bird and Zhu’s research and not a regular occurrence (a lot of godwits being shot each breeding season).
Chris, Ady, Bob

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Bohai update #3

13 May 2016

Hi All

Welcome to the third update from the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay, China. Let’s talk about the weather! It’s hot! Unseasonably so from our eight years of experience, we usually experience some cold and wet weather in the first weeks of our field season, but not so this year. Remember that opening from last time? The next day? It blew a gale and the rain poured down! And then again a few days ago, but that led to much excitement, see later. So I am unsure if we should or shouldn’t talk about the weather!

Scanning is going well, so far we have recorded 2,250 marked birds from 25 sites on 15 species. Red Knot leads the way with 1,636 sightings. Despite this we feel that the Roebuck Bay birds have not really arrived with us yet. We are not recording big numbers of yellow flagged and colourbanded birds yet, but we do expect this to change any day soon.

Spotlight on Species: Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa is currently classified in to three sub-species, limosa, Icelandic and melanuroides. Simple? Well hold on a moment, there is only one subspecies for the EAAF (melanuroides). This subspecies is said to have scattered breeding areas from Lake Baikal in the west to Chukotka in the far-east, an enormous geographic range. So at this point I could lead you to this paper ‘Patterns in Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA Reveal Historical and Recent Isolation in the Black-Tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)’, but I won’t! Look it up if DNA is your thing. Our thing is field observations, old-fashioned I know, but still relevant in biology. The Black-tailed Godwits we work with in Roebuck Bay and the ones we see here look different, very different. Broome birds are small and develop bright breeding plumage. Birds passing through Bohai Bay are big and have very little pale breeding plumage. This has led to much discussion and reading of various papers and it still isn’t too clear what is going on with the Black-tailed Godwits in our flyway. So it is exciting that Drew Bingrun from Beijing Normal University has, as part of his PhD studies, GPS loggers attached to three Black-tails caught here in Luannan. One left just eight days after having the logger attached and is in a likely breeding location in Inner Mongolia. We wait with bated breath to see where the others go to breed and then where they spend their non-breeding season. We have never recorded a Broome Black-tail here (and we would if they were here!), the overseas records we have are from South Korea in spring and from the Kamchatka Peninsula in autumn. So they look different, they have different migration routes and therefore, presumably different breeding locations. Maybe we have a fourth subspecies? GFN has a very good dataset on Black-tails including blood samples, and researchers at Groningen University – along with Drew, will be analysing this and other datasets, to try to tease out what is going on with our beautiful EAAF Black-tailed Godwits.

The Black-tails when they are here favour the salt pond habitat for both foraging and roosting. This season 10,000 have been using the ‘Prison Salt Ponds’. But they also disperse away from the ponds to forage —————————-somewhere else!

Drew and his team put in a lot of effort to find out where that somewhere else is, but to no avail. There is the vast area of salt ponds that we often mention and then in addition to this, there are huge areas of rice paddies, which would be very suitable foraging habitats when they are flooded.

Black-tails from Roebuck Bay are very quick to move away from the coastal mudflats when there is good rainfall in the surrounding area. We don’t know where they go, but I have been hinting to Drew – he may want to expand his studies! When Black-tails are using Roebuck Bay it is noticeable that they use the soft sediments in the east and north-east of the bay. I have never seen one in twenty years work feeding anywhere else in the bay.

Habitat Loss

Small developments in our area continue to spring up. This is not necessarily a bad thing, economic development will continue to be part of the Luannan Coast story. But the tourist development on the seawall at Beipu has rather caught our attention! It seems to be a Seafood Harvesting Tourist Facility. But obviously dolphins frolicking in the ocean, turtle’s nesting in huge numbers and bikini clad girls in the mud will be major components of the experience! I won’t go in to detail about the sanitary arrangements but ———- it goes straight on to the mudflats where you collect your shell fish or have a mud bath. We don’t expect it to be too popular, but that may just be our western sensibilities, we shall see.

And another patch of habitat going under concrete is at ‘Tree Lane’. This is a site that we go to for recreational birding, no counting or looking for flags and bands, just birding for fun. At Tree Lane we have admired many birds in the extensive reed beds, canals, open water and ‘bunds’ with trees. An impressive avifauna like Grey and Purple Heron, Eurasian, Yellow and Schrenck’s Bitterns, breeding Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers and many cuckoos presumably parasitising them, plus a whole array of passerines in the trees. But now we are faced with a totally brown/yellow stone desert with a lot of human building activity (what’s new)?

Of course we couldn’t read and understand the information board at the entrance of the human playground, but the artist’s impression didn’t leave any room for imagination: hundreds of leisure houses, some big central buildings, a tennis and basketball court. Also an artificial lake has been planned, but no reed beds around it. It looks a thoroughly nice place to live if you are NOT a nature lover. The complete complex of houses, surrounded by woods (not sure that bit will eventuate) instead of reed beds, will be ready in May 2019 – as far as we can understand from the undoubtedly sunny selling text. We can’t wait!

How some of it used to look (and a bit still does)! © B Loos
The Present. © B Loos
The Future. © B Loos
Red Knots just arrive on the mud and ready to be scanned. Note some of the invasive Spartina growing in the foreground. © A Boyle

Non shorebird highlights.

Bianchi’s type warbler at the town park on the 09 05 15 was our third record ever of this well out of range bird. However, without the call we cannot identify it to species level. © A Boyle
Black Redstart, female at Nanpu Seawall on the 06.05.16 is only our second record. © A Boyle
Citrine Wagtail. Usually only seen once or twice a season but we have had 4 so far. © A Boyle

We have so far recorded 203 bird species for the year.

It’s raining birds

May 12th started off just like most of our mornings. An early start followed by an hour drive to our site at Nanpu, where we planned to scan knots as they arrived on the mudflats on a receding tide. For the past few days the knots had been troublesome, not arriving when they should, being very skittish due to the many cuckoos and raptors migrating overhead but mostly because they were just (k)not there!

They seem to do this every season and just vanish for a few days and we look for them, can’t find them and then just turn up again. So with the early starts catching up with us, the knots probably not going to be there, and dark stormy weather complete with strong wind and rain, we were not looking forward to the day’s adventure. Little did we know that this would turn out to be the best day we have ever had for non-shorebird migration!

Female Amur Falcon in the rain. © A Boyle

We parked at our first scanning site at Nanpu and we could see four Egrets flying towards us. It was three Little Egrets and one Cattle Egret. Then the pond herons came across the sea, twenty nine in total and overhead were dozens of Pacific Swifts.
The mudflat started to reveal itself as the tide receded and we all split up to cover our assigned scanning areas and, of course, the knots, as predicted, didn’t show up in big numbers – but the sight of low flying migrants arriving on the coast was spectacular.

There were hundreds of Buntings including at least fifteen endangered Yellow-breasted Buntings and ten Chestnut Buntings. Wagtails were in the hundreds and we soon notched up three sub species of Yellow Wagtails, several White and Grey Wagtails along with three Forest Wagtails. Flocks of pipits passed overhead along with over a dozen snipe, a Grey-headed Lapwing, Daurian Starlings and a large flock of Rosefinches. The first hour was impressive, and with the knots not arriving, the wind howling and the rain falling, we sheltered on the side of the car, poured cups of tea and watched the spectacle unfold.
THree Black-capped Kingfishers, eleven Black-naped Orioles, Cuckoos, Amur Falcons, Oriental Honey Buzzards, Hoopoes, and Blue Robins you name it and it was there.
After several hours the numbers started to drop and we headed home for lunch and to enter the small amount of shorebird data we had collected for the day, with the bird log taking rather longer than usual.

As the seawall had been ‘pumping’ we decided to head to our local park in the afternoon to continue our lucky run. Jason and Drew rang to inform us they were going to the ‘Magic Forest’ and would catch up with us later. The park didn’t have lots of numbers but the diversity was very high with Siberian Thrush, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Northern House Martin and Chestnut Bunting being the highlights. Then the phone rang. Adrian it’s Jason. The forest is pumping and we have yet another Bianchi’s type Warbler and a probable Fujian Niltava. We quickly contacted our driver and sped out there. The Niltava was never seen again, but the Bianchi’s type Warbler was unbelievably tame and would hop around our feet and 20cm above our heads. Too close for my 500mm!!!!

The second Bianchi’s type Warbler 12 05 16. © A Boyle

Swinhoe’s Robins, Siberian Blue Robins were common on the ground and Chinese Thrushes, Grey-streaked Flycatchers and Yellow-browed Warblers were common in the trees. On dusk over 200 Yellow Wagtails came to roost and we added yet another Black-capped Kingfisher – our fourth for the day. With the light fading quickly, we started to head home, and just before we hit the edge of town, an owl was spotted on the wires and it was a Little Owl. This was out 121st bird for the day and our highest day total ever.

Siberian Blue Robin. © A Boyle

Adrian, Bob and Chris

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Bohai update #2

01 May 2016

Hi All

Welcome to the 2nd update from the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay, China. Let’s talk about the weather! It’s hot! Unseasonably so from our eight years of experience – we usually experience
some cold and wet weather in the first weeks of our field season, but not so this year, the odd chilly morning and a drop of rain, but other than that, warm and today its 32 degree C 90 degree F!

Scanning is going well, so far we have recorded 1,117 marked birds from 24 sites on 11 species.
Red Knot lead the way with 669 sightings.

We plan to have a ‘spotlight on species’ for each of our upcoming Updates this season so here goes with the first one.

Spotlight on Species: Marsh sandpiper

As we drive to the Luannan coast mudflats in the dawn light, we pass through the salt ponds. Two of these ponds, that are adjacent to the road, sometimes have thousands of birds roosting or feeding in them. This spectacle relies purely on the water levels. Deep water, and a few Pied Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits might be there. Low water level with a bit of the pond floor on view, and the sight of thousands of shorebirds is very evocative in the early morning light. One of the most abundant birds using these ponds is the Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), a beautiful delicate shorebird with a very fine bill, long yellowish legs, a white underside that is finely streaked on the upper-breast, and grey upperparts with beautiful patterning in breeding plumage. In North West Australia it is commonly recorded from September to April, but rarely in big numbers. It favours freshwater wetlands, but will happily use the coastal habitat when the inland lakes are dry.

Here in Bohai, Marshies (as we refer to them), occur in big numbers, and this year we have had a count of 7,510 in just the few ponds mentioned above. The biggest count we have recorded here was an estimate of over 10,000 on 26/04/2012. These numbers are absolute minimums for the area, as it is impossible to count the whole salt ponds. The total area is enormous with literally hundreds of ponds. Not all of the ponds are suitable for shorebirds to use, but many are. Small
numbers of shorebirds feed on the edges of the ponds, but we only see the ones that we drive alongside. The ponds are, very roughly, 20km by 10km in size and there are many more
aquaculture ponds in the area. So the Marshies we see are only a fraction of what is probably using the site. This is reflected in the EAAF estimate for this species. It is between 100,000 and 1,000,000! A difficult species to monitor as it doesn’t gather in large roosting aggregations or massive flocks feeding on inter-tidal mudflats. Marshies arrive here in large numbers between April 16th and 21st and all but a handful have gone by May 10th to 16th.

The only marked Marshies we have seen here, have been form the freshwater lakes near Broome. They are not commonly caught at banding sites in the EAAF. A conservation concern for Marshies, is they get caught in a certain type of fishing net much more than any other species do. Here at our Luannan site over the years, we have found dozens of dead Marshies in nets, but almost no other species. This may have something to do with their foraging methods? Dozens doesn’t sound much, but there must be literally millions of these nets used around the Yellow Sea.

One of the thousands of Marsh Sandpipers at Nanpu. © A Boyle
Marshie caught in a net. © M Slaymaker

As usual, we are recording the presence of both subspecies of Red Knots that visit this coastline. The proportion of the piersmai subspecies of Red Knots (that spend the non-breeding season predominately in NWA) have increased in the flocks. In our first five days here, they only comprised up to 5% of the flocks. Now they are up to 37%.

Mostly rogersi subspecies arriving on the mud – spot the Dowitchers.

We are still not getting that many colour banded (CB) birds from NWA yet. But what is noticeable is that all the first sightings we have of CB NWA Red Knot, are birds that ‘live’ at 80 Mile Beach and we only have one that is a Roebuck Bay bird so far this year. This is a small sample of resightings,
but it is quite striking. It would seem odd that birds spending the non-breeding season within 200km of each other, would leave those sites at markedly different times. Some of the birds we see here are like ‘old friends’. Bar-tailed Godwit 1YLYB.

He was banded 17/02/2007 aged 2+ (second year of life or older) and is recorded regularly (but not many times) in Roebuck Bay. He is actually recorded more often here in Luannan 6,400km away from his original banding site! While the table below is not hard core science, it appears he arrives here between April 11th and 20th each year.

In 2010 we were noticing a lot of metal bands on Curlew Sandpipers – but with no flags. When Adrian photographed one and we were able to read the band from the images, it indicated we were getting these birds from India. India is officially outside the EAAF and in the Central Asian Flyway, but of course birds don’t give a damn for our human-imposed boundaries!

We encouraged the shorebird banders in India to start using flags, and they first started putting them on in 2014. We had a few sightings last year and one Curlew sandpiper we could ID to an individual (M44). Already this season we have identified three Curlew Sandpipers and one Asian Dowitcher, two individuals, from two different banding sites in India. Yet another county’s birds that depend on the very important Luannan coastline.

The Asian Dowitcher B08 banded in Chilika Lake India in Dec 2014 here in Nanpu April 2016.

The non-shorebird watching has been fantastic yet again since the last update.

So far we have recorded 158 species during this year’s visit.

We have managed to fit in nearly daily visits to our local park and of course the sea wall is always producing good birds.

Some of the many highlights are below.

On the 22nd April our team discovered a young Greater Flamingo feeding in the salt ponds during our counts. They don’t breed in China and are classed as a rare vagrant, but records over the past ten years have been increasing and are mostly immature birds. It was last seen on the 27th April.

Greater Flamingo, Nanpu Saltpans. © A Boyle

Also on April 22nd we spotted an Isabelline Wheatear on the sea wall. This was our first record of this species in our study area and we have heard it’s only the second record for Hebei province.

Isabelline Wheatear Nanpu. © A Boyle
Mongolian Lark. © A Boyle

The beautiful Mongolian Lark is recorded by us annually in small numbers and the individual above was our 2nd sighting for the season and was looking rather splendid.

A nice male Grey-backed Thrush in the park. © A Boyle

Another interesting sighting has been Greater Short-toed Lark, a bird that looks very similar to Asian Short-toed Lark and we have probably overlooked this species in the past. Despite the wonderful birds around on the seawall when conditions are correct to ‘bring them down’, our scopes are usually trained on the legs of migratory shorebirds on the intertidal mudflats! The mega rare (?) Sulphur-breasted Warbler has now been seen four times and from close study of the images the sightings are of two individuals.

Chris and Ady

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Bohai update #1

26 April 2016

Hi to you all from the Luannan Coast once again. We are a little concerned that our updates are a little bit predictable. If you are new to these Bohai Updates then you can see all the previous years here (you may need a bit of spare time)
However this is our life here, eat, scan, data entry, sleep but have a quick bird watch when there’s a bit of down time!
We hope you continue to enjoy the updates.

It is that time of the migratory shorebirds year that sees them migrating from north west Australia (and many other places!) to and through East Asia on their journeys to their breeding grounds. And so this means GFN swinging in to action and following them (or at least through the Luannan Coast, northern Bohai Bay China). GFN and it funders are serious about studying this area and assisting with conservation efforts to gain the inter-tidal flats and Salt Ponds Nature Reserve status. This is the eighth year that GFN have been here. Our major funders over the years have been BirdLife Netherlands (2007-2012) WWF Netherlands (2010-2014, 2016) and Spinoza Premium of Netherlands Organisation Prize for Scientific Research to Theunis Piersma (2014-2016). We also receive financial and much logistical support during field work from Beijing Normal University principally from Professor Zhang Zhengwang, and PhD students Leiming and Dew Bingrun. In previous years Yang Hong-Yan was a huge help.

As most of you will know our main work here is the resighting of marked birds from NWA but we record every flag or band that passes before our telescopes and we have already recorded a total of 562 flag and band sightings. 73 of these are colourbanded NWA birds. This represents 7 species from 21 banding sites throughout the EAAF.

Image: Ian Southey
Image: Ian Southey

We always get ‘interesting birds that we get alerted to when we look at their resighting history and already this year is no different.
Red Knot 1BRYR is one such bird. He (DNA sexed) has 40 resighting’s in his ‘Life History’ so I shall summarise, not list them all!
Banded in Roebuck Bay as a 1st year bird in July 2008.
Later that year seen in Roebuck Bay, then moved 200km south west to 80 Mile Beach (October 2008).
Next sightings were in Auckland, New Zealand (2009, 2010).
Has been seen numerous times, every year in Bohai Bay (2011 to 2016).
Seen in New Zealand (Austral summer 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015).
But (and here’s the interesting bit in case you were still waiting!)
It has been record on southward migration back to New Zealand in Roebuck Bay and on 80 Mile Beach in (2013) and in New South Wales (2015).
We (think) this is an unusual route for birds to get back to New Zealand. We certainly have very few records of our marked birds taking this route.
And not only is it a fine resighting history we have 2 images of the bird from New Zealand! One from March 2010 and one from January 2012, thanks to Ian Southey.

And an interesting Great Knot that we saw. This Great Knot was banded in Roebuck Bay as an adult on 29/08/2010
It has been seen regularly in Roebuck Bay every year since banding.
We have recorded it here in 2012 and 2015.
The bird was seen and photographed at Futuan River Mouth, Rizhao, Shandong Province on 05/04/2016 (430km south east of our Luannan Coast study site).
This year we recorded this bird on our first day in the field here on 12/04/2016. 7 days after the Futuan River sighting. This is a normal movement for Great Knots migrating from northern Australia. They usually land in southern China and then make one or two short stops as they head for the northern Yellow Sea sites, Luannan coast, Shuangtaihekou National Nature Reserve (near Panjin and Yingkou) and Yalu Jiang National Nature Reserve (near Dandong).

Image: Zong Feng Li

It is interesting for us to see migration from the Luannan Coast. We are familiar with seeing this wonderful event in Roebuck Bay but what is interesting here is that while some migrants are still in Roebuck Bay 6,400km south of us some birds here are already leaving and heading to their breeding grounds.
On April 19th we saw 34 Eurasian Curlew fly up off the mud flats calling noisily and gather in to a ‘Vee’ and head north. Most of Red Knots that will use the Luannan Coast on migration are still in Roebuck Bay. The geographical locations of their respective breeding grounds are the explanation, of course, but it is still a little odd to see it!

Eurasian Curlew (not migrating). A Boyle (especially for John Graff)

Some good news on the reclamation front is that, so far, it looks like there has not been any more habitat loss since last season. This is good news for the main feeding areas for the majority of birds.

As mentioned at the beginning of this update when we get time we visit a few areas of trees, wetlands and the town’s local park to record the many birds in the region. We keep a daily log off all birds seen and now have a great data set on what species pass through this area and when. Each year is slightly different and this year is no exception.

Some species we don’t encounter often that we have seen already this year are Carrion Crow, Russet Sparrow and Short-eared Owl.
Looking at previous logs it seems migration is a little earlier for a few species this year. This could be due to the regular warm temperatures we are experiencing.

On the 18th of April we recorded a Sulphur-breasted Warbler, surprisingly this is our second record of this species in the area as this species range only extends to south of Shanghai some 1,300km away!
On the 20th a visiting researcher Jason Loghry spotted a Chestnut-crowned Warbler that also should have been south of Shanghai!
An unsuccessful search on the morning of the 21st for the Chestnut-crowned Warbler did however turn up yet another Sulphur-breasted Warbler! So it’s been a great season already for vagrants and there are still many weeks to go.

The salt ponds that we pass through to reach our survey sites are looking good already with water levels being fairly low, which gives favoured feeding conditions for the shorebirds. Huge numbers of shorebirds, in particular Black-tailed Godwits and Marsh Sandpipers are using the ponds. We hope to count these over the next few days. Drew has estimated that more than 10,000 black-tailed godwits are present.

So far we have seen a total of 127 species since we arrived 10 days ago.

The first of 2 Sulphur-breasted Warblers seen in the park recently. A Boyle
Buff-bellied Pipit. One of the many migrants encountered daily. A Boyle
Grey-headed Lapwing. A Boyle
The mandatory Yellow-bellied Tit for the first update. A Boyle

So we are underway once more and wish the birds good luck.
And to other researchers throughout the world’s flyways have a good spring season.

For those of you with a scientific or statistical bent then the link below is a hard-core scientific paper written from the mass of data collected here and in NWA.

Chris and Ady (The Current Team)

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Great Knots head north with PTT’s logging their progress

28 March 2016

It is that exciting time of year again (for shorebird researchers) as northward migration gets in to full-swing. GFN has a cohort of Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits with Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTT) attached to them with harnesses. The first Great Knots with PTT’s have taken off on northward migration from Roebuck Bay. The Broome Bird Observatory’s Public Migration watch almost certainly saw PTT 32 on Sunday evening! We know this from the track and the timing, not that we could see the aerial trailing behind the bird! These birds were tagged in October 2015 by the GFN/AWSG banding team in Roebuck Bay, Broome, north west Australia for PhD student Ginny Chan (University of Groningen). Ginny’s research is investigating the migratory behaviour of birds in a rapidly changing world. The majority of the world’s Great Knots spend the non-breeding season in northern Australia with most of those in north west Australia. They migrate through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to and from their Siberian breeding grounds. During these trips, they stop to feed and rest at intertidal sites in Asia, mostly in the Yellow Sea region of China and the Koreas. These stopover sites are essential for the survival and successful breeding of the knots. Unfortunately, in recent years huge areas of intertidal mudflats used by Great Knots and other shorebirds have been destroyed for industrial use and many birds have been displaced. This research aims to understand how a migratory species reacts after losing a traditional stopover site.

Image of tracks

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