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Spoon-billed sandpiper are small shorebirds migrating long distances from Russia to the south of China, mostly along the coasts. Argos telemetry is helping to answer questions about those migrations as part of an international effort to save the species.

Photo: one of the tracked bird, named EH, at Pak Thale, Thailand, 14 November 2019 (Credit Ayuwat (Ton) Jearwattanakanok)

The spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) is a small shorebird living on the Eastern most coasts of Asia. It breeds on Russian arctic tundra (Chukotsk and Kamchatka peninsulas), migrates South through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and the coast of China close to Shanghai to winter in south and south-east Asia (southern China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand). It thus can travel 8,000 km from its breeding grounds following the East Asian – Australasian “Flyway”.

The East Asian - Australasian “Flyway” (Credit WWT)
The East Asian – Australasian “Flyway” (Credit WWT)

It is one of the most threatened bird species, as are many wader species since wetland environments are degrading almost everywhere (more than 80% of East and Southeast Asia’s wetlands are classified as threatened). Its IUCN threat status was upgraded to Critically Endangered in 2008. It declined by 90% in the decade between 2000 and 2009 and was down to less than 250 breeding pairs in 2014. The two main threats seem to be intertidal habitat loss and degradation, and trapping on the wintering grounds, when young birds are disproportionately affected as they are thought to remain on their wintering grounds for their first 18 months.

Since 2009, a wide range of people and organisations have taken action to halt the decline. A captive population has been established as a safe-guard against extinction. Signs are encouraging and the population decline is now much reduced.

Without knowing the location of most of the important breeding wintering and staging grounds, it is impossible to adequately protect the spoon-billed sandpiper. Satellite tracking is helping here, especially since a 2 g solar PTT tag was developed by Microwave Technology Inc. in 2016, small enough for tracking spoon-billed sandpipers. The tags were tested on dunlin in captivity to see how the birds reacted – they seemed to simply ignore the tag and the antenna.

Argos PTT Tags were fitted to three wild, adult spoon-billed sandpipers in October 2016 at the Tiaozini mudflats in Jiangsu, China (south-western corner of the Yellow Sea). Thirteen more have been fitted since (7 more in China and 6 in Russia).

 

Tracks of three bird fitted with 2-g Argos PTTs in Jiangsu province, China, in autumn 2019 (Credit WWT)
Tracks of three bird fitted with 2-g Argos PTTs in Jiangsu province, China, in autumn 2019 (Credit WWT)

This has led to the discovery of new staging, wintering and breeding sites, including only the second known autumn moult site in the demilitarized zone of North Korea. The fact that birds migrating to Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Thailand do so overland has been confirmed. Some threats have also been addressed, thanks to the tracking, such as illegal mist netting at sites in southern China.

Argos telemetry is thus helping to answer questions about spoon-billed sandpiper migration that have intrigued conservationists for centuries. Satellite tracking work is continuing to identify more unknown sites, as part of an integrated international effort to save the species. The most important and challenging action is maintaining and protecting habitat at key sites, particularly stopover sites in the Yellow Sea. The fact that China banned intertidal reclamation in 2018 hopefully represents a transformative change in the fortunes of the spoon-billed sandpiper.

References and links

A silky shark with a pop-up tag (Credit NOAA Fisheries)

06.01.2020 Animal tracking applications Understanding silky shark movement patterns to avoid interactions with fisheries

Silky sharks occupy the same habitat as some marketable tuna species, thus leading to high risks of bycatch by fisheries. A NOAA study using a combination of telemetry technologies, including Argos satellite telemetry, aims to identify potential patterns in silky shark behavior in order to devise effective bycatch mitigation strategies.
nanosatellite ANGELS

18.12.2019 ANGELS nanosatellite ANGELS, successful launch – The Argos metamorphosis is on its way

On December 18, 2019, the French Space Agency, CNES, has launched the first Argos nanosatellite, marking the beginning of a revolution in the Argos system as we know it. This nanosat is the prototype mission for Kinéis, a constellation of 25 nanosatellites with Argos…
Photo: A lesser kestrel with an Argos PTT (Green Balkans)

17.12.2019 Animal tracking applications Where do European Lesser Kestrels go?

The lesser kestrel is a small falcon migrating from Europe to Africa. A study using a large dataset of tracked birds made it possible assess the differences of migration paths and African arrival points depending on their breeding regions in Europe. This can used in devising effective conservation strategies throughout…
National Geographic “Sea to Source Expedition.” Photo copyright Alasdair Davies

13.12.2019 Argos news & events New, open-source access to the Argos system

Have you ever wanted to design your own Argos satellite transmitter? Now it’s possible!  CLS and the Arribada Initiative are pleased to announce a new open-source reference design by Icoteq, Ltd. Used with the ARTIC R2 chipset, a low power Argos 2/3/4 single chip radio, designed during an…
Weddell seal

06.12.2019 Animal tracking applications Better understanding of Weddell seals’ diving

Weddell seals are the most southerly breeding mammal species. They are found among other places in the Weddell Sea, but their behaviour and foraging strategies are not well-known, in an area itself largely unknown. Scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institut tracked them using Argos PTTs recording…
a porcupine crab with its harness (Credit University of Windsor)

29.11.2019 Animal tracking applications Deep-sea crabs tracked with Argos!

Deep-sea species are scarcely known. However, a team at the University of Windsor in Canada has devised a means of tracking porcupine crabs living at 900 m depth. Pop-up archival tags programmed to release at regular intervals emitted data, collected by Argos, resulting in a better view on this species’…
Male black caiman with an Argos satellite transmitter glued to its head (photo S Caut)

19.11.2019 Animal tracking applications Studying black caimans in and out of their pond

Crocodilians are tropical wetland ecosystems’ top predators, but they are rarely studied. Black caimans, which live between Central America and the northern part of South America, saw their population drop by 90 % in the 20th century. To have a better understanding of their behavior, scientists used Argos PTTs to track…
great spotted cuckoo iStock

14.10.2019 Animal tracking applications Great spotted cuckoos tracked far from the nest by Argos

Cuckoos’ most well-known characteristic is the laying of their eggs in another species’ nest taking advantage of the care provided by these foster parents (brood parasitism). But some cuckoo species, such as great spotted cuckoos, are also migratory. Advancements in Argos satellite telemetry – especially miniaturization of Argos tags –…
Saimaa ringed seal tagged with a GPS-Argos tag (Wildlife Computers, USA), photo: Saimaa ringed seal research UEF.

03.10.2019 Animal tracking applications Lake Saimaa ringed seals

Ringed seals are living during winters in ice covered environment, both sea and lakes. One of the subspecies is living around Lake Saimaa in Southeastern Finland, where human activities are restricting their living areas and the population is endangered. The University of Eastern Finland has studied their movement using telemetry…
Record-breaking animals

01.10.2019 Animal tracking applications Record-breaking distances revealed by Argos

New Argos tracking study by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) reveals unimagined distances traveled by a female Arctic fox, from Svalbard to a remote part of Canada. In the Southern hemisphere, an Oriental pratincole, tracked by the Australasian Wader Studies Group, surprises scientists…
Kelonia expo

17.09.2019 Animal tracking applications Kelonia : Honoring sea turtles

For 15 years, Kelonia, the CEDTM and its partners (Ifremer, CNRS, Universities, TAAF, the French Biodiversity Agency-AFB,…) have equipped nearly 300 sea turtles with Argos tags to study their movements in the Indian Ocean – from the high seas to coastal waters. Their research has resulted in knowledge and understanding…
California condor

16.09.2019 Animal tracking applications Argos key tool for monitoring the reintroduction of California condors

Carrion birds in general, and especially the largest of them are often threatened species, even though they are providing huge ecological services. The California condors among them nearly disappeared. They are now recovering thanks to reintroduction efforts, but are still endangered, especially by lead poisoning. Pinnacles National Park and Ventana…
pegase2019 sasemar

20.08.2019 Oceanography and meteorological applications An Argos ocean buoy visits the Spanish coast

An Argos ocean buoy deployed off the coast of Banyuls, France, in May 2019, has been visiting the Spanish coastline – along with approximately 30 million tourists this summer. The buoy, deployed within the French Space Agency’s Argonautica project, in collaboration with students and teachers from the Lycée…
An Oriental Pratincole with an Argos PTT antenna (Credit: Subbu Subramanya )

14.08.2019 Animal tracking applications Oriental Pratincoles: long-distance migrant birds

Oriental Pratincoles, Australia’s most numerous shorebird, spend up to three months in Australia, migrating to various parts of Asia to breed. To date, traditional marking using bands and flags has produced little insight into their destinations & migration paths. Using 2 g Argos satellite telemetry tags, their migration is monitored…
Humpback whale and tag (Credit University of Auckland)

31.07.2019 Animal tracking applications Argos helps in tracking where humpback whales feed

Humpback whales are long-range migrators, on the recovery after heavy whaling during more than 150 years. Understanding where they feed in the polar oceans, and why they might choose an area rather than another is helped by Argos telemetry tracking. Populations recovering from whaling, but not the same everywhere…
Arctic Fox

19.07.2019 Animal tracking applications From Svalbard to Canada, the long travel of an arctic fox tracked by Argos

Arctic foxes are living in all the regions around the Arctic ocean. Argos satellite telemetry tracking demonstrates that some of those foxes are changing continent using the sea ice as bridge, travelling thousands of kilometers in a few months in the process, from Svalbard to Canada. ‘Recordfox’ of distance Since…
A whooping crane with an Argos PTT on its right leg (Credit Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

17.07.2019 Animal tracking applications Argos helps track large scale movements of Whooping Cranes reintroduced into Southwestern Louisiana

Whooping cranes were nearly extinct in North Americas in the 1950s. Preservation actions initiated since then have enabled the protection of the species. Reintroduction programs, helped by Argos satellite telemetry are now increasing the populations, and enabling new discoveries on those emblematic birds. Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) are large birds…
Group of Mhorr gazelle with a GPS collar (credits T. Abáigar)

03.07.2019 Animal tracking applications Reintroducing Mhorr gazelles into the wild

The Mhorr gazelle is an endangered species of the Sahelian area. It is one of the most singular, threatened and scarcely-studied gazelle species of northern Africa. It is considered by locals as part of their cultural wealth. Reintroduction into the wild of captivity-bred individuals has first been tried in Southern…
IMOS glider

01.07.2019 Goniometer Glider recovery with Argos back-up tracking

Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) is a national collaborative research infrastructure, supported by the Australian Government. The IMOS Ocean Gliders facility operates a fleet of autonomous underwater ocean gliders that undertake measurements from shelf and boundary currents in Australian…

26.06.2019 ANGELS nanosatellite Great news for Argos users, the Kinéis constellation carrying the future of Argos is under production!

Production is underway on the new constellation of 25 nanosatellites called Kinéis, with the next generation Argos instruments onboard. The new generation of the Argos system is based on greater bandwidth, improved data timeliness thanks to a shorter revisit time (5-15 minutes between satellite passes depending on latitude) and two-way…

14.06.2019 Animal tracking applications Happy World Sea Turtle Day from Argos

On June 16th, people around the world celebrate the beauty of sea turtles and their importance to the marine ecosystem. CLS, unique operator of the Argos system since 1986, would like to take this occasion to honor the scientists working to understand and protect sea turtles globally.  The Argos system…
loggerhead turtle

14.06.2019 Animal tracking applications Understanding the tracking of three loggerhead turtles with ocean data

Trajectories of loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean Sea have been tracked using Argos transmitters. Comparing the tracks with marine environmental data provides a better understanding of the movements of these animals. Photo courtesy of Aquarium La Rochelle SAS. 35 years of monitoring…. For more than 35…
fiordland crested penguin

11.06.2019 Animal tracking applications New Zealand’s Marathon Penguins

New Zealand is home to more penguin species than any other country in the world. The Tawaki penguin, also known as the Fiorland penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), is one such species that breeds on the New Zealand mainland. With an estimated population size of merely 5,500–7,000 mature birds, Tawaki are very…
An elephant seal track (CEBC/CNRS), with the elephant turning around the low eddy on the right (sea level anomaly map dating from that turn)

29.05.2019 Animal tracking applications Ocean data to better understand marine animals in their environment

Argos satellite tracking makes it possible to follow the paths of tagged animals. This tracking data is invaluable, but sometimes it raises more questions than it answers. Why is the animal making a detour – or even a loop? Does it stay here or there for feeding, or for another…
Argonautica annual meeting 2019 (photo A. Willm for Cnes)

27.05.2019 Testimonies Kids on Argos tracks

Among Argos satellite telemetry users, we have kids and teachers, thanks to the Argonautica STEM educational project from the French Space Agency, Cnes. Representatives met last week to present the work done using the Argos and “Metoc” data in the Annual Argonautica Conference held in Montpellier. Argos has one…
Juvenile male Hen Harrier with an Argos PTT (Credits Les Steele)

17.05.2019 Animal tracking applications Argos helps reveal that British grouse moors are dangerous grounds for hen harriers

Hen Harriers is a protected species of raptor living in Great Britain. Until recently, their behaviour and habits had been observed mostly at specific times and areas. Argos PTTs have enabled monitoring a wide variety of individuals over long periods and studying threats from recreational shooting. The historic ornithological…
king penguins

25.04.2019 Animal tracking applications King penguins: Long-distance champion

The research team at Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé (CEBC-CNRS) has been using the Argos system since the 1990s to study penguins on Crozet and Kerguelen Islands. One of the researchers from the team, Charles-André Bost, began using the Argos system in 1994 to learn more about…
Little penguins. Copyright Philipp Island Nature Parks.

23.04.2019 Animal tracking applications Protecting little penguins with Phillip Island Nature Parks

Phillip Island Nature Parks is a unique nature reserve, located on Australia’s Phillip Island, just a two hours’ drive from Melbourne. It is part of the UNESCO Western Port Biosphere Reserve and includes wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, woodlands and coastal scenery.  Phillip Island Nature Parks has used Argos…

23.04.2019 Animal tracking applications Establishing a marine reserve for Magellanic penguins

From 1996 – 2018, the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels tracked 459 penguins from Punta Tombo using the Argos system, shedding new light on home range, foraging patterns, and how climate change influences these animals. Data collected has been used to design marine protected areas in the Province of…
Photo copyright: Malgorzata Korczak Abshire

23.04.2019 Animal tracking applications Understanding penguin populations on the Antarctic peninsula

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established by international convention in 1982 with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life. The CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) was established to detect changes in the krill-based…