Poyang Lake (29ᵒ 08’ N, 116ᵒ 17’E) often is called the largest freshwater lake in China. In fact, the surface area varies from < 800 km2 to > 3000 km2. The lake’s hydrology is complex, responding to inflows from the 5 largest rivers in Jiangxi Province, local rainfall, and the Yangtze River, but it is typified by high waters during the summer rainy season, and low waters in the winter. The drop in water level from summer to winter exposes up to 2000 km2 of lake bottom including a vast inland delta. Extensive areas of shallow water exist most of the time.
More than 0.5 million waterbirds of 125 species and 19 families have been counted there in winter. These counts were not corrected for re-sighting rate, turnover, or breeding birds, so the actual number of individual birds using the lake probably is much higher. Nineteen imperiled species (IUCN) have been recorded at the lake. With the degradation of other lakes throughout the central and lower Yangtze River basin and rapid degradation of habitats on China’s East Coast, the relative importance of Poyang Lake to waterbird conservation will increase. Activities that will alter the system's historic water and sediment dynamics also are increasing. These include widespread sand-dredging, conversion of seasonal wet meadows to industrialized agriculture, and the influence of the Three Gorges Dam on the bidirectional flow between the lake and the Yangtze River. Moreover there is a proposal under consideration to build a water control structure at the outlet of the lake which could have important impacts on lake levels, and consequently, on waterbird habitats.
While cranes and geese have been studied at Poyang, little is known about the shorebirds using the lake. We have begun studying the shorebird distribution, abundance and phenology during the migration and wintering periods. Also, a brief foray in July 2014, turned up breeding by Oriental pratincoles, kentish Plovers, white-winged black terns and little terns. We intend to initiate a breeding study as soon as funds are in place to do so.
We are conducting this work in collaboration with Dr. Wenjuan Wang, Center for Watershed Ecology, Nanchang University and Jeb Barzen, International Crane Foundation.