Update from the 2012 Spoon-billed Sandpiper expedition to Chukotka

Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the breeding grounds in Russia (Birds Russia)

The last relatively large breeding population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper is found around the village of Meinypil’gyno, in Chukotka in north-east Russia. BirdsRussia established a monitoring area there in 2003, when over 60 pairs were recorded. Since then the populations at this and most other breeding sites have declined rapidly. In response, a range of actions have been taken to help prevent the extinction of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, including a captive breeding programme that was initiated in 2011.

In summer 2012, a team of 14 people from six countries, led by Christoph Zöckler from ArcCona Consulting on behalf of BirdsRussia, joined the monitoring and captive breeding projects at Meinypil’gyno. The weather in spring was unusually cold and foggy, which initially hampered the expedition, but the Spoon-billed Sandpipers arrived on time and started displaying, pairing and nesting without much delay.

In total, nine confirmed pairs (seven nests plus two broods) were found in the monitoring area in 2012, slightly fewer than were present in the previous three years. However, there was improved coverage in comparison to earlier years because of the large size of the team and the availability of all-terrain vehicles, meaning that a larger decline in Spoon-billed Sandpiper numbers may have actually taken place than the figures indicate.

An exciting discovery was made in a previously inaccessible area outside the western boundary of the monitoring area. During brief visits seven confirmed pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpiper were located there (including five nests found) plus two additional territorial males. However, no birds were found in an area to the east of the monitoring area where two pairs had been present in 2011.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper clutches were taken from most of the pairs that were located, as early in the season as possible to encourage replacement clutches. Twenty eggs from five clutches were rapidly transported to the WWT headquarters at Slimbridge in the UK for the captive breeding programme.

Seventeen eggs were collected for a new ‘headstarting’ programme, designed to dramatically boost productivity by rearing the chicks in captivity and greatly reducing their mortality. Ten of the 17 eggs hatched and nine of the chicks fledged and migrated south with other shorebirds. Lime green coloured leg flags with an engraved number were attached to these Spoon-billed Sandpipers and it is hoped that some of them will be sighted further south in the flyway

In 2011, schoolchildren from Meinopyl’gino sent a message to schoolchildren along the flyway to ask their parents not to harm their Spoon-billed Sandpipers. During an event at the local school in 2012, Karin Eberhardt from BANCA (BirdLife in Myanmar) presented them with a poster painted by schoolchildren in Myanmar. Sayam Chowdhury from Bangladesh Bird Club reported that he had passed on their request to schoolchildren in Bangladesh, and both he and Karin gave talks about Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation on the wintering grounds. The schoolchildren and their teacher at Meinopyl’gino were surprised and deeply impressed.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper monitoring and conservation activities at Meinypil’gyno by BirdsRussia were supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation through a grant to BirdLife International. The captive breeding programme is run by BirdsRussia, WWT, RSPB, and several other organisations, with support from the Darwin Initiative and the IUCN SOS Fund. Sightings of leg-flagged birds should be reported to ellapo@mail.ru and cz@arccona.com.

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