Spoonbill that swallowed hook returns with migrating flock

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 December, 2008, 12:00am

More than 300 endangered black-faced spoonbills have arrived at the Mai Po nature reserve for winter, including one released back into the wild after recovering from swallowing a fishing hook earlier this year.

The spoonbills have been flying into the reserve since late October, similar to their arrival time last year, despite fears that global warming could have delayed or disrupted their migration pattern.

The spoonbill, which breeds in Korea and travels south in winter, is still on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, although its reported numbers, now estimated at more than 2,000, have been increasing in recent years.

In all, about 30,000 birds have been recorded at Mai Po this season, compared with the peak of up to 60,000 in January and February.

WWF's Mai Po reserve officer Bena Smith said more than 300 spoonbills were in the reserve and he expected more would come as temperatures fell. At the peak last winter, there were 369.

Among the returning spoonbills was a young male which was released back into the wild in February after it was found entangled in fishing lines in a nearby fish pond with a hook in its stomach.

The bird, which was tagged and numbered A39, was recently seen by nature reserve staff during their routine bird monitoring. Mr Smith said A39, which is now two years old, turned up last week and was in a healthy condition, actively feeding and behaving like a normal spoonbill.

'When the bird went out into the wild, there were concerns because the stitches in its gut had the potential of breaking and the bird dying,' Mr Smith said. 'So it's good news that he's getting healthier.'

Birdwatchers have also found a spoonbill tagged in 1999, the oldest they have verified so far.

Bird Watching Society co-ordinator Yu Yat-tung, who co-ordinates a global black-faced spoonbill census, said there seemed little change in the spoonbills' return pattern, though their first sighting in Mai Po was about a week later than last year.

'The weather seems to be a bit warmer this year, but we are still unable to tell how weather exactly impacts on the migratory birds,' he said.

But Mr Smith said some birds had almost stopped migrating to Hong Kong. The number of common shelduck dropped from up to 4,000 in the 1980s to only 20 to 30 now. Pelican numbers had fallen from 80 to 90 in the 1980s to one or two.

He said different factors affected bird migration patterns but 'in the long term, the changes in climate are making the difference. They just don't need to come south as it's getting warmer and warmer in China'.