As November advances, we see the arrival of many migratory waterbirds in their non-breeding quarters. Here in the Republic of Korea, thousands of Bean and Greater White-fronted Geese are thronging the harvested rice fields. Shorebirds are settling into their favoured spots in the southern part of the Flyway, such as Australia and New Zealand. Several hundred hardy Eurasian Curlews see out the winter near the EAAFP Secretariat office in Songdo, Incheon, along with Common Shelducks on the mudflats.
The Asian Waterbird Census in mid-January is a coordinated attempt to count these birds at a time when there is relatively little turnover. As an indicator of global population trends it is a very valuable dataset. In certain Flyway countries there is also a tradition of counting birds at important sites at other times of the year. Counts at Moreton Bay in Australia, for example, have provided valuable data for monitoring species numbers and trends. The China Coastal Waterbird Census has also shed light on the importance of sites that host significant numbers of shorebirds in particular. Some species, such as Cranes (Siberian Crane / Hooded Crane) and Black-faced Spoonbill are well tracked by enthusiastic organisations and individuals.
However, at other places along the Flyway and at other times of year, monitoring is sporadic and largely uncoordinated. Given the rapidly changing nature of sites and habitats in the Flyway, it is vital to collect standardised and comparable data for individual sites. Waterbirds are constantly changing their patterns of usage and migration in the face of shifts in habitat availability and quality. To target timely conservation action, we need to understand better what migratory waterbirds are doing. One of the reasons behind Flyway Network Sites is to use these locations as barometers of population and habitat change by documenting changing patterns in bird numbers. Of course, this is a big task: capacity is often limited. Yet it seems more and more groups, from reserve managers to NGOs and birdwatching societies are collecting information. A standardized system could serve not only to improve data recording but also encourage these different groups to work together. Again, not easy to do, but we have been discussing this for a while now. Maybe it is the time to re-focus our efforts in this direction: the benefits are self-evident.