Nial Moores PhD, Birds Korea, May 30th 2014
On April 29th, Mr Park Seong-Sik kindly showed me Baekryeong Island’s main Black-tailed Gull colony – a city of birds with probably 15,000 inhabitants inhabiting a long stretch of coastline near his home. There among the clamour of gulls we were delighted to discover two Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor (a globally Endangered species with a world population of only c. 2,700 individuals). On the next visit on May 5th, there were five; and on subsequent days, six. White birds in a sea of black and white gulls, they were easy to overlook, usually sheltering from the wind by standing half-hidden in shallow depressions on a low cliff face.
Returning to the gull colony exactly one month after the first visit, there were still five Black-faced Spoonbills. Even though they were distant, one of them was a little more eye-catching – showing occasional flashes of colour on both legs when it moved. After a long wait, it was possible to make out through the ‘scope that this bird was particularly special: it was individually-marked, with one yellow and one red band on the left leg, and “E05” in yellow lettering on a red band on the right.
“E05”: something about that combination seemed oddly familiar.However, after a decade and more of conservation work focused on the species along the Flyway, and tremendous efforts by a few researchers, a total of 375 or so Black-faced Spoonbills have been individually-marked like this one – each with a unique combination of colours and one or two letters followed by numbers. Many of these birds likely will have perished over the years; others simply remain unnoticed. But those combinations that have been noted have already helped to identify individual bird’s migration routes between their breeding and wintering areas – a chain of sites in urgent need of conservation if these individuals and the species as a whole are to survive.
Fortunately, the mass of valuable information on sightings of these birds has been organized into an amazing public access database, at: http://bfsn.bfsa.org.tw/index.php.
So, somewhat lazily I googled “Black-faced Spoonbill E05”, as a short-cut to the database, to find out more about the bird’s history and to submit the record.
The first google link was not to the database, however. Instead, it was to an article that I had written for the Birds Korea website, about survey work in Rudong, Jiangsu, last October. Although that research was focused on the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, fieldwork covered huge areas of coastline, counting other threatened waterbirds and searching for bands. And one of the birds I found in one of the many count areas we surveyed was an individually-marked Black-faced Spoonbill: the one and only E05!
With sightings along the Flyway and people sharing this kind of information freely (and also a lot of luck!), we know that E05 is a male that was banded as a young juvenile in June 2010 on Guzi Island (ROK). In the last eight months alone, E05 has been seen in Jiangsu Province (in October); in Taiwan (in February); and now on Baekryeong. Its migration route and the sites it needs to survive are now revealed.
E05: please pass the summer safely on Baekryeong under the protective watch of Mr. Park Yeong-Sik and other islanders. Please too, continue to have safe travels. And I cannot stop wondering, when and where will we next meet?