February 14, 2008

Rare Sandpipers Spotted in Coastal Myanmar

A Conservation group is optimistic after receiving news that 84 spoon-billed sandpipers were spotted on the coast in Myanmar.

The World Conservation Union states that the bird is endangered, with only 200 to 300 pairs remaining.

A few months prior to the latest discovery of the bird with its distinctive spoon-like bill, Russian researchers reported a 70 percent drop in the number spotted in their normal breeding sites in Siberia also noting that none were seen this year in Bangladesh, their traditional wintering location.

BirdLife, a British-based conservatory group said the discovery in Myanmar increases the likelihood of other breeding grounds. Their migration route is known to venture from Siberia down through Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China and Taiwan, before reaching their wintering grounds in South Asia.

Researchers said the birds' weary flight plan as a partial cause for their extinction. Noting that their eggs are often eaten by dogs and foxes in Russia.

"This is an important piece of the jigsaw," Simba Chan, senior conservation manager at BirdLife's Asia Division, said in a statement. "If present trends continue, the spoon-billed sandpiper faces extinction in the next few years. If we are to save the species, we need to identify and conserve not only its breeding sites, but its migration stopover sites and wintering grounds too."

Three years ago, researchers launched a hunt to find other winter grounds for the shorebird in South Asia. It was when their search in Bangladesh returned with very few hopeful results that they turned their attention to the coast of Myanmar.

"It was a big relief that we finally have come close to solving the mystery of the wintering sandpipers," said Christopher Zockler, part of the international survey team that also included Thai, Japanese and Russian bird experts.

Myanmar has become known to conservationists as a hotspot for finding rare birds. It there when two years ago researchers found the only population of Gurney's Pitta known to exist.

"Its coastlines have the potential for many more surprises," Zockler said. "It hasn't been surveyed at all before and it's less developed. It's the last oasis in a very fast developing region."


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