Bird watching in Gulf of Mottama (Mataban)
(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)
Gulf of Mottama
The Gulf of Mottama is one of the world's largest areas of permanently muddy water. Sediment is provided by four major rivers, the Ayeyarwady River, Yangon River, Sittaung River, and Thanlwin River, and the extensive mud flats cover some 45,000 km2 during spring tides and 15000 km2 during neap tides.
With a large tidal range, which varies between 4 and 7 metres, and currents of up to 3 meters/second, the patterns of sediment deposition and erosion are constantly changing and as a result the gulf is one of the world’s most dynamic estuarine mud flats. It is an area rich in mussels, crustaceans, worms, and other benthic (bottom-dwelling) micro-fauna and together these provide food for over 150,000 wintering waterbirds, including half the global population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
The Gulf of Mottama's importance for both biodiversity and livelihoods gives it high potential for designation as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention (further information).
Currently, there are no hotels or guest houses available in the Gulf of Mottama area. Most birders, on pre-arranged tours, sleep on fishing boats or in other informal local accommodation for the duration of their visit. This is rather basic but no doubt an interesting experience but it should be noted that ‘home-stay’ is not normally permitted. At present, unless you have good local contacts, it would be advisable to work with recognised tour agencies such as SST and Travel Expert when visiting the gulf since all aspects of bird watching here are problematic and there are also safety issues relating to the excessive tidal range and shifting mudbanks.
Bird species include*: Ciconiidae: Painted Stork. Pluvialidae: Pacific Golden Plover, Grey plover. Charadriidae: Little Ringed plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand-plover, Greater Sand-plover. Scolopacidae: Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Terek Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Sanderling, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone. And various gulls (Laridae) and terns (Sternidae).
*list compiled from various sources published online; the list is not complete and is for indicative purposes only.
Travel Expert Tour 1
The mud flats of the Gulf of Mottama serve as spawning grounds for many commercially important fish species. They also deliver nutrients that support fisheries far into the Bay of Bengal. However, systematic over-exploitation has led to a considerable decline in fish stocks in recent years. Although bird populations are still large, research is needed to determine the possible impact of such over-exploitation on the waterbird populations.
“Car to Mataban Gulf. We slept with the boat captain and his family at their home. Up early and waiting for the tide, so we could take our boat out to the sea. A beautiful trip on small channels in the early morning sunshine. We spend the night on a monastery near the birding-site. Peregrine falcon, sanderling, common redshank, red-necked stint, greater sand plover, whiskered tern, brown-headed gull, painted stork, pacific golden plover, ruddy shelduck, temmick´s stint, little ringed plover, and the big hit, spoon-billed sandpiper.”
Larre Hernander and Donald Rehn - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place from 2 and 28 December, 2013 (further information).