Another bivalve victim (moderated)

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Another bivalve victim (moderated)
From: "Darryl McKay" <>
Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 00:01:24 +1100
Birding-Aus is supposed to be a place for everyone with an interest in
Australia's wild birds, their conservation and behaviour.


Looks like bird banders are not welcome?



The following is a response to Mr Ian May's last bird banding bashing in
2011. I suggest Mr Ian May read this very carefully, as it seems as though
he did not the first time it was posted.



Darryl McKay





Hi all


I have been asked to forward an email to the group on behalf of Dr Clive

regarding some recent postings on birding aus


Cheers Adrian Boyle



Since Ian May's latest posting on the leg flagging of waders quotes excerpts

from a telephone conversation with me, two or three years ago, I thought I 

should provide some input to rebut his erroneous assertions about the 

detrimental effect of flags on wader survival.



Firstly I would like to correct a misunderstanding (or a misquote).  Almost

coastal migratory waders are extremely site faithful to their non-breeding 

grounds - that is, individual adults typically return to the same

area year after year. A few individuals relocate, either permanently or 

temporarily, to other non-breeding grounds, especially the Sanderling, Red

and (to a lesser extent) Bar-tailed Godwit. There is also some movement of 

birds in their first year as they explore for their preferred non-breeding 

area, and of course birds on migration can be seen far from the non-breeding

grounds on which they were banded. Yet emerging data suggest that in many 

species, even migrating birds are highly site faithful, using the same 

migratory stopover sites year after year.



The reason Ian saw no flagged birds in his recent scanning of wintering

in the Spencer Gulf (about 500 km from the nearest sites in Vic and se SA

shorebirds are regularly banded and flagged) is because these birds would

all been immatures (mostly first year) which had not been exposed to

All of the flagged birds he does see in that area will have been flagged 

elsewhere in south-east Australia and most would have only been temporarily 

stopping in his area during migration. (Surprisingly quite a few waders make

short move from Victorian and Tasmanian non-breeding areas to South

in March/April - at the beginning of their northward migration - presumably

reduce the transcontinental first leg.)



I would like to now present one or two specific pieces of information to

Ian's claim that flags reduce birds' survival, particularly if they are 




a)             Red-necked Stint



Ken Rogers has calculated average yearly survival from previously banded

The Red-necked Stint is the most suitable species for such an analysis

it is the most widely banded and flagged wader in Australia and is one of

smallest species, which Ian claims is one of the most adversely affected.





No. birds caught


Average yearly survival























Data was analysed for three marking periods, as shown in the table above. In

the first period birds were only given metal bands. In the second period

also had flags (flagging in Victoria commenced in 1990). In the third period

almost all carried a flag (as well, of course, as a metal band). The annual 

survival rates for all three periods were similar. They showed that three

of every four Red-necked Stints successfully returned to the banding area

completing their migration to their Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds (a 

24,000km round trip). This is the level of survival rate which would be 

expected for a species of this size based on wader survival rate analyses 

carried out elsewhere in the world. It strongly demonstrates that flagging 

birds does not prejudice their survival and that a high proportion, even of 

this small species, returns successfully from migration each year.



b) Larger Waders



Resighting rates and calculated survival rates of some of the medium and

size migratory waders in Australia show annual survival rates in the 80-93% 

range. (It is normal for larger birds to have higher survival rates). 

Furthermore recaptures up to 15 to 20 years after the original marking have 

been made on flagged birds of most species, including the smaller species

as Red-necked Stint, Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper. Such birds will have

a migration to the Northern Hemisphere each year, with a 20-year-old bird 

having flown almost 500,000km on migration alone!



c) Ruddy Turnstone



Another example of the lack of any negative effect of flagging on survival 

concerns a Turnstone carrying an engraved flag - which enables it to be 

identified in the field with the aid of a telescope or telephoto camera -

has been seen on migration through Taiwan in seven of the past eight

seasons (four northward, three southward). And of course the Turnstone which

made two 27,000km round trip migrations from Victoria to Arctic Siberia, 

through Asia and then back via the Central Pacific, was carrying a flag -
and a 

1g geolocator attached to a second flag! This further suggests that Ian's

are not supported by the facts.



I take some of the blame for Ian's regular outbursts because I should have 

communicated the Red-necked Stint survival results to him - direct or via a 

posting on Birding Aus - when they became available. But I hope that now I

set out just a little of the large amount of evidence Ian can accept the

that flagging waders does NOT impair their survival.



It is perhaps also worth pointing out that:



a) those persons who have volunteered so much of their time to further wader

studies are devoted to the wellbeing of these birds and are the last people

would want to be involved in any activity which prejudiced their survival.



b) scientists take great care not to carry out studies which generate

that are biased by, for example, marked birds behaving differently or

less well than the norm, as this would compromise the scientific integrity

the results, the reputation of the researcher, and (as Ian points out) harm

very species the research is designed to help protect!




We would be extremely interested in seeing Ian's data, which sounds like a

detailed and long-term time-series of local observations. As discussed

we believe they will most likely be readily explained by existing evidence

migratory behavior of each species, but the only way to be sure of this is

look at the actual observations. Please Ian, support the generation of data 

which is fundamental/essential to the conservation of waders and their

in our Flyway. Send in your flag sightings, rather than let them collect in 

your notebook, and let them be utilised for the benefit of the waders 





Clive Minton.





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-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Ian May
Sent: Tuesday, 26 February 2013 11:22 AM
Subject: Another bivalve victim (moderated)


Hi all


As some of you would know, many observers have raised the subject of
restricting or ceasing bird banding on various occasions but this request is
always met with great resistance. Bird banders love the birds too but they
see them mostly as a research resource and do not seem to feel for their
plight.  We know that most small flagged waders never return after their
first flagged migration because we rarely see a bird 

with an old worn flag.   Most of us recognise there will always be an 

occasional survivor in some populations but it seems that most of the 

banded birds perish.   Yes the proof to demonstrate that waders are not 

harmed should be the responsibility of banders but apart from some
statistical manipulations using existing data, i cannot find any impartial
research projects where the primary objective is to determine banding


Common sense tells me that any small migratory wader such as a stint or a
curlew sandpiper etc. carrying up to 5 leg flags/bands etc. etc. is going to
have a hard time crossing the planet twice a year. Their migration must be
hard enough without the impediments of flags and bands. They will have a
hard time competing for available food and the probability of tangling with
fibrous algae must be increased exponentially.  Some examples of leg
flagging seem needless and almost certain to cause losses of the targeted
birds. There are pics circulating of Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks flagged
at the nest wearing multiple bands and flags.  We have had examples of
Red-necked Phalaropes with leg flags; these birds must swim to survive and
what are there chances of surviving with a leg flag attached? Masses of
flagged Sanderling rapidly running up and down beaches dodging wave action
while attempting to feed. Some of us think this is an outrage.


For many years from the mid 1960's Sanderling could be observed in SE South
Australia sometimes in flocks more than 700.  Suddenly flagging started and
it was not unusual to see dozens or more; flagged birds trailing the main
flock struggling to run up and down the beach following the waves.  Where
the local population remained constant for at least 20 years while dodging
domestic dogs and 4WDs and beach fisherman, within a few years of the first
flagging exercises, the local population crashed to below 400 and is still
diminishing  The alarming fact is that we rarely see any Sanderling in the
area with old flags 

returning.   Where are they?   Leg flagging local Sanderling continues 

and there is always an explanation such as first year birds go elsewhere or
some other convenient story announced to excuse absent flagged birds 

on their return.   The banding protocol used to state that a maximum of 

3% of waders will be flagged.  I had the impression that meant 3% of the
birds caught or of the birds in a local area.  Silly me.  Once when I raised
the subject that more than 20% of a local Sanderling population were seen
with leg flags, it was explained that the number of flagged Sanderling i
have seen would be much less than 1% of the world population.


I do not believe information from banding/flagging sightings particularly
aids conservation arguments.  The cohort data discovered is interesting but
in most cases the conservation significance of that information is no more
valuable than field sightings of waders at the 

same location with or without bands.   The wader counts of the past 

were  a fantastic exercise and engaged many hundreds of birding enthusiasts
but now many of us will not participate or share information 

for fear that the birds we report will be targeted.   Recently for no 

justified purpose, the migratory waders that visit Thompson Beach near
Adelaide have been targeted for Canon netting and leg flagging..  They were
safe before the so called shorebird 2020 conservation programs were
introduced and their numbers varied depending on the year but now I expect
we will see a constant decline in local populations as they are cannon
netted and flagged.


A few years ago the outrage of seal branding in Antarctica in the name of
seal conservation was exposed and stopped in its tracks thanks to a few
concerned scientists (whistle blowers) who had observed the sad 

practice and said "That's enough"    I am in favor of wader research 

through counting and intensive field study.   I think it is time to gear 

up a political anti bird banding group to oppose what many think as a
destructive threatening process that offers very little if anything, to the
conservation and protection of birds.






Ian May

PO Box 110

St Helens, Tasmania n7216






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