Congratulations to the members of the Oriental Bird Club who embarked on a series of athletic endeavours along the North Norfolk Coastal Path to raise money for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation breeding programme. They have raised an incredible £1,500 so far, and donations can still be made on their JustGiving page. The team said they were lucky with the weather; warm and sunny, but not too hot for those exerting themselves. Mike Edgecombe cycled from WWT Welney to Salthouse, while others walked and ran along the coastal path. One person walked the full 30+ miles, while another completed a half marathon. Thank you to the OBC for making such an effort and raising what will be a huge contribution to saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Good news this week as Sonadia Island in Bangladesh has been designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, in recognition of its importance for non-breeding spoon-billed sandpipers. As regular readers will know, the RSPB’s Rob Sheldon has been in Bangladesh with Sayam and Foysal of the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project. The third and final post from there is available to read here.
The RSPB’s Rob Sheldon is out in Bangladesh with Sayam U Chowdhury and and Md Foysal of the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project, to review progress on stopping the hunting of spoon-billed sandpipers on Sonadia Island. He has reported back on the RSPB Community blog.
The Oriental Bird Club is appealing for people to help them raise funds for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation breeding programme. Following the success of previous fund-raising events, the OBC is organising a sponsored run along the beautiful North Norfolk Coast to be held on Sunday 5 May 2013. There will be something for everyone, whether you are a couch potato craving fitness or a seasoned runner looking to put your talent to a great cause. Although the distance is 40km in total, between Titchwell and Salthouse, the route is broken down into different sections of between 1 km and 10km . You can run as much or as little as you like. For those of you who fancy celebrating your achievement with a well earned drink or two we have arranged for the finish to be at a famous Norfolk watering hole – the Dun Cow at Salthouse. We look forward to seeing you there or en route! If you wish to take part in this fun day or just donate to help save this beautiful bird then please contact Mike Edgecombe email@example.com or John Gregory firstname.lastname@example.org.
As privileges go, this was right up there with being asked to accompany Sir David Attenborough on one of his expeditions! Elis and I had been invited by Dr. Baz Hughes (Head of Species Conservation Dept.) to visit the Spoon-billed Sandpiper captive breeding unit at Slimbridge where we were not only treated to a little time with the spoonies but were also delighted to meet the team that look after them, and here they are – from left to right: Baz Hughes; me with Bewick’s Swan whispering something in my ear; Elis; Nicky Hiscock holding a spoony model, Tanya (Tan) Grigg; Rebecca (Becs) Lee; Nigel Jarrett. We were met by Becs (Senior Species Conservation Officer and as if that were not enough also Chair of the IUCN-SSC/Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist group!) who took us down to the unit where we were introduced to Nicky Hiscock (Conservation Breeding Assistant) who is charged with the day-to-day care and monitoring of the spoonies along with Nigel Jarrett (Head of the Conservation Breeding Unit). Once inside the unit we were asked to wash our hands and remove our outer clothing and boots. We were to wear special and very fetching green galoshes, but the trick was to step out of your own boot on the ‘dirty’ side of the board set across the vestibule and into one of the galoshes on a mat soaked with disinfectant on the ‘clean’ side. The first boot was no problem at all, using the toe of the right boot I trod on the heel of the left easily extracting my foot from it. I placed that carefully into the left galosh and wriggled my toes until the rubber heel slipped up behind my own. Now I was astride a board with one foot on the dirty side and one of the clean side and neither could enter the other zone. I was at a loss as to how to remove boot number two. Clearly I could not use the toe of the left foot as it was now on the ‘clean’ side and I could not kneel down, nor could I reach down and exert enough force on the boot to remove it. After a moment or two of amusing herself at my predicament Becs graciously agreed to help me and knelt down to hold my dirty boot in her hand as I struggled to pull my foot from it, which having done so I swung around to the clean side with such vigour that I nearly fell over, I think that neither Becs, nor Nicky, who was there to greet us were terribly impressed by my dexterity. Of course Elis manged all this with much aplomb, grace and the minimal amount of fuss. Nicky then showed us around the unit. The two pens themselves were shut off from the corridor where we stood so viewing was only possible through some darkened glass that did not allow the birds to see out. It was all rather gloomy at first and took some getting used to, but once your eyes become adjusted it becomes increasingly easy to watch the birds scurry hither and thither about their ‘habitat’. However even though our eyes adjusted in time, the cameras did not and photography was really quite difficult in the low light levels. Elis and I savoured every moment that we were allowed with these little birds and it brought back very good memories of that day in November when we saw them at Pak Thale in Thailand. It was a special treat to see one group still in the colourful juvenile plumage as we had only seen them in winter plumage in Thailand. We watched them feeding, bathing, even arguing and all the while listening to the calls they made as they went about their business. It was a sobering thought that these birds represented perhaps as much as 10% of the world population of this species. Nigel joined us, and together he and Nicky told us about some of the trials and tribulations they had been experiencing being the protectors of these birds. As described earlier, in order for us to be allowed into the unit at all we had to make sure we were not carrying any bugs that could cause tremendous harm to these birds, it would be possible to wipe them out with one single careless stroke. For this reason Nicky, Nigel and Tan (Part-time Breeding Assistant who covers some 30% of the work and also works in the WWT shop) who look after the birds have to be ever vigilant and monitor the birds with an expert eye and even more so make sure visitors are following strict cleanliness protocols. The trio have to watch the birds in between bouts of cleaning and feeding, watching for any tell-tale behavioural activity or changes from the norm. Everything has to be painstakingly written up, however small it may seem at the time in case it becomes important in the future. The responsibility of these three cannot be underestimated and we all owe them a big vote of thanks for the work they are doing on all our behalves. Of course it is not all onerous and we were told some of the amusing and endearing tales that surely go along with any sort of animal husbandry. The birds seemed quite at home in their warm and secure ‘habitats’, we watched them behaving in exactly the same way that they did in the wild, but one curious thing that I don’t remember witnessing in Thailand was seeing one bird walking backwards while feeding, Nicky said that she had seen this happen quite a lot. We did a short interview with Nicky (which we will post as another blog later) which descended into typical Simpson farce when the microphone fell from the waste bin upon which it was resting, our professional camera operator (Elis) was getting so engrossed in the story that Nicky was relating that she forgot that the [...]
Following the success of the headstarting trials this summer, the spoon-billed sandpipers have been migrating to their wintering grounds. As Dr Christoph Zöckler has mentioned here previously, between 12 and 15 October, a record 106 spoon-billed sandpipers were counted at Rudong mudflats near Shanghai. The 120km stretch of coast is critically important to waders migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and an international team assembled to carry out a survey of bird numbers this year. View Larger Map Among the spoon-billed sandpipers seen there was an adult with a lime green leg flag, indicating that it was a bird hatched and reared in Meinypil’gyno prior to 2012. The head-started birds are also sporting lime green leg flags with a single character engraved on it and a single colour ring. A call has gone out to all birders and ornithologists along the flyway to report these and any other spoon-billed sandpiper sightings to Christoph Zöckler (Christoph.Zockler@consultants.unep-wcmc.org), Coordinator of the East Asian- Australasian Flyway Partnership Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force. Following the survey, the team met at WWF in Shanghai to discuss the imminent threat that the Rudong mudflats will be transformed for industry, threatening up to half the remaining global population of spoon-billed sandpiper. Recommendations included designating areas for conservation and developing a strategy for managing them, as well as adding the spoon-billed sandpiper to the Chinese Red Data Book. Dr Christoph Zöckler attended the meeting, saying afterwards: “All our efforts to safeguard the breeding area in Russia and most important wintering sites in Myanmar and Bangladesh will be in vain if we are unable to protect the Rudong mudflats.’ Back near the breeding grounds in Chukotka, though the birds have now left, conservation efforts have not let up. In Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka, a new exhibition was opened. Spoon-billed Sandpiper – Life Saved features video, photos, artwork and information on the conservation effort. It will run in Anadyr for two months before being moved to a permanent home in Meinypil’gyno. The opening ceremony was attended by the Governor of Chukotka, Roman Kopin, as well as regional conservation officials and representatives from local parliament and indigenous people’s organizations. In the run up to the launch, the exhibition was featured on local TV and radio every day for five days. While the exhibition remains in Anadyr, every school child in the city will have a chance to visit and get a guided tour.
Two of our supporters, Rick and Elis Simpson, set off at the start of November on an epic trip around the world to see as many species of waders as possible and raise money for our spoon-billed sandpiper appeal at the same time. And we’re excited to announce they’ve already seen wild spoon-billed sandpipers (and lots of other waders) in Thailand! The duo have named the journey WaderQuest and, during the one-year long trip, aim to see as many waders as possible, raise awareness of the plight of birds such as the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and raise donations for our appeal. The mission started on 1 November, going firstly to Thailand and then onto United Arab Emirates, back to the United Kingdom, then off to the USA, taking them into the New Year with Australia, new Zealand and India. This is as far ahead that they have decided upon, but the rest of 2013 will include the Shorebird Conference in Colombia and the Migratory Bird Festival in Brazil. At each venue they will be engaging with schools by visiting them and talking to the children and, where possible, meeting them in the field to show them the waders in their area. You can visit their Just Giving page here and also keep up to date with their adventures (and fab pictures of the birds they’re seeing) on the WaderQuest blog.
For the conservation breeding programme, for obvious reasons, we need both female and male birds. So, as the birds grow up, we’re anxious to find out who’s what. We can make a reasonable guess based on their size, because the females are on average larger than the males. But to be sure, we have them “feather sexed”. To do this we gently pluck two flank feathers from each bird when we handle it to check and replace leg bands. We send these feather samples to a lab to identify the sex chromosomes. We now have the results for the birds that hatched this summer. The 2012 birds are eight males, eight females and one individual whose sex is still unclear (this is because there wasn’t enough genetic material in the sample for a positive test). We also had the 2011 birds feather sexed, to confirm results from tests made late last year using a different method. We discovered that we may have fewer females than we thought. The previous results suggested we had seven males and four females from 2011, but the new results suggest we may have only two females. We will take further feather samples next time we handle the three birds whose gender we don’t know. The overall total of 28 birds represents maybe 10% of the world population and with at least 10 females, the signs are good that that we may be able to reach our target of 10 breeding pairs. If we do, from 2015 we should be able to return as many as 40 eggs a year to Russia, where they’d be hatched and the chicks reared and released on the breeding grounds. Sadly, we recently lost one of the 2011 birds. Despite intensive treatment by our veterinary team, the bird ‘Green left’ died in late September. Its post mortem results were inconclusive but we suspect the bird died because it had a congenital (malformed) heart condition. The loss of any bird is tough on the team. We feel a huge responsibility, both for these individual birds and for their species. We have to remind ourselves that it is fantastic to have 28 Spoon-billed Sandpipers at Slimbridge, with the potential for some of them to breed next summer. In the wild, in recent years, for every 40 eggs laid, just one or two birds have been surviving long enough to return to Chukotka and attempt to breed themselves.
Thanks very much Baz for providing a summary and update on the captive breeding with nice images from last summer’s breeding season. This brings back fond memories of an amazing expedition to South Chukotka. I would like to take the opportunity to thank WWT, Birds Russia and the entire team, in particular the Russian members, who have worked with Spoon-billed Sandpiper for over 20 years, like Pavel Tomkovich and Nikolay Yakuchev, who has been visiting Meinypilgyno for seven years already. Egor, Nastya and our local team around Sveta and her husband Roman deserve a great thank you. Without their continuous support we would not be able to do all the work we achieved over the last years. Evgeny Syroechkovskiy and Liza Tambovtseva from Birds Russia were essential and although not present this year, without their work the entire expedition would not have happened. Last but not least I would like to extend my thanks to Karin Eberhardt, Baz Scampion, Phil Palmer, Sayam Chowdhury and Tom Noah from Bangladesh, Germany, Myanmar and the UK, who joined our efforts as volunteers this year. Their help was very important when finding nests and also finishing the aviaries and release pens and many other things. Most importantly they were always cheerful, even during some more difficult periods. Baz Scampion is still working on a photo archive which could help us to identify birds individually. Finally I would like to use this opportunity to thank our donors and sponsors, in particular the Packard Foundation, who repeatedly supported our activities on the breeding grounds, but also BirdLife International with its Preventing Extinction Programme and of course BirdLife Species Champion Heritage Expeditions, who for the second time cruised along the Kamchatka and Chukotka coast to survey for new breeding sites – unfortunately none were found this year – and paid a visit to Meinypil’gyno in early July again. While 28 captive bred birds continue to be in the good hands of WWT, many other activities are happening along the flyway. There are too many to mention them all, but it might be worth mentioning that there were up to 106 Spoon-billed sandpipers counted in Rudong China in mid October, refueling and moulting for their onward journey to the wintering grounds. In September and October one colour-marked bird each was observed and photographed. Both birds come from the Meinypil’gyno area from previous years. It is very comforting to see birds from Meinypil’gyno on the flyway. This means that some of the juveniles ringed as chicks have become adult birds recruiting to the breeding population. The Rudong mudflats are not protected and reclamation of vital intertidal habitats is ongoing. We urgently need to work with our Chinese friends to change the trend and safeguard this crucial stop over site for the wild population but also for any released birds from the captive stock.