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For the past two years, WWF-Hong Kong has worked in a multi-partner project to track the migration of Hong Kong’s wild ducks. The project tracked two different duck species on their northward migration from the Mai Po Nature Reserve, then their southward routes. Over the Christmas weekend the first of the tracked ducks returned to Hong Kong .
The project was launched in December 2008 when the partners - WWF-Hong Kong, the Department of Microbiology of The University of Hong Kong, Asia Ecological Consultants, the US Geological Survey and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (project funder) - fitted 24 wild duck with satellite transmitters at the Mai Po Nature Reserve. A further 23 wild ducks were fitted with satellite transmitters the following year - December 2009 - in an effort to better understand wild duck migration and the role of migratory birds in the ecology and epidemiology of avian diseases, including avian influenza.
The returning duck – an adult female Northern Pintail numbered 91268 - left Mai Po in February this year and took about five months to reach the Arctic Circle. During northward migration she stopped in many areas including the Yellow Sea Region and Heilongjiang province in China. Once reaching Siberia she stopped for three months, presumably to breed, before heading southward at the end of September. From Siberia she flew at about 50km/h, stopping in Eastern Russia and Japan before reaching Guangdong province earlier this month. Pushed on by a cold front she moved further south and eventually reached Mai Po just before Christmas after covering a total migration path of more than 10,000 kilometres.
Unfortunately not all the ducks completed their journey and of 47 transmitters fitted at Mai Po, only two are now sending signals to the tracker. It is believed that some transmitters had technical dysfunction, whilst others naturally fell off, but hunting in China and East Russia also contributed to the halting of the satellite transmitters. Other than the returning duck, the project is still tracking an adult male Eurasian Wigeon which has settled in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea close to the border with South Korea.
“The project has been an overwhelming success and the results beyond our expectations. Hong Kong ducks clearly undertake epic migration journeys and rely on a wide range of inland and coastal wetland habitats,” said Mr. Bena Smith, WWF-Hong Kong Mai Po Reserve Manager. He added, “The Yellow Sea in particular appears crucial and the importance of a network of protected wetlands to complete their migration is clearly evident."
The data shows that the Yellow Sea region is of great significance as over 80% of the ducks rested there. However, a substantial loss of wetland in the Yellow Sea has occurred in the past 20 years due to rapid human population growth and booming economies in both China and South Korea. In particular the loss of inter-tidal wetland areas to coastal reclamation projects is affecting millions of migratory waterbirds, including some species already threatened by extinction.
“WWF undertakes a number of projects and initiatives within the East Asia-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) to support waterbird conservation. The duck tracking project has provided us with valuable information as to where conservation resources should be focussed," added Smith.
With continued fragmentation of waterbird migration routes, there is an increasing need and growing importance to keep the Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site as a stronghold wintering ground in the EAAF. The Ramsar site lies at the heart of the EAAF, which is home to over 50 million migratory waterbirds from over 250 different populations, regularly supporting 19 globally threatened wetland bird species and over 60,000 wintering waterbirds. WWF has managed the Mai Po Nature Reserve component of the Ramsar site since 1984 to ensure Hong Kong’s migratory waterbird populations have a safe place to roost and feed. Earlier this winter a new species of goose for Hong Kong was attracted to the Nature Reserve.
Other interesting findings from the 2009/10 data set (Phase II) are:
• Longest northward migration record for a Hong Kong Eurasian Wigeon: >4,600km (Eurasian Wigeon 95362).
• Two Eurasian Wigeon (91242 & 91244, both male), departed in early May migrating together, summering at Amur Estuary. One of them is still sending signals and has migrated southward to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (on the Yellow Sea), spending over a month there now.
• Two of the Northern Pintail have been flying at speeds in excess of 100km/h: one bird covered a distance of 228 km in a two-hour period (an average of 114km/h).
• Some ducks migrate using inland wetlands, some along the coast.
More details of the project and results from Phase I can be found at: http://www.wwf.org.hk/en/whatwedo/conservation/wetlands/flyway/