A few days ago (Tuesday 5th July at 14:10 to be precise!) – I heard the news that the first four eggs had hatched in their temporary home in a house in the Russian town of Meinypilgyno.

Since then our colleagues at the Wildfowl and Wetland’s Trust have been updating the story to the point, now, when we can share the news.

Currently there are 17 chicks – and this is one of them.

Nigel Jarrett encourages one of the first spoon-billed sanddpipers to hatch in captivity to feed. Photo Martin McGill WWT

I’ll let you recover from an inevitable ‘Awh, come and look at these little cuties’ moment (we’ve all done it!)

So far so good.  The frantic efforts to pull together this expedition (here’s its blog) have been hugely taxing on the team – and this is a moment for the rest of us to recognise the efforts they have all been putting in to find the nests and nurture the eggs. 

The team has now transferred from Meinypilgyno to the larger town of Anadyr – they did this courtesy of the ship The Spirit of Enderby and Heritage Expeditions – a company who have not only helped fund the expedition but also have provided vital logistical and survey support to the mission.

So – after revelling in the moment of reaching this important landmark, it’s back to work for the team caring for their precious brood. With months to go before they will be settled in their new home at the WWT’s Slimbridge headquarters and years before their offspring are ready to return to the wild and start the long process of recovery – we are just at the start.  Spoon-billed sandpipers are on the brink of extinction and these chicks will found a conservation breeding population that buys us time to tackle the threats to spoonies and all the other millions of birds that depend on the East Asian – Australasian migration flyway for survival.

Hunting pressure and the inexorable loss of coastal wetlands are the big threats – and tackling them will take time, time spoon-billed sandpipers simply don’t have.

The brutal reality is that of the 20 eggs that have been taken into the programme – we would expect 0 – 1 adults eventually joining the breeding population on the Arctic tundra. And that highlights the fundamental problem; too few young birds are making it and that is driving the precipitous decline (around 26% each year). 

But fixing the problems on the flyway is a story for another day – for now let’s mark this milestone and congratulate the team.

I’d like to leave the last word to one Russian member of the team -  Liza Tambovtseva. The arrival of the first chicks had particular significance as they were starting to hatch on her birthday!

Some people are born with the idea of their future life but I’m not one of those. I never knew what I will do in my life until I went to Chukotka last year with an ornithologist expedition led by Evgeny Syroechkovski who is devoted to spoon-billed sandpipers.

It was like a dream come true and I was completely charmed by Chukotka and by this bird. It looks like it came from the Disney’s cartoons. I wanted to go there again and to see this bird and to do something for protection of this bird and others birds.

So when Evgeny offered me a job at Birds Russia I agreed with pleasure and become involved in this captive breeding program. Honestly, I’m very proud to participate in it. I’m a little bit of a romantic person (as is everyone who was in remote land named Chukotka) and think that we all should do our best to save the planet, and in saving this funny looking bird we also help the Earth.

For me, personally, this program was a great challenge. We had a lack of time and a lot to do. It was a big interest and a great responsibility to give this unique bird a chance to survive. I’m the troubleshooter of this expedition, I’m in charge of about everything – starting from the dirty socks and ending with incubators delivery to Meinypilgyno and receiving the permissions for the project. Sometime I feel myself like a mother of 8 adult children and sometimes like a sister of 8 brothers. I do not think that there is someone to whom it’s interesting to read about logistic problems of an international expedition, so I will leave it there and the only thing I can say - it is a busy job!

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.

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