Conservation scientist Guy Anderson's second blog post from his trip to China to find the spoon billed sandpiper

By mid May in south-east China, wader numbers are peaking on the coast.  Huge swirls of Dunlin, Red-necked Stint, Bar-tailed Godwit and Great Knot decorate the sky, here for just a few weeks before making their way north to their arctic breeding grounds.  We got used to the daily routine of following the tide in and out across the mud, searching the flocks for spoonies.  Andrew, the New Yorker on the team, provided the perfect onomatopoeic description for such surveying – schlepping. Nothing ever stays still here, everything is moving all the time – birds, water, and people. These mudflats are busy places: Fishermen tend nets strung between long lines of tall bamboo poles to catch on the rising tide. Shell fishers rent areas of mudflat from the government to raise clams and razor shells.  This is one huge free-range seafood farm.  Every day they cart back-breaking loads of clams in bamboo baskets for miles across the flats to waiting trucks on the seawall.  Construction workers starting the next land claim or planting new wind turbines chug across the mud on tractor-pulled trailers. And the odd schlepping ornithologist.

Billboard showing plans for land claims. I’m pointing to where we found Spoonies 04 and 05 in early May. This will be dry land in a few years time.

At one site, a huge billboard on the current seawall proudly announces a 10 year plan to claim what looks like 200km2 of intertidal mud and sand in a series of linked islands. For the moment, there are still big expanses of mud and big flocks of birds. But there are also big plans for the future.

Spoonie numbers appear to have peaked here in early May. We found two birds colour-flagged on the breeding grounds last year; 05 – a male - and 04 – a female.  We only saw them on single dates each.  So either individual spoonies don’t hang around here very long in spring, or we’re just not very good at finding them in the mass of other waders.  We hope that 04 and 05, and others will be seen back on their nesting grounds in Chukotka over the next two months. Searching the mass of other waders has revealed a good number of colour-flagged birds marked in different countries along the migration flyway: Russia, Thailand, Singapore, Australia. We have given several talks on our work to local bird clubs, media, tourism and business interests. The intercontinental origins of these birds raise real fascination and pride in the local area.  We visit Juegang School in Rudong city - the staff and pupils here have taken the spoonie to its heart. They have already taken part in an international project creating a cartoon telling the story of the spoonie. (http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/biodiversity/archive/2013/06/27/spoon-billed-sandpiper-a-cartoon-collaboration.aspx). Since then, they’ve created huge spoonie sculptures made of clam shells, numerous spoonie-related artworks and generated lots of media interest in the process.  They now have an entire room in their school devoted to Spoon-billed Sandpiper information, art and conservation. Now that’s inspiring.

Buoyed by this beacon of hope in what appears a landscape of huge environmental pressures, we return to our schlepping duties.  There’s more spoonies out there to find....

Giant Spoony made of clam shells, by pupils from Juegang School, displayed at the Links Hotel, Yankou. 

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