Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Knee-deep in buntings

Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve is located at the seaward end of Chongming Island in the mouth of the Yangtze River in China.  With my third visit in little over a year it’s beginning to feel like home from home.  The ‘Bird Habitat Optimisation Project’ we have been involved with is progressing at speed.  Twenty-seven km of 8 m high sea wall and a series of sluices (water gates) have now been completed. The early stages of the habitat creation are now underway and we are back on site to check all is going to plan.

The project aims firstly to eradicate, by cutting and flooding, the invasive non-native Cord-grass Spartina alternifolia that has spread across 1,600 ha of mudflats and secondly, to create habitats to support the priority species of waders, wildfowl, cranes and reedbed specialists such as the Reed Parrotbill, within the 2,500 ha project area. Wide channels and meandering creeks are being created to carry water around the site. Nesting and roosting islands are being created in lagoon habitats.  Open pools and creeks are being formed in the reedbeds.  Some of the creeks are being formed by carving into the mud with high pressure water hoses and the resultant liquid slurry is pumped into embanked areas to settle out and form the islands.  The completed scheme will have 425 ha of reedbed, 1000 ha of brackish lagoons and 160 ha of saltmarsh. Water will enter from the Yangtze on high tides and flow through the site around huge perimeter canals 40m wide and 4m deep.

The site is a sea of mud as around 50 excavators and 200 workers attempt to create the new habitats out of the Spartina dominated marsh.  All around, migration is in full swing. Our first morning was cloudy and wet with birds leaping out of every bush. Buntings were everywhere; Little, Yellow-browed, Chestnut-eared, Black-faced and Tristram's were trying to out-'tick' each other. Red-flanked Bluetails and Olive-backed Pipits lurked under the trees.  It's tough working here but someone's got to do it.

Hoardes of swallows feed around the excavators, A trio of Reed Buntings; Common, Pallas's and Japanese, flit around the vegetation, and Red-throated Pipits call overhead every minute or so.  Mongolian Plovers, Terek Sandpipers and Turnstones dodge the diggers in the muddy pools.   The site continues to turn up surprises, not least the flock of 3 Long-billed Dowitchers feeding in one pool.

Photos: above: Black-faced Bunting, diggers in unison, hosing ditches, water control structure.
below: Long-billed Dowitcher, Olive-backed Pipit, female Pallas's Reed Bunting.

1 comment:

Alan Shearman said...

Sounds awesome mate, pleased you are sharing your expertise far and wide :-)