May 10th marks World Migratory Bird Day, an annual event to raise awareness of the wonders of bird migration across the globe and join together to celebrate the annual journeys, often challenging and sometimes perilous, that millions of birds undertake each year. The last few days have seen the numbers of migratory waterbirds build up on Songdo mudflats, literally a 10 minute drive from the Secretariat office here in the Republic of Korea, to 25,000 individuals, mostly shorebirds. Among them are familiar friends: Bar-tailed Godwits from Australia and New Zealand and Great Knots from Australia and China bearing personalized coloured and engraved flags and bands, the same individuals turning up year after year. One New Zealand-banded godwit turned up on March 22nd and was still here yesterday, May 9th, making it 48 days since arrival – the Songdo lugworms must be good this year!
While Songdo provides respite on their arduous journey, unknown hazards may lie in wait. Illegal mist-nets may stretch across favoured mudflats; poisoned bait may be spread in known feeding areas and illegal hunters may lie in wait with shotguns for passing birds. Although licensed and controlled hunting may be permitted in some countries, most shorebirds and threatened species of wildfowl such as Lesser White-fronted Goose are protected. Yet the vast areas used by migratory waterbirds are hard to control by protection authorities and illegal killing is increasingly recognized as a serious problem in parts of our Flyway. This is the theme of the 2016 World Migratory Bird Day and is very timely. Recent poisoning episodes involving Little Curlews at one site, and Lesser White-fronted Geese and Baikal Teal at another, highlight the problem.
While such cases are distressing, the encouraging news is that they are being increasingly reported, by citizens and authorities, and highlighted in newspapers and other media as negative events, indicating that people take the problem seriously and should do something about it. Perpetrators are sought out and punished. In another encouraging sign, birdwatchers and local groups in southern China have been working with local authorities to identify illegal trapping and mist-netting. Forestry officials have been very responsive and the result is many fewer mist-nets along the coasts in the region. Record numbers of Spoon-billed Sandpipers have been recorded in these mudflats this winter. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the good news is that illegal trapping is down and Spoonie numbers are up! Something to celebrate, indeed.
Spike Millington, Chief Executive
Partnership News World Migratory Bird Day: 10 May 2016