The first Spoon-billed Sandpiper to hatch in captivity in the world was always going to be a spectacular sight, but when a BirdLife Species Champion Heritage Expeditions boat docked in Anadyr, Russia, not one, not two, but an incredible 17 tiny, hatched Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks emerged.
Incredibly eight of the chicks actually hatched just as the team were preparing to leave Chukotka. Things have gone as well as could possibly have been hoped for so far, but saving this species is still going to be an uphill battle.
The pioneering team working at the site for the last month has constructed a state-of-the-art incubation facility to hatch eggs carefully collected from a few of the nesting birds in the area. Once hatched, the next challenge was to transport the chicks to the port of Anadyr. Normally travel in and out of the remote study site to Anadyr is only possible by ex-military helicopter. Scientists deemed the considerable vibration encountered during helicopter flight far too traumatic for tiny chicks the size of bumblebees so an alternative mode of transport was required. This logistical challenge was solved by Heritage Expeditions who stepped forward again and offered to provide safe onward transit by sea aboard Spirit of Enderby for both the chicks and the scientists now raising them. Now they are safely ashore at Anadyr, the precious cargo has been transferred to a secure site where the chicks can fully fledge and grow sufficiently robust before they are taken onwards to Moscow Zoo where they are required to enter quarantine. In a few months the chicks will be flown from Moscow to London and then transferred to a secure purpose-built conservation-breeding unit at WWT’s headquarters at Slimbridge, in Gloucestershire, UK. Once there, WWT staff will rear the birds as a flock and create the ideal conditions to promote breeding. In this way we hope to raise a new population which can be reintroduced to help augment the remaining wild population in future years.
The conservation breeding expedition, led by staff from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birds Russia, has support from the RSPB, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and Moscow Zoo. The project is funded by WWT and RSPB, with additional financial contributions and support from BirdLife International, the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership, the Convention on Migratory Species, Heritage Expeditions and the Australasian Wader Study Group of Birds Australia.