Between May 7th and 9th, for Birds Korea I conducted the second of three counts to be made this spring at the internationally important Geum Estuary for a regional project led by the wonderful SBS in China on “The ecology and conservation of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the Yellow Sea”, funded by the National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund (China).
Outstanding highlight was close encounters at Yubu Island with six critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper: five in breeding plumage (more or less) and one poorly-plumaged bird that I tentatively identified in the field as a Second Calendar-year. This is an age-class that used to make up a substantial proportion of the “spoonies” that arrive here in May, suggesting that some might over-summer here in the Yellow Sea.
Presumed Second Calendar-year Spoon-billed Sandpiper, May 8th © Nial Moores. Although ageing is a challenge, after looking at the top of these two images, Dr Pavel Tomkovich commented on May 10th that this indeed “is likely a 2nd year bird…I do not remember SbS in such plumage ever seen on the breeding grounds”).
Even more remarkable, one of the adults was leg-flagged – Lime-green “01”, quite probably the most celebrated of all the world’s Spoon-billed Sandpipers (literally the “great daddy and grand-daddy” of the Spoony world!) – an especially active and fertile male that I probably glimpsed in the Rudong area (Jiangsu, China) back in 2014 after others had discovered him there, in an area that he also staged in last year during southward migration. He is now known as the “monument bird” – as he nests each year near an old monument not far from the village of Meinypilgyno in Chukotka (Russia).
It took some time for him to come close enough to confirm the flag and to digiscope some images in the intense light…
Although his mate is also flagged (and well-known as the great “mother and grandmother” of the Spoony world…), she was nowhere to be seen. Instead, although there was a massive expanse of open tidal-flat, “Lime-green 01”, the Monument(al) bird, spent quite some time foraging close, very close!, to an unflagged individual…
With thanks again to SBS in China and the Nat Geo Fund for supporting this essential survey work; to Swarovski Optik for providing the use of some truly superb optics; and to Seocheon County for supporting conservation of this site. Good luck to all the participants at next week’s meeting there!