STOP PRESS: Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Beijing!

Some stunning news has just reached me of a juvenile SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER that was photographed at Yeyahu, Beijing, on 31 August by Zhang Minhao, a junior high school student.  Big thanks to Huang Hanchen and Guan Xiangyu for the heads-up.  Here is the photo:

Juvenile SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER, Ma Chang, Yeyahu, Beijing, 31 August 2014.  Photo by Zhang Minhao.
Juvenile SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER, Ma Chang, Yeyahu, Beijing, 31 August 2014. Photo by Zhang Minhao.

And here is Zhang Minhao’s personal account:

A Brief Account for the Record of a Juvenile Spoonbill Sandpiper in Beijing
by Zhang Minhao, October 16, 2014.

“The Spoon-billed Sandpiper was photographed at Machang, Yeyahu, Yanqing County, Beijing, on August 31, 2014.

At around 09:45am on 31 August 2014 I was observing Red-necked Stints, Long-toed Stints, and Long-billed Plovers near a large area of water on the edge of Guanting Reservoir.  This area is known as Ma Chang, Wild Duck Lake.  In order to avoid missing the distant shorebirds, I checked the areas where the Red-necked Stints were located by looking through my camera, and took pictures of the birds I could see.

When reviewing my photographs I recognised something distinctive, a juvenile Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The time of the photograph was 09:49am.

The single Spoon-billed Sandpiper foraged and preened alone, without mixing with other species. And there were no other Spoon-billed Sandpipers around it.  About 3 minutes later 3 Red-necked Stints flew to its vicinity causing the Spoon-billed Sandpiper to fly and it alighted further away on the mudflat. But when I got there the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was not to be seen and it was never seen again.”

(Thanks to Guan Xiangyu for contacting Zhang Minhao about this account and to Huang Hanchen for the translation).

There are several brilliant things about this record.  First, it’s a SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER, one of the world’s most endangered birds (see here to read about just how few remain and for details of the international effort to try to save this species).  Second, it’s of a juvenile, one of very few sightings of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper of this age in the world, giving hope to the conservation effort.  Third, it was found in Beijing, one of the world’s major capital cities, more than 150km from the coast.  And finally, the finder was a young Chinese birder.

It’s a truly remarkable record. And I hope this sighting by Zhang Minhao inspires other young people in Beijing and beyond to take up birding and to become part of an ever-louder voice to help conserve the amazing biodiversity with which China is blessed.

Well done Zhang Minhao!

9 thoughts on “STOP PRESS: Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Beijing!”

  1. The amazing thing about this record is that the species is generally not known to stray much more than 1000m or whatever from the sea. Is this the first inland record anywhere? Was the suggestion/guesswork that some are passing over the Chinese mainland to winter in Bangladesh possibly correct after all. Fascinating!

    1. Hi Mark. It’s actually the 2nd record from Beijing! The first is a historical record (undated) from the suburb of Tongzhou. And I have heard rumours that there might have been another one in the 1980s.. I am doing some digging to try to find more details. I am not sure that these records are enough to prove that there is an overland route to Bangladesh but, as with so many Chinese birds, we simply don’t know! It’s a species I never thought would turn up again in Beijing… so it’s a big surprise.. and for it to be a juvenile, too, is a big bonus!

  2. Is it more likely for a juvenile to show up in an unexpected location? I don’t know much about migration, but would think a juvenile might be more like to get “lost” on its first trip south.

  3. Hi Gretchen. Vagrancy is, I believe, most associated with juvenile birds but we simply don’t know whether it is usual for some Spoon-billed Sandpipers to cross land during their migration. Many other shorebirds are recorded in Beijing with some regularity, for example the closely-related Red-necked Stint, so it’s possible that a small percentage are ‘programmed’ to take a route that takes them over land.. Until there are GPS loggers small enough to fit to these tiny birds, I suspect we won’t know for sure!
    Terry

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