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.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (photo: Peter Ericsson)

"The number of breeding pairs in Chukotka, Siberia, fell by 50% 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 that 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).

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (photo: Christophe Zockler)

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 southwestern state of Arakan (Rakhine) in the Bay of Bengal, and Martaban (Mottama) Bay near the Thai border. "The Arakan coast has never been surveyed before, and Martaban Bay only marginally in 2003," explained Christoph Zöckler of ArcCona Cambridge.

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 Sandpipers, scattered over the huge mudflats of the bay but included a flock of 39 birds. "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."

Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Nobody knows why the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus has such an unusually shaped bill (photo: Chris Kelly)

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." 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."

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Written by: BirdLife International