East Asian

Australasian flyway

Introduction of the members of the team and their projects can be found below.


Theunis Piersma

Theunis Piersma holds the Rudi Drent Chair in Flyway Ecology at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering, UG), and he is Senior Research Scientist Research Department of Coastal System at the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea. This chair is supported by World Wildlife Fund The Netherlands (WNF), BirdLife Netherlands (VBN), Gieskes-Strijbis Fund and others.
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Chris Hassell

I have lived close to Roebuck Bay in Broome, north Western Australia (NWA), since 1996. “21 years at the best shorebird site in the world!” is my un-biased statement on that. In 2006 I was contracted by Global Flyway Network to conduct their colour-banding project at Roebuck Bay. Initially, I worked at the Broome Bird Observatory (BBO) before establishing Turnstone Nature Discovery: a bird-watching and nature tour business. Gradually the tour business was wound down and I moved in to research work.  A major part of my studies now involves two months of field work in northern China at the Luannan coast, Bohai Bay. The number of Red Knots from NWA that pass through this site would be over 80% of the total that spend the non-breeding season there. [caption id="attachment_793" align="alignnone" width="5184"]DSCN0074 With a fisherman and a fisherwoman in Bohai Bay, hand in hand (both ‘keen on saving mudflats’)[/caption] I also coordinates population monitoring programs on migratory shorebirds in NWA and runs the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) shorebird research programme in NWA. When not being a shorebird nerd I'm drinking tea, listening to music and following the fortunes of Leicester City and the England cricket team.
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Adrian Boyle

I am a Global Flyway Network associate for the Australia chapter. I help Chris conduct research particularly on Red Knots when I am in Broome and spend two months every year in northern China during northward migration recording bands and flags on Red Knots and hope this helps in the tentative steps to getting some formal reserve status for the Luannan Coast, Bohai Bay. [caption id="attachment_1573" align="alignnone" width="633"]Ady Boyle A Red Knot in breeding plumage. Photo: Adrian Boyle[/caption] I started watching birds from a very early age while growing up in South Eastern Australia. In 1992 I observed some Sanderlings with leg flags at one of my local beaches and this is what introduced me to the world of shorebirds and shorebird research. This then led me to Broome the ‘Shorebird capital of Australia’ where I worked alongside Chris Hassell at the Broome Bird Observatory (BBO). Bird tours took up a lot of my time there. After the BBO time, I worked as specialist guide on bird tours around Broome and cruising along the Kimberley Coast. As shown recently all this bird watching can yield very good results: I was one of team of four who rediscovered the seemingly extinct Night Parrot in the remote desert of NW Australia. "Many years of hard work and refinement of detection methods paid off". Photographs and call recordings of the Night Parrot can be found here. Finding-the-night-parrot When I am not working for Global Flyway Network, tour guiding is what I still do. Most of my jobs are on expedition vessels in remote parts of the world such as Antarctica and Arctic. I am also a keen photographer and rarely separated from my camera.
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Ying Chi Chan

I am a PhD candidate of the University of Groningen (RUG), currently based at the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. My project studies how migratory shorebirds are impacted by, and how will they adapt to, the rapidly diminishing habitats at their fuelling stops in China. I am funded by the Ubbo Emmius Fund of the RUG (link to the RUG Alumni Hong Kong Newsletter). We work closely with Fudan University and Beijing Normal University in China, all under the umbrella of Global Flyway Network. Fieldwork Satellite tracking of individuals I conducted three years of fieldwork putting satellite transmitters (PTTs, manufactured by Microwave Telemetry) in Northwest Australia. Using the latest developments in miniature satellite transmitters, we track three shorebirds species: the Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot and Red Knot. They migrate from Australia to their Siberian breeding areas via the Chinese and Korean coast. From the tracks we can identify important staging sites, and know the migration routes and timing of individuals. [caption id="attachment_750" align="alignnone" width="487"]Ginny profile 2 Releasing tagged great knots in Roebuck Bay[/caption] Large-scale habitat surveys and benthic sampling at the Chinese coast Together with PhD student Hebo Peng, in each spring, we visit as many staging sites as possible to sample the food, observe foraging behavior of birds and survey the area. We document threats at each site. Read more about our fieldwork at our blog on this website called "Coastal China Field Updates". Harness development Since 2013, I am involved in developing and testing harnesses to tag shorebirds with body structure like the red knot. The results of the earliest work were summarized in a publication in the Journal of Ornithology (DOI: 10.1007/s10336-015-1276-4). Feel free to contact me for latest developments! [caption id="attachment_751" align="alignnone" width="1319"]Ginny profile 3 Captive Red Knot carrying a dummy tag in the NIOZ shorebird aviary. This is part of an experiment on how a body harness could affect their fattening and moulting[/caption] My background I was born and grew up in Hong Kong, a city at the south coast of China just at the edge of the tropics. I did my Bachelor degree in Environmental Life Science at the University of Hong Kong. My interest in avian ecology has motivated me to further my studies abroad, and I was very fortunate to receive the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to join the Evolutionary Biology Master Programme at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. My Masters research project with Theunis Piersma has brought me back to my 'flyway' where migratory birds are in steep decline because of human activities. After a few years of searching for funding (during which I collected preliminary data and learned the art of grant writing), in 2015 I can finally start a PhD to study how migratory shorebirds are impacted by the rapidly diminishing habitats at their fuelling stops in China.
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Jesse Conklin

I am a guest researcher, through Global Flyway Network (GFN), in the Conservation Ecology Group at the University of Groningen (RUG). Inspired by the epic migratory journeys of many shorebirds, my research initially focused on how individuals manage to fit these migrations into their busy annual routines. More recently, my work has expanded to explore the impacts of extreme long-distance migration on the demography and evolution of populations. Since 2001, these pursuits have involved fieldwork all over the globe, including northern California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Australia, Greenland, and The Netherlands, proving that shorebirds rank among the world’s best travel agents. [caption id="attachment_911" align="alignnone" width="355"]Bio Jesse 2 With a male Bar-tailed Godwit near Nome, Alaska. Photo: Murray Potter[/caption] From 2012 to 2018, my primary research (funded by an NWO Open Programme Grant) explored the global population structure and evolutionary history of three of Team Piersma’s main focal species: Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, and Red Knot. Using genome-wide molecular markers and a combination of population genetic and phylogeographic methods, this work aimed to: (1) challenge our current perceptions and test new hypotheses regarding subspecies distinctions within each species, (2) discover which geographic and ecological factors (if any) represent barriers to gene flow, and (3) reconstruct the evolutionary history of present-day migratory flyways. [caption id="attachment_913" align="alignnone" width="598"]barwits migration2 Breeding and non-breeding ranges of currently recognized subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwit. The arrows indicate migratory paths between specific non-breeding sites (circles) and breeding areas (ellipses) demonstrated by satellite-tracked individuals since 2006. Graphic: Jesse Conklin[/caption] Before moving to The Netherlands in 2012, I spent five years in New Zealand, studying the baueri subspecies of Bar-tailed Godwits with Phil Battley (another alumnus of Team Piersma) at Massey University. This work, which constituted my PhD  and continues today as a serious long-term ‘hobby’, uses an intimately monitored population of marked individuals, combined with geolocator tracking, to understand the flexibility and annual-cycle consequences of this population’s extreme migratory routine (including three non-stop flights of 6,000–12,000 km each, connecting locations in Alaska, Australasia, and the Yellow Sea). [caption id="attachment_950" align="alignnone" width="674"]GodwitDeparture_brighten Bar-tailed Godwits (including two color-banded males, on left) departing New Zealand on migration, but note the young male (still in wing molt, lower right) who doesn't seem to realize what he has signed up for! Photo: Jesse Conklin[/caption] Before defecting to the East Asian–Australasian Flyway in 2007, I studied breeding and migratory ecology of shorebirds using the Pacific American Flyway, as a master’s student in the lab of Mark Colwell at Humboldt University, California, and a seasonal employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. In (nearly all of) my ‘spare’ time, I am co-Editor-in-Chief and graphic designer for Wader Study, the scientific journal of the International Wader Study Group. Layout 1 You can view my publications at my profiles on ResearchGate, Google Scholar, and the University of Groningen. I am particularly proud of a recent review of extreme migration in shorebirds, including discussions of its potential relationship with individual quality and our habit of underestimating  the maximum capabilities of migratory birds (published in the special issue of Journal of Avian Biology commemorating the career of Thomas Alerstam).
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Dmitry Dorofeev

I am researcher in All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection and PhD student in Moscow State University. My research is supported by the Global Flyway Network, through the Royal NIOZ Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the University of Groningen. Several years ago I was involved in the Beluga Whale Project in Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary in Western Kamchatka, Russia. There I became impressed by numerous flocks of waders that we observed in July and August. After the expedition I tried to find publications about the use of this area  waders but found just few of them. They were rather old and had limited information. I wanted to know more about this stopover, and therefore in 2015 we started our investigations at Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary. I`m focused mainly on Great Knots, Black- and Bar-Tailed Godwits. Our key aim is to clarify the importance of Khairusova-Belogolovaya estuary for different wader species. Each year we involve volunteers from different countries in our fieldwork. We have five main activities during the field season.
  1. Foraging behavior
  2. Benthos survey
  3. Catching and marking with individual leg flags (Kamchatka combination is Black flag over engraved Yellow!)
  4. Observations of individually marked birds
  5. Wader counts
During last two years (2015 and 2016) we counted up to 28,000 waders during the peak of stopover. Totally were registered 31 wader species, including rare species as Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Far Eastern Curlew. We have rather large database of re-sights of individually marked birds. In 2016 we started ringing waders and have some re-sights from many countries of East Asian-Australasian Flyway. One our Great Knot was observed in United Arabian Emirates. OSME wrote small paper about this re-sight: From Russia with Love (or at least a ring): Kamchatka Great Knot reaches the Arabian Gulf. Our investigations are supported by All-Russian Research Institute for Environmental Protection, MBZ fund, OBC, IWSG, AWSG. Theunis Piersma and Yvonne Verkuil kindly provided us with methodological support for benthos surveys and processing of collected samples and data.
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Petra de Goeij

Since 2011 I work as a technician for the Spoonbill project of METAWAD, based at the Conservation Ecology Group of the University of Groningen, and the Royal NIOZ on Texel. I was trained as a biologist at the University of Amsterdam where I did my Masters on the feeding ecology of Spoonbills. After that I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Nature Conservation on a recovery plan for Spoonbills. Via my PhD research on Red Knots and their main prey Macoma balthica, and Ruff- and Black-tailed Godwit research in South-west Fryslân, I am back to my old ‘’love’’. The Spoonbill project is a co-operation between the University of Groningen and the Dutch Spoonbill Working Group: Werkgroep Lepelaar.  The demography of Spoonbills is followed through an international colour-marking program (example of the schemes we use can be found here). Every year, on all Dutch Wadden Sea islands, Spoonbills are colour-ringed, measured and a blood sample is taken for sex determination and isotopes analyses. Isotopes help us to find out what the diet of Spoonbills is. Also in additional colonies on the Dutch mainland, Spoonbills are colour-ringed. Re-sightings by hundreds of volunteers all along the flyway show their migration routes and wintering sites. Since 2012, we have issued UVA-bits GPS-loggers to adult and juvenile Spoonbills to follow their whereabouts while breeding, feeding and migrating. [caption id="attachment_263" align="alignnone" width="1024"] A foraging Spoonbills in the Wadden Sea. Photo: © Jan van de Kam[/caption]
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Tamar Lok

I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Coastal Systems group of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). I have a keen interest in understanding the causes and demographic consequences of (individual) variation in habitat choice and migration strategies of coastal migrants. During my PhD, I studied the demographic consequences of individual variation in migration strategies of Spoonbills. I found that Spoonbills are highly faithful to their wintering sites, and that Spoonbills wintering in Europe had higher survival and bred earlier than Spoonbills wintering south in West Africa. While historically, most Spoonbills wintered in West Africa, more and more Spoonbills now decide to winter in Europe. However, this shift in wintering distribution is slower than optimal, suggesting constraints in the evolution of new migratory routines. During my first postdoc, I analyzed the Team Piersma datasets of Red Knots, Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits in the East-Asian Australasian Flyway to study the effects of habitat destruction along the Yellow Sea on seasonal survival of these long-distance migrating shorebird species. In 2015, I was awarded a Rubicon fellowship to join the research group of Olivier Gimenez and Roger Pradel at the Centre for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology (CEFE) in Montpellier (France). Here I learnt how to build integrated population models in a Bayesian framework, with the aim to integrate count, resighting and tracking data to improve the estimation of timing and habitat use during migration, survival and population sizes of migratory birds, using Red Knots and Eurasian Spoonbills as case studies. My current research at NIOZ focuses on the role of early life experience in shaping individual variation in habitat site choice and migration strategies of Eurasian Spoonbills. To this aim, I individually follow juvenile spoonbills and their parents through a combination of colour-banding and high-resolution tracking techniques using the UvA Bird Tracking System and collect data on the (social) environment experienced by these juveniles. For an overview of and links to my publications and more details about my research, see my personal website, ResearchGate and Google Scholar.
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Hebo Peng

I am a PhD candidate of the University of Groningen (RuG), based at the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. My PhD research focuses on migratory shorebirds staging along the coasts of China. By sampling benthic prey of intertidal mudflats, and observing the behavior of shorebirds, I try to investigate the influence of long-term aquaculture on benthos communities, and how benthos and shorebirds affect each other in this area with enormous human disturbances (most importantly: land claim, aquaculture, and pollution). I am funded by the China Scholarship Council. All my research falls under the umbrella of Global Flyway Network, with support from Fudan university and Beijing Normal University. I started to work on shorebirds in the spring of 2011, as a volunteer, helping to study the foraging behaviour of Great Knots in Yalu Jiang (Yellow Sea), one of the most important fueling sites for shorebirds in China. In autumn 2011, I started my Masters at Fudan University. Using radio tracking, I investigated the adjustment of migration schedules of Great Knots in the Yellow Sea area. Based on the banding data and re-sighting data, I also study on how Great Knots with different migratory strategies response to the habitat loss in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway. I start my PhD research in 2015, supervised by Theunis Piersma, with the help from a great team, to more comprehensively understand the utilization of the coastal wetlands of China by Great Knots and other shorebirds. Profile photo: Qingquan Bai
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Matt Slaymaker

I was initially introduced to the work of the Global Flyway Network in 2009 when I took up a position of assistant warden at Broome Bird Observatory, Western Australia. After a year spent sharing the amazing birds of the region with guests and visitors and assisting Chris Hassell and Adrian Boyle wherever possible with shorebird research I was offered the opportunity to join them in China. I went on to visit the Luannan Coast in China, on behalf of GFN, each spring for five years to survey, watch, count, record and enjoy the shorebirds stopping off at this unique staging site. I hope that the thousands of band and flag re-sightings we collected over the years, and the story they help to tell for each bird, will continue to contribute to fascinating research and go some way to help protect the area in the future. [caption id="attachment_2003" align="alignnone" width="1024"]MS_Scanning (2) Matt Slaymaker scanning for colour bands and flags in China. Photo: Adrian Boyle[/caption] As a life-long birder I have been fortunate to travel extensively and work or volunteer with a wide range of non-profit organisations. This includes running banding stations in North America, joining a 3-month expedition to survey previously un-surveyed sites in the Colombian Andes, working at bird observatories in Sweden and Denmark, re-sighting colour-ringed Ruff in the Netherlands, surveying Bitterns in the UK, assisting a Corncrake re-introduction project in the UK and more. Recently I have been experimenting with a ‘proper’ job and currently work as a Senior Ornithological Consultant in the UK. However, I hope to be back on the mudflats on the Luannan Coast soon, watch this space…
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Shoudong Zhang

I am a PhD candidate at Fudan University (FDU), China, and University of Groningen (RUG), The Netherlands. Under the supervision of Profs. Ma Zhijun (FDU) and Theunis Piersma (RUG), I conduct my fieldwork in the Yalujiang coastal wetland, China. I mainly focus on the stopover ecology of Bar-tailed Godwits and Great Knots in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway (EAAF). When I finished undergraduate school at Shandong University (SDU) in 2012, and I entered Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in the same year. During my postgraduate study, my topic was ‘Study on the characteristics of the Food choice and Food utilization of plateau zokors (Eospalax baileyi)’. I received my Master degree in 2015. I started my PhD research at Fudan University in the same year, this is my first time for shorebirds research. Since I had limited knowledge of shorebirds at that time, I participated in expedition of AWSG in Broome, NW Australlia, in the spring of 2016 as a volunteer. [caption id="attachment_3494" align="alignnone" width="527"]OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In Roebuck Bay, Broome. Photo: Qingquan Bai[/caption] The Yalujiang coastal wetland is one of the most important staging sites along the EAAF, the food condition of shorebirds (especially Bar-tailed Godwits and Great Knots) have dramatically declined from 2013. I try to investigate how Bar-tailed Godwits and Great Knots response to the food decline by sampling benthic prey, observing the behavior of shorebirds, and studying the size of the gizzard, and how benthos and shorebirds affect each other in this area through benthic mapping and bird mapping. My PhD project is funded by the Natural Science Foundation (China). In 2017, I received additional funds from the China Scholarship Council, to study at NIOZ as a joint-training PhD candidate. [caption id="attachment_3492" align="alignnone" width="1920"]photo by Yueyu Liang Shoudong with David Melville in Yalujiang, China. Photo: Yueyu Liang[/caption] Profile photo: Qingquan Bai  
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Hong-Yan (Nicky) Yang

I'm a volunteer PhD candidate in the Conservation Ecology Group at the University of Groningen (RUG). I'm also a freelance ornithologist in China at present, based in Beijing. I'm interested in the role of shorebirds in the intertidal ecosystem and how birds respond to their constantly changing environment. I have been working on waterbirds, especially Red Knots, since 2003, witnessing how rapid habitat changes shaped the distribution and populations of shorebirds in a pretty dramatic way in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. [caption id="attachment_1997" align="alignnone" width="591"]P1020354 Hong-Yan Yang sampling the mudflats of Bohai Bay. Photo: Bing Chen[/caption] I received my Chinese PhD degree at Beijing Normal University (BNU) in 2012. My Chinese PhD thesis was about the population changes, habitat usage and food choice of Red Knots in the Yellow Sea Ecoregion. We found that Red Knots staged in northern Bohai Bay for a relative short time but fueled up very well, foraging on very small bivalves, and that the size reduction of bivalves was caused by local fishery. In spite of their flyway populations continuously declining, the staging populations of two Red Knots subspecies became highly concentrated in northern Bohai Bay because of the rapid habitat loss in the Yellow Sea. [caption id="attachment_1994" align="alignnone" width="563"]0_DSC_1899 Hong-Yan Yang with photographer Jan van de Kam. Photo: Jun Yan[/caption] I was a post-doctoral researcher in the College of Nature Conservation at Beijing Forest University (BFU) during 2012-2016. I focused on habitat choice of Red Knots and the relationship between Red Knots and their main food, Potamocorbula laevis, in northern Bohai Bay. The small-sized Potamocorbula laevis occurred in surprisingly high densities in the mudflats but were not even-distributed. Red Knots preferred the higher density areas and fed as long as they could during low tide. In 2013, I was rewarded a fund from the National Natural Science Foundation of China for my research on Red Knots in northern Bohai Bay. At present I'm working on this project, which related to my previous post-doctoral work. Profile photo: Bing Chen Link: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hong-yan-nicky-yang-b5516759      
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Bingrun Zhu (Drew)

I am a PhD candidate at Beijing Normal University (BNU), China, and University of Groningen (RUG), The Netherlands; under the supervision of Profs. Zhang Zhengwang (BNU) and Theunis Piersma (RUG). I conduct my fieldwork in Bohai Bay, and Huolin Gol, Inner Mongolia, China, and mainly focus on the migration & breeding ecology of Black-tailed Godwits in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway (EAAF). When I finished undergraduate school in 2008 in my hometown Lanzhou, Gansu Province, I moved to Beijing, and worked during three years on shorebirds and wetlands conservation at the China office of Wetlands International. I worked toward understanding the needs of birds and managing their habitats accordingly. During this period bird watching also became part of my life. All of this encouraged me to take a step further and in 2011 I entered North-east Forestry University. During my postgraduate study, my topic was ‘Habitat selection of Eurasian Spoonbill in Hei Longjiang Province, China’. I received my master degree in Wetlands & Avian Ecology in 2014. I started my PhD research at Beijing Normal University in the same year, and because I couldn’t wait until the new semester would begin, I joined my colleagues’ team as a helper, to gain field experience, meanwhile looking for a topic I was interested in. April 2014, I saw two Black-tailed Godwits with remarkably different body size foraging together, that was the moment I started to plan my PhD project on ‘Black-tailed Godwits in the EAAF’. My Phd project is funded by National Air and Water Conservation Fund (National Geography) and the Natural Science Foundation (China). In 2016, I received additional funds from the China Scholarship Council, to study at RUG as a joint-training PhD candidate.
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