The Min Jiang estuary in Fujian is an important wintering site for Spoon-billed sandpiper in China. Numbers have varied between 15 and 25 in recent years. Islands off the coast are the main breeding site for the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern. The Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill also overwinter here. It is the other main site in the “Saving Spoony’s Wetlands in China” project. Part of the estuary is a protected area and a multi-million pounds visitor centre is being built with completion by the end of 2011. However, there are still various threats such as pollution, disturbance and spartina increase.
We began our mission here at a meeting with Provincial Government Officials. The development of ecotourism, education and awareness programmes, habitat management were some of the subjects discussed. I’ve referred to Coastal Zone Management quite a lot during this trip. If China adopted a practical approach to CZM, then perhaps some of the special places along its coast may become protected for nature.
Fuzhou was also the location for a training workshop for teachers from the area. The workshop was organised by the Fujian Birdwatching Society and the enthusiasm, commitment and hospitality of their dedicated group of volunteers made for a truly enjoyable and memorable experience. The Society has done quite a lot of work in schools and they have a good relationship with the local Ministry of Education.
A group of thirty-five teachers attended with the full support of the Ministry of Education and their openness to new ideas and information was most encouraging. The team of trainers – Vivian Fu from Hong Kong Birdwatching Society, Yamme Leung from WWF Hong Kong, Simba Chan from BirdLife Asia office and myself put in some long hours of preparation, but were rewarded by a positive wave of enthusiasm from the teachers. To experience the combined teamwork of the trainers and the volunteers from the Fujian Birdwatching Society is part of the rewards of work like this. The ten year old daughter of one of the teachers also attended. If she fulfils her ambition, one day she could be one of China’s top ornithologists. I gave her my last Wildlife Explorers Birdlife magazine; she was thrilled to have an English magazine about birds and other nature. The following day her mother told me she has made her daughter a WEX member. The buzz from a workshop like this helped to compensate for missing my beloved Wigan Rugby League team winning the Cup Final at Wembley.
The second day of the workshop was a field trip to the estuary. The media were at the meeting and the workshop. A TV crew covered both days of the workshop and I’m told my interview was broadcast on the Sunday. Some children came on the field trip and I was pleased to see the TV crew doing a lengthy interview with them. Perhaps decision-makers will listen to enthusiastic children more than they will to conservationists?
Playing the Spoon-billed sandpiper migration game
Learning about food chains
Interview for TV
A more sensible interview for TV
Volunteers from the Fujian Birdwatching Society
The trainers - a great team
The training workshops and meeting with local government officers in Yangkou have now been completed. Fifty six teachers, university students and birdwatching society volunteers were trained on education, communication and interpretation techniques relevant to work on Spoon-billed sandpiper and coastal wetlands. The response was positive and now planning will progress leading to celebrations of the Yangkou wetlands in the summer of 2012. The Spoon-billed sandpiper pin badges, kindly donated by Wildsounds, were greatly appreciated by participants when they also received their attendance certificates.
The meeting with county government officers and the local mayor was encouraging. There was acceptance that the spread of spartina needed to be controlled and there was an interesting discussion about the possibility of developing a nature reserve similar to Chongming. The point was made that time is now critical. Without action on the spartina and restrictions on further development, the mudflats that now have viewable Spoon-billed sandpiper and other waders will probably be lost within five years. Yangkou now has a limited time window to take action that could lead to it being an established internationally famous site for Spoon-billed sandpiper and migration hotspot for other birds. Will Yangkou become synonymous with Spoon-billed sandpiper in China or will it sink into anonymity like most other parts of this coastline?
As an update to last week’s blog post about Chongming, I received an email from one of the reserve’s staff for permission to translate it for inclusion on their website and in their newsletter.
Teachers learn about the adaptations of wader beaks.
Participants from local birdwatching societies and universities at the interpretation workshop.
We know what a special place Dungeness on the south Kent coast is for watching wildlife but now a local artist is shedding new light on some of the more unusual plants that can be found there.
Nicholette Goff, from Folkestone, is currently researching and developing a set of prints to raise awareness of the vulnerability of some of the wildflowers in the area.
By laying sample leaves or flower heads on paper or fabric she creates stunning silhouette images:
One of the specimens was Stinking Hawk's-beard which after being declared extinct in the 1980s has been rediscovered on the Dungeness National Nature Reserve. Seed has been sown in trial plots on the RSPB reserve over the last few years as well as on a few places on the Point within the NNR.
This special plant is distinguished by its nodding flower buds and the sickly sweet smell of bitter almonds from its crushed leaves, from which it gets its name.
The RSPB’s Dungeness nature reserve is home to this and many other rare and endangered plants such as the Marsh Cinquefoil which is a good source of food for nectar-loving insects such as bees.
Just one more reason why we must protect this special place from developments such as the proposed expansion of neighborouing Lydd Airport.
And with that in mind, we will soon be returning for the final stage of the public inquiry so look out for updates.
In the meantime find out more about Dungeness at: www.rspb.org.uk/dungeness
On Sunday afternoon, following the end of the first workshop I returned to the mudflats to take some photos and see some migrant waders. The photos of the men and women who seek out the shellfish in the estuary mud, possibly show people who may soon be looking for a new livelihood. The introduced and encroaching spartina grass is rapidly covering the estuarine mud. This creeping sea of green is reducing the feeding areas for the waders and, of course, also restricting the opportunities for these friendly people to seek out their traditional living. There are people as well as Spoon-billed sandpiper and thousands of other birds that need these mudflats to be saved.
The photo below shows a Nordmann's Greenshank, (the one with its head under its wing). There are also two Terek Sandpipers and a Greater Sand Plover in the photo. This and at least five more Nordmann's Greenshank were found that afternoon by British wader enthusiast Simon Buckell, who has recently been studying this site. Considering the bird is classed as Endangered it further highlights the importance of this special place. The calling flocks of Great Knot overhead add to the magic of the place.
The encroaching sea of spartina grass.
After a lengthy meeting to discuss the fine details of tomorrow’s workshop, I had some free time to go to the mudflats in search of some feathered delights. There will be a field visit during the workshops, so it was also a reconnaissance to observe the environmental issues in the area. Walking across a huge area of estuarine mud in search of a small wader in amongst thousands of others is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I was becoming increasingly disconsolate. The tide was approaching and almost at our feet when local expert Zhang Lin invited me to look through his scope, and there in the distance was a Spoon-billed sandpiper in breeding plumage. I literally only had less than thirty seconds to watch this prize bird before we had to move on away from the oncoming tide. We retreated to the sea wall to watch the waders at one of the high tide roosts which is on reclaimed land. The roost site would make a fantastic nature reserve with the appropriate infrastructure. Sadly, a biochemical factory will soon be built there.
The mudflats where the waders feed are also diminishing, this time from an introduced species of spartina grass. As I mentioned in my previous post, this place is already popular with birdwatchers, it is good for other migrant birds as well as waders. If some of these areas were made into nature reserves, then Yangkou could become as popular and as famous as Beidahe. It will be interesting to hear the views of the Government officers at next week’s meeting.
A few waders at the roost
Watching a wader roost