North Brigantine Natural Area experimental closure to study shorebirds

31 October, 2010

Written by Larry Niles

Two weeks ago the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks and Forestry and the City of Brigantine, New Jersey gave the green light to a new project to temporarily close about one half of North Brigantine Natural Area (NA) to all use. The closure will provide an opportunity to experimentally test the effect of disturbance on  migratory shorebirds. North Brigantine NA, at the north end of Brigantine Beach, is recognized as one of the most important Atlantic coast beaches on the US east coast for southbound migrant shorebirds, and this is the first effort of it kind in New Jersey to help these birds.


Signs at the point of closure on Brigantine Natural Area. © Larry Niles

The shorebirds using North Brigantine NA come from the Arctic and leave for wintering areas spanning the entire hemisphere — from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Many shorebirds stay at North Brigantine NA to build fat reserves then jump off on trips that would frighten the most intrepid traveler. One red knot we tracked (via geolocator data) left NJ into the jaws of a storm and flew for six days before reaching land.  Other red knots come to Brigantine and stay for longer periods — up to 70 days — while they molt flight feathers before continuing south to wintering areas. Both groups need places that are productive (for invertebrates like small surf clams, marine worms and mussels) and provide relative safety from the horde of hawks that migrate south at the same time.  North Brigantine Natural Area provides both.


Shorebirds roosting on North Brigantine Natural Area. © Larry Niles

So why are we experimenting with a closure? There are only a  few good southbound stopovers in the mid Atlantic Coast that include enough area and diversity of habitat to accommodate the needs of migrating shorebirds. Nearly all beaches in this area of the Atlantic are intensively used for recreation — sunbathing in the late summer and off-road vehicle use in fall and winter. What does this mean to a shorebird?


Young Peregrine falcon flying low in dunes at No. Brigantine NA. © Larry Niles

You have to think like a shorebird to understand why. Most often you’ll find your food at the water’s edge –on the beach or mudflat — often out in the open where you can be attacked by a passing peregrine falcon, merlin, or Cooper’s hawk. You also need to rest or roost; most shorebirds at Brigantine spend nearly one half of their time digesting food or roosting during high tides. Staying close to cover would be a mistake, not only because of low flying raptors hidden in the low dunes, but also because of the many nighttime ground predators like foxes, feral cats, even coyotes. The best strategy is to be in a flock, where “many eyes” will quickly spot an approaching predator, and in a location with a good visibility in all directions. Most often shorebirds prefer wide open beaches or a sandy peninsula. North Brigantine has all of these attributes which is why it is so valuable for shorebirds.


Peregrine stooping on shorebird flock at North Brigantine NA. © Larry Niles

We closed the beach because on most days of the migratory period- late July to November – North Brigantine NA is used by fishermen, dog walkers, joggers, sunbathers and people who ride the beaches in sport utility vehicles (SUV’s). Red knots, sanderlings, dunlins, black bellied plovers, piping plovers, western sandpipers, short-billed dowitchers, declining species all, must continually dodge and fly from people. What is the effect: birds stop molting, they leave when they should stay, they fail to gain the weight they need.


Tracks left by off road vehicle traffic on North Brigantine NA just prior to the beach closure. © Larry Niles

 The closure was one week long ending last Thursday (October 21). Until recently, the needs of shorebirds have been poorly understood. But with the growing awareness of their needs, staff from North Brigantine NA, City of Brigantine and representatives of New Jersey Beach Buggy Association are supporting a scientific basis for management of this unique natural area.  This is important because the problem for shorebirds is larger than North Brigantine NA; the same lack of protection occurs in most  coastal areas leaving shorebird fewer and fewer places to go.  Coastal development, recreation and the use of SUV’s on beaches has increased exponentially over the last thirty years in areas important to shorebirds.


This red knot stopped molting after completing growth of 8 of its 10 flight feathers (see light brown outermost flight feathers). This condition, known as arrested molt, usually indicates stress in the stopover, lack of food, or frequent disturbance etc. © Larry Niles

To help with this problem, Dr. Joanna Burger of Rutgers and I are creating three closure experiments, one in North Brigantine NA and two in similar places in Florida, to test the effect of beach closures on both people and birds. Will shorebirds use the areas more, are people really resistant to helping the birds? This is what we will learn:


Red knots, black-bellied plovers and sanderlings feeding during the close period on North Brigantine NA. © Larry Niles

Saemangeum Reclamation Area September 2010: Opening of sea-gates essential to conserve internationally important concentrations of shorebirds

28 October, 2010

Written by Niall Moores/Birds Korea

Shorebird counts were conducted in the Saemangeum Shorebird Monitoring Program (SSMP) Study Site between September 4th and 9th 2010 by Nial Moores (Director Birds Korea and IUCN SSC Member) and Ju Yung Ki (Chonbuk National University, and Birds Korea Advisor on Saemangeum).

Before seawall close in 2006, Saemangeum was the most important known wetland for shorebirds in the Republic of Korea and in the Yellow Sea, supporting huge numbers of shorebirds on both northward (April and May) and southward migration (August-October) between Siberian and Alaskan breeding grounds and wintering areas in southern Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The SSMP (conducted by Birds Korea and the Australasian Wader Studies Group in April and May 2006-2008) proved that following closure of the Saemangeum seawall in 2006 there were very massive declines in many shorebird species, most especially the Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris. The SSMP revealed, for example, that the global population of the Great Knot declined more than 20% between 2006 and 2008 due to the loss of natural tides at Saemangeum.

While the environment behind the Saemangeum seawall has been very badly affected by the reduced tidal flow and worsening water quality since 2006, there have been few data on the impact of these changes on shorebird numbers during southward migration.


Saemangeum, degraded but still internationally important. © Nial Moores

Between September 4th and 8th, we counted shorebirds from land and from boats. We counted at least 26,551 shorebirds within Saemangeum, excluding c. 2,000 shorebirds that apparently flew in from the Geum Estuary to roost on tidal-flats near Gunsan airport (Mangyeung) during high-tide only. A further 22,026 shorebirds were also counted within the Geum Estuary, and 2,661 shorebirds in Gomso Bay.

Our data show that Saemangeum is still the most important shorebird site during southward migration in the Republic of Korea, although the numbers of most species are now much smaller than recorded by government surveys before seawall close in 2006.

Our 2010 survey found seven species of shorebird in Ramsar-defined internationally important concentrations (of more than 1% of Flyway population) within Saemangeum. These included 2.5% of the world’s Endangered Tringa guttifer. In addition, four Critically Endangered Eurynorhynchus pygmeus were found.


Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. © Nial Moores

Within Saemangeum, 18,615 shorebirds were found within the Mangyeung Estuary, with half of these (9758) feeding on a tidal-flat island off Haje, close to the sea-wall and sea-gates where there was some obvious tidal movement. 7936 shorebirds were counted in the Dongjin Estuary, with almost all of these on islands between Gyehwa and the seawall, again close to the sea-gates.


Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer. Nial Moores

Few shorebirds, and no internationally important concentrations of shorebird, were found upstream of the Mangyeung and Dongjin estuaries, due to the combination of very poor water quality and very restricted tidal-range. However, an internationally important concentration (30) of the globally Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor was observed in the Mangyeung River.

Comparison between our data and shorebird counts during southward migration (August-October) in e.g. 2003 and 2005 published by a government body reveals very major declines in several species since seawall close in 2006 (see Table below).

Conservation of internationally important concentrations of shorebirds and other waterbirds and biodiversity is a national obligation under several existing agreements and conventions (including Ramsar and the Convention on Biological Diversity).

To maintain present numbers of shorebirds within Saemangeum and to fulfil even in part existing conservation obligations, the sea-gates at Saemangeum need to be kept open, allowing regular tides.

Failure to maintain or improve tidal flow within Saemangeum will very likely lead to further declines in shorebirds, both at the site and the population level.

Table: Selected Shorebird Species recorded within Saemangeum (September 4th-9th, 2010).


GCS (Global Conservation Status) is from BirdLife International 2010 on behalf of the IUCN. NT = Near-threatened, VU = Vulnerable, EN = Endangered and CE = Critically Endangered. “1% Flyway” is the number of that species representing an internationally important concentration (of 1%) as defined by the Ramsar Convention, and as listed for use by Ramsar  in Waterbird Population Estimates – Fourth Edition  (Wetlands International, 2006).  Peak counts in 2003 and 2005 are those given during southward migration in ???????????? ??? ???????????? ???????????? [1] 2003.11/ ???????????? ??? ?????????????????? ??????[???] ?????????????????? ?????????????????? 2005.11  Numbers in bold represent internationally important concentrations.

For more on the SSMP 2006-2008:…


Thanks to Mr. Jason Loghry for supporting the survey, the Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation and the Queensland Wader Study Group for their finacial support.

State of the World???s Waterbirds: in trouble in Asia, recovering in ???the West???

October 22, 2010

Written by Wetlands International

The rate of decline of waterbird populations has slightly decreased over the last three decades. However, 47% of the waterbird populations are still declining and only 16% are increasing. The status of waterbirds is improving  mainly in North America and Europe, while it is least favourable in Asia. Especially long distance migrants appear to be vulnerable.

These are the key findings of the State of the World’s Waterbirds 2010 (click to download) launched by Wetlands International on 21st October at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversityin Nagoya, Japan. This publication analyses the changes in the status of waterbird populations between 1976 and 2005 using the data collected for the four editions of Waterbird Population Estimates published by the organisation since 1994.


Unplanned economic development and weak conservation measures to blame

The status of waterbird populations is improving in regions where strong conservation legislation is implemented, such as North America and Europe.

However, the rate of decline of waterbird populations is increasing in all other regions without such instruments. The situation is especially alarming in Asia where 62% of waterbird populations are decreasing or even extinct. The combination of a rapid economical growth and weak conservation efforts appears to be lethal. Waterbird populations are exposed to a wide range of threats such as the loss and degradation of marshes and lakes, water regulation, agricultural intensification, hunting and climate change.

Long distance migrants

The status of long-distance migrant waterbirds is generally worse than of those remaining in regions with strong conservation measures. This highlights the importance of coordinated conservation measures across entire flyways from the breeding to the non-breeding grounds.

“It is not surprising that the rate of decline of the long distant migrant sandpipers, snipes and curlews has accelerated most rapidly. Now, 70% of their populations are decreasing. Halting destruction of their migratory staging areas is vital” says Prof Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. On the other hand, the improving status of many crane species demonstrates that targeted conservation actions for the protection of key sites can produce positive results.


Action needed

“We feel we have to put more effort into the conservation of waterbirds in this region” states Mr. Daizaburo Kuroda, Senior Councilor, to the Japanese Minister of the Environment that supported the publication. 


“The decline of waterbird populations in developing countries is an indication of the environmental problems in these parts of the world. The world community of governments that is gathering at the UN Conference in Japan should take action to reverse this trend” states Dr. Taej Mundkur, Wetlands International’s Flyway Programme Manager.

Important staging site of Sociable Lapwing identified in East Turkey

Written by Gyorgy Szimuly/WorldWaders

Recent report by the Sociable Lapwing project team suggests that an important staging site was identified for Sociable Lapwing in East Turkey. Staging flock was found by members of Doga Dernegi, the BirdLife International Partner in Turkey, by providing coordinates of one of the Amazing Journey travellers, named Erzhan.

Erzhan is one of satellite marked Sociable Lapwings from Kazakhstan which provided signals on October 3rd form East Turkey. Based on Mr. Ferdi Akarsu (Doga Dernegi), local team searched for Erzhan on Ocotber 9th and found a hundred birds close to Erzhan’s location while next day numbers increased to more than 550 individuals. Erzhan was not seen in the field, possibly due to the bad and wet weather, and number of birds was probably underestimated.

Turkey seems to play a key role in holding Sociable Lapwings at least during fall migration. In October 2007 the largest flock ever of 3200 Sociable Lapwings was found, also in Turkey. Despite this number overwrote the suggested population figures conservation efforts continued to stop further decline of Sociable Lapwing populations.

BirdLife International says “this new information strongly suggests that this part of Turkey is important for staging Sociable Lapwings.” Additional ground monitoring of migrating flocks supports the project at several sites throughout Turkey.

More information about the project could be read and birds could be followed on Amazing Journey’s website.

Animated map overview of Erzhan’s journey to Turkey. Note sound clip is attached with animation. To avoid disturbance of others turn the volume down or mute. Refresh (reload) page if map doesn’t appear.


Elevation chart of Erzhan’s presumed routing.

Migratory birds in the spotlight of the World Bird Festival

Written by BirdLife Community

Fact sheets on threatened and migratory birds

Continuing the series of educational materials for schools in the Americas, two poster-sized fact files highlight two very different migratory strategies. The first focuses on Swainson’s Hawk, showing key sites on its route while the second looks at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a Near Threatened species, unique among shorebirds.


The fact file on the Buff-breasted Sandpiper is part of a series of educational materials produced for the World Bird Festival in the Americas. Materials are available in Spanish and English.

Download the fact file on Buff-breasted Sandpiper in English or in Spanish.

Look out for the rest of the Festival Materials, available here!

Download the fact file on Swainson’s Hawk in English or in Spanish.

Management Plan for Chilean WHSRN Site: Bahia Lomas

Written by Meredith Gutowski/Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences

The University of Saint Thomas’s Environmental Sciences Research Center (Santiago, Chile) and the Wildlife Conservation Society–Chile have received funding from the National Environmental Commission of Chile (CONAMA by its Spanish acronym) to design a Management Plan for Bahía Lomas, located in Chile’s Magellan and Antarctica region. Bahía Lomas, recognized as a WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance and as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, is the most important wintering area in South America for the rufa subspecies of Red Knot (Calidris canutus), and second-most for the Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica).


Red Knot. © Jan C. Wegener

Developed during the course of a 12-month participatory process, the Plan will allow for the identification, coordination, and implementation of those strategies and actions necessary for the effective conservation of the site. The Plan’s most notable objectives include identifying critical habitat to conserve, delineating and mapping the area’s zones and their associated uses and activities, and proposing diverse programs (research, education, fundraising, etc.) to be implemented in the area. An important part of the process for developing the Plan will be application of the WHSRN Site Assessment Tool, which will provide the baseline information for the shorebird component of the Plan.


The Bahía Lomas Management Committee facilitates a forum for discussion about the Management Plan being initiated. © Diego Luna Quevedo

View Bahía Lomas in a larger map

This initiative to develop the Bahía Lomas Management Plan is an integral part of a project being supported by the Ramsar Convention’s Small Grants Fund and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences’s Shorebird Recovery Project.

For more information, please contact Diego Luna Quevedo (, Southern Cone Program Coordinator, Shorebird Recovery Project, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.


Mexican WHSRN site is decreed a biosphere reserve

Written by Meredith Gutowski/Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences

In May, the Mexican Federal Government published the decree designating Marismas Nacionales, located in the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa, as a Biosphere Reserve. This decree marks an historic milestone in the effective conservation of this WHSRN Site of International Importance.


American Avocet (Recurvostra americana) is the most abundant shorebird species recorded at Marismas Nacionales (61,000 birds). © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The 543,600-acre (220,000-hectare) Marismas Nacionales supports more than 440 species of birds, and its diversity of intertidal mudflats, wetlands, and beaches makes this a key site for the conservation of migratory shorebirds (38 species). In addition, this site contains more than 60 protected-status species of vertebrates and nearly 20% of the country’s mangrove forests.

Several state, national, and international partners have been developing and implementing conservation activities in Nayarit, including research, education, and restoration, among others. Two initiatives that stand out for their importance for bird conservation are the “Linking Communities” program, involving three WHSRN Sites (Great Salt Lake, United States; Chaplin Lake, Canada; and Marismas Nacionales, México), and the International Bird Festival in San Blas. Both programs are well accepted in the communities, and the bird festival now serves as a model for those in other parts of Mexico and elsewhere.

Congratulations to all our partners involved in this important conservation effort, especially Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP, by its Spanish acronym) for making this possible. This declaration is a true milestone in the conservation and protection of natural resources in this important and critical region of Northwest Mexico.

Australian Painted Snipe Surveys

Written by BirdLife Community

Birds Australia’s (BirdLife Partner) Threatened Bird Network has announced that it’s time once again to  start looking for one of Australia’s most rare and cryptic wetland species; the Endangered Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis.

After the spring/summer months of 2009/2010 yielded sightings of only 11 individuals, signs are good for the upcoming season with five birds already recorded at two sites in Queensland!

The onset of heavy winter rains throughout the Murray Darling Basin, the Channel Country and into the interior this winter could prove to produce a bumper breeding season for the  Australian Painted Snipe, as it has already been for other opportunistic waders such as Banded and Black-winged Stilts. The rain events of this winter will however, allow the birds to remain dispersed, resulting in potentially lower detectability to Australian Painted Snipe surveyors. For this reason the Australian Painted Snipe Recovery project encourages wetland birders from across the nation (especially in the under-represented north) to be ever vigilant as APS have been found in all types of habitat from vast lagoons to storm water drains.

Australia wide simultaneous surveying for Australian Painted Snipe will occur on the weekends of October 16 and January 15 in an attempt to improve estimates on the population, now thought to stand at less then 1,500 individuals. Incidental surveys outside these dates (including those where no  Australian Painted Snipe are seen) are also much appreciated in an attempt to unravel the many ecological questions still surrounding this enigmatic bird.

For more information on the Australian Painted Snipe and tips on how and where to survey for them, please click here.