As part of our campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Waterbird Census, we invited our partners to share their favourite images of wetlands and waterbirds. August marks the start of southward migration for many waterbirds, as they leave breeding grounds for the long (sometimes very long!) journey to warmer southern climes. For those heading from the high arctic in Russia and Alaska to Asia or Australasia, one area in particular is of paramount importance: the Yellow Sea.
Largely enclosed by China and the Korean Peninsula, the inter-tidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea holds the most important waterbird staging sites in the flyway. The rich mud and shallow waters teem with small shellfish, crustaceans, fish and worms that will fuel the next stage of these epic waterbird migrations. Unfortunately, mudflats and waterbirds alike are vanishing fast as coastal and upstream development bite into wetlands or disrupt the natural processes that maintain them. What remains becomes ever more precious, “islands of refuge” in a disappearing landscape.
Many individuals, governments and organisations are working locally and internationally to halt further damage and safeguard the Yellow Sea for future generations. This blog is testament to their collective efforts. We are especially indebted to our colleagues and the networks of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, Birds Korea, the Spoonbill Sandpiper in China group, Birding Beijing and the Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust for sharing photos for this month’s blog.
The Yellow Sea is one of the most important areas in the world for waders – in fact, it is THE most important staging area for waders in the East Asian-Australasian flyway. This photo by Xiaolei Zhang shows a team of birders busy observing a large group of waders feeding on the Donglin Mudflat in Jiangsu, China. #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #survey #birders #mudflat #wetlands #nature
A great day to go to the beach! This is Ganghwado (or Ganghwa Island), part of the Incheon tidal flats in South Korea and a popular tourist destination. It may look quiet now, but don’t be fooled – these tidal flats bustle with activity throughout the year, as they provide habitat and resources for breeding, staging and non-breeding waterbirds. In Ganghwado alone, you may be lucky enough to see hundreds of the magnificent Black-faced spoonbills during the breeding season. Photo © Eugene Cheah. #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #mudflat #beach #coast #wetlands #landscape #sky
Dawn’s light washes over Yubu Island in the Guam Estuary of South Korea. Yubu Island is one of the most important wetlands in South Korea, hosting tens of thousands of waterbirds during their annual migration. Birds Korea recently counted 2,100 Far Eastern Curlews, the largest wader in the East Asian-Australasian flyway and an endangered species in rapid decline. This count total is over 5% of the entire global population for this species! Photo © Nial Moores, Birds Korea www.birdskorea.org #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #sky #dawn #wetlands #nature
Shellfish are plentiful in the mudflats around the Yellow Sea and have been an important food source for people and waterbirds for millennia. A more recent addition to this scene are the looming wind turbines in the background. Wind turbines can be a great source of clean renewable energy, but installing them in the right location is vital to avoid large numbers of waterbird casualties. Birds move daily from coastal feeding to roosting sites and also migrate along coasts on a seasonal basis. With 20 globally threatened waterbird species in the Yellow Sea, great care and attention is needed to deal with these complex issues. #iwc50 #wetlands #nofilter #waterbirdscount #coast #fishing #sustainable #energy #wind #windpower
The future of Yellow Sea wetlands in China and Korea is far from secure. Infrastructure developments, land reclamation, oil exploration and increasing water use upstream can starve the coast of fresh water and silt. This affects the quality and productivity of intertidal wetlands and impacts people living along the coasts. The good news is that governments, many local and international groups and individuals are working hard to prevent, minimise and reverse these trends. Photo © Taej Mundkur #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #wetlands #water #coast #environment #conservation
In 2016, a huge collaborative effort was made to survey wetlands around the Yellow and Bohai Seas of China. Government agencies, university researchers, NGOs and reserve staff covered 20 locations. Wetlands International staff joined surveys in the Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve in Shandong and other locations. We saw many flocks of shorebirds, gulls and other waterbirds feeding along the mudflats and were lucky enough to spot the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane that were migrating north to their breeding grounds. Here Song Jiajing and Ms Zhao Yajie are busy recording observations that will help manage and conserve these wetlands into the future. Photo by Taej Mundkur @taejmundkur #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #waterbirds #conservation #environment #survey #wetlands
While the Great Knot is well studied in the East Asian-Australasian flyway (EAAF), we know very little about its migration into South and West Asia. However efforts by Chinese researchers to colour flag thousands of Great Knot are unravelling the mysteries of this enigmatic birds’ migration. This individual was ringed in Chongming Dontan National Nature Reserve at the mouth of the Yangtze River by Dr. Ma and his team. In August 2016 it was photographed by Mr. Ashish Babre on the coast of Maharashtra in India. This adds to two earlier records of colour flagged Great Knots outside the EAAF,one in Sundarbans, West Bengal in February 2008 followed by one in Barr Al Hikkman in Oman February 2016. So we now have connections between the Yellow Sea, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea! We hope to discover more about this beautiful species during the forthcoming Indian Ocean Waterbird Count in January 2017. #waterbirdscount #iwc50 #wader #waterbirds #wetlands #maharashtra #yellowsea #nature #conservation #migration
A rare Spoon-billed sandpiper seems to contemplate its reflection in the shallow, shimmering waters of a Southeast Asian coastal mudflat. Although, more likely it is just looking for a tasty worm. This individual will return to the Russian arctic for the breeding season, stopping to refuel on the intertidal areas of the Yellow Sea, a key stop-over site for the entire species. Photo © Eugene Cheah #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #wetlands #birdsofinstagram #nofilter #nature #conservation #environment
The Yellow Sea may be globally renowned for the huge numbers of staging waders but there are plenty of other waterbird groups here too. Almost the entire global population of Relict Gull congregate in or around the sea during the northern winter months. Usually arriving in the Yellow Sea in September, they will return in April to the ephemeral, montane lakes of Central Asia for the breeding season. This photo by Terry Townshend (seebirdingbeijing.com) is part of a flock some 10,000 strong in Tianjin, China just before their northward migration – you can see some individuals already in their black-hooded breeding plumage. Such a large flock squeezed into so small an area is unusual, sadly reflecting the fact that suitable habitat elsewhere has disappeared under concrete and steel #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #sea #gulls #wetlands #winter #coast
Now, this is a bird with a story to tell! Photographed by Nial Moores from Birds Korea in the Geum Estuary, the coloured ring identifies this male as ‘Monument’. Monument is a real celebrity in the world of Spoon-billed sandpiper conservation. So-called because he always breeds close to an old monument in Chuktoka, Russia, our friend here has also turned up in the Rudong wetlands of China and in Khok Kam in Thailand. But it’s not his mileage that has earnt him celebrity status, it’s his impressive fertility! Monument and his partner have successfully raised several chicks, which has given hope that this species can return from the brink of extinction. Sadly, we fear this photo from May 2016 might be one of the last sightings of Monument as he has not been reported from his usual nest site this summer. #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #wetlandbirds #wetlands #birdringing #coast #conservation #nature #migration
勺嘴鹬在中国 or ‘Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China’ are one of the groups working to save this remarkable species. In 2014 members of the group together with volunteers from Shanghai and Jiangsu made this impressive clam shell mosaic of the ‘Spoonie’. These activities are great for raising awareness but also help reach out to local communities, involving them in conservation of their local wetlands and waterbirds. Photo © Chenghao Zhang #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #mosaic #community #awareness #wetlands #conservation
The entire western coast of North Korea borders the Yellow Sea, but the status of wetlands and waterbirds along this coast were relevantly unknown. A lot changed in 2014, when the Nature Conservation Union of Korea and Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust of New Zealand agreed to conduct joint counts along the coast from 2015. The results? At least 2 of the 3 wetlands surveyed were of international importance, meaning these sites held large numbers of waterbirds and are also hugely important for a number of threatened or near-threatened species. As intertidal wetlands elsewhere around the Yellow Sea disappear or degrade, North Korea may prove increasingly important for the survival of millions of migratory birds. Photo by Adrian Riegen. #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #nature #wetlands #conservation #environmentn
Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust and the Nature Conservation Union of Korea returned in May 2016 to survey Mundok county, bordering the Yellow Sea in North Korea. Adrian Riegen took this photo of Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwits, many in stunning breeding plumage, in a small salt pond. There is a good chance Adrian will see some of these Bar-tailed Godwits back in New Zealand next December, as they complete their annual migration from the breeding grounds in Russia and Alaska. #iwc50 #waterbirdscount #wetlands #birdsofinstagram