by Spike Millington
Chief Executive of the EAAFP Secretariat
I have just returned from three weeks in Chukotka at the kind invitation of EAAFP Focal Point for Russia and Chair of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper (SBS) Task Force, Evgeny Syroechkovskiy. Unfortunately one week of that time involved waiting for the weather to improve to be able to take the helicopter from the provincial capital Anadyr to the SBS breeding grounds around Meinopylgino village, apparently a not unusual occurrence. This time was not entirely wasted, however, since many species of migratory waterbirds, including grebes, ducks and shorebirds were nesting around Anadyr and we were able to do a seabird survey on a small island off the coast.
Upon arrival in Meinopylgino, I hitched a ride, together with colleague Andrey, on the local caterpillar (like a tank without the guns) commuting along the coast to the next village. This dropped us off at the first of two campsites, where we joined the team searching for new SBS breeding areas. We were lucky to find one relatively small area that supported a population of 15-18 breeding pairs, mostly with broods (although we only succeeded in banding a single chick, A4 – I hope to see you in Korea or China soon). The Spoonies shared this habitat with Ringed Plovers and the occasional Pacific Golden Plover. A few Dunlins occupied the wetter areas and Temminck’s Stints were found along the rivers. An additional pair of Spoonies, with two chicks, was discovered in another area. All in all, this is very encouraging, since it represents a doubling of the current known breeding territories.
Meanwhile at the main site around Meinopylgino, late spring flooding and high predation reduced breeding success this year (although perhaps 28 head-started chicks are due for release at the end of July). On the positive site, there was a small uptick in the number of breeding pairs, so perhaps the species is finally beginning to turn the corner!
Of course, in order for Spoon-billed Sandpipers to benefit from these dedicated efforts on the breeding grounds, we also need to significantly step up our efforts to protect the species at other sites used during its migration, perhaps most importantly at the threatened Tiaozini mudflats in southern Jiangsu province of China, where a high proportion of the global population stages and moults. Fostering international cooperation along the countries of the Flyway is of course the raison d’être of EAAFP and at the most recent Meeting of Partners in Japan earlier this year, all Partners issued a statement calling for “a flyway-wide step change in activity” to effectively deal with the crisis affecting SBS and other migratory waterbirds – click the SBS statement here: Statement on the conservation of intertidal areas along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) of critical importance for migratory waterbirds including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper – a flagship species
I would like to give many thanks to the team in Meinopylgino. Camping in the tundra is a unique experience, for the sights (fog, mostly), sounds (Black-throated Divers singing through the night), tastes (porridge + mosquitos, soup + mosquitos, etc.) and smells (the delicate scent of hundreds of densely-packed walruses on the nearby beach). I wish the Spoonies and all the other migratory waterbirds breeding in Chukotka and elsewhere good luck as they start their migration southwards!
– Relevant article: Spike’s Interview with Arctic breeding shorebirds expert Pavel Tomkovich