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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, January 8, 2018
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Conservation Matters

Spoonbill sandpiper spotted

In what could be considered as an interesting development in conservation, one of the world's critically endangered shorebirds was recently spotted for the first time in Negros Occidental, and most likely the first record for the Philippines, too.

The team from the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. was able to take photographs of the Spoon-billed sandpiper or Spoonbill sandpiper, known to science as Calidrispygmaea, at the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area, specifically in Barangay Tibsok, San Enrique, over the weekend.

This record further affirms the significance of the NOCWCA as a conservation site, being one of the Philippines' seven wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.

Lisa Paguntalan, PBCFI executive director, said the presence of this species raises the conservation value of NOCWCA as one of the most globally important sites for shorebirds. PBCFI senior biologist Godfrey Jakosalem accidentally documented and counted three individuals of Spoon-billed sandpiper Saturday while on birding and preparing for the annual waterbird count at Tibsok.

The breeding adult Spoon-billed sandpiper measures only 14 to 16 centimeters with speculate bill. It has red-brown head, neck, and breast with dark brown streaks. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, has included it in the Red List of Threatened Species as critically endangered, which is the highest threat being assigned to species that are already at the brink of extinction.

The Spoonbill sandpiper, according to the IUCN, has an extremely small population and is undergoing a serious rapid population reduction because of a number of factors, including habitat loss in its breeding, passage, and wintering grounds. The threats to the existence of this species are compounded with disturbance, pollution, hunting, and the effect of climate change.

The IUCN added that the “juvenile recruitment has, until recently, been very low, leading to fears that the population is ageing rapidly,” as it is urging immediate action now to prevent the extinction of this species with breeding population estimated in 2009-2010 at 120-200 pairs, or roughly equivalent to 240-400 mature individuals, and 360-600 individuals in total.

The Birdlife International claimed this species has a naturally limited breeding range on the Chukotsk Peninsula and southwards to the isthmus of the Kamchatka in northeastern Russia. It reportedly migrates down the western Pacific Coast through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam to its main wintering rounds in southern China, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, the IUCN added. The account of the species in the IUCN website did not mention any record from the Philippines although it states that it is a vagrant species in the country.

The Spoonbill sandpiper, as described by the IUCN, “has a very specialized breeding habitat, using only lagoon spits with crowberry-lichen vegetation or dwarf birch and willow sedges, together with adjacent estuary or mudflat habitats that are used as feeding sites by adults during nesting.”

The IUCN added that the species has “never been recorded breeding further than five kilometers (and exceptionally once, 7 km) from the seashore,” as it adds, “breeding birds are very site faithful. It breeds either in single pairs or loose aggregations.” During winter, the IUCN added, the species “prefers mixed sandy tidal mudflats with an uneven surface and very shallow water, mainly in the outermost parts of river deltas and outer islands, often with a higher sand content and thin mud layer on top.”

Paguntalan underscored the importance of the NOCWCA because it has the highest record in the Philippines in terms of threatened shorebirds, which include one critically endangered (Spoonbill sandpiper), two endangered (Great know and Nordmann's greenshank), and three vulnerable (Far eastern curlew, Philippine duck, and Chinese Egret) species.

The protection of the NOCWCA, therefore, is of paramount importance to global conservation agenda. *

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