Shorebird Research Update from Jason Loghry, working with Zhang Shoudong & Bai Qing Quan
It feels great to be back on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). I’m here back again at Yalu Jiang, more formally known as the Dandong Yalu Jiang Estuary Wetland National Nature Reserve, China. Perhaps many of our readers do not know very much about this wetland. In short, it is one of the most important shorebird sites remaining on the EAAF. Located in the northern part of the Yellow Sea, this nature reserve supports ~50 species of shorebirds, with an estimated 250,000 shorebirds here on northern migration, including many red-listed by the IUCN. In total too, Yalu Jiang supports internationally important numbers of 24 species of waterbird, and is of course classified as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by BirdLife International. It stretches across about 70 km of coastline, from the border of China and the DPRK, extending westward. It’s made up mostly of intertidal mudflat, with a huge number of aquaculture ponds on the landward side. If you’re interested in shorebirds, then you probably already know about Yalu Jiang. If not, and you’re interested in reading more (e.g. about the feeding ecology of some its key species) please check out Jimmy Choi’s recently published research article in The Auk, here.
The tide-line at Yalu Jiang, and some of this season’s earliest-returning Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica © Jason Loghry
This season I’m joining Zhang Shoudong, a PhD student studying under Professor Ma Zhi Jun at Fudan University, assisting his research of the stopover ecology of five shorebird species: Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Far Eastern Oystercatcher, Far Eastern Curlew and Dunlin.
Zhang Shoudong recording feeding behaviour of shorebirds, Yalu Jiang © Jason Loghry (note the Korean boots and plumage similarity to the author!)
Our formal field work will begin tomorrow and continue until late May. And although I have limited internet access, I will try and post updates of our work and bird sightings throughout the season. So to begin, here is a short report of birds we observed yesterday (on March 17th), while joining local expert Bai Qing Quan for his regular bird survey of the Yalu Jiang Nature Reserve area.
We surveyed some of the westernmost tidal flats of the reserve , beginning at about 10:30am, with high tide at around noon. It was impressive to see so many curlew (mostly Eurasian Curlew) and Far Eastern Oystercatcher already here, roosting on some of the unsubmerged tidal flat. Across the tidal flat were several hundred Dunlin feeding near the opposite shoreline, a few Grey Plover doing the usual stop-n-go, and a few of this season’s first Bar-tailed Godwits, feeding on the mud. Across the water was a massive flock of geese (mostly “Bean Goose” mixed with some Greater White-fronted, and a few Swan Goose). As our eyes danced across the large number of geese, counting, someone mentioned that the possibility of seeing a Snow Goose was high. About a minute later, there it was, a large white bird with its head tucked away amongst the line of geese. But at such a great distance, and without being able to see any diagnostic features, it was hard to call the ID right away. So we thought it’d be best to get a better look once we finished the survey.
After much of the tide came in, a large flock of Saunders’s Gull flew overhead. All those familiar harsh voices coming from above made it really hard to hide my internal smile. It feels so good to be back. The Yellow Sea is something else. Moving on, we went across the Dayang River to an area of tidal flat with the highest elevation in the west, counted, then came back east as the tide started to turn again, and then finished our count. We ended our day by birding back further west, having a better look through the flock of geese, and confirming it was indeed a Snow Goose.
Here follows a list of our waterbird observations, including some count estimates, and a few notable highlights* from the past couple of weeks (and some notes that might be of interest):
Eurasian Curlew 2200
Far Eastern Curlew 90 (start to arrive here in early March)
Bar-tailed Godwit 20 (* about 10,000 were observed just two days after this survey; along the eastern side of the reserve)
Grey Plover 60
Mongolian Plover 7
Far Eastern Oystercatcher 1400 (start to arrive about now and the peak count is normally more than 3000)
Northern Lapwing 12
Relict Gull <5 (were not observed in typical numbers this survey, as sometimes in early March around 2000 can be present. Up to now, this year only a few hundred have been observed)
Saunders’s Gull 550 – 600
Common Gull 100s (peak count here is c. 2000 – present here in winter with only a few into May)
Mongolian Gull many 100s (although sometimes 1000s are present here);
Black-headed Gull less than 10
Black-Tailed Gull typically only a few – although none were observed this survey
*Canada Goose (B. c. parvipes) Observed on March 4th, presumed new record for Liaoning Province
*Snow Goose Observed today, and appears to have been observed here two or three times in the past couple of years
Greater White-fronted Goose 300 +
Swan Goose 20 ( on this coastline 1000 + can typically be found feeding on the mudflats at the mouth of the Yalu River, especially in October)
“Bean Goose” about 2000
Other waterbird species we saw include: Red-Breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Pochard, Mallard, Spot-billed Duck, Eurasian Teal, Eastern Spotbilled Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Goldeneye and Great Crested Grebe.
And although not observed today, Hooded Cranes have been recently sighted in the area. Also there was mention that typically very large numbers of Tufted Duck are present (although not observed during our survey) – said to feed on some of the same prey as Bar-tailed Godwit.
Finally, our last observation was of a Peregrine Falcon, nesting aside a rocky coastal cliff face.
Yalu Jiang: supporting both birds and people © Jason Loghry