A team lead by SBS in China and with five international wader experts: Nigel Clark from BTO, James Phillips from Natural England, Guy Anderson and Andy Schofield from RSPB and Rich Hearn from WWT, has come together to survey the autumn concentration of Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the Jiangsu coastline. The survey has been supported by the MBZ Species Conservation Fund, RSPB, WWT and the participants. Nigel reports on behalf of the team. Now back in the UK and struggling with jet lag, at 4am, it is time to write a final post about this amazing survey. It’s a survey that nearly didn’t happen! Initially we planned to stay in China for three weeks and spend time trying to mark some more Spoonies. Virtually all the marked birds in the population come from one breeding area and we do not know if this is representative. Unfortunately we could not get all the permissions sorted for this year. Then, 24 hours before our flight, when we tried to check-in on line, we couldn’t. It was then we found that the Air France pilots were on strike. After three hours of frantic emails we were all convinced that the trip was off and I was mentally working out all the other things that I could do in the next 10 days! Then I got a phone call to say that we had seats on a Virgin Atlantic plane direct, rather than via Paris. They say that bad luck comes in threes and I was waiting for the third – it nearly came – the pilots would still be on strike when we were due to return! Eventually we got our plane, only 2 hours late, but at the gate they said they had to change the seats. We were too exhausted to argue, but when we got to them we found we were in business class! A glass of champagne (or two) later we reflected on the experience we had had and what it meant for Spoonies. Before the trip I had hoped that we would find about 100 Spoonies and, if we were lucky, we would see one or two leg flagged birds. Well, we did better than that! Our absolute minimum estimate of the number of Spoonies present on the three survey sites was 226, although we all felt that there were more as it would take 20 or more people to cover the whole area intensively. We know that there were 18 individually marked adults that left the breeding grounds this summer. We know that at least eight of them were in our survey area going through their annual wing moult – a critical time when they need safe places and abundant food resources. In addition we found Lime 8, the first from the pioneering group of nine that were headstarted in 2012 that returned to breed this summer. There were undoubtedly more marked birds as about a third of the marked birds that we saw could not be identified. They were either buried in the middle of the vast flocks of other waders on the shore or flew before we could get close enough to read them. Then there were the juveniles, we saw one that had been headstarted this summer, one wild chick and one of five that were marked at a banding station in Kamchatka, en route from Chukotka. We know much less about the movements of Spoonies in their first autumn, so these records are particularly valuable. It was clearly a good breeding year for Spoonies as there were quite a few around. This is good news but it brought home the uncertain future that they have. When they return to this small piece of coast as adults it may not be there. The rate of land claim in the Yellow Sea is horrifying. Our three survey sites were the last remaining areas of high intertidal flats left on that 150 km of coastline. The most important of these is earmarked for reclamation very soon. As you arrive on the site you pass a massive billboard with a map of the coast showing the plans to build new seawalls about 15 km out to sea, removing virtually all the high mudflats to create another city and port. The other sites may also have similar plans but it is not so obvious. What is clear is the loss of the upper mudflats to the invasive cord grass (Spartina) that was introduced from America in the 1970s to trap sediment and make it easier to build new seawalls. It is now out of control and will have removed all the upper flats in less than ten years unless it is controlled very soon. Finally there are the hunters and fishermen who put out nets to catch fish in places where they also catch birds. From the fishermen’s perspective, the birds tangle their nets so they would like to find a way to catch fish and not birds. There must be a way to come up with bird friendly fishing nets but we need the help of fisheries experts to find a solution, and then a massive campaign to bring about the change. It will take time and money. Hunting using poison baits is a different issue as a small number of illegal hunters can have a massive effect. We found the aftermath of one such incident this year, and collected 330 dead waders – over 1% of the population in the area at the moment. These were only the ones that had been killed by the remaining bait long after the hunters had left. The number killed from that one incident must run into the thousands as we were finding dying birds out on the mudflats every day. So, hunting is an urgent threat that needs to be dealt with in the short term. But, if we don’t ensure that there are intertidal flats suitable for them to visit in future years, it could all be in vain. When I […]
Nigel Clark wrote on the start of autumn surveys for Spoon-billed Sandpipers along the Jiangsu Province coastline, in China. Guy Anderson takes up the story… The tide is falling. The huge mudflats on the Chinese east coast are revealing themselves again, a twice daily disappearing and reappearing act. The thousands of waders that rely on this coast to fuel their epic annual travels up and down this flyway know this. The big snoozing flocks on dry land behind the sea wall wake up, the noise level of chittering and whistling increases and they flow back over and on to their glistening dining table once more. Our line of observers ready themselves, point their scopes at the weaving, scuttling hoards and start looking for ‘spoonies’. We know this coast is important for Spoon-billed Sandpipers in both their spring and autumn migration, but not exactly how many are here, nor which individuals are in town. So we aim to find out. ‘We’ are a team lead by SBS in China with five experienced wader observers from the UK; Nigel Clark from BTO, James Phillips from Natural England, Guy Anderson and Andy Schofield from RSPB and Rich Hearn from WWT. Supported by the RSPB, WWT, MBZ Species Conservation Fund, and the participants, the team has come together to survey the autumn concentration of spoonies on the Jiangsu Province coastline, 3 hours drive north of Shanghai. Back in the spring, I wrote from the same place on the northward spring migration. Then the spoonies were in full breeding plumage finery – and quickly moving on, the urge to breed pushing them on to their breeding areas in the far north east of Russia. Now they are on their way back south, stopping for longer in China – at least a month – to feed and restore their energy levels. This allows them to moult all their feathers here to get them through another year. Nigel has already described our first few days surveying this autumn, and how we’ve found ‘Lime 04’, one of the two individually marked adult spoonies we saw heading north in spring. He also reported that we’d seen ‘Lime 01’, known as the ‘Monument Male’ – the star of the spoony world, and we’ve seen him again too – still on his favourite patch of mud. As well as there being more marked adults to search for now, thanks to the Birds Russia/WWT team studying spoonies on the breeding grounds, there are also a few flagged wild-bred juveniles and at least 24 ‘head-started’ juveniles. We scan through thousands of Dunlin, Kentish and Lesser Sand Plovers, fresh from their high tide snooze. We soon find a spoony – smaller, paler and greyer – a monochrome ghostly pale version of the brick red fronted summer plumage birds we saw in spring. Hyperactive – constantly ‘stitching’ its (still frankly ridiculous) spoon-shaped beak into shallow pools, like an avian sewing machine, searching for tasty morsels. Then we find another, and another, and another, and they just keep on coming. On one incredible day, we find at least 142 birds just at one site. Even better, we find several flagged birds, mostly adults caught and marked on the breeding grounds, but also two headstarted birds: ‘Lime 8’, from 2012, which bred successfully this year, and ‘White M8’ from 2014. White M8 is an obvious juvenile bird, with browner, more mottled plumage than the adults. This, and another sighting of a wild-hatched 2014 juvenile in Japan (Lime J1) is great news – it gives us more confidence that head-started birds can survive and migrate successfully like their wild reared cousins . This is obviously a vital place for spoonies – a significant proportion of the world population is here in autumn. That’s not to mention the huge numbers of other waders doing the same – including the globally threatened Nordmann’s Greenshank, and Great Knot and Eastern Curlew. But it is no safe paradise. We find dead and dying waders at one site – deliberately poisoned for human consumption? We also find dead and dying waders in a long line of fishing nets set over the mudflats. Not intended for birds, but deadly to any that blunder into it. And we find a few both dead and alive accidentally caught in long lines of crab traps. We release those we find alive before the rising tide drowns them. Thankfully this time we find no dead spoonies but surely it’s only a matter of time before some run out of luck. Our friends at SBS in China contact the local authorities and warn them of these acute dangers faced by the birds. They are also well aware of the longer term threat posed by huge planned land claim projects which will turn mudflat into dry land and concrete. The birds have other local friends too. The China Coastal Waterbird Census Team has surveyed this coast regularly since 2010 and their data have helped focus attention on the numbers of spoonies and other wader found here. SBS in China have teamed up with local schools and the Links Hotel in Yangkou town to raise awareness of the global importance of this coastline, the fabulous bird migration spectacle it has to offer and the threats the birds face. So will our spoonies survive the autumn? Will they make it back to Russia next summer? Will the survey team find any more flagged birds? There’s more to come from survey work here this year, so tune in next time folks, for more tales from the mudflats.
A spoon-billed sandpiper that hatched in the wild this summer at Meinypilgyno has been spotted on migration in Japan. Japanese birder Kouhei Shinomiya photographed the bird on the Yoshino River in Tokushima Prefecture. The inscription J1 on its lime green leg flag is clear in the photograph. Roland Digby confirmed from records of this summers expedition that the bird was part of a replacement clutch – the second clutch that a pair will lay after the first clutch has been taken for headstarting. As such it was hatched and reared in the wild. It was one of a clutch of three that were fitted with leg flags on 18 July. The news helps shape a picture of the spoon-billed sandpiper migration. Adult birds set off from the breeding grounds before the juveniles and it seems most of the species moult at Rudong in China. The juveniles set off slightly later and records like this suggest that they stop over in Japan.
A team lead by SBS in China and with five international wader experts: Nigel Clark from BTO, James Phillips from Natural England, Guy Anderson and Andy Schofield from RSPB and Rich Hearn from WWT, has come together to survey the autumn concentration of Spoon-billed Sandpiper on the Jiangsu coastline. The survey has been supported by the MBZ Species Conservation Fund, RSPB, WWT and the participants. We are now half way through our survey, having lost a day to the edge a typhoon. Each day we have split up so that we can cover the maximum length of coastline. It has been hard work but very rewarding as so far every team member has seen multiple Spoon-billed Sandpipers on every day! The intertidal flats are so vast at low tide that we would not have a hope of surveying, so we have surveyed just the upper mudflats in the last couple of hours before they are covered by the incoming tide. This is always a race against time but can be very effective as the birds are constantly being forced to move as the water approaches. Spoon-billed Sandpipers are remarkably difficult to spot amongst large flocks of roosting waders and we are trying to check the legs for colour marked birds – not easy when they are roosting on one leg! Once the tide has covered the flats we try and locate the Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the roosting flocks and make total counts of waders before following the birds back out to the flats on the falling tide. After about three hours the birds have dispersed too much and we are losing the ability to focus. It is then time to compare our notes and summarise the days data to ensure that we have everything recorded properly. At the end of the breeding season there were 19 adult birds that were individually marked and left the breeding grounds to migrate to their winter quarters. Looking for them several thousand miles away is really like looking for a needle in a haystack so we were not too hopeful. Remarkably, one was found on the first day but it wasn’t possible to read the inscription in the windy conditions. We decided to go back to the same site the next day to try and find it and to our surprise we did, and read the inscription. It was Lime 04 which was seen in the same place in the spring. Another team member came back from the other end of the site having seen a second. Alas they could not read it completely but we could be sure it was not Lime 04. At high tide we undertook a complete survey of the massive wader flocks and counted over 40,000 waders. This included some 830 Nordmann’s Greenshank – almost identical to the count at the same place last year, confirming that this site holds over half the known world population for the species. Unfortunately the area where these birds are concentrated is earmarked for reclamation so their future looks bleak. The next day’s survey was equally amazing as we found Lime 01, nicknamed the monument male, on the rising tide then again on its roost and finally on the falling tide. Lime 01 was seen in the same place last autumn showing just how site faithful the species. Buoyed by the success so far we went to our third core site today not expecting to be able to do as well as the last couple of days. On the rising tide we had about 10,000 small waders on the mud in front of us. Luckily the tide did not completely cover the flats and the birds stayed in front of us for three hours. First we found a bird with a lime coloured flag on its right leg. This means that it was marked as a chick. It was roosting on one leg – the wrong one for us – so we watched it for the next 45 minutes for it to show its flag. Disaster! A gull flew low over the flock and it was gone. Next we found a flagged bird with the flag on the left leg. Same problem, but this time four of us watched it for a glimpse of the flag. An hour later the whole flock lifted off and we lost it. It was not going to be our day! Disheartened we searched the flock in its new roosting site and eventually located one with a flag on the left leg. The only problem was that it was too far away and there were several thousand waders between us and it! We slowly edged forward and after what seemed like an age we were in range but it was feeding frenetically in pools and shallow creaks. Then it stopped for a second the first digit was a 1 but what was the second? It stopped again – it’s a 5! came the call from all of us at the same moment as it suddenly gave a clear view. Adding the totals together for the three sites we have now seen a minimum of 183 Spoon-billed Sandpipers, clearly showing that virtually the whole population goes through its annual wing moult on this piece of coastline. Let’s hope that there will still be intertidal flats for our children to see this unique bird. Without the flats they will not survive. Tomorrow the weather looks good and we have high hopes – time will tell.
Media Release issued on behalf of WWT, RSPB, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona Consulting and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force This little fellow is the first ever spoon-billed sandpiper chick to be hatched in the wild by a hand-reared bird. Spoon-billed sandpipers are critically endangered and the news confirms to conservationists that the birds they hand-rear go on to breed naturally once released. Two years ago, WWT aviculturist Roland Digby hatched this chick’s mother in northeast Russia and fed and protected her for her first three weeks, before releasing her to migrate 5,000 miles to southern Asia alongside wild wading birds. The initiative is intended to boost the number of spoon-billed sandpipers while their habitat is protected and illegal trapping is stamped out. Until now it wasn’t known whether the birds would return to breed themselves. Roland Digby said: “I guess I’m a granddad of sorts now! I’m incredibly proud of this little bird, who has flown half-way round the world on just her instincts, managing to find the few safe refuges and dodge illegal trappers. “Hand-rearing isn’t something we decided on lightly. No one could say for sure how the birds would behave, but the situation was so dire that we had to risk it to buy time for the species. “Considering all that, the fact that she made it at all is cause for celebration. That she’s hatched a chick of her own represents real hope for the spoon-billed sandpiper.” Fewer than 100 pairs of spoon-billed sandpiper are believed to be left in the wild, rearing just 60 young between them each year on average. For the last three summers, conservationists have taken eggs from a few clutches and hand-reared the chicks in a protected enclosure. The natural parents are used to losing eggs to predators and lay a second clutch if they do. Using this method, conservationists have increased the number of fledglings from the Chukotka breeding ground year on year. This summer 24 hand-reared spoon-billed sandpipers set off on migration, boosting the number of fledglings by 40 per cent. The news is hopeful but the species is still vulnerable to the threats of illegal trapping and the loss of wetland along the Asia Pacific coast. Conservation organisations around the world are working together to secure protection of wetland nature reserves and tackle the causes of the illegal trapping. In addition a reserve flock of spoon-billed sandpipers is being prepared for breeding in a special facility at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, as a backup in case the species goes extinct in the wild. The spoon-billed sandpiper conservation breeding programme is a collaboration between WWT, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo and the RSPB working with colleagues from the BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.
On the 4th September 2014 Chinese birders spotted a leg-flagged Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Rudong, an important staging post for this critically endangered wader. A flurry of emails soon revealed that this tiny bird was in fact Lime 01, also known as the Monument male because his breeding territory is near a monument in Chukotka, Russia. Lime 01 staged at Rudong last year as well and stayed for the duration of his moult. It is likely he’ll do the same again this year. Lime 01 was banded and received his ID flag 01 in 2013. We can only guess that in former years it was the very same male breeding in the locality of the Monument. If so, he has been successfully hatching chicks with his partner since at least 2010. In 2012, the field team collected some of their eggs for conservation breeding at WWT, Slimbridge. In 2013, the team took Lime 01’s first clutch into captivity for headstarting. Three of the young from that clutch fledged successfully and subsequently migrated. Added to that, Lime 01 and his partner laid a replacement clutch and reared a further three chicks to fledging. In June 2014, the team again took Lime 01’s first clutch for headstarting, successfully rearing and releasing two chicks, M9 and P9. They were last observed in Meinypilgyno at the beginning of August. We know that Lime 01 and his partner reared at least two additional chicks, with a possibility of a third, but as only one chick was fitted with a metal ring we can’t be completely sure. On average, wild Spoon-billed Sandpipers only rear 0.6 chicks per nesting attempt, so this bird has produced significantly more offspring than the average! The Monument male has become a familiar sight for the headstarting team, this year he reared his replacement brood just a few hundred meters from where the majority of headstarted chicks flocked after being released from the rearing aviary. His presence may well help those headstarted birds adapt to natural conditions. Director of Birds Russia Evgeny Syroechkovskiy said: “In a way “Lime 01″ could be seen as a mentor of all headstarted birds and as having contributed to his species’ survival much more widely than just with his own chicks”. Lime 01’s contribution to the headstarting programme has been phenomenal and to see him on yet another migration has been welcome news to all the teams involved with Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation. Evgeny Syroechkovskiy continued: “Let’s wish him safe travels and long life and for now, a comfortable stay in Rudong”.
The Critically Endangered spoon-billed sandpiper has received renewed support from German optics company, Leica Camera AG. The miniature wader is the focus of an intense international conservation bid to save it from extinction, that’s included starting a conservation breeding programme from scratch and hand-rearing chicks in the Russian Far East. Leica stepped in last year with substantial support, including the loan of optical equipment so that fieldworkers could monitor the remaining individuals in their remote breeding grounds. They also championed the plight of the spoon-billed sandpiper to their customers, which helped to encourage birdwatchers to log record numbers of sightings along the spoon-billed sandpiper’s Asia Pacific flyway. Leica has now announced it will renew its support for another year. Dr Debbie Pain, WWT Director of Conservation said: “Leica and WWT are kindred spirits when it comes to the incredible spoon-billed sandpiper. Leica are passionate about the mission to bring it back from the brink of extinction and we’re delighted that they’re going to continue supporting the project and spreading the word.” Leica’s stand at Birdfair 2014 on the 15th, 16th and 17th August will again be dedicated to spoon-billed sandpiper conservation and Dr Debbie Pain will be on the stand for an hour each afternoon. Stephan Albrecht, Director of Sport Optics Division at Leica Camera AG said: “Leica puts a particular focus on long-term and sustainable support of selected nature conservation projects. It was, therefore, a logical decision for us to continue with our support for the WWT project to save the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper from extinction. Our binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras are the perfect tools for the fieldworkers who monitor the sensitive breeding grounds from a distance without disturbing this amazing wader.”
Our indefatigable aviculturist in the field, Roland Digby, has been run off his feet but he’s managed to send a few short emails. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the news he has… ROLAND (29/06/2014 18:13): The 2011 head-started bird (lime green 8), has laid eggs!! We’re sure this is her second breeding attempt of the year as it is now late and in the season, and the nest contained three eggs: two fertile and one infertile. The hatch date is expected between the 16th-17th July. . ROLAND (05/07/2014 17:50): We have 9 chicks and 16 eggs hatching. ROLAND (09/07/2014 08:00): We have 20 chicks to ‘head-start’ ROLAND (09/07/2014 22:19): We have 25 chicks to ‘head-start’ ROLAND (13/07/07 2014 00:30): We are raising 27 chicks to ‘head-start’. Twenty-six of these are doing really well. One of the chicks is quite weak. It was unable to hatch on its own and needed assistance. I fed a small amount of ‘critical care’ through a pipette a few times before it started walking around properly and feeding itself. It is self-feeding quite happily now and putting on weight every day, so time will tell if it’s going to make it. I have somewhere around 1,000 photos, Nature and scenery stuff and plots lots of spoonies, including lime green 8 and her mate. Not much luck with digi-scoping, firstly with the fog and then when the weather was good, the heat haze! I will keep trying once we are at the release pen and during the post-release monitoring period, to see if I can improve with that. We hope to be moving chicks out today, just the last couple of finishing touches needed on the release pen. We’ll be moving the first two broods out around 5-6pm today, once the weather cools down a bit, yes that’s right, cools down a bit! It’s been roasting here for the last three days, but I’m sure the weather will return to its usual foggy self soon. ROLAND (16/07/14 22:27): The weak chick is now a whopping 14.6g! This is very pleasing as it is a day before it’s due to go out to the release pen. The last eight chicks will be transferred from the indoor rearing set-up tomorrow, so this will finally make things a little easier, not being split between two places. I am knackered, but so far very happy with how things are going. First release planned for 27th, 2nd for 30th. ROLAND (17/07/2014 00:48): Just spoke with Nikolai. Lime Green (08) has a chick that looks strong and healthy. ROLAND (21/07/14 O8:00): All going largely ok. All birds in release pen now, which makes life a lot easier for all concerned. 25 of the 27 doing really well This is wonderful news I’m sure you agree. The 2014 team are recording results beyond all expectation. Well done Roland and team. Well done!
Here’s an update from Roland Digby regarding the current state of play in Meinypilgyno. The extensive flooding made for a trying start to the 2014 breeding season. However, it appears that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population in Meinypilgyno may have stabilised at around 12 pairs, the same as last year, although more birds are breeding in higher areas because of the flood water. Compared to last year, we have not been able to cover anywhere like the same amount of ground. Many areas are still only accessible by foot and some areas to the north and west will not be accessible for some time yet. As of 13th June, the river mouth was re-opened after being closed by winter storms. It was due to be dredged, but the local fishermen decided to dig out a channel themselves and let the force of the backed up river do the rest. The flooding across the region has now started to subside. Egg collection also began on the 13th June. Incubators are working well, a portable AC unit has really helped to stabilise them and the sun has even been shining! In total we’ve collected 32 eggs, seven first clutches and two replacement clutches. Of the collected eggs, 28 have been candled and of these: one was infertile and two were dead, the embryos having died around 9-10 days old. There was one other egg that didn’t look quite right and this will be checked again in a few days to see the outcome. We expect our first clutch of eggs to hatch somewhere around the 5th July. We should also add that Nikolai was able, after a lot of searching, to find the nest of the spoonie Lime 8 (see previous blog post for details of this extraordinary bird) and her mate, now fitted with the leg-flag 21. As we have been collecting eggs, Pavel and Egor have been trapping the adults and fitting leg-flags. This has been done for all of the nests we’ve collected from (bar one) including one other that wasn’t collected but the adults were still caught and flagged.
The first hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper has returned to breed in Chukotka, Russia, where it was hatched two years ago. The spoon-billed sandpiper is unique in the animal kingdom for being born with a spoon-shaped beak. Numbers have declined by a quarter year on year and it is likely that fewer than 100 pairs remain in the wild. WWT aviculturist Roland Digby has reared 24 spoon-billed sandpipers over the last two summers on their breeding grounds in north eastern Russia, giving them a head start to ensure they survived their crucial first days of life. Once released, the birds migrated 5,000 miles to south Asia, facing exhaustion, starvation and illegal hunting along the way. There has been a two year wait to see if any will survive to return to breed. Now one of the group has been seen back at its birthplace by researchers from Birds Russia, Pavel Tomkovich and Egor Loktionov. They reported that the bird is looking heavy, indicating that she is a female carrying eggs and ready to breed for the first time. After two years she could become the first hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper to produce offspring in the wild and add to the species’ fragile population. WWT aviculturist Roland Digby said: “The incredible spoon-billed sandpiper is no bigger than a sparrow, yet it flies almost half way round the world before it’s even old enough to breed. Sadly, very few make it. There are probably fewer than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild, so every bird that reaches maturity represents new hope for the species”. The hand-rearing is an attempt to stabilise the species’ population before it becomes extinct. Rearing and releasing birds on the breeding grounds increases the number of young birds in the wild in autumn by about 25%. Meanwhile conservationists are tackling the illegal hunting and habitat loss that is behind the decline. Pavel Tomkovich of Birds Russia said: “Two years ago I attached a tiny plastic leg flag to this bird, so that we’d recognise it if it was ever seen again. The odds were severely stacked against that happening, but amazingly she was spotted, first by birdwatchers in Taiwan in April and then we see her here at her birthplace ready to have young of her own.” The bird hatched on 14 July 2012 from an egg of a clutch collected for artificial incubation on 22 June. After fledging it was released on 10 August and was last seen on the Russian breeding grounds on 17 August 2012. The next sighting was on 7 April 2014 by Chung-Yu Chiang and Chin-Shi Hsu at Kinmen Island, Taiwan, on the edge of the tropics. She was subsequently seen by Pavel Tomkovich and Egor Loktionov near Meinypilgyno, on the edge of the Arctic Circle on 18 June. Norbert Schäffer, the RSPB’s head of international species recovery, said: “It’s great to see parts of the plan to protect this precious species coming together, but it’s a long road and there is still a lot more to do in terms of tackling the problems on the flyway. This is a huge international effort involving many different partners and with everyone doing their bit.” Dr Nigel Clark of BTO and the UK Spoon-billed Sandpiper Support Team said: “This is the first proof that hand-rearing works and that these birds behave and migrate normally. We had predicted that it would work, based on studies on other migratory waders, but we couldn’t be sure that spoon-billed sandpipers would behave the same way. Over the next few years these individually marked birds will help us to understand how best to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.” The project is part of a multi-pronged international attempt to save the spoon-billed sandpiper. In case the birds in the wild suffer further losses, the only reserve flock in the world is being reared in a biosecure facility at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre. In the near future, eggs from the Slimbridge flock could be flown to Russia to be hatched and released as an insurance against the species falling into extinction quicker than it can be saved in the wild. The spoon-billed sandpiper conservation breeding programme is a collaboration between WWT, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo and the RSPB working with colleagues from the BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force.